Last month, I posted about using Many Eyes to create a collaborative textual analysis project for my Interpretation of Literature class. I had found and set up the software (which turned out to be wonderfully easy); as we moved through the literature, the class added to the Google doc in which we tracked various themes in Wilde's litererature. When I first posted, we had read two of his fairy tales ("The Happy Prince" and "The Nightingale and the Rose"). Now, we've finished our Wilde unit having also read The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Ballad of Reading Gaol: five texts in total.
This is part of what the Google doc looks like:
And a segment of the resulting textual diagram (using Many Eyes' Network Diagram tool):
How might I add to this project in future?
1. I'd provide a handout detailing precisely what sort of data we were looking for, and guidelines for input. I spent perhaps ten minutes cleaning up the data before making the final diagram--eliminating duplicates, making sure that the same ideas used the same words (flower v. flowers, for example), and adding a few last-minute themes. This doesn't seem like an undue amount of work, but if these things had been laid out in advance, the data could have been cleaner.
2. I'd require all students to register on Many Eyes, and write a paragraph or so on a particular term, on how their contributions turned out, or on what they might learn from the data. (I didn't do it this time because I wasn't sure how the data would turn out, but it turned out well enough that I think this would be useful.)
3. Another possibility would be to be a bit more organized in assigning students to particular texts, to make sure that they all got roughly the same amount of attention. The randomness sort of worked here, since we certainly had no idea what the final chart would look like (and it seems to reflect the relation between the texts fairly well!) But that integrity in inputting the data would probably be retained even if certain students were responsible for particular texts.
In short, we kept this work as something of a "side project"--something we looked at for a few minutes at the start or end of class. But it could certainly be transitioned to a larger project, with potential for organized group work and formal reponses.
As a Victorianist, I can't help but think of its potential for serial novels with multiple plotlines: you could map the themes in each installment, or the themes of each plotline. Mapping a text like Bleak House would be epic!