Monthly Archives: September 2011

In Praise of THATCamp Kansas

The good folks at the Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities at Kansas University put together a fantastic three days of workshops, THATCamp, and panels organized around the theme “Representing Knowledge in the Humanities.” I was enormously pleased to have the opportunity to meet students, librarians, technologists, and faculty members from colleges and universities in the region and to both solicit and offer advice from and to colleagues at diverse stages of engagement with the place of digital research and scholarship in the humanities and humanities-inflected social sciences.

As is so often the case, the conversations between and around the organized events were easily as informative and inspiring as the events that made them. Thank you and kudos to Arienne Dwyer, Brian Rosenblum, and their colleagues. I gained more than I can possibly express from the events you organized, and I’ll be writing about some of ideas the events helped me develop more fully in the days to come.

I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to practice the lightning talk I will be presenting at the NEH Project Directors’ Meeting in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. More on that soon, as well.

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Happy Birthday, Twitterstorians!

When the question came across the tweetstream the other day, I was pleased to say I’d write a post to celebrate a this group’s birthday.

Following folks on Twitter has been a part of my digital history practice for almost two years, ever since I chanced across the rich stream of tweets from MLA 2009. I was disappointed to find many fewer tweets from the AHA a week later, and I’ve tried to join in tweeting conferences since. That has included NITLE Summits as well as DH2010 and 2011, and I joined the group tweeting SHEAR this July.

In addition, I keep a search column for twitterstorians live on my TweetDeck, along with NITLE, THATCamp, and various (un)conferences as they arise.

My own interest in this group is grounded in a question that I’m interested in asking historians as well as scholars in other disciplines. Having used various digital tools in teaching for the past twenty years, I began my own scholarship in quite traditional analog ways, and my use of technology was for the most part limited to word processing programs. Like many of my colleagues at the time, I used my first desktop computers as expensive typewriters.

But since I started asking students to transcribe and mark up primary sources as part of their coursework, I’ve become interested in the impact of digital tools on historical methodologies. And as I paid attention to these questions for history, I noticed news stories about other disciplines as well. In July 2009, for example, the American Chemical Society announced that they were eliminating the print version of their journal. The changes in scholarly publication that cutting edge scholars have been forecasting for the past fifteen to twenty years are happening.

So I wonder, as twitterstorians celebrate this anniversary, how have digital tools changed your practice of the discipline in teaching, research, and writing?

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Hard Copy Syllabus?

So, here’s a question. Do I hand out hard copies of the syllabus in my classes this morning? Or do I put the document on Moodle and give students the option of printing it out?

I’m torn. On the one hand, there’s force of habit. But that’s not all. I think there’s some value in giving students their own copies of a common text like a syllabus. They can make notes, highlight due dates, shift their gaze down from the screen at the front of the room to their own copy on their desk.

On the other hand, there’s the environmental argument. What about the trees? And again, that’s not all. If I’m committed to testing the uses of digital tools in the classroom, might I not test the need for a hard copy of the syllabus? Well, maybe. I’m not sure all students are ready to let go of the printed page.

Over the past few years, I’ve spent a bit of time with students reading digital books. Some of the books in our library are available only digitally, and students have expressed discomfort with them. Navigating these digital versions of print books is not yet intuitive for these students, and many have said they prefer to hold a book in their hands rather than navigate it on a screen.

Of course, a syllabus is different from a book. I am accustomed to projecting a copy onto a screen and referring to it as I begin a class meeting to help myself and students recall what we’ve done in the course and where we’re going next. Yet in addition to its utility as a common reference point, a syllabus is also a tool for individual students to use as they move through a course. And since I have seen students use a physical version of the syllabus to help them organize their time, I’ll be a the photocopier this morning.

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