Archive for the ‘Session Ideas’ Category

Mapping Literature

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Apologies for the extremely last-minute post, which I’m writing on the plane en route to THATCamp!

In a nutshell, what I’d like to discuss in this session is the mapping of literature. By this I mean not only strictly geographical mappings (i.e. cartographical/GIS representations of space and place) but also perhaps more abstract and conceptual mappings that don’t lend themselves so well to mathematical geospatial mash-ups.

How can we (and do we already) play with the possibilities of existing technology to create great DH tools to read literature spatially?

I’ll first demo my Litmap project and hopefully that’ll serve as a springboard for discussion. You can read more about Litmap and look at it ahead of time here.

Very much looking forward to a discussion with all of the great people who are going to be there!

Ways Past Facsimile

Friday, June 26th, 2009

I’m wrestling with how we can move past the electronic facsimile as the standard digital humanities web-based presentation.  Projects such as The Valley of the Shadow (to select a well known one at random) are presentations of static objects.  The meta-data is usually searchable and there are other tools sometimes for slicing and dicing the objects to help in doing research.  Is there a way to move forward to something that plays more of the role of the monograph?


"Us" vs. "Them"

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

One interesting discussion occurred on twitter a few weeks back. Dan, Brian, and a few others were discussing the future of the Digital Humanities, and I (attempting to make what I believed at the time would be a “funny” science fiction joke) said that the definition of the Digital Humanities would be much cooler in the future. Dan Cohen’s response stuck with me, though. He said that, in the future, it would just be called “The Humanities”, and that stuck with me. The idea that the Digital Humanities is a transitional form, a sort of leap ahead into what everything should be. Now, Dan might not even agree with that statement (it was, after all, just a tweet) but I think it is an interesting thing to consider; are we simply what comes next, or will there always be classic (albeit technologically improved) academia and that group of Nerds in the corner using Zotero? To turn it into geek terms: Are we Homo Sapiens (Homo Superior if you are a Bowie fan), or are we X-men?

Running parallel to this topic is the notion of the “Digital Native”. That word has always caused a little discord for me – after all, according to the definition, I am one of them! However, it has always struck me as an odd term, either oddly placed or oddly defined. If oddly placed, it is because I have seen my fellow “digital natives” stare coldly and run frightened from a wiki page, or even saving a word document. There are so many in my generation that refuse to go deeper than surface level, and in many cases, repel technology as an unwanted obstacle. This is not an insignificant minority, by my observation. If it is oddly defined, then the problem comes with the expansion of the phrase. What I mean to say is that while the strict definition I’ve heard is “Someone who has grown up with technology”, of which my generation applies, but always comes with the adage “and is therefore more comfortable with it and probably very knowledgeable”. For the same reasons as above, this is not always true – regrettably – and therefore creates a sort of double-blind issue; it seems that the digital natives are under-performing for the seemingly powerful title, and those deeming us with the title are overestimating the meaning of it.

I bring this up because they both highlight an issue that has seemingly existed since the playground: The Us vs. Them mentality. are the Digital humanities a breeding ground for ideas that will one day be excepted, or are they a toolbox that the professors and academics of tomorrow will turn to in a time of experimentation? Will there always be geeks, or will everyone eventually be logged on? For complications sake, do you think that the Digital Humanities are sort of “reaching far”, and only the more median of pedagogies and academic memes will gestate into the population as a whole? For instance, Digital Archives will be obviously used in the future, but in-class use of wikis will not? iPhones, but not EBooks?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

P.s. Thatcamp is my very first academic Conference. I am immensely excited, and look forward to seeing you all there!

Developing, but not overdeveloping, a collaborative space

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

For the past few months, I’ve been involved in the development of the CUNY Academic Commons, a new project of the City University of New York whose stated mission is to “to support faculty initiatives and build community through the use(s) of technology in teaching and learning”. This is no small goal, given the mammoth size and unruliness of CUNY: 23 institutions comprising some 500,000 students, 6,100 full-time faculty, and countless more staff and part-time faculty. The Commons – built on a collection of open-source tools like WordPress MU, Mediawiki, Buddypress, and bbPress – is designed to give members of this diffuse community a space where they can find like-minded cohorts and collaborate with them on various kinds of projects.

My work as a developer for the Commons pulls me in several directions. Most obviously, I’m getting a crash course in the development frameworks that underlie the tools we’re using. These pieces of software are at varying stages of maturity and have largely been developed independently of each other. Thus, making them fit together to provide a seamless and elegant experience for users is a real challenge. This kind of technical challenge, in turn, leads me to consider critically the way that the site could and should serve the members of the CUNY community. How do you design a space where people with wildly different interests and wildly different ways of working can collaborate in ways that work for them? By making the system open enough to accommodate many ways of working and thinking, do you thereby alienate some of those individuals who need more structure to envision the utility that the site could hold for them? How do the choices you make when developing a tool – decisions about software, about organization, about design – mold or constrain the ways in which the site’s uses will evolve?

In light of these varying challenges, there are a couple different things that I would be interested in talking about at THATcamp. For one, I’d like to get together with people working with and on open-source software to talk nuts and bolts: which software are you using, how are you extending or modifying it to suit your needs, and so on. I’m also very interested in talking about strategies for fostering the kinds of collaboration that the CUNY Academic Commons has as its mission. I’m also anxious to discuss more theoretical questions about the design and development of tools that are meant to serve a diverse group of users. In particular, I’m interested in the interconnections between the designer, the software, and the designer’s knowledge and assumptions about the desires and capacities of the end user.

Omeka for an Education Dept.

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

I’m worried this sounds a little boring compared to everyone else’s topics, but here goes!

I would be interested in talking about using Omeka in a somewhat un-likely way — to develop an archive of materials for a museum education department. The archive/”collection” would primarily include images and video of our programs and participants.

I am currentlybuilding two sites that primarily use the exhibit builder functionality of Omeka (not the collections functionality), but I would be interested in extending our use of Omeka to include creating an archive of department material and enabling some of the interactive features of Omeka like the Contribute plugin and “My Omeka.”

Taking a Rich Archive of Learning from Static to Social

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

I’m interested in sharing the 4b2288;text-decoration: underline">Digital Storytelling Multimedia Archive with folks and brainstorming ideas on taking the site from its current, unfinished, static state to a truly social environment for students, teachers, and scholars of teaching and learning.

I see ties between this idea and those expressed around making digital archives social and also around taking archives and libraries public.  My apologies for how long this post is–I probably  have way too much detail in here!–so I put some stuff in bold after the next paragraph to facilitate a skim.  The real heart of it is in the last couple numbered points.

The Archive presents the results of a multi-campus study of the impact of student multimedia narrative production (or digital stories).  Digital stories are short (3-4 minutes) films combining text, music, voice-over, intertitles, and are used as an alternative tool for expression of academic arguments.  The Archive currently contains mostly interview clips with students and faculty from classes in Latina/o studies, American studies, media studies, and American history.  We have additional clips from ESL classes that we want to include at some point.

These interview clips are currently presented within a traditional hierarchical website organized by our three research questions. The three main sections present our ‘argument’ or ‘findings’ and folks drill down through statements of findings to evidence from student interviews.  We have an additional section which presents our findings within a ‘grid’ that ties together ‘dimensions’ of learning (the ‘grid’ is a little opaque at present, but it is cool to click around).  Finally, we have the ‘archive’ section, which at present is only a list of clip names with a link.

We are working on lots of obvious things like general clarity of writing.  We also have tags for all of the interview clips.   We want to make these tags public every time the clips appear (currently they are in a backend database).  In addition,  we have more digital stories to include and we want to tie examples of stories to interview clips.  We are also working on creating short, one-minute video “talking head” overviews of each section and also a screencast of how to use the grid.

However, what we want to do ultimately is to expand out the archive section and/or create a new social exhibits section.

1)Within the archive (really, throughout the site) we want to give folks the ability to add video of other interviews or of digital stories and to engage in their own commenting, tagging and adding tags to the existing archive.  We also love for there to be a way for folks to create their own grid, but marking tags that they think are important and linked and having those pulled together for their own presentation.

2) We’d like to also (perhaps using Omeka?) to create an exhibits section. This could allow faculty to showcase stories and interviews from their own classes, to pull together multimedia essays about what they think they’re learning about multimedia work, or to have students play in putting stuff together.

And so, I’d love to get input from folks on these and other ideas, how best to implement, what tools we can possibly use, what other ideas for increasing the ‘social’ nature of the site.

Also, see some additional stories at:

Digital libraries, Web 2.0 and historians

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

My post is to be linked with Larry Cebula’s first question:

«The first [question] is how to make my institution, the Washington State Digital Archives, more interactive, useful, and Web 2.0ish. We have 80 million documents online and an interface from 1997! I need not only ideas on how to change, but success stories and precedents and contacts to convince my very wary state bureaucracy that we can and have to change.»

My institution is editing a digital library called European NAvigator (ENA), a digital library on the European integration process (ie the long process which led to today’s European Union), which has almost no equivalent on-line (on this subject). At the beginning, it was intended to be for the use of high school’s teachers and for every citizen who was interested in the subject.

The site as you can see it now was put on-line in 2005. It obvioulsy lacks participatory and “community” features – what’s somehow unfortunately called Web 2.0 features. We would like to use those kind of features to give more services to our present audience, but also to extend – with some special features – this audience to researchers (history, law and political sciences).

I would like to propose a session on digital libraries, where I will present you ENA and its future as we see it for 2010. But my point is to share a more general reflexion on digital libraries and their future within Web 2.0 and further within the semantic Web. The idea is not to do some Web 2.0 for the sake of it, but to better focus on researchers and their needs.


Visualizing time

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

For the last two years, I have been very interested in visualizing data that emerges within my particular field: literature. This interest emerged as I read Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees at the same time that I was experimenting with using GIS tools like Google Earth as a portion of the analysis in the last chapter of my dissertation. In my last year as a graduate student, a fellowship in the Emory Center for Interactive Teaching gave me additional time to begin experimenting with timelines. Timelines in literary studies were nothing new, but I wondered if it would be possible to have a class collaboratively build one in a manner similar to writing a wiki. The result was–in turn–a collaboration with Jason Jones (@jbj) where I coded a timeline, he designed an assignment, and his students created the data for a timeline of the Victorian Age. I’ve since had the chance to play with the tool in my own classes.

Jason and I both thought that timelines would be a fruitful subject for conversation THATCampers. And as many others have done, I thought I would share my original THATCamp proposal and then propose some ideas about where a discussion might go:

I would like discuss the different web-based tools and software that can be used to produce interactive and collaborative timelines. The presentation would involve demonstrating the different tools, showing the strengths and the weaknesses of each one, and producing a finished product. The tools would range from CHNM’s Timeline Builder to xtimeline and from Bee Docs Timeline 3D to the Timeline and Exhibit widgets that were developed in MIT’s Simile project. Having already spent some time with these tools, I think that the tools from Simile might be the most interesting to THATCamp participants due to their flexibility in representing data in multiple ways, including color coding events, sorting events, and with GIS data, as well as the ability to grab data from sources as diverse as a Google Docs spreadsheet or Twitter. Perhaps the best demonstration of the usefulness of a timeline would be to create–during the session/event–a timeline of THATCamp.

My current thinking:

As I’ve been preparing for THATCamp, I have gone ahead and evaluated as many of the timeline tools as I’ve had time for. I’ll be looking at another one or two tomorrow. I’ve gone ahead and created a spreadsheet listing the abilities of these different tools, along with some evaluation. Admittedly, some of the categories that I was using to evaluate the timelines stem from my deep involvement with the Simile widgets, and so the cases might not stack up as being completely fair to the competition.

Also, wanting to blend together both streams of data visualization that seemed valuable to me, I’ve also expanded on the original timelines that I designed for my courses by adding a Google Maps view this week. You can choose to either look at one view at a time or a dual view.

While a conversation could certainly be held about the different strengths and weaknesses of these different tools, most of the timeline tools that are available are going to be fairly easy for THATCampers to pick up and run with. The most complicated among them is the Simile tool, but I’ve heard there’s a fairly straightforward tutorial on building your own. Instead (or in addition to), I wonder if it could be possible to have a conversation about other possible research and pedagogical uses for timelines than those to which Jason and I have put them to use thus far. One obvious apporach would be to timeline a particular text (say, Slaughterhouse-Five) rather than a contextual time period. But what else could we do with timelines to make them valuable?

Moreover, I wonder if a discussion about visualizing time could be a part of a larger discussion about visualization that seems to be on the minds of other THATCampers (at least per their blog posts) such as Tonya Howe and Amanda Watson. How best can we use such visualizations in our research and/or teaching? At what point are there diminishing returns on such projects? Since these tools are relatively easy to learn (as opposed to programming languages), are they a good gateway tool for “traditional faculty” to begin comfortably integrating new technologies into their research/teaching? And, perhaps most broadly, what is the relationship between digital humanities and visualization

(I should meniton that while Jason and I proposed related ideas to THATCamp, this post is my own. So don’t hold him responsible for my shortcomings in expression.)

Who is working with Drupal? (I am — here's why)

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Well, I’m finally caught up in reading these blog entries, so I’m taking my turn to post about my proposal. I hope this isn’t too late to get some response and maybe interest in participation this weekend. In short, I’m working with Drupal on my course websites, and I’ve developed some practices and tools with it that I’d like to share. Specifically, I’ve been working on adapting a gradebook module for my own purposes by adding in a mechanism for evaluating student blog entries. I’m basically a committed Drupal fanboy, so I’m really interested to hear if anyone else is doing cool things with this platform. I’d love to converse about my projects or yours, or just generally about best practices and future directions in Drupal development.

I don’t know if there’s enough interest for an entirely Drupal-focused session, but since a lot of the proposals here include comments like “I’d love to see what tools or solutions other people have come up with,” I’d be happy chiming in about what I’ve done with Drupal.

The main thing I’ve done recently (and what I initially proposed) is to use Drupal instead of an LMS (a la BlackBoard) for class websites. I position my use of Drupal as part of the post-LMS conversation discussed in this chronicle piece. Whether we want to call it edupunk or not, the point is that open, flexible tools let us make online class conversations that look (when they work) more like we’re constructing knowledge with our students and less like we’re managing learning. (Also, note how the BlackBoard guy closes the article with the assertion that other tools are inferior because the lack a gradebook feature. Ha!)

To make this more about digital humanities and less ed tech, the thing I like about Drupal is that its flexibility is such that it doesn’t solve problems for me — it gives me tools to solve my own problems. If the defined problem is one of learning outcomes, then maybe Drupal can be built into an LMS. But since we don’t start with that paradigm when we download and install Drupal core, it instead gives us an opportunity to think about information structures, conversation, and knowledge in several different ways at once.

For example, what does it mean that one can use Drupal to think through an answer to ShermanDorn’s question as well as Dave’s?

To put it more generally, what are the relative strengths and weaknesses of any platform, and how are those affordances related to knowledge construction in a (physical or virtual) classroom? I think we’d all agree that WordPress MultiUser allows for different kinds of conversations to emerge (with arguably different stakes) than, say, a Blackboard discussion forum, but why are those differences really important, and does that difference also extend to research and publishing (yes, obviously).

I realize some of these paths may be well-worn, but it’s what I think about as I try to build new Drupal sites, as I’m doing this summer. Anyone want to talk about it this weekend?

I’ve written about this some on my non-blog, and anyone who is interested is welcome to visit my recent courses. Also, for more on using Drupal for teaching, there are several groups and projects out there, including, most notably, Bill Fitzgerald’s DrupalEd project.

Archiving Social Media Conversations of Significant Events

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

I’ve already proposed one session, but recent events in Iran and the various discussions of the role of social media tools in those events prompted this post.

I propose that we have a session where THATCampers discuss the issues related to preserving (and/or analyzing) the blogs, tweets, images, Facebook postings, SMS(?) of the events in Iran with an eye toward a process for how future such events might be archived and analyzed as well.  How will future historians/political scientists/geographers/humanists write the history of these events without some kind of system of preservation of these digital materials?  What should be kept?  How realistic is it to collect and preserve such items from so many different sources? Who should preserve these digital artifacts (Twitter/Google/Flickr/Facebook; LOC; Internet Archive; professional disciplinary organizations like the AHA)?

On the analysis side, how might we depict the events (or at least the social media response to them) through a variety of timelines/charts/graphs/word-clouds/maps?  What value might we get from following/charting the spread of particular pieces of information? Of false information?  How might we determine reliable/unreliable sources in the massive scope of contributions?

[I know there are many potential issues here, including language differences, privacy of individual communications, protection of individual identities, various technical limitations, and many others.]

Maybe I’m overestimating (or underthinking) here, but I’d hope that a particularly productive session might even come up with the foundations of: a plan, a grant proposal, a set of archival standards, a wish-list of tools, even an appeal to larger companies/organizations/governmental bodies to preserve the materials for this particular set of events and a process for archiving future ones.

What do people think?  Is this idea worth a session this weekend?

UPDATE:   Ok, if I’d read the most recent THATCamp proposals, I’d have seen that Nicholas already proposed a similar session and I could have just added my comment to his…..  So, we have two people interested in the topic.  Who else?

Here's what others are saying about THATCamp on Twitter