Blog Post

Three projects and starting to think about digital humanities


Hello HASTAC community.  For my first HASTAC Scholar post, I feel I ought briefly to introduce myself and to describe my three current projects.  I am a first-year doctoral candidate, who recently returned to academia from a stint in a tech firm in China.  One of my research interests is games, specifically the role of failure in cultivating ethos in players.  In particular, I wonder how the Turing test with its associated system of questions might help composition students analyze rhetorical situations.

At present, I have three projects.  One project is the Sugar Labs at NDSU.  My advisor, Kevin Brooks, and Chris Lindgren, a graduate of North Dakota State University and current doctorate candidate at the University of Minnesota, recommended that I participate with the project.  Incidentally, they also encouraged my participation with HASTAC as well.  Sugar Labs at NDSU is an effort by several faculty members and students, from the English department and the computer science department, to develop a smarter computer culture in our local community.  A part of this project is to connect with elementary school students in order to encourage computer literacy and computational thinking.  The activities include exploring what a computer is and investigating how language functions in a computer.  Based in part on the HASTAC discussion of badges, we decided to incorporate a system of badges with the activities.  The selected schools have a large portion of students who do not have access to many of the pieces of technology (e.g., laptops, high speed Internet) often assumed to be “universally available.”  Sugar Labs provides these students with the curriculum and some equipment to help them.

Another project is dubbed the Trans-Atlantic Project (TAP), which is attached to an International Technical Communication course and several upper division writing courses.  For the technical communication course, we collaborate with universities in France, Finland, Belgium, Spain, and Italy to prepare technical documents for translation into global English and controlled English.  My interest is applying software development techniques (perhaps from the Agile system, not sure yet) to the translation process.  After gaining a sense of how the project operates, I would like to branch the project into a Trans-Pacific Project through my contacts in China and Japan, as well as NDSU’s partnerships with several Korean universities.  A contributing factor to the existence of this project is that Microsoft has its second largest corporate campus located in Fargo, and most of the company’s document translation occurs at this Fargo campus.  We will spend some time with the UX lab.  This opportunity excites me because I have limited experience with the UX side of software development.

My third project is a writing fellowship program attached to the Writing in the Sciences course that I teach.  The vertical-curriculum of NDSU’s composition courses has junior-level and higher undergraduates placed into a writing-intensive course dedicated to a specific discourse community.  A significant part of the Writing in the Sciences course is communicating with a non-technical/non-specialist audience.  To that end, I have proposed the “manga guide” approach to science discussion.  Using the Manga Guide series from No Starch Press as a reference point, I have my students designing interactive materials for an end of semester conference.  The projects cover a spread of mediums.  Their level of technological competency varies significantly.  Some seem mystified by the sight of a Prezi about the cosmetic use of botox, while others create elaborate wiki-like entries for concepts related to the oil drilling techniques used in western North Dakota.  One project in particular that has me excited is a pair of students decided that my challenge of “gamifying” complex topics was worth their time.  I am not sure how their game about enzyme classification will happen, but the experiment is in progress.

All three projects, I think, have some relation to digital humanities (DH), usually through the concept of computer literacy or computational thinking.  Computer literacy is a complicated concept, and I feel the concept permits me to digress into my thoughts about DH. My approach to understanding DH is to think of it as a hybrid.  Of course, I might have hybrids and hybridity on my mind after completing my master’s paper on Salman Rushdie, so my understanding has a somewhat postcolonial bent.  My Rushdie seminar professor, RS Krishnan, encouraged us to think about hybrids as the comingling of aspects from several ontologies thereby generating a new ontology.  So, fumbling to formulate questions, from which ontologies does DH pull and what aspects are pulled from those ontologies?


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