Blog Post

Finding the Best Way to Use Digital Tools--Face to Face, in the DiRT, and Online

Dear Lab Scholars, Thanks so much to the HASTAC Scholars who arranged a wonderful tool workshop this week.  For those of you who did not come, you missed something invaluable produced by five really dedicated and knowledgeable Lab peers.  I'm blown away by the talent in the group and also the modesty and willingness to help.  To me, THIS is what a Lab is about, the interactive working together to make something better.  Thank you five for doing this.


 David and I were each there and we each learned new tricks.  The great thing about a face-to-face working "lab" session is that you find out that your whole project has been hamstrung by one stupid toggle or one weirdly categorized drop down ...  face to face, you can explain the problem, someone can point, you click, the box drop downs, and suddenly there's "revision history" or, in my case, Google Sites.


I had used Google Sites once before without beginning to realize its potential.  Thank you HASTAC and Lab Scholars!   What a revelation, and how easy.  Now, I'm thinking I will now offer it as an option to all my graduate students next semester in the course I'm teaching, where each student will be building an online presence.  For those who already have one, we'll give feedback and critique on how to improve their site.  For those just starting out, Google Sites seems like a great place to start.


Except (another wonderful feature of the workshop) for IP issues.  Bobo raised those and is looking into how much Google "owns" your IP if you use the site.   Again, these are the kinds of issues that come out of a true Lab session, not talking heads but interacting minds. 


That's a long way of saying Thank you HASTAC/Lab Scholars for organizing an invaluable learning lab.


I was not able to attend the Scalar or AuthorLab collaborative and multimedia authoring sessions.   I have not seen any blogs about those yet (did I miss one?) but I know several Lab Scholars were there.   Can someone write out a few words or, if you tweeted, point me and everyone else to the hashtag or storified version? 




I've been seeing amazing blogs by some Lab Scholars.  They show up in our digest but just thank you for those.  I'm learning a lot and anyone will.  We all know and have different insights to share.




My biggest this morning comes from Amanda Gould who tweeted about DiRT:  Amazing wiki with links and very clear categories of all the things you might need a tool for and then all those tools, all in one convenient place.  Here's the link:     And I've pasted in a sample below.  Invaluable.  I'll use this one forever.


So, again, thanks to all!   Keep it coming.




Digital Research Tools (DiRT)

 This wiki collects information about tools and resources that can help scholars (particularly in the humanities and social sciences) conduct research more efficiently or creatively.  Whether you need software to help you manage citations, author a multimedia work, or analyze texts, Digital Research Tools will help you find what you're looking for. We provide a directory of tools organized by research activity, as well as reviews of select tools in which we not only describe the tool's features, but also explore how it might be employed most effectively by researchers.


If you are unfamiliar with some of the jargon, please see our Glossary page.




Yes, great session and many thanks to the HASTAC scholars for taking time to organize it.  Amanda's use of Google Docs is inspiring and will end up in my class next semester.  And Darren's use of Google Sites has given me many, many ideas!  Learning by doing--the only way to go.

I attended both the Scalar session and the Rice Univ. AuthorLab session.  Scalar is a pretty impressive platform for multimodal publishing, which has its complexities, but looks more and more robust.  Public beta by March 2013, and those who were at the session have their own accounts to play around with the platform.  It's very much a platform to put authored materials into an aesthetic and thought-provoking presentation package.

But one has to commit to it as the authoring platform for whatever the project might be, because Scalar's interface with existing individual working tools, wordprocessors, for instance, is not its strongest point.  It doesn't make many concessions to anyone who is in a transitional phase in writing and arguing, that is, moving from text-articulated argument to more multimodal presentations of results:  you can't hold on to very much from your wordprocessing days and are forced to cut and paste into Scalar.  I admire the creative push the platform is favoring, but for many of us (me included), who have to wean ourselves away from text-articulated argument, Scalar doesn't make many concessions...

AuthorLab is Google Docs on steroids!  It's extremely promising as a collaborative authoring platform where co-authors and co-researchers can exchange, combine, co-edit, co-author in a very straightforward way.  With logging possibilities and tracking of editing changes that move far, far beyond the realtively primitive nature of Google Docs.  Whatever you change in Google Docs is written over and disappears--unless you return to earlier versions to recover passages.  Rich logging and tracking tools in AuthorLab go way beyond that in functionality.  It feels like a creative space in which all the collaborators find themselves (a room, metaphorically speaking), where they can share or have their own private sub-room, easily go back and forth, and bring into the shared space whatever parts of their work they wish (with chatting and telephoning built in--without ever leaving the platform).

The beauty of it is that it uses existing web tools and simply cements them together into a common work environment.  So, roughly, conceptually, AuthorLab is a virtual space where two or more people can write together with great ease and convenience and export their final product into common publishing formats.  I really like the concept--it's simple from a basic programming standpoint, because it does not pretend to invent everything, but, rather, takes existing tools off the shelf and cements them together into an environment, so that the user does not have to think about the manipulations for sharing work and writing outside the virtual space AuthorLab creates--the underlying tools do this seamlessly.  Thumbs up!  I can hardly wait to see a beta!

There was some talk about lnking AuthorLab to Scalar as the presentation platform of co-written work (Erik Loyer of Scalar attended the AuthorLab session).  I do hope that AuthorLab does not get too sidetracked though, because its strength is in collaborative research and writing--not it complex presentations of results.  If there can be hooks to Scalar, great!  But I hope the AuthorLab group remains focused on the richness of the collaborative work environment which is its original inspiration.




Lisa Spiro's wonderful and pioneering work with DiRT continues on as Bamboo DiRT at ... I would highly recommend everyone interested update their bookmarks and join up: it's now super easy for anyone to add tools and information!


Thanks, David.  Does AuthorLab need Beta testers?  I'd love to use it in my graduate class next semester.  It sounds exactly like what we need right now. 


Cathy, they are not yet ready to demo a beta product.  What they said yesterday was that they now have a "proof of concept" environment created that works, and within the next couple of weeks, they'll be able to target a beta date.