Category Archives: Student responses to lectures and workshops

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Researcher Beware!

Genevieve asked a great question Monday night: How does one verify the data reflected in mapping platforms?

In his answer, Steve Romalewski stressed that when examining any kind of data, critical thinking is essential. First, look at the metadata to see when the content was updated, look to see where the information came from, who gathered it, what it includes and, by extension, excludes.

Both Genevieve’s question and Steve’s answer underscore the importance of critical thinking and content transparency in the myriad digital tools we use everyday for research. There is often a false sense of security when searching online platforms that the content will be there and that it will be true. And if it’s not there, then it must not exist at all.

To some extent, it might not exist, online anyway. Take, for example, an online full text historical newspaper archive. While the platform may advertise a specific title as being in the full text, it doesn’t necessarily tell you that only select issues are available. The hapless researcher, plugging in keywords and getting nowhere might not be aware of that gap in coverage, and so gets…nothing. If she had known the inclusion dates of that digital archive, she might’ve known that while her online search might yield very little, a spin through a physical microfilm reel might prove enormously fruitful —  albeit a lot more time consuming.

As we increasingly rely on digital tools for research, sometimes to the exclusion of other resources, we must always be aware of the ways the resources are structured and the content they provide. With that knowledge, we’ll have much more manageable expectations of what can be found, how best to approach it for research, or whether someone is better off consulting another full text portal: the physical book.

Mapping Movies

Steve Romalewski offered us a broad overview of the many tools one can utilize for mapping projects. It is astounding to consider the sophistication of programs like ArcGIS and QGIS when, as Steve noted, the majority of the functionality is never even used, and wonderfully complex, insightful maps are created nonetheless. Equally astounding, however, are more recent, smaller-scale tools such as mapbox.com, cartodb.com, and even ESRI’s Storymaps. While both ArcGIS and QGIS are powerful devices that are not particularly intimidating, a humanist may find one of the latter mapping tools more appropriate for his/her work. Intuitive and easily navigable, such tools can be remarkably effective for geo-plotting humanistic data. Since my background is in film studies, I am particularly interested in thinking of ways to map movie data.

Despite an abundance of work and theory developed around literary mapping (particularly the work of Franco Moretti), there seem to be relatively few attempts to synthesize cinema and maps. Of note, however, is Stephen Mamber’s digital work, as well as his 2003 essay, “Narrative Mapping”, which outlines potential approaches for mapping narrative films. Also notable is Jeffrey Klenotic’s current project “Mapping Movies” (see jeffklenotic.com). Narrative mappings of a film may be interesting, particularly when multiple settings occur and the geography itself has contextual meaning, but Klenotic’s project shows that other forms of mapping cinema are possible. Though unfinished at the moment, this project intends to map film exhibitions from an historical perspective in order to gain social and cultural knowledge regarding the movie-going population in certain locations at certain moments in time. Another conceivable approach could involve mapping production locations, if one was doing historical research on the business itself, or perhaps simply investigating how production locations contrast their fictional counterparts. Likewise, mapping a particular film author’s work (either by production location or fictional setting) might offer insight only attainable through geographical visualization. Suffice to say, the potential is vast.

ESRI’s Storymaps, though seemingly unsophisticated and geared toward a consumer-base, may in fact offer the greatest potential for mapping movies. If people haven’t tried this quick, easy, and fun tutorial, I would highly recommend it: http://www.computerworld.com/slideshow/detail/111965. The “map tour” template (and other templates probably have this functionality, as well) allows one to import web images and video (via flickr, youtube, etc.). This is great for geo-tagging photos from a road trip. But this could be equally valuable for a scholarly, narrative mapping project. Historical documents, manuscripts, etc. can be compiled, converted to image files, posted to a site like Flickr, then very easily mapped in Storymaps. For film study, one could rip a DVD using a simple, free tool like Handbrake (http://handbrake.fr), break down scenes according to setting (using QuickTime Player or simple editing software like iMovie), post each scene as a separate video to YouTube, then embed the URL to a pin in Storymaps (based, of course, on the geographic location in which the scene is set). Likewise, the video clip is viewable in a side bar, similar to National Geographic’s “Geostories” (http://www.geostories.org/portal/). One can, therefore, watch an entire film while simultaneously tracing the narrative geographically.

This process may seem a bit convoluted, but it is actually quite simple, and it offers a new way of looking at a particular film, or any story.

Consensus isn’t what collaboration is about

Consensus isn’t what collaboration is about. This take-home-point by Tom Scheinfeld stuck with me, and I found myself saying it out loud to a group of people at work. This is an important point that bogged our web project down in the planning stages of post.at.moma.org. The struggle of early stages–lack of consensus and leadership on what the website should be, it’s goals, its tone, it’s audience it’s measure of success, etc.–still is visible to a visitor who spends a little bit of time on it. The project lacked a visionary who knew and believed what the project should be.

Instead of gaining consensus of the group, Scheinfeld stated that if a positive outcome is accomplished, led by a few members of the group, that is what the collective will remember–their achievement as a group. But for this achievement to be accomplished, someone must asses the best possible outcome and make a decision. My question at that moment was, how do you, as a leader decide on something? How can you be confident that it will work? Maybe you don’t until you take the chance? Is the definition of a leader, someone who confidently takes chance on something?

Another probably obvious point that didn’t always seem clear to me, is that the measure of success should be based on whether people use it. Despite the institutional agenda, and ideologies and high standards that motivate projects, if there isn’t a practical utility value that serves people, it’s not successful. The number of people that the project considers a success, though, requires some thought. As project that caters to a specialized audience (particular topic in art history), it needs to determine what that limited number of audience is, that it should strive toward. There is pressure to serve a general audience, and have many visits per day, but the content of the site cannot appeal to a general audience. A specialized and devoted follower, who values the content of the site is needed, but the number of that audience is yet to be determined.

There were many golden advise that Scheinfeld left during his talk and discussion. Here are a few more that I will keep with me in the future wherever I end up working as a professional project manager:

  • value constraints (think about the 7-day turn around)
  • make time for social interaction (meta cognition)
  • assessing people’s skills. Determining the types of skills the group has, and the type of skills that need to be acquired.
  • think of set of critical questions; always ask what it’s missing, and think of the overall picture
  • list the criteria for the measure of success
  • divide a group to execute different things
  • watch out for unthoughtful moves. There is risk of losing members’ urgency, respect, trust, etc.
  • create process documentation. This could be part of the out-reach (tweeting out the progress or reporting on a blog)

An incredibly valuable session, the text by Sharon M. Leon also provided practical tips on project management. I would be curious to hear about the workshop that evening, which I couldn’t make. Classmates: let me know if any of you made it to the workshop and please share with me your take-home-points!!

 

One Prof One Book?

I enjoyed Tom Schienfeldt’s presentation on his One Week One Tool initiative. One thing in particular has stuck with me. After his talk, the question of Project Management as applied to academia came up. Mr. Schienfeldt made the point that corralling humanists into working together is difficult. It’s really a shame this is true.

People can do so much more when they work in a team possessed of complementary skills, and this applies to academic pursuits in the Humanities as well as any others. It’s often said at this point that successful collaboration happens all the time in the sciences. What is so different about the humanistic fields that makes collaboration so hard?

Many say it is because a monograph, apparently the great proof of academic accomplishment, succeeds best as a solo undertaking. It’s the concentrated expression of a single person’s study and thought. Why is this valued? Partially because the subjects of the Humanities are thought of as subjective, or at least contingent. The monograph form also evolved partially as a response to the need to recognize academic accomplishments, designed to make it possible to give credit to one person.

But, the monograph isn’t the inherent form of humanistic expression. Group projects, while they look different from monographs, can still provide unique contributions to knowledge. They might take the form of an archive, or a ‘social edition’, or any number of arrangements not invented yet. And, if expectations change in order to recognize group work, some academics will consider it in their best interests to work together.

Even the monograph form doesn’t exclude group work. It is possible to assign appropriate credit for each author’s contribution to a multi-author monograph, eg, by assigning authors to write individual chapters. Imagine, however, a book written truly collaboratively, with each author’s text intermingling with the others’. Authors could use a version control system like Git, letting them work simultaneously on the same text without interfering with each other’s progress–and allowing judges to assign credit, using Git’s Diff function to see who wrote what.

By the way, I’ve employed just such a collaborative model using Git & Github (see the source code here), working with Alevtina Verbovetskaya, Robin Davis, and Junior Tidal, for a presentation we are making on the topic Life with Pi: Microcomputing in Academia to the CUNY IT Conference this next Friday, December 6th. Come on by if you’re interested!

Collaboration and creative constraints

The One Week | One Tool project shows that time and resource constraints really can be made to work in a project’s favor. Twelve strangers who committed to seven days of all hack, no yack, and very little sleep made some great tools (Serendip-o-matic, Anthologize). Creating severe constraints can foster both collaboration and creativity.  Tom Scheinfeldt pointed out three key lessons for successful collaborations: 1) embrace serendipity 2) let go and 3) collaboration is shared doing.

DH barn raising projects are inspiring, but they are artificial laboratories of collaboration. How many of the lessons will be useful outside of an intense, boot camp style workshop? I agree that collaboration is shared doing, but I started to wonder when Scheinfeldt pointed out that time constraints can mean sacrificing shared decision making.  My workplace culture focuses on consensus building, so I found it both slightly shocking and secretly delightful (those staff meetings are long!) when Scheinfeldt said “Moving on will mend hurt feelings more than talking about it.”

What about collaboration for the rest of us? Very few people have the luxury of attending a week long workshop. The real world has plenty of constraints (time, money, jobs, families, multiple competing projects, laundry etc.). What are best ways to use these constraints to promote collaboration and creativity? Maybe it’s less about crash programs and more about intelligent adaptation to existing conditions? Starting a business (designing the right product for the right market) or gardening (choosing the best plant to thrive in a particular location) could be useful examples for thinking about the best ways to use what we have to build something together.

Alt-Ac Careers

I was incredibly grateful for the candor with which we discussed the state of academic jobs in the DH Praxis Seminar this week. The job hunt is a touchy subject (whether in the academic humanities or elsewhere), and I’ve enjoyed the fact that our seminar doesn’t shy away from difficult topics.

As a few people mentioned on Monday, it is a shame the term “alt-ac” even exists. This entire category of jobs is not defined by its own characteristics, but by that to which it is an alternative. As Katina mentioned during her lecture, until we truly establish an even playing field, where students are encouraged to blaze their own trails without a description of the “normal” path and the “alternative” path, the term alt-ac will have to do.

I also really appreciated the idea of making your own luck. As a musician, I am faced with a field that is built on relationships, networking, freelance, and entrepreneurship. While everyone has heard the story of a musician waiting for his “break,” there’s something to be said for creating your own opportunities and being ready for whatever comes your way as you passionately pursue your career.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Lecture

I also enjoyed Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s lecture on the future of scholarship and the challenges ahead.  Not only is she a very passionate lecturer, she offered varying perceptions and trials ahead.  Traditional peer review is an archaic model, that being said, most of academia remains fundamentally in that realm.  The adage, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, comes to mind, but this system is broken.  There are gatekeepers in editorial staff and I would assume lots of who knows who in different areas of knowledge.  Although, I think there will still be gatekeepers and a leaning towards an elitist group when (if ever) scholarship shifts over to digital world.  If I could image digital scholarship “reviews” I would assume that it would draw on a larger population than that of the closed doors of established journals and other publications.  We all are under the assumption that if if gets past the gatekeepers, the work is solid and sound, supported and valid.  Post Peer review is just if not more important than the initial screening review.  I found this article, regarding letters to the Editor, an important part of the post peer review, discusses misleading information. 

When input emanates from all sides, not just the top, I would assume one would yield more well-rounded results and more transparency.  Overall this shift needs a revolution to occur, if there are going to be comprehensive changes in this type of review that produces tenure or establishes experts in fields.  In this article from 2012, discusses the hopeful future of online scholarship, with the established journal which has the following tenets in the “How it works section.” 

Authors submit manuscript to Peerage of Science, before submitting to any journal. Submitting Author decides the deadlines for the four stages [timed stages of review] of the process, which are thereafter automatically enforced.  Once submitted, any qualified* non-affiliated** Peer can engage to review the manuscript. (Peerage of Science, Online Journal  http://www.peerageofscience.org)

That model seems like a promising start.

I think the first steps of establishing scholarship that will force the change the academia mindset, is digital tools in the curriculums of schools at all levels.  This background will be the scaffolding that the digital scholars and traditional scholars will lean on for support and continue to build upon.  If digital scholarship only establishes itself in higher education as it seems to be doing at the moment, this shift needs to proselytize by the next generation of scholars not yet in higher education, the ones who are in grade school now.

New Ideas for Old Systems

Kathleen Fitzpatrick begins the introduction of Planned Obsolescence with quote by Clay Shirky: “The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.”

I love this quote because it addresses an ever-present issue in the Digital Humanities: there will always be broken systems, and there will always be new tools that can help us improve them. This mindset (and the sense of adventure and experimentation that seems to come with it) is one thing I’ve really enjoyed about the Digital Praxis Seminar at the GC. It is not always easy to have this mindset, of course. It requires that we be honest with ourselves about what is not working, even if (or especially if) it has been this way for a long time.

Although no one has yet worked out all the kinks of a digital system of peer-review, Kathleen cited numerous projects and individuals (not the least of which being her work with Media Commons) that are tackling the issue head on. Perhaps we don’t have a perfect solution yet, but let’s get to work and come up with one!

I’ll end with a quote by one of my favorite artists and thinkers, John Cage: “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

What Does Digital Humanities Mean for Pedagogy?

I was so happy to read Stephen Brier’s essay in Debates in the Digital Humanities, which echoed many of my thoughts:

…this recent rush toward the technological new has tended to focus too narrowly, in my judgment, on the academic research and publication aspects of the digital humanities, in the process reinforcing disciplinary “silos” and traditional academic issues while also minimizing and often obscuring the larger implications of DH for how we teach in universities and colleges and how we prepare the next generation of graduate students for careers inside and outside of the academy.

For me, yesterday’s class discussion really got to the heart of my Digital Humanities questions. Using digital tools like text mining and data visualization are nice for higher-level research, but what about undergrads preparing to go out into the real world? Yes these things are used by people outside of the academy (see here and here ), but shouldn’t we be introducing students to a broader range of digital tools earlier on? When we incorporate technology in pedagogy, is it “Digital Humanities,” or just teaching and the internet? Does it matter?

As a Literature major, I was taught minimal digital skills in my undergrad courses. I took one required programming course that didn’t really stick, but I had a basic understanding of the internet and computers because I grew up in the 90s. While the degree helped of course, I was hired into my first desk job mainly because of the practical skills I picked up on my own. When I started working at a magazine, I picked up things that anyone in media needs—a basic understanding of HTML, how to work with content management systems, and how to be a project manager. My school didn’t offer courses in digital media, though I’m sure some students who have the foresight about what kind of job they want (that is to say, not most 18-year-olds), would be able to pick up similar skills in such classes at their own universities.

Many of my undergraduate teachers encouraged us to incorporate digital tools into our projects, I guess assuming that most kids these days were adept at programming and building websites. I remember only one student going this direction in a Creative Writing seminar – a friend of mine who learned to code on her own because she enjoyed it. On presentation day, instead of reading from a novella, she presented a video game, and moved the characters around the screen to act out her story. Jaws dropped. How could an English major use computers like that?

Anyway, that Literature student works for Google now.

As Stephen Ramsay says in his Programming with Humanists essay , “…if an English or a History student finds his or her way into a class on programming, it is not because of some perceived continuity between the study of Shakespeare or the French Revolution and the study of for-loops and conditionals. Most students see programming—and not without justice—as a mostly practical subject” (228).

It is to an undergraduate’s advantage, especially if he or she will not pursue graduate school, to have an active understanding of technology and its practical uses (even if they aren’t working for Google). I had a rockstar intern at my marketing agency who: knew some HTML and could help me with e-mail newsletters, could use Adobe Illustrator and InDesign to help me put together marketing brochures, and knew how to use Excel to make charts and do calculations (thankfully for me, because Zzzzz…). He will have a leg up from other people his age applying to the same jobs after graduation. I usually assume most humanities students learn practical job-related skills on their own in an internship, or when they get a Master’s degree. And while internships are a great place to learn on-the-job skills, many students in smaller communities don’t have this opportunity.

While undergrads in the humanities are learning excellent skills such as how to present an effective argument, they aren’t getting enough practical skills from humanities teachers that will make them competitive in the current job market. But outside of programming, business, science or digital media, how do you do this for students with broader interests who are unsure of what exactly they want to pursue for work? To further complicate things, because technology changes as quickly as it does, how can you ask teachers to keep up?

I think the whole area of pedagogy is where it becomes most important to define what we’re talking about when we talk about “DH.” Shouldn’t we be teaching students to use technology effectively in order for them to better interact with the modern world? The Looking for Whitman project  is a great example of how you can combine practical skills (collaboration, writing for an audience, using blogging software) with academic ones (thinking critically about texts, etc.). While writing an effective essay is important, it isn’t everything. This recent Slate article brings this point home.

For me, DH has wider implications for the university system because the people who are involved seem to be the most open to new ideas. Without trying to seem too idealistic, shouldn’t we be harnessing this power somehow to change the system and the way students learn, rather than just using  it in our own research?

As Brier says,

CUNY’s growing focus over the past two decades on the scholarship of teaching and learning has by no means been limited to the digital humanities, narrowly defined. If we are willing to broaden our definition of digital humanities beyond academic research and related issues of academic publication, peer review, and tenure and promotion to encompass critical questions about ways to improve teaching and learning, then CUNY’s various digital pedagogy projects and strategies offer an alternative pathway to broaden the impact of the digital humanities movement and make it more relevant to the ongoing and increasingly beleaguered educational mission of contemporary colleges and universities.

Educating the next generation of informed citizens ultimately falls on the shoulders of teachers. Now that technology is a part of that world, it should be a part of teaching as well. Because the impacts of technology are forcing things to move faster than say, the printing press, I don’t see academia catching on quickly enough on its own. But it’s also important to note that everyone is struggling to keep up, not just the academy.

Further Thoughts on Digital Pedagogy — How We Think

I found yesterday’s class discussion extremely productive. Particularly striking was the question posed regarding learning outcomes—I.e., if one is teaching writing, what should one expect his/her students to actually gain/know by the end of the term?

As Mark Sample notes, the undergraduate essay is somewhat superfluous. Therefore, I find that augmenting critical thinking abilities, broadly speaking, is the most effective learning outcome, particularly for undergrads whose paths are often uncertain. However, this raises a somewhat abstract question as to how we think, which may be where DH pedagogy comes into play. For instance, there may have once been a moment in history when the most effective means for producing critical thinking involved reading and writing, but perhaps that is no longer the case. In my extremely limited teaching experience I have found that writing skills seem to be decreasing and technological skills are exponentially increasing, and this is not an attribute of shifting pedagogical strategies but of mass culture in general and perhaps even radically different psychological modalities. Digital pedagogy seems to support this shift, whereas traditional pedagogy may be working against it.

Katherine Hayles’ most recent book How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis highlights the distinction between hyper-reading and close-reading, and she calls for an amalgamation of the two. In other words, we should embrace the way we think and process information as a digital culture, but the ability to close-read is still valuable. This, I find, is the best approach to pedagogy in the digital age.

Admittedly, I am simply outlining my thoughts following yesterday’s discussion, and this is probably not an adequate account of what I feel is an important discussion in DH and certainly beyond. Do people, particularly those with more teaching experience, have any thoughts?