Context, Site-Building, and the Fine Arts

This week I’ve mostly been trying to make something coherent out of my research from the past several weeks. On the site, this is most visible in the timeline, which I’m continuing to revise to provide sufficient context for the rest of the content.

Deciding what to include in the timeline has not been an easy process, as there are countless events that be helpful and provide further insight to Geneseo as an institution. I’ve been trying to select events that are interesting and varied but still create a framework for our more detailed discussion of curriculum. Another difficult aspect of creating the timeline is the sources I’ve been relying most heavily on: Mahood’s  SUNY Geneseo: From Normal School to Public Ivy, 1871-2007 and Fisher’s …the stone strength of the past… Both of these histories of the school are incredibly informative and factual, but they are also written by long-time professors at Geneseo with inescapable biases in favor of the institution. While working on the timeline, I’ve had to continually remind myself that the events highlighted in the histories are likely those that were the best for the school. Of course, there are worse problems to be had, and I’m very grateful for Fisher and Mahood’s work. I’ve also added some explanation and analysis to the “General Education and Humanities” page to accompany the booklet containing the developments in general education. I’m planning to pay special attention to the revision of the Common Core in the late ’70s that included the addition of the Humanities sequence, and I haven’t decided if that discussion will be on the same page or treated separately.

As for the site itself, John and I have spent a lot of time this week working on the general organization of content and finding the best theme. The organization will likely stand as it is on the landing page of the site currently, with more content–images that reveal quotes from our interviews that lead to related pages. I think we’ve narrowed it down to two themes, both of which are very customizable and generally clean and minimalist.

During this past week, we had two really insightful and informative interviews with Humanities professors. Our interviews this week will come from different perspectives. We have two definite interviews set, and are attempting to schedule a time with an administrator. One of the interviews is with a student, and I’m expecting that we can use many of the same questions we asked the professors we’ve interviewed with some reframing. The other interview we have this week with Professor Brooke McCorkle of the Music Department is of particular interest to me. Geneseo has not been particularly to kind to the fine arts in recent years (as can likely be said at most public schools), and the most recent blow came just this weekend when President Denise Battles announced (through email) that the college will no longer be funding Finger Lakes Opera (FLO). FLO is a relatively new organization that has provided the college and the surrounding community with access to an art form that is often inaccessible and  considered elitist. To me, this type of access and exposure to the arts is one of the most important aspects of a liberal arts education. This latest cut is particularly discouraging considering the election, the results of which do not bode well for education as whole, and when education suffers, the fine arts usually suffer first. If these are the decisions being made before the effects of a Trump presidency are felt, I greatly fear for the fine arts at Geneseo in the next few years. I am very interested in hearing Professor McCorkle’s thoughts on these events and the state of the fine arts at Geneseo, in addition to our regular questions about general education.

An End In Site (Pun Intended)

The word of the week in the fast-paced world of digital humanities: progress.  We’ve been trimming audio and scheduling new interviews.  Julia seems to have a better handle on things than me, as she has both of her interviews pretty much in stone, whereas I am still being snubbed by candidates.  However, I’m very optimistic I’ll be able to get one for this week with a long-standing administrator on campus, who should be able to fill me in on a lot of campus history.  We’re also working on getting our site in a more presentable order, with more for a viewer to see, even in these building stages.  I really want to dive into TimeLine JS this week, but am a little wary that we don’t have enough new material for it yet that hasn’t already been covered in the original timeline we made for the class.  My goal is to have the site in good order by Tuesday, so we can get some feedback and continue to work towards improving it.

mise-on-page

This week’s project charrette was exciting to say the least. The post follows up our conversation with some of the design choices and spatial vocabulary that you were exploring, some of the questions we raised, and some of the emergent examples on your project sites.

  • Titles matter: consider Abby’s “kick-ass” title that captures the essence of her project
  • Project description: make a few sentences or a paragraph or two that makes the project crystal clear. This can be done with the title and the tagline, to be sure. But an introduction will in most case be useful as well. Where this appears on the site is another consequential question
  • What about your landing page? All three of the project sites need to sit with and attend to this question. Information now embedded in pages might be the landing or portal: image galleries or sliders, timelines, maps. Perhaps use a “sticky page” post to keep the landing or welcome page stable?
  • Might the landing page be enhanced by an image slider in the header, or perhaps on the main site page? Don’t limit your imagination to the header. Sometimes not having a header creates an opening for alternative ideas. Browse other WP sites.
  • Look for examples. Consider the poet T.S. Eliot’s comment in an essay on the sixteenth century English dramatist Philip Massinger, that “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” Eliot might offer an instructive  gloss of a key term in the open education discourse on  repurposing information in digital domains. We are talking about poeisis here, after all: making, building, constructing.
  • Sidebars and footers: create link categories and assign each link a category. See Abby’s Site for an example of more than one category
  • Using the link category “NAPLA Sites” link to the other NAPLA Project Sites
  • If you have not already, add the creative commons license and social media buttons to facilitate sharing. Ultimate Media Social Icons is a WP Plug in that offers many choices for customizing the icon bar
  • Gallery options. There are many plug-ins. I believe Abby is using Photo Gallery by Supsystic
  • Add metadata to all images and documents in the fields provided when uploading. You do not want the default to be the file name!
  • Timelines: Emily and John’s site has a beautiful example. When adding content to the timeline remember to ask why each moment is being added and make sure to provide the reader with a connection between the item and the timeline, a connection between the micro and the macro, between the item and its context. Consider Timeline JS, Knight Lab Timeline
  • Maps: But to what end? StoryMapJS by Knight Lab is a promising plug in!
  • Integrating parts into the whole. How do the pages work together? Are pages the best way to segregate information?
  • Consider customization options. Feeling adventurous? Go to Appearance > Editor > Footer. So for example, in the footer on the NAPLA blog we changed the default “powered by wordpress” to ‘Copyright © 2016 Public Access and the Liberal Arts: A Narrative History’ Here is the code with the changes:

<a href=”<?php echo esc_url( __( ‘https://wordpress.org/’, ‘twentyfourteen’ ) ); ?>”><?php printf( __( ‘Copyright © 2016 Public Access and the Liberal Arts: A Narrative History’ ), ‘WordPress’ ); ?></a>

  • Work on how to embed in a functional and attractive way the audio files. Use a gallery to include an image or artifact to create balance on the page. A thumbnail caption?

For a more general overview of the relationship between data and design, and to get you thinking in different ways about mis-en-page, you may want to look again at Trina Chiasson and Dyanna Gregory, et al., Data + Design: A Simple Introduction to Preparing and Visualizing Information on the NAPLA Resources page.

Penultimate

We have reached the penultimate moment in our work together this semester. Over the next ten days you have the time and space to build out your project sites. We hope that you enjoy the process. As Cole encouraged us to remember last week, “Building things is fun.”

In addition to building we will be sharing—most immediately, sharing our work with members of the greater COPLAC community. Sharing your course blogs, and this NAPLA course blog, will foreground the power of teaching and learning in the open: That is, your research process and our collaboration on a public storytelling project will demonstrate to others the potential of narrative to capture and convey the experience of the public liberal arts. Your course blogs are beautiful chronicles of your research process—the Recent Posts list exemplifying an arc of accomplishment.

Your work in the next few weeks is to make the most of this penultimate moment. Here is how you should be spending your time:

  • As Mark explained in class this week, during the next ten days you would do well to undertake a self assessment and review. Make sure that you have 9 Research Reflections so that we are able to give you full credit for your work on the course blog. Then, before class next week, open the NAPLA category archive “Weekly Updates,” and read each of the updates from the bottom, starting with the September 19th Create Manage License. Each of the posts includes the steps you have taken (or need to take!), most often in the form of a bullet list of tasks. Together the weekly updates function as a general rubric to assess your own progress and help you fill in any missing parts. In addition, reading over these updates will remind you that what you have learned about digital tools you are using on your course blogs is transferable to the work you are now doing on your project sites.
  • The Schedule page on this site has been updated and meeting deadlines is imperative as we move into the third and final phase of the course. The updated schedule, outlined below, will help you make the most of your time before the holiday as well as make sufficient progress in preparation for the final weeks of the term:

Tuesday November 15: Project team meetings: 2:00-2:30 Casey and Julia(UNC Asheville); 2:30-3:00 Emily and John(SUNY Geneseo); 3:00-3:30(Keene State College)

Thursday November 17 Preview Institutional Project Sites. Each team will have twenty minutes to showcase the Project Site

Tuesday November 22: Cole and Mark will conference with project teams: 2:00 Casey and Julia 2:30-3:00 and 3:00-3:30 Abby. Emily and John TBA

The due date for the Project Sites is Tuesday November 29th. Please enjoy your holiday break. But please give yourself time and space between November 22 and November 29th to complete the Project Sites. Mark and Cole will be available by email should you need assistance.

  • Public presentations of projects will take place during the last two weeks of classes. The presentations may be “attended” by faculty and administrators from other COPLAC institutions. OnTuesday November 29th, when we return from the holiday break the Final Projects are due. We will then follow the schedule: OnThursday December 1 Casey and Julia (UNC Asheville) will present. OnTuesday December 6 Abby (Keene State College) will present. And on Thursday December 8 Emily and John (SUNY Geneseo) will present. We are happy to reconsider this schedule based on other commitments. If you would like to suggest a change, please let us know as soon as possible.

We are looking forward to our project team conversations next Tuesday. Your job is to get as much done as possible between now and then so that we can best use our time together.

“His Vocabulistics is Limited”

This week, I learned the power of vocabulary.  As I struggled (only semi-successfully) to find a plug-in that would allow me to build our course website the way I envisioned, I spent countless hours (and I don’t mean “countless” as the overused figure of speech—I mean literally uncountable hours) searching the web for plug-ins that would let me configure a piece of text to expand when clicked on.  And this task seems simple enough.  But so many unaccounted variables factor into finding the right plug-in:  vocabulary, edition of wordpress, edition of the plug-in, aesthetics, functionality, ease of applying plug-in, and so many more.  For my research reflection, then, I’ll explain the snags I ran into while searching for the proper plug-in, give a snapshot of what I’m trying to do with the page, and end with some updates on the progress of my work as well as what to expect this coming week.

For starters, I should attend to the title of my post, “His Vocabulistics is limited;” it’s a quote from Rocket, the cybernetic Raccoon of The Guardians of the Galaxy.  He’s referring to Groot’s vocabulary—and the fact that Groot can say “I am Groot,” and nothing else.  I found the quote applicable because finding the proper plug-in for a website is a ridiculous struggle of attaching a sound-image to a concept, a signifier to the signified.  On the internet, there’s no universal language for explaining the function of getting a piece of text to reveal more content when it is clicked on (and I tried searching exactly that), so searching for a plug-in is a trial-and-error process.  Is ‘expand’ the right word? ‘Collapse’? ‘Content Reveal’?  While reflecting on the process, expand seems the most accurate word, but many websites praised the possibilities of plug-ins like “WP-ShowHide” and “Collapse-O-Matic.”  And, to quote Christopher Nolan’s Inception, “once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.”  In other words, as soon as I thought I found a great word to describe the function I was looking for, tunnel vision set in.  I would search plug-ins with that word—and of course I found them, but they never worked just as I hoped they would.  As soon as I exploited the so-called plug-in resources of the particular synonym I had been working with, I thought up a new synonym for the dream plug-in.  Cue Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence.

Even once I determined that ‘expand’ was the proper word for explaining the function I was looking for, I had a plethora of ‘expander’ plug-ins to choose from—and they all had their perks.  For instance, “Easy FAQ with Expanding Text” was definitely the most customizable and functional plug-in; when the plug-in is activated it creates a sidebar when you’re writing a post or editing a page, and gives you many options to customize how you want a piece of text to expand.  When I found it, I was excited (understatement).  So I spent a while putting code around different pieces of text in order to ensure that clicking on a specific piece of text would result in the appearance of a hidden paragraph.  Once I had the coding perfected, I previewed the page.  Turns out “Easy FAQ with Expanding Text” doesn’t work with the version of wordpress we’re using.

By the time all was said and done, I downloaded and tested 11  plug-ins, and revised the page 19 times.  Here’s what it looked like when I half-gave-up-half-found the right plug-in.

 

Screenshot (18)Screenshot (19)

My evaluation of the plug-in?  It’s functional.  It gets the job done.  But I wish I could spruce up the headings—and maybe I can, that’s something I’ll work on this week.  Additionally, I despise the little down arrow/up arrow that serves as a visual cue for expansion.  Some other apps had really great visual cues that I thought were both functional and aesthetically pleasing, but I really don’t think the current down arrow fulfills either function.  I’m going to try to change that this week.  If I can get rid of it, but people think it isn’t clear that the text will expand, I’ll try adding a little comment at the top to let people know there’s more information.

Ultimately, I was hoping I could find a plug-in that would allow me embed an expansion property into an image:  I wanted to turn quotes into images so that hovering over the quote/picture would give a brief look into what sort of text would appear if you did click on the quote.  I’ll keep looking.

So what else did I do this week?  I finished transcribing our first interview.  I’m going to get that up on my blog and the course website this week.  Additionally, I’m going to try to get the edited audio file on the website this week.  Emily and I have two definite interviews this week, so that will be the primary concern for this week.  I’m going to keep working with the plug-in and website, and hopefully get rid of the expansion templates I have now and start some actual discussion that will make our website interesting. Additionally, I spent a good amount of time curating my blog, so I’m hoping I can put that on the back-burner for now.

Finish as Complete. Finish as Polish

One of the topics we talked about in last week’s class was working with “focus” and what “done” might mean in a Digital Humanities project.

Digital Humanists Matthew G. Kirschenbaum and Bill Kretzschmar have written about “finishing” a digital project.  They comment that “the verb ‘to finish’ can mean to complete or something more like to polish or perfect.”  Kirschenbaum goes on to point out what meanings “finish” can have in a discipline that celebrates a visible, ongoing process and being open-ended, being changeable: “We partake in what Julia Flanders has aptly called the culture of the perpetual prototype: the demo, the proof-of-concept, the alpha and beta version. Building things is fun….”  Fun, yes, but how do we recognize when we’re approaching a finished project.   When we just stop?  When we run out of time and data?  When we conclude, that is, when we evolve to a different understanding of the data?  When the data inspires us to ask new questions?  When the data brings us to a point that we become aware of an alternative audience or to a changed purpose for telling a narrative?

Your thoughtful weekly posts show this process of curating understanding and of working with “knowing”.   You’ve noted “tangible progress”, “warm, fuzzy feelings”, “disjointed research”, “dramatic twists”, “insights”, “thoughts”, etc.  Mark has wisely referred to your websites before as a “process portfolio”.

Week 10 Checklist

As we approach the end of the semester and this iteration of NAPLA, we’d like you to continue to “finish” by having these items polished by class on Thursday (see the note after the list):

  • Convert all URLs in your blog posts to links as well as those on your course project website.
  • Research should be approaching completion.
  • Scanned images should be approaching completion (scanned please, not shot from a 45 degree angle with a cell phone and uncropped).
  • Drafts of text for webpages should be approaching completion and be upload to course project websites.
  • Oral interviews should be approaching completion.
  • Upload the digital files of interviews to Soundcloud or Audacity and edit the files.
  • Post the audio file on your blog by Thursday morning.
  • Post ‘documentation” for your audio files in a consistent place (e.g., in the bibliography, in a smaller font under the posted audio file, etc.).  Who’s being interviewed, who conducted the interview, city/state for the interview, date/time, etc.  You’re creating an archive.
  • Audio file headers: what are your titles?  are you displaying selected quotes from the interviews?
  • Audio file images: what do you want your audience to look at as they listen to the file?  Head shot? Image of your college?  Sliding scanned images from a related yearbook?
  • Listen to some of the team’s interviews and take notes in preparation for debriefing and discussion of how the websites are taking shape.

Note after the list:  Okay, yes we usually ask that you have these posted by Thursday morning.  On the one hand, that’s great if you’ve got them there by Thursday morning at the latest.  On the other hand, I’ll be “in transit” (read: in airports) during Thursday’s class and it’s not likely that I’ll be joining you from 30,000 feet up in the air.  If you could have the better part of this week’s checklist done by Wednesday midnight (11.59 pm), that would be appreciated.  I can review your pages and have comments prepared for Mark to share with you during Thursday’s class.

As always, Mark and I are available to meet with you on Tuesday between 2 to 4 pm to discuss any aspects of your projects or the upcoming presentation of your NAPLA websites.

Work Cited

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G.  “Done: Finishing Projects in the Digital Humanities”.  DHQ (2009) 3:2.

Research Reflection: Warm, Fuzzy Feelings

After a busy week of interviewing, editing, and curating, I’m happy to report that my slump is far behind me. I’m loving exploring new plugins, especially the gallery one I uploaded today (see my new “Archive Gallery” page on the site). I’m sticking to a minimalist theme so I can really embellish my pages without worrying about everything being too intense. Mark and I have decided that I’m going to continue this project into next semester. There are so many dreams and goals I have for this project, and I’m not ready to say goodbye come December.

My interview with Norma Walker is what inspired me the most so far. She graduated in 1951, and is full of stories and ideas. I’m not only creating this project to achieve a sort of academic goal and milestone. I’m working my hardest for Norma, for my grandmothers, and for all the women who contributed to the college’s story which I now get to continue in my own legacy here at Keene State.

Tangible Progress

I think I’ve actually finished my research. After our class discussion on Thursday, I decided to limit my most in-depth research to 1948-1979. Within these years, Geneseo transitioned to a liberal arts college (1962) and later substantially revised the Common Core general education requirements(throughout 1976-79). These two events are of the most interest to me, and I’ve yet to decide how much information about the curriculum prior to 1948 I will include. I also found a flip-book plugin (WP Booklet) that I will experiment with next week after I start scanning the relevant pages from course catalogs, Faculty Senate minutes, etc.

Additionally, I decided to present the general history of Geneseo solely through a timeline, using TimelineJS. I think this is a more visually interesting way to display this information, and it gives me further encouragement to incorporate images. I currently have a draft of the text for the timeline completed, and on Monday, I’m meeting with the special collections librarian to go through images from the archives that I plan to incorporate into the timeline. I’ll also be looking for anything that could be used or incorporated into a header for the website.

This week we have two interviews scheduled, both with professors who frequently teach the Humanities. While our first interview was great (better than I expected), I would like to be a little more organized and have more scripted questions for these interviews–I expect little variation will be necessary between the two. I’ll also be scheduling firm times for two other interviews: one with a music professor who teaches several general education classes and is fairly new to Geneseo and the other with a student. I would also like to start preparing for these interviews this week (although they likely won’t happen until next week), since we are approaching these interviews from very different perspectives than the others.

I’d like to have a completed draft of the timeline and some form of the flip-book of gen. ed. requirements up on the website by class on Thursday. I’m imagining some amount of text will accompany the flip-book, but I will base that on how the flip-book comes out. As reflected in the title of this post, I feel like I’ve been making actual progress this week and that’s really encouraging. I will also be perfectly happy if I never have to go through Faculty Senate minutes ever again.

Tangible Progress

I think I’ve actually finished my research. After our class discussion on Thursday, I decided to limit my most in-depth research to 1948-1979. Within these years, Geneseo transitioned to a liberal arts college (1962) and later substantially revised the Common Core general education requirements(throughout 1976-79). These two events are of the most interest to me, and I’ve yet to decide how much information about the curriculum prior to 1948 I will include. I also found a flip-book plugin (WP Booklet) that I will experiment with next week after I start scanning the relevant pages from course catalogs, Faculty Senate minutes, etc.

Additionally, I decided to present the general history of Geneseo solely through a timeline, using TimelineJS. I think this is a more visually interesting way to display this information, and it gives me further encouragement to incorporate images. I currently have a draft of the text for the timeline completed, and on Monday, I’m meeting with the special collections librarian to go through images from the archives that I plan to incorporate into the timeline. I’ll also be looking for anything that could be used or incorporated into a header for the website.

This week we have two interviews scheduled, both with professors who frequently teach the Humanities. While our first interview was great (better than I expected), I would like to be a little more organized and have more scripted questions for these interviews–I expect little variation will be necessary between the two. I’ll also be scheduling firm times for two other interviews: one with a music professor who teaches several general education classes and is fairly new to Geneseo and the other with a student. I would also like to start preparing for these interviews this week (although they likely won’t happen until next week), since we are approaching these interviews from very different perspectives than the others.

I’d like to have a completed draft of the timeline and some form of the flip-book of gen. ed. requirements up on the website by class on Thursday. I’m imagining some amount of text will accompany the flip-book, but I will base that on how the flip-book comes out. As reflected in the title of this post, I feel like I’ve been making actual progress this week and that’s really encouraging. I will also be perfectly happy if I never have to go through Faculty Senate minutes ever again.

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