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.


“Collaboration on the Digital Humanities Playground” Workshop (Part Two #LANS2016)

In the Digital Humanities, collaboration is key! The following workshop will give you experience with collaborating to create a group timeline using the tool TimelineJS. Below, you’ll find instructions for your collaborative mini-project, links to the tools and tutorials you’ll need, and tips for healthy team-work. Feel free to tweet about your project using the hashtag #LANS2016 and @secornish. HAVE FUN!

Building a Timeline for Your Generation

As a team, you’re going to build a timeline using the tool TimelineJS. It’s a free, open-source tool that works with Google.

1) Discovering what skills in collaboration come naturally, what you might need to work on more, what frustrates you, and what works well.
2) Learning about how you feel under pressure, and with a new, and probably very foreign task before you.
3) Acknowledging what questions emerge out of your projects that you might want to pursue.

Your project manager should have emailed you a share link to the Google sheets template that you’ll be using for your timeline. Open that sheet in Google Drive.

Part I: Discussing and Planning (10-15 minutes)

What are the moments that define your generation? Are they historical? Political? Social? Cultural? Are there products that you’ll always think of fondly? Books you know you’ll want to share with your children, nieces, and nephews? Movies to which you know all the lines? Political figures who inspire you? Social movements in which you participate? Celebrities who serve as role models? Events that have shaped your perceptions of the world in which you live?

As a group, spend about 10-15 minutes talking about some of the defining events/phenomena/moments that you believe are significant to shaping your identities and, more broadly, your generation.

Part II: Researching and Making (20-25 minutes)

Once you have a good list, each of you will choose one of these items to research. Feel free to use the web as widely as you like.

  1. Learn a few key facts about your chosen item such as a date of occurrence or a general period of popularity or interest.
  2. Find a media item to include in your entry. TimelineJS supports media from YouTube, Wikipedia, Vimeo, Flickr, Twitter, Soundcloud, Google images and maps, screenshots, photos from your hard drive, as well as URLs from many other sites.
  3. Write text to describe your item (just a sentence or two).
  4. Write a media caption for the media you’ve chosen to include.

You can collect all of this information in a Word doc or Stickies note and transfer it to your team’s spreadsheet when you’re ready.

Each person will be responsible for developing a timeline entry. You’ll each need to determine what line number on the spreadsheet is yours so that you don’t accidentally enter information into someone else’s space. If you have time, you can do a second and third entry.

As you work on populating your sheet, help each other out. Spreadsheets can be a bit intimidating.

Your team’s first entry (the blue row) can be used as a title page for your timeline. This might be the last thing you do as a team once you figure out what your overarching narrative wants to be based on everyone’s choices. You might include everyone’s names on this title page. Also, be sure to name your Google sheet something that signals what your timeline is all about.

Part III: Publishing and Sharing (10 minutes)

Once the Google sheet is populated with at least one entry per person on your team, publish it to the web and grab the link, using the instructions here or on the TimelineJS homepage. Paste the link into the field on the TimelineJS homepage to test your timeline. Look carefully at each entry and discuss what looks great and what might need more information. Help each other correct your spreadsheet so that your timeline works the way you want it to work.

When you feel that your timeline is ready to embed into a webpage, you can copy the code and paste it into your own blogs to test it, or send it to me, and I’ll post it on my blog. Remember, the code is different from the link.

You may also share your timeline link via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Gmail.

(Note: If you and your team are feeling ambitious and want to continue to build your timeline after this workshop, feel free to send me your code to embed on my blog or a link to your site. I’d love to see how your projects evolve.)

If time permits, we’ll spend a last few minutes talking about your collaborative processes.



“Who, What, Why?” Getting Acquainted with the Digital Humanities (Part One #LANS2016 Invited Talk)

The following material corresponds with a talk I’m giving at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium in Stamford, CT on July 30, 2016. Students present at the talk can follow along and explore various DH projects via this blog post. Feel free to tweet as we go using the LANS hashtag #LANS2016 and @secornish. You can also leave comments on this post about the session.

Part I: Introductions and Posing the Questions

Questions that drive my research are:

1) Who decides who or what gets to be remembered and who or what gets forgotten? In other words, who decides what goes into physical archives to be preserved? What about digital archives? Who will manage the archives and keep them sustainable?

2) What social, historical, political, and cultural contexts inform the work and lives of the writers I research? How does learning about the past inform my understandings of our present?

3) What’s the “So what?”? What am I adding to the study of literature, culture, and the humanities by doing the research I do?

4) How can I best present my findings so that other scholars can use them in their research? How can I best teach my findings so that my students may learn from them?

5) What might my research reveal if I find new ways to express it?

Digital tools and platforms provide new ways to express our research. Thus, the Digital Objects we make with these tools help to preserve and promote new ideas, discoveries, and humanistic inquiry. 

“The Machine is Us/ing Us” by Michael Wesch (YouTube, May 8, 2007)

Part II: Debates and Definition of a Practice

What does it mean to practice DH? How can the Digital Humanities help us better work with our materials and reveal our research? Let’s take a look at what the practitioners have to say about it.

What is the “so what?” What am I doing with the things I make to further humanistic inquiry? Am I being thoughtful about representation of important issues like equality, justice, and ethics? Am I reifying the status quo in research and scholarship, or am I actively making meaningful contributions that might have the power to change that conversation?

Let’s look at some digital projects. This assortment represents sites that I use, but there are many projects out there that will certainly correspond with your own research interests.


Digital Harlem

Hypercities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities

The Internet Archive

Modernist Journals Project

Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present

Browse through two or three of these sites.

  1. Who is the site’s audience?
  2. How might one use the site?
  3. How intuitive is the interface?
  4. What questions does it bring up for you?

Part III: Collaboration

What, in your experience, is important for good, productive, and innovative collaboration?

Let’s take a look at how my students worked collaboratively to produce a blog and two Scalar books during the Spring semester of 2016.

Digital Humanities Playground

A course site for ENG 395 at the University of Northern Colorado (Spring 2016)



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!

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!

Adventures in DH: Course Blogs

There are two words you can say to me that will elicit emotional extremes ranging from excitement to panic to downright petrification. They are: Digital Humanities. Now, as a PhD candidate in literature, I hear these two words tossed over the cubicle walls in my department all day long. My Twitter feed smacks me in the face with DH every time I happen to take a glance. My roommate even says these words to me just to see which response they’ll elicit so she can gauge my mood. Part of this emotional extremism comes from the fact that I didn’t know I was supposed to know anything about DH this time last year. It was only when a colleague of mine asked how I was going to field the dreaded DH question during job interviews that I started to see what Cathy N. Davidson calls “the gorilla on the basketball court.” (For more on that gorilla, see Davidson’s Now You See It [Penguin 2011]) The point is, I’m learning really fast that digital pedagogies are not so scary; really, they are varied and exciting, and even a non-tech person like me can offer a digitally rich composition or literature course. 

Spring semester has just begun, and I have launched my first course blog. I’ll be posting tidbits about what works and what doesn’t in hopes of having a record of my process and as a way to open up a conversation with those of you who want to get digital in your classrooms and research or who are seasoned and have advice to share. 

Not a single one of my 32 composition students this semester has ever blogged, posted on someone else’s blog, or even commented on a newspaper/magazine article online. This surprises me beyond belief. But, now I know that what I am about to do will teach them how to be strong digital humanists in this growing community. Once they (and I) feel stable, we’ll go public, so stay tuned!