Five Digital Tools for Pedagogy and Research

As the academic year tumbles to a close, I would like to use my final blog post to discuss five tools that have made the past semester a little less precarious. Certainly, there are more advanced tools available, and I hope you will share them via the Comments thread. However, for this post, I simply want to focus on tools that I regularly use and rely upon to save time and frustration (if only a little).

ImageA no-nonsense shortcut utility for the Mac, TextExpander ($25 edu) has taught me the virtues of automation. Designed around shortcuts (Abbreviations) and the texts they expand (Snippets), TextExpander allows you to supplement your desktop’s keyboard shortcuts and to build forms using a bevvy of customizable templates. These templates can be as simple as custom email signatures (available system-wide), tools for validating and truncating URLs (Internet Productivity Snippets), or, my favorite, Fill-ins, with which you can create forms around predefined selections (Popups) and open fields (Fill-ins). Fill-ins have already saved me hours in writing midterm and final grade reports. (Thanks to TextExpander’s Statistics feature, which tracks and visualizes usage, I can report that the utility has saved me more than a dozen hours this semester). Once I started thinking about my reports in terms of what could and could not be automated, I realized that much of what I write in my headers and footers can be accomplished using three or four different forms. By creating several such forms, I allow myself more time for rigorous reflections on student work.

ImageWhen it comes to managing that work, TurnItIn (pricing depends upon your institution) has changed the way I evaluate research papers. After discovering that Fordham offers a free license for educators, I decided to use it for my students’ first batch of longer essays. I had noticed that despite our conversations about integrating and introducing research, many of my students were playing it fast and lose with outside sources, and I feared that there might be instances of academic dishonesty. Previously, when I harbored such concerns, I manually searched for phrases that sounded misplaced, a time-consuming and incomplete process. With TurnItIn, you can either ask your students to submit papers through the website or you manually upload files. After a couple of minutes per paper, the site calculates the essay’s originality, providing a deceptively specific percentage of that paper’s derivation (given that it doesn’t parse quotations, it’s advisable that you not take the score too seriously and comb through the document yourself). I found that I could open each essay and see where it might be derivative. TurnItIn annotates the document and provides access to the sources of those annotations. (If the source isn’t available publically, TurnItIn allows you to request access). This semester TurnItIn helped me identify two instances of academic dishonesty, which, on my own, would have required hours of additional searching

ImageMy biggest time saving tool, however, has nothing to do with my teaching. When it comes to tracking, managing, and sharing citations, I cannot sing more loudly my praises of Zotero (free). Zotero lives where most of us begin our research: the web browser. While it was originally designed for Mozilla FireFox (where it still works best), you can also download the standalone application, connectors for Google Chrome and Apple Safari, and word processor plugins (for Microsoft Office and LibreOffice/OpenOffice). With JSTOR and WorldCat, Zotero boasts particularly thorough integration; of search results you can tick off articles whose bibliographic information and content (such as full-text PDFs) you want to save. You can access citations via the Zotero button in your browser, where you can create folder hierarchies, export citations in just about any style, or view downloaded PDFs. If you register for Zotero’s free synchronization service (Zotero Sync), you can even access your citations on other computers. By default, you’ll get one hundred megabytes of storage, more than enough for citations alone, but somewhat miserly for PDFs. (After archiving twenty journal articles with PDFs, I exhausted more than a third of the allotted storage). If, however, you intend to conduct your research from one desktop, however, your machine’s hard drive is your only limitation.

ImageFor stubbornly material resources, the latest version of Delicious Library ($25) tidies up everything on your bookshelf, including books, movies, albums, software, and gadgets. Adding items is easy. If it has a barcode, you can scan it using your desktop’s iSight camera or a barcode reader. I added the vast majority of my books using my MacBook’s webcam, but for editions that predate barcodes, I found that I could add them using keywords, authors, and titles. In addition to acting as my iTunes for everything outside iTunes, Delicious includes a particularly dulcet feature: Loans. You can check out books (or anything else) to anyone in your Contacts, and thanks to the software’s interoperation with Apple Calendar, you set and track due dates. Given that I’m constantly swapping books with friends, this feature applies as much to me as it does my peers. (You don’t keep friends by absconding with their books).

ImageI’ve saved my final tool until the end because it is a summer project unto itself. If Apple’s Pages is Microsoft Word with a fresh coat of paint, Literature & Latte’s Scrivener ($45 with a 15% edu) is a gut renovation. Based on the premise that long texts (e.g., chapters, dissertations, monographs) are comprised of short texts, Scrivener allows writers to collect research, write in smaller, modular texts, and to compile fragments into cohesive manuscripts that can be outputted in just about any imaginable format (form Word docs to ePubs). Whether you’re working on a novel or a recipe collection, Scrivener offers a template; alternatively, you can start Blank, just as you would a Word doc. The interface has three main components: the document at the center (Editor); metadata to the right (Inspector); and text hierarchy to the left (Binder). In the Binder, you can store drafts or just about any kind of research (PDFs, images, documents). Everything in Scrivener can be manipulated using drag and drop operations and a host of different views and layouts. What I like about Scrivener is that is meets me where I am. Although my diss chapter will become a single, continuous text (fingers crossed), it doesn’t start that way. Instead, Scrivener allows me to work in small chunks of text (paragraphs, sometimes more), and to synthetize them into a Word doc suitable for my readers.

Presentation on “Digital Humanities” Graduate Course at Pratt) – 12/4/13

Last week, I presented to the Fordham Graduate Student Digital Humanities Group on the course I have been taking during the Fall 2013 semester at the Pratt Institute. While the class is taught in a Library Science Masters program, the professor (Chris Sula) and the bulk of readings and discussion are not library-specific. Below is a link to my presentation, which includes hyperlinks to several of the resources used in the class:Image of first slide of PresentationMy part of the discussion was to show how a graduate level course specifically on Digital Humanities can be structured. The benefit to the way this class was laid out (as well as the assignments required) has been the focus on learning about how this emerging field works socially, theoretically, and practically. This means that we did not focus on learning specific tools, although we were briefly introduced to and encouraged to play with several. Instead, we focused on what Digital Humanities research looks like; how is DH being adopted within/across the humanities; how to start, manage, and preserve projects; and, how to integrate thinking about the user into a project’s development.

After laying out this model, the group discussed whether such a course would be possible or appropriate to initiate at Fordham. Our discussion brought up a variety of concerns and ideas of how DH fits into the Fordham graduate experience – with respect to both research and teaching. There was enthusiasm for creating a Research Methods course for humanists (ex: for English and History students) to teach and discuss both traditional and DH methods of research. The thirst for integrating DH methods and traditional research was a promising result of this meeting.

Thanks to everyone who attended. We look forward to hosting some great events in Spring 2014!

Photo of Kristen Mapes– Kristen Mapes

Omeka Workshop Was A Success

The vast digital humanities tent can seem overwhelming at times. The easier path would be to sit by the pleasant campfire at the site next door and toast marshmallows. But as 15 Fordham University faculty and graduate students learned during the Omeka workshop on April 3, the barrier to entry into the tent is quite low. Alex Gil, Columbia University’s Digital Scholarship Coordinator, did a terrific job leading the workshop.

Alex Gil, Digital Scholarship Coordinator, Columbia University
Alex Gil, Digital Scholarship Coordinator, Columbia University

Omeka, as Wikipedia defines it, is a free, open source, content management system for online collections. It was developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, and was given a technology collaboration award by the Andrew Mellon Foundation.  Omeka is used by researchers, archivists, museum curators, students, and teachers.

For this workshop, Alex showed us a few notable sites–or exhibits, as they’re called–that use Omeka, including “Lincoln at 200,” a collaborative project involving the Newberry Library, the Chicago History Museum, and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Then he carefully walked us through the procedure for creating an Omeka exhibit. Workshop participants brought a diverse collection of material to work on: from medieval manuscripts to pre-Columbian art to personal photographs.

The group felt so enthusiastic about Omeka, that a few participants have decided to reconvene in a few weeks and help each other develop their work. Marshmallows will be served. If you missed the workshop and want to learn more about Omeka, you’re welcome to join us. More details coming soon.

The Omeka Workshop was sponsored by the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Fordham Graduate Student Digital Humanities Group.

Omeka Workshop Participants
Omeka Workshop Participants

Learn about Digitally Rectifying Maps at the NYPL

Wednesday, February 6, 2:00-4:00PM.
New York Public Library, 42nd St and 5th Ave.

The New York Public Library has kindly agreed to offer a workshop to Fordham Graduate Students who wish to learn how to use the digital mapping tool, Map Warper. Space is limited and available on a first come, first served basis. The NYPL Map Warper is a tool for digitally aligning (“rectifying”) historical maps from the NYPL’s collections to match today’s precise maps. This workshop is for anyone interested in learning a new digital tool, particularly for people using maps in their research. Sign up by following the link below.

Follow the Fordham Graduate Student Digital Humanities on Facebook.

NYPL Map Warper