This past semester, I’ve been part of an interdisciplinary fellowship through the JMU Libraries, designing courses that will be using the amazing JMU 3Space, a combination 3D-printing lab classroom in historic Carrier Library.
I’ve learned so much this semester from my colleagues in other disciplines, as we’ve practiced ways that we can use 3D modeling and design in our pedagogy. With this new experience, I’m excited to teach a course on literary and cultural studies that involves 3D modeling as part of our students’ critical toolset. Many thanks go to my JMU colleague Jamie Calcagno-Roach for her help facilitating this great learning experience, and to my ODU graduate professor Dr. Margaret Konkol for continually inspiring me to explore 3D modeling as a critical tool in literary studies.
This past May, as part of our work as HASTAC Scholars, my colleague Rachel Willis and I presented for HASTAC in their Digital Fridays series, on the topic of using digital tools as meaningful course assignments, in addition to or in place of traditional papers.
Some of the assignments and tools we discuss in this presentation include:
textual analysis tools
video and board games
object creation (via tools like Sketchup or Tinkercad)
We enjoyed thinking through what can be beneficial for student learning about these alternative assignment types. Here are a few of our main takeaways:
Think beyond “just” papers: Papers can be an excellent evaluation technique, but their use is rooted in many assumptions about thinking, knowing, and literacy. They are not always the best vehicle students have for demonstrating their learning.
With digital tools, walk students through exploring the interface early on. Model discovery. Don’t assume students know very much and build in class-time to take them through as much as possible technology-wise.
When in doubt, involve students in decision making. For example, allow students to work alone or in groups. Offer them two different deadline choices. Give them a selection of assignments to choose from. This is another way of acknowledging student agency and recognizing that choices students make usually play to their strengths.
Imperfection is better than inaction. We learn from every change we make to courses and assignments, so even though we risk making mistakes, the work of a more inclusive, practical learning environment is important enough to warrant the risk.
Thank you to Rachel for researching and presenting this with me, and to HASTAC and our facilitator Adashima Oyo as well.
When reading a new book or article that I know will be relevant for research or class, I’ve developed a template in Google Docs that helps me keep track of my notes, and make them easy to search later (which I’ve written about and shared here).
Working on this frame is effective for me so far — and it follows me smoothly from device to device, which is key when your work happens in multiple locations. But when reading a text that is location based — at the moment, an important biography with many different geographical spaces in it — I’ve been exploring ways to easily organize and visualize this data.
When a text’s story occurs in multiple places across time, we can safely assume (usually, anyway) that the writer is familiar with these places and how they relate to each other. But with the intimacy of an author and manuscript comes a familiarity seldom so native to the reader: especially when the location is distant for readers, descriptions such as “all the way in Suffolk” carry plenty of implication, but questionable actual import.
For a quick way to give more context, I’ve begun to play with the My Maps function in Google Maps. Here’s a basic tutorial. You can create a custom map, with separate layers for different characters or eras if you like, and enter locations with as little as a postcode or intersection of two known current roads. You can also add links and images to your notes for each plotted point, which can be a simple but effective way to keep track of multiple sources you’ve used in tracking your information.
Here’s an example map I put together with some locations from the life of Carry A. Nation, the temperance crusader who smashed saloons across Kansas in the early 1900s. She moved around a lot, and was arrested many places, so the geographical visualization of her travels seems useful. (As you can see, this is a quick example I’ve put together to show the way I use this feature, not really scholarly research. Contributions are very welcome!)
Improvements I would love to have:
Easier visual transition to locations in the order you place them on your map — Prezi-like bounces? You can currently click through a list (easier on a full computer screen than mobile) or drag your mouse cursor over a list and see each spot “light up” visually as you do.
Integration of historical mapping – locations with different names at different times
Well, friends, this is one of those “is it just me?” confessions where I admit that for years I’ve been saving my research bibliographies and PDF versions of scholarly articles in a variety of folders on 3 different computers and with a filename system that has been… inconsistent at best. It hasn’t hindered me too much, but it’s bothered me, knowing there had to be a better way, and preferably an open-source, cloud-syncing and web-friendly way.
For me, that’s been Zotero. You can make a free account here, download the standalone application for your laptop or desktop computer here (mobile is not quite as stable, in my experience so far at least), download the plug-in for your favorite browser here (it seems to play especially well with Chrome for me), and — if you’re interested — see my current research project public folders here. It has been good for me to think about the taxonomy of my sources, what belongs with what, and why. Here are a few of my favorite things about it:
Zotero keeps research organized. No more folders of random files saved with names and dates. What a relief!
For articles and book chapters, it can save the actual PDF files for you, even with your annotations, and has a cool shortcut to rename files consistently for you so you aren’t stuck with the opaque name like 0986543.pdf that EBSCO decided to give you.
You can easily share your working bibliography, including the constituent folders, with others when collaborating by making a “group” – even if you’re the only member in your group!
It can handle a huge range of genres of sources: books, articles, websites, multimedia files, and just about anything else you can come up with to want to save.
You can save a source in more than one collection (folder) — so in my case, if an article has to do with both narrative theory AND Victorian women’s periodicals (be calm my heart!) with a simple click and drag, I can assign it to both collections without having to save multiple copies of the file.
This is a big one — it does the majority of the data entry for you, especially if you are saving items from a library database or Google Scholar. It’s certainly worth double-checking citations for the details of your actual Works Cited or Bibliography, but it’s a great start toward having the info you need when you need it.
But nothing’s perfect, right? A few things I’d like to see improved? I am glad for its vibrant online development community, where considerations are taken seriously. In fact, a few of my concerns have turned out to already be answered, with a little research!
Having smoother mobile integration, especially for tablets
Plug-in reliability: I’ve had to un-install and reinstall my browser “connector” a few times when it wasn’t recognizing all of the fields for articles, and just thinking they were web pages. Not the end of the world — it’s a quick process, and that “free” open source price tag is more than worth a few hiccups — but it would be great for it to be a bit more consistent.
All in all, Zotero has really made a difference in how I organize ongoing projects. If you have a chaotic folder or two of your own, give it a try! Here’s a great YouTube video explaining how to get started moving over the files you’ve already got.