Posts Tagged ‘teaching’


THATCamp SE 4: Making Digital Collections Work for the Scholar

March 10, 2011

THATCamp SE got started in earnest on Saturday.  We all met in a lecture room in the Emory Library (which is a wonderful space in general, and had guest wireless that made me incredibly jealous – it remembered me when I came back the 2nd day, and automatically gave me access! On my own campus, I get kicked off the wireless network repeatedly even when I’m sitting in the same place for an hour.)

THATCamps are “unconferences” – that is, there is no set agenda and no pre-planned papers.  The conference attendees post at the conference web site about what issues they want to discuss, and start to generate interest, and then the morning of the first day they write their sessions on a huge whiteboard and others make tickmarks if they plan to attend.

that camp session white board

This is actually from a THATCamp in Australia. Hence the appearance of "speedos."


The tickmarks allow the organizers to assign sessions to appropriate sized rooms. We had a brief rundown of the THATCamp groundrules (below) and we were off.

  1. THATCamp is FUN – That means no reading papers, no powerpoint presentations, no extended project demos, and especially no grandstanding.
  2. THATCamp is PRODUCTIVE – Following from the no papers rule, we’re not here to listen and be listened to. We’re here to work, to participate actively. It is our sincere hope that you use today to solve a problem, start a new project, reinvigorate an old one, write some code, write a blog post, cure your writer’s block, forge a new collaboration, or whatever else stands for real results by your definition. We [are] here to get stuff done.
  3. Most of all, THATCamp is COLLEGIAL – Everyone should feel equally free to participate and everyone should let everyone else feel equally free to participate. You are not students and professors, management and staff here at THATCamp. At most conferences, the game we play is one in which I, the speaker, try desperately to prove to you how smart I am, and you, the audience member, tries desperately in the question and answer period to show how stupid I am by comparison. Not here. At THATCamp we’re here to be supportive of one another as we all struggle with the challenges and opportunities of incorporating technology in our work, departments, disciplines, and humanist missions. So no nitpicking, no tweckling, no petty BS.

The first session I attended was proposed by Andy Carter (@cartera) of the Digital Library of Georgia, and described by him as “Big digital piles and the classroom.” As an archivist, he wants to know how scholars use digital collections in both teaching and research, and how the collections he manages can make these tasks easier for them.  Shawn Averkamp, who attended, had also asked a similar question.  We had more librarians than faculty in the room (this was to become a theme…) but the faculty talked about technological hurdles (real and/or perceived) and needing a guide to resources.  My main takeaway was articulated by Paul Fyfe (@pfyfe):

digital libraries/archives session theme of missed connections: who is mediating between resources and researchers/teachers?

For me, this was a stand-up moment: I am.  In my work as a Reference librarian, I am doing this for students who walk up to the desk or ask me a question via chat reference.  In my work as a subject liaison, I want to make it my goal to do this, not just for the faculty at my institution, but for the discipline of classics as a whole, at this blog.  I’ve struggled with understanding digital humanities projects so I can explain to the average classicist – what is this, and how might it be relevant to your research or teaching?  Is there an undergraduate assignment lurking in this project?

Some practical ideas for digital collections or dh projects that we discussed were educator guides, sample assignments, or digital “sandboxes” for playing with content, all hosted at the project sites.  These can come from the librarian or project head, but project hosts would  also welcome feedback from scholars who use their collections: email the project letting them know your students used the materials, and what the assignment looked like, or noting access hurdles and making suggestions to overcome them.  For faculty, the takeaway should be that digital collection and project hosts want the materials to be used, and need your help to see how that can be accomplished most profitably.

Previous posts on THATCamp SE:


THATCamp SE 1: Timelines Assignment

March 7, 2011

This past Friday and Saturday I attended THATCamp SE (The Humanities and Technology Camp, a fairly informal “unconference” that is held locally or regionally), and Sunday I attended virtually via the twitter feed and some public Google docs that were being created.  So this week will be filled with “what I did and why it was cool for me”, with hopefully some “this might be cool for you to try as a classics teacher or researcher” added just for you, dear reader.

Friday was “BootCamp SE,” designed to provide hand-on skills training.  This post is going to highlight the first session, an hour and a half spent “Visualizing Time and Space with Simile Widgets and Google” with Brian Croxall. Although he was prevented by some sneaky smart quotes from having a dramatic reveal at the end of the session, I came away with a great classroom assignment for any class working with chronologies or historic events.

Here’s what we did:

  1. Created a Google Documents spreadsheet and filled it with some data: a title for the event, start date, end date (if not a one-day event), longer description of the event, a link to an online image, longitude and latitude coordinates (grabbed from Google maps), and a broad category.
  2. Pulled up an html editor, cut and pasted some code that Brian had pre-staged for us, and put the web page online (we didn’t technically do all of this, but I did the parts we didn’t get to by myself in odd moments during the day today.)
  3. Profit!  Okay, at least, Timeline! (Note mine is all about 1913, because I’m still deep in that Reacting to the Past game I mentioned the other week. Also it has a bug – the categories on the right sidebar aren’t showing, because I am not an Actual Rock Star. Yet.)

So, let’s say I was teaching a class in Aegean Prehistory and wanted to address the hanging points for the chronology. (I did an assignment like this as an undergrad, using actual graph paper, in a class taught by Jim Wright). Here’s what I’d do:

  1. Assign the students to collect the information needed for the Google spreadsheet.  I might group them into teams – you all deal with Aegean artifacts found in Egyptian contexts, you all deal with radiocarbon dates, etc. This would be a homework assignment, with a reading list of print sources suggested (and places to look online to find artifact images to include).
  2. My “homework” would be to set up the Google spreadsheet and “invite” all the students, so they could add their events/artifacts. I’d also pre-stage the web page using the Timeline Simile scripts, and make it live on a web space.
  3. Meet in a classroom with computers, or ask students to bring laptops, and have them fill in the Google spreadsheet in class. I’d have the web page showing live, so that as students added events to the timeline they would show up one by one.
  4. I’d make the “how I did this” piece available to the students, so they could use the Timelines for future projects.

Brian has a tutorial online that you can use to teach yourself everything you need to assign a Timeline in a couple of hours, I’d say (maybe even less if you are already comfortable with Google Docs, editing html, and have a web space to put stuff up.)  Others at the session mentioned that this might be useful for their dissertation research (keeping events in order and reminding oneself what was happening simultaneously), and as a spatial exercise (since the events have latitude and longitude, you can also produce a map of “events”). Would this be useful to you, in your research or teaching?  Feel free to brainstorm in comments.


Reacting to the Past

February 18, 2011

I spent my office hour in the the Classics Department this week reading Jane Addams (on my Kindle, for the trifecta.)  I’m lending myself to a Reacting to the Past game in the history department for the next several weeks – a role-playing game in which students hone their analysis, rhetoric, and writing skills by re-enacting debates around historical crisis points – this one is a game called Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman.

There are Reacting to the Past games on a wide variety of subjects;  relevant to the world of Classics are the published and well-established  “Athens Game” (The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 BCE) and a game in development on Rome, Beware the Ides of March: Rome in 44 BCE, co-authored by Keith Dix of the UGA Classics Department.

A role-playing game sounds a bit silly, and not very rigorous, but the Reacting pedagogy is certainly rigorous and once the students get over their initial self-consciousness, not silly either.  The great benefit of the games that I’ve seen – I played a round of  the wonderful Red Clay 1835: Cherokee Removal and the Meaning of Sovereignty last year – is the engagement the students develop with the material.  They must give speeches and write persuasive papers incorporating the arguments presented in the readings, so they become intimately familiar with both the primary sources and the larger issues at stake (what is democracy and who gets to have some? what is sovereignty for native peoples?).  I have a friend who teaches Reacting who also notes that the games create a bond between the students that long outlasts the game, and is especially useful for her at a commuter school where students are slow to feel connected to the campus and each other.

UGA has used the Reacting pedagogy since 2003.  UGA Reacting is hosting a conference this spring, March 25-27, in which participants will play an abbreviated version of either the Rome game or another game in development, about Darwin. This is an excellent opportunity to get an immersion in the pedagogy and share insights with other instructors about how to make it work in your classroom.


Librarian in the Classroom

November 29, 2010

It’s the time of year when I write up an annual report of what I’ve done, for my supervisor to review.  This year I taught 20 classes, up from 11 in 2009 (yes, we keep statistics on this, as on, well, practically everything).  What does it mean when a librarian teaches a class?

Unlike faculty members, librarians mainly teach one session of a class, having been invited in by the regular faculty member to cover library resources related to a class project, often a research paper.  Except at the 4000 and graduate level, I have usually never seen the students before, and am unlikely to see them again, although some do follow up for individual meetings.  I don’t have much knowledge about their background or level of competence at conducting university-level research; I can assume that senior majors and grad students know more than freshmen, but most classes have a mix of skill levels.  I usually have 50 minutes to cover topics as varied as how to use Wikipedia (very carefully if at all!), the importance of Boolean searching in scholarly article databases (searching ‘etruscan tombs with images of charon’ will net you nada in Jstor), how to parse a call number and find a book on the shelf, and how the heck to use L’Annee Philologique.

My saving grace is a web page I custom-create for each class.  At UGA we use an open-source software developed by Oregon State University called Library a la Carte, which allows us to create modular chunks of content and re-use and mix them on multiple web pages.  Thus I use some of the same content, but with variations based on student need, in pages for a 3000-level Latin class writing a term paper on the Aeneid, a 1000-level Honors class writing a short paper on Greek Civilization, and a 4000-level theater class playing the Reacting to the Past Athens Game.  The faculty member can embed these pages in the campus course management software (at UGA, it’s eLearning Commons).  Teaching, and providing a page of resources like this, is one of the best ways that we as librarians can reach out to groups of students, rather than waiting for them to come to us, often after they’ve wasted time fruitlessly Googling.  It results in better papers for the faculty members as well.

If your class has an assignment of any kind that asks the students to do research, please consider inviting a librarian to your class to teach the students college-level research skills – don’t assume they come to you with these skills.  Most universities have a subject specialist librarian assigned to every department; if you don’t know yours, ask at the Reference Desk the next time you are in the library.


Annotated Bibliography Assignments

November 11, 2010

For another project (Ancient World Open Bibliographies) I’ve created a Zotero account and am playing around with it, trying to figure out how to easily generate annotated bibliographies using the software (which is a web site plus a Firefox plugin).  Unfortunately right now the answer is that it’s not very easy to annotate bibliographies in a way that lets them be printed or shared, although there are some workarounds.

My search for information on this topic led to me to an interesting assignment, by Brian Croxall, who teaches English Literature.  He had his students find a scholarly resource outside the required reading for the class, and write an annotation (in this case, the annotations were fairly long, more like a short review, in some cases several paragraphs).  His description of the virtues of bibliographic annotation is:

Annotated bibliographies get students experience with some of the important steps of literary scholarship: finding secondary criticism and digesting it. While I could (and might!) just assign the standard end-of-term research paper, the unintended consequence of doing so often results in students looking around for any quotations they can throw in to meet the arbitrary requirement of sources. I hope that annotated bibliographies provoke students to read the other sources more carefully: reading for the source’s own argument rather than how it can fit into one’s paper that is due in 12 hours. An annotated bibliography requires you to take more time, giving you a chance to see what kinds of conversations go on amongst scholars of contemporary literature.

One of of my colleagues who is a teaching model for me is a big fan of annotated bibliography assignments.  She works with one class, for example, in which instead of a paper, the students produce an annotated bibliography of 10 items.  They are required to use no more than 3 popular sources (anything from Glamour to web sites) and no more than 3 of what the professor calls “popular scholarly sources” (I think this term is made up, but what is meant is journalistic sources – newspapers, Time, The New Yorker, etc.).  The class is in the anthropology of food, so for a topic like high fructose corn syrup, a mix of scientific resources explaining what it is and how it is processed by body, journalistic treatments, and fluffy stuff like diet magazines allows the student to turn in a well-rounded exploration of the topic and how it is treated in varying types of sources.  For a different subject, requiring only scholarly sources might be a better fit.  The student gets the experience of doing research for a term paper: finding and evaluating sources.  For the faculty member teaching a large class, grading 75 10-item annotated bibliographies is possible in a way that grading 75 10-page papers is not.  Would this kind of an assignment work for you in your larger classes – or even as a preliminary step in the process of writing a term paper?  My guess is it would lead to better papers if required and graded.

As an aside, I would love to see more online discussions and repositories of good assignments, assignments that worked, for classics and ancient studies.  Some faculty blog about their teaching but I found, for example, when I was trying to think of a good assignment for a graduate class that would incidentally teach them to use TLG, that Google was a howling wasteland in this area.  I don’t teach regular classes, only one-shot library instruction sessions, but I do see part of my role as working with faculty to help brainstorm about what assignments work for what learning goals.  I hope to be able to put more ideas on this blog.