…beginnings

Welcome to Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities 2010.

I did this project last year as Day of DH 2009. I spent that day teaching 3 classes (TechnoRomanticism, Introduction to Literary Criticism and Writing Workshop for English Majors) and interacting with more than 75 students. I best cataloged my day with images to remind me what had happened, who was involved and what I intended to teach. There were some successes and some failures.  However, Day of DH 2009 ended with a reflection about feeling like I was behind all the time.  Well, that hasn’t changed much and neither has my interpretation of Digital Humanities:

Digital Humanities is any attempt to incorporate digital understandings or culture into scholarship, pedagogy and service. For my particular reasons, I define Digital Humanities as an attempt to use computing methods to understand 19th Century British literature from a book historians point of view. As a teacher, I use Digital Humanities to create a bridge among myself, my students and our contemporary culture. We use all kinds of tools to get into 19th Century print culture, and not just tools to assess the 19th Century moment but to also create content that can serve as a critique of our own use of tools, such as Twitter, Moodle, TeamSpot, tech-enhanced teaching facilities. For instance, we explore gaming as a way to discuss the technological upheaval of the printing press in the early 1900s. That’s just a tidbit of my world as a Digital Humanist. (March 2009)

I’ve been raising my virtual voice alot these days, too, perhaps too much, on Twitter and Humanist-L. As I continue at San Jose State University and in the world of Digital Humanities, I must confront on a daily basis the interaction among research, scholarship and pedagogy. Digital Humanities is no different. Consequently, I’ve been pushing pedagogy in the DH community, of course not as a sole practitioner, but as a voice in the field and most especially with Project Bamboo. There is no better moment than when a student discovers that the digital world can serve his/her purposes in the classroom, that being an English major is relevant and revelatory.

I will offer up my tenure dossier next September. After a thoroughly rigorous 4th year review and quite a few outside reviews by other Digital Humanities scholars, I am guardedly optimistic about achieving tenure in 2012.  Though my department and I often don’t agree, most of our faculty members have been generous in their support of Digital Humanities work. San Jose State University,  as one of the largest of the California State Universities with its 30,000 students, lives just down the street from Adobe and a mere 12 miles from the Google campus in Palo Alto. Yahoo, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Apple — they all have campuses in the Silicon Valley corridor up the street.

View Silicon Valley & SJSU in a larger map

Appropriately, our campus’ advertising point is that we “power Silicon Valley”:

Although Stanford University provides the historical basis for high-technology growth in the South Bay, and remains at the center of high-technology academic research in Silicon Valley, San Jose State University has emerged as the largest supplier of working engineers to high-technology companies in the region.[14][15][16] In this light, SJSU engineering, business and computer science graduates often are viewed as the workhorses that power Silicon Valley from day to day.[14][15] Former SJSU students and SJSU alumni also have founded or co-founded a number of important high-technology firms, many of which were integral to the commercial growth and development of the region.[17] Included among those companies founded or co-founded by former SJSU students and SJSU alumni are Intel Corporation, Oracle Corporation, Quantum Corporation, Seagate Technology, and Atmel Corporation.[17][18][19] SJSU alumni also have risen to the level of CEO and/or senior vice president at numerous high-technology firms in the region including ROLM Corporation, Cisco Systems, IBM, Google and Solectron Corporation.[20][21][22][17][23] Additionally, Ray Dolby and Charles Ginsburg are two Silicon Valley luminaries with close ties to San Jose State. (Wikipedia from CSU sources)

But our campus has yet to integrate social sciences and Humanities into that production of the workhorses. There are those who are working on that, most of all our new-ish CIO, William Maguire, our new-ish President, Jon Whitmore, and our very new Provost, Gerry Selter. My Dean, Karl Toepfer, has been at the forefront of selling Digital Humanities on our campus and continues to support my efforts. (Yes, this is turning into an acknowledgments page, but without the support of administration, Digital Humanities would really be just a rag tag group of conversations — or as David Greenbaum [UC Berkeley] put it, a “pub phenomenon.”)

I’ve experienced much more freedom from my department, college, dean and university exactly because we are a teaching institute. In other words, there is much leeway in terms of research and scholarship. I can produce scholarship on the use of digital tools in the classroom or perform my own brand of Digital Humanities with my 19th-Century British literary project. My only hindrance is that we need money, SJSU, and we need a network that is centralized. I’m working on both with the leadership of other faculty and incredible staff.

Now that you’re updated on the last year of my scholarly DH adventures, here’s what I do in a day.

Questions we don’t even know exist

In most of my English Literature courses, I find a way to show this video about information and the progress of technology. The most striking information for these English majors is that we’re training today’s students to solve problems that we don’t even know exist just yet. Of course, the version that is most appealing is outdated by now: Did You Know

The creators have updated the data and released a new version in Fall 2009: Did You Know 4.0

The latest video circulating is on publishing, really, it’s about reading: The Future of Publishing

These are some of the issues that concern me, especially as a textuist and bibliographer.


Schedule

Since tomorrow’s Day of DH falls on my teaching day, I’ll be in class for most of it (9am-3pm). However, my students are extraordinarily good sports and will offer up some interesting participation for the day.  Thursdays typically go like this:

8-8:50am

Arrive to office & prep for first class by creating admin, thematic and lecture notes

9-10:15am

First class: TechnoLiterature (aka Great Works of Literature)

A general education course filled with frosh & sophomores. Tomorrow, we have our final discussion day about Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve, a book filled with some graphic language about sex and castration. On the first day of discussion, they were somewhat uncomfortable discussing the novel and questioned if it was “Literature.” Interesting.

10:15-11:50am

Lunch & prep for 2 classes; maybe some light grading of weekly writings and mid-terms and glossary entries.

12-1:15pm

Gothic Novel & Horror Fiction is my groovy techno-hip group of students who are working in our Incubator Classroom. In a room with 2 smart boards, portable furniture and a will to learn, the students receive a laptop (PC or Mac) at the beginning of each class. Tomorrow, they will have posted a reading response to Moodle about Vernon Lee’s short stories. We’ll listen to a group presentation on the readings and will discuss their guest lecturer from Tuesday (Dr. Paul Douglass who lead them through some fantastic American Gothic short stories). These students (25) make ample use of the social forum on Moodle and are on a constant quest to scare themselves. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle the sex scenes in American Psycho, our final novel at the end of the semester. The most invigorating use of the room is their playfulness with ClassSpot, software that allows them to take over the 3 front screens with anything that contributes to our discussion.

1:30-2:45pm

Introduction to Literary Criticism: Ah, Marxism. We’ve gotten past Formalism, New Criticism, Structuralism, Deconstruction, Reader Response and Psychoanalysis and will venture far into New Historicism, Feminist Theory, Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Race & Culture Studies and mention PostModernism. With the furloughs and fewer teaching days, I had to cut Digital Studies from the syllabus, unfortunately.  Tomorrow, it’s Benjamin and “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Since this course is so difficult, we haven’t been able to use much technology except the Powerpoints that students often use for presentations. The most we do is email a weekly writing application to me for interlinear notes and a grade.

In between these classes are, of course, mini-student conferences about their work, the class, something interesting they encountered over the week.  The afternoon is dominated by English majors with a few Psychology and Art majors creeping into the sides.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings!

Photoblogging my way

Because today is such an intense teaching day, I took photos along the way to help me remember my day. In about an hour, I’ll be home, sitting on the porch in our gorgeous weather and blogging away my day in its 1hr 15 min spurts. Let’s just say the on-campus portion of my day concludes with a pleasant conversation between myself and my office mate, a seasoned senior faculty member who is fazed by nothing. Ahhhh….if one of his students hadn’t come in, I would have photographed our feet up.

Morning

mac The day of Digital Humanities begins the way my teaching days always do: a few minutes on the Mac to check for student emergency emails. They have emailed reading responses due every other week and sometimes there are issues with getting through and whatnot.  Also, I just love my Mac. I converted to a Mac last year and am slowly trying to get my office computers converted to Mac. Oh, yeah, I also had to get reading glasses this year. I blame my small 13″ screen….right?

weatherAnd, I just have to mention this: I’m in California. Though we’re falling off the edge of the economy, the weather makes up for a lot of it.  This week, we skipped the 60s and went right into the 70s. Along with the gorgeous weather, we also got some extra light this week.  I’d love to say that I get up at 6am and go for a run, but, nah. I’m still a geeky academic.  The day starts with reading emails, Twitter, readings recommended by Tweeps, newspapers and whatever latest grading that needs to be done.

My Messy Office

It took about 3 years for it to happen, but when it did, the piles of paper really grew entirely too big. (This office looks incredibly similar to last year’s Day of DH…hmmm.) I wonder if more paper is equivalent to being more overwhelmed. Now, students sitting across from me have to peer over the stacks of books-intended-to-be-read. The irony is that I really do enjoy organizing my materials as digital documents. But, there’s something about having those physical artifacts as reminders sitting around my office. The folders of “urgent” (get-to-in-2-years) folders; the bulletin board of projects, sticky notes, thank you cards, restaurant coupons and Queen Victoria; the stack of papers documenting my 5th year review; the list of assignments to be graded (yikes!); the reading that I would really love to do; and the ideas floating around in there.

One stack is my memoranda about Project Bamboo. While working on SJSU’s involvement with this type of consortium, I’ve been confronted with questions about the value of Humanities over and over.  (In fact, today during our discussion about Marxism, my Intro to Lit Crit students discussed the value of creative genius in the open marketplace. Last week, we talked about Google Books and copyright. Yep, it’s a smart group.)  From one of my previous posts on SJSU, you know that our university supplies the “workhorses” for Silicon Valley.  But, where do the Humanities & Arts fit? Where is the value in Silicon Valley? San Francisco State, just up the peninsula, seems to focus more on Liberal Arts and has the same number of students. I find myself asking how much influence the Humanities has in our university, especially the funding areas. Our Research Foundation seems to be more focused on the sciences in terms of grant funding, but that’s because the sciences bring in large grants (and Engineering & Business bring in huge donations)  — how do I know? Because of the glossy magazine they put out last week. But, where is the Humanities rep on the Foundation’s Board? I’m not sure that’s the answer to raise the profile of Humanities & Arts on campus, but it’s a place to start.

And, of course, I provide multiple notices about my furlough days & something funny on my office door.

A Word about Grading

This happens every semester. I mix my writing mediums for assignments. Some of them are on traditional paper, like a quiz or the midterm, others are in a discussion forum post and still others are emailed to me. It depends on the course and the technology intentions for the semester. If I can get into the groovy Incubator Classroom, we use Moodle (even though our university will move to Desire2Learn in the Fall). Other classes email their weekly writings to me and don’t have the benefit of reading each other’s work. In the Moodle-using course, they read each other’s work often and comment on it. Some students are extremely shy about sharing their writing with others. Indeed, some fear that they will not achieve the greatness of others. While I truly believe that reading each others’ work and providing comments can raise the level of conversation and writing, it can certainly also cause a hyper-awareness about inadequacies. And, I get it. After all, as academics receiving that scathing review is never fun. This semester, we (myself & students) have learned how to become better commenters and reviewers. They want comments about what they do well — more, they want more of this. I want more than the basic requirements fulfilled.  The Gothic Novel class, the one in the groovy classroom, is unique, though. These students are incredibly motivated and engaged with the material. (In fact, today’s presentation was one the best I’ve seen.)

This means that grading can be a nightmare sometimes. A forgotten assignment sitting in Moodle can fall outside the periphery of my memory. Or, the emailed weekly (low-stakes) writing can stack up if I don’t keep up with a continual loop of grading, interlinear commenting and shepherding ideas.  With 75 students this semester and 9 furlough days, this loop becomes intimidated very quickly.  The list — the running list of grading to be done. It’s like an Inbox. I can’t wait for it to hit zero, even if only momentarily.

All of this grading has required some re-evaluation this semester. How much are these weekly writings helping students to learn? Is it more fruitful for them to have those writings with them in class so conversations are more fluid? Do they really need to be graded? (I was giving check marks for years until it was obvious that it was too difficult to factor a check mark into the final grade.)  So, grading becomes about the economy of time rather than learning?  It becomes about what I can realistically handle? If this is true, then what’s the pedagogical imperative being fulfilled with these weekly reading responses?

I’ve already experimented with graded writing by removing the essay questions from my mid-term exams. I’ve never been satisfied with the responses. We’ll see what happens; I haven’t graded those yet.

What does all of this talk about grading have to do with Digital Humanities? Well, the transmission method certainly alters the amount of time I spend commenting on an assignment (more time on digital versions; more coherent comments on digital versions). Students also struggle with the medium: should they write their exams on a laptop or by hand. One out of twenty-five students preferred handwriting.  My expectations change for typed exams perhaps because students would have more time to craft and organize; plus, they would be mediated by the machine. With handwritten exams and quizzes, the experience is simplified: pen and paper.

I could be more efficient, use grading rubrics or Moodle’s grading features. But the online learning environment is not always consistent on our campus. [tapping fingers...hmmm]

Au Naturale

I move between paper and digital representations fairly seamlessly in my pedagogical world.  However, this is not always true with students. This morning, my English 10 TechnoLiterature students presented an intriguing and, well, quite frankly, a proud moment for me. This is a General Education course intended for non-English major Frosh and Sophomores. It fulfills a literature area that is required of all SJSU students, and this was my first time teaching it.  Really, it’s titled Great Works of Literature, and being the rabble rouser that I am, I thought we might do some “great” works that were “great” for different reasons: “Prometheus” (Byron), Frankenstein, “Rime of the Ancynt Mariner,” Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, A Clockwork Orange, The Passion of New Eve, all during the first part of the semester. After Spring Break, we’ll tackle cyberpunk (Mirrorshades), some general poetry (TBD), a little ELO Vol. I and round it all up with Patchwork Girl.

Today, we concluded talks about The Passion of New Eve. Admittedly, it’s a difficult book for non-English majors because of Carter’s fluid style and absurdly dystopic themes. We’re reading it because it represents a moment in biotechnology that is not realistic, even now. They hated it but in a good way.

That’s beside the point, though. A duo presented us with facts, information, themes and relevant allusions about the novel today. Surprisingly, when it came to provide reception and readers’ responses to this novel, the dynamic duo turned to the source that was most familiar:  AMAZON! They quoted extensively from readers’ reports and noted that some anonymous reviewers were required to read the book for a class and therefore provided a brief, acerbic review. Other reviewers chose the book for its ugly cover and found it to their liking. Yet others came to it because they enjoyed Carter.

I’m most impressed because the presenters came to this on their own. And they didn’t just give us the words of the reviewers; they critiqued the reviews.

This is an uncanny moment: Last week, the Stanford BeyondSearch research group (run by Matt Jockers & Franco Moretti) heard from doctoral student, Ed Finn, who is working on this idea that Amazon reviews are altering the reading practices (or commodification, anyway) of reading.  Interesting discussion which provided this uncanny moment today.

The Classroom

Often, our first tool is the classroom itself. SJSU has been upgrading many classrooms to Smart Rooms with a projector, VCR, DVD player and speakers, but as you can see, it’s also placed next to some very archaic equipment. My classroom for English 10 also has tables instead of chairs — a much more desirable situation than those desks.  Student sit in a u-shape so they can see each other. We still have the artifacts of bygone years, though.

Ironically, this group has yet to get to know each other. So, we collectively decided last week that students should be allowed to have free conversation about the readings before the class actually begins. We did that today (video). It got so loud that I had to yell to get them back (which was wonderful).  They were extraordinarily piqued by The Passion of New Eve, especially because it’s a novel about castration and graphically describes desire and sex.

Service

This is not so Digital Humanities, but it’s a part of my job. This year I get to read several applications for one of our department awards. The stack awaits pick up from my mailbox.