Scenes from a Workshop

The 2015 Mellon Digital Pedagogy Workshop was held this past Saturday, and the participants enjoyed stimulating presentations and conversations about their projects. Fourteen grantees attended; there were four showcase demonstrations of completed (or nearly completed) projects, and six breakout sessions for attendees to choose from. We’ll be blogging a lot more of the specifics in the days to come, but for now, here are a few pictures from the proceedings.


Gathering in the Library Digital Commons prior to getting started.



Andy Carr describes how he “flipped” his organic chemistry class to improve student learning outcomes.



Jim Hebda explains how he and John Richardson have transformed their Biochemistry class by using tablets to create presentations, then projecting and annotating them during class and saving the files with voice narration for students to watch and listen to again later.



Discussing textual and video annotations during a breakout session in Abell 104



A breakout session on collaborative student learning spaces


We continue the conversation with a working lunch.

“Nota Bene”–Collaborative Digital Annotation

At tomorrow’s Mellon Digital Pedagogy Workshop there will be several breakout sessions on themes shared among grantee projects. We’ll be blogging about those over the coming days and sharing insights and perspectives.

One of the shared themes is “collaborative digital annotation.” Several grantees, including Dan Dominick, Elena Olive’, and Kirk Everist, have projects in which students mark up and comment upon digital documents, including texts, images, audio, and video. What is that and why might you be interested? Actually, we did a presentation on this topic last fall at a Johnson Center luncheon, so I’ll reprise those remarks here to provide some background on the subject of annotation.

You are no doubt familiar with marking up things that we read in print form…underlining, highlighting, writing notes and comments in the margins of books and papers, or special symbols and doodles that signify something important about what we’ve read. This is nothing new…readers have been marking up texts ever since, well, there have been texts. For example, in this brief video classicist Gregory Nagy describes the annotation of manuscripts in the ancient era with notes (scholion) and marginal references (hypomnema):


After the emergence of print and the explosion of books in Europe in the early modern period, the practice of marginalia flourished as an art form. Literary historians tell us that the golden age of marginalia lasted from roughly 1700 to 1820, and that it was not unusual for people to mark up books for one another as gifts. The English poet and literary figure Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) even published several volumes of his marginalia (and apparently coined the term itself).


More recently, the American author David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) was renowned for marking up books in his library. For example, here is an image from his copy of Don Delillo’s Ratner’s Star (click on image to make it larger):


Today, of course, more and more of our (formerly print) documents are in digitized formats…narratives, essays, electronics books and journals, lab reports, legal briefs, play scripts, musical scores, computer code, diagrams, drawings, sketches, photographs, maps, etc. And of course there are increasing amounts of digitized audio and video material.

So the question is, are there ways to annotate these digitized documents in a way analogous to the marking up of books and manuscripts in the past? Can we make digital annotations in the context of the original document, using multiple forms of media, to which other readers, listeners. or viewers can respond, thus creating a dialogue or conversation? What we want is an arrangement in which the original content remains in the center of the online space, and comments, notes, and questions are connected to it at specific points…particular words, phrases, or sentences in a text, regions of an image, and timelines and frames of audio and video files. And this space should be a collaborative space in which scholars and students interact with one another’s annotations in the context of the original document.

The concept of collaborative annotation was actually part of the origin of the World Wide Web. Marc Andreessen, co-developer of Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, recently recalled what he was thinking back in the early ’90s:

Only a handful of people know that the big missing feature from the web browser – the feature that was supposed to be in from the start but didn’t make it – is the ability to annotate any page on the Internet with commentary and additional information.

Back in 1993, when Eric Bina and I were first building Mosaic, it seemed obvious to us that users would want to annotate all text on the web – our idea was that each web page would be a launchpad for insight and debate about its own contents. So we built a feature called “group annotations” right into the browser – and it worked great – all users could comment on any page and discussions quickly ensued. Unfortunately, our implementation at that time required a server to host all the annotations, and we didn’t have the time to properly build that server, which would obviously have had to scale to enormous size. And so we dropped the entire feature.

I often wonder how the Internet would have turned out differently if users had been able to annotate everything – to add new layers of knowledge to all knowledge, on and on, ad infinitum.

And Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, reflected back on the origin of the PageRank algorithm, the heart of Google’s search engine:

It wasn’t that we intended to build a search engine. We built a ranking system to deal with annotations. We wanted to annotate the web – build a system so that after you’d viewed a page you could click and see what smart comments other people had about it. But how do you decide who gets to annotate Yahoo? We needed to figure out how to choose which annotations people should look at, which meant that we needed to figure out which other sites contained comments we should classify as authoritative. Hence PageRank.

Only later did we realize that PageRank was much more useful for search than for annotation…

Over the last two decades, any number of annotation tools and platforms have been developed to try to realize this earlier vision of Andreessen and Page, with somewhat limited success. Projects such as Annotations at Harvard and the Hyperstudio Digital Humanities Lab at MIT are working to develop tools and standards for use in scholarly annotation projects. Some of the tools we have recommended and/or are looking at include:

Several faculty, including the grantees mentioned above, are experimenting with Classroom Salon, with promising results so far. They will be sharing their experiences here so that we can all learn from them. In addition, Brett and Mo are both users of Diigo to collect and annotate web-based content, so we’ll probably do a post on that at some point.

Finally, the W3C, the international body responsible for determine the protocols that make the Web work, has just established the W3C Web Annotation Working Group. Their goal is to develop a common set of standards for annotating on the web. According to the group,

Traditional annotations are marginalia, errata, and highlights in printed books, maps, picture, and other physical media. Web annotations are an attempt to recreate and extend that functionality as a new layer of interactivity and linking on top of the Web. It will allow anyone to annotate anything anywhere, be it a web page, an ebook, a video, an image, an audio stream, or data in raw or visualized form. Web annotations can be linked, shared between services, tracked back to their origins, searched and discovered, and stored wherever the author wishes; the vision is for a decentralized and open annotation infrastructure.

So we look forward to ongoing developments and improvements that will become available for us to enhance scholarship and the engagement of students with content of every kind.

Webinar–Teaching and Researching with Scalar

We’ve recently been providing information on the digital publishing tool Scalar here on the blog and at Johnson Center luncheons. Now comes word that HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) will host a free (registration required) webinar introducing Scalar on Wednesday, April 8, from 2:00 to 3:15 pm Austin College time. From the website:


This workshop will serve as an introduction to Scalar, a free, open-source authoring and publishing platform designed for scholars writing media-rich, long-form, born-digital scholarship. Developed by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture at the University of Southern California, Scalar allows scholars to assemble media from multiple sources and juxtapose that media with their own writing in a variety of ways; to annotate video, audio, images, source code, and text using the platform’s build-in media annotation tools; and to structure essay- and book-length works in ways that take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats.

This workshop will cover basic features of the platform, including a review of existing Scalar books and a hands-on introduction to paths, tags, annotations, and importing media, and then move on to more advanced topics including the effective use of visualizations, annotating with media, and a primer on customizing appearances in Scalar.

Tell Me a (Digital) Story

DigstoryProcessAt yesterday’s Johnson Center luncheon we discussed digital storytelling and also took a look at Scalar, a “free, open source authoring and publishing platform that’s designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online.” More specifically, we thought about how digital stories could be further enriched by being situated in an interactive context such Scalar.

The most common form of digital storytelling produces a video of three to five minutes in length (or perhaps somewhat longer), consisting of a voice-over narration of a sequence of images or slides or short motion clips, with transitions, perhaps accompanied by a musical soundtrack. Most often these stories are produced with programs such as Windows MovieMaker and Apple’s iMovie. Effective stories require careful attention to narrative arc, voice, point of view, tempo, audience, storyboarding, and other elements of vocal, textual, and visual communication.

A culture and practice for digital storytelling has developed at Austin College, particular among students participating in travel abroad programs such as the Go Fellow and JanTerm study trips. A good number of the stories produced in the last several years can be found on the AC YouTube site; look under “Playlists,” for example, to see Go Fellows digital stories for 2014, 2013, 2012, and earlier.

An excellent resource for digital storytelling ideas is the website, Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling at the University of Houston. You might check out their “7 Elements of Digital Storytelling” as well as “8 Steps to Great Digital Storytelling,” for starters. There is a helpful section on tools and software, and a gallery of digital stories covering a wide range of topics. Another helpful site for resources is the Digital Storytelling Library Guide at Mercy College.

Specific tutorials guides that I would recommend include Making a Digital Story in iMovie ’11 and Digital Story Production Using Windows Movie Maker.

Several of our Mellon Digital Pedagogy projects, such as those of Elena Olive’, Julie Hempel and Terry Hoops, and Kirk Everist, involve aspects of digital storytelling. We look forward to learning more from them about the creative uses of digital storytelling and publishing in their classes. In the meantime, if you’d like help with a project of your own, just let us know, and we’ll be happy to help.

Draftback and Writing Visualization

FiveThirtyEight points to a neat little Chrome extension called Draftback that can “play back” any document composed in Google Docs.  As the author indicates, it does this by treating your writing as data, with each individual character entry or deletion (which are already tracked by Docs) being sequenced and played back by Draftback.

This could be a useful way to help students visualize the process of their writing.  What about a workshop session like this?

  • Students write drafts of their essays in Google Docs.
  • They share them with a partner or small group (or the professor) before class.
  • Their group watches each draftback animation and notes places where the author made specific structural, thematic, or grammatical choices that contributed significantly to the current draft, as well as speculate about other directions the draft could have taken if different choices had been made.
  • Then in class, groups conduct a mini-workshop with each essay, drawing on the specifics of the draftback animation for details in their constructive criticism.

This approach could help students understand more concretely the nature of writing as process in addition to product, which is something students often struggle with but that can help immensely in both improving their writing and increasing their confidence in their own writing ability.

Do I Really Need (to Manage My) Email? Follow-up

Thanks to those who were able to make it in to the Google Hangout version of my talk today.  Lots of good questions and comments about what works and what concerns you about using email as a tool for communicating with students (and others).

Here is the Prezi I used in the first half of the talk.  It’s fairly basic, but if you missed the talk entirely, it can give you some of the main points.

If you’re interested in learning more about GTD, Inbox Zero, or the Trusted Trio methods of email management, hit those links where you’ll find some short explanatory videos that lay out each method and their similarities. As always, there’s also plenty more out there that a little googling can help you unearth.

I also mentioned Boomerang, Better Gmail, and Gmail Meter, so if you’re interested in any of those, by all means, check them out.  Again, they’re aimed squarely at Gmail, but I do recommend working it into your routine if you can.

Speaking of that, I said I’d share with you my own routine, but time and my laptop battery life colluded against it, so it makes sense to share it here.  I operate day-to-day on a modified version of Inbox Zero, at least in principle: I shoot to clean out my inbox every time I open it, I do right now everything I can, I tend to write much shorter responses as I showed you, and I’m fairly ruthless about archiving old things.

A couple of things I also do that aren’t related Inbox Zero but are helpful to me:

  • I use the star function in Gmail (like flagging in Outlook) as a kind of “hold” folder, sloughing off emails that will take a while to deal with OR that I know I’ll need for reference in getting other work done that I can’t do right now.
  • I have my AC email forwarded to my gmail, so the two accounts are blended together seamlessly on my end.  This means I never have to use an app other than Gmail for my email.
  • I manage a few other Gmail accounts as well – one for the Johnson Center ( and one for the Media Studies program ( This allows me to move files around, post things, and send out messages to folks using those different “voices.” I do not have these forwarded to my main account, as I use them relatively infrequently, but I could very easily do that as well.

There are probably other elements of my procedure that I’m not thinking of at the moment or that I intended to share in the talk today but did not.  Feel free to drop a note, question, or idea in the comments. 🙂

Cool Tools–Scalar and Omeka

DP@AC is happy to offer AC faculty the opportunity to experiment with two powerful new tools for digital scholarship and pedagogy.

Scalar is a digital publishing platform created by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, based at USC. According to the developers,

Scalar is a free, open source publishing platform that’s designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online. Scalar enables users to assemble media from multiple sources and juxtapose them with their own writing in a variety of ways, with minimal technical expertise required. Scalar also gives authors tools to structure essay- and book-length works in ways that take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats. The platform also supports collaborative authoring and reader commentary and annotation.

Here’s a quick video introduction (also, for a showcase of projects authored with Scalar, go here):

Omeka is also a web-based digital publishing platform. Developed by the Roy Rosenweig Center for History and New Media, Omeka is particularly designed for publishing collections and galleries of digital media in an open-access environment.

Omeka is a next-generation web publishing platform for museums, historical societies, scholars, enthusiasts, and educators. Omeka provides cultural institutions and individuals with easy-to-use software for publishing collections and creating attractive, standards-based, interoperable online exhibits. Free and open-source, Omeka is designed to satisfy the needs of institutions that lack technical staffs and large budgets. Bringing Web 2.0 technologies and approaches to historical and cultural websites, Omeka fosters the kind of user interaction and participation that is central to the mission of public scholarship and education.

Religious Studies professor Ivette Vargas-O’Bryan and her students and other partners utilized Omeka to create the acclaimed project, “Mapping Cultures,” a Mellon-funded digital humanities project on Tibetan cultures and cultural preservation.

Again, here’s a video trailer, and a link to a showcase of Omeka projects:

If you’re interested and would like to learn more, just let us know…we can do individual consultations or small workshops as desired.

Guest Post: Classroom Salon–Using Video Annotation to Reflect on Student Teaching

classroom salonLast year I read Focus on Teaching: Using Video for High-Impact Instruction, by Jim Knight, and was sold on the idea of having my student teachers record themselves in the classroom and then reflecting on the video with them. I decided to implement this strategy in my Fall 2014 course, EDUC 475, “The Learner, The Teacher, and the Curriculum,” and began to explore what technology would be required. Where would students store and post their videos, and how would we engage in discussion about them in a private and secure space?

About that time I talked to Mo Pelzel, AC Digital Pedagogy Designer, who told me about a resource that would meet my needs. Classroom Salon is a web-based document and video annotation platform. Learning spaces, called “salons,” can be set up for individuals or groups of students to access, annotate, and discuss written documents as well as videos. For this class, students each have their own private salon. They post videos of their teaching that only the two of us can see. This means that they feel very safe in the learning process. I provided them with four sets of prompts to guide them in their video analysis. Students examine themselves, their students, teacher-student interactions, and pedagogical strategies. The ability to comment upon the video at specific points in the timeline makes possible a deep level of reflection and metacognition. As I watch the videos I type in my comments. The students also can see exactly where my comments are in the video. These can then become talking points as we discuss their growth as teachers.

The result is that I have seen students that are empowered to look at their work and make instructional decisions based on their analysis. They are taking ownership of their growth and development as teachers. Classroom Salon was a very helpful tool for me and my students, and I will utilize it again this semester. Several of my colleagues are following suit. I will also continue to collect data to better understand the efficacy of this approach and fully expect to share my findings at a conference on teaching.

Digital Pedagogy Johnson Center Lunches–March 5, 19

johnson centerBernice Melvin, Director of the Johnson Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in Teaching, has graciously offered DP@AC two Thursday lunch periods for March. We’re kicking around some ideas for discussion, but we’d like to hear from faculty…what issues and topics related to digital pedagogy would you like to discuss and hear more about? We interpret “digital pedagogy” pretty broadly, so if you’ve got any thoughts or suggestions, post a comment and let us know.