Virtually Connecting with Digital Pedagogy Lab

Last week I got to attend the first (annual?) Digital Pedagogy Lab in Madison, WI. The week was intense: attendees spent an average of 5 hours per day in one of three workshop tracks (Praxis, Networks, Identity) and also attended unconference sessions, keynote lectures, and daily meals together. It was exhilarating, exhausting, inspiring, and frustrating, all at the same time. The week left me with as many unanswered questions as it answered, and I’m still sorting through what I learned, and how to integrate that learning to improve my own teaching.

In addition to the regular activities, I was also one of a few people who acted as “conference buddies” connecting virtual participants to those who were able to attend physically by co-hosting brief, informal webcast conversations. There were live (and recorded) streamed hangouts each day of the workshop, and I participated in four out of five of them: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Here is the Virtually Connecting page with links to each of the sessions, and here is the overall schedule for the hangouts during the week.

Why Be a Buddy?

Rebecca Hogue () and Maha Bali () first introduced me to their concept of a “virtual buddy” who could facilitate informal chats between live conference presenters and/or attendees and virtual attendees at #et4online in Texas this spring. At that conference, Rebecca used her devices to connect Maha and other friends to a series of panels at the conference for brief “hallway chats” about the content of the panels. The style was informal and conversational, the purpose not to re-present conference papers, but rather to enable virtual participants (who watched live stream or Twitter feeds during the panels) to ask questions and discuss ideas.

Conferences are expensive and location-specific, so the virtual buddy concept that Maha and Rebecca developed is an attempt to address structural inequities that discourage so many academics from being an equal part of conversations. I love this idea, and I was (and am) delighted to be part of a project that encourages real inclusiveness. I have limited conference funding at my institution, so I am often the one watching the Twitter feed of a conference longingly, and I hope to get to participate as a virtual attendee one day soon. So far, I’ve participated as an attending buddy at three events this year: HASTAC, DHSI, and Digital Pedagogy Lab and as an attending guest at the inaugural #et4online conference.

How to be a Buddy

Now that I’ve been a buddy three times at different types of events, I thought I’d record my reflections. My overall feeling is delight and gratitude that Rebecca and Maha asked me to join their project. As a facilitator of conversations, I’ve gotten to chat with a bunch of folks at each conference–some I know well and others I’m meeting for the purpose of the hangout. The project opened doors for me, giving me a reason to approach Alex Gil (whose work I had admired from afar), and Amy Collier (whose keynote knocked my socks off). And facilitating an online conversation was something to offer back to friends whose work and ideas have influenced mine, such as Adeline Koh, Anne Cong-Huyen, and Chris Friend. Being a conference buddy–acting as a vector to connect virtual and physical attendees–is one of the most embodied modes of participant culture I’ve experienced. I love it!

Being there and being virtual: Balancing two ways of connecting

The most complicated aspect of being a buddy is the fluidity of connecting an embodied experience (conference attendance) with a virtual experience (streaming discussion). Ideally, the two should dovetail seamlessly, with the embodied bridging effortlessly to the technologically-facilitated virtual (which is, of course, embodied differently). In the best of all worlds, I’d hope that the VirtuallyConnecting hangouts provide the virtual participants a point of access into the sensibility of a conference, to the side conversations and serendipitous juxtapositions that transform conferences into coherent events rather than merely sequential presentations. Additionally, the virtual group, by participating in the conversation, can spontaneously generate fascinating connections and create their own shared sensibility, since such event coherence is produced by each conference attendee, or by small groups of attendees who share ideas.

But the part I find tricky is being the conduit: the “buddy” who acts as fulcrum between physical and virtual. I want to make my conference experience visible to the virtual participants, while also making space for them to produce their own collective focus during the discussion. And I want to achieve all that while being mentally present during conference sessions and also fully committed to the streaming discussion. So far, I’ve not quite mastered how to do all that. As a virtually connecting session approaches, I notice that I get nervous: will I be able to round up the on-ground participants elegantly? Will the hangout initiate smoothly? Will our conversation develop naturally out of the collective sensibility of the conference as well as of the virtual participants? How can I invite virtual participants into conversations that feel ongoing among the on-ground attendees with as little repetition as possible? How do I enjoy my own conference-going fully, while also adhering to the preset Virtually Connecting schedule? This last is one of the most challenging aspects of being a buddy: you have to interrupt your own conference to help others connect in. But, so far, that complexity has yielded enormous benefits for me. And, more importantly, I get to feel that I’m giving back to others by bifurcating a bit of my own conference time by linking multiple communities together. It’s one of the most rewarding and exciting aspects of these last few conferences I’ve attended, and I look forward to becoming better at it.

Learning Outcomes: a tense contradiction

A few years ago, as I was preparing my tenure dossier, I had occasion to reread years of student evaluations. My former approach to evaluations had been to read them immediately after a given course, to focus exclusively on any negative comments as indications of where I need to make changes for the future, and then to file them away with a shiver.

But this time, for whatever reason, I was able to read students’ comments more responsively. This time, I noticed that among many comments which described positive learning outcomes there was a common theme: students referred fondly to experiences in which they worked actively on an extended project during which they got regular formative feedback from myself and others. They often, in fact, referred to the labor of such projects as fun! Wow, what could be better?

My students manifested awareness that learning, as the word’s progressive verb form indicates, is a process rather than a conclusion. Even on end of semester evaluations, they weren’t thinking about learning–successful, memorable, productive studies, anyway–as finished, like small packages tied up with bows.


Instead, the learning experiences they remembered–in other words, the ones that stayed in their minds–were processes with high and low points. Experiences with duration, not momentary enlightenments.

Learning outcomes. Have you ever noticed that the phrase is a contradiction? “Learning” is an ongoing, progressive verb. “Outcomes” suggests an endpoint. Even our familiar lightbulb, that symbol of delighted cognition, is either on or off, as though learning was a binary status change, from unknowing to knowing.

And who wants that? Why do we constantly talk about measuring learning outcomes as though such a thing might indicate a positive (or negative) value. To me, any operation or exercise that stops the learning is counterproductive. I want my students to leave my courses ready and eager to continue learning! Such an attitude doesn’t indicate a failure (not enough outcome) but rather a success. So when a student tells me a couple months after she graduates that she has “been adding to that blog” she began in my class–that’s the best possible “outcome” of all. What is the word for an outcome that is itself a continuing practice?

Since that realization, I have tried to foster learning experiences in my courses rather than assessable products, a shift which has, paradoxically, produced ever-improving student work but also—and more importantly, I believe—durable learning collaborations and happy memories, all nurtured by digital connectivity.

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DHSI 2015: Fun with Data Visualizations

I just returned from a week in paradise Victoria, BC, at DHSI 2015. This year I did a data visualization workshop with Aimee Knight. I’ve lots to say about Aimée’s wonderful pedagogy, the focus and structure of the workshop, and some of my favorite new tools, but for now I’m just posting our shared notes and tweets here for everyone’s use:

More to come soon!

DH and Social Justice

(Click HERE to jump to links.)

Yesterday I asked a question on Twitter and Facebook:

Do you know of a ‪#‎DH‬ project or tool that addresses a social justice issue? I know this is a broad request, but I’m looking to compile a list of interesting projects for students to analyze. Plz share links, resources, or references and I’ll share the list we come up with.

In less than 24 hours, I’ve received dozens of links and suggestions, and also many requests to share the list. To make sharing and contributions simpler, I’ve created an open Diigo Outline, which you can access here, or see below.

First–thanks to everyone who has sent links and resources. Please keep adding–this is a huge area, and the more work we collect the better for our students/scholars/activists.

Michelle Moravec asked a crucial question about the method and scope of my request:

Are you looking for just contemporary social justice or historical?

As you see from the list below, I’ve included both and tried to tag and categorize to make finding easier.

The inspiration for my request comes from a class titled “Just Hacking” I will be team-teaching with my colleague Bill Kronholm in Fall 2015. Here’s the catalog description:

“Hacking” is often viewed as a criminal endeavor; however, at its core it is the art of creative problem solving. In this course students will hack the information flow of new media to conceptualize, design, and implement responses to real-world social justice issues. As a class, we will identify a specific issue and then learn data visualization, basic programming, and/or design skills as needed to build a project to address it. No prior programming experience is assumed. 4 credits. CON2

The course is designed for people with no prior programming experience who share a conviction that we are all responsible for improving our world. Students will learn efficient problem-solving and basic coding (especially Python) using an applied project-based learning approach in which they will collectively identify a social problem, design potential projects to address it, select an approach, learn the skills they need to implement their choice, and then collaboratively implement their solution. The course will teach basic programming skills as a literacy that can help address social problems, while also exploring ways technological solutionism can obscure or exacerbate existing social problems.

I’d love your feedback and thoughts about our concept. We are developing the course modules this summer, and the projects on this list will be both inspirations and opportunities for students to analyze existing projects in order to imagine what is possible, what can be improved, and what works.

Diigo DH and Social Justice Outliner:

DH and Social Justice

On Being: #ConferenceBuddy at HASTAC2015

Yesterday, on the final day of HASTAC 2015, I joined an online hangout as a “conference buddy” facilitating discussion between two other HASTAC participants, Mia Zamora and Ana Salter, and a number of online friends, Maha Bali, Rebecca Hogue, and others. (View the hangout here.) I’d participated in this kind of informal virtual conference chat once before, at #et4online, but this time I acted as the convener, bringing together the conference attendees in a quiet space so that we could chat with those participating from elsewhere.

It was fun! And, beyond fun, this kind of informal, small group chat between live and virtual attendees has the potential to transform conferences in dramatic ways, I think. Already, many conferences are offering opportunities to attend virtually. (See HASTAC’s live stream  here. Wouldn’t it be great if all conferences offered this freely?). Often not all sessions are available in this format, though, and, of course, virtual attendance yields reduced participation options. I learned a lot from my co-panelists Alex Galarza, Janet Simmons, Bill Pannapacker, and Jacob Heil. You can see our panel stream here:

Even without the ability to watch a live stream, I often follow conferences by surfing their hashtags. I LOVE it when speakers share their slides via Twitter (sorry, folks, I didn’t make slides for this presentation, but search #diglibarts for a great Twitter stream from the panel). With the slides and a couple active tweeters in the audience, following a session on Twitter can be almost as good as being there in person. I have even asked questions through tweeps in the session audience.

The aspect of conferences that I most value is these informal conversations, the connections that begin as shared interest during a talk, followed by a hallway chat and exchange of Twitter handles. Often this will mean meeting someone whose article I’ve recently read, or want to read. I love these opportunities to talk with others who are deeply engaged with the same questions that occupy my attention–or new questions that I should be thinking about!

And this finally explains why @bali_Maha and @rjhogue’s concept of virtual “conference buddies” seems so very valuable to me. While access to live streams of formal talks is wonderful, I learn and grow much more from interactive discussions rather than from listening to a lecture, no matter how brilliant. Being a virtual conference buddy means that even when I stay home, I can have the opportunity to interact with presenters in smaller, intimate settings that foster lively discussion.

Interacting online is never quite the same as chatting over cups of tea. But when the virtual discussion includes 6 or 7 engaged, fascinating people, talking about things they really care about, relaxing in a quiet corner in the midst of a busy workday or a frenetic session schedule, then it’s pretty darn close. All we need now is the ability to enjoy virtual tea.

May comes every year

May arrives every year–and every year it is a surprise. While I seem to spend every April wondering if it really is the cruelest month, May (on the semester system) is an opportunity to reflect on the past year and to dream for the future.

May, as a runner friend of mine would say, is when I need to remind myself to “finish strong”. I want to spend the last of my energy in the final push of the academic year. I have just one more week to make up for all the mistakes or missed opportunities of the year. How I could have done better, arrived in May with bigger accomplishments, happier students, and more publications?

So, a stock-taking. This year (2014/2015) I:

  • Gave a paper, with Anne Cong-Huyen, U Toronto Conference on Digital Pedagogy in August 2014.
  • In fall, regularly participated in FemTechNet planning and committee meetings.
  • Participated in four MOOCs (that I can remember) on open learning, connected learning, Python, etc.
  • Attended AACU in January 2015 with Doreen O’Connor-Gomez.
  • Gave a paper, with Pete Rorabaugh, at ELI, Educause annual meeting in February 2015.
  • Gave two papers, with Pete Rorabaugh, Maha Bali, Janine De Blaise, Christina Hendricks, and JR Dingwall at OLC annual meeting in April 2015.
  • Gave a paper at HASTAC in May 2015 for a panel on digital liberal arts.
  • Attend DHSI in June 2015.
  • Taught classes in both the Whittier Scholars program (two new preps) and the English Department.
  • Worked with colleagues to build Whittier Digital Liberal Arts Center.
  • Served as interim Associate Director for the Whittier Scholars program.
  • Served on faculty committees:
    DigLibArts Steering Committee (chair)
    EPC (spring)
    Whittier Scholars Council
    VPSS/DoS Hiring Committee (fall)
  • Submitted a manuscript for an essay on trauma and nationalism in Kipling (still in review).
  • Submitted an essay proposal for a paper on Romantic Pedagogies, which was accepted.

“Salth of the Earth”, Salgado, Bare Life, and Spectacle: A few thoughts

Went to see “The Salt of the Earth” last night, and I’m haunted today by Salgado’s devastating images of labor, of suffering, of “bare life” in Rwanda and Congo and the former Yugoslavia. Don’t miss this film. Though flawed (wish it had explored the ethics of such witnessing of horror) it is incredibly powerful–made more so by a large screen.

In thinking about how I might use (parts of) this film, of course Sontag’s “On Photograpy” came to mind. A quick search turned up her late New Yorker article, which I don’t think I’d read before.

And, as so often the case, Sontag makes articulate an important thread in my response to the film:

“To speak of reality becoming a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism. It universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainment—a mature style of viewing that is a prime acquisition of the “modern,” and a prerequisite for dismantling traditional forms of party-based politics that offer real disagreement and debate. It assumes that everyone is a spectator. It suggests, perversely, unseriously, that there is no real suffering in the world. But it is absurd to identify “the world” with those zones in the rich countries where people have the dubious privilege of being spectators, or of declining to be spectators, of other people’s pain, just as it is absurd to generalize about the ability to respond to the sufferings of others on the basis of the mind-set of those consumers of news who know nothing at first hand about war and terror. There are hundreds of millions of television watchers who are far from inured to what they see on television. They do not have the luxury of patronizing reality.” from

In June, 1938, Virginia Woolf published Three Guineas, her brave, unwelcomed reflections on the roots of war. Written during the preceding two years, while she and most of her intimates and fellow-writers were rapt by the advancing Fascist insurrection in Spain, the book was couched as a tardy reply…

Learning Subjectives: Joining #rhizo15

I have been looking forward to #rhizo15 for a few months now. I was traveling during the last round of #rhizo, but I keep seeing people I enjoy using the hashtag, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to join in! Despite that enthusiasm, though, I am coming to the party a week (or three) late, since April truly is the cruelest (grading) month when you teach on a north american semester schedule.

So I am DELIGHTED to see the first prompt: learning subjectives.

Okay, honesty gut check moment: delighted is the second thing I felt. The first was confused. Was “learning subjective” a term I should be familiar with? Was I about to be exposed as a fraud, a dabbler in pedagogical theory rather than an expert? That kid in class who didn’t do the homework? Someone who doesn’t know the terminology?!

Then–after reading Dave Cormier’s introduction–then I was delighted. “Learning Subjectives.” Of course! What a great term/idea/reversal/introduction!

Learning subjectives encapsulates my reason for joining the #rhizo15 party: it’s where the cool people are. My goal in joining #rhizo15 had always been to get to know more people, to share ideas, to widen my learning network, to benefit from others and to articulate my own ideas about teaching, and thereby to learn from and for myself, as well. In other words, my motivation to participate has been about the “subjects” rather than the “objects” of learning.

And this realization has caused me to reflect on a formerly unexamined assumption I had about students at my liberal arts college. Students choose classes because of the classmembers all the time. Sometimes they choose based on the professor. Sometimes it’s based on a friend who is taking the same section. Sometimes their choice is based on what other students have said about past versions of the class. Bottom line: student class choice is heavily shaped by a network effect. (This may not be true of larger institutions; but at my 1,700 student college, everyone really does know everyone, at least by reputation.)

So, a new learning subjective for me: how do I line up my learning subjectives with my students’?

Making Jane Austen: 3d Printing, Digital Commonplace books, and Reading Realism

Fall semester has just ended, my desk is piled with papers to mark, and I find myself procrasti-planning future courses. I’ve been re-reading Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen, a biography written through traces of material culture extant from Austen’s life and featured in her novels. As others have written, Byrne’s biography is an innovative approach to understanding Austen, and reads like a “delightful rummage through a Regency chest of drawers” (Looser). Such an approach offers a sense of intimate access to the writer’s lived experience, an achievement that makes reading the biography both satisfying and self-aware of biography’s generic voyeurism.

Byrne (writing for a generalist audience) reads Austen’s life through material objects–such as an Indian shawl, her famous writing desk, her topaz cross– from her life and her books. Eschewing the traditional chronological approach, Byrne offers new insights into Austen’s experience by historicizing and contextualizing the objects that Austen interacted with, often by connecting Austen’s personal experience to world events through materialist history. Byrne’s approach is fascinating, though at times a bit too quick to draw conclusions from limited evidence.

I’ve been thinking since first reading the biography that it would be the perfect choice for an undergraduate course in Austen, since the biographical chapters would sync up beautifully with the novels, and offer arguments and insights to test out through close reading and research. And this morning, I just had a realization: what about adding in a making component to the course? If realism is the attempt to represent common experience by remaking it in fiction, then what better way to study Austen’s realism than by reversing her fictionalization, and making solid the objects from her fictional and historical worlds?

In my previous version of my upper-division Jane Austen seminar, I taught students to “dance like Jane Austen,” following the guidance of Cheryl Wilson’s article on dance in the classroom. Students loved it so much that we transformed our final into a ball–literally. Students created period-appropriate invitations, reserved a ballroom on campus, secured funding through student government, researched, created, and hosted card games for non-dancers, performed  their “accomplishments” for guests (including playing violin, reading an Austen-inspired story, and teaching us all to how dress appropriately), and, of course, danced like Jane Austen. They also made food (from white soup to bread pudding) and generally exhibited their learning by inviting faculty and other students from across campus to learn about Austen by dancing, eating, listening, and playing like it was the eighteenth century.

That was the funnest course I’ve ever taught. The project–student-inspired and student-organized–brought the class together with a common mission and goal, and turned reading and studying into a joyful celebration. I hope future classes will want to do the same!

That experience–in which students’ final projects became their research and writing about their material contributions to the ball–motivates my interest in teaching Austen through her material traces. The next course could include:

1. 3d printing or handcrafting objects from Austen’s world: Byrne’s chapter on the ivory miniature suggests likely objects for printing, and we could also potentially make miniatures of the Barouche, the writing desk, the bathing machine, etc. Additionally, we could hand craft silhouettes or vellum notebooks.

1a. I might even ask ALL students to make a silhouette of a loved one in class as a way to begin the semester?

2. Make and play games: 18th century card games, baseball, even other childhood games.

3. Dance and dress: Dancing we can do; students are always fascinated by the clothes, and I’d need to think more about that. Costumes are not easy; for our ball we offered gloves for dancers who wished to be woman-identified, and cravats for man-identifying guests.

4. Materiality of the book segment of the course: last time fabulous Whittier College librarians Mike Garabedian and Becky Ruud brought an early edition Johnson Dictionary along with many 18th century texts to class, for students to handle and explore in order to understand the material experience of reading in Austen’s time. The class also did a “reading and writing by candlelight” exercise which was fantastic; I’d like to develop this segment more. (Whittier has a first? edition of Cowper’s poem The Task, which is too long to read, but which would be useful in thinking about home decor (sofa) and modes of thinking/living.)

5. Digital commonplace books: last time, students created and constantly updated digital commonplace books on Tumblr. This assignment met with varying levels of success. Some were brilliant, some were largely reblogs of images and gifs from Austen films. Very few completed the close reading portion of the commonplace book assignment.

6. To essay or not to essay? That is the big question. Maybe a multimodal essay instead, where students could include images, hyperlinks, text, and film clips alongside their research into their chosen object of interest.

6a. Another option for a project would be to turn the tables, and ask students to choose an article from their own lives that embodies a surprising conjunction of ideas, and then write their own personal (digital) essay about how that object represents an aspect of their character. That would be an interesting way to begin to defamiliarize the concept of “character.”

7. Object of Student’s Affection: final project could be for students to select an object from Austen’s novels or letters (or films? hm…), “make” it (digitally or handcraft or 3d print), and write a research paper about how its material history opens new insight into one or more novels.

8. I need to think through how I’d integrate Austen on film into the class. This is ALWAYS a big deal when teaching Austen, as the films can be such powerful filters that reading the novels pails in comparison to their interpretive power.

8a. Maybe focus on the LBD (Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and the creation of character in the staged reenactments by a single, carefully chosen article of dress (the hat, the bowtie, etc.) This would get to both FID as a style in the written novels (I see LBD’s reenactments as a theatrical version of FID) and also the costume question and the film issue…

Well, I have too many ideas and only a year to plan them! Note that I don’t yet have access to a 3d printer, so that would be a first step if I pursue this course concept. So, friends and readers, what do you think? Suggestions please!