Guest Contributor Jesse Erickson, “Mediations and Multi-Modalities of Digital Scholarship”

In the academic paradigms of twenty-first century scholarship, the notion that technology is here to support our research is often taken for granted. What is lost in the expectation that such technology exists expressly for our collective benefit is the reality that countless hours of labor—both intellectual and manual—are involved in the production of the very resources we increasingly rely upon to conduct digital scholarship. The fact remains that these digital resources do not emerge “out of thin air.” Accordingly, having some knowledge of what goes into producing the more commonly used digital resources can help us to better understand some of the difficulties inherent to the processes involved with their production. Here is a brief list of some examples of these resources, the labor involved with their production, and the challenges one can encounter when using them:

1. Digital surrogate – The digital surrogate, otherwise known as a digitized primary source document, is a high resolution image of an individual item or a research collection. These can be surrogates of photographs, drawings, prints, manuscripts, printed books, monographs, correspondence, or a range of other materials. The items have to be physically scanned or photographed by specialists in order to produce the surrogate. Researchers should recognize that, as surrogates, not every physical characteristic of the physical item can be captured in the digital image. Some research questions might necessitate an analysis of the original source.

2. Online Index/Bibliography – These resources help researchers to navigate through a large body of primary or secondary sources. They are intended to promote either discovery or the singling out of relevant materials for one’s subject of study. Production of these resources is time consuming, meticulous, and involves both subject-level expertise and a knowledge of metadata standards. Researchers should understand that the level of comprehensiveness and the range of metadata will vary widely across different platforms.

3. Online transcript – The online transcript is a readable reproduction of a handwritten, audio, or even a printed physical document. Since the information must be manually typed into a word processing program and then coded for online access, researchers should be aware that the end result can include errors, deviations, and omissions when compared with their source of origin.

4. Oral History – The oral history is a multifaceted online resource that can include surrogates, indexes, and transcripts in addition to audio/visual files and born digital information objects. Ordinarily, there are a number of legal and privacy issues involved with the production of these resources which can delay or even prevent their public release. When consulting these materials, a researcher should consider that these resources can take anywhere from several months to several years to produce. They should also expect to find a wide variety of informational granularity from one oral history to the next with some examples containing audio or video recordings, some with transcripts, some featuring indexes, and others having all of the above.


Digital Writing Practices

The Course Goals and Practices of E110 tell us that students will compose print and digital texts:

The composition process is more than just putting words on the page or screen. In addition to writing print-based texts, you will also practice composing online, often making use of visual and audio forms.”

And this is exciting work! It represents an opportunity to thoughtfully and purposefully explore a range of textual production and consumption (and in between) with students. But, like all of our course goals and practices, it’s easier said than done.

I (Caitlin Larracey) spoke at the most recent faculty retreat to share tips, tricks, and frameworks behind digital writing. My slides are below.

There are a range of resources throughout the slides to direct your attention to scholarship about digital/multimodal writing, resources about assignments, and assistance with the technological side of it.

I wanted to add here though the insightful points added to our discussion by Alice Boone and David Kim. Alice talked about “playbor,” asking us to consider the platforms students use to write on in the classroom and the monetization of that work (that we often characterize as play). David noted that, though there may be “simple” or “easy” ways to consider digital writing in the classroom, it’s also important to have an understanding of the technologies that you are asking students to use – their interfaces and mechanisms, underlying assumptions and business models.

We welcome more discussion of digital writing in composition and hope these conversations can happen on the blog, in our classrooms, and at future professional development events.

Helping Students Engage with Complex Texts and Ideas

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Délice Williams led us in a wonderfully thought-provoking discussion about engaging with complexity in the classroom. Specifically, we considered how we (and how we might) help students to do this work with us. The full retreat notes – a list of texts and a list of practices – are below.

Teaching Complexity Retreat Notes

There were some patterns among the texts and practices, however, that might be useful to articulate as we work to build and revise our courses.

Patterns among texts:

  • Texts that engage identity, diversity, and difference (about race, gender, history, war, class, and intricate combinations)
  • Texts that discuss writing (about genre/mutt genre, digital writing, writing ability)
  • Texts that highlight students (about students, chosen by students, written by students)

Patterns among practices:

  • Articulating assumptions
  • Class debate and large-group discussion
  • Textual analysis (their own texts, peer texts, visually-based texts, verbal texts)
  • Writing (summarizing, responding, analyzing, reflecting)

The practices seem like those common and key to the classroom. These categories of texts (as well as those specific ones listed in the notes) may be useful launching points for engaging students in these practices.


Information Literacy and Threshold Concepts

Lauren Wallis, Meg Grotti, and Hannah Lee (superstars of the library) spoke with us during the fall 2016 faculty retreat about information literacy and threshold concepts, those “troublesome, transformative, irreversible, integrative, and bounded” ideas that signify long-term learning of integral ideas and practices in a particular field.

Lauren, Meg, and Hannah introduced us to information literacy’s current threshold concepts and asked us to consider how our goals in E110 aligned with these concepts. They also showed us how many of these concepts worked alongside the Writing Program Administrators’ framework. Below are the slides from their presentation and discussion.

This discussion also led to the introduction of the E110 fall 2016 library pilot project. The pilot

“aims to increase the impact of library instruction by introducing foundational skills and concepts prior to the class session, which can then be dedicated to hands-on learning related that helps students engage with your research assignment.”

The site also has a wealth of resources available to instructors (for students) in considering productive and purposeful information literacy. There’s also some sample lesson plans that consider how the concepts inform library instruction and research practices.

Lauren Wallis is the person to contact if you’re considering the pilot project or further support in information literacy; Hannah Lee can especially help you in your and your students’ multimodal and/or digital work at the Student Multimedia and Design Center.

Thanks to Meg, Hannah, and Lauren for sharing their expertise and advice with us at the retreat!