Tinkering around at DHSI 2014

During the first week in June I attended the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) for the first time. The trip also marked my first visit to Canada, and the first time I traveled internationally in more than a decade. It was a bit of a whirlwind experience. I took the DHSI course, “Physical Computing and Desktop Fabrication for Humanists,” with William J. Turkel, Devon Elliott, and Jentery Sayers. In addition to meeting new DH enthusiasts and reuniting with old friends, the course provided an exciting introduction to both the culture of the maker movement and the potential applications of 3-D printing. Below is a brief photo essay reflection — or as close to one as my WordPress template permits — on my time at DHSI 2014.


Surviving life as a first-generation grad student, part II

Image of flower in concrete by KittyThis post has been percolating in my head for some time, perhaps since I first entered graduate school or maybe even since I became an undergraduate. I’ve whittled it down to what I hope are those points most useful for my primary intended audience: other first-generation students — both those currently in grad school (a.k.a. “FGGS”) or those considering grad school. But I also hope non-first geners find this post insightful and informative. Anyone involved in academia should be attuned to the issues and experiences that impact first-generation students, particularly given the recent political push away from affirmative action and toward income and class-based college admission policies as well as the fact that nearly one in four American children are currently growing up in families living below the federal poverty level.

Academic culture has many layers, and it takes time for those new to the academic sphere to recognize, process, and understand its many nuances. Although specific conditions vary from one discipline and professional environment to the next, most cases of culture shock among FGGS revolve around systemic issues of class present throughout academia as well as questions related to adaptation, conformity, integration, and (gasp!) dissent to certain elements of academic culture.

FGGS must first develop an awareness of the character of academic culture, then learn to employ their knowledge of both academic culture and the culture from which they came in a way that not only promotes their personal academic success but hopefully also enhances the scope of academia to the benefit of other disadvantaged and non-traditional students who follow in their footsteps. Below are just a handful of points that may aid my fellow FGGS in this difficult work:

Be idealistic, but not too idealistic. If you’ve made it this far chances are good that perseverance, resilience, and a positive attitude about your own potential played no small role. Hold on to these qualities as you move forward in your graduate career, but monitor your expectations of academia as you move through graduate school. Every system has flaws and, yes, even your professors are human. Too much idealism about the nature of academia and its members will make you more likely to be much too hard on both yourself and those around you, and will probably hamper your academic progress.

Find an academic adviser that is also a mentor. Surround yourself with as many positive examples and as much support as possible. Do everything you can to find an academic adviser you admire, both as a professional and a person. This may be difficult if your program pre-selects your adviser, if your options are limited, or simply because it takes time to get to know another person. Certainly ask around about someone you are considering as an adviser, especially among fellow graduate students in your program who’ve been around the block. One good way to test the waters is to set up a face-to-face meeting with your prospective adviser, “come out” to her or him as a first-generation student, and ask for some specific recommendations on how you can succeed in the program. If this person draws a blank, grows visibly uncomfortable, develops a hostile tone, or completely dismisses the notion that the FGGS experience differs in any way from that of other graduate students, seek someone else. If you don’t have any alternatives to such a person, stay positive and build a collection of other people — both within your program and without — who can be the mentors you need to be successful.

Stay connected with your family and your past. Don’t forget where you came from and who helped get you to where you are now. Your network of family and friends can help carry you through any culture shock and other stress you experience as you work toward your academic goals. Given that many first-generation students come from low-income backgrounds, however, there may be experiences and elements of your past you would rather not think about or engage with. But your past made you who you are, and your perspective and insight are greatly needed in academia. There are many others who would like to be where you are, but for whatever reason will never get there. Consider the ways you can be their spokesperson, but don’t feel pressure to be the representative of a given culture, gender, race, or class.

Work through any difficulties with impostor syndrome, anxiety, depression, personal tragedy, the struggles of family members and friends, and the frustrations that accompany years of work as a low-wage, low-status graduate student. You won’t do yourself any favors by trying to avoid any of these problems. Learning healthy ways to cope with stress will be critical to your success as a graduate student. It can be tempting to harp upon how unfair it is that you have difficulties and disadvantages to cope with that others don’t, but focusing on these differences changes nothing and can be unhealthy. A little commiseration with fellow FGGS goes a long way in relieving some of this tension, but is no substitute for counseling and psychological help when it’s needed. If you find yourself overwhelmed or struggle with your daily habits, sleep patterns, academic progress, and personal relationships seek professional help. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Most colleges and universities have a variety of mental health services available to students, either free of charge or at very low cost, and all mental health providers operate under strict privacy guidelines. Consider how such tools can help you succeed and check into your options.

Speak up. Be a voice for your experiences and perspectives. Doing so will not only make the road less bumpy for those who follow in your footsteps; it will also enhance academia’s educational environment by pushing those within it to expand their understanding of the diversity of cultures and circumstances in which people live.

“Teaching About Race in History: New Perspectives and Pedagogies,” workshop notes

“Teaching About Race in History: New Perspectives and Pedagogies”, 4.5.2014

Dr. Jeannette Jones:

  • early modern period = critical to understanding ideas about race
    • as developed in the 18th & 19th century, Enlightenment & European thinkers
      • + colonial America
    • race as a social construct, with a history of its own → necessary for students to understand this
    • must understand role of gender in perpetuating ideas about race (e.g. slavery perpetuated through the race & status of the mother)
  • searches for primary sources to introduce students to these ideas^
    • pay attention to accessibility of the sources here
    • when get to the 19th century, pay attention to legislation (citizenship, property rights, expansion, movements attempting to challenging ideas about race + some peoples using ideas about race to forge identity and organize resistance against repression and slavery)
      • must consider the Dred Scott decision
  • finds that most students respond well to the above^ BUT are often surprised that people haven’t always thought about race as do now
  • when arrive at post-bellum period & the early 20th century, census records = very useful sources to use in conjunction with anti-miscegenation laws
  • 20th century includes a discussion of the Civil Rights movement, LGBTQ, Black Power movement
    • e.g. [MISSING word] River Collective Statement, National Black Feminist Association + some personal narratives & excerpts about people contemplating their racial identities
    • Vine Deloria, Desert Exile
    • uses some newspaper articles too

Dr. Kenneth Winkle:

  • emphasizing U.S. History, his area of specialization
  • 3 responsibilities to our students:
    • (1) teaching diversity through course content → non-European perspectives must be incorporated as part of the foundation & structure of our classes (NOT just sporadically interjected as an “add-on”)
      • lectures, readings, discussions
      • e.g. requires three readings: 1 on African Americans, 1 on Native Americans, 1 on women (& hopefully some documents written by diverse groups of peoples)
      • choice of textbook = critical → looks for a textbook with a broad focus
        • e.g. Mary Beth Norton’s A People & A Nation
    • (2) creating & maintaining a classroom environment in which everyone feels welcome and valued
      • faculty respecting students, students respecting faculty, students respecting each other
      • must make time to listen, not just talk (lecture)
      • respond thoroughly & thoughtfully to students’ questions and comments & incorporate thoughtfully into the lecture & classroom discussion
      • insist that students do the same with one another^
      • two questions on teaching evaluation mandated by the Board of Regents: Did the instructor treat the students with fairness & respect? Did the students treat the instructor fairly and respectfully?
        • Only two questions mandated → critical to the classroom environment
        • student writing = another crucial indicator of what’s going on in the classroom, what the instructor is bringing & how the students are responding
    • (3) representing a role model for our students → be a model of fairness & respect for our students
      • one thing to say it, another to live it
      • not just about teaching diversity – being diversity
      • also need to be aware of “red-flagging” diversity → diversity of perspectives should be a seamless component of our teaching & course content
      • diversity = not something we “hired someone else to do”; something that we all address in our work
        • not A.C.E. 9 requirement – it’s a part of history & part of the professional practice of history

Dr. Gerald Steinacher:

  • agrees with previous comments, particularly regarding listening to the students
  • teaching modern Jewish History, History of the Holocaust, History of Germany to a U.S. audience in Lincoln, Nebraska
    • first time he heard of Lincoln = within the context of Nazi propaganda in the 1970s and 80’s, being printed in Lincoln and smuggled into Austria to be used to support neo-Nazi groups
  • first, must learn where the students are coming from → cannot begin teaching wherever you like, need to know where the students are beginning
    • changes what he teaches based upon what he observes, learns about his student audience
    • pay particular attention to the first year’s teaching evaluations
  • uses primary sources, but ALSO people: survivors of the Holocaust to come speak to the class → “this really makes a difference”
    • much more impact than just reading a chapter in a textbook → dispels notions of the Holocaust as “long ago and far away”
  • also puts a great deal of effort into emphasizing the connections between nationalism and racism
    • 19th century European ideas about race based on language (rather than physical markers)
      • scientific racism
      • U.S. history connected to European history (e.g. clarified via eugenics, Charles Davenport in New York → Germany, West Africa) (forced sterilization)
      • for most students, this^ is very enlightening, something they are very surprised to learn
        • after the first year of teaching, learned needed to spend a good deal of time dispelling myths about the “Elders of Zion” → examine the history of this propaganda

Break-out sessions followed:

  • “Teaching About Racism in History,” with Jared Leighton and Dawne Curry
  • “Teaching About Whiteness in History,” with Jake Friefeld and Waskar Ari
  • “Teaching About the Origins of Race,” with Paul Strauss and James Coltrain

“Effective teaching statements and teaching portfolios” workshop notes

Below are my notes from another of UNL’s Office of Graduate Studies workshops, this time on the subject of creating an effective teaching statement and a teaching portfolio. The workshop was held on Thursday, February 20th.

A teaching portfolio = “a coherent set of materials including work samples and reflective commentary on them compiled by a faculty member [or graduate student] to represent his or her teaching practice as related to student learning and development.” (Hutchings, 1996)

  • a useful tool for…
    • identifying areas for improvement
    • developing your teaching methods/approach
    • documenting your teaching experience
    • preparing for academic interviews
  • focus today = preparing for the academic job interview
    • “the product of preparing a teaching portfolio may not be as useful to you in the long-run as the process

Portfolio content:

  • depends on the purpose
    • job search
    • awards application
    • promotion & tenure
  • varies across disciplines
  • linked to your goals for teaching & learning
  • three primary components:
    • roles & responsibilities
    • teaching statement
    • evidence of effective teaching

(1) Teaching responsibilities:

  • include: course number, course title, brief course description, course level (first year undergraduates/sophomores/juniors), date(s) taught, enrollment (number of students in course, maximum number allowed), description of your role in the course (recitation leader, instructor)
    • list these in reverse chronological order
      • be sure to update constantly, just as you would your C.V.
    • if haven’t taught courses, think about including very specific information on courses you would like to teach
    • a good option for your portfolio = to list these courses in table format (for easy browsing of your experience)

(2) Teaching statement:

  • need to get to the point where you can articulate “why you teach the way you teach” within a 30-second “elevator speech”
  • 1-2 page (single-spaced) statement that addresses:
    • What do you want students to do/learn? (learning objectives)
      • e.g. “I want students to become effective writers. I want them to formulate and articulate a stance through and in their writing.”
    • How do you help them learn? (methods)
      • e.g. “I use brief, in-class writing assignments to help students synthesize and critically evaluate information.”
    • How do you know if they’ve learned it? (assessment)
      • e.g. “I evaluate students’ blog posts in terms of content, synthesis, and relevance. Students are given examples of good posts and the grading criteria prior to the assignment.”
    • How do you measure your effectiveness?
      • e.g. “Every three to four weeks, I end the class by asking students to respond briefly to two questions: What’s the most important thing you learned today? and What questions still remain unanswered? Their responses help me identify what they understood from the discussion and what concepts are still unclear.”
  • NOT about telling your general “teaching philosophy” –> show, don’t just tell
    • the person(s) reading this statement are interested in what you’ve accomplished, learned, thought about more than simply what you think/believe
  • Keep in mind that a good teaching statement is:
    • concrete, personal/individualized, vivid, discipline specific, somewhat humble, all about student learning
  • Remember: Not all teaching takes place in the classroom. Think broadly about your contributions to student learning.
    • e.g. mentoring of undergraduate students can be included because it IS teaching; same for tutoring, for example

(3) Evidence of effective teaching:

  • include materials from:
    • oneself: syllabus, teaching sample, narrative reflection
    • colleagues: observation notes/summary, syllabus or material reviews/letters by recommenders
      • letters by faculty/other recommenders can be a particularly strong part of your teaching portfolio IF they are specific about your teaching
    • students: course ratings, comments, products/evidence of learning outcomes, letters, individual samples and aggregated summaries (anonymized & showing progress over the course of the semester)
      • offer raw data from course evaluations (to offer a fuller representation of your evaluations by students) BUT include samples that promote you as a teacher
  • other examples of evidence: list of courses taught, sample syllabi, sample assignments, sample quizzes/exams, teaching awards, evaluations by peers
  • when including student ratings/evaluationsbe selective:
    • choose items that link to your major claims
    • use a matrix/table to display and organize the evaluation questions you are using
    • provide mean (and median) ratings
    • include narrative commentary –> write about some of the feedback you’ve received to respond to criticism and/or illustrate ways you’ve responded to criticism and changed your teaching as a result
    • include selection of student comments that relate back to some of your major teaching goals
    • if appropriate, include complete evaluations in appendices (depends on the discipline)

Portfolio organization: (physical copy)

  • narrative description of teaching roles & responsibility
  • teaching statement
    • description of select teaching methods and strategies
    • highlighted teaching outcomes
    • insights/reflections and new goals
  • appedices (supporting data, documents, letters, etc.)
  • could maintain a physical copy to take with you to a job interview, although it will probably be infrequent that you will be asked to provide a physical copy

Qualities of a “strong” portfolio:

  • readability: format, headings, coherent, cohesive
  • storyline or “picture”: memorable fact/image, clear examples given
  • linked system of objectives, efforts, outcomes, adjustments: evidence that efforts do pay off or are changed

Revise, revise, revise:

  • remember your teaching statement = a work in progress
  • consider the suggestions of others and rewrite your statement over time
  • proofread carefully
    • remember that your statement is a writing sample –> you will be judged on the quality of your writing as much as the content

Final tips:

  • start now
  • be selective
  • don’t make any claims about your teaching you can’t document
  • don’t create your portfolio in isolation
  • consider it a work in progress
  • make cumulative tables & annual review narratives

“Project Management for Digital Humanities” workshop notes

Below are my notes from a Digital Humanities workshop I attended yesterday evening on project management. I was surprised by how specific and detailed the workshop was, and was encouraged to learn that the Digital Humanities are beginning to adapt the standards and language of business-oriented project management to suit the specific needs and aims of DH. Thank you to UNL Center for Digital Research in the Humanities’ (CDRH) Liz Lorang for putting this great workshop together.

Project Management for Digital Humanities


  • are unique/produce a unique result
  • have a defined scope
  • have a defined start and end
  • must be completed with set resources
  • useful to drive this^ definition home → can’t successfully manage the project if don’t have a clear, defined understanding of the above

Project management = “the application of strategies and methods to complete projects effectively and successfully”

  • a successful project…is completed on time and with the agreed upon resources; produces product deliverables and meets scope and quality requirements
  • NOT about exceeding expectations →if scope of project and expectations continue to expand, may not get the original project, idea completed
  • DHers working more in teams, need to be able to run projects effectively (esp. to get and justify funding)
    • when introducing more variables into a project, need a project manager to ensure project is progressing, goals are being met
    • projects are often looking for project managers → good way for graduate students to get good experience & translate this for your own projects
      • most often, the person behind the project idea = NOT the project manager
      • skills gap between DH folks who have great project ideas but don’t have time or resources to be able to do the management portion of this
  • there are many different types of project management
    • much of the language, materials on how-to manage projects = dealing with a specific business culture → not always related to DH concerns, standards, methods
    • e.g. “lean” project management = all about maximizing efficiency, use of resources, most “bang for the buck”
    • traditional, adaptive, discovery, extreme = the 4 primary types of project management
      • DH @ UNL sees quite a bit of traditional & adaptive
  • So what’s the right method?
    • goals, project activities → if BOTH = clearly defined, traditional = the way to go
      • if NOT clearly defined, adaptive may be more the way to go
    • not all projects will be managed the same way
    • across both methods (traditional, adaptive):
      • every project should have: defined goals, deliverables, scope, start & end dates, defined team & roles, defined stakeholders, defined resources
      • AND every project must include: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling, closing
      • BUT methods look different in practice
    • sometimes funding applications (e.g.) NEH funding application becomes the “founding document” BUT, often, things will change → and IF goals, definitions change, it is best for the sake of the project to write up all of the above^ very early on
  • traditional project management in practice = initiate → plan → execute → monitor → close
  • agile/iterative project management in practice = initiate → plan → execute → monitor → [repeat: plan → execute → monitor] → close
    • e.g. Whitman Archive standards need updated → need to explore first in order to determine what need to accomplish and how long it will take (won’t be a linear process: “code sprints” = work intensely on one problem for a week, then move on to the next problem)
    • e.g. DH practicum course being offered this semester: encourage students to set 3-hour goals as a way to begin exploring problems and risks, “real world” goals for solving problems
  • the CDRH uses a “charter form” for the initiate phase → Liz to share a copy with workshop attendees

Project charter:

  • Vision (Why? What question(s) are you answering?)
  • Mission (What?)
  • Success criteria (How will we know if the project is successful?)
  • Where and how the above^ is documented varies from one project to another, depending on who you work with, how big and/or formal the project team is
  • not the role of the project manager to create these things (although will be involved in this process), but need to be sure these things are articulated as early as possible
  • if mission/success criteria changes, need to determine the impact on the project → e.g. will the deadline(s) for the project, budget, goals also change?
  • more traditional models may also specify the following in their project charter:
    • sponsor & stakeholders
    • roles
    • assumptions & constraints working under
    • standards (e.g. thematic research collection, documenting what encoding standards you are using → this can be important to state in the early stages if, for example, you are farming out some of the work and/or if some members of the team don’t have a lot of technical knowledge)
    • budget (monetary as well as time budgets can be useful)
    • schedule (short-term project: month-by-month…)
    • milestones
  • really expansive project charters don’t tend to work well for academic projects
    • risk plan (known risks, possibilities for some unknowns – want to have contingency plans)
    • communication plan (sounds great in theory, but may not pan out in academic culture → various plans for breakdowns in communication) (BUT probably works well in class projects, when at a peer-level with members of the project)
    • work breakdown structure (often assume “chart-like” form, ascending/descending tasks, how tasks relate to one another, identify critical pathways, things that must be done in order for next step to be done)

Open discussion:

  • a lot of DH management is being done by women
  • Project Management Institute = basically has a monopoly on the certification in project management professional
    • DHSI & HILT have offered project management courses in the past BUT not yet wholly geared toward DH (still using a lot of approaches and language from business)
  • various types of software for delegating responsibilities?
    • Trac = used @ the CDRH for several projects & has worked well → can set milestones & see a roadmap
      • ALSO great way to keep track of who’s working on what (especially important for large projects), keep everyone updated on progress of project, document key decisions…
    • Asana = something one of the workshop attendees has used → it was “overkill”, things pile up, is very business-oriented
    • Basecamp = another option, not much experience using it in the room (it’s not open-access)
  • communications aspect may be one of the most difficult aspects of project management, especially when the project manager isn’t necessarily on equal footing with the members of the team