In Which I Encourage Students to Make Research Boxes

It is the height of teaching season! Fortunately, it is also fall break; I wanted to take advantage of this pause in my schedule to share my how research education sessions have evolved since beginning to incorporate lessons learned from reading  The Creative Habit.

Lower Lake at Sunswet

Can you tell it’s fall in New England?

Writing research papers is CREATIVE

When students feel empowered to call themselves creators and feel empowered to believe that their work is situated in a larger scholarly conversation, they tend to rise to the occasion. I also believe that connecting creativity, research, and writing gives students unique ownership over the entire process. Framing research as part of the creative process makes my classes more exciting for both the students and myself. It’s easy to think that the creative process starts with writing, but Tharp helps us understand that the research is equally important.

The research box is a winning metaphor

Tharp writes about the research box; the place (physical or metaphorical) where material, inspiration, and planning resides. Tharp does not believe that the box must only be reserved for actionable research, but also for pieces of inspiration and possible directions for a particular project. In my classes, the box becomes a compelling frame for students to consider using a citation management system like Zotero to collect their research as they work towards outlining and writing their papers. Tharp also cautions against conflating research with creation, a warning I also share with students. Research, while critical to every project, is just a step in the larger process.

Rituals build better habits

Tharp wrote about the importance of routines and rituals in her work; daily rituals sustain her and prepare her to do work effectively every day. Creative genius is not a burst of brilliance, but sustained, consistent effort over time. Creative practice is as much about work ethnic and dedication as it is bursts of energy or ideas. Sustained effort helps translate ideas into projects and performances. I like to encourage students to think about how they do their work, to break it down into parts and understand that investing time into understanding how their process actually works and to refine their research rituals and routines will help them evolve. Research is a craft that requires dedication to refine over time; no one is a ‘born researcher.’ Tharp’s book does an excellent job of modeling that mindset; your research paper won’t get written when inspiration strikes in the course of one night, but through meticulous research, iteration, outlining, writing, editing, and refining over a period of time.

 

 

#Reading “Who Gets to Graduate?”

“Beyond the economic opportunities for the students themselves, there is the broader cost of letting so many promising students drop out, of losing so much valuable human capital. For almost all of the 20th century, the United States did a better job of producing college graduates than any other country. But over the past 20 years, we have fallen from the top of those international lists; the United States now ranks 12th in the world in the percentage of young people who have earned a college degree. During the same period, a second trend emerged: American higher education became more stratified; most well-off students now do very well in college, and most middle- and low-income students struggle to complete a degree. These two trends are clearly intertwined. And it is hard to imagine that the nation can regain its global competitiveness, or improve its level of economic mobility, without reversing them.”

–Paul Tough, “Who Gets to Graduate?” via The New York Times Magazine 15 May 2014

Dispatches from Re: Humanities 2014 (#rehum14)

I had the pleasure of traveling to Haverford College this past week to attend Re: Humanities: Play, Power, Production. Re: Humanities is a conference organized by undergraduates to showcase undergraduate work in the digital humanities. Their work speaks for itself; I created a storify that encapsulates the energy and spirit of the event. I am already looking ahead to Re: Humanities 2015. Congratulations, #nextgendh!

PS: Here’s a write-up from Technically: Philly.

A quick pic from my iPhone.

Haverford College via my iPhone.

Transforming Survival Mode into Sustaining Mode

MLK Commemoration

Photo by Caro Pinto

During the fall semester, Mount Holyoke College commemorated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s campus appearance by playing a recording of the 1964 speech. Sitting in the campus amphitheater, I contemplated how King’s vision was as much about the discipline of everyday work as much as it was about dreams. My mind wandered back to a certain text that pushed me in college.

King wrote:

We Negroes have longed reamed of freedom, but still we are confide in an oppressive person of segregation and discrimination. Must we respond with bitterness and cynicism? Certainly not, for this will destroy and poison our personalities…To guard ourselves from bitterness, we need the vision to see in this generation’s ordeals the opportunity to transfigure both ourselves and American society. Our present suffering and our nonviolent struggle to be free may well offer to Western Civilization the kind of spiritual dynamic so desperately needed for survival.

In the book referenced above, Freedom Dreams, Robin D.G. Kelly wonders how social movements can transform the world in the face of challenging circumstances:

How do we produce a vision that enables us to see beyond our immediate ordeals? Who do we transcend bitterness and cynicism and embrace love, hope, and an all-conompassing dream of freedom, especially in these rough times?

Thinking back to Kelly, I thought about how much of a struggle it can be to keep the big picture in mind in the face of “immediate ordeals.” How do we push forward when there are naysayers suggesting the work of higher education isn’t worth it, that there isn’t enough money to do x or enough time to implement y or z is too much effort?

Kelly concludes:

Without new visions we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us.

An innovative future demands fresh vision. It is easy to get bogged down by the emails clogging our inboxes, the administrivia eating up our time, or the petty office politics sucking our souls. It is easy to get sidetracked and forget why we work in academic libraries and why that work matters. As winter turns to spring, I’m thinking about renewal and how to translate small habits into larger patterns for growth. After all, if we don’t think about ‘go for broke’ dreams, there won’t be an opportunity to transform our work in meaningful ways.

Dream Team Reunited (@caropinto & @_datalore_ 4-eva)

Now that the holidays are over, I am excited to turn my attention to the January Term class I am co- teaching with Shaun Trujillo. Shaun is the Digital Collections & Metadata Lead in the Digital Assets & Preservation Department at Mount Holyoke College. Last spring, when I co-taught the Introduction to Digital Humanities Class at Hampshire College with Jim Wald, Shaun joined us for an exciting guest lecture. We had so much fun collaborating that we decided to teach together again this winter.

We collaboratively developed the syllabus over the last few months. We met in person to discuss our vision for the course, draft learning objectives, and brainstorm lab possibilities. We exchanged a number of links over email and Twitter, too. After many Twitter exchanges, we decided that we should make a hashtag (#mhcmediaarc) to better facilitate current issues and readings with our students in real time.

So, readers, if you see can’t-miss articles about media archeology, digital humanities, women in technology, neat coding how-tos, Git resources, other media studies materials, please feel free to share them with us using our hashtag: #mhcmediaarc

And, if you have any 5.5 floppy disks, we’d love to have them.

More to come: class starts Tuesday 7 January in the Media Lab at Mount Holyoke College.

Box of Floppy Disks

Intentional Directions for Inspirational Research

“But more important, I am bothered because I think there is pedagogical value in getting lost in the stacks. When I was a student, the stacks filled me with fear but also with awe-they contained so much learning! Today we applaud students for not exploring the stacks but for being efficient, making research quick and easy.” -Julio Alves

I loved Julio Alves’ piece in the The Chronicle of Higher Education called “Unintentional Knowledge.” In it, he affirms the importance of serendipity in research and writing, how “most of the knowledge we possess is not conscious and intentional; it is incidental, or tacit, acquired as a byproduct of performing some other activity…Incidental knowledge continues to play an important role in our adult lives. The library stacks are a mine of incidental knowledge.” It struck me that sometimes librarians bill themselves as capable sherpas who can help students to save time in their research process by showing them optimal databases, better search terms to leverage, and the fastest ways to download PDFs. I often talk to students about not getting lost in the romance of research, the notion that research is taxing, requiring hours of futile searching before landing on solid sources and leads. I encourage them to be organized, to capture their work process, and to do research systematically. In spite of my organizational exhortations, I do think there is tremendous value in following questions into detours from a “systematic approach.”

This semester, I taught a two-session sequence about topic development and research for a Spanish class. I started the topic development session encouraging the students to think about inspiration; what are they excited about studying? What books or issues in class engaged them the most? I encouraged the students to follow their interests and consider how they wanted to invest their time delving into a topic and developing questions that would resonate with them. We talked about topic reality checks, ways of leveraging library resources like JSTOR, Project Muse, and the catalog to see if a topic is viable and whether it will translate into answerable questions. I asked them to experiment, to find articles that might support their topic, and encouraged them to follow the trails started by the sources they looked at through linked keywords and subject headings in the catalog. In the research session that followed, we explored those trails more thoroughly. Even though these are digital means, they are still opportunities for serendipitous browsing; by starting with their interests and following the questions that mean the most to them, it’s easy for students to think of research less as a series of transactions towards a final paper, but a quest towards answering meaningful questions. Inspiration and incidental knowledge can also come from the digital realm, we just have to find new ways of honing it with our students, a resolution for 2014.

My Middle Name Should be Calendar: YouCanBook.me

The semester is upon us!

My liaison team at Mount Holyoke had a semester ramp-up/psych up meeting a few weeks ago, in which we shared strategies for managing the start-of-term craziness. I demonstrated some of the curriculum and collection mapping I’ve been doing this summer in Coggle to learn about my new departments, and another colleague shared her favorite calendar management tool, YouCanBook.me. My struggles to manage email and calendar appointments is documented on this blog here. While I had some luck with lizibot last year, I also found that there were some bugs that gave me pause over the summer. As my colleague demoed YouCanBook.me, I realized it was time to make another switch for these reasons:

  1. It just works with Google Calendar without any muss or fuss.
  2. Customizable settings. It was easy to set my time zone and block off times for lunch and anticipate meeting heavy days that don’t make open hours optimal.
  3. Minimal steps for users to make an appointment. Lizibot had too many cumbersome steps.

The school year is always a time management battle; new projects occupy precious brain bandwidth; revision of my teaching materials is continual; meeting with as many students one-on-one is a perpetual goal; and back up on service points like the Research Help Desk can derail my best intentions to multitask. I am always looking for new ways to simply routine tasks like setting up meetings, responding to email, and managing my time. Resources like ProfHacker and Life Hacker inspire me to tweak my habits and workflows so I can spend my time wisely and not get lost in the roundabouts of administrivia. Here’s to a great semester!

Via The Library of Congress on Flickr Commons

Via The Library of Congress on Flickr Commons

Reflections on the Common Read

Summer is coming to a close. Target is filled with bedding, shelving, and everything else incoming students will need to make their dorm rooms theirs. The weather is turning cooler at night, and my calendar is filled with meetings to ready our library for incoming students. If you’ve been following Mount Holyoke College social media outlets, you’ve seen our hashtags: #jorgeknows and #marysbag. I’ll have more to say on those in a few weeks as we roll out our programming. For now, I want to comment on one of my favorite start-of-term activities for incoming students: the common read.

Some might say: the common read, who cares? Well, I believe the common read is an essential component of orientation, especially at selective liberal arts college like Mount Holyoke and my alma mater, Smith College. In many cases, the book is one of the only commonalities students may share; no matter if they arrived to campus from New Jersey or Beijing, they read the same book. If nothing else, newly arrived students can reliably make chit chat about the book, whether they enjoyed it, whether it was too long, whether it was enthralling or pedantic. It is an immediate and common bond.

During my last semester at Hampshire College, I served on the college-wide common read committee, a group tasked with selecting next year’s book for incoming students to read. I knew going into the experience that I had warm, pleasant feelings about common read programs; I had such fond memories of my own experiences reading My Year of Meats / Ruth Ozeki before my first year at Smith in 2000. I loved reading the book that summer between my cashier shifts at Blockbuster Video. Reading the book as I readied myself to leave home help ease my anxieties about fitting into a new community; was I academically prepared enough? Would I have anything worthwhile to say? Would the students of Smith realize that I was an inferior interloper (IMPOSTOR SYNDROME!)? The book became my outlet. I think it read it twice that summer.

When I arrived on campus, the freedom to be out of the closet, to no longer be the person that hid underneath heaps of hair and quiet dourness in high school, was overwhelming. I was not accustomed to being honest about who I was or how I really felt. I almost did not know what to say or where to start, so I started with the common read. It was a low threshold to talk about a book most everyone read. It helped eased my transition. Finally, as orientation week came to a close, Ruth Ozeki herself come to John M. Greene Hall to give a talk about her book. It was a wonderful talk; Ozeki touched on her own experiences at Smith, and gave us first years a spirited go get ’em! Ruth Ozeki’s talk was the first time I ever heard an author speak about his or her work publicly; a direct connection between a published work and the person who wrote it. It was powerful and inspiring.

Afterwards, first year students were invited to follow Ozeki to the Alumnae House to get copies of her book signed. Many of us went; I remember waiting in a long line. Most of my cohort enjoyed the talk and we chatted amongst ourselves as we waited to meet the author herself. I made some friends, felt a sense of school community I had never felt before, and finally, when my turn came, I met Ozeki. She was friendly and warm and took my book, asked my name, and wrote an inscription on the cover page: “For Caroline-Have a great time at Smith! Ruth L. Ozeki.” This interaction gave me inspiration to try my best, to take big risks, and learn as much as I could at Smith. My dog eared copy of My Year of Meats moved with me to every room I lived in at Smith, every apartment I inhabited in Florence, New Haven, Somerville, and Northampton. It psyched me up; I can do this.

My Year of Meats / Ruth Ozeki

My Year of Meats / Ruth Ozeki

Of course, Smith was a challenge; my classes, classmates, and experiences in athletics, music, and college radio pushed me in all the right ways, but my years at Smith were not without their dark days. During those periods when I questioned everything, my direction, my intelligence, my ability on the crew team to pass a 2K test, or land gainful employment after graduation, I turned to My Year of Meats as a reminder of what brought me to the College. I thought about the opportunity to learn, grow, and evolve as a critical thinker, but also to have a great time, watch the sun rise on the Connecticut River, to find love, and come to terms with myself.

Caroline Pinto entered Smith College in 2000, but Caro Pinto graduated in 2004. Did the common read ensure my success? No, but it gave me inspiration and a sense of belonging at a moment when everything felt up for grabs. As the chips fell during my college career, the book remained on my shelf and in my heart. I hope this year’s Mount Holyoke students have the same positive experience with their common read.

Summer Learning: #dhpoco summer school

For some, summer might be about beach trips and milk shakes, but for me, summer is about learning (well, and a little about milkshakes and other delicious rituals). I love using the slower pace of college campuses during the summer to develop myself, make a work plan for the year, and learn something new. I am really excited to participate in [#dhpoco summer school, "an informal, month-long collaborative online course exploring issues related to Postcolonial Digital Humanities."] (http://dhpoco.org/blog/2013/05/20/coming-soon-dhpoco-summer-school/) Let me break down why:

  1. Broadening Digital Humanities Practice/Theory One of the most important outcomes from teaching Intro to DH last semester at Hampshire was the realization that there are significant structural inequalities in DH in terms of who practices DH and what types of cultural heritages materials get digitized, case in point, this tweet from Barnard Libraries:

    In my new role at Mount Holyoke College, I continue to support both western and non-western disciplines and always want to find new points of engagement.

  2. Online Learning MOOCS, blended classrooms, flipped classrooms, digital learning. I spend plenty of time reading about these new classroom experiences and learning opportunities, but haven’t found the right opportunity to participate yet. This will be a good foray into the world of online learning and perhaps inspire me to enroll in a MOOC or, better yet, find new ways of engaging with online tools and spaces to do my own teaching.
  3. Learning for ME At the end of last term, I attended a dinner party with colleagues from Hampshire and one of my friends mentioned that she was going to be attending a short term course in North Carolina this summer, where she would be a student as opposed to the instructor. That definitely resonates with me; last term I spent a Friday afternoon in February in a seminar with other Digital Humanities interested folks as part of the a short-term Kahn Institute for Liberal Arts Project called “From Hypercities to Big Data and #Alt-Ac: Debates in the Digital Humanities” It was luxurious to talk through ideas in a seminar setting with other engaged people. I am excited to see what this type of engagement will look like online.

I voted for readings and look forward to seeing how the course will develop. I’ll be writing about it here.