CETL Faculty Forum: “Developing Digital Project Assignments” Notes and Resources

Thanks to those who attended yesterday’s CETL Faculty Forum. If you are interested in learning about different tools and platforms, see this DH Toychest maintained by Professor Alan Liu at UC Santa Barbara. I often use Scalar and Omeka for long-term student projects.

Feel free to adapt my Timeline JS activity to suit your needs.

To see what the students in my DH course Spring 2016 got up to including their reviews of DH journals and how to use certain tools and platforms, see their blog.

For a wide selection of readings that may help you think about digital pedagogy and research ideas, browse through Debates in the Digital Humanities edited by Matthew K. Gold of the CUNY Graduate Center. I always incorporate readings on DH into my longer-term projects to get students to engage with the conversation, and I encourage them to read The Collaborators’ Bill of Rights.

Remember that creating digital projects should be mostly fun, not mostly frustrating. Treat tools and platforms as little discovery playgrounds. Give yourself and your students time to learn how to build your digital products and give them space to teach each other.

Do comment with assignment ideas and links to platforms and tools you’ve used and liked.


Celebrating Collaborative Spirit at Digital Diversity 2015

A summation of what I did at Digital Diversity 2015.

Last week, I spent three days, May 7-9, in Edmonton, Alberta at Digital Diversity 2015: Writing|Feminism|Culture, a conference that celebrated the 20th anniversary of The Orlando Project textbase (Cambridge UP) and the future of the Digital Humanities from theory to practice. The conference was hosted by MacEwan University and the University of Alberta’s Dept. of English and Film. Invited to be a part of the organizing committee by Susan Brown and Kathryn Holland (the true organizers and deliverers of this amazing event), I had a sense of what was to come, who would be there, and what areas of scholarly interest would be highlighted. But, I had no way to know how powerful and empowering the event would turn out to be.

Dear Reader, you can turn to Twitter (@digdiv2015 | #digdiv2015)  for a substantial feed of material from presenters who discussed the long process of recovering and digitizing women’s literary history, interventions into  building new kinds of archives with accessibility in mind, interoperability vs. the silo-effect of DH projects, the ways in which trolling impacts women on the internet, the trauma to scholarship caused by lack of institutional support, questions of gender and race and what and who gets represented by DH projects, ways to get undergraduates engaged in literary interpretation with digital tools and pedagogy, how TEI schemas can provide ways to layer in the human experience into markup (like Orlando’s Cultural Formation tag), the use of gaming and game-theory to better understand community formation, debates around tenure and promotion and what counts as research, crises in the humanities (apparently, and according to research by Martha Nell Smith, the humanities have been in crisis since 1904) . . . and I could go on. However, always at the core of every contribution was the celebration of the collaborative nature of DH work.

My own experience of being at a conference during these three days was markedly different from what I’ve come to expect from scholarly events. While I am interested in thinking about why that is from an affective perspective because the affect was heightened for me by the emphasis on feminism and literary cultures, here, I’m interested in recapping what I did. In fact, that there is a short list of things I accomplished is possibly what makes this conference experience so different. And that these things happened depends entirely on the collaborative spirit of the field.

First, at the Orlando 2.0 workshop led by Susan Brown, Isobel Grundy, Mihaela Ilovan, and Kathryn Holland, I learned about how Orlando uses TEI markup to organize the massive amounts of biographical and writing-life data of women writers from the British Isles from the beginnings to the present. While I’ve been using Orlando for my own work and encouraging my students to use it by giving them scavenger hunts, seeing how the creators of the textbase use the resource (and want us to be able to use it) and shape it with questions of politics, cultures, identities, and networks built into the schema truly inspired and empowered my own thinking about how to recover and present the life and work of the women writers in my own research. The workshop taught us how to use CWRC Writer, the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory‘s tool for creating and maintaining entries for Orlando, and I began my entry on Elizabeth Hawes. (For anyone out there working on Hawes, my hope is that the entry be up by early fall, once Orlando 2.0 is up and running and pending editorial decisions, of course.) I left this workshop with enough skill-set in hand to finish a product and with a strong sense of the collaborative support of the Orlando team, which will allow me to become a contributor to this immensely important resource.

My second experience of doing something rather than just listening to something came in the form of learning how to contribute to the Open Modernisms Repository through an Anthology Jam hosted by Matt Huculak and Alex Christie of the University of Victoria. Last year, a discussion cropped up on the Modernist Studies Association listserv about the need for an anthology of open access texts to teach modernism. The current anthologies of note are 1) too expensive, 2) too white, and 3) too male in scope and many of us want to teach modernism from perspectives that opens up the canon in expansive and more inclusive ways (I refrain from getting into the debates surrounding New Modernism(s) here). Matt and the team at the Modernist Versions Project (MVP) have started the work to collect the texts that we want to teach. The Jam provides participants the chance to learn the workflow of contributing to the anthology, which includes finding first editions of texts via the Internet Archive or the Modernist Journals Project, and turning them into pdfs and page images for the repository. I was thrilled to find and learn how to contribute WWI poem “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen, which first appeared in Wheels (1919) edited by Edith Sitwell. In true DH spirit, the Anthology will continue to be jammed with texts as long as we keep finding them, thus making it a living and breathing resource that has the ability to reflect how and what we teach and provoke questions of why we choose what we choose. If you’re interested in hosting a jam, dear reader, contact Matt.

So, I left the conference with two really exciting skill-sets. What else did I gain? Through conversations throughout the three days, I discovered and connected with a community of brilliant thinkers who are committed to teaching and research in the humanities and who, through their various and diverse commitments, are doing vital work that will ensure generational transfer of humanistic inquiry. If the humanities are indeed in crisis (and have been since 1904), then that worry wasn’t the focus of this conference. Digital Diversity 2015 celebrated the possibility of longevity and sustainability exhibited by Orlando’s 20th birthday and offered us the space in which to voice concerns and fears about unfinished, unsupported projects. We generated productive discussion, infused by the wisdom of those who have been in the field for decades–for me, these voices were crucial–about how to keep working and teaching in DH and how to keep communicating about what it is that we do, who we are, and how what we do and who we are has the power to change the contours and parameters of our respective fields. May Digital Diversity 2016 or 2017 yield as much and more!

Finding my way to being lost

If you know me, you know that I love to get lost on foot. A perfect Sunday afternoon back in Brooklyn usually included a long, meandering walk down streets and through alleyways that I’d never walked before. Like Matt of “I’m Just Walkin’,” I tried my best to walk new streets every time I set out. If only I had had his idea way back when I started and had photo documented my little journeys because I feel fairly certain that my feet tread over most of Brooklyn, a significant portion of Manhattan, and a nice expanse of the Bronx while walking New York City for the past seven years. The number of pairs of shoes worn out past rescue that I tossed out while packing is testament to the mileage I must have covered.

While I don’t know how many miles I’ve walked through the streets of New York City, I do know that now I feel the lack of that kind of exploratory movement where every turn could reveal a new building or a really old one, an unfamiliar monument or a road marker left over from the turn of the century, a group of kids playing in a fire hydrant or old women in house coats sitting on a porch. These twists and turns of my getting lost revealed the expansive and diverse cultural landscape in which I lived. Often, I’d stop in a bodega and buy a pack of gum just so I could peek into what items were featured in the store. You can tell a lot about a neighborhood by what is sold in its bodegas. Usually, these encounters led to conversations with the shop owner that almost always resulted in my learning something new about the area and the attitude of its residents.

I’m trying to transfer that same practice into my new life in Greeley, and it’s bringing with it an unexpected set of obstacles, the most significant of which is that people don’t tend to walk here unless they are doing it very obviously for exercise and in a park (usually indicated by footwear with reflective material and 3lb weights in hand). Last Sunday, I set out for an afternoon exploration, completely forgetting that shops and restaurants are closed on the day of rest. As I walked fairly purposefully up and down streets, a nice seeming older man pulled over and asked me if I was lost and did I need a ride. “No thanks,” I said. “I just like walking.” “Well, are you sure you’re ok, ma’am?” he said. “Yes, I prefer to walk.” Was that really so strange?

This incident reminded me of the time I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma doing research on Jean Rhys. I tried to walk from the library back to my hotel and realized rather quickly that there was no shade cover and that wasn’t a great situation for a 110 degree day. Suddenly, a two mile walk seemed impossible, and the bus used only by Tulsa’s most down and out was just not showing up. In that case, I was really, terribly lost, lost on how to prepare for the elements, so when a similar kind older man pulled over and offered me a ride, I took it. Those NYC instincts kicked in and I believed he would deliver me safely to my abode, which he did. But, last Sunday in Greeley, it was not 110 degrees, and I really just wanted to get lost in my new town. After two more men, one on a bike, one on a motorcycle had ridden up alongside me and asked me (with less innocent intentions) if I was lost, I decided to head home. Defeated and without the buzz of tapped out energy in my feet and legs that I’d hoped to develop by a good pavement pounding, I sat down on my porch and watched my street for awhile. No one walked by.

Getting lost in walking through populated areas offers my mind an opportunity to mellow. It clears space for thinking and, later, for writing. I wonder about how people live as I walk by their houses, and I wonder where their feet take them each day. Do our paths cross? Do we see the same things? Probably not. I was telling an acquaintance here about this “problem” I’m having with walking and he said, “But you have the Rockies! Go get lost in them!” Yes, I do have the Rockies, but that is the last place one would want to be lost.

Maybe this change is bringing with it an opportunity to see being lost differently. After a conversation with my English majors yesterday in class about Rebecca Solnit’s perspectives on being lost, I see the most important difference in how they view being lost and how I view it is that for them, it’s not about location, geography, and the body; it’s about losing yourself to uncover your true identity, and that is absolutely what they should be doing at age 18, 19, 20. I already did that work. For me, finding my way to being lost is about opening up and letting in difference to shake up my perception, jostle my senses, and be really embodied.

I’m going to keep on walking in Greeley, but instead of looking at the ground and lamenting my loss of Brooklyn’s endless streets, I’ll say hello to all my neighbors as they look at me funny for using their sidewalk.

Becoming a Digital Citizen from Hyperlinks to Audience Recognition to Fact Checking

After a handful of glitches and access issues, the students in my composition courses are all finally participating on our course blog. First, I had them do a practice post in which they responded to one of the readings for the week by choosing one quote they believed to be the heart of the essay and analyzing it. While this sort of writing isn’t the most thrilling to read, it’s crucial for students in the early stages of critical analysis to practice. So, I knew I would have 32 posts of similar length and with similar claims. However, having them do this kind of post first, taught me two valuable lessons that will affect how I approach everything from now on.

1) They don’t read each others’ writing.
2) They think there is one “right” answer.

Many of the students chose the same essay, and most of these analyzed the same passage from that essay. This indicates that they weren’t looking at what their classmates had said in the posts that appeared before theirs or that they figured that what she or he said before had to be the thing the teacher was looking for. One of the reasons I decided to move off of Blackboard for discussions was to provide a more attractive and user friendly interface that I hoped would encourage more browsing and skimming through content. Now that I can tell that either they aren’t reading each others’ work or they are hesitant to offer a unique perspective, I’m asking them to go back and comment on at least 3 posts from the current batch.

The current batch’s prompt asked them to write a review of Tom Hooper’s 2010 film The King’s Speech in which they engaged with an online film review from any source. In addition to using another reviewer as a reference, they had to hyperlink to that piece in a way that made sense to the flow of their analysis. While I would imagine many people know how to insert a hyperlink into text, I am learning that not even the smallest aspects of digital literacy should be assumed as known. My first year composition students were born on or about 1995 (my junior year of High School!), and even though they have grown up with screens in front of their eyes, being a strong digital citizen requires learning all the little building blocks…like how to hyperlink. 

While some instructors would have set restrictions on such an assignment, like asking students to find a “reputable source,” I gave them freedom to choose any review as long as it could be hyperlinked. One of the strongest benefits I believe came out of such freedom was that their writing engages directly with the reviewer and his or her work; thus, my students are becoming aware of audience by the knowledge that this other person could very well read their work and respond to it. Removing the notion that they’re writing for their teacher creates a key difference in the outcomes and allows for them to begin to develop the voice that goes with their online presence. Secondly, they were responsible for evaluating the validity of their source acknowledging that within their own writing without my imposition. By assessing internet material in this way, they are learning that one needs to be conscientiously fact-checking as one reads all the time. For example, one student cited a review that confused Nick Nolte for Geoffrey Rush (shocking!), which brought to our attention that we shouldn’t take the digital word for truth.

With all this in mind, I am participating in our course’s online community too. While it is, of course, important that I remain in front of them in the physical classroom as an authority figure, I believe it’s valuable to contribute to the conversations they’re having online…something that was just too wonky in Blackboard. So, off I go to comment on more reviews!