Assignments and Architecture: Pedagogy in the Digital Age

Title slide that reads 'Assignments and Architecture' with a hand-corrected print-out on one side of the screen and a upward-facing shot of a building on the right half. The link on this image is for the assignment as the photograph of the building is one that I took.

tl;dr: I gave a talk about digital pedagogy.

Today I want to share a talk. That’s not all that unusual, as I’ve been in the habit of posting such presentations since I began blogging here in 2009. What’s unusual about this one—at least for me—is that it’s a talk that evolved as I gave it as a keynote at three different universities.

Although it’s taken me longer to post this talk than I would have liked, I want to share my framework for theorizing digital pedagogy. This is the rubric I use when working with faculty here at Brown to design new classroom research projects. We can create new and exciting, team-based research projects for our students. Once you’ve tried this, it’s really hard to go back.

I first spoke about “pedagogy in the digital age” at Fordham University in November 2013. I was invited by Glenn Hendler, who is chair of the English Department, to give this talk as well as a more practical workshop on teaching with technology in the classroom. It was one of the first times I had been given the opportunity to tackle either subject in such a broad way, and the setting of Fordham in NYC definitely inspired the direction that the talk took—that, and an episode of 99% Invisible that I had just listened to. I very much enjoyed the conversations at Fordham and was glad of the chance to put together my thoughts about digital pedagogy into a more coherent argument.

When I was asked a few months later to give the keynote at the September 2014 Liberal Arts Scholarship and Technology Summit (LASTS) at Penn State, I took the chance to further refine the talk and its argument. I was invited by Christopher P. Long, who was at the time Associate Dean for Graduate and Undergraduate Education at Penn State and who has since moved to Michigan State as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters. I’ve always admired Chris for the genuine excitement and positive energy he brings to conversations, so I was flattered and happy to spend the time with him and the Penn State community. (Also, land-grant schools tend to have the best ice cream.) My visit for LASTS was combined with a talk at the Center for American Literary Studies’s Symposium on #Alt-Ac, which I wrote about previously. My keynote was recorded, if you want to see the high kick at the end.

Shortly after the presentation at Penn State, I was thrilled to be invited to speak at both St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges in Northfield, Minnesota (home of Malt-o-Meal; the whole town smelled like Marshmallow Mateys!). The two colleges have received a Mellon Foundation grant for collaboration between the two schools, which sit opposite one another across the Cannon River. One of the outcomes for the grant was the Bridge Crossings Events, which focus on integrating and supporting digital technologies into teaching, learning, and research. I made some more changes to the presentation, as well as did some research on the architecture on both campuses, and joined faculty, librarians, and IT staff at both schools in February 2015 for a discussion of Digital Humanities on the Hill. I really enjoyed my visit, thanks to the great library and IT staff at both schools, although I was shocked at how little winter gear people in Minnesota needed compared to a guy from Georgia. If you’re into comparative media experiences, you can also watch the video of this version of the talk. No high kick, I’m afraid.

Again, my thanks to Fordham, Penn State, and St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges for inviting me and giving me the chance to pull together years of praxis into three performances.

N.B. It’s worth saying that there are two images in this slide deck that are potentially NSFW: artistic photographs of nude sex workers, circa 1912.

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“If Hippos be the Dude of Love…”: Serendip-o-matic at Digital Humanities 2014

On 10 July 2014, I had the great chance to present a paper at the Digital Humanities Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, “Play as Process and Product: On Making Serendip-o-matic.” The paper was a collaboration between four of the 12 team members from One Week | One Tool: Amy Papaelias, Mia Ridge, Scott Kleinman, and myself.

Amy, Mia, and I wrote the proposal in October 2013, just two months after we had finished our work at George Mason University. When Scott discovered that he would be able to join us in Lausanne, we were glad to add him and his ideas to the presentation, especially since Amy learned in the meantime that she wasn’t going to be able to join us at the conference because she was having a baby!  While Amy wasn’t with us in Lausanne, she did contribute greatly to the talk. She produced slides for the presentation that maintained the look and feel of Serendip-o-matic. She was wonderful enough to field any request we threw at her, including a feverish moment in which I told her that I wanted “a bureaucratic hippo.” The results were stunning and a clear vindication of what Bruno Latour said in his opening keynote: everyone should have a designer on their team.

What follows here is the final one-third of our talk. Scott spoke first, about how the process was playful. Mia spoke second, about how playfulness informed the design and architecture of Serendip-o-matic. And I went last, covering the results of a playful process. Scott and Mia blogged their portions of the talk that same day; I’m the only laggard on this team, I’m afraid.


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Day 5 of OWOT: We Did It! (Can We Do It Again? Please??)

As you might have gathered from the Twitter storm that barreled out of Fairfax, Virginia, this afternoon, we released and launched the fabulous, amazing Serendip-o-matic. One of the great things about living in the 21st century is that we have a ton of materials open and available to us in digital formats that have been collected in sources like the Digital Public Library of America, Europeana, and Flickr Commons. But since things are digital we don’t find them like we used to. Search makes it possible to pinpoint the exact thing that we’re after, as Shawn Graham nicely points out. Such precision is a bit problematic, however, as it leads us to miss the surprise of finding that unexpected book in the stacks or that item in the archives. Serendip-o-matic is designed to recreate that discovery process. After all, there’s so much stuff out there, if you only get exactly what you’re looking for then you’re missing out on some of the best stuff! Search is great, but this isn’t search: it’s Serendip-o-matic.

The Serendip-o-matic Hippo logo

That’s the pitch, at least, and at this point in the day I think I’m finally starting to get it where I want it to be. Hopefully people are excited to learn more about it in the coming days. We did write the Today Show, so I think we can plan to be coming to your living room by Tuesday.

So what was it like on the ground? Crazy, more or less. I think everyone was on the move by 8am, with some of the design / dev team logging commits by that point. I started my day meeting with the Outreach team, working on their schedule for the day and talking about the press release. This may have involved arguing about parentheses and angle brackets.

Jack Dougherty showing pointy brackets

Once we got over to CHNM, I spent most of the day dodging back and forth between rooms. I helped Outreach workshop some of the final language for the press release, once again focusing on the story we wanted to tell. I dodged over to help file issues on the design / dev team for the dev server of Serendip-o-matic. I bug checked responsive design on mobile, tablet, and web versions, as well as catching other pieces of human-readable content. I put my head down for 20 minutes once I got a request from the Chronicle of Higher Education for an interview request. (Thank goodness for my MLA media training which taught me this technique.) After the interview, it was on to drafting the press release email and identifying a few names from our media contact list to get an early warning email. Then it was dashing around again.

As we got closer and closer to what Mia had determined would be the “code chill” leading up to the “code freeze” at 2pm in expectation of the 3pm launch, we planned for the live launch broadcast while contending with continued difficulties in the Zotero integration and mass, multiple edits of text, CSS and design, and code at every level of the process. At one point, I found myself standing in the room where all the dev/design team was working and all I could think of was to run to get people food or make sure they were plugged into power. In the end, I think I took a picture.

The dev/design team

In the end, we only got to a code freeze and final deploy around 2:55pm. Everyone erupted into cheers and applause, and we tweeted our teaser image. Our fearless leader Tom poured drinks.

Tom and Sharon pour champagne

But then it was a quick dash to the computers for the live launch. Jack had done a great job not only of setting up the technology for the 4-way Google Hangout, but also scripted everything. We had written questions and practiced a bit of what we were going to say, but what I was most nervous about was my live demo of the site. If I had been thinking more clearly when I was doing it, I might not have showed off the Zotero integration. Halfway through to clicking the “Go” button, I suddenly wondered if it would crash. That would have been terrible during a live demo. But fortunately Eli’s fixes held, and everything went perfect. We were genuinely surprised when Dan Cohen was able to join us and very much appreciated both his involvement and that of Brett Bobley and Jen Serventi from the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities. Even better, we were able to highlight the many different types of work that the members of the team did. If for some reason you missed the video broadcast, and want to relive the heady excitement of it all, well, we pressed the “record” button ahead of time.

After we clicked “end” on the video, there was even more cheering and shouts of acclaim. Someone might have done some streaking. Everyone more or less collapsed into a cluster and started watching comments roll in via social media.

The team on their computers

I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to have made something and immediately be able to present it to them to look at and play with. We heard from bloggers who were using it find images and users who were finding new sources for their work. Most of all, the general enthusiasm of the digital humanities community and the rings of Internet that surround them were appreciated. Thanks, all of you, so much for being willing to play a part by paying attention to what we’ve been doing this week.

Amazingly enough, the design / dev team almost immediately got back to work resolving some of the issues we still had outstanding for the code base. (The repo is open and public now. Go ahead and fork away!) We probably hung out in this pattern for an hour or 90 minutes, just soaking in the accomplishment. I think we were all reluctant to break out of the magic circle of the moment because we knew that it would mean that the experience was beginning to end. We had done what we set out to do, but it also means that we’re saying goodbye to each other in less than 18 hours. Some people will even be gone before I wake up.

It’s strange to think that I won’t be seeing these people next week. That we won’t be building Serendip-o-matic any more. Sure, we’ve got a long way to go on improving it, and we have plans for how to expand on the One Week | One Tool experience, but…  Well, let’s just say I’m already looking forward to seeing everyone again at THATCamp next year for the #owot reunion.

The One Week | One Tool team
Picture by Sharon Leon

What lessons do I have to extract from today? First, when you’re going to be doing something in front of other people, you really do need to practice. I didn’t give as good an interview on the phone as I would have liked simply because I didn’t get a chance to talk it through with someone. But I was so much further ahead by having written down my talking points. The second point is related and spins off the work of the fabulous outreach team: when you want people to pay attention, it helps to keep telling a story. It was the week’s worth of tweets and blog posts that gave enough information about what was happening that led to people being willing to spend some time with us on a Friday afternoon. Third and last of all, design matters. There is no way around it.

I’ve got at least two more OWOT posts coming, I think. So at least for you and me, dear reader, it’s not over yet.

Day 4 of OWOT: Stay Gold, Ponyboy

All right. You know the drill. Let me just say that today’s been a long day. We’re so close that I think we’re all super excited, but we know there’s still quite a bit of work to get done. Which explains why it’s not just me who’s awake at this point.

As I start blogging, Mia, Rebecca, and Scott “West” are wrangling some badly merged commits on the GitHub server and I’m seeing messages roll in via Growl. I’ve just finished looking through the list of issues we have outstanding in the repo, on Mia’s request to see if everything lined up with Meghan and my perception of prioritization. About an hour ago, we were looking at some final glyph designs that Amy had cooked up for our onboarding experience. And before that, Ray and I were hitting the email contact list spreadsheets to make sure we have everyone lined up for our press release tomorrow.

Ray Palin hitting the email spreadsheets

You wouldn’t believe how difficult some schools have decided to make this. Before that, Jack (who travels with his own projector?!), Meghan, and I were putting the finishing touches on the plans for the Outreach team tomorrow, including the live broadcast of the tool announcement. It’d be pretty convenient if I could tell you when that would happen…but I don’t know anything about that. Prior to that, people were passing out high fives to Eli for cracking a really knotty OAuth issue which he had been hammering away on for much of the last two days. Not to mention congratulating him for being able to eat a burger roughly the size of his head.

A picture of Eli eating a ridiculous burger

Before that, well, we were looking at some of the other designs that Amy had. That gets us back to about 8pm this evening. Of course, we all started the day around 9am.

So what did we do the rest of the time? Well, I’ll be honest to say that it’s getting hazy at this point. We really started with a consideration of the logo and site design that Amy came up with the night before. (This is such the wrong way to tell this in a grok-able manner, but I’m at the point, I think, where I’m writing how it feels, man, rather than anything else. Consider this an ethnography.) Mass applause and enthusiasm ensued after which point we had some discussions about the larger information architecture for part of the tool. We were pleased to be joined by Jennifer Serventi, our intrepid and amazing program officer from the NEH. Jen carried on the NEH tradition of bringing love in the form of carbs and calories.

A box of muffins with a postit note that says,

But she also stuck around for about five hours, listening and generally taking in the vibe of what was happening. She took the time to meet individually with a number of different team members, the PIs, and each of us project managers. I often think that I have what it takes to be a program officer; and then I run into one of them and am blown away by their ability to listen.

OWOT Team presentation with NEH officer listening

These are the friendliest and most empathetic people that I think I’ve met in my entire professional career. I appreciated the fact that Jen wanted to hear not only about what I thought about the OWOT event so far but also what I thought it would allow me to take back to Emory. And it was great to have her sitting in with Jack and I as we worked on micro-copy for the website, struggling with the word counts and tone to make sure we hit the message as best we could.

Two other moments from the day are worth mentioning. First, on Tuesday Tom had told Meghan and I that we needed to be thinking about future vision for the project, about ways that it could live on beyond this particular week. I’ll be sharing our ideas in a coming blog post so as to avoid spoilers. But suffice it to say that after several days of feeling like we wouldn’t be able to deliver on this particular assignment, we’ve got the seed of something that all three of us are excited about. Happiness.

The second moment isn’t quite so happy but instead represents a learning moment for me as a project manager. After seeing the presentation on the website first thing in the morning, the Outreach team decided to get working on the micro-copy for the home page. In the mid-afternoon, when we brought them back together with the Dev and Design team, we discovered that the latter had iterated a few more times on the home page design in such a way that the work that eliminated the need for that text. What could have been a very testy situation was handled with grace by everyone that was involved, but it really came back on the project managers not communicating clearly with all of the teams. It’s an easy thing to do when we’re all running around trying to get something off the ground while not yet having a server or a logo and “ZOMG! what happened to our wifi connectivity?!” So I’m glad to catch the lumps for this one.

So. Lessons learned? First, visions aren’t just something that happen in the Old Testament. But like we see in scripture, they sometimes require waiting for. Such idling in the wilderness is okay—and should probably be expected. And if you happen to be a bit like Jonah and would rather be free of such visions, well, you might be in the wrong business. Second, well, don’t drop the ball. You’d have thought I learned this back in little league, but it turns out that I was a terrible right fielder. I probably should have copped to this in my OWOT application.

Finally—and not for the final time, I am sure—let me say publicly how thrilled I am to be working in an environment with such great and strong individuals. Everyone is pulling their weight and looking for places where they can help someone else at the same time.

List of assignments on a whiteboard

It really does feel more like a barn raising that I would have thought possible. And at the end of the day, what we’re building is not so much a tool as a posse. I’ve got their back, and they’ve got mine. Watch out, #owot rolls deep. Especially, y’know, around 3-5pm EDT tomorrow.

EDIT: Don’t miss Jack’s post on day 3. And day 4 posts by Amrys and Mia, both of whom also talk about camraderie. I especially love what Mia writes in her post about creation of “rapid trust” alongside rapid prototyping. Glad to discover I’m not the only one feeling the love.