Week 7 & 8: Synthetic Selfies and Jena Osman’s “Gaze-Capturing Apparatus”

In Week 7, I realized that less was more at this point and gave my students a second week to develop their Omeka sites. I often feel that I’m not doing my job if I don’t create new assignments and activities each week, but I have learned slowly that students miss the satisfaction of really developing something that they’ve learned. With Omeka especially this was true, and so I took my foot off of the activity pedal so students could build their archives to their satisfaction.

Now, in Week 8, students are headed in yet another new direction: taking “synthetic selfies.” I got this idea originally from Jena Osman, whose book and presentation, Public Figures, explore the non-human gaze of public monuments. 

Statue of Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks Statue, Eugene. Source: Wikipedia

Since the weather is finally nice, I’m asking my students to watch Osman’s chapters and then go outside and find a public monument and explore the gaze and view of non-human subjects with a selfie-stick. Cyborgs, enhanced humans, and “beat box” singing all reveal an increasingly sophisticated popular familiarity with human/non-human relationships. Focusing on a pre-digital form, the statue, provides a literal brick-and-mortar experience of the non-human. I’m hoping that Osman’s anticipation of selfies and “photo bombs” through immobile statues will give students a defamiliarizing vantage point from which to examine their own experience of the non-human.

I got the idea for this assignment from Kaia Sand’s assignment here

Here are my assignment instructions, based on Sand’s: 
Take a Synthetic Selfie

Week 6! Over the Hump with Omeka Archives!

We are past the mid-term point, and anyone who has taught quarters understands what May 7th feels like. Running on fumes and very hard to continue to create!

But I’m so convinced my students will reap great rewards by creating their own archives. So, with the help of a blueprint by Amanda French  I provide step-by-step instructions with customized illustrations to my class this week.

Writing curriculum is like…writing. Less is always more. “If I had longer, it would be shorter.” So I asked my students just to create their archive, to upload 3 items, to post a reflection in our LMS. That’s enough for this week. It’s a lot.

Instructions for Your First Upload to Omeka Archive

Week 5: Voyant Tools for Distant Reading of Project Gutenberg Texts

The term is flying by. I just finished looking at students Emotion Maps from Week 3. They were amazing–I loved how diverse students’ choice of emotions were–from “anticipation” to “dominance” to “joy.” This assignment met my expectations for introducing students to the Library of Congress Chronicling America database collection while also introducing them to the steps for producing an annotated map as a collection that tells a story.

This week is mid-term, and I am introducing students to Franco Moretti and “distant reading.” It’s difficult to assume that all students will be able to wade through “The Slaughterhouse of Literature” and “Conjectures on World Literature.” Some of my students seem like they may be literature majors in the making, while others are unlikely to have read many novels at all in college. So I took it upon myself to create a  lecture with 25 slides to introduce students to Franco Moretti’s New Method of Reading ; it includes paraphrases and summaries of these two articles, walking students through Moretti’s concepts. If I were teaching f2f instead of online, this would be an extended lecture/discussion class session–perhaps the entire class session. For my online class, my goal is to give students the background for why we would want to use “distant reading tools,” and in the absence of a lecture setting, I simply told them what I thought Moretti was getting at  I love the term “methodologically bold” that Moretti uses to inspire students everywhere to come up with hypotheses. 

After students read both these two essays and my summaries of them, I ask them to follow Paul Fyfe and Ryan Cordell and “not read” a Victorian novel from Project Gutenberg. I had wanted to try multiple tools, but in the end I realized that Voyant alone is enough of a challenge, and so I created a step-by-step for students to work with Voyant and post their discoveries and “bold methodologies” to their blogs. 

Here are my instructions with screencaptures, rubric and grading criteria. I have divided into two files because they are large files.

Instructions McGrail Distant Reading Part 1Instructions McGrail Distant Reading Part 1

Instructions McGrail Distant Reading Part 2Instructions McGrail Distant Reading Part 2

 

Week 4: Representing Yourself and Others Online

Week 4 is already done and I’m just now able to post from my course. When I was developing my composition course, I read some great work by Ann Frances Wysocki about how students need to consider the ethics of representing themselves and others online. 

Since I’m asking my own students to create archives that may include photos of my students or their family and friends, I adjusted my calendar so that we could slow down and collaboratively create a statement for the ethical representation of themselves online. 

Here’s my screencast video introducing students to the assignment:

https://www.screencast.com/t/TPdUltE9

Here’s the written INSTRUCTIONS FOR COLLABORATIVE STATEMENT OF ETHICAL REPRESENTATION 2

Week 3 Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture

Spring term is buzzing by. We have one hummingbird outside our house who has been sitting on a branch all winter and now he’s almost obscured by the leaves that have filled in. 

Week 3 is about mapping. As I wrote in my thought piece on “minimal computing” in January, I use Google maps to help students develop several kinds of DH skills, from basic procedural knowledge for working with online primary source materials to content knowledge about the what, where, when, and how of literary and cultural histories.

Picking up on our Week 1 reading of Mrs. Dalloway, I sent my online students to the wonderful Georgia Tech students’ project, Mrs. Dalloway Mapping Project to get a feel for how plot points, settings, and other narrative features can be interpreted through maps. Originally I was going to ask my own students to map the novel, but the Georgia Tech example is so strong that I thought it would be better to try something else. So I asked students to then explore another site, Mapping Emotions in Victorian London , from the Stanford Literary Lab.

Photo

Covent Garden Flower Women, Mapping Emotions in Victorian London

 This site gave me an idea for my own students: to use the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America database to explore an emotion in America from 1789-1924 (the range of the database’s complete collection of newspapers), and then map the appearance of emotions in print in America over time. 

First instructional video 

Second instructional video

Third instructional video

Instructions for Mapping Emotions in America Project

I’m looking forward to seeing what my students come up with and hearing about their process. It’s been a great experience for me to break the steps down as clearly as possible. Procedural knowledge is a key skill set for C21 students. It’s one thing to create the maps myself through tinkering and my own tacit knowledge. It’s another thing altogether to step back and provide the steps so that online students can perform a lengthy series of steps toward a single end. We’ll see next week how they did!

Week 2 of ENG 217 Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture

What cool things my students did for last week’s Mrs. Dalloway Second Sandbox blog entry! Wonderful pictures of flowers and larks and Big Ben and village greens and green dresses and early 20th century hats and war images and even (my favorite) a sound file of a Buddhist chant. The First Sandbox assignment–annotations of Mrs. Dalloway on a Google doc–were somewhat less successful if you use an old-school rubric of rigor and systematic analysis. But I was pleased that most of the students in this class reapproached the novel as a digital document and found several things to comment on—even as small as a vocabulary word.

This week, my expectations are high for the “Dead Media Poster Project,” which I adopted from Professor Ryan Cordell’s “Texts and Technologies” class. I created my own poster as an example for students using the old 8-Track Tape. I used to listen to Barbara Streisand on 8-Track, so this was a dead medium near and dear. Dead Media Poster Session Assignment

I shared Marshall McLuhan and Alan Liu as these pieces are in the syllabus, and ambitious students will read them. Reading Liu’s “New Media Encounter” I was reminded of being in a doctor’s office as a child, watching cursive letters flow from a nurse’s pen. When I got home I tried to conjure meaning from loops and waves myself with a Flair pen–as does the chief in Liu’s quote of Levi-Strauss

To deepen the encounter with dominant, residual, and emergent media, I assigned Elizabeth Eisenstein’s chapter on “Some Features of Print Culture” from The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge UP 2012).

This is a very sophisticated chapter and, thinking of my CC audience, I created a slideshow that walks students through the major points that Eisenstein makes. Of course, her argument is deeply complex and embedded in a conversation about print culture that historians are having, so my slides may be a bit oversimplistic. But I think that these slides convey the most important of Eisenstein’s major ideas about print media for students. So here are my notes on Eisenstein for students with no prerequisite knowledge. This was a really good intellectual exercise for me: to first boil down the features of Eisenstein’s argument most salient for community college students,  and then to try to make them accessible enough to novice, online learners. My measure of success will be that they have completed all of the slides!

I hope students will be able to see the most important discoveries about print culture: that print wasn’t only an aid to Enlightenment thinking but also infused mystical culture into texts; that printers were as important to knowledge production as scholars; and that printing multiple copies of the same text in multiple locations to be read by diverse readers was perhaps a more important development for the progress of science than was individual ownership of multiple texts.

Elizabeth Eisenstein Features of Print Culture, from The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge 2012)

Week 1 of ENG 217: Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture

I feel very privileged that my ENG 217 course “Reading, Writing, and Digital Culture” (Intro to DH) not only “made” enrollment minimums but actually filled to capacity! If your department isn’t under enrollment pressures, then you wouldn’t understand. But, suffice it to say, I tried to offer this course twice before and it didn’t “make,” so I’m thrilled. 

It is now an online course. This means I have had to rethink it and really map out every single step for students, anticipating missteps and gaps in understanding. Many students take online courses because their lives are extremely busy, but their preparation for digital projects can be uneven and frustration can lead to disappearance–this disappearance is for me the biggest threat and worst result of bad online pedagogy.

So here’s Week 1. I’m posting my syllabus with this week’s “Sandbox exercises,” both of which have worked in the f2f classroom as versions of DH labs I’ve taught. Now that everything’s online, my hope is that these instructions are clear enough that everyone has fun, sticks around long enough to read and learn more.

ENGLISH 217 SYLLABUS 

In the spirit of open sharing, I am sharing here the blog I created to provide an example for students–so that they can see what I mean when I ask them to post this or that on their blog. In my Blogger I am not blogging to impress but rather to simply demo: “What would it look like to do this assignment?” 

So here’s the blog prototype. It may not be interesting to you except as an example of an example for students and it’s helpful for me as a record of this work.

CLICK HERE FOR WEEK 2

CLICK HERE FOR WEEK 3

CLICK HERE FOR WEEK 4

CLICK HERE FOR WEEK 5

CLICK HERE FOR WEEK 6

CLICK HERE FOR WEEK 7 & 8

CLICK HERE FOR WEEK 9 & 10

OPEN SOURCE AND OPEN ACCESS

Text from MLA 2017 Talk on DH Forum “Minimal Digital Humanities: Choice or Necessity?” 

This paper engages with Jentery Sayers’ and Alex GIl’s discussion of Minimal Computing on 

 

In April, I will teach what I believe will be the first stand-alone Intro to Digital Humanities course at a community college (CC) in the Pacific Northwest—maybe the first such course at a CC in the country. I call my course “This Digital Life: Reading, Writing and Culture in a Digital Age,” because my students don’t know what “digital humanities” is.[i]

In this course, I will introduce my CC students to a way of thinking about and comprehending the forces around them—the forces that Alan Liu calls the “great postindustrial, neoliberal, corporate and global flows of information and capital” (Liu 491). Community college students’ lives are immersed in precarity wrought by these flows; only the grittiest of them will overcome the bleak economic for economic mobility in America. Articulating how those forces affect them is one of the most important learning outcomes of DH at the CC.

But what are the minimal computing coordinates for CC students? And where does open source fit in an open access environment? I hadn’t really thought of this before reading Alex Gil’s and Jentery Sayers’ definitions of “minimal computing;” I am unsure how to use Raspberry Pi and I can barely work with Markdown templates. I do use whatever tools are available and we’ll read whatever open educational resources we can find. Perhaps, following Gil and Ernesto Oroza, my community college DH course will follow a kind of “architecture of necessity.”

While the surface features of my course are not strictly “minimal,” they share structural affinities to the GO::DH values of maximum access and longevity: My students might read Gil’s and Sayer’s pieces but they will likely write about them using Google or Word on their laptops and email me using Outlook—transgressing minimal computing principles at every keystroke. I think that these definitions of minimal computing themselves point to a set of assumptions for humanistic computing that are worth considering in CC students’ digital lives. 

I’ve practiced not “minimal” computing but what Roopika Risam calls “micro DH.” Since 2012, I have embedded whatever I could invent or learn in all my courses, adopting and adapting from a generous DH Pedagogy Community and translating research so that my students can appreciate the cool factor of big data without slamming up against skill barriers to data mining; and then I send students to Wordle or Voyant so they can work the magic themselves. My students dive into archives and annotate texts using Google docs. Sometimes we “break” Google or Twitter because our computer lab is equipped with lame machines and the systems crash. The Computer Help Desk folks are so used to hearing from me about glitches during class that they respond immediately when I call; if I ever have a classroom emergency, it’s them I’ll call first, not campus security.

Reconsiderations and a Maturing Field

While minimal computing intends to create conditions for maximum inclusiveness, I fear that in practice it may exclude underprepared students in open-access institutions.

The minimalist turn registers the effects of uneven development in the academy. Community colleges are just beginning to recognize the term “digital humanities,” and faculty are just beginning to figure out how digital assignments fit into their courses. In many, although not all, cases, “minimal computing” assignments take maximal preparation–for CC faculty still untrained in the field and for unevenly prepared students.

Jentery anticipates the critique that minimal computing may produce different impacts to different agents in an unevenly developing field.  He asks, “what sort of expertise and decision-making [does minimization assume]” and how do “we define ‘we’ in relation to necessity and simplicity?” (“Minimal Definitions”). Necessary for what? Simple for whom? Under what constraints?

For community colleges, the purpose of humanities education is to empower students with as much mastery of as many tools as possible for full participation in civic and cultural life.  How we define “minimal computing” at the CC needs to support that purpose.  

For I’m not just talking about access to any particular set of digital tools—whether “minimal” or “maximal”–in this regard. Rather, it’s students’ transformed understanding that I am after—the crossing of a threshold from accepting a received cultural landscape to a deep reading of it. Open-access institutions may make use of “maximal” tools as a relay for critically engaging with the digital life they lead. In so doing, they may achieve ends that “minimal computing” principles intend.

Participation, writes Carpentier, is “strongly related to the power logics of decision making” (8).  Carpentier’s foregrounding of power relations and social capital helps us to situate values of minimal computing in an open-access CC context. Looking at Jentery’s comprehensive list of the features of minimal computing, we see that he is going for a maximalist model of participation in stewardship of the cultural record and in knowledge production and dissemination. The list helps elaborate the question that Alex Gil asks—that of “what do we need?” –and imagines a DH architecture of necessity that ensures scholars’ maximal role in decisions and maximal control of future use.

While community colleges share disciplinary affinities with their counterparts at 4-year colleges and universities, these affinities mask power differentials between CCs and their four-year counterparts. Carpentier’s focus on power provides language for recognizing the differences  between four-year institutions and CCs and for responding to those differences.[ii]  This power differential is visible in multiple spheres, but here are a couple of examples to illustrate how it impacts faculty and students at CCs: [slide 1]

  • First, graduate school doesn’t train most humanities graduates for the demands of CC teaching
  • Second, graduate faculty rarely maintain close professional ties with students who land jobs at CCs. I call this the “You’re dead to me” model of mentorship.
  • Effects of this dynamic on professional development have been to create an hermetic CC professional world cut off in important ways from developments in the larger field
  • This dynamic limited what should have been a much earlier diffusion of digital humanities methods into CC curricula.[iii]

Additionally, the role that contingency and precarity play in CC faculty lives cannot be overstated. Part-time/adjunct faculty represent nearly 70% of the instructional workforce of community colleges and 47% of humanities educators overall (“A National Survey” and “Traditional versus Nontraditional Humanities Faculty”). Many part-time or adjunct humanities faculty teach given syllabi or are limited in the texts they can select. Maximal equity in participatory decision-making in curriculum is harder for contingent faculty to achieve.

And what about CC students?

What might minimal computing look like for them and how might they practice it? Student diversity is the open access institution’s best asset and biggest challenge. [1]  Jentery raises the issue of time in relation to reduced consumption (“Minimal Definitions”); working class time orientation is characterized by “precarity”—a sense that struggles in and endurance of the present are more salient than investments in a future imaginary. You could say that CC  priorities are driven by a working class time orientation toward the “short now” and not the “long now” thinking required of the minimal critical movement (“Minimal Definitions”).

How else might “minimal” computing impact students’ full participation?  “Creative failure” and “generative messing around” may directly challenge an already profound sense of what Walton and Cohen call “belonging uncertainty.”  Experiences of failure that middle-class students may simply slough off disparately impact minority students’ sense of belonging and social “fit” in college. CC students are already “doing the risky thing” (Fitzpatrick)—they’re going to college. Trial—and especially error–around spartan and user-unfriendly interfaces can challenge even the most confident of lifelong learners.  Recently, I fell short of completing a Github pull request after many tries, and I had the humbling experience of standing on the wrong side of a threshold. Perhaps for CC students, commercial interfaces are the “architecture of necessity” (Gil)– the best way to ensure that they cross important thresholds when taking on digital projects.

When I was reading about minimal computing, the words “syntactic sugar” and “syntactic salt” popped up. This language of low-processing and elemental design pepper minimal computing definitions and put me in mind of the language of food politics–Whole Foods, organic produce, farmers’ markets and distributed pantry movements. Why is it, I wondered, that the advantages of bypassing the supermarket to ensure maximal autonomy are only realized by middle-class families with huge domestic square-footage and mini-vans? Do the conflicting urgencies of class and environment operate in minimal computing?

If they do, what kind of computing can help CC students comprehend and intervene in the high-speed, overprocessed environment of their “digital life”? Thinking of supermarkets led me to consider how McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and KFC leverage food deserts for profit. I looked up the Food Desert locator data visualization map posted by the USDA [Figure 1 “Food Desert Map”], and then quickly also found the Fast Food restaurant map [Figure 2 “Fast Food Locator”]. Then I went back to the GO::DH map that locates DH centers globally [Figure 3 “In a Rich Man’s World: Global DH”] and created my own DH at the CC data viz map using Google Maps to see what it might reveal. This was networked computing toward a local end [Figure 4 “The Only CC Digital Humanities Faculty in the PacNW Flies to the MLA”].

So I’m saying that “maximum” computing can serve “minimal computing” ends of inclusiveness and participation, but I do know I need to avoid creating conditions for CCs to become digital equivalents of food deserts. A sole diet of Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat et al. could play into a lifetime of dependence on overprocessed commercial platforms. Meanwhile CC students’ four-year counterparts at Honors Colleges and First Year Interest Groups tinker with their Tiny Linuxes, “healthy choices” and “whole foods” of Raspberry Pi. But for now, that’s where my staircase ends.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] CC Student facts: There are 992 public community colleges in the US, and community college students make up 46% of all undergraduates in the US and 41% of all first-time freshmen. Sixty-one percent of Native American college undergraduates are enrolled in community colleges; 52% of Black students and 43% of Asian/Pacific Islander undergraduates are enrolled in community colleges; 50% of Hispanic college students begin at community college. In the US, 59% of community college students are enrolled part-time, and 59% are women (American Association of Community Colleges, “Enrollments”). The SES data on CC students are well known (Adelman): 44% percent of low-income students attend community colleges as their first college out of high school as compared to 15% of high-income students (Community College Research Center). Sixty-nine percent of community college students work, with 33% working more than 35 hours per week; 22% are full-time students employed full-time; 40% are full time students employed part-time; and 41% of part-time students are employed full-time. And first-generation students make up 36% of community college student populations (American Association of Community Colleges, “Fast Fact Sheet”).

 

[i] I should have heeded Ryan Cordell’s advice about course naming http://ryancordell.org/teaching/how-not-to-teach-digital-humanities/

 

[ii] I want to acknowledge here the existence of many under-resourced four-year colleges and universities as well, and that we are talking about a complex system of power and privilege operating in higher education.  But CCs have an open-access mission and a lower-division or foundational focus, and this puts them at a singular disadvantage in terms of social capital—for students, for faculty within the profession.

[iii] There are some hopeful signs on the horizon in this regard: The University of Washington and CUNY Graduate Center have explicitly engaged with community colleges as a site for expanding public humanities, but the impacts of these initiatives remain to be seen.

 

Threshold Concepts and DH at the CC

DH at CC Course Poster

Spring 2017 DH at CC Course goes Live!

At the Community College Humanities Association PNW earlier this month, I discussed my development of “threshold concepts” for digital humanities as a way of bridging and scaffolding accessible DH work into community college courses–simultaneously teaching a “whole game” approach that is valuable to all students while also preparing transfer students for a 21st century humanities education. Powerpoint is here: this-digital-life

Actually I retrofitted threshold concepts onto course assignments I had already developed or am in the process of developing for my Spring 2017 Intro to DH course entitled “Reading, Writing and Culture in a DIgital Age.” I took a page from Ryan Cordell’s wise essay and chose a title that refers to concrete practices that novice humanities students and Gen Ed students alike would recognize.

Here are some of the assignments that I’m still tinkering with–some of them are in the process of being developed, some have already worked successfully. One assignment is adapted out of a lengthy and sophisticated assignment in Bruno Latour’s “Scientific Humanities” MOOC and another was inspired by Jena Osman’s Public Figures book and website to provide opportunities for students to practice humanities methods of observation, analysis and creative imagining in their daily lives.

Humanities Computing or Digital Humanities is…

—About the Book

…About how algorithms-organize-information-essay-wr122

…About anticipating questions anticipate-your-audience-faqs-assignment-sheet

…About glitches and breaking-stuff-write-like-gertrude

…About non-human subjectivities synthetic-selfies-and-monumental-subjects

..About how words-get-their-meaning-from-other-words

…. About building an audience for your cause writing-studio-exercise-awareness-object-artifact

DH at the CC Commons Now Live!

DH at the CC Commons is a community of practice begun at the NEH ODH Advanced Topics Summer Institute 2015

DH at the CC Commons is a community of practice begun at the NEH ODH Advanced Topics Summer Institute 2015

The DH at the CC Commons is open to all interested in teaching digital humanities at community colleges.

Visit us today at https://dhatthecc.lanecc.edu/