Banner Lecture for VHS

I was truly honored when the Virginia Historical Society, a wonderful museum and archive, asked me to give one of the famous Banner Lectures on my book. Oddly enough, though I’ve presented various parts at a number of conferences, I’ve never done a formal presentation of the whole project. So, I had a good time putting this talk together and it turned out pretty well. I got some great questions from the audience.

Thanks again to Nelson Lankford, Frances Pollard, and the rest of the VHS staff for all the work that they do to contribute to the history of Virginia.

THATCamp 2009 — A Proposal

For those of you that don’t know, THATCamp is an unconference on The Humanities And Technology.

This is what I posted to the THATCamp 2009 site as my proposal for a session. Join in the discussion before and after the conference!

How to get money, money, money for wild and crazy times!!

Okay, not really. But I do think this topic is particularly important right now.

This was my original proposal:

I’d like to talk about the role of faculty, IT, and administrators in collaborating to shape institutional strategic plans and planning in general for academic computing and the digital humanities. I’ve spent nearly 18 months now involved in various strategic and practical planning committees at UMW regarding digital resources and goals for the humanities and social sciences. Making sure that resources are allocated to the digital humanities requires broad commitments within administrative and strategic planning. [Not as sexy or fun as WPMU or Omeka plug-ins, but sadly, just as important….] I’d like to share my own experiences in the area and hear from others about theirs.

And today I would simply add that as UMW is closing in on a first draft of its strategic plan, I’m even more convinced that the college/university-wide planning process is something with which digital humanists need to be engaged. In this time of dwindling economic resources, however, we also need to be, pardon the pun, strategic about it. I think we need to figure out when we need to explain concepts, tools, the very notion of what digital humanities is and its place in the curriculum (something even THATCampers seem to be debating), when we need to do full-on DH evangelizing, and when we need to back off from our evangelizing in order to ease fears and/or recognize budgetary realities. In any case, who else has had to make the case for Digital Humanities or academic technology as part of these processes?

UPDATE: Of course, let’s also include planning for libraries, archives, and museums in this discussion as well. (Thanks for the reminder epistemographer)

Strategic Planning for Academic Technologies and Libraries

So I posted almost two months ago about the strategic planning process going on at my institution and the subcommittee (now called a “discussion group”) I was working with on Academic Technologies and Libraries. I wanted to post a link to what we came up with to recommend to the larger Strategic Planning Steering Committee. I’d appreciate any feedback that people had on what we came up with, especially since I’m on the Steering Committee and we’ll be taking this report (and 14 others) into account as we write the school’s strategic plan to present to our Board of Visitors in July.

Here’s the report, in MS Word form.

AAHC–Teaching with Digital Tools

I’m pleased to be part of a roundtable on “Teaching with Digital Tools” at the American Association of History and Computing conference at George Mason on April 4.

The panel (with the classy Clioweb (Jeremy Boggs) and UCLA’s Joshua Sternfeld), we’ve decided to avoid formal presentations and to organize our discussions around six key questions about the subject. We’ll each give our answers and look to the audience for comments and further questions.

  • What are your goals in terms of using digital tools in teaching?
  • What evaluation standards do you employ in evaluating your students’ digital work?
  • How do you balance teaching historical content and teaching tech skills?
  • How have you integrated historiography into your teaching methods?
  • Tell us a particular assignment involving digital tools that was very successful (or very unsuccessful). What was it, and why do you think it was successful/unsuccessful?
  • What do you see as the future of teaching and technology?

I know we’re missing some things here, but these seem like a good start. What would you ask?

Past and Upcoming Presentations

I’ve been fortunate enough to do a number of presentations this academic year, on a variety of topics.

  • I had a great time presenting on teaching with WordPress blogs at WordCampEd DC last November (along with Jeremy Boggs, Automattic’s Jane Wells, and CNDLES‘s Rob Pongsajapan). The morning finished with Jim Groom’s call to arms (blogging/EDUPUNK–actually those don’t do it justice–it was an inspired call to innovation). I just needed to warm up the crowd, and I think I did my job well. [Seriously, I got lots of good questions about methods used, strategies to get students to actually blog, and problems with “controlling” what students say in these blogs. It was a warm, welcoming crowd and I was humbled to be in conversations with the participants and my fellow presenters. Thanks especially to CHNM’s Dave Lester for setting the whole event up.]
  • Then in January, Jeremy Boggs and I presented as part of a large panel of scholar teachers at the American Historical Association national meeting in New York. Our topic was Teaching History in the Digital Age. [My links for the presentation are here and the session was nicely reviewed by history-ing.] Although the conference organizers had placed us in a tiny room (~30 seats), we filled the room and had people sitting on sideboards, the floor, and standing in the hallway. Hmmm, perhaps historians do want to know more about this digital thing. In any case, my presenters were fun, their presentations fascinating, the audience was engaged, and we had a terrific Q&A afterwards. About all you could hope for in an AHA presentation….

I’m also hoping to present on 1) digital history and 2) strategic planning for digital resources and technologies at the AAHC in April and THATCamp II in June, though I’m still waiting to hear about the proposals for those conferences.

Also in April I’ll be presenting at HASTAC III at the University of Illinois on “‘Uncomfortable, but Not Paralyzed’: Challenging Traditional Classroom Boundaries with Undergraduates and Digital History.” Having never done a lightening talk (and being famous for running over) I’d appreciate any strategies readers of this blog have for doing lightening talks (~5-7 minutes).

And in late May, I’ll be presenting to Mary Washington alums on Digital History projects as part of Alumni College associated with UMW’s Reunion events.

It’s a busy fall and spring, but I’ve been having a great time doing these presentations.

WordCamp Ed DC 2008

So, I’ve gratefully accepted an invitation to speak at WordCamp Ed DC 2008 on “Teaching Undergraduates with Blogs” at GMU’s Center for History and New Media on Saturday, November 22. If you’re in the area, come check it out. [Heck, it’s free!]

I’m planning on talking about my uses of WordPress (MU) blogs in various classes. So, WordPress as: CMS-alternative, research log, reading reaction journal, individual project site, “permanent” group project site, and potential e-portfolio. Then I’ll discuss how students have responded to the process, maybe show a few good examples of students taking it to the next level.

Any suggestions for my talk? Issues to raise? Points to ponder?

Speaking of Honor

I was honored to be asked to present the faculty perspective on our school’s Honor Code at our annual Honor Convocation, a moment when all new students at the school are introduced to the Honor System and sign an Honor Pledge, committing themselves to that system.

I only had a week to prepare, so I turned to a number of colleagues and some fellow alums for ideas. Tim O’Donnell and Claudia Emerson were particularly helpful in shaping the direction of the speech.

Thanks to Anand Rao for recording and posting the video. If anyone’s interested, I could post the text of the talk as well.

In any case, I think it went well. It was a real honor to stand up on that stage and start off the academic year in that way and represent the faculty perspective to the entering students.

The Revolution in Technology — Links toward a Presentation

Here’s the list of links from the TAH August 2007 Presentation I did on “The Revolution in (Information) Technology” — These are also at

  1. Hurricane Digital Memory Bank: Collecting and Preserving the Stories of Katrina and Rita

  2. YouTube – How to Use the Dial Phone (1927)

  3. 2007 Horizon Report | nmc

  4. YouTube – Broadcast Yourself.

  5. Google Reader

  6. Bloglines

  7. Alexander Spotswood’s Journey — as seen in Flickr and Google Maps

  8. YouTube – The Machine is Us/ing Us (Final Version)

  9. My Digital Double: Watch the World(s).

    Very cool representation in SL of Van Gogh’s Starry Night

  10. shifthappens » Various Versions of the Presentation

    copies of “Did you know?” presentation

  11. Netvibes

  12. Internet Archive

    A great idea, even without the Wayback Machine. With Wayback, it’s invaluable.

  13. YouTube – Introducing the book

    Medieval Helpdesk

Why I Love Working (& Teaching & Learning) Here

As I’ve been working on my big summer project (the revised book manuscript), I’ve been eagerly following Gardner’s summer course entitled From Memex to YouTube: An Introduction to New Media Studies. Then this afternoon (just a few hours before class started), Shannon twittered that she wished she could see the class’s final presentations. I echoed her with a plea for Gardner to setup a webcam and soon suggestions for places to host it came in from our local twittersphere. By the time class started a ustream account had been set up and the event was being streamed, live. It spent most of the evening on ustream’s front page. Anyone could drop in and see the projects of the people in the class.

I wasn’t able to get to the stream until it was more than half over, but when I did I remembered why I like working where I am so much. Why?

  1. The students were amazing. They had great projects and they were incredibly enthusiastic about the class and their own work (and, dare I say, their learning). [See an Alaskan summary of a few of them here and the full video stream from here.] These kind of students are why MW is such a great place to work.
  2. Not a small part of this excitement, interest, skill, and creativity was due to the class environment set by Gardner. Play, interdisciplinarity, technology-enabled creativity, intellectual rigor (the good kind), and real engagement all were at work here, in a Real School class. Cool colleagues are why MW is such a great place to work.
  3. While I watched the students present, I was engaged in a chat with people from all over the continent (Alaska, Arizona, Texas, Canada) many of whom had heard about it from the invite Gardner and Martha put on their Twitter networks. As I chatted with DTLT friends (Jim, Jerry, Andy (on vacation!), and Martha), faculty colleagues (Sue, Gardner), people I’d met at conferences (CogDog) or people I knew largely from the blogosphere (D’Arcy, Chris, Vidya), and students in (and out of) the classroom, I thought to myself: “These are really bright, really engaged, really interesting people, and I can’t believe how much fun this is….”
  4. As I was watching the student presentations, I also found myself engaged in three or four chat conversation threads at once. It was chaotic, it was crazy, and it was probably not for everyone. That kind of multi-threaded conversation drives some people mad, but in this environment it just worked for me. Discussions of projects, of software, of Doug Engelbart, of Carl Jung, of the impact of the process of authorship on the author’s view of other work, of films and film theory, of numerous bad jokes, inside jokes, sarcastic jokes, and ROTFL jokes, of the wonder and awe of the final presentation of the night–an amazing movie by Serena that brought many of us watching online to the brink of tears.
  5. I want to take this class; and if that isn’t possible, then I want to team-teach it with Gardner; and if that isn’t possible, then look for the history version, coming soon to a seminar room near you. [Adventures in Digital History!] I love that I teach at a school where there is room in the curriculum and the minds of the people I work with for these kinds of explorations.

Now, admittedly, this post has a little of the fanboy aspect to it. The reality check is that not every day feels like this in this job. There are days when I would love to have 1/10 of the energy I felt tonight. There are conversations with colleagues or students that leave me drained, not inspired. There are days I plod along, rather than lead and innovate. I know that.
In fact, in the middle of this amazing few hours, I found myself in a brief chat with a colleague where we both acknowledged how special this extended moment was and how we wished it could always be like this. So, where do we go from here? Well, we need to hold on to (and brag about) these moments until they are more common. [Hence this post.] I want to harness this energy, bottle it up somehow and feed it to everyone I see: students, faculty, administrators, learners all. This is what learning can be. This is what Real School is all about.

How can you measure or quantify the feeling of excitement, engagement and learning that took place tonight? [Yes, I use those terms deliberately.] We need to figure out how to replicate these moments, not in a cold, cloning kind of way, but in setting the stage for creativity, learning and innovation in and out of classrooms, and then taking advantage of those moments of opportunity to share them.

But for tonight, I’m just going to keep smiling.

Wikis, Wikis, Everywhere: Or, the Wiki as Discussion Starter, Assignment Environment, and Class Project Binder

Faculty Academy 2007 Presentation — [This includes updated material from an earlier post.]

Note–Relevant links are posted on the Faculty Academy wiki page for this session and note that only the registered users in the class wikis can edit them or see all the functions.

This semester I used wikis (an installation of MediaWiki to be precise) in two of my classes, though in different ways. I did so at Jerry Slezak’s suggestion, despite my greatest previous interaction with wikis being arguing with students about why they can’t use Wikipedia as the scholarly source for their research papers. I’ll describe the two classes, the way the wiki was used in each class, and my evaluation of the experiment.

In one course, my 15-person senior seminar (426), the wiki was used as an improved forum to prepare students for class discussion. In the other, a 25-person upper-level lecture class (325), the wiki became not only an improved tool for focusing class discussion, but much of the online presence of the course, including the location of students’ wiki-based research projects.

First, the use of the wiki as a discussion starter
All of my classes involve reading discussions, often of primary source materials. In previous semesters, I used to have students email me comments and questions about the reading for a particular day a couple of hours before class starts. I would then take those comments and questions and create a document that categorized those comments along certain common themes. This document, displayed in front of the class, would then shape the class discussion for the day, based on the particular areas of need or interest expressed by the students.

This semester, however, the students in both these classes posted their comments and questions to a wiki page at least two hours before each discussion class. I set up one page for each day’s discussion for the semester.I would then go in, just before class started, and bold the questions/comments I saw as most interesting, most relevant, or most commonly expressed. [Bolding became a source of great pride to some students….]

Of course, a large change under this new system is that they now see each others’ postings. [I’ve resisted this before, fearing repetitiveness, copying, and an unfair burden on those who posted first to carry the class.]

I’ve found that I was completely wrong.

The quality of the questions and comments went up from previous semesters. What’s more, they began to respond to each others’ questions, answering the factual queries and starting to engage the open-ended ones. In other words, the discussion began before class did.

Of course, I could have just used a forum on Blackboard or some other open-source software (and I’ve used such forums with varying degrees of success in other classes with other assignments). They’d still be able to see what the other students had written and respond to those comments. The advantage of the wiki is that students can more easily edit and/or comment on each others’ work than in a forum, which is either hierarchical or linear (or both). The wiki is neither.

Using the “history” version function of the wiki I can actually trace the evolution of the conversation as students add material to the ongoing discussion, often inserting themselves in between other people’s comments.

They haven’t taken to truly editing each others’ work, a common issue from what I’ve heard from those who have used wikis in teaching. [There was a comment deleted by someone else, but that was an accident, for which there was much apologizing.] And actually, I don’t see this lack of editing each others’ work as a problem since I never explicitly asked them to do that and it’s not what I’m looking for them to do.

This wiki-as-discussion-starter worked in both an upper-level lecture class with once-a-week discussions and in a senior seminar that was all discussion, and required them to post comments/questions on a wiki page before every class period. In 325 – Class discussion started at a deeper level, and the wiki brought out broader discussions than we had time for in class. Plus they were engaged with each others’ ideas before class started. In 426 – Here too the discussions had already begun before class started. Plus it was easy for student discussion leaders to facilitate their own discussion of the readings using the wikis. (Bolding and editing the wiki for their own purposes became common and there was often humor involved, though never at my expense, of course….). 🙂

So, overall, other than that, that use of the wikis was a success in both classes. However, in the lecture class, I used the wiki for more than just a discussion starter

HISTORY 325 WIKI Projects
The lecture class is a course about the History of American Technology & Culture. It’s a class that’s typically 2/3 lecture and 1/3 discussion. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a course that in previous iterations has required students to create their own websites about the history of an artifact of American Technology.

Why not continue the old system?

1) Immense amount of work for Jerry and I, as well as for the students, to deal with HTML, page linking, software.
2) Although I began the web project years ago thinking that students should learn HTML or at least web coding as a life skill, it’s not clear that such as skill would actually be useful to these students at the level they’d be gaining.
3) Finally, students’ sites disappeared as they graduated.

The wiki in this class served three purposes:

1) A place for students to post questions and comments about the readings (as I discussed)

2) A site within which each student could create their own research proposal and then their own research project.

3) A class project binder, by which I mean a place where all of the class projects can be gathered together in the same place, a place where students can find the syllabus and all the assignments, and a place where their work has a long-term home, one that can be pointed to as part of portfolio of accomplishments at some point in the future. [One might describe this as a form of CMS or LMS.]


  • Jerry came in for a workshop session where everyone in the class had a laptop and we did a crash course in the basics of wiki creation.
  • They had a couple of assignments early in the semester, culminating in a proposal site with a bibliography.
  • Then they had to build their site structure (laying out all the pages, but without any content).
  • Two weeks after that, the full site was due.
  • Then a week of peer reviews, using the Discussion tab (and my guidelines) to evaluate each other’s work. [See the guidelines students were given.]
  • Then a week of revision before the final project was due.

Advantages for me:

  • See student work in progress
  • See timing of their works in progress through the history function
  • Recent changes RSS feed allows me to watch from afar (through Google Reader or Bloglines).

Disadvantages for me:

  • See student work in progress
  • See timing of their works in progress through the history function
  • Recent changes RSS feed allows me to watch from afar (through Google Reader or Bloglines).

Why? Because I could see that many of the updates, edits, and wiki site building happened the night before, the morning of, the minutes before the assignments were due. [A longheld suspicion proven….]

At the end of the semester, I asked each of the students to present their projects in five minutes.

  • They could discuss the content they covered;
  • they could discuss cool things they had done or discovered;
  • they could discuss the process they used;
  • they could analyze the evolution of their site using the previous version (history) function;
  • or they could talk about what they wish they had known.

Their presentations varied, though most said they wished they had started earlier. I even set up a page on the wiki for them to post their suggestions. [Many of which revolved around wishing they’d looked at each others’ projects for ideas earlier.]

But one of the most reflective student presentations included a PowerPoint slide entitled “What Impacted Me The Most” with the following points:

  • The Responsibility/Permanence
    • [Many of the students were extremely cognizant that this was something that would be around after they were finished school and felt that responsibility weigh on them.]
  • Everyone Viewing My Progress
    • As this student pointed out, it was not just me watching them create their sites, it was their classmates (or anyone else who happened to find the site).
  • Citations
    • I made them cite everything (as any research project in history would be) and that process took time and energy (both in getting the citations accurate and in dealing with the wiki formatting to get them to look right).
  • Connections Between Projects
    • This student and others noted how much they enjoyed being able to see how their projects overlapped with each others and with the course themes as a whole.

The Big Finish

One day, late in this semester, a fellow faculty member came to me and told me that one of my students had paid me the ultimate compliment in regards to my wiki site project. She told him, “I’ve never had a project that has been more frustrating, or one in which I’ve learned more.”


Let’s be clear, the goal of the assignment was not to frustrate students, but the process of working through new ways of presenting one’s ideas is not inherently easy.

If students are struggling with the process, but get it done, that means that they are finding ways of adapting to the new requirements, to the new format, to the new expectations. In that way, I hope that they will be better prepared to produce and present information in multiple ways when they graduate.

Despite the increasing use of wikis in business environments, my goal, in other words, was not for them to learn specific MediaWiki skills.

No, I’m much more ambitious.

I want them to be able to think broadly about the presentation of information, about the structure of ideas, about the multiplicity of ways to pass on their perspectives and researched content. I want them to be adaptable producers in a larger world that rarely will ask them to write a 7-10 page formal research paper, but will often ask them to learn new skills, new tools, and to work in new environments (digital and otherwise) and then to apply those new skills sets in reliable/productive ways. [I don’t want much, do I?]

Now, it wasn’t all serious; some of them began to call me Dr. Wiki, eventually to my face…. But, the reaction of the student who made that comment to my colleague suggests that in addition to the research and analytical skills being developed there was more going on for her and, given the student presentations and conversations I had with others in the class, I believe she wasn’t alone.

Thoughts? Reactions?