Creating Compelling Narratives with Story Maps

We continue September’s focus on spatial literacy and digital maps with an exploration this week of the “Story Maps” application from ArcGIS.

Story Mapsscreen-shot-2016-09-12-at-3-38-09-pm is a multimedia web mapping application that joins text, audio, video, photographs, and thematic and base map in a compelling environment that is perfect for communicating the results of any investigation from local to global in scale. It functions as both a content management system and a presentation platform for projects that incorporate maps and the layers of content that can be placed upon them. Story Maps can be used with any topic that references geographical coordinates or place-based information, which means that it has potential applications in practically every discipline of the academic curriculum.

Here at Austin College, English professor Tom Blake is incorporating the Story Maps platform into his ENG 331 course, “Global Middle Ages.” Tom is a Mellon grantee, and described the objectives for this project in his grant application:

My English 331: Global Middle Ages course in many ways will develop and expand DH assignments from previous courses. Serving as a global literature requirement for the English major, this course seeks to help students see medieval literature as less exclusively European and/or English and more global and cross-cultural. A core theoretical lens of this course is postcolonial theory, and a digital mapping project would imbue students with the tools to tell stories of international and cross-cultural transmission. Specifically, this course could benefit from a DH tool suited to highlighting through map and story the international journey of narrative.

In the past, I have used WordPress blogs effectively as a way for students to track medieval issues and themes to the modern day blending texts, images, and videos. However, Global Middle Ages presents unique challenges that would benefit from a more spatially and geographically oriented DH platform.

Tom’s students will be developing their projects according to the following guidelines (which he is still tweaking):

Tom’s students are just beginning to select their topics and to start the research process. We’ve introduced them to Story Maps Journal in an in-class presentation, and I’ll continue to work with the small groups as they build their projects. In the digital pedagogy workshops this week, I’ll highlight this application, and we’ll discuss the issues involved in developing this kind of assignment.

For now, to gain a sense of what Story Maps can do, browse this gallery of projects that have been created using its various templates. You can filter and search by topic to see projects across a range of subjects and scope. Story Maps has several different layouts; the one called “Story Maps Journal” is, to my mind, the most full-feature and is what I generally recommend for digital pedagogy projects. One example from the gallery that I like to point folks to for a demo is “The Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes.” As the project describes him,

Schultes – ethnobotanist, taxonomist, writer and photographer – is regarded as one of the most important plant explorers of the 20th century. In December 1941, Schultes entered the Amazon rainforest on a mission to study how indigenous peoples used plants for medicinal, ritual and practical purposes. He would follow in the tradition of great Victorian era explorers, spending over a decade immersed in near-continuous fieldwork. In total, Schultes would collect more than 24,000 species of plants including some 300 species new to science.

Story Map Journal projects are organized into distinct sections–you can think of them as slides, pages, modules, what have you–with each section composed of a “main stage” and a “side panel.” Each of these spaces can contain various forms of content. Typically, maps are presented on the main stage, and associated material–text, images, video, links, etc.–is presented in the side panel and associated with specific content on the map, such as a pinned location or a shaded region. The side panel can also contain links that trigger actions on the main stage; for example, zooming or panning the map, or opening a pop-up box with further information.

Here’s a screengrab from the Schultes project, showing a section of the story highlighting his initial forays into the northwest Amazon:


The map in the main stage is layered with markers showing the locations of Schultes’s important research expeditions and discoveries in the northwest Amazon. The side panel incorporates explanatory text and photos. I’ve clicked on one of the markers, which displays a pop-up panel with further information and links (which open in a new browser tab). At the far left you can see the basic navigation tool, allowing movement among the project sections; in addition, viewers can simply scroll down the side panel to advance the project.

Further in this same section of the project, the viewer can change the main stage view by clicking on, for example, “View Map of the Rio Negro Watershed.” The map zooms to the appropriate scale and region, and a shaded layer is turned on to indicate the desired area:


This project is a good example that uses maps created from contemporary cartographic renderings. In this case, the “National Geographic” layout was used as the base map to represent the regions in which Schultes carried out his explorations.

In other cases, projects may need to access maps from different historical eras, which obviously represent places according to the political and cultural realities of the times. For example, in the Story Maps Journal project, “Copernicus and His Universe,” an early 16th c. European map is used, quite appropriately, as the base map for visualizing important locations in the life and work of the Polish astronomer.


The then-current political situation is represented, along with stylized markers that open as pop-up boxes (clicking a link in the side panel text zooms the map and opens up a specific content box). Again, knowledge is constructed and presented in a visually rich way that helps students to consolidate their understanding of the geographic dimensions of the given topic.

In many cases, we may already have access to a map that might be useful in a project, but only in the form of an image file or a scan. That is likely to be the case especially with vintage and historical maps as well as other more unusual maps. Such images are limited in their applicability; they can be placed into a project, but cannot be dragged, panned, and zoomed like a true map file. In addition, they can’t be marked up with content layers, such as pins. Fortunately, there is a process called “georeferencing” that can be applied to these images to turn them into a map file. This would be analogous to using optical character recognition with a scanned text, which then makes that text editable, searchable, etc. There are online repositories (for example, Old Maps Online, The Dave Rumsey Map Collection, and The New York Public Library Map Collection) that contain both map images and georeferenced maps, many of which are open access, others of which may be licensed or purchased.

We envision that Tom’s students will be drawing on some of these resources for their historically-oriented projects. We look forward to presenting our own gallery of Story Map projects from the Global Middle Ages!

Digital Pedagogy Fall Lineup

Autumn Leaves, by Luan Anh CC-BY-SA

This year AC Digital Pedagogy will once again offer regular (more or less weekly) workshops and sessions to provide opportunities for faculty, students, and staff to explore and experiment with digital resources. We’ve decided to try an approach in which we devote each month of the semester to a specific theme or topic around which our events will be organized. Here’s what is currently planned for the fall:

  • September:  “Geographical and Spatial Literacy–Using Digital Map Resources in Teaching and Learning”
  • October:  “3D Scanning, Modeling, and Printing–Introduction and Use Cases”
  • November:  “Digital Publishing Options and Opportunities”

We’re starting with digital mapping and geospatial literacy because there are already quite a number of faculty/student projects of that type. Terry Hoops’s C/I class has a strong digital story map component (about which see more below), Tom Blake and Randi Tanglen will be using digital maps in their literature courses, Lourdes Bueno is planning a map project in conjunction with an upcoming study abroad course in Spain, Don Rodgers continues to implement GIS in his community development courses, and the Psychology department  is interested in digital maps for a departmental project. And there are probably others that I’m leaving out here.

Our first workshop sessions will be Tuesday, September 6, at 4:30 pm, with a repeat on Friday, September 9, at 1:30 pm. Location is the Digital Pedagogy Studio (Abell 102). We’ll ease into the mapping theme with an introduction and exploration of Google My Maps. Then in succeeding weeks of September we’ll continue to critically examine and discuss the pedagogical opportunities of digital maps.

As always, we are flexible and welcome ideas and suggestions. If folks express interest in a topic, we’ll go there. Looking ahead to the spring, we’re thinking about monthly themes focused on topics such as games and learning, text mining and analysis, and a reading colloquium on critical digital pedagogy. Of course, any time you want to consult on any topic or issue related to digital pedagogy, Mo and Brett are available and ready to help.

As the new semester swings into full gear, the workshop series is just part of how the Digital Pedagogy initiative at Austin College continues to gather momentum. Thirty-three AC faculty are implementing digital pedagogy projects, practices, and applications in their courses, thanks to grants from the Mellon Foundation. Beyond this number, other faculty and students are exploring new ideas and activities that draw on digital resources. It’s particularly encouraging to have several of the freshman communication/inquiry courses incorporating practices such as student blogging and the creation of digital story maps. Introducing students to knowledge creation on the open web at the beginning of their college experience lays the groundwork for a deeper appreciation of what is coming to be known as the “digital liberal arts.” This is a term that a growing number of schools are using to describe their own initiatives in digital pedagogy and scholarship (see, among others, Whittier, Occidental, Middlebury, and Grinnell).

Among those C/I classes I would again note Terry Hoops’s course, “Restless Wanderings: Musings on Travel and the Human Condition.” Using a combination of Google My Maps and the ArcGIS Story Maps Journal platform, Terry’s students are building story mapping projects to more deeply interpret the travel writings of authors such as Bruce Chatwin (In Patagonia) and Che Guevara (The Motorcycle Diaries). For example, here is our initial map of key sites in Chatwin’s journey through Patagonia. This map will leverage the geo-tagged imagery and data associated with each site in Google Maps, and will then be embedded into a Story Maps Journal, where students will provide further narrative and visual content to enrich their understanding of Chatwin’s travels.

Another C/I using innovative digital pedagogy is Patrick Duffy’s Two Hundred Years of Solitude. Strange Tales from the Americas. All the students in the class have set up their own WordPress websites and are writing about texts such as Allende’s The House of the Spirits, Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Lispector’s The House of the Star. Having students make their work visible in a public networked space that they own, design, and manage enhances student agency and opens their work to connect and interact with authentic audiences. Furthermore, this course is using a WordPress feature that uses syndication to aggregate all the student blog posts back to the main course website. With each post tagged with appropriate categories, it thus becomes easy to pull together related content for reading, analysis, and comment.

Again, we hope your semester is off to a good start. Let us know how we can support your teaching and learning.


Crap Detection (and Correction) 101: Assessing the Credibility of Online Information

Ernest Hemingway. (n.d.). Retrieved February 29, 2016, from Web site:
Ernest Hemingway. (n.d.). Retrieved February 29, 2016, from Web site:

“You can’t believe everything you read” is one of those aphorisms that we learn early on. “Caveat lector” was already a maxim long before the advent of the digital age and the world wide web. In that earlier era, though, barriers to publication were significant, and much print material went through gatekeeping procedures in order to ensure credibility, accuracy, and reliability. For academic work in particular, the editorial and peer-review processes of publishing companies, journals, and professional societies imparted authority to published works. The fact that a book or resource was available in libraries gave you some confidence that the author’s claims and positions had been vetted as credible and reliable.

Today, peer-review and editorial oversight remain important. But the Web has made it possible for anyone to publish anything, and search engines provide immediate and unfiltered access to the abundance of online information. As Clay Shirky has noted, our paradigm now is “publish, then filter.” Now, more than ever, the reader (or viewer or listener) is responsible for assessing the claims of authors and evaluating documents for reliability and accuracy. Of course, faculty help guide their students toward critical thinking and the development of a discerning judgment about sources and materials. A big part of a prof’s job is to convey to students a sense for what’s reputable and what’s not in his or her field. Still, even reputable sources such as scientific journals and mainstream news outlets can reflect biases and misrepresentations of data, or even fall victim to outright fraud.

Technologist Howard Rheingold has argued that “crap detection” is one of the core literacies we need to cultivate. What does that look like when it comes to searching the web and evaluating what we find? I think we can approach this in several steps:

  1. Clarifying in our mind exactly what we are searching for. Are we after a specific bit of information, or a more general introduction to or background on a topic?
  2. Composing our search query with the terms and filters that best match what we are looking for
  3. Knowing how to read and interpret the search engine result page
  4. Knowing how to assess a given site, page, document, or resource that the search returns to us.

“Search literacy” is an important basis for crap detection. One of the best resources I have found to improve search literacy is this free self-directed course, Power Searching with Google. In a series of short videos, “search anthropologist” Dan Russell explains basic and advanced search techniques and concepts. Obviously, you should think carefully about the appropriate terms of your query; results could be biased due to poor or imprecise phrasing. Russell emphasizes that “every word matters” and that “word order is important.” Focus on the keywords and terms that are most essential to your topic, and disregard auxiliary words and phrases that you might use in normal conversation. The terms, structure, and filters that you put in your search query will determine what you get back. Use quotes around a phrase to return pages that only have that exact phrase, and use the minus sign in front of terms you want to exclude from your results. Use the the site: and filetype: operators to narrow the search to specific web domains and types of documents if that is useful.

Search engine results are returned in “rank order” according to how well a webpage matches your query. But rank order is not the same as credibility or authoritativeness. Thus, the highest results of a search are not necessarily the most credible or useful…they are simply those that best match the query that you entered. It is not the search engine’s job to assess the accuracy of facts or the soundness of arguments that might be found on a web page. That’s why it is so important to formulate your query as appropriately as possible, and to be aware of how specific terms might influence the results. For example, searching for information about “Falkland Islands” would not produce the same results as a search about “Islas Malvinas.”

As you examine search results, consider visiting several sites to cross-check information and assess reliability. As with analog sources, you obviously want to ask some very basic questions:

  • Who is the author of this information? What person or organization is behind this document and site?
  • What evidence, such as verifiable credentials, is presented for the author’s competence with the subject matter?
  • What do other people say about the author?
  • What are the author’s sources? Are there citations and references to support the claims and arguments?
  • Are there feedback options, so that visitors can ask questions, engage in discussion, and publicly challenge erroneous or misleading information?
  • What are the outbound links from the page? Is the document or resource connected to other trustworthy sources?
  • Conversely, what are the inbound links, that is, what other pages are pointing to this page? What are those other sites saying about the page in question?
  • Does the site appear to be well maintained and up to date, or are there signs of neglect (e.g., broken links)

Rheingold gives the example of a search for information about Martin Luther King, Jr. Among the top results for this query from most search engines is the site titled “Martin Luther King, Jr.: A True Historical Examination.”  The URL for this site,, looks valid enough, but upon closer examination the site is revealed to be a front for a white supremacist organization called Stormfront.

An important tool for checking the background of a website or domain is the internet protocol WHOIS. If you are suspicious about the legitimacy of a site, use this command to reveal information about who owns and operates a given domain on the web, where the site is hosted, contact information, etc. Just enter a domain to see who’s behind a site. For example, here’s some background info about

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 10.52.53 AM

You can examine a website’s outbound links to see how it references other sources and documents. Hyperlinks on a site may be internal or external. “Internal” links point to other pages within the same domain, while “external” links point to pages outside of the domain. It’s the external, or “outbound,” links that will give you a sense of how the resource or page is situated within the larger web presentation of a topic. Conversely, “inbound” links can also be very telling as to a site’s legitimacy. But that information is somewhat harder to get at. Google used to have a link: operator as part of its search toolbox, but that seems to have been deprecated. The best resource I have found to discover incoming links to a site is this backlink checker. Here are the top results for a backlink check on

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 11.12.58 AM

Incoming links give us information in two ways–where the link is coming from, and the reason or purpose of the link. In the example given above, it is clear that many links pointing to are doing so precisely in order to call attention to its racist misrepresentations.

Beyond the “detecting” of biased, misleading, unreliable, scam, and hoax websites, there is the further possibility of “correcting” these sites, or at least of drawing attention to their shortcomings. If a site allows feedback and commentary, you can engage the issues there; it could be that an author is simple uniformed or ignorant, and may be willing to revise their materials. Sites such as and are dedicated to examining questionable claims and setting the record straight on a wide range of topics from politics to science. You can report websites to these services, or search their archives.

A further level of “crap correction” has been made possible by the development of web annotation tools such as An outstanding example of this approach is the work of climate scientists at the Climate Feedback project. This organization of experts monitors the web for articles related to climate change and offers feedback on the scientific accuracy of the information presented by annotating the article.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 2.41.23 PM

Of course, in order to see these annotations, viewers of the site would need to be familiar with the platform, and while that may not be likely at this point, we can hope that, going forward, that the practice of webpage annotation will become more familiar and widespread.

These are just a few things to keep in mind as you fact-check and analyze information on the web. Join us this week at our workshops for further conversation and demonstration.


All the News That’s Fit to Read: Designing Your Reading Workflow with RSS

256px-Rss-feed.svgOur first Digital Pedagogy workshop for the spring semester, “All the News That’s Fit to Read: Designing Your Reading Workflow with RSS,” will take place Tuesday, February 2, from 4:30–5:30 pm, with a repeat on Friday, February 5, from 1:30 am–2:30 pm. The location is the Johnson Center studio (Abell 102). Note that this location differs from where we met last fall. Bring your own device (laptop preferable), or there are a limited number of laptops we can check out from the library.

As the production of texts and other forms of content has largely moved to digital and online platforms, staying informed about one’s discipline and, more broadly, about one’s topics of interest involves a digital “reading workflow.” From time to time, it might be worthwhile to step back from our immersion in the content of our reading, reflect upon the elements of the workflow itself, and ask whether there are practices that could improve our reading and make the process more effective. For example, Alan Jacobs, professor of humanities at Baylor, recently posted a description of his reading workflow. In this week’s workshop, we’ll discuss how we read online and focus in particular on organizing our reading with RSS syndication and aggregation.

Locate the sources. First, of course, each of us has to identify our “sources”:  those locations on the web that publish the kind of content we are interested in. Academic journals, online publications of various sorts, websites of professional and disciplinary groups and organizations, blogs, etc.–these are the places you go to stay informed and find new and regularly updated content–articles, essays, reviews, papers, posts, whatever. So let’s assume that you have some X number of sites that you would regularly want to consult. And that number almost certainly grows over time as you expand your awareness of resources in your field. Jacobs notes in his post that he follows “about 300 sites.”

Discover the feeds. So now you have a sense of where to look, and the question becomes, “what’s the most efficient way of looking.” What’s the latest on the website of Nature? How can I keep track of recent philosophy papers? Are there new posts at the Marginal Revolution economics blog? One way to find out is to go to the website and look. This requires you to remember what you saw the last time you visited the site, and to compare that memory (probably faulty) with what you see now. Not very effective, and quite time consuming.

Instead, you want to follow the website, and have it inform you whenever it publishes new content. That way, instead of you having to go there to find what’s new, it comes to you. Typically, there are multiple ways to follow a website. Most sites today have accounts with one or more social media platforms, so you can follow the site’s Twitter account, Facebook page, or whatever to be notified of new content. (Take note that the social media “follow” icons on a site are different from the social media “share” icons). That, of course, requires you to use a particular social network and to be attentive enough to it so that you catch the notifications, which will usually give permalinks directly to the new content. Another option that may be offered, though it’s less frequent these days, is to follow the site via email; when there’s new content, you’ll get an email notification. But really, who wants even more stuff in their inbox?

The best and most effective way to follow a site is to subscribe it…more specifically, to the RSS feed of new content that the website produces. Websites that regularly produce new content almost always employ a web standard called RSS, which stands, variously, for “Rich Site Summary” or  “Really Simple Syndication.” The site may or may not have the orange RSS icon displayed, but even if it doesn’t, it probably cranks out a feed. First developed in the late ’90s, RSS allows websites to syndicate their content, that is, to push it out to people and places that are watching and listening for it. A site, such as a blog, may offer a single RSS feed, or, if it is larger and more complex, produce multiple feeds, segmented by category and topic; the New York Times, for example, has dozens of different RSS feeds that one can follow, while Nature has over a hundred.

Use a feedreader to subscribe to and aggregate your feeds. In order to access RSS feeds, you need to use a piece of software called an aggregator or feed reader. This software allows you to subscribe to a feed, organize your feeds into folders, set up display options for how to view your content, mark favorite items, and otherwise manage the subscription and reading process. “Aggregation” is the complement of “syndication”; these concepts and practices lie at the heart of how the open web works. We also refer to this as a “pub/sub” model of information transfer, short for “publication” and “subscription.”

There are several choices for setting up an RSS feed reader, but my recommendation at this point is to use one called Feedly. It is a free service that you can access through your browser or with a mobile app. You can organize all of your feeds in an attractive format that allows you to quickly scan new content in your chosen feeds and to read items in the Feedly interface or back at the source website.


You can easily add new feeds to Feedly by entering the URL of the site you wish to follow, or you can also search by site title and by topic. If the site produces one or more RSS feeds, Feedly will find them. You then organize the feeds into folders, which will display all of your content. For example, in my Janterm course How the Web Works, I subscribed to all 30 of my students’s blogs in Feedly in order to track and read new posts; here’s a screenshot showing a bit of the interface by which I managed these feeds:

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 9.04.55 PM

In the workshop, we’ll walk through the process of getting started with Feedly and demonstrate some of its features. It’s a quick setup, and you can be up and running very quickly. The mobile app is also free and provides an attractive interface for reading on a tablet or phone.

An option: sending articles to a “distraction-free” interface. One element of some reading workflows, such as that described by Jacobs, is to use services such as Readability, Instapaper, or Pocket to save items to read later in a minimalist interface or even to send them to a Kindle or other e-reader. I won’t be focusing on this step, but just wanted to include it for the sake of reference.

Archive your content with social bookmarking, and annotate with Again, included here for the purpose of completing the entire cycle of the reading workflow. In workshops last fall, we discussed social bookmarking with Diigo, and web annotation with If you want to be able to refer back to an item later, save the URL to your collection of bookmarks in Diigo (and see what some of your colleagues are reading). And, for persistent markup and annotation of your texts, try

So, dear reader, if you have made it this far, congratulations. And join us this week for further conversation about your reading workflow.

Further Resources

Springtime for Digital Pedagogy @ Austin College

Bluebonnets at Sunset in San Saba
Bluebonnets at Sunset in San Saba. Photo by Earl McGehee. CC BY.

Hey folks…after a hiatus for the holidays and Jan term, Digital Pedagogy @ Austin College is back in business for the spring semester. We’re looking forward to a new semester of activities and projects to support student and faculty learning across the curriculum.

As in the fall, we’ve planned a series of digital pedagogy workshops. These will be one-hour, hands-on tutorials designed to give faculty ideas and skills to use in the classroom and for professional development. We will offer each workshop twice a week–once on Tuesday from 4:30–5:30 pm, and then again on Friday from 1:30–2:30 pm, in the Johnson Center at Abell Library (Abell 102). Facilitators will include Mo Pelzel (Digital Pedagogy Designer), Brett Boessen (Digital Pedagogy Fellow), and Andrew Smith (Coordinator of Instructional and Public Services Librarian). We’re particularly happy to welcome Andrew and to benefit from his experience as an instructional librarian.

Here’s what we have planned:

      • Feb 2, 5:   ”All the News that’s Fit to Read: Designing Your Reading Workflow with RSS” (Mo)


      • Feb 9, 12:   ”Standards-based Grading using Wikis and Online Forums” (Brett)


      • Feb 16, 19:   “Visualizing Course Materials with Infographics” (Andrew)


      • Feb 26:   Final Friday Faculty UnWorkshop (1:30–5:00)


      • March 1, 4:   ”Crap Detection 101–Assessing the Credibility of Online Information” (Mo)


      • March 7-11:   Spring Break


      • March 15, 18:   “If This, Then What? Using IFTTT to Automate Apps in Your Class (and Your Life)” (Andrew)


      • March 25:   Final Friday Faculty UnWorkshop (1:30–5:00)


      • March 29, April 1:   “Video Essays as Alternatives to Traditional Papers” (Brett)


      • April 2:   Mellon Grantee Workshop (for Mellon grant recipients in cohorts one and two)


      • April 5, 8:   ”Where in the World? Digital Maps for Teaching and Learning” (Mo)


      • April 12, 15:   ”Now Hear This: Podcasting Basics” (Mo)


      • April 19, 22:   ”Online File-sharing for Class and Group Work” (Brett)


      • April 29:   Final Friday Faculty UnWorkshop (1:30-5:00)


      • May 3, 6:   Contemplative Pedagogy in a Digital World: Mindfulness and Mind-Wandering” (Mo)


      • May 9-13:   Finals Week


As you can see, we’re also trying something new this semester–a once-a-month “unworkshop” scheduled for the final Friday of February, March, and April. This is a riff on the “unconference” model that has become popular in education and technology circles. It is the basis, for example, of THAT Camp gatherings (THAT = “The Humanities and Technology”). So, what is an “unconference?” According to THAT,

The shortest answer is this: an unconference is a highly informal conference. Two differences are particularly notable. First, at an unconference, the program isn’t set beforehand: it’s created on the first day with the help of all the participants rather than beforehand by a program committee. Second, at an unconference, there are no presentations — all participants in an unconference are expected to talk and work with fellow participants in every session. An unconference is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture; going to an unconference is like being a member of an improv troupe where going to a conference is (mostly) like being a member of an audience. Unconferences are also free or cheap and open to all. For more information, see Wikipedia’s entry on the unconference.

So, what we have in mind for those “final Fridays” is a time and space for faculty to propose their own topics to pursue in a collaborative setting. Our thought is that during the week leading up to each of those Fridays, folks will be able to post ideas online ahead of time about topics and issues they would like to work on and discuss. On Friday afternoon, those who gather will take the first 15-20 minutes to establish a schedule, and then we’ll move forward to address and work on whatever the group decides. Everyone can teach and learn from each other. Think of it as a co-working space; you can come and go, drop in for just part of the afternoon, or whatever fits your schedule. These will also take place in the Johnson Center space in Abell 102. We’ll try to provide some light comestibles and libations, and then wrap things up around 4:30 or 5:00.

We’re also working on a couple of other possible activities for the spring, so stay tuned here at the blog. This schedule is flexible, so we can make adjustments and revisions on the fly, especially if you’ve got ideas or suggestions for what might be helpful to you as an AC faculty member. Mo and Brett are always available for conversation, consultation, and support for your questions and issues of pedagogy and digital technologies. So give us a shout, and follow us here on the blog, in our Facebook group, and on our Twitter feed.

Travel and Study Abroad–Digital Edition

This week’s Digital Pedagogy workshop, “Travel and Study Abroad: Digital Edition,” will occur Tuesday, December 1, from 4:30–5:30 pm, with a repeat on Wednesday, December 2, from 11:00 am–noon. The location is the library computer lab (Abell 208).


For our final DP@AC workshop of the semester, we thought it would be appropriate to devote a session to digital pedagogy and the study abroad experience, what with many of our faculty and students preparing for international travel during Jan term and beyond. With so many experienced travelers in our community, there should be plenty of wisdom about what to do (and what not to do) with technology during study abroad. Let’s see if we can share some of that collective knowledge for everyone’s benefit.

International study takes a variety of forms at Austin College, and technology needs may vary accordingly. A three-week Jan term differs from a semester or year abroad, and Global Outreach Fellowships and internships also offer distinct contexts. Many variables affect how you approach the use of digital tools when traveling for study. (And I know that some study trips involve only domestic travel…still, much of what we might say here applies in those situations as well.) The specific locations, the time length of the travel, the nature of the activities, the expectations and requirements of the instructors…these and other factors obviously shape how you might use digital technology.

Right off the bat we should acknowledge a paradox regarding this topic. On the one hand, attention to devices and screens should not draw time attention away from immersion and experiences in new cultures and surroundings. You’re there to learn with and from the people of whatever region you’re visiting, so, as much as possible, be in the moment in a more immediate (and less mediated) way. On the other hand, a study abroad trip is an ideal opportunity to document and construct a rich digital record of what you are learning and to share that learning with others.

Typical study abroad digital pedagogy projects include digital storytelling and blogging. Digital stories are particularly common and may be a requirement not only of the instructor but also possibly of a scholarship, funding source, or program. GO Fellows and Stevens Scholars, for instance, are expected to produce digital stories upon completion of their programs. For dozens of examples of digital stories produced by AC study abroad students in the last several years, check out the “International Experiences” and the “Global Outreach (GO) Fellows” playlists on the Austin College YouTube site. Instructors may also expect students to keep journals with daily or regular entries during the travel time. Blogs are ideal for capturing these reflections and making them available for a wider audience.

In terms of the technology itself, what you need to think about falls into these categories:


The main decision here is whether to use a smartphone or a dedicated digital camera for taking pictures and recording video. The phone is likely to be the device of choice, since everyone probably already has one. But for certain projects there may be a need for high quality images, in which case a camera may be preferable. A camera might have longer battery life, and of course you  would also bring your charger and possibly some extra battery packs. If you are doing interviews and/or want to capture just audio, you might consider a dedicated voice recorder, though there are apps for the phone that might work as well.

Bringing a laptop obviously gives further computing power, but may not be necessary for shorter trips. If you are going to be blogging to document the trip, a laptop is certainly handy. Check ahead to see if there are reliable internet cafes where you are going…that might obviate the need to bring your own computer. Tablets are also a possibility.

Every device carries a risk of being damaged, lost, or stolen, and of course security arrangements can vary widely.


Because electrical systems around the world vary in terms of outlet configuration and voltage, you’ll need to bring a universal adapter plug-in kit and, possibly, an electrical voltage converter. Look at this world standards table, which gives plug, socket, and voltage information by country, and links to diagrams of different plug types (there are 15 around the world). Check ahead and make sure that whatever you buy will work in the places you’re going. Many adapters these days have one or more USB ports built in, which might be helpful.

Most electronic devices these days are designed for a global market and will automatically handle electrical voltages of 110-240 volts (the range around the world) and frequencies of either 50 or 60 Hz. But you should be sure about this by checking the labeling on the device or the owner’s manual. However, you may also be bringing other electrical devices, such as shavers or hair driers, that only work on the 110 volt system here in the US. To use those in many places abroad, you will need a voltage converter, or your appliance will get fried.

A typical power problem is that a phone will not make it through the day on a full charge. In these situations, it may be worth having a small portable battery charger on hand to keep you juiced up. A good choice would be this model by Anker. Charge it ahead of time, and then take it with you to recharge your phone as many as four or five times. It is one more thing to carry around, but could be a lifesaver when you have to use your phone and the battery is running out.


You will need adequate storage for the anticipated number of photos/videos and other data, either internally or with memory cards. Phones have a certain amount of internal storage (16 GB, 32 GB, etc.), and may or may not have a slot for a memory card. Cameras also take memory cards to store their images. Look at your device to be sure what kind of card it takes…standard SD, mini-SD, and micro-SD are the typical sizes. Each kind of card also has a specific speed class and storage capacity. Consult your owner’s manual (look it up online if you don’t have the hard copy) and check out articles such as this to help you determine what you might need. Storage is relatively cheap, so you might as well get more rather than less.

Typically you will offload you files on a regular basis from the phone or camera onto a laptop hard drive and/or into a web-based storage service such as Google Drive or Dropbox, or a social media repository (Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, etc.). Be sure you have the right cable to transfer to a laptop. For uploading to the cloud, the main issue will be internet connectivity, about which see below.


Just like at home, having a reliable connection to the internet is often the sticking point in an otherwise smooth digital experience. Connections will come either via Wifi (for laptops and mobile devices) or cellular networks (for phones and some tablets). In general, you should not count on solid internet connectivity ahead of time, unless you are absolutely sure. Wifi availability, reliability, security, and costs vary widely. You’ll have to do your research ahead of time and on the fly to determine whether and how wifi will be available where you are traveling. Many places of lodging will provide access, as will public spaces such as trains and shops, but find out about costs and security beforehand.

Using your phone with cellular networks abroad is even more complicated. This article by Holly Oberle, “Cell Phones and SIM Cards for Living Abroad–Update,” is the single best resource I have located to cover the range of variables to be considered here. The major US carriers do offer international plans, but at a steep cost. In lieu of that option, the first question to ask is whether your current phone will work when traveling abroad. In general, the answer is “yes” if 1) you are not in a contract; 2) your phone is GSM compatible; and 3) your phone is unlocked. If that’s the case, then all you’ll need to do is to buy a SIM card for wherever you are going. Oberle suggests purchasing the card before leaving the US, so that you can use your phone as soon as you arrive at your destination. Then you can always buy a new SIM with better rates later.

If your phone does not meet these criteria, and you still want cellular internet access, then you’ll need to acquire an unlocked, out-of-contract, GSM-compatible phone, either here or in the host country. Then you’ll need a SIM card to go with it. If you are traveling to more than one country, you may need to buy multiple SIM cards. The other option for using your phone for communication, apart from cellular networks, is through using applications like Skype and Viber when you have a good wifi connection.


Mobile apps for travel and study abroad may include many that you are currently using. One of the major considerations with apps is whether you will need a network connection (see above) in order to use them. Mapping and geolocation apps are obviously very useful when traveling, and, fortunately, are increasingly being designed to function well even without network connection. For example, Google Maps, probably your best overall choice, has just introduced “Offline Maps,” with enhanced capabilities for offline use of directions, turn-by-turn voice navigation, and search for information about local places of interest (galleries, museums, restaurants, etc.). You’ll need to download the maps ahead of time, when you do have network access. There are limits to the size of the offline map you can download, but you can download multiple maps. So if you wanted, say, an entire country, you could save multiple maps of its different areas. Offline Maps is currently available for Android, with the iOS version promised by the end of the year. You can also find other apps in this category, such as CityMaps2GoPocket Earth Pro, and Maps.Me.

Travelers to non-English speaking regions should consider downloading a good dictionary of the host language. Again, I recommend storing on your phone rather than relying on the chance of an internet connection. Most good dictionaries and language resources cost a few bucks, but unless you are absolutely fluent in the host language, it’s probably well worth it. Check with your instructors or other folks in the know and read reviews to find out what apps would be best for you.

Many museums, galleries, and other places of cultural interest, as well as cities and locales, have their own official or unofficial apps to provide visitors with an enhanced experience. Just search the app store and look online for reviews. You can probably find guided audio tours of many major sites; but plan ahead, and download the audio files to your device when you have internet access. That way you can listen to them at the site without a connection. Be sure to bring earbuds along.

Messaging and voice-over-internet apps are obviously useful, as long as you have a network connection. There’s Skype, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, and a host of other possibilities. In addition to the map apps listed above, other transportation related apps specific to a region or carrier (e.g., DB Navigator for Deutschbahn) might be worth installing.

These are just a few things to keep in mind among the many details of planning for travel and study abroad. Again, I’m sure our travel veterans can augment this advice, so please contribute your ideas, either here in the comments, on the Facebook group page, or, of course, at our two sessions this week.

Curated Resources

Intellectual Property, Copyright, and Open Pedagogy

“Copyright, Creative Commons, Fair Use, Public Domain” by Langwitches is licensed under CC BY NC SA 2.0

This week’s Digital Pedagogy workshop, “Intellectual Property, Copyright, and Open Pedagogy” will occur Tuesday, November 17, from 4:30–5:30 pm, with a repeat on Wednesday, November 18, from 11:00 am–noon. The location is the library computer lab (Abell 208).

Over the course of this semester we’ve looked at many pedagogical practices and associated technologies that result in the creation, by instructors and students, of new intellectual content and its representations in digital formats. Such content and representations are intellectual property. Usually, that content incorporates or in some way draws upon existing content, which of course is also intellectual property. In addition, then, to the pedagogical and technical factors involved in using digital tools and applications, there are legal and ethical considerations that may need to be addressed. Copyright, fair use, open access, citation, attribution, plagiarism, etc….how do we begin to sort out what we need to know and do in order to act responsibly?

We approach these matters both from the user side (what can I do with content that others have created?) and the owner side (what do I want others to be able to do with what I have created?). In either case, the same fundamental principles apply. For example, as soon as a work is created–a line of text or code, a photograph or drawing, a set of data, etc.–copyright law automatically comes into play. There is no need to apply for coverage, affix a notification, or even publish what has been produced. How that work can then be used by others, in educational settings and/or in newly created works, is a matter of interpretation that is broadly guided by the “fair use doctrine” that is part of the copyright statute. There are many variables that come into play, and the principles of fair use are intentionally vague; thus, determinations generally must be made on a case-by-case basis.

Obviously, intellectual property is a huge and complicated topic, so the goal here is mostly to introduce the subject, pull together a few helpful resources, and provide a space to discuss specific cases where you might be unsure about what’s appropriate, either for your own scholarship or that of your students. What are typical situations that might arise at Austin College with respect to intellectual property issues? Who do you turn to for advice and information, and/or what resources do you consult? I think we could all benefit from some open conversation about how we as an academic community address these issues. Abell Library has a copyright policy for library course reserves that you should be familiar with, but that covers just one limited set of circumstances out of many possible scenarios in which intellectual property concerns may arise.

For a broader introduction to intellectual property, an excellent resource that I have discovered is the Copyright Crash Course developed by copyright attorney Georgia Harper at the University of Texas Libraries. Sometimes, there really is no need to reinvent the wheel. This comprehensive guide offers clear explanations on topics from the perspective of both the producer and the consumer of intellectual property, with additional sections on library and institutional concerns. As Harper points out in her introduction,

The role of copyright in the flow of research is undergoing dramatic and exciting change. It’s occurring at the margins right now, but it will one day extend to every aspect of scholarly endeavor. This is a very exciting time to be an academic. The options for scholarly communication have never been broader or more effective. You’ll find discussion of copyright woven all through important aspects of research and teaching, such as

  • the use of others’ works in the classroom, in fieldwork, and the laboratory
  • building on the works of others to create new works
  • open source software development
  • use and reuse of datasets
  • Creative Commons licensing of educational resources
  • open access to research results and its acceleration of the pace of scientific discovery
  • the digitization of books in the public domain and digital access to works still in print as well as orphan works
  • the resulting opportunities to discover knowledge that’s been hard to access in the past.

Really…just check it out. You can even take a quiz at the end to assess you knowledge 😉

Another fine resource that I would recommend is a screencast produced by my colleague Chris Lott, entitled “Copyright and Fair Use.” This is an excellent short overview with an especially helpful description of fair use within educational settings.

Both Harper and Lott emphasize the fact that educators should not be afraid to exercise their rights under the doctrine of fair use. It is a right, not a privilege. There are no known cases in which an individual educator has been successfully prosecuted for infringement in a fair use case. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon instructors to be familiar with the law in general and with the “four factor test” of the fair use doctrine, in particular, in order to make appropriate judgments on a case-by-case basis.

One of the most important movements in intellectual property management that has developed in the digital era is Creative Commons, a public non-profit that has developed a standardized set of licensing permissions that allow content owners to make their work available for reuse on their own terms. In turn, this licensing system is creating an expanding set of resources that can be freely and legally used by others.

If you want to give people the right to share, use, and even build upon a work you’ve created, you should consider publishing it under a Creative Commons license. CC gives you flexibility (for example, you can choose to allow only non-commercial uses) and protects the people who use your work, so they don’t have to worry about copyright infringement, as long as they abide by the conditions you have specified.

If you’re looking for content that you can freely and legally use, there is a giant pool of CC-licensed creativity available to you. There are hundreds of millions of works — from songs and videos to scientific and academic material — available to the public for free and legal use under the terms of our copyright licenses, with more being contributed every day.

This infographic from Creative Commons lays out the basic scheme of the licenses, from most to least open:

creative-commons2 (1)

Creative Commons licenses do not replace copyright; they attach qualifications and terms to it. CC licenses, widely used online, are placed on works by their owners in order to specify how others may use their work. The underlying intent of Creative Commons goes far beyond simply property management; it is even more a means of creating an ethos that promotes the openness and sharing of content on the broadest possible terms.

Thus, as the title of this post indicates, my perspective on intellectual property is enveloped by broader interests in “open pedagogy” as a philosophical framework for teaching and learning. David Wiley has championed this approach and, with respect to open educational resources (OER) in particular, has developed the “5R” approach to educational materials, encouraging creators to grant the following permissions for their content:


In her essay “What is Open Education?,” philosophy professor Christina Hendricks builds on this foundation to further articulate an open approach to teaching and learning:

Examples of open pedagogy include activities from asking students to make public blog posts (or posts that are at least shared with the rest of the class, even if they are not public), having students create websites or wikis that showcase a research project they have completed, encouraging students to revise OER and re-share them for other students, teachers and the public, to opening one’s classroom activities to participation by those not officially registered in the course (such as by having discussions on social media, opening up presentations by doing them on webinars, and more).

So, what are your experiences in dealing with these issues? Share with and learn from your colleagues here in our comment section and at our workshops this week.

Curated resources

Growing Your Academic Network with Twitter

acdigped twitterOur first digital pedagogy workshop of the semester, “Growing Your Academic Network with Twitter,” will occur Tuesday, September 8, from 4:30–5:30 pm, with a repeat on Wednesday, September 9 from 11:00 am–noon. The location is the library computer lab (Abell 208).

Join us as we explore how you can use Twitter to cultivate your personal learning network (PLN) and to connect with other scholars, ideas, activities, and events in your discipline. This workshop is for everyone–whether you have no experience with Twitter at all, are a sporadic tweeter, or a more regular user who wants to up their game and improve their Twitter experience. You might be curious or frankly skeptical about the whole thing–and that’s ok. Maybe you’ve heard about live-tweeting at professional conferences, and wonder what that’s all about. Even if you don’t know a handle from a hashtag, we’ll get you up and running.

So among other things, we’ll work on:

  • setting up your account and profile
  • the basic elements of a tweet–messages, hashtags, mentions, links, images, etc.
  • tips and ideas on who to follow and how to attract followers
  • Twitter literacy–hashtags, handles, retweets, modified tweets, lists, notifications, etc.
  • using Tweetdeck as a Twitter client
  • how to participate in a live-tweet session
  • how to strengthen your connections and network presence

We’ll draw on the experiences of Twitter users here at Austin College, including the “Tres Hombres” of digital pedagogy (@bolillotejano, @bboessen, and @MorrisPelzel) and other faculty and staff. (You do know that “Tres Hombres” was the title of a 1973 ZZTop album, right? What’s that…who is ZZTop? Nevermind). We’ll also be drawing on some other resources that you can check out here ahead of time. One of the better comprehensive guides for using Twitter in higher education is “The Ultimate Guide to Tweets, Hashtags, and All Things Twitter” by Sue Waters (@suewaters). Regularly updated and highly recommended. In “A Little Bird Told Me: Maximizing Your Learning on Twitter,” Laura Gogia (@googleguacamole) serves up some pithy recommendations and strategies in an attractive infographic. Alison Seaman (@AlisonSeaman), in “Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy,” offers some important conceptual background on PLNs as well as practical suggestions for using Twitter to help build a PLN.

Bonnie Stewart’s (@bonstewart) articles, “In Public: The Shifting Consequences of Twitter Scholarship,” and “Contributions and Connections” explore how the growing use of social media networks by academics is affecting notions of scholarly identity, authority, and influence. She observes that

As more and more academics take to Twitter and other networked platforms to connect and share their work and ideas, a new sphere of influence is opening. And it is beginning to infiltrate academia itself. Twitter is often framed as a more effective way to get fired than hired, but networked scholarly participation can be a powerful site of new contacts and resources and conversations for a scholar, as well as new conventions (hello #hashtags!) and new public audiences for research. Increased citations, media gigs, collaborative research opportunities, invited talks and keynotes, and a variety of other academically-valued material effects can stem from active and sustained networked engagement.

Finally, on a lighter note, Glen Wright (@AcademiaObscura), in “The Weird and Wonderful World of Academic Twitter,” relates some ways in which “Twitter also acts as a virtual water cooler, a place where academics go to build community, have some fun, and let off steam.” So, if you need a bit of humor and distraction on a slow day, you could do worse than check out, say, #RuinADateWithAnAcademicInFiveWords or @NeinQuarterly.

Twitter is also being used in courses and student projects as well…we’ll look more at pedagogical applications of Twitter and other social media in a subsequent workshop.

So please do join us for the workshop if you can. And, of course…follow us at @ACDigPed.

Fall Digital Pedagogy Workshops

Welcome (back) to everyone as we start the Fall 2015 semester at Austin College! Here at Digital Pedagogy@Austin College, we’re looking forward to a new year of activities and projects to support student and faculty learning across the curriculum. In particular we’d like to announce a schedule of weekly digital pedagogy workshops that will be offered this fall. These will be one-hour, hands-on tutorials designed to give faculty ideas and skills to use in the classroom and for professional development. Our plan is to offer each workshop twice a week–once on Tuesday at 4:30 pm, and then again Wednesday at 11:00 am, in Abell Library (probably in Abell 102, but we’ll let you know for sure).

Here’s what we have planned:

  • September 8/9–”Growing Your Academic Network with Twitter”
  • September 15/16–”Using Social Media in Teaching and Learning”
  • September 22/23–”Got Blog? Getting Started with WordPress”
  • September 29/30–”Incorporating Student Blogs in Your Course”
  • October 6/7 –”Digital Publishing with Scalar”
  • October 13/14–”Using Digital Maps in Your Class”
  • October 20/21-”Wikipedia Assignments: What, How, and Why”
  • October 27/28–”Leveraging Student Interests Through Social Bookmarking”
  • November 3/4–”Using for Collaborative Digital Annotation”
  • November 10/11–”Creating Rich Interactive Timelines with Timeline JS”
  • November 17/18–”Fair Use, Copyright, and Creative Commons Licenses”
  • December 1/2—”Study Abroad with Technology and Media: Tips, Tools, and Apps”

We’ll be blogging about each topic ahead of time to give you further context and resource material. This schedule isn’t carved in stone; if there is particular interest in other topics, we can consider adjustments and/or put those on the schedule for the spring semester. So let us know what you think. Also, if other times prove more feasible, we’re willing to be flexible.

Of course, Mo and Brett are always available for conversation, consultation, and support for your questions and issues of pedagogy and digital technologies. So give us a shout, and follow us here on the blog, in our Facebook group, and on our Twitter feed.