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What Exactly Is a PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge?

Good question:  what exactly is the Duke PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge?   Good answer:   we have some projects, some principles, some events, some practices to kick off with and then the rest is, by design, what the PhD Lab Scholars will shape.  It's their future.


[NOTE:  The next paragraph was added on September 3 to help clarify some ambiguities one or two people noted in a Twitter stream.  Thanks for the opportunity to clarify]:   What exactly is our PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge?

The Duke PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge (@DukePhDLab) is a local program based on the idea that every student earning a doctorate these days in the humanities and social sciences should have facility with various information technologies that have transformed the way we communicate, interact, publish, do research, and create scholarly networks with peers in other fields, at other institutions.   And, true to our convictions, we will try to make as many aspects of what we do available free to the public as possible.   We will do that in several ways:  first, there will be many public events and workshops that anyone in the area is invited to attend;  second, we will webstream as many events as possible and publicize those; and, third, we will continually be translating projects to a larger public sphere and using that sphere to create a larger conversation.  


For example, one reason I'm editing this blog and including this paragraph is because, on the Twitter stream, some people confused this Duke program with the HASTAC Scholars program.   HASTAC Scholars is also run out of HASTAC Central, located at Duke, but it is for any student, undergraduate or graduate, whose institution makes a commitment to nominate them and who goes through the nomination process.  If an institution nominates a student, then they become an institutional member, a way of distributing support.  HASTAC itself charges no fees or dues for this international student program or for participating in the 9500+ HASTAC network.   To learn more about the HASTAC Scholars program, go here.

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The Duke PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge is an offering by Duke University, made possible by the Graduate School, the Franklin Humanities Institute, the Dean of Arts and Sciences, the Provost's Office, and HASTAC@Duke.  I learned from Twitter yesterday about several other great programs around the world:  from Monash University in Australia to the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada .  .  . and many in between.   In fact, there are so many rich variations that an early project we'll do with the PhD Lab is a demonstration project on wiki's and social media and we'll create a wiki in which we solicit as many programs as possible to add url's, abstracts, and some sample projects so we can all learn from what one another does.   That is another "free and open and public" part of what our Duke PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge is striving for.  We make public our ambitions, programs, and projects hoping to (a) inspire others and (b) to hear back from others in a way that will allow us to make what we are doing even better.    To my mind, that is a defining quality of digital knowledge:  it's interactivity beyond its own immediate sphere.


Next year, we hope to build an actual physical Lab space.  This year, we have a seminar room and a multi-media editing room reserved for us at special times each week and we have access to many of the facilities and all the expertise of the other Labs in the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke.  In general, the PhD Lab will sponsor an event and then do a follow-up workshop where Lab Scholars are offered the opportunity to turn some aspect of the workshop into a project, pursued individually or collaboratively.  Scholars will then show others in the Lab their project in a "crit" session and the interative process will lead to a second version of the project that will be included in the Scholars' PhD Lab ePortfolio.   At the end of the year, each Scholar will have a presentation ePortfolio to show to future employers and to be part of a cv, and will receive a final letter of certification for having completed a year in the Lab.   Even more, we hope each Scholar will leave with new skills, new ideas, new ways of thinking about ongoing and future scholarly research and will have used an array of new techniques in their own classrooms.   


The point is to erase the difference between theory/practice/research/pedagogy/yacking/hacking/thinking/making/critique/creativity/individual/group/teaching/learning.    Those are all binaries we hope to confuse, contest, confound, and recreate.

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On August 31, Duke PhD Lab CoDirector David Bell and I met to think through some of the events in place for the semester, while still leaving plenty of room for the unexpected, and while keeping all open-ended enough to be shaped by the needs, ambitions, skills, and goals of the PhD Lab Scholars.   The whole point is to make sure that future is a great one, one in which the PhD Lab Scholars have not only a stake but the knowledge, skills, and drive to play a formative, leadership role.   [NB:  Applications for the Duke PhD Lab Scholars are due September 3: ]


For those currently enrolled doctoral students at Duke University thinking of applying and for those beyond Duke contemplating similar programs for their own universities, here is a synopsis of some of our thinking to date.  It will change (if we're successful) so this is draft and preliminary but gives a pretty good insight into what we know will be an awesome inaugural year.  We will be making many events available to the public and especially to the HASTAC community via this website as well as on the PhD Lab website:


The PhD Lab method is "yack" and "hack."   Workshops.  Think sessions.  Imaginative, exploratory, and practical projects (making things).  Presenting those projects to the group for feedback, comment, discussion, new collaborative partnerships, and then taking the project to the next iterative level and including it in a digital portfolio.  Constantly finding the best partners for a new project, the best partners for feedback.  Thinking in new media, with new data, and materializing ideas by turning them into projects and communicating them to a larger public.  


The sample projects below are suggested, amorphous, some Scholars will do some, others will do others, some alone, some collaboratively.     The key will be never keeping the workshops and projects abstract and theoretical but finding ways to link them back to the Scholars' ongoing educational projects, dissertations, papers, teaching, and practices in a transformative (or, simply, useful and usable) way.  


Scholars' will be challenged to make this PhD Lab as relevant to their own work and to their future as possible, constantly using their disciplines and their work to enrich the intellectual life of the PhD Lab.  

In other words, we do not see this PhD Lab as an add on. We consider it vital to the way we the humanities will be practiced in the future, the way it more and more is being practiced.   We also see it as deeply introspective, seizing this transitional moment in how we all interact and communicate (informally as well as in the world of formal graduate education) and trying to understand what new is revealed about our working assumptions in the humanities and social sciences, including that very division of silo'd academic fields.   In other words, we believe the PhD Lab has the potential to be foundational, fundamental, and transformative.   Our goal is to ask the questions that are often never asked, to find answers for those questions, and to help every PhD Lab Scholar feel confident, equipped, and prepared to be a leader helping to shape the future of higher education at what is clearly a transformative and transitional time.


PhD Lab Focus, Events, Topics for  Fall 2012  (We will be publishing a full calendar of events soon.  These will be open to the public and many will be livestreamed and archived.)

  • Sound and sound studies    What is sound studies?  How do we make scholarship with and about sound?  How do we study it?  How do we "write" with and about sound?  How do we play it? How do we publish it?   Here's the url about an upcoming graduate-student event:   And to their marvelous website: .  And here's another link to the HASTAC Scholars Forum "Feel the Noise":  
  • assessment and evaluation;  how we measure, what we count, what we value as educators, as students, and as a society.  This workshop will be kicked off on September 12 by Professors Kyle Peck and Khusro Kidwai who have developed a prototype customizable assessment tool, the eRubric, that aids in the essay-style grading in very large sclasses, currently being beta-tested by art history as well as science classes at Penn State.  What is great about the tool beyond its obvious utility is that, in customizing, we have to think about what are our categories of value.  We rarely articulate what we value and what we count in our classes, even in small classes.  Moreover, it can be a class project to collectively determine the metrics for success, something research shows actually facilitates the learning process.  Evaluation is thereby integrated into learning (as it should be but rarely is).  For more information about this event: Project:  develop an evaluation system for your course that measures the goals you believe to be important.
  • humanities and interpretive social science online   Project:  develop an online component of your research or teaching.   Additional possible project:   create a wiki of programs offered by other universities, similar to the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge.  Use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to invite others to contribute to the wiki.      On October 4, we are proud to host a joint visit at Duke of modernism and queer theory scholar Petra Dierkes-Thrun and her partner, artificial intelligence scientist Sebastian Thrun.  Petra will conduct a workshop on Oscar Wilde and his "after images" in queer theory and contemporary culture and will also discuss how she uses digital affordances in her traditional humanities classes.   After, Professor Dierkes-Thrun and David Bell and I will hold a workshop on what it would mean to construct a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) for tens of thousands of students that valued the different modes of learning in the human and interpretive sciences, in art and art history, and addressing queer theory topics frankly and openly, not beyond the safer walls of the academy. The same evening, Professor Sebastian Thrun will discuss teaching his AI class at Stanford last year and having 160,000 students register.  He now is CEO of a company Udacity that offers fourteen courses online for free while also offering for-fee services for certification, resume building, and for employers looking to hire those who have been certified in Udacity's rigorous program.  (NB:  I admire Udacity for being very clear about what is free, what isn't, and to whom.  Not all MOOC's are so clear about who constitutes and is served by the "21st Century University").  Here's the url for Udacity:  Here's more information about the events and then a press release will be available soon:   Project:  Spring 2013 semester, PhD Lab students at Duke will work with undergraduates in a course taught by myself and bestselling author and economic behaviorist Dan Ariely to turn our course into a MOOC. The course is called "Surprise Endings:  Social Science and Literature" and we'll pair classic social science experiments with classic literary, artistic, and filmic texts to see how different academic areas think about human nature, what are the terms of evidence, the conclusions reached, and the points of overlap and difference.  Students will conceive of a variety of ways (including online experiments, online reading/discussion groups, and so forth) to make this an interactive MOOC.  You can read more about it here:
  • visual studies, visualization   We live in a visual world, everyone says.  Scholarship and teaching are still largely text-based or quantitatively based.   What does it mean to think visually, teach visually, think visually? Professor Richard Powell, the distinguished art historian,  is our first faculty member in the PhD Lab.  How is he using digital media in his teaching and research. (To read more about Professor Powell:  )Project:  recast a component of an ongoing research project or a unit in one of your courses largely or entirely in images.
  • data and the future of the disciplines  How do new methods of data collection, analysis, retrieval, sorting, search, and visualization change the boundaries between disciplines, the nature of the disciplines, the borders of what we know or think we know?   Project:  crunch some data you didn't even know was "there" before.  What does it mean?  Additional sample project:  Work with HASTAC on its new NSF grant analyzing its own social network and academic impact:
  • digital skills (identity management, citation and research practices, online publication principles and practices)  Duke's Library will conduct three workshops on these areas for the PhD Lab and other Duke students.  More information to come later.    
  • multimedia online publication and new forms of peer-to-peer scholarly review  (Scalar workshop)  Scalar is a new tool for publishing born digital multimedia scholarship in a format that is as easy as blogging.  Eric Loyer from Scalar will be at Duke this Fall to demo and involve students in Scalar's ongoing networked visual cultural efforts.   Project:  build a Scalar project for your ongoing research or teaching.
  • public humanities and public representation of specialized, theoretical, or controversial humanities topics  Project:  PhD Scholars will work on the public representation of the "Everyday Racism, Everyday Homophobia" Symposium on November 8. 
  • social networking and social media to build research communities across boundaries of disciplines, methods, and institution.   Project:  Become part of the HASTAC community by launching a HASTAC Scholars Forum on a topic that arises from the PhD Lab or from overlapping work in the three other ongoing John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Labs:  (1) The Haiti Lab, with its ongoing educational and research collaborations with scholars in Haiti and around the world and its particular range of ongoing scholary projects on digital archives, neuroscience, and networked learning communities focusing on slave history, the contemporary cholera epidemic, disaster relief, and also the arts:.  (2) the BorderWork(s) Lab which focuses on GPS and other geolocational scholarship centering on refugees, immigration, encampments, and other bounded and unbounded geographical spaces outside of conventional nation-states   and (3) Greater than Games which has built an augmented reality interactive multiplayer game and invites students to participate in the game band build out additional aspects of this real-life learning game that works over a range of networked and programmable devices including desktop computers, iPhones, iPads, etc., and develops rich narrative content that emerges interactively with player collaborations and choices.
  • extending the mission of higher education   How do we change higher education to change the world?  Project:  Find the best way to present transformative educational work (such as the PhD Lab and your work in the Lab) to a general public in a convincing, compelling, persuasive way that makes it clear teaching and learning are investments in society's future. 


 FINAL PROJECT:  Plan  the second semester.  




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