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DH Project Update Trip Report Undergraduate Fellows

ILiADS 2017

As an incoming freshman last year, I never imagined I would have the opportunity to work as a research assistant by my second semester at W&L. During orientation week, I met Dr. Stephanie Sandberg and learned about her play, Stories In Blue, which tells the stories of six sex trafficking survivors in Michigan. Through the Digital Humanities Initiative, I was given an opportunity to work with Dr. Sandberg on the adaptation of her play into a website that is a resource for people to learn more about the intricacies of domestic sex trafficking as well as how they can help bring it to an end.

In the first week of August, I traveled with Dr. Sandberg, Associate University Librarian Jeff Barry, Digital Humanities Fellow Sydney Bufkin and Digital Humanities Librarian Mackenzie Brooks to the Institute for Liberal Arts Digital Scholarship (ILiADS) conference at the College of Wooster. As it says on their website, “ILiADS is a project-based and team-based opportunity for focused support of a digital project.” Making this conference unique, is the liaison model where each team is assigned an expert liaison who assists on different digital aspects of the project. Monday through Thursday were devoted to working as a team on our project, where we brainstormed what we wanted the structure of the website to be and then began building it as well as generating content. As a student with limited digital literacy skills, ILiADS provided me with an opportunity to not only take the research I have been collecting and turn it into synthesized articles, but to also learn more about what it takes to build a useable and informational website.

ILiADS is a great opportunity for students and faculty from different universities to come together for a week, work on digital humanities projects and compare what each of their institutions are doing to promote digital scholarship as technology becomes a necessity in higher learning. To be able to have this experience as a student was amazing for me because I not only got to see how important digital humanities is to our project at W&L, but how it is being used at other universities. Digital humanities is allowing the research done by students and faculty, that may otherwise get lost to the ages, to live on through easily accessible platforms.

Coming out of ILiADS, I will continue to work on research, but will also be writing more content for the website and entering my research into our hidden database structure that will make finding information easier.

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DH Pedagogy Trip Report

Digital Pedagogy at LACOL

It’s my first blog post for DH @ W&L! Hi, everyone! I’m Sydney Bufkin, the new Mellon Digital Humanties Fellow. I have been—and will continue to be—a Visiting Assistant Professor in the English Department, so if I look familiar when you drop by my office, that’s likely why, especially if you’ve taken WRIT 100 in the past two years.

Photo of one of the Vassar academic buildings
The Vassar campus isn’t terrible in June

I moved over to the library last week and immediately hit the road for the Liberal Arts Consortium for Online Learning (LACOL) workshop at Vassar College. LACOL is a consortium of nine liberal arts colleges formed to share resources about online learning, blended learning and digital pedagogy, and to collaborate on projects across the consortium campuses. The consortium has held three workshops since beginning in 2014, as well as a number of hack-a-thons and mini-workshops on topics such as adaptive learning, language instruction, social annotation and others.

Washington and Lee joined LACOL this year, so this was the first workshop not only for me, but for the other W&L folks, as well. I was particularly excited about the workshop because I’m all about digital pedagogy, especially using technology to make the liberal arts classroom even more active and engaged than it traditionally is. I’m also interested in the future of higher education (for both professional and philosophical reasons), and I’ve watched with some trepidation as for-profit tech startups like Udacity and EdX have shifted the trajectory of higher ed in recent years. I like that the folks at LACOL are thinking about smaller educational units like the SPOC (small, private online course) rather than the MOOC (massive, open online course), while still exploring ways to make higher education more equitable and more accessible.

One of the highlights of the workshop was a keynote by Bryan Alexander, an “internationally known futurist, researcher, writer, speaker, consultant, and teacher, working in the field of how technology transforms education.” Bryan opened his talk with an image from Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” just in case there was any confusion about his assessment of the direction higher ed is heading. His talk raced through a long list of hard truths, from the growing inequality in the United States to decreased enrollments and increased financial pressures on nonprofit, four-year colleges. He noted that small liberal arts colleges represent just 5% of college students in the US, but have an outsized profile and visibility relative to that market share. He called on those colleges to meet the changing landscape of higher education by adapting in ways that improve access to education not just for students from privileged backgrounds, but for everyone.

Bryan’s fire and brimstone was set in opposition to the beautiful Vassar campus, especially the breath-taking library. I only had a little bit of time there, but I spent several minutes taking in the arches and stained glass.

I attended working group sessions for LACOL’s Active and Engaged Reading group and came away with lots of ideas about what reading looks like in our screen-saturated moment. Once question the group considered was why we don’t generally teach the reading process in the way we teach the writing process. We often think of reading as something you either can do or you can’t, sort of like riding a bicycle, but it’s much more akin to writing—you have to identify different disciplines, genres and situations and know how best to read for each case. And like writing well, reading effectively is neither magic nor something you soak up through intuition; it’s a set of steps and processes you learn to apply and adapt.

The working group surveyed some tools and technologies that can help us be better readers, from low-tech approaches like group read-ins in the library and professors modeling their own reading practices to annotating tools like Lacuna and Hypothes.is. I was excited share the Critical Reader’s Toolkit, a project I worked on when I was at the University of Texas that helps demystify the reading process for literature students.

We had opportunities to hear from other people, both formally and informally, who are working on digital pedagogy at colleges around the country. Bryn Mawr just introduced a new digital competencies framework that emphasizes a number of key skills, including “Digital Survival Skills.” Lots of people were interested in questions of digital citizenship and digital competencies, and we had a lively brainstorming session about how we might collaborate across institutions to address digital fluency.

I always come back from conferences and workshops with my brain buzzing, and this was no exception. I’m excited to see what LACOL does next.

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DH Trip Report

Days of Networks & Social Capital

Enabling faculty and students to attend high-quality workshops is one of the most valued opportunities supported by our Mellon DH grant. I recently returned from a 4-day trip to Philadelphia with Jon Eastwood (Laurent Boetsch Term Professor of Sociology) and three brilliant undergrads at W&L: Elena Diller, C’17 (Sociology major with minors in Poverty Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies ), Dani Leon, C’18 (Politics/Sociology double major with a minor in Poverty Studies), and Kassie Scott (English/Sociology double major with a minor in Poverty Studies). Jon attended a workshop on Casual Inference with Directed Graphs taught by Felix Elwert; Elena, Dani, Kassie, and I attended a workshop on Social Network Analysis (SNA) taught by Steve Borgatti. The latter workshop was recommended to us by Professor Megan Hess (Accounting), who had taken a workshop with Borgatti before. Both short courses were hosted by Statistical Horizons.

This post will focus on the SNA workshop, though we all learned a fascinating amount about Directed Acyclic Graphs from Jon Eastwood over meals and during the long drive back from Philadelphia. Jon reports that he will be bringing what he learned into the classroom this Fall Term as part of the course he will be teaching on Bayesian data analysis.

The workshop was two intensive days, 9-5, that provided an in-depth introduction to SNA, particularly with the use of the UCINET software package developed by Borgatti. The W&L students were the only undergrads in attendance, which is an indicator of the quality of opportunities that this university provides students. The class size was 28, consisting mostly of faculty, professionals in fields such as public health, government, and social work, as well as a few grad students. Medical school faculty were prominently represented. The W&L undergrads, not shy about asking questions, easily kept up with their more educated classmates.

W&L students Dani Leon, Elena Diller, and Kassie Scott at the Social Network Analysis workshop in Philadelphia

The instructor, Steve Borgatti, is one of the leading scholars in the field. Borgatti is currently president of the International Network for Social Network Analysis and has published a wealth of literature that has received over 40,000 citations. Borgatti is a humble man whose jovial and bearded presence in blue jeans never conveys any hint of his standing within academia. The pace of the workshop was intense, thought provoking, and exhausting but well worth the effort. Borgatti structured the 2-day workshop as a mixture of lecture (with over 200 slides) and hands-on practice with UCINET. Attendees came away with an understanding of how to import different data structures into UCINET and the many network measures provided by the software.

As a Windows program, UCINET works well on Macs via the Windows emulator Wine. Step-by-step instructions for installing on a Mac via WineBottler work really well. My one bit of advice on installation for Macs is to make a symbolic link to the UCINET data folder, which is installed by WineBottler at “/Users/[username]/Library/Application Support/com.yourcompany.yourapp[numeric string]/drive_c/users/[username]/My Documents/UCINET data”. A symbolic link from your Desktop or elsewhere will make it easy to access the data files generated by UCINET.

UCINET is a good alternative for people who prefer a menu-driven interface over the command-driven approach of R. I would definitely recommend UCINET over Gephi. For my own SNA research, I suspect I will stick with R’s igraph package but I’m going to explore the possibilities of UCINET. As far as software goes, UCINET is simple to learn. It mostly works the same way for any feature or network measure: find the desired option under the menus, load the data set, set any additional options, and run. UCINET also comes with a command-line interface. The extensive HELP file provides references to scholarly articles for a large number of functions provided by the software.

Due to the computational nature of SNA, people new to the topic often approach it as a methodology or a tool. Borgatti emphasizes a distinction between the “theory of networks” as a way of explaining why networks exist and “network theory” as a way of understanding the consequences of networks. Borgatti stated that most SNA studies are about the consequences of networks.

A significant part of the second day of the workshop focused on egonets, which is a network focused on one person (the “ego”) and the connections that person has with others (the “alters”). Building on that discussion was an examination of social resource theory, associated with the scholar Nan Lin. Another conception of social capital is articulated by scholar Ron Burt via network analysis in the form of structural holes.

A variety of measures exist for SNA but I’m finding in my own research into literary networks that absorbing the network theory before embarking on the actual data analysis is having a positive impact on my understanding of the patterns and connections within literary publishing. Previously I have thrown my data set into network visualization tools as a means of exploring the data but I now feel better equipped to think about exactly which measures I should examine for better understanding the interchange among editors and authors in producing the outcome that is a literary magazine.

Borgatti covered a great number of topics in the two days, including a very mathematical discussion of the types of regression that can be done on network matrices. He also gave an overview of exponential random graph models (ERGMs) as a computational model for predicting the absence or presence of connections within a network.

SNA is not just about contemporary issues. Borgatti used the data set from a well-known study on the relationship of marriage and business ties among 15th century Florentine families that led to the rise of the Medici. Another historical topic covered was a study of 12th century Russia and the emergence of Moscow as a dominant location due to trade routes. In the latter study, we see that SNA can be applied to areas other than just interpersonal relationships. As Borgatti says, “Networks are everywhere” and network studies are found in the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.

I already mentioned the professional organization INSNA, which tends to focus on the social sciences. Another organization, the Network Science Society, focuses more on physics, computer science, biology, etc. While there is overlap among the two professional organizations, Borgatti describes the two as still “having a different feel”.

I’ll wrap up this report with a suggested reading. Just about anything by Borgatti is worthwhile, and a good starting point is his 2009 article in Science on Network Analysis in the Social Sciences. I highly recommend reading about the theories behind social network analysis and how those apply to your own research questions. Grasping those concepts before jumping into the tools of SNA will be very beneficial. Borgatti and his colleagues at the University of Kentucky’s LINKS Center for Social Network Analysis also have published an insightful article on Social Network Research: Confusions, Criticisms, and Controversies [PDF preprint].