Jan 092014
 

This is just a quick note to let you know or remind you that the next meeting of Greater Boston #PhDeviate will be on 1/14/14 (almost a palindrome if you do it European style: 14/1/14) at 6PM in Harvard’s Barker Center. The room is TBA– Check your emails on Monday evening/ Tuesday morning. Not on the email list? Get on it here!

As was the plan for the last meeting that had to be called on account of snow, Carla Martin and I will be co-facilitating our conversation about “Your Internet Presence.” We will spend a little time on the why of having an internet presence and a lot of time on the how, as in, how to have the best online presence for your life goals. Bring your tech as we’ll be doing hands-on exercises! We’ll talk about branding, and online marketing (of yourself in a job search or your business, whichever is relevant!), and some conventions that might be useful.

We put together a little list of reading that would be handy (NOT REQUIRED) to have under your belt before the meeting, and it is up on our resources page, and tagged. Relevant tags include #socialmedia, #tech, #branding, #publicscholarship, (maybe other tags too, but that should cover the main ones). There’s a lot of other great stuff there, too! You do NOT have to have an Evernote account to use it!

While you’re clicking, join the LinkedIn Group!

Jun 102011
 

I both hope and sincerely intend to write a longer post about my activities of this week. This week I’ve been at the the Digital Humanities Summer Institute. I took a weeklong seminar entitled “Digital Editions.” The quickest thing to say about it is that it was wonderful. I have had a project fomenting in my head ever since I went to THATCamp New England. It took me a while to name that project as a digital edition. But now I have named it. The amazing instructor, Meagan Timney helped us lay out all of the various things we should be thinking about moving into designing a digital edition.

We talked about project planning and design and the things one should be thinking about before ever starting. This part immediately made me feel at ease, since my chief concern coming in was that I wasn’t far enough along to make taking a course useful. She offered us a large range of questions which, she suggested, when answered, would usefully begin a grant application. (Tricky! And awesome!)

We then went into the various other elements–project planning and design, technical implementation, site design and usability, and other things like that. We were introduced to Islandora which is a tool being developed at the University of Prince Edward Island. This tool, in a sentence, makes a drupal front-end coordinate with a fedora commons repository back-end. For those of you reading this for whom that is unparseable, here’s my analog explanation: The fedora commons repository is a filing cabinet, which you can fill with many many sheets of paper. Drupal is a bulletin board on which you might like to display pieces of paper. Islandora will pull the correct sheets from the filing cabinet, and pin it to the bulletin board for you. Okay, it does more than that, but that’s my working analog explanation.

There will be more, but I’m trying to braindump just a little here. If you are interested in anything I’ve written here and would like to here more, ask questions!!

Jan 242011
 

Apologies to all for not writing this up sooner. This will be one of a few posts.

I went to THATCampSoCal!. Through a series of financial and friend-of-friend-related reasons, I also ended up staying with the organizer, Jana Remy. This gave me an interesting perspective on what it takes to host a THATCamp, and probably more than anything else increased my desire to do so sometime in the not-too-distant future. (And now, clearly, my allotment of hyphens for this post has been used up.)

THATCamp

For those who don’t know, THATCamp is an unconference. This format did not make a lot of sense to me at first, even all the way through the first THATCamp I went to, but someone (sorry, I do not recall who) explained it to me at this THATCamp as “You know when you go to a conference, and the Q & A after the panel leads to really exciting conversation in the hallway that really starts going somewhere just when you have to leave and go to the next panel? This is an attempt to organize an event just around those conversations.” This was the best explanation I’ve ever heard, and explains pretty thoroughly both what I like and don’t like about the format! Fortunately, what I don’t like is easily enough addressed by continuing to go also to traditional conferences. Some of the greatest ideas I’ve ever had, and some of the best work I’ve ever done has been inspired by sitting and listening to papers. I hear lots of people talk about “sitting and listening to papers” as if it is the 8th circle of hell for them–but I enjoy it. A lot! I think it’s an incredibly useful way to find out what people are doing and to get inspired to do things myself. However, this is not that. Or rather THAT is not that!

This THATCamp

Every THATCamp (really, like every conference!) is different. However, the thing that contributed more than anything else to the uniqueness of this THATCamp was the craft table. Craft table?? Penny Richards organized a craft table in the main room of the conference. She has written up her experience of it here, but I would like to expand a little on the comment I made to that post.

  1. First, one of the chief complaints I ever hear (or make!) about THATCamp is that it’s disorienting. Too much at once! Too many things going on! The spontaneity is both exhilarating (that’s the good) but also very easily overwhelming. I think this is related to the unconference vibe–because the sessions are not structured around, say, one person’s work, they lend themselves very well to drawing huge connections between widely and wildly disparate topics, ideas, texts, disciplines. This can leave one feeling as if one doesn’t know anything because one doesn’t know everything. (Never mind that no one in the room knows everything; it always seems like they do!). No matter how much we (academics, technologists, museum workers, and the other participants) sometimes feel ourselves to be creatures entirely of the brain–having a place to engage the body was just wonderful. The feeling of taking time out from THATCamp without actually leaving, or even without really tuning out, was lovely. Of course, if that were only it, a yoga room would have worked just as well!
  2. A chief reason why the craft table was so much better than a yoga room was in its relevance. Penny didn’t just bring “stuff.” A craft table… we could have been tie-dying, making bracelets, or making candles (the chief things I did in my years at summer camp…). Instead, she brought things entirely relevant to what we do–mostly collaging supplies. And not just any collaging supplies! She brought old, decommissioned card catalog cards, recycled miscellany (primarily cereal boxes) and a collection of photographs printed from Flickr Commons. Already, before anyone sat down, Penny’s table was a commentary on open access, bricolage, and the temporal boundedness of classificatory and cataloging systems. That’s quite a lot for one craft table! And the conversations bore that out. During the time that THATCamp was in session, a series of conversations (perhaps epitomized by this post, perhaps not) about the meaning of “building” in digital humanities was raging. I found the process of collaging (a form of art that, I think, has long since established itself as a form of art “creation,” which I’d submit as the art-equivalent of “building”) with physical objects to be a useful thought exercise in the meaning of building or creating. On the one hand, I didn’t “make” anything at that table. On the other hand, I made a name tag, a wall hanging, a button, and an inspirational bidirectional pocketfish! All of it was “just” putting pre-existing things together–”just” cutting and pasting–”just” arranging in space. And yet, it doesn’t feel like there was any “just” about it. I’m not really coming down with a clear stance on what is and what is not “building” in digital humanities, but I do know that if I ever do take a stand on that issue, it will be strongly influenced by my experience at that craft table.

In case you’re curious, here is the inspirational bidirectional pocketfish. I only have a picture of it in a unidirectional fashion right now…

Sep 282010
 

There isn’t much about the academic job or postdoc market that it’s appropriate to post publicly. I won’t mention where I’m applying, or who has listed jobs that sound exciting. Suffice it to say: there’s a market, and I’m on it.

The Problem

What I am noticing is what a complicated administrative endeavor being on the market is. I remember when I was in high school hearing of one or two students here and there who only applied to schools that would accept the common application. They filled out one application, applied to plenty of schools, and chose from among them. Unfortunately for, well, for all of us job-seekers, the academic job market is not very similar to the undergraduate admissions cycle. Ruling out places to apply because their requirements are non-standard is simply not an option. But it leaves me tracking lists like this:

Course proposals:

  • School 1:  (undergraduate 2pgs ea.)
  • School 2:  (1 course, 500 words)
  • School 3: (2 courses, one an undergraduate seminar)
  • School 4: (2 UG courses)
  • School 5: (1 UG course)

Statement of Research

  • School A: (2000 words)
  • School B: (4 pages)
  • School C: (1500 words)
  • School D: (no guideline)
  • School E: (1000 words)
  • School F: (no guideline)
  • School G:  (700-1000 words)
  • School H: (1,000-3,000 words)
  • School I: (no guideline)
  • School J:  (5 pages)
  • School K: (1500 words)

That is of course in addition to tracking the research on which departments and programs have which resources and people in order to make cover letters and proposals as detailed and personalized as possible. Of course there’s also tracking which places want 2, 3, 4, 5 letters of recommendation, which places want transcripts, how long a dissertation abstract they want, how long a writing sample, and the variables go on.

The Solutions Tools

As soon as I realized the scope of the work, I had a sudden overwhelming desire for a year between now and the deadlines to craft the perfect job application tool. I think it would be a MySQL backed database. I’d craft import filters from the various job lists I search. I’d standardize the fields for the different forms of information they request. I’d create elaborate “mail merge” type documents for inserting customized information into my materials. Alas, I don’t have anywhere near this application development skill (now!) and it quickly became clear that in the time allotted I could either craft a tool for this task or simply do the task.

(Ah “simply” that most misleading of words. Editing my dissertation, I learned to search for words like “simply,” “clearly,” and “obviously,” because wherever such words appeared, it usually signaled that I had no idea what I was writing in that moment. Something in my has a desire to adverbialize my way out of ambiguity. If I tell you it is simple, you will believe me. Never did work out that way.)

Taking the advice of the eminently wise people at ProfHacker, I first signed up for an Interfolio account. They will act as my dossier service, about which I’m excited–though I confess I would be more excited if two or three of the places I’m applying didn’t specifically say that they don’t accept materials from dossier services. However, once I have aggregated things there, I feel like it will streamline some of this process.

However, there’s still the question of what-all needs aggregating. In case I have never been clear in this space before, I have an abiding hatred for (almost) all things Microsoft, but until this year I had still been maintaining my CV in .doc format. I finally got frustrated with having to open Word for nothing in the world except editing my CV and copied it all into Mellel which is my primary word processor.

Word processing didn’t seem quite the right thing for these variably-lengthed but similarly themed writing projects, so I’m drafting my materials in Scrivener. Scrivener’s comfort with modularity allows me to construct documents as from legos… Include this clarification in a longer version, include this other paragraph only when I need extra conciseness. Scrivener exports lovely RTF documents, which import cleanly into Mellel for polishing. Mellel in turn will produce lovely PDFs which are ideal for delivery, printing, and uploading.

Of course, that still leaves me with the question of deadlines. It’s lovely to work as if polishing these documents were all that was important, but having them in on time counts for quite a lot as well! I have set up a separate project in Omnifocus for each job or postdoc I’m applying to. Each project has each type of material required as a separate task. I’m not 100% satisfied with this, because I’d like some better way to indicate the lists above. The same CV, for example, can often be sent to each program, whereas the cover letter is always different. So “CV” as a task represents a much different investment of time and energy than “cover letter.”

Lastly, I’m not applying in a vacuum. I am fortunate, or at least it feels fortunate to me, that my dissertation director is also our job market coordinator this year. I need to send her a list of applications and update it regularly. She does not need to see all the details of whether this position requires a 1000 or a 2000 word statement, so I dumped the tasks from Omnifocus into an Excel file (the one exception to my hatred of things Microsoft). This dump is not clean, and I’m really dissatisfied with it. I had to do a lot of editing to make the spreadsheet readable. The spreadsheet only contains: School, department, position, deadline, and URL of the listing. Unfortunately, while my director is entirely Excel savvy, she needs to have it in a format yet more people read, and thus, I found myself back to word, converting the Excel spreadsheet into a Word table. Frankly, I’m tired just looking at my process.

Shout Out

To the recent ProfHacker post about keeping track of job postings, which was one of the inspirations for this post. To the best of my knowledge, no one has written a post about the project management dilemma that is the job market, though, and so I humbly submit my contribution.

How are you tracking/have you tracked job market materials?

Sep 012010
 

Or, In Which I Use My Blog as a Bookmarking Tool

Mindmapping

Recently, I asked the Twitterverse about collaborative online mind mapping tools. I have used Cmap Tools for a while and I love it, but it’s local and what I really wanted was something that could take advantage of my students with all their individual laptops and the podium computer that can project. So, multiple, simultaneous-editing, collaborative, online tools I sought. And thanks to @roygrubb, I now have quite a list:

Now, of course, I have the problem of having more tools that I can possibly evaluate in a day. Or at least in a day when I have a bunch of other things to do as well!

Tools for working with texts

While I’m here, I’ll aggregate the answers I got last time I asked about Digital Tools, which include:

Teaching with WordPress #wpclassroom

Also, I haven’t really mentioned in this space that I’m working on a WordPress Multisite (sometimes also called WordPressMU, WordPress MultiUser, WordPress Network) for my teaching this semester. I’ve installed the Digress.it plugin which, if all goes well, has the amazing capability of allowing multiple simultaneous commenting per paragraph on posts. I look forward to the medieval gloss enthusiasts taking over the world with WordPress + Digress.it. As it is, I’m hoping that it will revolutionize what I can do in a writing workshop, and really help students collaborate with each other in a workshop setting. We’ll see. When the site is a little less beta (classes start next week) I’ll link to it. Turns out that I’m the first person at this university to deploy WordPress Multisite on a production server. The Academic Technology people are a little nervous, but have been incredibly helpful. I think we’re going to be fine.

As for the hashtag, after a conversation with @feministteacher, we ascertained that we hadn’t seen a consistent hashtag about teaching with WordPress, so we have coined #wpclassroom and are hoping it will catch on.

Citation

I don’t know of any scholar or teacher of a humanities discipline (which something in my brain says should be “teacher of humanity” but I know that’s not right!) who hasn’t struggled with citations. For my own scholarly journal, when I left the “type the bibliography by hand” stage, I moved to Word + EndNote, which seems a pretty common progression. I might still be there if not for some catastrophic failure that caused my entire machine to sieze up and choke every time I used a diacritical mark. And you may remember that my dissertation was in contemporary Puerto Rican literature in English, so, er, there were some diacriticals. See for yourself! This is the bibliography.) I migrated altogether to Mellel + Bookends, a migration usefully facilitated by the deal they give when you buy both together. But my students are mostly running Windows machines, so trying to require MacOS software would be… folly. The Reference Librarians where I teach shill RefWorks, which I dislike for a number of reasons including that it’s clunky. However, it is well supported by the library. I looked again at Zotero as well as at Mendeley as they are both free (or rather Mendeley is free for as much as my students would need). They are both tempting, but neither is as well integrated with the databases my first-year writers are likely to use as I would like to see. I tried importing articles from GaleGroups’s Expanded Academic ASAP database and got citations with titles like “Download HTML” and “Expanded Academic ASAP.” So, RefWorks it probably shall be.

If RefWorks and LibraryThing were to merge somehow, they might be able to rule my world. In fact, if any of the library cataloging software, like Delicious Library, were to merge with any of the citation software, I’d be sold in an instant. Fact remains that right now in the humanities, we still occasionally read books for research. Delicious Library and LibraryThing can extract information about books by scanning bar codes. But neither outputs usable citation information. That’s my digital citations wishlist: a full-library cataloger that handles books, mixed media, electronic and print journals, AND outputs nice citation information and plays with word processors nicely. While I’m at it, it should make me coffee as well.

Share and share alike

Gearing up for the semester has been more technologically intense for me this year than ever before. As always, I look forward to your comments on what teaching tech works for you. And what doesn’t.

Aug 302010
 

For now, this will be the second in my three-part series (First Part). It’s not the post on teaching that I planned, but it has come over me. So this is not so much a post on teaching as a post on some elements of teaching and technology. But first I’d like to link to Parezco Y Digo‘s amazing slideshow called tech>ppt. I was skeptical when Cliotropic first linked me to it because, I reasoned, I know perfectly well that tech is more than powerpoint! In fact, the only time I’ve ever used powerpoint in a classroom for teaching purposes was during a particularly wicked case of laryngitis. For that, it worked quite well. But generally, I don’t find it all that useful.

Anyway, I opened up the slideshow and by slide #4, I was hooked. Why? This is the text of the slide in its entirety. “I hate Blackboard®.” And then I knew that I was hooked. Blackboard® may well be a great system for some people and for what it wants to be, but I hate it.

I, too, hate Blackboard®

This post is motivated by an experience I had this morning. I know that you can upload documents to Blackboard® and that depending on the other fair use issues involved the credentialling that Blackboard® does will fulfill your copyright protection obligations. Wonderful. I also know that another way at the school where I teach to link to articles that exist in full-text in databases is to use the database permalinks with an additional level of proxy authentication tag prepended to the permalink URL. It’s great. You can post the link anywhere, and it will ask you for your credentials, and if you have the credentials, boom, there is the article. I went to Blackboard® and saw that in a relatively recent release, Blackboard® had developed a permalinking procedure. GREAT I thought, and clicked on what I thought were the instructions for using it. And quickly clicked cancel as my browser started downloading the instructional video. I firmly believe that instructional videos are a last resort and generally take more time than they provide help. So I clicked on help. And nowhere in the following few screens was there a place I could search for “permalinks.”

Now don’t get me wrong folks, the instructions may be there. But as Parezco Y Digo says: “It’s a … system built for CIO’s, not driven by pedagogical needs or possibilities.” And it’s certainly not a system built to allow access to parts of its functionality without diving in headfirst.

I do not hate WordPress

I will be teaching with WordPress this semester, and hopefully for many semesters to come. I think that if we’re teaching with technology, then we are always also teaching technology. Learning the ins and outs of Blackboard® may help students in universities that use Blackboard®, but teaching an expensive, proprietary technology that has little purchase outside academia just doesn’t appeal as much as teaching technology that they could use in a number of places and times in their life. Plus, the community that writes the supporting documentation for WordPress knows how to create usable documentation. Open source is not the cure for all the world’s evils, but I’m hoping in time it will succeed in at the very least modifying the practices of enterprises like Blackboard®.

And a question for you:

What teaching technologies do you love? What teaching technologies do you hate? Powerpoint and Blackboard have most of my ire, but Microsoft Word, especially its new .docx file format, has a lot as well. I (mostly) love WordPress. I love chalk. I loved collaborative tools like Etherpad, which Google recently killed. I hope that the Digress.it plugin will help me do a lot of what Etherpad might have. Maybe even better.

Finally…

Props to ProfHacker for keeping me thinking about this stuff, continually.

Aug 132010
 

(This is outside of the three part series I’m writing, but I wanted to share a story)

This post started out as a comment on a recent ProfHacker post but it quickly became clear to me that it was its own little story. So I’ll go back and make a comment to link here, instead!

Last August, deep in the middle of dissertation revising, I took a writing retreat to Vermont. Unlike previous writing retreats taken in the Hudson Valley, NYS, this retreat at the house of a generous friend of a friend’s had internet access available. About as soon as I arrived, I realized I had forgotten a book I really really needed (Puerto Rico in the American Century by Ayala and Bernabé in case you’re curious and want an absolutely great history of +/- the last 100 years of Puerto Rico). I had internet, but no scholarly library nearby. So, I bought and downloaded the kindle edition of the book. I had never worked with a kindle edition before and I quickly discovered that while they are great for reading in a linear fashion, at least the iphone app has no search feature at all. Edited to add: Also, while the kindle book had the whole index included, the index refers to the page numbers in the book. And while the TOC is linked to jump to chapters, the index is not linked, so you have this whole tantalizing list of page numbers, and no way to find the pages.

So I brushed up my oral exam reading skills and skimmed. Skimmed as if my life depended on it (and frankly, I felt at the time that it did). And I found my salient quotations and parts I needed to summarize and cite. And then, another shock: kindle editions have no pagination. Or at least they have no reference to the original pagination of the book. I could potentially have cited the kindle edition and let the chips fall where they may, but I knew I already had quotations from this book, cited to the paper pagination in my dissertation.

Enter Google Books

Not all the quotations I needed from this book were in the google books preview. However, even words not included in the preview respond to the google books search… and give you the page number. So over and over during that hot week in August, I skimmed the kindle edition, found the bit I needed, searched google books for a unique string (or a string I dearly hoped was unique!) and cited. While this sounds time consuming, (and was!) I still believe it was less time consuming than having no citations at all, and since the google books turned out to be correct in each case, going back and checking my citations against the printed book actually went quite quickly.

This anecdote explains why I do not believe the Kindle (or its related apps) is ready yet to be a scholarly tool, although I actually really enjoy reading books on it. However, in conjunction with google books, it can save your scholarly life, way out there in the woods.

Jul 272010
 

I don’t want to start a barrage of truly hardcore digital humanities folks laughing at me, but I’ve had such great connections about digital tools on Twitter today that I wanted to write a post at least in part so I could catalog them!

My training in grad school in English didn’t include digital methods, a term I’ve only become familiar with relatively recently. But having worked my way through NYU as an undergrad largely working IT, I came to graduate school rather more adept at navigating digitally than some of my peers. So I find myself, here at the end of my graduate career rather an odd duck. I’ve never been involved in the digital scholarship community, but I have evolved some of my own methods, and pieced together things from odd places.

Three Examples:

Coursework: A relatively accomplished Web designer/ editor by 2001 standards, I made myself a local home page to be my browser default start page. I was annoyed at having to go through the several screens that my university library put between the searcher and the databases, so I included direct links to the proxy authentication pages for the databases I used the most often. I also included links to Blackboard, which some of my courses used, and some administrative stuff like the Student Information System (SIS). For the three years I was in coursework, I barely had to “navigate” the web. I had arranged everything I needed. As it turns out, I had also invented a non-social Delicious.

Studying for my oral exams. No matter what the shape of your doctoral comprehensives, it’s a mountain of information to organize and try desperately to retain. So I did what I had been accustomed to do in IT for so many years. I designed a database! I created an Access database (This was 2004-5, I had not yet made my move to mac and my renunciation of as much of Microsoft as I can) in which I cataloged Title, Author, Notes, Quotations and a little more metadata for each of my readings. I did not, at the time, know the term metadata, but perhaps that’s an aside. In my Access database, I didn’t do anything that I couldn’t have done with Bookends, which I now use.

Writing my dissertation: I used Scrivener rather extensively for my note-taking and organization, as well as for the early drafting stages. By then I knew the term metadata, and the relatively large array of metadata that Scrivener holds was one of the things that made the software attractive to me. I didn’t have any of the primary texts I was working with digitized–they were all current copyright, in-print books, and I was not aware of any ways to digitize them that would be (A) legal and (B) wouldn’t have seemed an unreasonable time investment. (In retrospect, I wish I had worked harder for that. It would have helped in a number of ways.) But I transcribed all my quotations into Scrivener and used the metadata to code my transcriptions for the themes I was examining. It felt a little social-sciencey, but it helped me not lose track of things! Finally, by the time dissertation writing came along, I was using tools, not just inventing them!

Moving Forward

Now that the dissertation project is over, and I’m looking towards teaching writing again in the fall, as well as to working on new scholarship, I decided to ask the internet, via Twitter, what tools are out there that I don’t know about? Most of my time working with digital tools, it seems, has been spent re-inventing the wheel, and this time around I’d love to get right to rolling on wheels that are already true. Here are some of the answers I got:

I’m adding these to my “reference” links today!

What other tools do you use for working with texts? How do you use them? What excites you about them? I’m particularly interested, of course, in people working with contemporary texts under copyright, but I’d love to know about how you use tools.

It’s really a form of self-defense. If I don’t find out what tools are already out there, I’m just liable to reinvent another preexisting one!