Blog Post

Field Notes: An Interview with Co-Authors

Last night marked the beginning of a new year at the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Humanities. The event, a welcome party for new Ph.D. Lab scholars, was also a celebration of the lab’s various achievements over the 2012-2013 academic year.

At the event, I stood beaming as Dr. Cathy Davidson discussed Field Notes: A Guide to New Theories, Methods, and Practices for Open Peer-Teaching and Learning (2013), an on-line book produced by Ph.D. Lab members and graduate students in Dr. Davidson’s Spring 2013 seminar “21st Century Literacies.” As a contributing author to this work and a member of the Ph.D. Lab, I knew the amount of work that had gone into producing this book. Champagne glass raised, I celebrated with colleagues and friends as we reminisced about the past year and eagerly discussed plans for the current semester. This was a celebration well deserved.

In honor of my co-authors and the Ph.D. Lab’s first anniversary, I am posting this blog of an interview with the authors of Field Notes. The interview took place on April 16, 2013 as member of “21st Century Literacies” responded to a series of questions I posted on a Google doc during our class period. Below, the authors of Field Notes comment on their experiences writing and publishing a co-authored book as a final class assignment.

Please feel free to join the conversation, respond to the interview, and ask your own questions in the comments below.



What is the book about? How did you come up with the original idea for the eBook?

Cathy Davidson: This book is intended to be a very practical set of notes about how a classroom can be transformed by various collaborative, collective thinking, writing, seeing, and doing exercises, some of which involve traditional critical reading and some of which require creative contributions from multiple perspectives and disciplines. The book offers a set of worked examples of how such collaborative thinking can be used in the classroom today.  For example, we began with the Mozilla Manifesto as a guide and wrote a set of principles for our own course, turning Mozilla’s idea of “open source programming” into our concept of “open source learning.” And we used Raymond’s famous “Cathedral and the Bazaar” to again help us create a series of principles for peer-to-peer contribution. The reader of the book will read about principles for interactive, collective learning and then also see how we put those principles into action in the class. That is why we decided to call this “field notes”:  it is not a final statement but a kind of guide for the field, by a group of people working together in the field and, in essence, to contribute to a new field. We see our field as those who are experts but also those putting a toe in these waters for the first time--so we are including the basics, moments of uncertainty, process, even failure at times, as well as some really triumphant successes to encourage people to try and see what might work. That, to me, is the message of 21st century literacies, learning how to experiment and learn from experiments that produce results different than one anticipated. We are not expertsguidingothers, but a collective takingfield notesabout our experiences, learning from one another. That’s what open source learning is--a process of generosity and learning, not completion and productivity. It’s the result (a way of thinking and adapting in the world) that is amazing. Life is beta. Always a beginning and a process. This way of learning, and this book, are beta too. It’s an “agile” way of learning, all puns intended.  


What were the initial goals? Why publish an eBook?

Patrick Thomas Morgan: At first, our major goal was to find a way to let others know about the many topics we were discussing in class: a kind of record of the semester.  With this initial idea in mind, we brainstormed the best way to frame our topics, choosing between such ideas as creating a guide, field notes, or---something Cathy explained---a worked example, in which we present concepts and pedagogies, how their implementation worked in our class, and suggestions for how others might want to approach the specific pedagogical technique or philosophy. As for the reason why we specifically chose an eBook (with printable options), we realized that we wanted a medium that was accessible on multiple formats: a classroom with a low-speed internet access might find it more useful to have a printed book, while other classrooms, teachers, or students might prefer the digital option. Overall, these were our structural goals; in terms of actual content, our goals---though slightly different from week to week, depending on the presenter---revolved around the idea of incorporating the digitally networked environment into current pedagogies.

Elizabeth A. Pitts: Also, I think it’s important to demystify digital literacies.  I know several K-12 teachers who are hesitant about jumping into the digital world for various reasons, including some who feel defensive about face-to-face education. Cathy has written eloquently about how digital media challenges educators to think hard about the purpose and value of what we do face-to-face, and I agree with her.  I also think it’s important to make informal, inexpensive resources available for educators who are curious about the digital but may be intimidated or have limited time to explore.  Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart, which we discuss in the book, is a wonderful guide in this vein, and I hope ours will be another.  Our class had the luxury of spending a whole semester thinking about what digital literacies are, and how teachers and students can work with them.  Hopefully this guide will enable others to benefit from the experience we were privileged to have.


What digital tool are you using to publish online and why?

Anonymous: Google Docs: We used Google Docs in order to coordinate and collaborate while working on our chapters. With eight people working together, we needed a tool that would allow us to work together and review each other’s work without logistic overhead. Google Docs were a resource that we used throughout the entire course, so it was a familiar tool for us to gravitate towards as we composed and submitted our chapters in their final form.

In order to publish our work, we decided to go through Lulu in order to take advantage of the ability to distribute our work as both an e-book and as a print-on-demand book for readers who wanted a copy they could hold in their hands.


How is the book structured and how did you arrive at that consensus?

Anonymous: The Duke 21C collective first arrived at the book structure organically-that is to say each chapter actually reflected the flow of the advanced seminar throughout the semester.  We began with a 21C collaboratively crafted digital manifesto, which ultimately became a chapter.  We had an in-class Skype discussion with Howard Rheingold, which also became a chapter.  As the book began to shape itself we then refined the chapter structure and sequencing collaborative using Google Drive as a place to keep and track our ideas.  

Omar Daouk: As an in-class exercise, we each started with a large poster-size piece of paper, markers, and Post-Its, and mapped out how we individually visualized the flow of the book structure. After completing the individual component of the task, we each rotated clockwise and viewed our neighbor’s visualization. After looking at each person’s vision, we had a group conversation and collaboratively decided what common   


In what ways has working on the E-book impacted you?

Christina C. Davidson: When we first came up with the idea of producing an online publication. I thought “Great! What a neat way to make the class about a project. The immediate thought was that this project would be a good way to get a publication on our CVs and to share with our departments why thinking about transformations and solutions for education in the Digital Age is so important. Then we began the process, and at times it was difficult because we had to collaborate on things like the title and chapter order. I’m a person who really likes organization and likes to think about things in categories, so it was hard for me at times to follow what was going on when so many people were throwing around ideas and nothing seemed concrete. Miraculously it somehow came together. I think I learned about the capabilities of using digital tools for collaborations.

Cristiane Damasceno: I am enjoying the collaborative aspect of writing this E-Book. I am really curious to see the final product. I hope that the book will be able to translate the cooperation that we are engaging in this class.


What impact do you hope the book will have?

Cristiane Damasceno: I hope that the book will help educators and students to perceive classroom settings and formal learning in a different way. Many of our assumptions related to formal education were developed in the late nineteenth century in the light of the Industrial Revolution. Nevertheless, the digital revolution affords new ways of learning and expands the physical boundaries of the traditional classroom through the use of information and communication technologies. Therefore, we need to revisit some of our assumptions related to education, learning and teaching practices.

Jade E. Davis: I hope that the book will create conversations out in the world as people are able to encounter it. I’m hoping that the ability to remix will be seen as an invitation to tear it apart and put it back together.


In what ways do you imagine possibilities for review of the book in professional organizations, uptake in disciplines (or resistance)?  

Anonymous: We had Ken Wissoker come in from Duke University Press to speak about what this would do for us in terms of ability to count towards anything professionally. I think we went into the project knowing there would be resistance in terms of it being academic, and I’m not sure if any of us will try to make it count towards anything. At the same time, it is something that we think should be discussed. So we are hoping that the book creates conversations around 21century literacies. In terms of where things are going in education, the academy, etc., this is something that we are all confronting.




1 comment

Nice to see the reflections on the way the project was conceived and the way it came together.  Félicitations!