There’s the Community of Practice / DHSI Day 5

It’s always weird getting used to a new place, especially when you’re anxious and don’t know a lot of people, and the people you do know, know a lot of other people so you feel weird hanging out with them too much, because you know they want to be with people they know.

You know?

Thankfully, the crews from Hamilton and Washington & Lee’s DH programs have been hospitable enough to let me socialize with them, and I’ve been able to connect to some folks from #ILiADS15 as well. This is one of the reasons why I really appreciate the DH community of practice, in a larger sense, because we have a lot of common goals and struggles and successes, and being able to share them with each other has been helpful in figuring out why I’m really here this week. Our Models for DH course has started connecting as well, and the large number of librarians running around has been good for talking shop and thinking about how to approach DH from a library perspective. And outside the scheduled working hours for the day, we can relax together and encourage each other for the next day’s events. I’ve always heard that the DHSI community is one of the best reasons to be here, and I’m really starting to feel that.

Today we spent a lot of time in class going over project management and thinking about best practices for getting a team working together on a project. Nothing was particularly new, but it helps to have it reaffirmed. And while there’s overlap from knowledge I already have, the in-between moments that punctuate a new approach or get me thinking in a new direction are particularly valuable. Effective project management is an important next step for Gettysburg, I think, and will be necessary if we try to develop an institutional model to support DH on campus. It helps break down silos by improving communication and giving clear goals, and making sure work is properly distributed. Janet said something that stuck with me:

Silos develop because we justify our existence by being unique. We have to collectively find a way to be unique together.

This resonates with me, especially as we try to figure out how to be more intentional with supporting DH work on campus; this isn’t something we can do in our own offices or buildings, we need to come together to make things happen on a larger scale. This is why we need to focus on things like process when we talk about DH, as well as collaborative research that reaches across boundaries. The research no longer belongs to one person, but a team.

We also talked about elevator pitches today, with the idea that a pitch for a DH center/project/assignment has to last for one floor of an elevator ride, with time for questions on the rest of the floors. We should be able to articulate what we want to accomplish from this week-long class in that time, with the idea that there’s some sort of hook to get people to ask questions. This is probably the most challenging part of this class so far, because by creating this pitch, the next logical step is to find people to pitch it to. That means going outside my comfort level and trying to sell an idea, and with that all the accompanying anxieties and fears of rejection. I’m not a sales person, so it’s a new world for me to try to get others to buy into my ideas.

What has struck me this week has been that many of the pieces we have talked about when trying to develop a model for DH (user experience, project management, talking about what you are doing, community, defining DH) are core components of the DSSF program as well. That really gives me some confidence that we are teaching the right things. I think the next step for that is to go back and apply them in a new way to the model for DH itself.

At any rate, lots of conceptualization and thinking and writing today. Tomorrow is the last day, which is really weird, because it just seems like I got here.


It’s Better to Burn Out than to 404 / DHSI Day 4

Three hours of social time tonight, and a lunch spent lamenting the current state of politics in the United States. Things are certainly picking up.

We spent the first part of the day talking about why we’re here for DHSI, thinking about what projects we want to start, what courses we want to design, and what sorts of big picture infrastructure we want to create. This was very helpful to get a high-level overview of where everyone is, and look for places of overlap and how we can provide support for each other. In many ways, this class can function as a support group (and probably a bit of therapy) for all of us, as we are all in different places, yet we have a lot of common themes running through our roles and institutions. In the end, we are all going to have to do what works for us, but it’s good to reaffirm that none of us are where we want to be, and there are things we are all running up against. There’s a conversation about burnout in here as well, and the pressure that people doing DH work feel to constantly ramp up their work and produce results. That’s probably another post. But it’s a real thing, and something we share on varying levels.

For Gettysburg specifically, there are several projects I’d like to see moved to the next phase (or really just get started), but for the most part we are where we need to be for these projects (at the moment, anyway). We’re moving along with assignment redesign with two courses that are changing assignments in a digital direction with support of the Provost, and our involvement in a PCLA grant to support digital liberal arts fellows will give us some structure and accountability for how we are deploying the students that come out of the DSSF program. However, we still struggle with getting faculty interesting in doing DH work in the first place, but that’s not an uncommon problem. In fact, it’s better at this point to have a smaller cohort of faculty who we know and work well with in order to help build up what we are doing.

A theme that continues so far is that Gettysburg really doesn’t need a DH/DS center right now, but we do need some sort of formal structure in place to communicate and coordinate our activities. While good working relationships exist among those of us doing DH work right now, we need to be more intentional in how we plan, design, support, and maintain digital projects, developing a framework for project lifecycles and creating funnels that push projects to particular individuals and teams for consultations. This will help with assessment, evaluation, and preservation as we try to weave DH work into the curriculum and campus culture. Pulling the people together could be done with a working group or similar cohort on campus; while we have an educational technology committee that is faculty-led and campus-wide, it is far more focused on broader concerns about academic technology and not focused on DH work. There would be some overlap on this group, but it could have a different charge and mission. Much of our informal conversations could easily be transferred to a more structured and intentional setting, bringing in the appropriate people to help support it.

Process continues to be an important topic, and DH as process is something I appreciate and want to find ways to continue to develop. Process is harder to evaluate, assess. Its outcomes aren’t nearly as apparent, except for how it affects other outcomes. “Students will create a digital project in order to show mastery of digital humanities skills” is an outcome that still needs a product. While an effective process should result in this outcome, what if the process is more important? Can we assess the process based on the outcome? Angel spoke about finding ways to talk about DH process in a way similar to how scientists publish short papers, and I think this is very exciting for the larger DH community, especially for those of us who really need to understand how others do the work.

Picking a good name for your DH center is important.
Picking a good name for your DH center is important.

On another note, it was great to hear Greg Lord speak about narratives and video games today; despite it being a talk I have heard before, I get something new from it, and new ideas continue to emerge. Unfortunately, the narrative arc of being a bad enough dude to save the president has lost much of its luster since last November, but interrogating classic games to tease out the underlying narratives is a fun exercise in seeing how process and technology can drive story. I’m still interested in getting the DH+VG project off the ground to build a community that can think more critically and practically how games can be worked into DH, as well as trying to figure out how small liberal arts colleges can be more involved in game preservation. Playing DHQuest V3 was fun, and an example of how we can use game engines to drive interactivity.

On to Thursday!


Critical Engagement / DHSI Day 3

Second day of Models for DH is done. Thankfully no music bingo was involved.

Today we spent time looking at materials from Hybrid Pedagogy and the MLA Commons’s Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities. I was drawn to the Indie, Open, Free article and, somewhat naturally, the Gaming keyword.  I’ve been continuing to stress to the DSSFs that no tools are neutral and nothing is free; you need to continually critically engage tools to discover their perspective, to see what data they collect, to not accept what they are at face value. Even something awesome, like Reclaim Hosting‘s Domain of One’s Own service, has its challenges when it comes to trying to see how it fits into your larger DH program/initiative/confederation/etc. Even though I love Reclaim, it’s still something we don’t have complete control over. It’s a hosting service, so there’s limits to what can go in the stack, no root access, and we don’t own the servers. So I struggle with the idea of Reclaim being an infrastructure solution as I think more and more about it. Again, don’t get me wrong, it does some things beautifully, and I love one-click installs of Omeka and WordPress. But how do we make the entirety of our corner of Reclaim searchable and something we can archive? I can embrace the concept of ephemerality in DH, but that’s not a typical response.  At any rate, to show process and develop longer-term projects, it may not be the best option. So I understand the logic behind the DHi’s need to develop a self-hosted, cohesive platform for their projects. What that looks like at Gettysburg, I don’t know, because we simply don’t have the capacity to do that right now. Maybe it doesn’t happen.

We also talked about failure and experimentation, and the idea of reframing failure as experimentation in order to take some of the negative stigma out of the reality that things don’t always work, and that’s ok. But it’s important to model that as well. Workshops shouldn’t go as planned. While we often script out demos and get everything working perfectly the first time, maybe it’s important to stumble along and reassure us all that we don’t always know what we are doing, and things sometimes just don’t cooperate with us. The idea of building failure into an assignment is interesting, so that students have to struggle with something and then realize they simply can’t complete the assignment as “expected.” I wonder about this, and go back and forth between thinking this is a cheat, or a way of manipulating students, or a positive learning experience. It all depends on how it is presented and reflected upon, I suppose.

Strategies for integrating digital pedagogy into the curriculum was also brought up; at Gettysburg, we have a pretty in with this, as our Special Collections staff have a great track record of connecting collections with classes, and much of what we have is digitized, so it’s not too big of a leap to consider how to integrate more digital materials into classes and take the next step and find ways to apply DH methods to the materials. Special Collections is also on the lookout for new materials that strengthen the curriculum, which can be digitized and shown to classes, so there’s certainly a mechanism to exploit there. As we try to be very curricular-focused in what we acquire and digitize, and try to work closely with students to support their original research, there’s a path to greater integration of DH into the broader curriculum. Our DH efforts have very much revolved around our Special Collections and telling stories with them, and we have become a very narrative-based shop in a lot of ways, as opposed to DH that is more data-driven. I think that’s good, since there’s a lot of interest in our collections and how they are used for classes, so playing to our strengths and existing relationships is a good strategy to continue moving forward with.

One thing that really stuck out to me was the idea that your DH program, at some point, has to define what DH is. And it should be a somewhat concrete definition, not nebulous. DHi uses the Digital Humanities Quarterly’s definition as a basis for theirs, with some modifications. Our digital scholarship definition as it relates to the DSSF program certainly could use some strengthening, and after this summer, I hope we are in the position to revisit it. Right now, we spend part of the first day trying to define what is DH, and thefirst and last student blog posts of the summer deal with the act of defining DH, especially as a shifting concept that may not have a set definition. Perhaps in the future, we need to have our definition ready and have them critically engage with that definition instead, and force us to revisit it on a regular basis to see if we need to change it.  That seems to be a more sustainable idea, and one that may help give us focus.

Thinking About the Puzzle Pieces / DHSI Day 2

So music bingo is apparently a thing in Canada. Who knew?

But before that, today was an introduction to DHSI in the morning and a brief overview of everything planned. There’s a lot of social stuff going on, and the schedule is pretty much packed with classes. There are also unconference sessions being decided upon and general meetups being finalized, so no shortage of ways to connect with people. I’m pretty sure I’ll be ready to curl up into a little introverted ball at the end of this week.

Classes officially started this morning, with Angel David Nieves and Janet Simons from Hamilton College‘s Digital Humanities Initiative leading us for the rest of the week.  They started with an introduction to Hamilton College and the history of the DHi, but moved quickly into thinking about what makes DH, DH, and what makes DH, DH, at our institutions. There’s a lot of focus on the ideas of process and project, and what makes up the core components of DH. Process is hard to assess and quantify, but it’s what DH ultimately is, with the idea that your processes result in some sort of project as an outcome. But often there is little consideration as to the process, just the idea of getting to the project. Collaboration fits in there as well, and is another reason why DH is important, as it forces people working on DH to consider each other as equals in the research process. DH can’t be simply a service model, it collapses hierarchies and gets each member of a project team to contribute to the work in their own way. I have been fortunate to experience this during my time working with the Jack Peirs project (go #teampeirs) led by Ian Isherwood at Gettysburg.

We also talked about campus and institutional culture when doing DH work; DH work is experimental and risky, but institutions are often risk-averse and pass that mentality to those in it. Leadership is touted by institutions of higher education as a value they wish to instill in their students, yet those who are trying to lead change to support new initiatives run into roadblocks. What I hope is communicated is that those of us who are trying to lead the change are doing our best to be good stewards of the resources our institutions provide to us. We know budgets aren’t growing and there are fewer resources to go around. None of us want to fail (even if failure is simply part of the DH process) and let people down. That fear is huge, and I feel it.  But I think we also know that until we try new things, we won’t learn from doing the same things over and over again, and allowing for missteps and mistakes and even failure along the way is good for us as an institution. And while leading through failure really isn’t a good model, sometimes we may be behind the curve a bit until we can find a way to break through. Thankfully, we have supportive people at Gettysburg, and while we tend conservative, there’s been enthusiasm towards getting our student program up and running, and I’m hoping to find ways to leverage that into a more intentional campus-wide model that is more dispersed and equitable among all the units that support DH on campus.

In the afternoon, we spoke as teams about the state of DH on our campuses, and while Gettysburg lacks any centralized DH program or structure, we have a lot of the right pieces in place. In the nearly 2 years since #ILiADS15, it’s been a fascinating ride to see how digital scholarship has been evolving with our loose band of librarians, educational technologists, and faculty working on projects. While institutionally we still exist in a mostly ad hoc model in how we approach support for faculty research, classroom assignments, and student projects, things are changing for the better. We have a digital scholarship committee in the library that supports DH work and runs the DSSF program. The Johnson Center for Creative Teaching and Learning has sponsored new grants that allow faculty to update assignments, using our students in the DSSF program to support assignment redesign and incorporate digital tools and DH methods. We have a growing student summer fellowship program that has support from the library, Educational Technology, and the Provost. Educational Technology launched a partner program focusing on technology this summer. We seem to be doing a lot of stuff right. The pieces are there, but there’s no unifying theme right now. It’s like having a puzzle without the box to look at and having a lot of other puzzle pieces mixed in. Right now it’s trying to see the big picture and pull out the pieces that don’t fit.

So the big question, so far, is “Why?,” as in, “Why are we doing this at Gettysburg? Why DH?” And I’m not sure how I can answer that fully quite yet, other than what the answer has been so far, that we are trying to provide students with creative undergraduate research opportunities and we want to give students tools to be digitally literate. And by training students, we can show faculty that students are excited to learn these new things, and hopefully pass that enthusiasm along. DH work is transformational, not only in how students and faculty conduct and present their research, but it also transforms how librarians become part of the research process.

But yeah, about that music bingo …

Always Know Where Your Towel Is / DHSI Day 1

9 hours riding in planes, and 3 time zones away from Gettysburg, I am in Victoria, British Columbia, for week 2 of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute.

Cadboro Bay, Victoria, British Columbia
Cadboro Bay, Victoria, British Columbia

After getting to the University of Victoria campus, it took the rest of the day and a better part of the next to get acclimated; travelling is always difficult and this trip it was even more difficult to get adjusted, since I couldn’t rely on my mobile as a crutch to get around ($10 a day for international roaming, when the border is 20 miles away, no thanks). It’s amazing how we get attached to the Maps on our phones to get us to where we need to go. Trying to find open wifi hotspots is something of a challenge as well. Thankfully, Canadians and fellow DHSI-ers are friendly people, and there’s no shortage of advice and directions if you ask.

I will say that I immediately regretted not following the advice of Douglas Adams, as I didn’t bring my towel; thin and small dorm towels are enough of a reason to try to cram one more thing into your luggage, in this case, a nice soft towel from home.

Mystic Vale, University of Victoria
Mystic Vale, University of Victoria

Day 1 was a half day, spent in a small workshop (re)learning XPath, but much of the day was spent wandering around the campus and learning the lay of the land. Deer are everywhere, but bunnies are not quite as prevalent as I was led to believe. The campus and surrounding area are quite beautiful, with a large hill going down to town; in all, it reminds me of the DH experience that ultimately led me to here, the 2015 ILiADS institute.

Looking forward to getting started with the Models for DH at Liberal Arts Colleges course this week!