Day of Digital Humanities 2013

I am participating in this year’s Day of Digital Humanities. So my posts today will be cross posted to a blog called “Bill’s Digital Intervention“. I urge you to dip into the wealth of digital knowledge and insight being produced over  at the Day of Digital Humanities headquarters or through the #DayofDH hashtag on Twitter.

When I signed up for the Day of Digital Humanities activities, they asked that I come up with a definition for the Digital Humanities.  This is what I said:

What is Digital Humanities?

The digital humanities are an intervention. The space of the humanities has entered a period of rapid technological change which has forced scholars to become aware of the tools that they use for understanding their texts. This situation has inspired a new, more robust discourse centered on both the tools that humanities use and the knowledge that humanists produce. The Digital Humanities (Digital History, Digital Archaeology, et c.) embrace *techne* as it informs their epistemology.

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Post 1

I think the goal of the Day of Digital Humanities is for us to post how we work in this field throughout the day. So this is my first post:

If the broadest definition of digital humanities sees it as an approach to humanistic inquiry focused on a particular set of digital tools, then it is perhaps most fitting to start my “Day of Digital Humanities” with a discussion of the tools. This past week, I received an automated email from a good academic journal’s Editorial Manager software asking me to peer review an article. The software was very straight forward, efficient, and I am sure that the journal found it useful for managing submissions and reviews.

That being said, I still don’t like it.

This software intervenes into a particular delicate area of our academic mission. We as professional scholars are expected to provide peer reviews of our colleagues works. This ensures that the work in academic journals and in our field in general upholds academic standards and advances knowledge. In general, this work is uncompensated. At the same time, publishers profit from our collegial obligations while restricting access to the final product. I have peer reviewed for journals to which I do not have access because I cannot afford the final product of my review.

Requesting that a scholar peer review an article is a sacred act. It expects a scholar to sacrifice their time and professional energies for the greater good of the field and discipline. Even in our digital age an automated message hardly seems befitting one of the fundamental transactions of academic life. That this kind of treatment may come from a publication produced for a profit and that limits access to the knowledge that my labor produced is particularly disheartening.

The tools that we use shape the knowledge that we create.

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Post 2

Paper and the Machine

If digital humanities increased the emphasis on the various technologies central to the production of humanistic knowledge, it also made clear that despite inroads of digital technologies across all areas of academic research, we still very much live in a hybrid world.

I spent the world conducting a peer review. I had dutifully printed out a paper copy of the manuscript and spent three hours this morning scrawling notes in generous margins provided translation of the text from its original A4 size to 8.5 x 11. I’ll then transcribe or summarize my notes from the paper margins to a Byword file on my MacBook Air and save it to the iCloud. Before I submit my review, I’ll cut it from the Byword file and dump it in a Microsoft Word file.

While I’m writing this I’m listening to music stored in digital files but played through analog headphones. We life in hybrid world articulated by the range of tools at our disposal. Digital humanities must be a hybrid endeavor, unstable, and subversive.

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Post 3

Making Text

I spend most of my days writing and the more I write the more tools that I use. I know it’s almost a cliche among digital humanists to have a bewilderingly cluttered desktop stretched over multiple monitors, but I suspect this super specialized interest in tools, workflow, and technology is a product of our seeing “digital” as a key heuristic for producing knowledge. It also creates a peculiar awareness of the tools we use in our digital worlds.

For example, I argue with a graduate student in our program over the relationship between the Apple hardware and software interface and aesthetic and my own workflow. I am comfortable in an Apple environment and that helps me be more productive because I can “imagine away” the interface and focus on the task at hand. Making the tool “invisible”, however, poses a risk for the critical digital humanists. The moment that we forget our tools we run the risk of pretending our tools don’t matter.

When I write this blog in the lovely and simplistic interface of Byword and then move it to the WordPress blog interface (for my Day of Digital Humanities blog) or into Mars Edit to post on my Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, I make a series of little decisions that locate my text in little networks of human and non-human actors. These actors do more than shape the context for my text (as if any text could exist separate from a context) but actually make the text itself. The audience, display, pagination, style, and words themselves, mark the text as the product of particular networks. In the digital world, these networks include the physical, electronic, and mappable world of software and the internets. As a digital humanist, I have to remember to feel the digital world.

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Post 4

Music, Mashups, and Multitasking

I spend most of day digital days listening to music. Some of it is streamed via Spotify, some of it is digital downloads, and some of it is ripped from CDs. As I continue to reflect a bit on my digital life, I was struck by how much more ubiquitous music has become for me. The portability and streamability of my music means that I can be as fickle as I like most days and interrupt albums and sometimes even songs. As I do this, I switch from one task to the next dancing across the open documents on my desktop with the attention span of a fly that’s got into some Red Bull.

Like my music I have the ability to move between various documents, texts, and media either by bringing them together in a single workspace like Scrivener or strewn across multiple applications and monitors. While we often hear that such workflows have eroded our students’ attentions spans and destroyed out ability to think deeply, it has also allowed us to operate in a comparative and transmedia framework that supports the growing convergence of communication tools.

Production of digital humanities, then, mimics our hope for the field. The fickle mind of the music obsessed scholar and compulsive multitasker produces and consumes technological mash-ups and demands that software and hardware support these work patterns. Everything must be happening all at once.

Social Media in the Oil Patch

I’ve been trying to interest some of my colleagues in the Communication program in a project that works to document the use of social media in the Bakken Oil Patch. So far, there have been no takers, so I thought I’d pitch the idea a bit more widely. 

Over the past 5 years, the use of fracking to extract oil from miles beneath the surface has transformed communities in the western part of North Dakota. For all the effects on the physical communities around Williston and Watford City, there has also been a parallel development in the region’s social media presence. From the rise of Greg the YouTube sensation (check out Kyle’s picture!) who describes on YouTube his struggles to make his way as a new arrival in Williston to the Real Oilfield Wives, a website and Facebook page, dedicated to the life of oil field wives. Facebook pages dedicated to Watford City Newcomers and My Life in Williston share space with pages dedicated to Watford City’s new Indoor RV Park and the tragedo-comic Bakken Oilfield Fail of the Day. The business oriented the Bakken Dispatches speaks in the same forum as the Facebook page, This is Mandaree, which documents the influence of drilling in the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation. Amy Dalrymple’s Oil Patch Dispatch provides news from the patch in a blog type format. The North Dakota Petroleum Council maintains an active Twitter feed. A simple search for #Bakken on Twitter provides a significant insight into the range of activities present in social media outlets. Photographers and documentary makers share space with local businesses catering to the Bakken boom. While I am not trained in the study of social and new media, I have been pretty interested in how Facebook and Twitter collapse the distinction between various voices. Industry advocates (driven in part by marketing strategies) stand shoulder-to-shoulder with support groups and critics of activities in western North Dakota. The interaction between media outlines, critical voices, individuals, and communities provides a window both into the nature of these new media voices and the emerging communities of the patch. Some student, somewhere, needs to analyze this to understand how these virtual communities, marketing strategies, viral phenomena, and twitter strategists contribute to how we understand the Bakken and the North Dakota oil boom  at the intersection of community, individuals, and technology.

In other, somewhat related, news from the Bakken, we were a bit shocked to hear that there was a stabbing death at the Capital Lodge in Tioga. This is where we tend to stay when we’re out in the Bakken. Sort of a bummer.

Managing Archaeological Data in the Digital Age

This week I’ve begun work on a paper that I’ll give with my colleagues David Pettegrew, R. Scott Moore, and Sam Fee at the Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual Meeting in Seattle in January. The paper is titled “Archaeological Data and Small Projects: A Case Study from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project on Cyprus” and it will be for a panel called Managing Archaeological Data in the Digital Age: Best Practices and Realities.

There are three main themes to this paper: first, small projects tend to use more off the shelf software for data collection and distribution; second, small projects have limited resources for high-visibility, longterm archiving of data; and finally, small projects feel more acutely the tension between creating datasets that best fit small scale and sometimes idiosyncratic goals and adopting data standards established by larger projects which often have more substantial resources. In general, these three themes seek to explore how projects with limited resources engage the standards, agendas, and conversations about data management that often originate in larger, better funded, and more established projects.

The goal of this paper is not to complain about the “plight” of small projects in a big project world. What I hope to do, rather, is to show how certain technical limitations shape the way in which small project think in archaeological way and produce archaeological knowledge. This is in keeping with recent scholarship that has considered the organization of a project as a key element in understanding the production of archaeological knowledge. The social organization of archaeological practice both provides a context for and is influenced by the technology available for a project. In other words, the tools at an archaeologist’s disposal and the way in which these tools are used both inform practice.

As an example of this, small projects tend to rely more heavily on off-the-shelf data recording tools – like Microsoft Access for creating databases and ESRI’s ArcGIS for managing spatial data. While this software is easy enough to manipulate in simple ways, it is more difficult to design a data recording in ways that allow multiple users to enter data simultaneously. The Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project recorded data in the field on paper forms and individuals then entered this data into our databases either one-at-a-time during the season or after the season had concluded. As a result, data entry became a bottleneck as it conformed to the limitations of our project’s technical knowledge and the software at our disposal.

So data recording begins in the field where each member of the team is responsible for some part of data collection – whether it is collecting and counting sherds in field survey or participating at the “trowel’s edge” in excavation. The trench supervisor or team leader takes the data produced by the field teams and their input to create an authoritative (at least by institutional dictum) account. This account then is keyed into a database and documented spatially in GIS. This last step is done at a significant remove from the field. The collective and collaborative act of generating archaeological field data becomes a more solitary act of converting this data into a form usable by existing technology. The more technically demanding the interface and the analytical tools available, the more attenuated the link between the experience of archaeological work in the field and the data it generates becomes. 

Projects with more robust technological and intellectual infrastructures have begun to experiment with ways to allow for greater integration between fieldwork and computer work. Using iPads in the field – as our small project experimented with this summer – offered ways to streamline the relationship between data collection in the field and the production of digital data.  Closing the gap between fieldwork and data production has any number of benefits for the kinds of archaeological knowledge produced, the most obvious benefit is to problematize the tendency for digital technologies to smooth field experiences to fit within limited ontologies of most off-the-shelf digital applications. It becomes harder to accommodate a digital interface or data structure which fails to capture an immediate archaeological reality in the field when holding a trowel, artifact, or observing a stratigraphic relationship.

This kind of immediacy, however, comes at a cost of scarce resources at the disposal of most small projects.  The tools at our disposal, in this example at least, dictate to some extent the kind of data and the types of archaeological knowledge that our project can produce. My paper will examine a number of these small project examples to problematize the relationship between archaeological tools, social organization, and knowledge.  

(For an earlier effort to explore these issues, check out this paper from 2010.)

Some Photos from the Working Group in Digital and New Media Showcase

When I started this blog several years ago, I regularly included more news-like updates about my day to day academic life (whether here in North Dakotaland or in Athens, Greece). At some point, the blog drifted more toward being a research journal. In the end, I don’t have a tremens personal or ideological commitment to one form of blogging or the others.

So, I’ll offer some photographs from last Tuesday’s Working Group in Digital and New Media event at the Firehall Theatre in Grand Forks.  The presentations were lively and the food was amazing (and generously provided by the Cyprus Research Fund).

The photos are by Ryan Stander.

TheCrowdThe assembled masses

AlbertsasMCProf. Crystal Alberts served as an able M.C.

WorleyOne of Prof. Paul Worley’s characters from the Yucatan where he works with Prof. Joel Jonientz to produce Maya language animated films.

TravisProf. Travis Dessel, the newest Working Group member, discusses the use of volunteer computing to document Wildlife@home.

ChampionGraduate Student Jim Champion presents his marvelous melting sculptures

PaschWittgrafProf. Tim Pasch and Prof. Mike Wittgraf make digital music together

The event saw over 50 people come out to see the fantastic digital and new media works of my colleagues, and we considered that a great crowd for the first effort to showcase the efforts of the Working Group in front of the wider university and local community.

 

Teaching Thursday: MOOCs and Collaborative Writing

There has been a ton of buzz lately about Udacity. Udacity is a company developed by Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig  two other robicists, David Stavins and Mike Sokolsky. They offer Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) on various topics related to robotics and technology to literarily tens of thousands of students per course.  This company grew out of Thrun’s and another Stanford professor, Peter Novig’s, courses in Artificial Intelligence at Stanford which they opened to the world as MOOCs. Here’s an article in Wired about it and here’s an article in the New York Times.

As I have noted before, I find this ideas amazingly cool. I even proposed a similar program focusing on humanities classes here at the University of North Dakota. My theory was that classes in the humanities – particularly history – already have a strong following among students who find the topics and stories particularly appealing. After all, we all know the well-worn story about how a series of podcasts on Byzantium attracted worldwide attention. A few meetings with our technology folks convinced me that these courses could be opened to the world without undue strain on our technical resources. Finally, I knew there was a real interest and tradition of outreach on our campus that would eventually allow a program like this to expand. Unfortunately, as happens to so many ideas, my proposal never made it through the university administration.

One of the recurring concerns with MOOCs is that universities are loath to give students free credits for completing the courses. Students who commit the time and energy to the course, however, want some kind of recognition for their efforts. Recently, Udacity has begun to offer certificates of achievement for completing their courses.

As I worked on a proposal for a History 101 class to run in the UND’s new Scale-Up classroom (here and here), I began to wonder whether one approach to giving students a sense of accomplishment for a MOOC would be a collaborative writing project. If a History 101 course introduced students to the basics of historical methodology, grounded that in some basic writing skills, and provided a solid structure for collaborative writing, would it be possible for students to produce a custom textbook for the class? The book writing process would focus student efforts over the course of the semester and produce something of enduring value to the students in the course.

There are obvious issues to my plan ranging from potential copyright problems to course design and the technical aspects of shepherding students through the writing process. One consequence of the large size of most successful MOOCs is that the instructor tends to present content and provide far less day-to-day feedback to individual students. A course centered on something as methodologically complex as writing a textbook, would require a course design that encouraged students to collaborate in a critical way and provide one another with the kind of consistent feedback that would usually come from an individual faculty member.  With some trial and error, however, I am pretty convinced that it is possible to overcome this hurdle. After all, sites like Wikipedia have managed to self-police their content and provide a rather remarkable degree of consistency, accuracy, and perspective.

The value in collaborative writing is less in the final product and more in the process. Collaborative writing is a great method to expose students to the diversity of perspectives on the past and to encourage the construction of sound historical arguments. A well-managed MOOC that clearly communicated the core ideas of the historical method could serve as an exciting platform for the collective and collaborative production of knowledge.

Thinking about Teaching History in a Scale-Up Classroom

I was pretty excited when I received word that the University of North Dakota’s Scale-Up classroom is almost ready and accepting applications for classes in the Spring of 2013. The Scale-Up classroom is designed to foster an “active learning” environment in courses that have large “lecture sized” (100+) enrollments. The students are generally seated around smaller tables in groups of 8 to 10 – almost cafeteria style – and typically have access to computers. The design of the room makes it easier to implement collaborative activities and to promote an “flipped lecture” type environment where students teach one another and remain engaged in problem centered learning.

To this end, I’ve begun to propose a rather unconventional history course ideally suited for the Scale-Up environment:

The large survey class has changed radically over the last 20 years. The traditional arrangement of the class positions the faculty member as the “sage on the stage” and the students in the audience in order to maximize the number of students exposed to the content in a controlled environment. This organization has gradually given way to more dynamic and interactive arrangements between student and teacher. While the much-maligned jargon of “active learning” has lost favor in recent times, there is no doubt that a greater degree of interaction between faculty and students has become increasingly normalized within pedagogical literature and day-to-day teaching practices of faculty.  At the same time, enrollment pressures, efficiency expectations, and old habits have continued to support the presence of large lecture style classes particularly at the introductory level. Occasional efforts to flip or invert the lecture have met with the typical difficulties: large classes, lecture bowl style seating, and limited space for students to meet, work, share, or write.

In recent years, the rapid expansion of digital technologies has offered ways to overcome the physical limits of the classroom.  Discussion boards, integrated social networking components, and the use of new and multi media delivery systems have expanded the educational environment beyond the physical confines of lecture hall, distended the concept of learning communities, and challenged the tension between groups and individual learners.

Despite the expansion of the digital frontiers and a continuously renewed commitment to “active learning” and “flipped lectures”, traditional textbooks persist as the main way in which students encounter “content”. Traditional textbooks are generally linear, unappealing, and expensive obstacles that many faculty feel as compelled to work around as to justify to their students. Remarkably the history textbook of the 21st century is structurally similar to the textbook of the mid-20th century, even if the content has changed to suit new academic fashions and tastes.

My proposed use of the Scale-Up classroom is to create a History 101: Western Civilization course where the students write their own textbook. This takes its inspiration from recent discussions of inverting the lecture, conceptual literature projects that compose journals or edited books in a fixed span of time,  collaborative spirit behind projects like Wikipedia, and the socially disruptive “DIY” practices associated with the edu-punk movement.

The course itself will be based upon my experiences teaching with both flipped lecture style History 101 class and teaching a similar course online. My flipped lecture classroom met once a week at night and featured 6 break out style groups who would meet weekly prepare responses to discussion questions based on primary sources. In an online version of the class these discussion questions became part of an online discussion board where the students responded both to prepared questions and their fellow student’s posts. Both techniques created an environment where students learned from one another rather than from a set lecture. The groups were generally big enough that better students and responses drove out the worse, and better students tended to model the quality for those less clear on the expectations of the class. At the same time, I have experimented extensively with wikis that allow students to produce collaborative, synthetic collections of weekly notes. I have also gained experience with using Twitter in the class to create social networks for the students that allowed them to forge a sense of community and to communicate in a transparent and immediate way.

 

The main goal of the Scale-Up History 101 Course will be to produce a synthetic History 101 textbook. The class will break into 15, 10 person groups, each responsible for a 5000 word chapter in the textbook. Using online resources, collaborative digital and classroom work spaces, and a restructured history lecture which focuses on methods, key interpretative themes, and techniques for writing history, students will be asked to invert the traditional educational process where students go from learning history from a faculty member, a textbook, and other economically and politically repressive arrangement to producing a textbook in a space where the tools and material of history are available in a far more democratized way than traditional introductory history lectures.

The advantage of the Scale-up classroom is that it will foster an integrated, simultaneous, realtime physical and digital environment that will allow multiple individuals to develop resources collaboratively. Wiki style text interfaces (even if managed through an off-the-shelf product like Google Docs) allow multiple students to edit a single document simultaneously and allow the faculty to track total contributions to a document.

At the same time, students will also have access in a group format to various resources on the web ranging from Google Earth to content sources like Wikipedia, digital primary source texts, digital open access textbooks, and new and multimedia resources.

I have a ways to go yet on this proposal and because of tricky time commitments over the summer, it seems unlikely that I’ll be in the first cohort to use the Scale-Up classroom. It is still really exciting to be part of the process of re-imagining learning space on campus.

 

Fritz at 50 Poster at the Scholarly Forum

As the final project for my digital history practicum, I’ve been asking the students in the class to prepare a poster for the University of North Dakota’s Graduate School’s Scholarly Forum. The Forum is the largest annual research meeting on campus and it gives us a chance to show off the class’s hard work from the previous semester.

Fritz at 50 posterSM

Here is a bigger version of the poster as a jpg or as a pdf:

Special credit goes to Daniel Sauerwein, one of our Ph.D. students, who took the lead on preparing the poster and dabbled in the arcane by working with Adobe Illustrator.

And special credit also goes to my lovely wife who makes the Scholarly Forum possible every year. The poster session was probably the most dynamic research event held on campus!

 

Digital Humanities and Professional Advancement

This afternoon I’m getting together with some of my colleagues from the arts, social sciences, and humanities to discuss the place of digital humanities in professional advancement both on campus and in our disciplines more broadly. The meeting will occur under the auspices of the Working Group in Digital and New Media and be the first attempt to use the standing of our group on campus to address pressing concerns facing scholars working in digital and new media. The goal is to identify key issues that impact all of our positions on campus and to produce a white paper for administrators, the university senate, and colleagues over the winter months.  We hope to pay particular attention to potential limitation in existing tenure, retention, and promotion policies that could discourage or inhibit the advancement of scholars active in the digital humanities. Since our group includes members from across campus our focus will naturally be broad.

Assembling a sensible list of concerns facing scholars who work primary in the digital realm is difficult. The issues range from the very basic – like very limited understanding of the differences between digital and print projects – to the more complex: inconsistent infrastructural support, uncertain attitudes toward collaboration, and the lack of established metrics to evaluate scholars who work heavily in the digital realm.  We do not have a plan or a list of priorities for the meeting (in part, the goal of the meeting is to establish a list of priorities as we move forward), but I’ll offer my own list of things that should be on the agenda.

1. Institutional Support. The greatest problem facing digital humanities (and I include digital history and archaeology in this group) is the lack of institutional support. On the one hand, with any new approach to organizing and producing knowledge, a lag between institutional adaptation and the development of the field is to be expected. On the other hand, the humanities have traditionally received only modest funding for research. This has become particularly problematic for digital humanists since much of their work relies upon (relatively) expensive technologies (hardware and software), access to specialists, and resources for developing new collections of research material. In the hard and applied sciences, start up grants would help to defray these costs and these are often funded from “indirect costs” produced from grants awarded to more established scholars. There are fewer resources for such start up funds in the digital humanities (although they are not entirely absent), in part, because there are very few indirect costs produced from traditional humanities research. In order to generate a pool of funds to support digital humanities start-up costs, the institution must make the initial investment. And for the institution to make this investment, they must see the potential for a return.

The primary problem with the lack of start up funding in the digital humanities is that it delays the production of scholarship by new faculty or faculty new to the digital humanities. As a result, new faculty in the digital humanities must spend time securing resources and building infrastructure for their own research and this delays the ability of faculty to be competitive for external grants, for example, and to produce material for their own internal advancement.

To have a successful group of scholars in the digital humanities, a greater investment in sustaining infrastructure and in early career support for faculty with digital research needs.

2. Collaboration. Synergy is one of the newest watchwords at the University of North Dakota. From what I can gather, it refers to collaboration on campus that produces more energy than it expends. Fortunately, the digital humanities has long relied upon dynamic synergies to meld traditional concerns of scholars in literature, history, and archaeology with digital technology. This combination has then produced new approaches to long-standing problems and opened up new venues for scholarly and creative inquiry. Collaboration, however, has not always squared with traditional scholarly approaches in the humanities. Co-authored research, grants, and co-directed projects often stand at odds with traditions of solitary scholarly work, and this has challenged departments as they seek to evaluate new collaborative ventures in the humanities.

As scholars engaged in collaborative synergies, we have a responsibility to educate our colleagues as to the nature and challenges of collaborative scholarship in the humanities. In doing this, we have the opportunity to create new paradigms of collaboration that are less dependent upon this generated in the hard and applied sciences. In particular, we can advocate approaches that downplay the key role of a single “primary investigator” and demonstrate how scholars can contribute to projects in ways that deserve equal credit.  Moreover, we can advocate for policies on campus that both reward and facilitate collaboration in scholarship and teaching across departments, programs, and colleges, as well as on the national and international level.

3. Publishing Problems. Perhaps the most practical issue facing scholars in the digital humanities is the impact of digital scholarship on traditional modes of publishing. In a simplest sense,digital humanists regularly produce scholarly and creative works (video, databases, electronic texts, et c.) that are incompatible with or fall outside the traditional limits of print scholarship. More importantly, perhaps, they are often asked to develop their own means of dissemination, review, and preservation of these scholarly work (and at institutions that lack a substantial digital infrastructure the problems of dissemination and preservation of digital work are particularly acute).

More importantly for individual scholars, the criteria for evaluating digital scholarship and creative work remains in the state of flux. Digital, peer-review journals are now sufficiently well regarded outlets for born digital and new and multimedia publications. Unfortunately these kinds of publications are only suitable for a tiny fraction of the output from digital scholars who increasingly work in media and genres that do not necessarily have a tradition of peer review or do not measure their impact through traditional methods of citation tracking.

As with all emerging academic areas, scholars in the digital arts and humanities have a responsibility to educate their colleagues and institutions about the challenge they face and the opportunities that their work provides. Producing a ‘white paper’ from the Working Group in Digital and New Media will be a local step toward making the University of North Dakota a better home for scholars in these exciting new fields.

Planned Obsolescence

This weekend, I read over Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (NYU 2011).  The book does pretty much what the title says. It explores the impact of technology on academic publishing and the role it plays in transforming academic discourse (and, potentially, university life). The book provides a nice overview of recent innovations in the area of peer review (including open peer review), challenges to the idea of authorship and texts, as well as some considerations of preservation in the digital age. A more speculative chapter considers the future of university presses in light of the changes outlines in the first four chapters. While the book does not necessarily say anything novel for people who are familiar with the basic structure of the debates on digital publishing and academic, the book is clear about the interdependence between professional standards and the health, vitality, and relevance of academic publishing.

In general, Fitzpatrick views scholarly publishing as divided between producers and consumers, and this is clearly the case. Consumers represent the libraries, academic departments (hiring promotion, and tenure committees), and other scholars. Producers are the various scholars who rely upon academic work to promote their ideas and, ultimately, their careers. Of course, producer and consumer can switch positions throughout their careers as producers of academic works typically serve to evaluate the academic work of their peers. At the same time, in this model, the decisions (and perhaps even the responsibilities) to accommodate the transformations in the publishing world appear to rest squarely on the shoulders of the various consumers of academic texts.  The reality is, of course, that some of the willingness to recognize the value of digital texts of various kinds – whether they are blogs, electronic journals (or books), or other more dynamic and interactive kinds of texts – has to come from scholars who are producing scholarly works as well. In other words, scholars have to recognize in a critical way the value of digital texts for their own work.

To explore this idea a bit more deeply, I decided to look at Fitzpatrick’s bibliography and reflect on how much of her book drew upon digital texts of various kinds.  My study was pretty unscientific, but I tried to be consistent.  I created a spreadsheet of the 350+ publications cited in her bibliography. Then, I separated works in her bibliography that were “primary sources” such as an “About” page for a web service, reports from publishers, or a general address for a blog. These represented about 18% of her bibliography.  From the group of “secondary sources” (ranging from traditional books and articles, to blog posts, digital articles, ebooks, or even comments on blog posts), I also culled out “popular” sources – like articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Time, or the New York Times that mostly served as primary sources but also contributed to her arguments in various ways.  These were almost entirely digital in form.

So here are the digits from the academic works:

53% were cited in paper form, and 51% of these were books and 49% were articles.

47% of her academic citations were in digital form. 4.5% were digital books of various forms, 35.7% were articles published digitally, 38.4% were blog posts, and 21.4% were comments on blog posts or on manuscripts in CommentPress.

The average age of a paper citation was 12.2 years old; the average age of a digital citation was 4.5 years.

The point of this little statistical exercise was to suggest that even scholars agnostic toward digital publishing will like come to accept the new forms and media as quality academic works come to engage and rely on digital publications. The producers of both traditional works and digital works are consumers of digital works as well.

Working Group in Digital and New Media Annual Report

People who read this blog know that I have a super abundance of ideas. In fact, I have a category for ideas (it’s my idea box).

My idea for offering massive open online courses here at the University of North Dakota did not come to pass.

My scheme for a “teaching sabbatical” where faculty are released from other responsibilities to just focus on teaching vanished into the ether.

My plan for block-by-block local history may be stillborn. There is no new media portal for archaeologists (yet).

Archaeology of North Dakota man-camps is simmering (and the grant writing is underway), so it still has some life to it.

Sometimes, everyone once-in-a-while, an idea that I helped to cultivate does come to fruition.  This past week saw the publication of our Working Group in Digital and New Media 2011 Annual Report. The report documents the project undertaken by a group of faculty here at UND in conjunction with the Working Group in Digital and New Media. This is the second fully functioning year of the Working Group’s existence. The Working Group received an initial infusion of cash based on a White Paper submitted to the University President in response to a call for new collaborative ideas on campus. Since that time, the Working Group has receive no additional funding from the University, but has continued to provide space for and to foster innovation and collaboration in the digital realm.  So check out the report below. I prepared the text (based on small reports from the various contributing faculty) and Joel Jonientz prepared the design:

For the 2010 annual report go here.