Posts Tagged collaboration

Assignments and Architecture: Pedagogy in the Digital Age

Title slide that reads 'Assignments and Architecture' with a hand-corrected print-out on one side of the screen and a upward-facing shot of a building on the right half. The link on this image is for the assignment as the photograph of the building is one that I took.

tl;dr: I gave a talk about digital pedagogy.

Today I want to share a talk. That’s not all that unusual, as I’ve been in the habit of posting such presentations since I began blogging here in 2009. What’s unusual about this one—at least for me—is that it’s a talk that evolved as I gave it as a keynote at three different universities.

Although it’s taken me longer to post this talk than I would have liked, I want to share my framework for theorizing digital pedagogy. This is the rubric I use when working with faculty here at Brown to design new classroom research projects. We can create new and exciting, team-based research projects for our students. Once you’ve tried this, it’s really hard to go back.

I first spoke about “pedagogy in the digital age” at Fordham University in November 2013. I was invited by Glenn Hendler, who is chair of the English Department, to give this talk as well as a more practical workshop on teaching with technology in the classroom. It was one of the first times I had been given the opportunity to tackle either subject in such a broad way, and the setting of Fordham in NYC definitely inspired the direction that the talk took—that, and an episode of 99% Invisible that I had just listened to. I very much enjoyed the conversations at Fordham and was glad of the chance to put together my thoughts about digital pedagogy into a more coherent argument.

When I was asked a few months later to give the keynote at the September 2014 Liberal Arts Scholarship and Technology Summit (LASTS) at Penn State, I took the chance to further refine the talk and its argument. I was invited by Christopher P. Long, who was at the time Associate Dean for Graduate and Undergraduate Education at Penn State and who has since moved to Michigan State as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters. I’ve always admired Chris for the genuine excitement and positive energy he brings to conversations, so I was flattered and happy to spend the time with him and the Penn State community. (Also, land-grant schools tend to have the best ice cream.) My visit for LASTS was combined with a talk at the Center for American Literary Studies’s Symposium on #Alt-Ac, which I wrote about previously. My keynote was recorded, if you want to see the high kick at the end.

Shortly after the presentation at Penn State, I was thrilled to be invited to speak at both St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges in Northfield, Minnesota (home of Malt-o-Meal; the whole town smelled like Marshmallow Mateys!). The two colleges have received a Mellon Foundation grant for collaboration between the two schools, which sit opposite one another across the Cannon River. One of the outcomes for the grant was the Bridge Crossings Events, which focus on integrating and supporting digital technologies into teaching, learning, and research. I made some more changes to the presentation, as well as did some research on the architecture on both campuses, and joined faculty, librarians, and IT staff at both schools in February 2015 for a discussion of Digital Humanities on the Hill. I really enjoyed my visit, thanks to the great library and IT staff at both schools, although I was shocked at how little winter gear people in Minnesota needed compared to a guy from Georgia. If you’re into comparative media experiences, you can also watch the video of this version of the talk. No high kick, I’m afraid.

Again, my thanks to Fordham, Penn State, and St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges for inviting me and giving me the chance to pull together years of praxis into three performances.

N.B. It’s worth saying that there are two images in this slide deck that are potentially NSFW: artistic photographs of nude sex workers, circa 1912.

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Day of DH Starts Early

Today is the ever popular and fun Day of DH. I’ve got a blog on the main Day of DH site, but I’m going to cross-post some of the content here. Because findability?


As I was explaining to some of my coworkers yesterday, Day of DH started with the goal of trying to make public the work—and the many different types of work—that take place under the rubric of digital humanities. We accomplish this by blogging and tweeting, just making note of what we do throughout the day.

Of course, the not-so-secret part of Day of DH is that one doesn’t get it all done in a single day. And that’s why last night found me in front of my computer, churning through email and the like. In doing that, I found an email from a collaborator with whom I’ve been writing a project proposal. We had been aiming to deliver it on the first of April, but some serious illness interposed. Since she was feeling better, she’d done the last fact check on one of our references. The proposal was ready, so I cleaned up the file and sent it on to one of the Co-Directors of Emory’s Center for Digital Scholarship. Only after I clicked ‘send’ did I realize that it would have been more appropriate to wait to send it until this morning, so I could have #DayofDH’d about it. Oh well.

I don’t think that I’m quite ready to share what we hope to do, but I’ll say that it builds on the work that Rebecca Sutton Koeser and I have been doing on the Belfast Group.

Writing this proposal was an interesting experience. A group of us started brainstorming what we could do right before the academic year started, and we followed with some monthly meetings. Given the schedules of some of our collaborators, monthly meetings were about as good as we could do. When we suddenly found ourselves in January, with not a lot of progress made, I made a suggestion that we move the proposal writing group down to a smaller number of individuals. That’s exactly what needed to happen. Following a 90-minute conversation, Lisa Chinn and I knew what direction we wanted to take. A few writing sessions later, we had a proposal ready to go. I hope that we’re able to keep it within scope.

The real lesson here—apart from timing one’s emails to big blogging events—is that while collaboration is important and often a big part of DH work, collaboration isn’t an end in itself. If collaboration isn’t working for you, then there’s nothing “DH” about sticking to its current form. Adapt and get the situation that you need in order to get your work done. Because, at the end of the day, getting your work done is about the most DH thing you could be doing.


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“What’s in it for Me?”; or, Collaboration is not an End in Itself

In April I had the pleasure of speaking at Case Western Reserve University. I was invited by Roger Zender at the Freedman Center for Digital Scholarship to speak in their 2013 Colloquium, which was devoted to the subject of “Exploring Collaboration in Digital Scholarship.” The talk gave me an opportunity to discuss the work we have been doing at Emory’s Digital Scholarship Commons. Collaboration has in many ways been our bread and butter since the Mellon grant under which we operate has been focused on integrating a digital humanities center into the fabric of the Library. Our DiSC projects have drawn not only on talents of Emory’s faculty and the technological staff within the Library, but also the librarians themselves. Libraries present digital humanists with the opportunity to think more clearly about important issues such as preservation, copyright, and metadata.

When I was asked several weeks before the presentation for a title, I riffed on a title that my colleague Stewart Varner and I had previously used, “The Tragicomedy of the Commons: Digital Scholarship In and Around the Library.” This title played not only on the concept of the tragedy of the commons but also on the last initial in DiSC’ s acronym. In many ways, DiSC was set up as a solution to the inevitable depletion of resources that happens when people act self-interestedly. Since there hadn’t been a “front door” for digital scholarship at Emory, people had to go about finding their own ways to do digital work it inevitably ends up being unsustainable for all sorts of reasons. My presentation, which you can watch below, starts off talking about how DiSC was proposed as a way to solve this particular tragedy.

But it turns out that there are more barriers to collaboration on digital scholarship than simply having one place to go to get started. Instead of the too-crowded and depleted Commons, what we’ve found is that sometimes people don’t want to make use of the Commons. In other words, they don’t see the value of playing nice with others or collaborating and when they are asked to do so, their response is “What’s in it for me?”

As obnoxious as that question seems up front, I’ve found over the last several years that it’s actually central in digital scholarship. It’s not so much that people who ask this question are self-centered; rather, it’s a reflection of a rational mindset. If I can’t tell you how collaborating on a research project will benefit you, there’s really no reason for you to work with me. Indeed, “What’s in it for me?” points to something so obvious that we often forget it: collaboration is not an end in itself.

If you want to work with faculty, you need to know what could benefit them. This likely means helping them advance a particular research agenda or teach a class better. Graduate students have different needs that can be motivational: experience in a field or a methodology; experience getting an innovative project off the ground; or simple, lovely, filthy lucre. Librarians, developers, libraries—all of them have different motivations for why they might want to work together with you on a project. And you need to answer “What’s in it for me?” for every single group and then keep it foregrounded as you continue to work. 

That, in brief, was the argument of my presentation. Along the way, I shared a lot of anecdotes of our work in DiSC: some about Networking Belfast, which we’re going to be showing off at DH 2013 and quite a bit on how Views of Rome got off the ground. If you’re feeling miffed that you missed those gory details, well, you can watch it now.

And in case you want a better view of all those pretty pictures, here are the slides.

Speaking of collaboration, I was pleased to share the podium with, among others, Lisa Spiro and Amanda French, two people with whom I would collaborate on just about anything. In attending the colloquium, I learned a lot about other projects that have been happening at Case Western, as well as other schools around the country. And perhaps best for me, it presented the opportunity to think at a high level about what we’ve been doing at DiSC for the last 3 years and how we can do better in the future. A big thanks again to Roger Zender and all of CWRU for the invitation.

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