On December 16th Jeff McClurken, Brian Croxall, and Ryan Cordell shared their courses in a NITLE Digital Scholarship Seminar Series session entitled “Teaching DH 101: Introduction to the Digital Humanities.” Each discussed teaching and designing courses with a digital humanities focus in the disciplines of English and history. Rebecca Davis and Rob Nelson hosted the seminar over WebEx, allowing over sixty participants to interact with the presenters, share links, and ask questions during the session.
Ryan Cordell began by discussing the design and approval process of a course he has yet to conduct, “Technologies of Text”. Ryan described how he decided not to design “Intro to Digital Humanities”, but instead a digital humanities course grounded in his discipline. By focusing the course on interpreting text and working under a disciplinary umbrella, Ryan was able to make the course understandable to his colleagues. Ryan wanted to incorporate an assignment to create a geospatial exhibit, so he attended DHSI to acquire skills in GIS. The course aims to help students understand that the technologies they use shape their encounters with texts. The links to Ryan’s presentation can be found here.
Brian Croxall’s course, ENG 389 “Introduction to Digital Humanities” drew a diverse body of students and covered broad selection of topics. Brian brought in many guests via Skype and even had his students collaborate with another course by reading the same book simultaneously. Another interesting aspect of his course was the inclusion of debates in the digital humanities. Brian noted that there was some pushback from students on having to read DH theory, but students in the course gained a solid understanding of the contours and debates in DH. Brian’s links are here.
As a historian, I found Jeff’s course, “Adventures in Digital History” the most exciting. It has several goals: to encourage students to work outside their comfort zone in public history, to teach students marketable and practical technology skills, and to collaborate on projects interpreting local primary sources. Jeff explained that trust was key in meeting these goals. It is important to assure students that what we are doing is new and that you won’t “beat them with the grade stick” for taking risks. His top goal was to encourage students to consume and produce history in new and interdisciplinary ways. Jeff has his presentation links here.
The models all three presenters shared were very exciting for anyone planning a DH-inclined course. However, I did have some concerns about how these exciting models might be applied outside of the classrooms the three panelists worked in. All three had smaller class sizes during a regular semester. My teaching opportunities have only come as a TA in a large lecture course or as the instructor of record for a larger online summer course. It would require creativity and adaptability to apply some of the lessons and models from the courses of the panelists. Clearly, the way we incorporate the digital humanities into our courses depends greatly on the size, setting, and composition of those courses. A recording of the seminar can be viewed here.
If passed, legistlation like SOPA will have a detrimental effect on cultural heritage informatics work. (Photo by kyz; CC BY 2.0)
If you’re reading this, you’ve likely heard of a piece of US legislation called SOPA, more formally known as the Stop Internet Piracy Act. It is less formally – but perhaps more popularly! – known as The Internet Killer. Though SOPA is intended to give the government greater power in halting Internet piracy – the illegal downloading and streaming of copyrighted material – it is a highly dangerous bill that, if passed, will change the web as we know it and, as such, have a drastic effect on the field of cultural heritage informatics.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes the bill most succinctly in their one-pager on the topic [pdf]:
The Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA, H.R. 3261) is a dangerous new “anti-piracy” bill being debated in the House of Representatives. Supporters claim that SOPA targets “rogue” foreign websites that encourage online [copyright] infringement, but the bill’s vague language would create devastating new tools for silencing legitimate speech all around the web.
SOPA would authorize the US federal government to exercise DNS blocking which is a web censorship method utilized by the governments of China, Iran, and Russia. This means that the government could create an Internet blacklist and could restrict the entire country’s access to certain web-content based on domain names. Under SOPA, a site could lawfully be blacklisted for simply linking to copyrighted content. Furthermore, SOPA holds website owners accountable for their user’s behavior; for instance, if a YouTube user posts a video that includes someone singing copyrighted music, the government could blacklist YouTube.com for that user’s infringement. This bill affords the government significant control over the flow of information in the US and poses alarming implications for cultural heritage institutions working with the web.
Brandon Butler, writing on behalf of the Library Copyright Alliance [pdf], raises concern over SOPA’s construction of a “willful” copyright infringer and the legal repercussions that libraries could face if the bill passes. Though he expresses concern specifically on behalf of libraries, his concerns are applicable, I think, to a wide range of cultural heritage institutions that utilize the web and digital tools. Butler argues that SOPA expands the meaning of a “willful” copyright infringer to the point where it would increase libraries’ exposure to criminal charges for services that many currently provide to patrons, such as streaming media, photo repositories, and other online services.
Cultural heritage institutions have been able to do some really awesome work in appropriating historical artifacts for access and use through the web. The possibilities for libraries, schools, and museums to provide innovative, media-rich, GPS-based learning tools are growing with the increasing pervasiveness of consumer mobile technology. Many libraries and museums, for instance, run mobile sites or applications rich in photos, video, and sound that make their collections accessible outside of the brick and mortar archive to patrons, teachers, and students across the country. Through the innovative application of web technology, institutions have been able to broaden their audience, make their collections more accessible, and become valued creative forces in the broad scope of the digital humanities and sciences.
Copyright has long been a complicated issue in the domain of cultural heritage, even before the digital age, but SOPA will make it a nearly insurmountable problem on the institutional level for libraries, museums, and schools. With the high legal risk it poses for cultural heritage institutions, it is likely that if SOPA passes there will be a widespread decrease in institutional engagement in the project of building digital cultural heritage repositories, tools, and applications. Innovative and exciting technological work is happening in the domain of cultural heritage and sadly, it appears that one piece of federal legislation, if passed, could halt all of it. When critics call SOPA the Internet killer, what they really mean is that it murders creativity by shackling individuals and institutions who build, make, create, and compose online into unnavigable, high-risk legal quagmires, effectively annihilating innovation and invention.
SOPA represents the US federal government’s continued misunderstanding of the Internet and the utilities and practices surrounding it. Copyright law in the United States has historically been slow to catch up with advancing technological mediums and modes of distribution. SOPA is not an effort on the part of Congress to catch up with us and the powerful digital tools we wield, but instead an effort to hold us back with incredibly arcane, borderline authoritarian legislation. The Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA, H.R. 3261) has not been signed into law yet, but it’s on the fast-track to passing. SOPA has wide-reaching implications for the freedom of speech and access to information and it is in the best interest of the American people that this bill not pass.
In order to even begin to fairly and appropriately legislate the Internet, a paradigm shift in how we think about copyright is needed. Conceiving of digital artifacts and spaces as property has proven to be inadequate both for legislators and digital authors; property, generally a thing that can be physically held and thus regulated easily, gets abstracted to the point of uselessness in online spaces. Instead, it seems more appropriate to think about digital media in terms of access which is focused more on boundaries of engagement and less on property ownership.
If you’re anything like me, scholarly writing is not the easiest or most exciting of activities. As useful as it is, I still rate it at about the level of fun as when I was 5 and accidentally smashed my own hand in the family minivan door.
It is for that very reason that the writing group was invented: for encouragement, commiseration, accountability, perspective, and yes, honing written communication. The writing group teaches us to write transparently: to demystify the writing process and make every step, from idea to final product, as clear to the reader as it is to the writer. This transparency can be frightening. There’s a lingering fear that showing people my work-in-progress will be like showing everyone my glass house: it’s fine if I have time to clean it up for planned visits, but if passers-by peeked in they would see it in complete disarray. And how can you respect a peer who clearly left last night’s partially consumed pop-tart and glass of Chardonnay next to the sofa?
While traditional writing groups demand that I clean my house more frequently and keep everything a bit more ordered, there are a number of useful new (and not-so-new) tech and media tools to enable more encouragement, commiseration, and accountability:
- For busy schedules, Doodle polls and Google Calendar help with meeting times and group deadlines (both may be shared with specific groups);
- For those of us who travel a great deal (or live in different parts of the country/world), meet in real time via Google+ Hangouts, which allows you to see and talk to multiple people at the same time;
- Sharing and syncing documents via DropBox is simple and manageable, while Google Docs offers real-time editing. Either way, your in-box stays clutter-free;
- Use Twitter to alert others when a group member is writing, or alert others via text message;
- And yes, group notes and reminders still go out via email.
Sure, it isn’t necessary to be technologically intense in writing groups, but instead of integrating writing into my weekly routine, the technology has helped me to integrate writing into my daily routine. Distance (social and physical) follows a well-known direct relationship: the closer the carrot or stick, the greater the motivation. Most of us have a difficult time looking a peer in the eye and saying, “I slacked off this week.”
So much for the stick. But each of the social media and digital aspects of the group has a role to play in bringing group members closer together at each stage of the writing process. These moment-to-moment interactions allow for all parts of the writing process to become visible to all group members: good day or bad day; struggling, surviving, or succeeding; each person’s writing processes are visible to everyone else. Just as importantly, it helps us become familiar with our own unique writing processes. And incremental progress emphasizes writing as process, which is the prelude to product.
Don’t get me wrong: we’ve had frustrations. Arguments over software (Microsoft vs. Anything Else) and combining document edits; hardware issues (I finally got a webcam); and bizarre internet issues (“the DoD is scrambling your wireless signal??”) have taken time to work through. But we are working, some steadily, some in fits and starts, on designated projects, and seeing results and feedback quickly. And my group members, who now have a near-unobstructed view into my glass house, are surprisingly forgiving about the mess – and I’m finally getting used to the idea that their houses aren’t always so neat, either. So we learn to give and receive feedback from peers: those who are not grading us, giving us (or denying us) funding (yet), and who are writing in the same glass houses. Under these circumstances, nobody seems inclined to throw any stones.
A few months ago, I initiated a push to create social media accounts for the lab in which I am graduate student (read: free) labor. The Lab Director was curious whether such accounts would be appropriate for the Michigan State University Forensic Anthropology Laboratory (@MSUForensicAnth). After all, the lab consults with law enforcement across the state on sensitive cases. There are very real legal reasons in addition to the obvious ethical ones not to tweet: “We’re off to CityName to recovery a body from ClandestineLocation!” Nearly all lab activity is confidential. Although the reasons in our case are unique, hesitant bosses/leaders usually question whether their group has anything worth sharing when approached by someone eager to branch into social media.
The anthem of the resistant “I don’t care when someone’s eating a sandwich” appeared in my own conversations with other lab employees. It was difficult for me to articulate what is tweeted if it’s not sandwiches. In response, I sat down and first Googled the topic, then thought out how to explain The Point to someone who’s not already embedded in social media (I’ll focus on Twitter here):
There are three main types of accounts on Twitter: personal, professional, and institutional. The first two often merge to the benefit of professionals, as the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported (http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/professors-with-personal-tweets-get-high-credibility-marks/30635). There’s a great tutorial slideshow on how to tweet professionally that North Carolina State posted in 2009 explaining to university employees to provide context and not blind links, for example (http://www.slideshare.net/jfaustin/tweeting-for-nc-state-university).
But to bring it back to the issue at hand, how do you present Twitter to your boss?
My answer: Tell her to envision this new public presence as one big bulletin board. Everyone has a bulletin board in the hallway outside their office, but they often languish un-updated and rarely read. The types of things on that physical bulletin board are the kinds of things you would want to share with a larger audience if you could. Twitter is a public relations tool: not only are you reaching out to the people already in and around the lab, but prospective students, domestic and international colleagues, and the general public. As NC State notes in the slideshow above, Twitter is a way to increase the reputation and standing of an institution. If you value networking in person, Twitter should be right up your alley.
Great! The Boss agrees: Do it. You or I will be left with at least a dozen more questions. I plan to cover some of these in a later post.
To readers already entrenched in social media, this remedial explanation may seem ludicrous. Creating an institutional Twitter account isn’t a huge leap, because most people follow a few and are familiar with the concept. Some users stay up-to-date on an RSS feed and you can explain Twitter as mini-blogging. But keep in mind that not everyone is at this level. For those of us in fields that still take just a pad and pencil to the field, to meetings, and to class, we have to communicate at the level of the listener. For them: Twitter is your new bulletin board.