Soup to nuts: A recent piece of my writing that technology allows you to follow from idea to completion.Posted: October 27, 2016
I was discussing writing and editing with a student the other day, and somehow the question of how I worked came up. As it turns out, I have a very recent example where you can pretty much follow the entire process from start to finish.
In showing all my work like this, I’m not making any claims about the quality of my own writing or the efficacy of my method. It is just the case that in this case, modern technology allows me to show the entire process I happened to use in writing a specific piece that people can read in its final form. For some students, I suspect that’s useful.
If you are interested, here are the relevant links to my recent Globe and Mail Op-Ed on “preferred pronouns” and the entire history of its drafting (because I wrote it in Google Docs, you can follow the whole history from start to finish). If you want to follow the revision history, you can find it under “File>See revision history” or by using alt-ctl-shift-h.Read the rest of this entry »
An interesting discussion of form is encapsulated by the article “An Apology for Form; Or, Who Took the Form out of the Process?” by Richard M. Coe.
The article’s first premise is that form and content cannot exist without the other, which gives us an interesting consideration for our research. He says that content is created out of form, by to some degree dictating what will be written. Coe says, “[f]orm in its emptiness, is heuristic, for it guides structured speech. Faced with the emptiness of a form, a human being seeks matter to fill it” (19). Here, he directly addresses the five paragraph essay. He states that the reason students write three body paragraphs – not two or four – is because the form dictates that there are three empty spaces to fill. Therefore, the writer invents until he has three points to discuss. And then he stops.
Luckily, it’s not all cynicism. The author applauds people like Dan and Michael who are creating new forms to fill in the gaps. He says, “as rhetoricians, we should explicitly invent forms to meet new needs” (21). He also suggests that “a new form often must be created in order to express a radically new idea – and that knowing a form with which an idea can be articulated improves the likelihood of thinking that idea” (25). That is an interesting point to address why students are always coming up with same, rather dull and unoriginal ideas.
He ends by restating the importance of creating new forms in order to invent new ideas. So well done Dan and Michael, in creating an avenue for students to express themselves in previously unknown (or at least long-forgotten) ways. Coe applauds you.
For the last 15 years or so, I’ve been a big fan of rubric grading. I got the bug after reading a column by my colleague Robert Runte in our faculty association newsletter. Over the years, I’ve developed a variety of different rubrics, several of which have been adopted and adapted by my own colleagues (see here and here). Read the rest of this entry »
Apparently in 1917 people had a different view of the centrality of English professors…
When we consider our educational position, we teachers of English composition are in a fair way to become conceited. In view of certain featuresof our daily experiencethe dangerof becoming conceited may not seem imminent. But the outstanding feature of our position among pedagogues surely spells danger in that very direction. The practically universal assumption that our work is educationally indispensable is truly ominous (William Hawley Davis. 1917. “The Teaching of English Composition: Its Present Status.” The English Journal 6 (5) (May 1): 285–294. doi:10.2307/801590).
Based on a review of “500 quasi-experimental studies of writing instruction between 1963 and 1983” concentrating on those with strong research design.
16th Century France – de Montaigne develops what we call the essay, a group of works defined by critical thinking and their attempt at questioning.
16-18th Century Britain (Extends to 19th Century America) – Theme Writing – A type of writing giving explicit instructions for the formulation of an argument on a specific theme with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
1870-1920 – Current Traditionalism – A period of study that was characterized by a favouring of rules and regulation, especially in teaching methods, and resulting in increasingly standardized methods of assessment, often using versions of the five paragraph essay.
20th Century Germany – Essays are used as a tool to grade students on their understanding of a topic, in a form similar to what we would term short research papers.
Mid 20th Century – Standardized testing emerges across the Western world as an easily regulated method of assessment. Rather than teaching the skills that the tests measure, instructors begin a shift towards teaching students how to write from the standardized formula on the test.
Mid 20th Century to Present Day – Five Paragraph Essays have virtually replaced the open form of Montaigne’s origin. They are taught as the base on which to build an argument throughout a student’s school years, a process which most often carries over to secondary education. They have moved from being an assessment of knowledge to an assessment of writing.
I began this week’s rather broad search under the blanket of the question “How to we teach students to have good ideas?” This is not a very straightforward question, or answer, for that matter. Upon embarking on my search, I discovered this interesting fact: there is a lot of information on teaching creativity. However, there is almost none on teaching innovation or critical thinking. Is this a distinction, or a synonym? Does it matter? It is a subtle nuance, but I believe it represents the distinctions of our society and what it values.
Teaching innovation to students usually comes packaged in the outfit of the sciences. What does this suggest? That innovation is only valued in the practical and practicable arenas of the science world? But does this type of innovation help students write essays? We need them to be able to disassemble something, and rather than build something new, they need to be able to figure out a way to creatively tell you how it was built.
There seems to be a generally accepted theory that states that every child has within himself the ability to generate good ideas, and these ideas will naturally come forth if given the proper outlet, which, fittingly, is exactly what the Unessay suggests. Strategies for promoting creativity in students generally focuses on an open output formula, where the results are not specified and discussion and assignments are student driven. This would suggest that good ideas are generated from the individual, and it is within every students’ power to come up with them.
But, as most instructors have probably noticed, just because an idea is creative, that does not mean it is necessarily a good one. Are creativity and critical thinking the same thing? I think probably not.
But the consensus seems to be that if you give students the reins to discuss and question, they will figure out which are the good ideas and which are the bad ones. The simple act of discussion and engaging with the material lets a student know whether a topic is worth exploring or if it will be easily exhausted. But as the Unessay proves, students fare far better when given the chance to question and examine.
The most poignant truth I discovered when researching was simply this: we learn by imitation. We seem to believe that students come up with brilliant ideas from within themselves. But they must have learned what questions to ask and where to go for inspiration somewhere. As one theorist suggests, “when allowed to do what we want to do, we are most likely to revert to whatever we previously found enjoyable and/or successful”.
So what is the solution here? If we learn by imitation, yet students can also to a certain extent create innovation from within themselves, I think the answer is that we need to give them something good to imitate, that they can run with. The Unessay does that by allowing students to explore the areas that interest them while channelling the results and discussion into a scholarly format. If instructors could find a way to be more transparent about their own idea-generating process, and put more emphasis on teaching students how to tell good ideas from bad ones, and then let students run with it, I think the seeds of critical thinking would easily be born.
The New Humanities. The Place and Practice of the Humanities in an Age of Ubiquitous Networked Computing.Posted: July 19, 2013
This is the Letter of Intent submitted by Cathy Davidson, Neil Fraistat, Alex Gil, Allan Liu, Geoffrey Rockwell, and me to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Global Call for Ideas Competition.
Interested in the project? “Contact me”:mailto:email@example.com.
This proposal is about the future of the humanities. But it is not a story of despair, neglect, or decline.
Although humanities scholars and students are increasingly and vitally engaged with issues of broader societal import, discourseabout the humanities often seems stuck in an oppositional register—defining, and indeed at times perversely celebrating, their status as outsiders to or even foes of developments in the worlds of science, technology, and commerce (see Bivens-Tatum 2010).
This is despite the fact that there has never been a more exciting time to be involved in the humanities. The digital revolution that is transforming our world is vitally concerned with questions about the discovery, communication, and reception of culture, knowledge, and self-representation—questions that lie at the heart of humanistic research. The industries that have been most transformed by these new technologies include those with which humanities students traditionally have been most closely engaged. New forms of communication and social organisation are allowing the public greater access to—and opportunities to participate in—humanistic and cultural research. As a proponent of this LOI, Duke Professor and HĀSTAC founder Cathy N. Davidson, has argued, “if the humanities cannot make a case for themselves in the Information Age, something is very very wrong” (Davidson 2013).
It is time to address this disconnect. Our proposal to the CIFAR Global Call for Ideas is to establish a research network that will explore the place and practice of the humanities in this age of (near) ubiquitous, networked computing: investigate how humanities research can help us understand the impact of the ongoing technological revolution and how the technological revolution, conversely, can transform the way humanities research is carried out and understood.
These are questions that have broad implications. The place of the humanities in contemporary society is a current topic in policy, education, business, and technological circles. The impact of the digital on traditional humanities research methods and questions is being taken up by our major humanities funding agencies and scholarly societies. The conclusions this project will reach have the potential to affect the way governments set priorities, businesses and public institutions allocate resources, and individuals and families make decisions about their educational and employment futures. What is needed now is a high-profile, agenda-setting research network that will explore these issues and lead a transformative discussion of the role and place of the humanities in contemporary, networked society.
The humanistic web
The relationship between the humanities and contemporary networked society extends back to the creation of the Web itself. Although it was first developed at CERN, the World Wide Web was not designed to solve a physics problem. As the title of Tim Berners-Lee’s original memo suggests (“Information Management—A Proposal”), the technology that eventually became the World Wide Web was instead proposed as a method for addressing the age-old problem of document preservation, organisation, and discovery. The web’s unexpected value as a conduit for social and cultural information, moreover, became apparent almost immediately: the earliest web photo came not from a CERN experiment but publicity material for Les Horribles Cernettes, a comic singing group made up of lab employees and spouses (Riesman 2013).
The connection between the humanities and the web is also reflected in its engineering. Two of the most important technologies underlying the modern Social Web—XML and Unicode—were developed in part under the leadership of humanities researchers and drawing on the work of humanities research projects such as the Text Encoding Initiative, a twenty-year old humanities and library-science consortium led subsequently by the lead proponent of this LOI, Daniel Paul O’Donnell.
How the web was built, however, is far less important for our proposal than how it is used. From the moment the general public was first allowed access, communication, self-representation, information discovery, and cultural dissemination have been key to the web’s strong growth and global penetration. All but one of the ten most visited sites on web focus on these core activities: search engines and portals (Google , Baidu , Yahoo , Windows Live ), social networking (Facebook , Twitter , TencentQQ , YouTube ), and reference (Wikipedia ). Even the first pure vendor on the list, Amazon.com (8), began its existence as an online seller of books (Wikipedia contributors 2013). Similar activities, with the addition of games, also comprise the ten most popular smart phone applications.
The web’s overwhelming interest in the creation and dissemination of information and cultural material, coupled with an ethos that encourages users to research issues for themselves, has led to greater-than-ever popular engagement with the work of professional humanities researchers. Libraries and archives that post information about their collections online invariably see an increase in demand for their physical holdings. Humanities scholars with a strong online presence receive more requests for advice and enquires about their research than any but the most famous researchers of the pre-web era. New approaches to crowd sourcing and the rise of popular initiatives such as the Wikipedia have created a culture of popular participation and engagement in humanities research that has few historical parallels. And whether it is Steve Jobs arguing that an interest in the humanities provides Apple with a competitive advantage over its arch-rival, or Google developing high-profile tools and research programmes of immediate relevance to students of the humanities, business leaders too have begun to see the ability to understand technology and its place in the world from a humanistic perspective as a core economic and technical skill rather than a simply virtuous adjunct to more practical concerns.
The time is right for this kind of work. The last fifteen-to-twenty years have seen the rise of a critical mass of researchers with the requisite digital skills and humanistic training, a process in which Canadians and Canadian institutions have played an outsized role. These scholars are leading the introduction of new research techniques to the humanities and adapting more traditional methods to the digital age.
Just as importantly, they are also now leaders in the broader domain. Most organisations focussing on the integrative value of humanities research are led by digitally-active researchers, including the authors of this LOI: e.g. HĀSTAC (Davidson), 4Humanities (Liu and Rockwell), CenterNet and ADHO (Fraistat), GO::DH (Gil and O’Donnell), and the Praxis Network (Davidson). Many traditional humanities organisations and agencies, likewise, are led by scholars with a significant digital profile, including, in North America, SSHRC, the Modern Language Association, and numerous disciplinary societies. Funding agencies too have begun to cooperate internationally in the development of competitions on the integration of technology and humanities research. Recent government initiatives, such as the Canadian consultations on the New Digital Economy and, in the U.S., the appointment of Digital Humanists such as Davidson and John Unsworth to President Obama’s National Council on the Humanities, demonstrate the impact the “digital turn” is having at the policy level.
The pieces, in other words, are in place. What is missing is the catalyst that will allow this sense of moment to develop the kind of high-profile, transformative agenda a CIFAR-supported research network would support.
Canada has a history of excellence in pioneering the use of digital technology in humanistic study.
Early and innovative funding programmes such as the SSHRC Information, Text, Sound, and Technology (ITST) networking grants and the Canada Research Chairs programme helped Canadian researchers develop a strong national infrastructure of expertise in the area. Building on the work of Canadian pioneers, including Ian Lancashire, Willard McCarty, Christian Vandendorpe, and the Dictionary of Old English project, these initiatives have established Canadian researchers of the current generation as world leaders in both the new discipline of the Digital Humanities and the integration of technology into more traditional forms of humanistic research. Important contemporary Canadian projects include Synergies, Erudit, the Public Knowledge Partnership, INKE (Implementing New Knowledge Environments), ArticIQ, Global Outlook::Digital Humanities, and the world-leading Digital Humanities Summer Institute. Canadian researchers of the current generation with extensive international leadership in the discipline include Ray Siemens, Rowland Lorimer, Susan Brown, Peter Robinson, Christine McWebb, Kevin Kee, Chad Gaffield, Michael Sinatra, Stéfan Sinclair, and the Canadian members of the team behind this application, Rockwell and O’Donnell.
These people and projects are part of a wide and increasingly diverse global network of researchers, centres, and projects. These include the non-Canadian proponents of this LOI, Davidson, Fraistat, Gil, and Liu, and others ranging from Alliance of Digital Humanities Organisations and the Consortium of Humanities Centers to individuals with well-established international reputations such as, in the U.S., Kathleen Fitzpatrick (MLA), Laura Mandell (TAMU), Ian Bogost (Georgia Tech), and John Unsworth (Brandeis); in the U.K., Andrew Prescott (KCL) and Melissa Terras (UCL); Ernesto Priani and Isabel Galani (Mexico); Jieh Hsiang (Taiwan); Domenico Fiormonte (Italy); and Amlan Dasgupta and members of the Sarai project (India)—to name only a few of the many researchers and organisations around the globe who are engaged with topics of relevance to this call.
The core group behind this application are all leaders or emerging leaders in the Digital Humanities (corresponding authors marked with an asterisk). Cathy N. Davidson* is John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University, co-founder of HĀSTAC and the Praxis Network, and co-director of the MacArthur Foundation/Gates Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition. She was appointed by President Obama to the National Council on the Humanities in 2011 and is the first educator to join the six-person Board of Directors of Mozilla. Neil Fraistat is Professor of English and Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland. He currently chairs the international Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO), is Co-Founder and Co-Chair of centerNet, and is Vice President of the Keats-Shelley Association of America. His is also Co-Founder and General Editor of the Romantic Circles Website. Alex Gil* is a recent PhD (Virginia) and textual scholar at Columbia University, where he is Digital Scholarship Coordinator at the University Library. He is a founding officer of Global Outlook::Digital Humanities and organiser of the first and second Caribbean THaT (The Humanities and Technology) camps. Alan Liu is Professor of English at UC, Santa Barbara, founder of the pioneering early humanities portal, Voice of the Shuttle, co-founder and -leader (with Rockwell) of the international 4Humanities advocacy initiative and director of the NEH-funded Teaching with Technology project. Daniel Paul O’Donnell* is Professor of English at the University of Lethbridge, editor of Digital Studies/Le Champ Numérique, former chair of the Text Encoding Initiative, and co-founder of Digital Medievalist and Global Outlook::Digital Humanities. He is Principal Investigator of both the Lethbridge Journal Incubator and the Visionary Cross 3D visualisation project. Geoffrey Martin Rockwell* is Professor of Philosophy and Humanities Computing at the University of Alberta and a former Director of the Humanities Media and Computing Centre at McMaster University. He is currently the Director of the Canadian Institute for Research in Computing and the Arts and a network investigator in the GRAND Network of Centres of Excellence that is studying gaming, animation and new media.
Bivens-Tatum, Wayne. 2010. “The ‘Crisis’ in the Humanities”. Blog. Academic Librarian. November 5. http://bit.ly/19mSkN3.
Davidson, Cathy N. 2013. “It’s Not a Crisis in the Humanities, It’s a Crisis in the Society | HASTAC.” Accessed May 12. http://bit.ly/175HGuQ”.
Wikipedia contributors. 2013.“List of Most Popular Websites.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. http://bit.ly/14m3Mq3.
Riesman, Abraham. 2013. “Crossdressing, Compression and Colliders: The First Photo on the Web.” Motherboard. Accessed May 26. http://bit.ly/13jqWeb