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Report for the End of the Day

The Day of DH draws to a close and thus so does this small experiment in blogging on my activity for the day.  It was good to have this day to bring the course website, which I have worked on here and there since August, up to a certain level of completeness.  It’s not done yet, and that’s fine, since (1) the fall semester doesn’t begin for another three months and (2) the format allows/encourages fiddling even when the semester is underway.

But for now, here’s what I’ve got, in the meaty parts of the site:

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 4.57.27 PM

To the right of the spiffy little slide show (kind of a beauty pageant for ancient and medieval architectural history) are a series of buttons with materials that are “internal” to the class:

syllabus: links to a pdf of the old-fashioned, four-page, paper syllabus

calendar: ditto

assignments: will list/explain course assignments within the website page, allowing links to tools, helpful websites, and other web-based resources for student use on particular assignments

glossaries: to be built up through the semester, these will probably be Thinglinks (see “Greek” for an example that works right now) that act as visual glossaries and study aids for discipline-specific vocabulary

images: lots and lots of study images, snatched via Google Images (with the “labeled for noncommercial reuse” filter), organized by subject sections.  Voted Most Likely To Experience A Broken Link, but time will tell.

gradebook: like syllabus and calendar, will link to a pdf that shows students (who register for the service & provide a PIN) their grades and standing in the class.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 4.57.31 PM

To the left of the “History in the News” box that will be changed up when I run across relevant items of interest, more buttons, but these “external” to the class:

facebook: links to my “virtual office” that students can elect to join

voicethread: links to the menu of voicethread presentations that are a required part of the course

maps: links to a series of maps I worked up through Google Maps Engine* that show all the sites we visit in class, meant to be a teaching/learning tool on its own, to study both settlement patterns and also the patterns of historical interest in ancient/medieval cultures.

That is where the project comes to rest now.  Just about everything can still stand a little more attention, either for basic structural work or at least a little spit-shine.  Another important matter to address is how to put these tools in the hands of students and encourage them to take the reins through their study, assignments and other coursework.

Stay tuned!

*I recently ran across articles that suggest that the Google Maps Engine might be on its last legs; this is not just a concern for this particular tool I want to use for the class, but generally speaking, reminds us that all this great stuff that lives on a cloud somewhere is only as secure as the servers and programs and updates and further support that go into the programs that run them.  And suddenly those 35 mm slides and paper-copy syllabi look pretty good again.


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Building a Class Website

Now, I am no expert here.  I am just a prof with 15 or so years behind me, in the generation of folks who have seen the digital revolution up close and personal.  The fact that I went to college as a freshman with a typewriter and left grad school on my second or third laptop says a lot.

The digitization of everything has opened great new options for teaching but also posed some headaches.  On the plus side, the fact that I no longer have to sort slides in a tray prior to every class meeting is a huge win; the can’t-miss-’em monuments exist in handy PowerPoint slide shows that are three or four clicks away.  On the negative, I was never sold on laptops and other keyboard-enabled note-taking devices in class, and recent studies have backed up my suspicions.  They are bad.  Students will continue to use the oldey-timey technology of pens and notepaper in my classes, even if they have to do it through weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So, I am trying to be pretty thoughtful and selective about how to manage the class through online resources (make no mistake, this is not an “on-line class;” we still meet in a room, three times per week).  Most of what happens here, I think, can be divided into one of two categories:

  1. digital delivery of traditional materials: links on the website open PDFs of traditional course materials (calendars, assignments, etc.)
  2. all-digital format: pages on the website have active elements, e.g., thumbnail images that link to big versions of the image for study purposes, a calendar that includes links to study materials

One of the concerns I have, and which requires this split approach, is the threat of making too much of a big deal about the technology and allowing it to get in the way of the material.  I resist the Celebration of the Gizmo.  I also recognize that the myth of the “digital native” is just that; I’ve had plenty of students with personal tech issues and don’t believe that all students will cotton to an all-digital class. There’s also the matter of my university’s readiness to adapt fully to the potential of these resources; central admin will still require a PDF version of a paper syllabus to file in the provost’s office.  And if I have to generate one for him, why not just keep everyone on paper?  Students are notoriously bad about reading this document that is full of serious and important info.  Are they more or less likely to absorb it in digital or paper form?

I’d love to hear from others who are depending more and more on electronic devices to facilitate their teaching.  In the meantime, I am trying to be very selective on the course site to turn to digital options when they truly promise to facilitate my teaching and my students’ learning; otherwise, we will stick with the tried and true.

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DIY website

The launchpad for this project is the website that I probably never would have set up (or it would have taken many years before I felt the urge/need) if it weren’t for the Doing DH institute.  Now that I have it, I think everyone should have one (well, I am thinking everyone in academe).  This is the place where I organize my whole public life, with the standard emphasis on teaching and scholarship.  Although there is a page with a static c.v., I think of the whole thing as a dynamic c.v.: you can see posts from recent conferences and fellowship activities, you can link to summaries or sometimes full text of my publications and papers, you can dig right in to the materials that my students use.  The scholarly life is not supposed to be a hoarder’s life.  Here is my stuff, and if it makes the world a better place for you, your students, and/or architectural history, then my work here is done.

Many of my colleagues have expressed interest in having their own site but are stymied by the perceived difficulty or cost or trouble of it all.  Granted, it does take fiddling–and it can be a lot, especially at the start when there is a certain learning curve, or if you are a natural fiddler (like me).  But blogging is really user-friendly, especially through joints like WordPress that can make it really easy to format; it also allows people who want to fiddle more to do so.  My site is hosted by Reclaim Hosting, which is populated by some very cool and very helpful people, at super-reasonable pricing.  Although I knew my way around blogging from previous WordPress activity, I thank again the fine folks at the Doing DH institute, especially Spencer Roberts, for providing the instruction and inspiration.

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Upgrading ARC 231: background & introduction

I’m dedicating the Day of DH to one making upgrades to one course.  ARC 231 is the first of a series of four classes in architecture history at Judson University.  I have modified this class continually through the years, sometimes through changes to content (e.g., expanding its Islamic material) and sometimes through alterations of delivery–especially as I have become aware of new media and tools that enhance the delivery of the class.

The biggest steps to date have been introducing VoiceThread in 2013 as part of the prep that students complete prior to class and making the shift from 35 mm slides to digital slides (I have, after all, been teaching this thing since the last century!), which was a pretty big transition that, probably, all art & architecture historians had to deal with in the 2000’s +/-.  My university subscribed to the Blackboard system for most of my years there (recently it has turned to eLearn), and across time I moved more and more materials to the site.  It offered some advantages but wasn’t perfect, and was certainly clunky to use (both for me and students) and had severe limitations in the design department.

I was really happy to be accepted into the DH for Art Historians institute held last August at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.  During this two-week super-immersive experience, a group of great facilitators introduced us to dozens of new programs and tools, as well as leading discussions on the sometimes-thorny issues that litter the digital landscape.  Overall, I left even more enthused than I had been at the start to get going on transforming my scholarship and teaching.

The former is the harder part, in particular since I am at the tail-end of a big, lengthy, behemoth of a project that was started in traditional means of research and will conclude in traditional means of publishing.  Maybe the next project will be “born digital,” but this one is already well into cranky adolescence.

But the teaching part is different.  That’s something that has always been flexible; there’s never been a year that I did not fuss with a class to try and improve it.  This year is a bigger overhaul, given my attendance at the DH institute at GMU, the past sabbatical year that I have been able to really think about my class without the overarching need to tend to it, and participation in this Day of DH in which I will formalize my goals and tidy up aspects of the class design that I have fiddled with, but are not yet quite ready for prime time.

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Preparing for the Day of DH

Although I’m registering for the Day of DH just 30 hours before it actually begins, I see this as a place to record and finalize (maybe) some of the ideas that have been percolating for many months.  Last August I participated in a Digital Humanities workshop at George Mason U that was instrumental in changing my thinking about the possibilities of DH and my research and teaching.  This Tuesday, the official Day of DH, I will spend the day focused on the particular upgrades I want to make to one of my traditional fall classes.  More later!