A Better Blogging Assignment

phdstudent. Circle of Life. 2006. 11 Jun. 2012. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/phdstudent/141434759/>.I’ve got a pedagogical problem and I want you to help me.

I’m sick of student blogging.

This confession probably sounds strange coming from me, a vocal advocate for using blogs in the classroom, and for public writing more generally. But after two dozen blogs for two dozen classes, I’m looking for ways to reinvigorate my blogging assignments.

Some background: a key component of almost every one of my classes is the collaborative class blog. The pedagogical advantages of blogging are many: it’s a public space that requires students to consider questions of accountability and audience; students begin to see themselves as participating in an ongoing conversation about culture; and participation jump-starts class discussion so that I already have an idea of what’s on my students’ minds before I even enter the classroom.

My blogging guidelines typically look something like this:

Each student will contribute to the weekly class blog, posting an approximately 200-300 word response to the week’s readings. There are a number of ways to approach these open-ended posts: consider the reading in relation to its historical or theoretical context; write about an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you; formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions; or respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it.

I’ve tweaked the blogging assignment over the years, in particular experimenting with the overall structure of the blog, the rhythm of postings, and my use of roles.

I’ve tried two overall structures:

  • A hub-and-spoke model, in which every student sets up his or her own blog, and I aggregate their postings on the main class blog.
  • A centralized class blog, in which all the students have accounts on the same blog, and their posts and comments all show up in the same place.

I’ve experimented with different rhythms:

  • The free-for-all model, in which students simply must post 10 (or some other number) of blog posts by the end of the semester.
  • The checkpoint model, in which students must post a specified number of posts by particular checkpoints spread throughout the semester.
  • The weekly model, in which all students (or, if using roles, a subset of students) must post every week.

Finally, I’ve increasingly relied on assigned roles, so that not every student is posting at the same time, and furthermore, so that each group of students has a specific task for that week. For example, most recently I divided a class of 25 students into four groups, rotating week-to-week from one role to the next:

  • First Readers: These students are responsible for posting initial questions and insights about the day’s material to the class blog the day before class meets.
  • Respondents: Students in this group build upon, disagree with, or clarify the first readers’ posts by the next class meeting.
  • Searchers: Students in this group find and share at least one relevant online resource. In addition to linking to the resource, the searchers provide a short evaluation of the resource, highlighting what makes it worthwhile, unusual, or, if appropriate, problematic.
  • The fourth group has the week off in terms of blogging.

I have thought a lot about student blogging. I’m fully committed to this form of student work.

And yet.

I’m tired of reading blog posts week after week, tired of evaluating blog posts week after week, tired of commenting on blog posts week after week. I don’t want off this merry-go-round, but I do want to reignite my sense of discovery and excitement about student blogging. And I want you to help me.

I propose a session in which we design a new model of student blogging—or at least, new to me. Maybe it incorporates elements of the structure, rhythm, and roles that I’ve used before, maybe it doesn’t. I’d like to learn from other teachers who’ve had success with student blogging, and from students too, about their experiences with blogging. My goal for this THATCamp session is that by the end we’d have a fully developed assignment, module, or course component, which any of us could plunk down into a syllabus and be ready to use when classes begin in the fall.

Let’s have students blog, and make it worth their while and ours too.

UPDATE: The collaborative notes for this session are online.

Circle of Life photograph courtesy of Flickr user phdstudent / Creative Commons Licensed

Staring at the Gaps: A Hazy Session

I have a big, squishy, ill-formed, hazy thought about a thing, so where better to start my first-ever session proposal for my first-ever THAT Camp?

For many of us working in early periods, the further back we go the more gaps there are in the record, be that literary, historical, cultural, scientific, or what-have-you. I’m fascinated by those gaps and what can be found by tracking them and their surroundings. I sat in recently on a presentation by some undergraduates who were trying to map the social networks around Inigo Jones and his Jacobean masques. One of their frustrations (amidst some great success) was that it was impossible to tell exactly the nature of some of the relationships they had found. To me, though, that gap in knowledge seems like an exciting point to start from as we are working out the shapes and uses of digital tools in representing knowledge.

We can hypothesize about the ur-Hamlet from references that surround it, though the text is lost. We strongly suspect there was a Love’s Labors Won because of cultural materials that gesture toward it. So what else is hiding in the gaps back there? And how can new methods of representing the relationships between texts (since I’m a text person), between events, between people expose both the gaps and the context that surrounds them?

I’m thinking about gaps most particularly in two mapping contexts:

  • First, figuring out how early modern dramatic texts relate to each other—there’s so much allusion and reference happening between 1585 and 1630 and I really want a better way to think about how the plays reach out to each other and what might come into focus (both presence and absence) if we could visualize those relationships.
  • Second, can we use the conventions of geo-spatial mapping to think about generic cataloging? My primary example is revenge tragedy, which seems especially self-aware of its tendencies toward specific features. How might we begin to map out what the genre looks like and what kinds of gaps might exist in that map? Could a more representational approach to genre help avoid the anachronism that often occludes an understanding of how the texts position themselves?

Mapping/Spatial tech idea session

Hello all,

First, let me just put it out there that this is my first THATCamp, first unconference, and first post to this blog.  I’m a PhD Candidate working on a diss that will hopefully have some awesome digital aspects.  I’m looking at Baltimore merchants from about 1790-1830 and I want to do several things with my data.  First, I’d like to map the relative locations of merchants in Baltimore (I have pretty specific info from city directories) over time.  Second, I’d like to map their Atlantic networks, which will connect to Europe, the Caribbean, and South America.  Third (and this one is only a small possibility) I’d like to map the flow of goods by volume, similar to these maps.  What I’d like to achieve in this session is a set of ideas about which applications or methods would be best suited for what I want to do, and, to see if it’s realistic for me to tackle this much digital work for what will be a mostly traditional dissertation committee.

Help a grad student out! (that should be a category)

From anecdote to data: alternative academics and career preparation

A few weeks ago, I set up this registry of alternative academics, which gives a glimpse into the wide variety of paths taken by people with advanced graduate training in the humanities. Later this summer, I’ll be launching a formal, confidential survey that will help identify perceived gaps in career preparation, and by extension, opportunities for rethinking graduate methods courses (more info here and here).

How about a session to discuss the project? We could talk about broad-brush issues related to the #altac conversation, as well as particularities about the database and survey. I’d especially like to brainstorm participation strategies to ensure that the survey generates as much useful data as possible from a wide range of respondents.

little bit’a coding, little bit’a conversation

This last year, I moved all my course sites to static sites generated with hyde, a python site generator inspired by ruby’s jekyll. Together with Twitter’s bootstrap framework, one can make a pretty attractive and functional site, publishable through a simple git or hg push. Even better, if we can figure out what to do with pdfs that need to be password protected, one could move the course site to github, making them totally forkable. So, a session on static site generators could make for some fun hacking.

On the conversation front, and piggy-backing on some of the ideas in Trevor’s proposal, I’m interested in the way that digital work and objects of study can open new paths to understanding the long ago past. In many ways, the period we find ourselves in has close analogues to issues early modernists deal with frequently: 1. dispersed networks of power; 2. virtual presences; 3. spectrums of identity; 4. imprecise orthography; 5. textual protocols and mediations; 6. revolutionary transformation of communications infrastructure; etc. How do the two periods, broadly considered, open new ways of understanding each other?

I propose an anti-session on Messing Around Or Maybe Building Something Kinda Neat

At past THATCamps, I’ve had the most fun when I’ve ditched the official sessions (as “official” as THATCamp sessions can be) to do some organized messing around. Last year, it took the form of sitting down with a couple of my One Week | One Tool buddies and hacking away at Anthologize for a few hours.

So, in the spirit of goofing off semi-aimlessly, maybe we could:

  • Pick a free software project with a public bug tracker (Omeka? WordPress? Anthologize? etc) and submit some patches/pull requests.
  • If there are folks who have wanted to get started contributing to free software projects but haven’t had the right setup, I could help them set up dev environments, and maybe we could talk a bit about the culture of open source development.
  • We could pick some small project and roll our own One Afternoon | One Tool

The spirit here is that I work alone most of the time, so it would be fun to do some co-working with smart and cool people. Also, messing around is inherently the bomb.

Digital Thingy-ness: Putting Materiality, Mediality, and Objects at the heart of the Digital Humanities

Edit: Feel free to keep editing this google doc. Feel free to continue this discussion on twitter via #thingyness

Studying digital media is one of the big themes in definitions of the digital humanities, but I get the sense that a lot of folks in the area aren’t particularly well versed in work on objects, digital or otherwise. In particular, some of the work on materiality and mediality that goes on in New Media Studies. Aside from that it sees like there is just a ton of work out there in a range of fields that ends up focusing on the properties of objects, how those objects fit together and the way that people interact with them. Off the top of my head I am thinking about everything from nuroscience, to material culture, to archaeology, environmental history, to actor network theory.

I suggest that we take a session at THATCamp to pull together an annotated bibliography, a must read list if you will, of works on thingyness that folks interested in the digital humanities but who also want to study digital things can look at . I’ve pulled together a starter list of works from some different fields that I think fit here. I have also included what about these works makes them candidates for this conversation and list.

Please feel free to start this session now by contributing additional subjects and works that you think are must reads in the comments. Or, try and do some synthesizing.

New Media Studies: Some great studies on the materiality and mediality of various new media objects:

  • Galloway, A. R. (2006). Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization:  TCP/IP and DNS define some of the key properties of the internet, we can and should analyze the material properties these protocols as humanists.
  • Kirschenbaum, M. G. (2008). Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination: Great stuff on hard drives and the matarality of digital objects. Turns out that the digital is far less ephemeral than we thought it was and that there are some really exciting potential modes for analysis when we start thinking like computer forensics folks.
  • Manovich, L. (2002). The Language of New Media: Much of digital media involves the interaction of a database and an algorithm. Here is what happens when we put those properties center stage in our discussion of new media.

Platform Studies: Focusing on the interplay between the digital and the material and how they converge as platforms that constrain and shape what we create on those platforms

  • Montfort, N., & Bogost, I. (2009). Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System: Great study of how the Atari shaped and was shaped by expressive ideals.

Actor Network Theory: Consideration of the relationships between people and things.

  • Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory: Wherein Knives have innate knifiy-ness that makes them good for cutting.

Distributed Cognition:  Help’s us understand the extent to which the things we use are a part of thinking and being.

  • Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the Wild: The go to example for how a complicated system, like a ship, acts as a single cognitive unit made up of sub units.
  • Wertsch, J. V. (1998). Mind as Action: A great book growing out of the vygotskyan tradition of thinking of actors as situated in an environment with tools.

Neuroscience: Sure, some FMRI researchers think they can answer all of lifes questions, but you have to admit they have found out some amazing stuff.

  • Damasio, A. R. (1995). Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain: Mind body problem turns out to really be a non-problem.
  • Dehaene, S. (2010). Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read: You will love neurological recycling, turns out that our biologically evolved capabilities for facial recognition get recycled in the development of writing systems. The suggestion here is that cultural tools evolve in a interplay between how we recycle various biologically evolved capabilities.

Embodyment: Our bodies are things too, much of our understanding of the world is grounded in how we use our bodies as tools for thought and action

  • Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. Basic Books: You have ten fingers we use base ten number systems. For Lakoff things this is not a coincidence.
  • Clark, A. (2008). Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension: Wherein we learn that almost every kind of cognitive act, even things like object rotation, can be externalized in our use of tools and that humans are hardwired as cyborg tool users.

Object Oriented Philosophy: We can even think about putting objects center stage as the basis of an ontology.

  • Harman, G. (2011) The Quadruple Object: A full blown object oriented Philosophy.

Media Studies:  Old media changed how we think about things too.

  • Kittler, F. (1999). Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. (G. Winthrop-Young & M. Wutz, Trans.) Stanford University Press: Turns out that when the Gramaphone appeared it may have changed how people think about memory and the mind. This thing where new media change us is not so much a property of these media as it may be a property of media in general.

So what should we add? Think in terms of texts and in terms of areas of interest. Oh, and feel free to take a stab at how you think about tying these things together.

Using Video Annotation and Omeka in the Classroom

I am proposing a session to discuss using segmented and annotated video in the classroom. Through a NEH Office of Digital Humanities grant, I have built an Omeka plugin that takes the output of the Annotator’s Workbench (AWB), a digital video segmentation and annotation tool developed at Indiana University, and creates Omeka items from each segment and annotation in the AWB file. I created this plugin to allow instructors to more effectively and easily use annotated video in class. There are multiple ways that the AWB and Omeka can be used in the classroom with video. One way is that the instructor, say in a film studies class, can take scenes from a movie and provide annotation to the scenes for her students to review. Another use would be to give a movie to the students and ask them to provide annotations of certain scenes. In addition, with the AWB, the instructor can then comment on those annotations and return the comments to the student. Yet another approach would be to place the annotations of the students and/or the instructor in Omeka as items and create a web site. With the existing Scripto plugin, you could then collect comments from the other students in the class on the annotation of each other or on the instructor’s annotations through mediawiki, the open source wiki that Scripto uses.

This tool set also has potential for community based projects. Students or other members of a given community could collect audio and video interviews and use this tool set to segment and annotate to provide additional context, transcription and even translation for the interviews. By loading these annotations into Omeka, you have the opportunity to review, edit, and see how the material looks online. The material could be used in an exhibit built in Omeka or moved to a final production site.

I see a great deal of potential for video in the classroom and community based projects but the instructor or leaders of the project need a tool set to help them work more easily with video segmentation and annotation. I am hoping that the plugin I have developed will do this and I am interested in discussion the use of video, specifically video segmentation and annotation in the classroom.