#WIDH20 reunion for #dayofdh2020

The dayofDH is back in 2020. As far as I can tell, tweets to the hashtag stopped around 2017. It’s interesting to me to reflect on why this might be. Is it the decline of Twitter use in recent years? Is it the increasing specialization of digital humanities and less interaction between these sub-fields? Were digital humanities practitioners beginning to feel less isolated, or more apart of local conversations?

The last (re)tweet from dayofdh in 2017.

I suspect the decision to bring back Day of DH in 2020 is linked to the COVID-19 crisis and the rapid–uncomfortable and re-isolating–pivoting of teaching to virtual spaces in the Spring 2020 semester. This pivot has led to countless webinars and hybrid spaces online for DH practitioners to share their work, to learn from each other, to teach others new skills and to discuss new advances in the field–but also to bring crucial knowledge to urgent questions in their home environment, questions where digital humanities have a lot to offer.

Only a few months ago we met in Abu Dhabi for the Winter Institute in Digital Humanities, so for us, the occasion of Day of DH 2020 seemed like the perfect opportunity to reconvene our larger community (we called it a reunion) to reach out to each other, to reflect on our professional lives in this moment and to have a chance to catch up on how we have taken back home what we shared in Abu Dhabi.

We planned an informal, unrecorded, camera-optional, password-protected Zoom meeting. We had four lightning talks from a variety of participants engaged in digital scholarship, some discussion in breakout rooms around topics of community interest and a share-back about the groups’ conversations. Strong takeaways from the session were how aware we have become of infrastructure as a crucial element of our daily lives; how important librarians, technologists and the scholarly conversations around teaching and learning have been in helping institutions manage the disruption of the last months; and how we are leveraging creative means to reconnect with people, find new collaborators and to navigate the exigencies of these challenging times.

Lightning talks:

Sarah LaursenMiddlebury College (USA)The Museum is Open: DIY VR Tours
Wajahat MirzaNYU Abu Dhabi (UAE) Piloting the “Abu Dhabi Calling!” Project
Bushra JawalForman Christian College (Pakistan)Creating an OCR pipeline for Urdu
Lauren KataNYU Abu Dhabi (UAE) Opportunities of the “Remote” for NYUAD oral history collections

Breakout room topics:

Taking digital humanities back to my home institution
Privacy issues in the time of COVID19
Team work and social distance
Challenges/opportunities of the remote classroom
Recent work done in OCR/HTR
Minimal computing
Digital arts and humanities

We will have our get together on 28 April at 1500-1600 (Abu Dhabi time), that is, 700-800 (New York) | 1300-1400 (Berlin/Cairo) | 1900-2000 (Shanghai).

We hope to have another meetup mid-summer 2020.

From Brick to Click, Overnight

Draft version updated, 5 March (1945, GMT +4). Update begun 28 April. I will update this as I think more. The situation seemed to call for publishing it in draft form as I write it.

This semester all of the instruction in all of the institutions of higher education in my country of residence has undergone rapid conversion to online delivery. Not quite overnight as the title of my post suggests. School and university closures were declared necessary by the MoE for combatting the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

I have been teaching with an LMS and online presence for many years, and with student work in digital humanities (DH) done in web hosting for six. It may seem counter-intuitive that teaching digital humanities online would be difficult, but in fact, an undergrad DH class in a liberal arts (LA) environment isn’t a MOOC (Cordell). In a classroom where there is already a convergence of educational technology, we depend a lot on brick-and-mortar infrastructures (projectors/large screens, standalone and web-based platforms, seating configurations, the ability to move around the room) as well as the small classroom environment supporting both discussion and technical problem solving. The immediate switch to a synchronous online course raised so many issues in my mind. I had to think quickly what could be done to make the shift, almost overnight. I have my last face2face course on 5 March, for at least one month. My course is Reading Like a Computer, CDAD UH-1024Q at NYU Abu Dhabi. [note: Soon after this post was begun, the entire NYU system closed its doors to face2face instruction and work for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester.]

Luckily, the students in my course had web hosting set up and they had grown somewhat comfortable in it for course material delivery and the dissemination of their own written work (we also use Drive and an NYU-wide LMS to manage other functionality such as ). The suggestions for creating a rapport with students and setting up expectations that we find in the literature about online teaching are not as crucial since as I am writing this we have arrived at midterm–they will be in what looks probably to be a partially disrupted Fall term.

What follows are some ideas that I have been tossing around about online course delivery and some thoughts on how the complex ecosystem of an undergrad DH class can be merged more seamlessly with online environments, quickly and meaningfully, not to replace in person engagement, but to merge with it. I have been reading about an idea used in digital marketing to discuss the migration of traditional brick-and-mortar industries, not into fully online versions of their original selves) but rather into a hybrid, omnichannel services with a customer at the center. I don’t like to think of myself as particularly fond of business metaphors, nor of thinking about education as a transactional profession, but this metaphor taken from marketing has interesting resonances with student-centered learning within an environment of multiple channels of information in which we all see ourselves today, especially in the DH classroom. It appears to be the extension of blended learning thinking.

Can the combination of Zoom (the video conferencing built into the LMS), web hosting and other media work together to “help mimic the collaborative environment” of yesterday’s classroom (Bidaisee), or as digital marketing puts it, to allow the users to have a seamless experience between online and in person spaces? (Wagner) Right now the Zoom channel does not offer a cool place to hang out like the Apple Store. Instead, its functionality mimics quite limited classroom interactions and generally does not leave us asking for more. I think that the marketing solution of having a somewhat unified “tech backbone” (Wagner) is right, but what would that be? Would something like DHBox provide that? In my classes, we already have computational notebooks published, but they alone cannot be the core of the educational experience? Will Google Colab or something like it be the place of such convergence?

As we are in lockdown, but will no doubt be transitioning out of it, my gut feeling is that I will plan for a somewhat synchronous remote course in the beginning of the upcoming term in order to acquaint students with the tech stack, one that slowly tapers to a asynchronous or quasi asynchronous course. I am aware that these multiple channels are compromises and will never full be seamless, or technology transparent. How is it that I will insert myself inside and between these different channels so that the professor is still present? On the other hand, when classes resume in person, will such hybrid courses still be accepted, or rejected as artifacts of unfortunate times? What is the “architecture of engagement” (McKay) required to transition between channels? Is removing “friction between touchpoints” a dream or a worthwhile aim?” Is it even possible in an open source DH world?

What I would like to suggest here is that we might recuperate something of the idea of the omnichannel from its inherent focus in marketing on consistency, competition and customer loyalty in order to shift it towards the instructor’s goal of unifying a student-centered learning experience (Lynch). Keeping students focused within the field of multiple stimuli that they are working and helping them exist in complex strands of a course could be an interest point of focus in DH education where our workflows can be complex. Of course, we don’t want to collapse theories of consumer behavior (from which the omnichannel notion emerges) and critical pedagogies, and we want to install in students a critical acumen about those environments in which they are working, but there has to be something we can do to smooth out the experiences of a currently multichannel educational environment. How can we think about new forms of post-blended learning for DH pedagogy? Will the classroom instead become an extension of the class’s primary digital touchpoints–much like the browsing stores of today’s e-commerce ? Omnichannel thinking stresses, after all, leveraging digital platforms as a means of enhancing physical brick-and-mortar experiences. These are some of the fragments that have been in my thoughts under lockdown and that I will be thinking about spring and summer 2020.

Some reading I found :

Blankenship, W. 2019. What is Omnichannel Marketing? https://www.omnisend.com/blog/omnichannel-marketing/.

Cordell, R. 2016. 36. How Not to Teach Digital Humanities. In Gold, M. and Klein, L. (Eds.), Debates in Digital Humanities 2016. University of Minnesota Press. https://doi.org/10.5749/9781452963761.

Lynch, L. 2018. What Can E-Learning Industry Learn from Omnichannel? https://www.learndash.com/what-can-the-e-learning-industry-learn-from-omnichannel/.

Research Instructional Technology Services NYU Shanghai. 2002 “Digital Teaching Toolkit” https://wp.nyu.edu/shanghai-online_teaching/.

Spiro, L. 2012. 14. Opening up Digital Humanities Education. In Hirsch, B. D. (Ed.), Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics. Open Book Publishers. Retrieved from http://books.openedition.org/obp/1654.

Wagner, K. 2017. Omnichannel: Retail (r)evolution. TEDxHSG. https://youtu.be/5SAtdSM0Trk.

Student DH Zotero S19

This semester I asked my undergraduates at NYU Abu Dhabi to individualize their learning about topics related to digital humanities by building a Zotero bibliography in my Introduction to DH class. This Spring semester I reorganized the course around themes important in today’s society: computational thinking, digital identity, text as data, dataset, pattern, algorithm, network, location, with different experiments that allowed us to explore these concepts along a spectrum of more human- or more algorithm-centered activity. The Zotero library was an opportunity for them to connect learning in the larger theoretical issues with specific topics of interest to them. The students came from a variety of majors: Computer Science, Interactive Media, Arab Crossroads, Art History, Economics, Music, Social Science, and undecided freshmen.

Our Digital Scholarship head Beth Russell came into the class to introduce Zotero as a citation management system in the first weeks of the semester. By week 3 students had picked a general topic that corresponded to their own interests. Over the course of the term they refined the topic, curating 25 bibliographic entries, tagged and organized in foldesr. We got some very interesting Zotero group libraries. Feel free to build on their open knowledge!

Here are the topics that emerged from student interest in IM-UH 1511 in the Spring 2019 semester:

Generative Digital Art

Applications of Digital Art History

Emotional AI / Affective Computing

Human Matchmaking Algorithms

3d Printing Ethics

The Biometric Industry & Facial Recognition

AI and DH

Dark Skin and Facial Recognition in Photography, Cinematography, and Technology

Machine Learning Popularization

Big Data Analytics and Data Wrangling

Generative Adversarial Networks and Fake Faces

Digital Humanities and Education

DHIB 2019: Quantified Self

I offered a 10-hour workshop at the Digital Humanities Institute Beirut (DHIB), 4-5 May 2019. It is a miniature version of a course I will be teaching at NYU Abu Dhabi in Fall 2019. The slides are available at Zenodo here.

Brief description: This ten-hour workshop explored elements of the contemporary “quantified self” movement and its claims to “self-knowledge through numbers” focusing on contexts outside of the West/global North. It adopted a data-centered approach to gather, analyze and visualize data about the self in order to evaluate the phenomenon critically.

Preparation for the Workshop: Check out some of the 325(!) “Show and Tell” sessions here.

Requirements: Participants should come with a laptop and a updated smartphone (iOS or Android) with plenty of charge each day.

Outcomes. Participants in this workshop will:

  1. explore basic arguments in the contemporary context of self-tracking and the datafication of human life.
  2. be exposed to relevant issues in information privacy related to device usage and commercial data aggregation.
  3. collect some data about themselves in familiar surroundings
  4. practice data storytelling techniques reusing that data (map visualization, plotting).
  5. discuss to what extent these data reflect their own life experience, or constitute “self-knowledge”.
  6. examine critically the risks and benefits of QS applications for emerging and vulnerable environments.

Breakdown

Saturday 4 May, 0900-1130 — Session 1

  • introduction to quantified self (QS) movement and to its globalization in the public & health sectors.
  • discussion of data privacy, geo-privacy, app gamification.
  • exploration of the data collection capacities of a smartphone / wearable technologies.
  • lunch exercise: observing the data collection apps already on your phone.

Saturday 4 May, 1430-1700 — Session 2

  • exploration of self-tracking apps: their functions, gamified nature, benefits and drawbacks, the exportability of data
  • working with a couple apps to set up (temporal & spatial) data collection exercise for a one day period.

Sunday 5 May, 0900-1130 — Session 3

  • debriefing about data collection: findings and shortcomings.
  • discussion of a few short passages from critical literature on QS and media studies (Maturo/Moretti; Rettberg; Wernimont; Lupton).
  • exporting the data from the apps.
  • presentation of relevant data visualization techniques.
  • lunch exercise: completing your data collection, if you haven’t already at night.

Sunday 5 May, 1430-1700 — Session 4

  • reusing that data for storytelling purposes (map visualization, plotting).
  • wrap up.

For more information, see the bibliography of my forthcoming colloquium as well as the QS bibliography and 325 Show&Tell talks.