Bean (a creative title)

Before I go on my rant, I want to make it clear that I am very glad that I am a part of this digital humanities seminar, and that it is proving to be a learning experience in all sorts of ways. However, that said, I’m finding myself irritable this week after doing the reading, and not for the usual reasons. I’m irritable because I actually really liked it.

So why, you might be wondering, would that make me irritable? Am I such a contrary person that liking something would make me annoyed?

Sort of. Reading this chapter by Bean (I have resisted making Mr. Bean jokes) about formal writing assignments had a lot of food for thought. It brought up all sorts of possibilities – many which are of no use to me – but a few which are. What was so fantastic, was an actual conversation about teaching techniques. Not something any of us outside of education are taught.

This, this type of content, is what I hope to see at every faculty development day. Presentations for different approaches to generating learning outcomes. This is why I keep grousing about having a faculty lounge. Because it is so rare for faculty to have a chance to sit down and just talk about what approaches work for them, to brainstorm ideas, to share successes and failures, to learn from each other.

It’s great that we have the digital humanities seminar. Now I’d like a pedagogy seminar. Every few years. For all faculty that want to participate. This should be a part of the grand revolution in academia. Instead of obsessing over assessment and cookie cutter learning outcomes we should be getting together to discuss the best way to get students thinking critically about content.

Even though this book is clearly dated – Pabst has made a resounding come back thanks to the hipster culture – it provides much food for thought. For me the biggest questions now are how I frame the assignment for my Sociology of Aging course. Do I make a digital component (e.g. a photoshopped image, a home video, or an audio recording) mandatory? Do I have multiple stages starting with a two to three paragraph statement of purpose? How will peer feedback work, and will they get graded on the quality of feedback they give their classmates?

I think I may have to buy this book, or hopefully a more current version of it. And maybe I can turn it into some powerpoints and offer that as a workshop during our faculty development days, because I have a lot of colleagues who could either use the coherency of this or could benefit from a discussion about this content.

TRCs, yo

Amazingly I actually enjoyed this week’s reading and found myself pretty excited about it. As I read Palmer’s “Thematic Research Collections” (TRCs) I found myself contemplating what sort of collection I could put together, or whether my father who has an obsession with a very specific kind of antique would benefit from doing something like this. This is the way that digital advances should intersect with academic pursuits and the development of intellectual capital. It has many advantages and only two significant flaws.

The flaws, which of course I will begin with, are the weakness of some collections and the effort it will take to set up an initial network that will be truly useful to students and scholars of all sorts.

As instructed I chose a showcase in the Omeka website and perused it. HIV and AIDS 30 Years Ago caught my attention for several reasons, the primary being that as a junior in high school in 1994 I wrote my AP US History paper on how badly the Reagan administration fell down on the job of warning the public of the risk of HIV between 1984 and 1986. My argument was that had homophobia not played such a major role in the administration many lives would have been saved just through prevention.

Honestly this Omeka was disappointing. I was looking forward to this, looking to see what sorts of materials and documents had been gathered. It felt very superficial. Fragments of an interview that was not contextualized. Information that was not exactly inaccurate, but definitely incomplete regarding the timeline of the virus’ discovery. Hell, even the movie And the Band Played On had more depth to it. I’m not going to go as far as to say that my junior year of high school paper was better, but I’d definitely say it was on par with this Omeka. Sorry, it just disappointed.

However, the fact that it disappointed does not mean that it has to. I don’t think it is a weakness with the concept, just with the newness of it. And I would say the same of Women Writers Project. (Sorry to any of my friends who are involved in this.) Unlike the Omeka I explored this project has depth, but the layout of the site is counterintuitive and confusing. Were I an undergrad just poking around, I could see myself getting annoyed and giving up on this pretty awesome resource quickly.

Getting back for a minute to Palmer’s piece about these TRCs I agree whole heartedly with the argument that this is something that libraries need to get on. It’s a great concept, and it can be integrated without much difficult into pre-existing structures. Though I want to state very clearly that it should not be added to the already insane level of responsibilities most librarians have, this should be set to librarians who do only this.

I want to clarify my vision for how I see these TRCs integrating into the pre-existing structure. Take for instance the current set up when searching through databases at UNE. A user can go directly into a specific database available through UNE’s library website. Or one can go through a specific field. So one could click on ‘Sociology’ and end up looking at several databases that are useful to sociological research. And political science. And history. And marine biology. And a whole bunch of other things. I’m not critiquing, but the current system is not very targeted. This is where TRCs could be very helpful.

Under Sociology there could be another category called TRCs (there could also be a category in general on the side called TRCs under which there would general categories like sociology, psychology, literature, etc.). Under the TRCs in sociology there would a further subdivision into certain internal disciplines – sociology of medicine, sociology of religion, globalization studies, etc. – and under those subdivisions would be links to TRCs that would be applicable to those areas.

Of course the TRCs would be cross-listed, they would most likely be multi-disciplinary, and that’s a good thing. Users who create them could fill out a form to have them included under a certain category(s), the librarian-in-charge would evaluate whether there was sufficient depth to include it (or perhaps give it a rigor rating out of ten rather than a simple inclusion/exclusion ) and then create links to it in all sufficient spaces. This would create a hybrid system that would benefit all the parties involved.

If this system were to exist, I could imagine several courses where there would a collective class project to create specific TRCs, or to build and improve on pre-existing ones. Were I teaching Sociology of Medicine or Health, I might want to tackle that HIV and AIDS 30 Years Ago Omeka and charge each student to find five more sources that would improve the TRC. This would also have the advantage of getting them to do their work early, as the first person to email/post a source would be the one to get credit for it.

In closing, I really like this concept and I hope to see it grow over time. Yes, for once, I approve. Flabbergasting, I know.

Oh, and um, I’m still waiting for my God powers.

Campbell & DS106

I return from a baby hiatus to the blogosphere. Hopefully I didn’t miss too much, and my beloved fellow DHers will welcome me back to the fold.

But of course, as always, I prove to be obstinately prone to dislike my reading assignments – could it be any other way? Gardner Campbell’s Personal Infrastructures were not immune to my disdain. Yes, yes, I use the word disdain.

I don’t know how many students and how many courses Gardner is teaching, or what kind of pressures Baylor University is facing in terms of curricular overload. What I do know is that his idea that we somehow carve out time to teach our students programming is wasteful, backwards-thinking, and misses the whole point of self-expression.

1. General point: Someone who is creating content for the internet does NOT need to know the alphabet soup of website languages. Take for instance the wildly popular (among a certain set) fake blog Suri’s Burn Book by Allie Hagan. Hagan created the site on tumblr using their template just for fun. It became so popular that she got a book deal out of the matter. I’m pretty sure Hagan didn’t need to learn coding to succeed. And she’s not the only ‘template’ site out there that has gathered a following.

2. General point: Learning these languages is time consuming and some people just truly don’t have the aptitude. Much like I don’t have the aptitude for learning biology. Forcing students to learn coding when what they’re trying to do is be creative is pretty much like telling someone they can’t get their driver’s license until they’ve taken apart and reassembled three different car engines. What’s the point? The net result to turn someone away from the pursuit (in the case of driving maybe not the worst thing for the environment, but in the case of promoting humanities, pretty bad).

3. Random point: Quoting McLuhan doesn’t make a point more correct. McLuhan agrees with me.

4. Specific point: Campbell lays out a terrifying scenario of spending basically an entire first year of college learning how to create websites. There’s a field for that, it’s called web design. There are major specifically designed for that. Unless he’s proposing a double major for everyone, this is just nonsense, there simply isn’t room in the curriculum for this sort of intervention. And again, I don’t see why there should be. Not everyone needs to be a mechanic, it’s why we pay some people to fix our cars for us.

5. The crux of our disagreement: “Print is not advanced calligraphy. The web is not a more sophisticated telegraph.” Actually, yes they are. And there lies the crux, to me they’re still just tools. Even as it is I just had a former very bright and successful student rumble on facebook about her discontent with modern technology and a desire to return to more dependable modes.

Putting Campbell aside, let me move unto DS106. Let me first state that I really like that this website exists. I could not get through all the proposed projects, but many of them looked like they would be fun just to do for their own sake. I found inspiration in three of the projects I looked at.

The first two would be used in teaching Visual Sociology. The first project, Normal to Extraordinary, is one where people pair up and take pictures of each other, first in regular clothing and then in some way that makes them extraordinary. I would use this assignment in a somewhat altered manner, where the students working in pair or trios would first take pictures of each other in their regular outfits, and then try to find props, environments and poses that would completely change their cultural orientation. For instance, what would happen if a female student who is used to a standard Western outfit adopted to the best of her ability a traditional head covering and long sleeved conservative shirt? What if a male student doffed a backwards baseball cap and found a spot to be photographed with broken glass on concrete?

The second assignment I would use in the course, What’s the Meme?, might or might not build off of the first one. The idea is to take a photo and try to turn it into a meme. In my particular imagination I would provide a few examples of photos that have resulted in many tags – probably the most fascinating to me being Old Economy Steve. The catch would be that they would be using photos from the previous project from other teams.

Finally I found an assignment in the fanfic category that might contribute to my Sociology of Aging course. I particularly liked the title of this one, ‘The Way It Should Have Been.’ The idea is that people take a story, book, movie or television series, (really any sort of narrative), change one basic element in it and rewrite the narrative. In the case of my course, they would have to take one or more of the main characters and add fifty years to their age.

So for instance, I would take the television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and make Buffy 65 when she first became the slayer. She would have the same physical strengths, but not the same teenaged emotional baggage and dumb behavior. Also, she would be far more independent in not having to go to high school every day and hide things from her mother (at least for the first two seasons of the show). I think a 65-year-old slayer would actually be far more effective than a 15-year-old one. And she certainly wouldn’t be dumb enough to fall in love with a vampire.