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.
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:
- It just works with Google Calendar without any muss or fuss.
- 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.
- 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!
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:
- 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:
— Barnard Library (@barnlib) June 10, 2013
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.
- 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.
- 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.
I never win prizes after taking surveys, but there is a first time for everything, right?
Towards the end of my time at Hampshire College, I took a survey about sexual harassment and entered a contest to win an iPad mini. To my surprise, I won!
I’ve documented my love of the iPad on the blog earlier this year, so I figured I would revisit an iPad review in light of the new addition to my gadget arsenal. Spoiler alert: I love it, but not without reservations.
Size: The third generation iPad is light and thin, but the iPad mini is miraculously light and thin. It’s a noticeable difference. I can hold the mini in one hand while reading in bed or on the couch. It’s a breeze to cart around during the day and I hardly noticed its weight in my bag shuffling between work and home. Typing on it is also a welcome change. No stranger to live-tweeting conferences on my iPhone (too small) or iPad (okay), the iPad mini is just right, as my live-tweeting of the Five College All-Staff Round-Up proved.
Performance: The mini is just as fast and responsive as its third generation cousin. Apps download quickly, webpages open quickly, and I am very pleased.
Display: :( The retina display on the third generation iPad is awesome, and I definitely miss it on the mini. However, I keep myself reaching for the mini because the size is so perfect for my needs, which include writing, editing, email, note taking, web browsing, and heavy reading. As much as I love the mini, I still find myself saying, “CURSES, THERE ISN’T RETINA DISPLAY.”
Conclusion: Had I not won the mini, I would not have purchased one of my own. I have an iPad that I love already. and the lack of retina display makes me sad. However, if/when Apple releases an iPad mini with retina display, I would definitely buy one. The smaller tablet size is fantastic; I love the flat back of the mini, the light weight, and ease of use.
If 2012 was my year of the iPad, then 2013 is my year of automation. I credit ProfHacker for many things in my development as a technologist, and I am going to add automation to the list.
I started my automation journey slowly. Last year, I began using an online calendar tool called Lizibot to cut down on the number of emails I passed back and forth with students about arranging appointments. It changed my life in a small but measurable way. I wrote fewer emails, students knew right away when they could meet with me, and now – for the class I co-teach – I have a link right to my calendar, so there’s no more messing around with weekly, mercurial schedules for me. Following my foray into Lizibot, I began experimenting with text expansion tools, specifically by downloading TextExpander for iOS. Again, It’s a pleasure to be able to write drafts of emails without having to type my phone number, email address, or standard closing salutations for email.
The next automation wave crested after reading a Profhacker post about IFFT. IFFT is essentially “if this, then that” moderated by a third party. It’s dead easy. The Profhacker post breaks it down well. Since that’s been published, many more time-saving ”recipes” have been added to the voluminous library. I especially like the “if I change my profile photo on Facebook, then it changes on Twitter, too,” recipe. But the recipe with the most impact on my working life is the once which states: “if @en appears on my Google calendar appointment, then a meeting note template in Evernote is created.” Thanks to this blog post, I now have a powerful tool to take meeting minutes easily.
Automation might make me sound like a robot, but it allows me work smarter. The meeting notes template is a great example of that. I realized that having a template for taking meeting notes wouldn’t just make me more organized, it forced me to take more effective notes, making the task of acting as minute taker less tiresome. By having predetermined fields like ‘attendees’ to fill in immediately and ‘action items’ to fill in throughout the meeting, I could listen more actively and my notes ultimately would make more sense. And I added a section called ‘to do’ that allows me to remember complementary activities long after the meeting is done. Gone were the panic moments when I didn’t know what was talked about or remember action items I needed to add to a list. Awesome.
Here’s my take on Rubin’s original recipe that I referenced in the first paragraph.
Automation saves me time, but it also gives me something else: headspace. By automating parts of my working life, I have the headspace to think; I have a few extra minutes to daydream, an ability to carve out an outlet to think about my work in new ways. By having those few moments to take a step back and reflect, I can actually think about what’s next, what’s coming, where I want to go, where we need to go. Automation allows me to sit back like the West Wing‘s president Josiah Bartlett and ask: what’s next?
Sometimes, you just need a moment of Zen; time to reflect while doing a more mindless task. Today’s moment of Zen brought to you by the Hampshire College Library Book Scanner.
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.
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.
Last week, ISIS hosted an online seminar about bake-offs, processes through which individuals and institutions decide what new tools or technologies to purchase. Generally an activity in the purview of Information Technology departments, we had the pleasure of hearing a presentation from Sarah Oelker, a librarian from Mount Holyoke College, who talked about how a group of Mount Holyoke librarians applied bake-off principles to the process of sourcing technology solutions for the College. Here’s a look at Sarah’s awesome venn diagram:
It’s a great visual to help us think about how libraries and technology departments can contexutalize making decisions about our resources, and how we should try to meet our community’s academic needs through our purchases and services. As we embrace a ‘just in time’ collecting model – one that allows us to purchase that book a faculty member needs on a moment’s notice or to have a cache of power cords for students to borrow to charge their laptops in the library – how do we think about software as not just a tool, but also as something to collect?
Which brings me to a larger question: should libraries collect software now? As digital humanities centers proliferate and as heated debates come up about whether 3d printers should be in libraries, the nature of our collections is also shifting. How does/will/should that impact our collecting strategies? As libraries and information technology departments scale up to meet new demands for ‘digital’ scholarship, how do we balance the needs for ‘just in time’ and ‘just in case’ acquisitions with tools that have utilitarian value now and historical value later?
From where I’m sitting, the answer is that yes, we need to collect software, but the what and the how are other questions for which I don’t think profession yet has a cogent answer. For collection development librarians, the ground is shifting away from bibliography and toward patron-driven acquisitions for monographs and journals. I believe this shift provides an opportunity to work closely with our colleagues in IT to map out strategies for successful collection and stewardship of software, especially as librarians increasingly support classroom technologies. In any case, it represents another step towards utilizing the library as incubator of new ideas and practices, instead of just as a repository for the old.
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?