Blog Post

Video from the Webinar on Teaching and Researching with Scalar

This workshop served as an introduction to Scalar, a free, open-source authoring and publishing platform designed for scholars writing media-rich, long-form, born-digital scholarship. Developed by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture at the University of Southern California, Scalar allows scholars to assemble media from multiple sources and juxtapose that media with their own writing in a variety of ways; to annotate video, audio, images, source code, and text using the platform's build-in media annotation tools; and to structure essay- and book-length works in ways that take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats. This workshop covers basic features of the platform, including a review of existing Scalar books and a hands-on introduction to paths, tags, annotations, and importing media, and then move on to more advanced topics including the effective use of visualizations, annotating with media, and a primer on customizing appearances in Scalar.

Bios of speakers and more information about the event is available here.

Collective Notes:

  • New skin is under development right now -- optimized for ipad
  • 5 Reasons to use Scalar in teaching:
    1. 1. situate student-centered pedagogy - decenter the professor professing
    2. 2. Collaborative learning - creates communities of learning
    3. 3. encourages engagement with their understanding of digital knowledge, production of information, how digital projects organize and present information
    4. 4. question & push back against scholarly publishing models - what is published, who benefits, how things are published, how is ti a form of gatekeeping
    5. 5. promote responsibility / chance for students to think of themselves as engaged with public communities
  • Things Anne learned in classroom with Scalar:
    • Class size!!! Critical to consider - you can assign single-student projects, but they generally work best as the final project that they’re working towards over the course of the semester. Either collaboratively or individual.
    • They might get confused - it’s a publishing platform, not a presentation platform
    • Scalar isn’t as flexible for hosting an entire class of material
    • Some people make an entire site - including syllabus and student discussions. Anne recommends making Scalar the single deliverable/final project, and holding the student discussions and student files elsewhere.
    • SCAFFOLD!!! Break up larger assignments into chunks, emphasize writing, research, layout. First assignment - put a video and piece of text up, annotate, add tags, put their page in another path
    • Have them compose short essays or assignments and do peer review (or faculty feedback)
    • Great for intro to DH classes - students picking up different abilities - charts, graphs, timelines etc can be embedded in Scalar by the end of hte class, and use a narrative to tie it together
    • Composing in the platform is somewhat difficult and they can lose sight of the end goal when they’re in the platform.
    • Anne - videos, maps of
    • Hold labs in class -- give them a chance to work with each other, work through questions, ask you for feedback and for you to see where they are
    • Be mindful it’s a new tool and they won’t automatically know how to use it -- it is an additional time obligation so keep that in mind with other assignments, readings, labs etc.
    • Relinquish authority and control -- allow students to take power in this assignment. System forces you to trust your students. It’s hard to track contributions for example.
    • You can ask students to turn themselves into tags, which allows you to track their contributions
    • Anne has developed a rubric with her students about exceptional, passable etc student work. Then she also averages her own assessment -- students are often much harder on themselves.
    • Scalar - enables multiple authors per book
    • Users are identified by number - the backend gets really messy. Anne learned to develop a system of naming so it’s easy to identify the creators. i.e. each piece of content has their name on it.
    • Comments - opportunity to provide feedback to the students
    • High learning curve but still accessible
    • Don’t assume students are “digital natives” (which is a fallacy anyway :-) )
    • Be confident as instructor in using Scalar -
    • More intuitive for them once they start the smaller scaffolded projects
    • Watch the Scalar webinars and look at their instructions
    • Assign very small early assignments to get started right away
    • Have them work in groups -- helps them even out in skill level. Distribute tasks, learn from each other.

Ideas for how to use Scalar in YOUR classroom?


  1. If files are referenced (and not copied) what happens if that file/document disappears from its location?
    • Craig: Great question -- this is one of the reasons we recommend archives that don’t have DMCA takedown operations (e.g., Internet Archive, Critical Commons) over some that do (e.g., YouTube). You could also host media on your own server and link into Scalar, though you’d need to add metadata by hand.
  2. Instagram image liking besides using the html link
    • Craig: Could you elaborate? We are putting our instagram post in via html code embedded versus loading images with their html code. This shouldn’t be a problem -- you can place <iframe>s (what I believe you’d be cutting-and-pasting from Instragram?) into the page content.
  3. Storage limits?
    • Craig: We allow uploads directly to the Scalar server. We presently limit the upload file size to about 10 megabytes (which is pretty low, especially for a video). This is intended to promote use of partner archives to house media.
  4. Multiple authors?
    • Craig: Yep, multiple authors are in use in a variety of books. See
    • Anne: This is really easy to do. Each contributor needs to have a Scalar account and then you just add them using the add user button in the dashboard. You’ll need to know their exact name though.
  5. How are the projects backed up / stored on the Scalar site -- is there any kind of guarantee they will be persistent and stored? Or can you download your entire project/software so it’s replicable if Scalar disappears or crashes?
    • Craig: You can download your entire Scalar book (content + relationships) as one RDF-JSON (or RDF-XML) file. This can then be use later to re-import, or imported to another Scalar install. See . You can also download Scalar from GitHub ( and install on your own server, then import your Scalar books from another source.
    • Can’t download as epub or pdf etc. because of embedded media and metadata etc
    • But can download entire Scalar book as one RDF/XML document (includes references, relationships, metadata etc.), and do another Scalar install
  6. Is there any integration with data visualization programs? For instance, if I produced some visualizations using Gephi or Mallet, would I be able to make those visualizations a page?
    • Craig: No built in integration. However, the new Scalar interface to-be-launched soon has an “iframe view” layout that is intended to present <iframe> embeds in an elegant way. Ie, you could embed the vis’ as iframes in this layout. (In our present Scalar interface, you can embed <iframe>s as well, though its size will be limited to the page content area
  7. I am totally lost on how to add tags; I have tried to figure it out but have missed the exact moment in a webinar where they show it?
    • Craig: Scalar can definitely be difficult to get the hang of out of the gate. To make a tag, you can:
    • Start by making a new page (“New”) button at the bottom when logged in.
    • Give the page a title, description, content, as normal
    • Towards the bottom of the edit page, find “To make this page a tag, specify the items that it tags” -- clicking this link will bring up a list of all of the other pages in your project … you can select one or more pieces of content
    • Save, and now your new page is a tag (ie, it has gained “tag behavior”)
    • Hopefully helpful? I am lost on how to tag per name? or is tagging word like “renaissance” or page named “Renaissance”?

No comments