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.

 

 

J-Term: Team Engagement Developers

“Personalized virtual communities for teaching and research are primed to be one of the next big things for librarians and academia. It’s part of the transition we face from content providers to engagement developers.” -Brian Matthews

I thought about this post in the Chronicle excerpted above when I was organizing content for the J-Term course I co-taught this month with the awesome Shaun Trujillo.

Our course, Media Archaeology, Digital Humanities & The Archives, experimented with a humanities lab, a concept/practice I’ve long wanted to explore. As a libarchivist/instructional technologist, I work towards meaningful integration of technology into teaching contexts. Digital projects require skills and relationships not often available in traditional humanities seminars. This is not to say that the content embedded in digital projects isn’t essential; Shaun and I are not swept up by ‘pixel dust;’ we committed to thinking about media and artifacts both conceptually and practically.

The Humanities Lab is not new. In the introduction to the recently published book, Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era, Hayles and Pressman talk about “a major development in integrating a media framework into humanities disciplines is the advent of the Humanities Lab. Among the early pioneers was Jeffrey Schnapp. When he was at Stanford University, he envisioned the Humanities Lab as providing space for collaborative work on large project that he calls the ”Big Humanities“ (by analogy with ”Big Science“)…Humanities Labs also lead the way in offering new models of pedagogy.” (xvi)

There are many rewards and opportunities for these types of classroom experiences, extending the tradition lecture and seminar into hands-on-digital projects. Hayles and Pressman offer a wonderful example from Duke University art history course. In our case, we did hands on work appraising digital photos, took apart an iMac, used software from 2001, and ran programs on a C–64.

C-64 Fun

As librarians, working with digital forensics and new media, our role as content providers is given, but our role as engagement developers is an emerging one. In order for complex assignments and experiences to be scaled undergraduate classrooms, faculty, librarians, and technologists need to team up to make these projects sustainable realities. Librarians are primed to collaborate meaningfully in these teams not just as “content providers but as engagement developers.” I am excited to continue collaborating with Shaun as we refine and extend our work together on media archaeology and digital forensics in the future.

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.

At Long Last, Reflections on Becoming MoHome

Archives & Special Collections, Mount Holyoke College

Archives & Special Collections, Mount Holyoke College

This semester is one of those semesters where I literally cannot believe how fast time is passing. The summer and the start of the semester were extremely busy, but for wonderful reasons. Our merged IT/Library (LITS) overhauled our orientation programming considerably to ‘radically welcome’ new students to Mount Holyoke. A significant part of orientation was also curricular; on the first Saturday of orientation my colleague Leslie Fields and I led the first session of the first year connections course (CUSP). Asked by the organizers to present a session about college history that brought the magic of the archives to about 500 entering students during six concurrent sessions. The question of scale immediately came to mind: how would we think about sharing the wonders of primary sources to so many students during 50 minute sessions?

We decided that the most expedient and perhaps AWESOMEST way of sharing some of Mount Holyoke College’s traditions and history with students was the create an online exhibit using materials from their great-grandmother class of 1917 to compare and contrast their experiences. Above all, we wanted to give the new students a sense that they are part of a larger community, the larger Mount Holyoke Community that thrives and endures beyond graduation and over generations. As the college song refrains, “Mount Holyoke forever shall be.”

So, how to build a site that would both communicate college history, make curricular connections, engage first year students AND look cool?

The four-legged stool of Archives & Special Collections (the goods), RIS (curricular connections), Archives & Special Collections Student Ambassadors (awesome engagement) and Digital Assets & Preservation (technical prowess & keen design sense) decided that we would build an Omeka site collaboratively. DH aficionados love talking about Omeka and there is no shortage of posts talking about its usability and extensibility, but what I wanted to share the link to our site and say some things about the process.

-Students Need Context: Over and over again when I work on digital projects with students, just saying, ‘go do this thing!’ never helps. Providing context, instruction, and measurable goals can help students realize their curation potential. I met fairly regularly with our main student to scaffold the process from idea, to research, to storyboarded exhibit towards a proof of concept before we even talked about Omeka itself.

-Better Together: Omeka’s extensibility really shines when you work with a variety of stakeholders. I alone in Research & Instructional Support could not have created this successful exhibit without the students’ insight/enthusiasm, special collections’ golden content, or Digital Assets & Preservation’s technical know-how & design moxie. With roles for curation, design, and technical support, we were able to do much more than slap some images onto a site. We created a narrative that leveraged plugins downloaded from GitHub and enjoyed a custom designed inspired from our own archival collections.

-Digital Project Outreach Matters: This site was an important step for our team not only in terms of delivering content for a particular class, but also get ourselves better acquainted with a tool that we hope to use more broadly in the curriculum. It’s so easy for successful projects and processes to get lost in the shuffle which is why Sheila Brennan’s post about Digital Project Outreach continues to ring true for me. She writes that “outreach is intentional, is integral to a tools/project’s success…is not only about publicity, the job includes testing and making the tool accessible to targeted audiences; is user advocacy.” We kept our users at the center of this project, not only in terms of the content, but the process, how can we make digital curation scalable to the undergraduate classroom? How can this project be used as model for future projects? We shared our success on social media and found that our community responded with sustained engagement with the site beyond the concurrent sessions during orientation. I also hope that students will also see themselves in the process of creation; that knowing other undergraduates were at the heart of curation will inspire them to ask bold questions and dive into digital scholarship.

You can visit our exhibit here.

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.

Faculty-Librarian Collaborations (& Friendship)

I met one of my most trusted professional collaborators and dear friends at an orchestra camp when I was 16 years old. I hated high school and was generally dour, a surprise to those who know me post-college. Trying to make sense of my identity in a community that was not accepting of difference didn’t give me much to smile or laugh about. Playing classical music was my outlet and I met wonderful, supportive friends through that venture. But no one made me laugh quite like Carla Martin did between rehearsals in the middle of Maine in 1998.

We lost touch when we went to college, but thanks to a Mark Zuckerberg production called Facebook, we reconnected when we were both working in Cambridge in 2008. We talked a lot about teaching and higher education since we were both in graduate school, me in library school, Carla in a ph.d program at Harvard. As our responsibilities shifted towards classroom work, we both noticed on Twitter that we were experimenting at the intersection of humanities, social science, and technology. We started talking more about what works in classrooms and what doesn’t, what types of tools are available and how to recast products in an academic context. Talking about our work in the context of the digital humanities community has only put the uniqueness of our relationship into focus.

Last week, we presented a flipped session about faculty-librarian collaboration at Digital Humanities: The Next Generation. As Lindsay Whitacre noted in her presentation on Saturday, “DH is not just a new set of tools and methods, it’s a new set of relationships.” I and many others have said before that Digital Humanities is a team sport, a collaborative venture that cannot be sustained by lone wolves or solitary geniuses. Digital Humanists must be as serious about building and sustaining relationships as they are about building tools.

Flipped Sessions are Fun.

Flipped sessions are fun.

My relationship with Carla is one of those important ones. I am a better librarian for knowing her, for listening to her talk about the logistics of scaling up digital projects to larger classes, for asking questions about how to support first generation students with skillfully crafted assignments and syllabi, and for helping me better understand how librarians can support junior faculty with their institutional knowledge. She’s forthcoming with examples of assignments that work, for thinking about new ways of marketing courses, and for hands-on activities in classes that I can talk about in my local community. We don’t work for the same institution, so our conversations are casual collaborations, but we can practice communication strategies we can bring home and use in our local contexts.

Our presentation dealt with miscommunications between librarians and faculty. It’s an elephant in the room when we talk about how to thoughtfully incorporate technology into classrooms. Some faculty may have an expectation that librarians and technologists passively will enact whatever they want. Other librarians may have a fear that faculty don’t value them professionally. Some faculty may feel like librarians can be passive aggressive with them when talking about workloads. Other faculty may feel like librarians can be dismissive of their technology skills. Bad communication patterns are also reinforced by higher education hierarchies that put faculty at the top and librarians towards the bottom. In my experience, librarians and faculty have excellent, complementary skills that when put in service of students, learning and research can be a powerful force for good. Librarians are masters of process; the research process, increasingly in many cases, how to manage technology projects or experimenting with technology in their practice. Faculty are masters of the content, experts in their field. I read a quote on the Feral Librarian’s blog this week from Deborah Jakubs:

“…librarians are learned and talented and bring skills and attitudes and services to the university that most regular faculty both admire and need. So rather than constantly trying to compare ourselves to faculty, and often coming up short, let’s celebrate the differences and complementarity.”

Why not leverage these complementary skill sets to build a relationship to enable digital humanities, whether it be in a research or classroom setting?

In addition to providing tangible benefits to our students and to our faculty, I think individual faculty and librarians themselves can benefit from working in teams and from participating in engaged professional relationships. Beyond doing my job better, my relationship with Carla and other faculty members enrich my life and work generally, especially since we still laugh as hard together as we did in 1998.

#5CDH: Walls, Shawls, iPads, Maps & DH

  1. @oleblanc follow #5cdh & @caropinto for live tweets from the “Of Roman Walls” DH Event at Amherst 3/1 ow.ly/hMUhf
  2. A panel featuring Karen Remmler (MHC), Jon Olson, (UM) & Caro Pinto (HC) kicked off the afternoon. 
  3. Olson is talking about ‘hacking the humanities.’ What are the humanities now? #5CDH
  4. The Europe in the 20th c. history site @jonberndtolsen and his students created digital.history.umass.edu/e… built with WordPress #5CDH
  5. Olson described how his humanities classes incorporated technology & the delicate balance between humanities & technology. Of course, this is not a question limited to just the humanities.
  6. Olson: How do we offer technology courses geared towards the humanities? This is an issue for science students too – multidisc problem #5CDH
  7. It is clear faculty cannot tackle content & technology on their own. What are the best practices?
  8. Olson musing on how to teach digital skills in the humanities. He suggests computer scientists embedded, I say, librarians. #5CDH
  9. Olson aslo mused about how mold our students into makers. Jeffrey Schapp from Harvard talks about cultivating a hybrid producer/consumer model called prosumers. 
  10. Olson: Our students are largely digital consumers & not necessarily digital producers. Glad I am trying to mold prosumers. #5CDH
  11. Caro Pinto talked about translating the value of successful and unsuccessful DH projects; how to build effective teams, and how to balance hierarchy and collaboration. 
  12. .@caropinto Librarians embedded in courses can really shape how to teach technology- how do we translate the value of what we’re doing #5CDH
  13. .@caropinto How do we translate the value of failure? Good question! So much value in something traditionally seen as ‘bad.’ #5CDH
  14.  Karen Remmler discussed feminism & DH. 
  15. Karen Remmler is now talking about the symposium she is putting together about feminism in the digital age. #5CDH
  16. Remmler: How do we decide what knowledge is valuable? #5CDH
  17. Remmler’s comments connect the the emergent #transformdh movement led by @adelinekoh & others.
  18. Karen Remmler brings up appropriateness of using the term DH, in LACs and generally. Reminds me of @pannapacker @adelinekoh & others #5CDH
  19. Remmler is talking about the digital divide, the knowledge divide. How those forces shape who is #dh. #transformdh #5CDH
  20. Remmler coming from a feminist perspective, emphasizes importance of theorizing DH & how we use it #HellYes #5CDH
  21. Remmler also talked about upcoming events & projects that explore these issues.
  22. Exciting media & digital-focused projects from the 5Colleges Women’s Studies Rsrch Ctr, which Remmler directs fivecolleges.edu/fcwsrc/pro… #5CDH
  23. The Q & A advanced a discussion of how to balance teaching content w/ teaching technology.
  24. .@caropinto Need to organize low-level classes to introduce students to tech, but higher-level courses have higher tech requirements. #5CDH
  25. And what types of assumptions we make about why our students reject e-books. 
  26. Q: How do we get students excited abt tech? Olson: This is not an eBook or an eArticle generation – students not digitally savvy #5CDH
  27. .@caropinto Barrier to using eBooks – not a format we librarians like to use – can’t pass on excitement if you’re not excited abt it. #5CDH
  28. We need to also think ab the materiality of the text, not just the content – hard copy may be important for some reading #5CDH
  29. What kinds of tools do we want to use? What kind of infrastructure do we want to build? 
  30. .@caropinto What kind of future do we want to build with technology? What do we want it to look like? #5CDH
  31. .@caropinto Educating students about economies behind digital technologies they use – what will happen to Twitter in 5 yrs? Copyright? #5CDH
  32. And then the group asked how do we preserve these projects? 
  33. .@caropinto – “we need to decide whether or not we’re keeping these projects” re: student digital work. A very real question #5CDH
  34. Then we broke for lunch. Attendees and panelists mingled as students gathered to talk about their work and experiences. 
  35. After a lunch break, we are back with a student panel. #5CDH
  36. The panel featured both graduate students & undergraduate students talking about their projects. 
  37. Students processing archival collecting while blogging. Lots of engagement from professionals around the world. #5CDH
  38. Learning abt Early Novels Database: Part digitization, part recording info. Gain access to great collx of text syslsl01.library.upenn.edu/… #5CDH
  39. Discussing the historicdress.org/omeka/ project, powered by Omeka. Different period but thought of you @nervesandveins #5CDH
  40. Looking at the Holyoke self-tour project from the Wistariahurst Museum, can be used on smartphones wistariahurst.org/walk-holy… #5CDH
  41. Students talking about the tools they used to collect data & manage research process w/ @zotero & @evernote #5CDH
  42. Students followed up on the skill building conversation that began during the panel sharing their experiences with short term certificate courses.
  43. Photoshop, Garage Band, Final Cut Pro, DreamWeaver, all skills included in an Intro to Digital Media class. Students get certificate. #5CDH
  44. Big assumption that current generation is tech literate. Not true – some learn on their own, but not a pervasive skill #5CDH
  45. Of course, this is a brave new world for students. DH includes experimentation, it brings trial & error to the humanities. 
  46. “There isn’t a template for doing any project” – necessary learning to experiment, trial & error valuable in and of itself #5CDH
  47. As well as boredom. 
  48. “A lot of the work we did was boring.” Student reflects on some of the work she contributed a #DH project. Not all #DH is sexy. #5CDH
  49. Student admits the “boring” “drudgery” of work behind sexy DH projects – how to balance this with LAC traditions of analysis? #5CDH
  50. Also, students should not be used to just absorb drudgery in #dh. But drudgery is part of building #dh. How to balance? #5CDH
  51. Project managers & faculty need to effectively communicate expectations and DH values to new participants to contextualize their labor. 
  52. There is a lot of delayed gratification in #dh. How to balance getting stuff done & vision. How to effectively communicate impact. #5CDH
  53. Student talks ab importance of prof helping them think through theoretical, academic implications of the “drudgery” work they did #5CDH
  54. Q: How do you deal with the drudgery? A: When you’re done, realize how important & worthwhile it was. Balancing b/t drudgery&fun helps #5CDH
  55. Socializing students into the #dh community as well as skill building. Ethics & community on social media.
    #5CDH
  56. But the proof is in the pudding:
  57. Student describes first uploads to Omeka as “amazing” – like “first discovering google search” #5CDH cc @patrick_mj :)
  58. Students are gratified to see their work online. Really gratified. #5CDH
  59. Important pedagogical implications RT @caropinto Students are gratified to see their work online. Really gratified. #5CDH
  60. Eric Poehler shares Pompeii Project that featured iPads, enthusiastic students & drones. 
  61. Investigating Pompeii without excavation. Digital Magic! #5CDH.
  62. Beautiful non-intrusive, digital archaeology of Pompeii from @Pompeiana79 – including cool drone camerawork #5CDH #MakeScholarshipNotWar
  63. great to watch @Pompeiana79 explain how to use iPad for #archaeology mapping when excavation too costly, intrusive #5CDH #DH #preservation
  64. Poehler’s effectively demonstrated how the technology enabled his team to do more analysis. 
  65. New tech allows archaeologists to spend less time measuring and matching, and more time to extend the interpretation of work. #5CDH
  66. Putting interpretation in the field – real value of efficiency #5CDH
  67. .@Pompeiana79: #digital technology allows us to record data in 1/10 time–which allows us 10x as much time for interpretation. #archaeology
  68. @Pompeiana79: #archaeology #mapping techniques e.g. terrestrial laser scanning, #drones (drink!), cloud-based photogrammetry, GPR #DH
  69. With wonderful offline implications:
  70. .@pompeiana79: once you learn to see time in material, you’ll never look at things the same way again #archaeology #preservation
  71. After Poehler’s talk, we closed out the day with posters & socializing. 
  72. Finishing up the day with a ‘moveable feast’ of poster sessions from current projects in Five Colleges. #5CDH

iPad as Tech Trojan Horse

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010, many people bemoaned it as just a consumption toy aimed at dilettantes who were interested in gaming and viewing cat videos. No one would use the iPad for any meaningful creation, tweeted angry internet users. The hype built; zealous Apple fans slept outside stores to buy the first generation iPad. Personally, I wasn’t ready to spend the money or brave the crowds to purchase the device, but I was also unwilling to write it off. I read reviews and critiques, marveled at the iPads I encountered in the wilds of Yale’s libraries. The introduction of the iPad came at a point in my career when my technology confidence was at a low; I was trying to figure out what I needed to learn, where I needed to go to advance my young career. I knew something needed to change, I just did not know what quite yet.

I soon found my answer in that September when I broke down and bought an iPad. It was love at first swipe.

At first, I primarily used iPad as a reading device; I replaced paperbacks at home with ebooks and furtive reading breaks at work with saved articles in Instapaper to read at night. I wrote email and tweeted at conferences. It became my constant companion at work and on the couch. However, my first generation iPad wasn’t a device I used to do any meaningful writing beyond emails and social media updates. Was I a dilettante? However, I began experimenting with the iPad in classrooms and random office hacks where few other people in my places of employ necessarily were. I gained confidence and when I started my new job at Hampshire, I ran with mobile devices and pedagogy at warp speed.

Last year, I purchased a third generation iPad. The purchase coincided with me traveling and blogging frequently. My adventures in technology let me to work with Markdown and PlainText. Digital Humanities became a core part of my job. Writing took on renewed importance in my life. During the fall semester, I began writing exclusively in PlainText and publishing my blog in Markdown using the nifty iOS app, Poster. I began writing in the app Drafts. Slowly but surely, I found that I began using my iPad more frequently than my laptop and that I was using my iPad to write more than to read. I suppose the consumption palace was giving way to creation after all.

I became a more thoughtful creator with the iPad as I gained more confidence with technology, which might seem counterintutiive. Apps like Poster and Drafts helped me wade into Plaintext and Markdown. As I gained confidence and learned more, I became a more educated technologist. My writing benefited too; I love being able to follow up on fragments of ideas, or on a photograph. Writing in Drafts made that possible. I always hated writing in long-hand, my handwriting too awful to bear going back to, I loathe writing in Word with all of its buttons and foibles. I love the distraction free interface of writing in Plaintext. I love how flexible it is, moving from Drafts to my Plaintext editor on my Mac and then then into iOS apps like Poster to publish these missives on WordPress in Markdown.

What if the iPad is a trojan horse of sorts; a machine so simple and intuitive that it makes people comfortable enough to push themselves to use technology in different ways? To experiment with new ways of working, writing, thinking, and connecting? In classrooms across higher education, tablets are  en vogue. At ISIS, we often talk about the next big thing in educational technology or how we are using existing tools in resources in new ways. What if tablets are the conduit to more successful adventures in technology that can push our students (and us!) into new directions?

Teaching with technology has made me consider how to introduce students to new situations, how to learn about technology, how to use different tools. Borrowing from my own experience, it helps to start small, with discrete tasks and tools as opposed to unattainable goals like ‘build a photography repository.’ I find that working with iPads in my own technology practice gave me manageable goals and tasks to gain new competencies, but it also gave me the confidence to take new risks.
I think part of that stems from the fact that there were expectations already built into the laptop about how I could or couldn’t use it, assumptions that drive many women away from technology. I think students might have similar feelings regardless of gender. They think they know what to expect of themselves with their laptops, what if tablets are a clean start for them, too?

Life after Instagram: Photo App Reviews

I deleted my Instagram account this week. I was sad to go; Instagram was fun! It was social, I loved the rad photo filters and the ease of sharing my pics over various social networks without much fuss.

I went to San Diego this summer for a conference.

I went to San Diego this summer for a conference.

Over time, I also began to appreciate the integration with Foursquare and Facebook’s maps to document where I traveled to during the past year or so. I also happily set my photographs free with Creative Commons, allowing me to contribute to a rich, image sharing community. However, the changes Instagram proposed to their terms of service forced me to re-evaluated that relationship for the following reasons:

  1. Sharing is Caring. I use Creative Commons images a lot. The are the visual meat of my LibGuides and my teaching aids. I feel strongly that I should contribute to the corpora of open images myself. Instagram used to enable me to do so, but no longer.
  2. Teaching Moments. I taught a module on social media last semester in a course about theatre criticism. The experience made me think critically about how we talk about social media in higher education and what students need to know to be good stewards of their social media presences and how to effectively evaluate the information out there on the web. I thought this Instagram firestorm would be a good opportunity to see what else is out there and that my vision quest would be a good teaching moment.

Here’s what I found for iOS.

I read this post about Instagram alternatives as well as some other best of 2012 apps for the iPhone that included Camera applications. I downloaded them all onto my iPhone and began experimenting. Here’s the rundown:

  1. Anypic (free) This app has a cute interface and easy sharing options, but lacks the filters that made Instagram so fun to use. I appreciated that you can share previously photographed images into the app, but the dearth of traffic on the app coupled with the lack of hipster filters were deal breakers. Verdict: I deleted this app.
  2. Backspaces (free) This app is less of a photography app and more a visual storytelling app. You can’t take photos with Backspaces, but you can import photos from your Camera roll and create stories with photographs and textual annotations. Often when I travel, I take a fair share of photos with my iPhone. I’d take a lot of photos on Instagram that were all shared, sometimes out of context. Backspaces is a nice way to summarize a trip or an event without clogging your friends’ feeds or showing stuff out of context. I made a Backspaces story about my winter break and I enjoyed taking snapshots with various camera apps and then pulling it together to share on Twitter. Best of all, I was able to share the story with my parents via email. Verdict: This app stays on my iPhone’s home screen.

    We finished this rad puzzle over break.

    Used this image in my Backspaces story

  3. Camera + (.99) This app kept coming up in best of 2012 app lists for iOS. For under a buck, I thought I would give this app a shot. It has all the things I love: pretentious filters, easy sharing options, a slick interface, and some bonus features like a stabilizer and more user friendly zoom. You can take a nice snapshot, or put more work into staging something more complicated. It’s scalable. Verdict: This app won a place on my iPhone’s home screen.

    Lego Architecture at the Henry Ford Museum

    Lego Architecture at the Henry Ford Museum

  4. KitCam ($1.99) This app also came up several times of best of 2012 app lists I read over break. This app is a combination of Hipstamatic and Camera +. There’s a lot in this app for more sophisticated photographers, including film options and multi-exposure. There are nifty sharing options to various social media outlets and users can also decide to save images directly to Dropbox rather than saving to Camera Roll, which I like. However, the user interface is a little clunky; this is not an intuitive app. There is a definitely a learning curve, but if you are really into digital photography and want to do more than take quick snapshots with your iPhone, there is a lot this app can do. Verdict: This app is on home screen probation.
  5. OpenPhoto (free) OpenPhoto combines camera functionality with a sharing platform and web storage. It’s Hipstamatic meets Flickr. The OpenPhoto folks are interested in making a WordPress for photos with this service. You can take filtered photographs with the app’s camera AND you can sustain a gallery of photographs within the app as well as with photos taken from other camera apps on your phone. You can sync to Dropbox easily. It doesn’t duplicate images unless you prefer to duplicate an image. Open Photo users can control permissions of their images easily from their website. If you want to cross over from Flickr or Instagram or Facebook for your web collection, OpenPhoto offers a reasonably priced pro account, too. Verdict: This isn’t my go to photo taking app on the iPhone, but it does win a place on the home screen so I can easily access my images.
  6. Twitter (free) Around the time of the Instagram/Twitter dustup in late 2012, Twitter introduced hipster filters within its camera app. It’s a nice little feature that’s easy to use. I like the range of filters and the ability move and scale images. However, I tend to take photographs AND then decide to share them rather than tweet with images. If you’re workflow is the other way around, the Twitter photo set-up might work well for you. Verdict: Not my cup of tea, but I still love you, Twitter.

    Cinematic Filter on this Twitter Photo

    Cinematic Filter on this Twitter Photo

  7. Flickr (free) Lots of folks on my Twitter feed are going back to this oldie but goodie, which has recently come out with a very nice iOS app. Social and scalable, Flickr has long empowered users to control how their photos are used by others. It’s easy to set your images free with Creative Commons. Verdict: We are a proud Flickr Pro household, and I love that we can now access Flickr on computers and on mobile devices.

Summing up:I am still adjusting to a post-Instgram life. I am happy that when I take pics with Camera + or KitCam, it’s not a burden for my Twitter followers to see the image by clicking through links. I miss the Foursquare integration, but I am settling for the geographical approximation. However, I really excited about the OpenPhoto team’s vision for their service being an open platform for users to control their photographs and build other applications. I really enjoy being able to use KitCam and Camera + to take photographs, share those photographs and have a place to keep all of them and manage them accordingly.

Of course, in my role as an instructional librarian, I think this a great lesson in social media and data management about where your stuff lives and what control, if any, you have over it. As Ryan Block pointed out in his recent Bits post, not actively managing your social media presence can result in dead services selling your data long after you have abandoned them. As we instruct students about how to manage their social media presences and try to gain better control over what search results come up when they are Googled, the Instagram debate is an excellent object lesson to show students about how to make the best choices for them. Instagram isn’t going away; media outlets have been reporting that the service continues to grow in spite of the backlash from the terms of service change. I want my students to have all the information to make the best choices about where to live on the internet.