From videos to cartoons

When people mention that I use digital technology, I believe the comment is often returned with silence and a blank stare. This is often due to the fact that such comments seem to infer that I strive specifically to use such resources in my teaching. A focus in teaching is engagement. I teach mathematics, and many people find the word “math” and “engagement” in the same sentence to be describing an experience they have yet to encounter. I find a variety of teaching techniques (digital and otherwise) help reach a wide spectrum of students with their differing interests, preferred learning styles, and background knowledge.

Given this is an unconference for digital technology in the humanities, my place as a mathematician may seem to involve an attempt to fit a square (I’m the square) in a round hole (you are well-rounded). This may or may not be a fair, general assessment of my field. Fortunately, we can pivot quickly from this point and move in a different direction. I tend to learn more as an artist then a mathematician. I have professional training in both puppetry and mime and use both (although currently more my mime than puppetry) to teach math. Initially a surprise to me, mathematicians love seeing their world of thought visualized in the invisible world of mime. In a way, the mime makes the invisible world of math visible. For those who describe themselves as non-mathematicians, a performing art, like digital technology, can present ideas in a new format, possibly allowing for a new perspective and insight.

My current interests lie in several directions. First, I’m a contributing writer/blogger for the Huffington Posts’ Science blog. I’m very interested, especially in this format, in finding innovative ways to present math. You can see an example of my mime and how I folded it into a posting in my article To Hold Infinity and Beyond.

Next, I’ve been working on webinars this term. I have 7 colleges participating with about 70 participants consisting of both professors and students. To see an example of my first webinar in which I discuss how ideas from algebra can help you play Angry Birds, you can visit Algebra and Angry Birds webinar. Or you can see the entire webinar project at Life is Linear. Next week, we will be posting “posters” of our respective explorations in the topics.

While I’m interested in ideas related to either of these activities in scholarship, my overarching interest is how to have students engage in creating digital resources. Can students produce webinars that are helpful to others and satisfying to the students who produced them? I’d like to have students both math major and non-math major (by this I mean a student in what is likely his or her last math class taken as a distribution requirement) produce webinars. The webinars would be viewed by children and youth. If you had to engage a child or youth about math, what would you do? Many students will find themselves in this position at a dinner table with their own or a friend’s child. How can I help students learn to produce such media? think about tackling such a project? be comfortable enough with the process that their energies are engaged creatively rather than technically in the steps of production? My main fear is throwing students into a digital sea too turbulent for them to swim or even float. I have no experience with creating videos using iMovie or other software. Is it easy? If so, can someone help me? How can students learn? What type of commitment is necessary in helping them learn?

Finally, I’m interested in having students create cartoons of math concepts. You can read more about this idea at Comic in Calculus. This is very new for me but an idea that attracts me. Creating such cartoons requires a student to examine material in a new way, think about how to be cute or funny about a concept, and then create a cartoon. What can I do to support the creation of such art works? I don’t mind simply having them draw them by hand. Still, I wonder about other techniques.

These are interests that I have but engaging in them is not what pulls me to attend our THATCamp. This posting merely describes my starting spot from which I can be propelled into places of inspiration as I learn from the work and innovations of others.

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Deforming the Humanities

THATCamps promote themselves as “Unconferences,” which is to say that they are defined less by what they are, and more by what they are not. We are coming together to engage both in a set of practices that are celebrated for their spontaneity and lack of pretense as well as for the conversations and idea that they generate. Put another way, disassembling a conventional practice, the academic conference, makes space for (and perhaps can be said to cause) something else to be produced.

In a recent blog post, Mark Sample makes the provocative claim that “The Deformed Humanities . . . will prove to be the most vibrant and generative of all the many strands of the humanities. It is a legitimate mode of scholarship, a legitimate mode of doing and knowing. Precisely because it relies on undoing and unknowing.” I’m interested in this practice of deformation/deformance/deforming and therefore propose a session that considers the practice more fully, or perhaps unconsiders it, since we are unconferencing.

What might these Deformed Humanities look like in practice both pedagogically and critically. If we accept the premise that “deforming” can be productive, what could or would be produced? Practices? Insights? Something else entirely?

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API as metaphor for library services

Lately I’ve been reading and thinking about APIs as a metaphor for library services. It’s useful for thinking about (1) the library’s role in facilitating a culture of remix and reuse and (2) the library’s place as a component in a distributed network architecture. I think a brainstorming session to concretize the metaphor by articulating some GET, PUT/POST, and DELETE requests to libraries as a server or from libraries as a client would be really helpful for articulating the values of our profession.

In the latest post to Library Journal’s Peer to Peer Review blog, Barbara Fister writes about the library as the people’s API. In it she takes issue with Steve Coffman’s article The Decline and Fall of the Library Empire by building on Hugh Rundle’s post about libraries as software. She argues that the library is not only “software” rather than “hardware” but more specifically non-proprietary software:

The library is not the Apple Store, or Amazon. At its best it’s open source software, an adaptable API for knowledge and culture, letting communities engage with ideas through rewriting, forking, and reinvention. In the People’s Library, the people are not customers or assets. They are the library, and the library is theirs.

Fister isn’t the only one to construct an elaborate API metaphor. In response to a tweet by James Gleick suggesting that Occupy Wall Street could be seen as an API, Alexis Madrigal wrote a full-length feature for The Atlantic called A Guide to the Occupy Wall Street API, Or Why the Nerdiest Way to Think About OWS Is So Useful:

A key feature of APIs is that they require structure on both sides of a request. You can’t just ask Twitter’s API for some tweets. You must ask in a specific way and you will receive a discrete package of 20 statuses. We decided that breaking down the inputs and outputs of Occupy Wall Street in this way might actually be useful. The metaphor turns out to reveal a useful way of thinking about the components that have gone into the protest.

Basically, Madrigal defined a lot of GET, PUT, and DELETE requests for the #OWS movement. I’d love to remix the metaphor for libraries. What would be the GET, PUT/POST, and DELETE requests to or from libraries, if we think of them as a component in a distributed network architecture?

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What I’d like to do & discuss

I hope ThatCamp will not only give me great ideas for integrating technology into my pedagogy, but also the technical skills and confidence to do so. On the practical side, I want to learn ways to use WordPress. I teach a collaborative research seminar that uses WordPress as a platform for a bibliographic database that is open to the public, but the collaborative research has always been conducted through Blackboard, public folders, or Moodle. I’d like to use WordPress for organizing, exchanging, and publishing student research projects. On a visionary scale, I would like to explore ways to use digital studies to keep the humanities, especially literary studies, vibrant and relevant today. I’d like someday to help build a “literary lab” or a virtual “writers’ house,” in which students work independently and collaborate to conduct and “publish” their research in innovative ways, using the resources of digital technologies.

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Teaching as Scholarship

This isn’t very techy/dh-y, but I’d like to get some people together to figure out how to form a committee for humanities organizations to create a set of guidelines for recognizing teaching as scholarship. My inspiration for this endeavor is the recent revision of the Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities and Digital Media. I’m from an English Department, so I’d be primarily interested in an MLA committee, but this is an issue that (I feel) impacts all of the humanities. We hear statements about the importance of teaching all of the time, and yet to my knowledge the MLA currently doesn’t have any guidelines that recognize teaching (let alone digital pedagogy) as a legitimate form of scholarly contribution. As digital technology makes teachers more willing and interested in collaborating with students on scholarship and in devising innovative new projects that integrate social and digital media, I feel it is increasingly important that academic review boards see this work as worthy of tenure and promotion.

Two sources that we may draw upon (h/t Rosemarie Feal and Stacey Donahue):

  1. TYCAs (Two-Year College Association) Discussion of Research and Scholarship for Two-Year Colleges. Since TYCs are traditionally more focused on teaching than larger research institutions, the association has some great recommendations for considering teaching as a form of scholarship. The document calls for an “expanded view of scholarship to include not only a familiarity with advances in one’s field but also an active integration of scholarship and sound academic practice.” I’m especially interested in their definition, following James Slevin, of a teacher-scholar as “that faculty member for whom teaching is informed both by reflective practice and by the applications of the best available theoretical approaches” and whose research “enriches the intellectual lives of their students.” The expanded document can be found here.
  2. Ernest Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. This book is relatively old (1990), yet it also provides very progressive suggestions for how to conceptualize the increasingly flexible realities of the University and their impact on teaching. Particularly, it defines several categories of scholarship, one of them being the scholarship of teaching. Boyer complains that teaching is often seen as a “routine function” that “almost anyone can do,” when in reality teaching can only be “well regarded only as professors are widely read and intellectually engaged” (23). Boyer doesn’t give specific ways to evaluate teaching as a scholarly endeavor, apart from the evaluations of peers, students, and administrators. Perhaps this is a good place to start.
Categories: Session Proposals, Teaching | 3 Comments

THATCamp Piedmont Update

THATCamp Piedmont is only a week away! Thank you in advance for participating in this regional technology and humanities unconference! Unlike most conferences, there are no pre-planned sessions  at a THATCamp. YOU make the agenda, and it all comes together on the spot. In the spirit of THATCamp, this email provides some background and logistics, and the rest is up to you.


  • THATCamp Piedmont will begin at 8:30am on Saturday, May 5, in the Lilly Gallery of Chambers Hall, on the campus of Davidson College.
  • We’re providing breakfast and lunch for the day, so plan to arrive early to fuel up on food and coffee. The 8:30-9:30 breakfast hour is a good time to meet people and chat more informally, as well as take a look at all the session ideas.
  • At 9:30am, we’ll have a brief introduction to the THATCamp ethos, followed by the scheduling for the day.


How do we know what to schedule? Easy. We tell each other. Here’s how:

  • Between now and next Saturday morning, take some time write a blog post that describes what you’d most like to do or discuss at THATCamp. Do you want to integrate a specific technology into your teaching, research, or creative work? Are you building a digital collection for your library? Are you curious about best practices for digital work when it comes to tenure and promotion? Do you wish you knew more about diversity and accessibility in the digital humanities?  Do you want to learn about managing interdisciplinary projects? Whatever it is at the intersection of technology and the humanities, tell us all about your session idea. Your post can even repeat or expand on what you wrote in your application.
  • You can blog about your session idea at  Toward the bottom of the right-hand column, you’ll see a link that says “Log In.” Follow the link to sign into the site. Once you’re logged in, you can use the big plus sign at the top of the page to add your new post. If you’ve forgotten your username or lost your password, you can follow the directions here:


  • Twitter often plays a role at THATCamps as a supplemental discussion channel to the actual sessions. If you want to participate on Twitter, tag your tweets with #THATCAMP #PMT so that everyone can find them.


  • While most campers are coming from the Charlotte region, we do have some intrepid visitors from afar. We’ve provided some travel information on our site:


As THATCamp Piedmont draws nearer, look for a few more announcements from us, including news about an informal gathering Friday evening. And if you have any questions, please contact us at .

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THATCamp Piedmont (May 5, 2012 @ Davidson College)

5702921261_1e8c033c87_mWe are excited to announce that THATCamp Piedmont will be held on the campus of Davidson College on May 5, 2012. This technology and humanities unconference will begin at around 8:30am and wrap-up in the late afternoon. Please read more about the THATCamp ethos to find out what THATCamp Piedmont will be like!

Registration run from March 1 through April 15. We welcome professors, students, technologists, librarians, and archivists of all levels who work in the humanities! We’ll be accepting the first 75 registrations. We’ll add more details soon about the schedule, social events, travel information, and so on. In the meantime, please contact thatcamp.piedmont@gmail if you have any questions, and follow us as well on Twitter at @THATCamp_Pmont.

Quiet Spot photograph courtesy of Flickr user mystuart / Creative Commons License

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