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Sharing a virtual space: workshop summary

Sharing a virtual space: infrastructure for Digital Humanities, Monash-Warwick Alliance Seed Fund
Report from workshop held at Monash University, 10-13 February 2015

Principal applicants: Dr Simon Musgrave (Monash), Dr David Beck (Warwick)

Co-applicants: Prof. Mark Philp (Warwick), Dr Anna Poletti (Monash)

Participants at the workshop included Dr David Beck and Mr Steve Ranford (Academic Technologists. Warwick) and a variety of Monash staff from the Faculties of Arts and IT, as well as staff from the University Library and the MWA secretariat. The workshop sessions were recorded and are available via Vimeo (see here); this written report will be a concise summary of four days of fruitful discussion.

Information sharing

Presentations in session 1 established the context for Digital Humanities (DH) and Digital Humanities and Social Sciences (DHaSS) in the two institutions. The Monash audience were particularly interested to explore the role of the Academic Technologists at Warwick (below).

In session 2 (and part of session 3) participants shared a wide range of projects, resources and tools which they saw as valuable contributions to DH(aSS) – listed as short videos on vimeo (links here).

Planning teaching

Considerable discussion in various sessions (2, 4, 5 and 6) was devoted to planning the delivery of the new UG unit Digital Humanities and Text(s) in the autumn term 2015/1. Issues discussed included:

The lack of overlap in teaching periods (3 weeks in the second half of 2015) challenges us to develop new co-teaching models, especially in this case where group project work will be a major part of the assessment. So rather than co-teaching the entire module, it was decided to split the module around two basic questions. The first half of MON3005 will discuss what is digital in DH, introducing students to vital skills and types of work in preparation for their research projects. Then in the three week overlap we will focus on the question of what is humanistic in DH, making the most of academic expertise at both ends in the co-taught sessions.

Sharing online learning environments. Currently, it is not possible to give Monash student’s access to Moodle at Warwick or vice versa. If this cannot be addressed, a workaround would involve copying content between the two moodle platforms and interactive sessions which are not room-to-room video conferences, along with collaborative work will have to take place using another platform (Warwick has Live@Edu while Monash has Google, both are workable but non-ideal).

Sharing data and outputs. Sharing data outputs from the module (and future collaborative research) will be problematic. Monash is moving towards an enterprise agreement with figShare, but Warwick is less likely to take this path in the near term. This was unresolved, though a workaround involving Warwick users setting up individual (or a trial group) Figshare accounts was discussed.

Core skills. The core skills to be taught to students in Digital Humanities and Text(s) will be: understanding types of data, making data manipulable, text mark-up techniques, and understanding the importance of data format standards (e.g. .csv, xml). The unit will also feature collaboration and openness as key aspects of DH(aSS) by emphasising improving and republishing datasets which are used and by making student projects visible at least within our own communities.

Valuing face-to-face contact. We recommend strongly that in the current stage of the Alliance development of co-taught units (at least in our faculties) should include face-to-face contact and workshops as an essential aspect of the process. The module will be greatly enhanced by the discussions which took place over the week.

Next steps

Training. The project has budget for this purpose. At Monash, in March a leading Australian expert on text encoding, Conal Tuohy, will work with Musgrave and Poletti on scraping data from un- or semi-structured text and on xml transformations. These skills will be used in preparing the datasets to be used in teaching this year, as well as in other projects which each staff member is already involved in. At Warwick, the budget will either be used to bring in an expert in QGis data import techniques, or to have someone develop student-facing resources in Moodle introducing students to the key tools used in the module (discussion in session 6).

Dataset identification. MON3005 will have students produce research projects based on different datasets each year. This suggests that some structured process of tracking available data in our institutions would be of value for teaching as well as research collaboration – we all know that there are plenty of datasets hidden away on institutional websites, and on individual academics’ hard drives. We recommend an audit process should be initiated in each of our faculties. We suggest that discovery of datasets and sharing information about them is an important pathway to research collaboration for DH(aSS) in the MWA, and that making Digital Humanities and Text(s) work successfully will establish much of the common ground necessary to allow such collaboration to occur. (discussion in session 5)

Visibility and promotion. A promotional video advertising Digital Humanities and Text(s) is being produced. The project team will also be very happy to assist in aligning their work with broader initiatives in each faculty, and to provide input in areas such as publicity and recruitment. In addition, we will be producing a teaching diary recording our experiences designing and teaching the module, which will be of value to future co-teaching efforts.

Second workshop. A return workshop will be held at Warwick December 7-12 2015. The current plan would be for Musgrave and Poletti to be the Monash participants, but there is a strong argument that if the Monash Faculty is prepared to make the financial commitment to 3 year appointments of this type, then the appointees should be send to this workshop as well. The second workshop will take place during the final week of teaching Digital Humanities and Text(s) at Warwick and will therefore include a substantial amount of reflection on the experience of teaching the course. There will also be more focus on possibilities for research collaboration, including a ‘speed-dating’ session between researchers at Monash and Warwick via video link. (discussion in session 6)

Academic technologists at Monash

The project members are excited by the possibility that Monash may move in this direction and would welcome the chance to be involved in further discussions. We suggest two points are worthy of particular attention:

Experience at Warwick: The model at Warwick is rather different from that being proposed for Monash in terms of the organisational structure and (perhaps) the skill sets sought (Warwick has one AT with an academic background and one with a technical background). Each model has strengths (and perhaps weaknesses); in any case, Monash can surely learn from Warwick here.

Drawing boundaries between education and research: We suggest that it is not easy to draw a clear boundary between education activities and research activities in this area. For example, we are about to begin work to make the Restoration Theatre Song Archive a more usable resource. The primary motivation is to make this an accessible dataset for our module, but we envisage that it will also be made more useful to researchers.