UPCOMING AND EVENTS
>>May 2-3, THATCamp Digital Writing, Fordham University and John Jay College campuses, Manhattan. Various sponsors.
>>November 13: Using Prezi for Making Arguments and Presenting Research: Organizer of this 2-hour workshop. Kimon Keramidas, Bard Graduate Center, workshop leader. Sponsored by Fordham GSAS, Fordham Grad Student DH Group, and various university departments.
>>November 19: How to Use Zotero Will lead 45-minute workshop for faculty. Sponsored by Fordham IT.
The good thing about all the doom and gloom over the so-called demise of the humanities is that it has caused humanities people to think about why the humanities are important and to quantify their place in our culture (see, for example, “Why English Majors are the Hot New Hires” by Andy Smith). One response to the “humanities is in crisis” debate comes in an infographic, The Humanities Matter!, from the University College London (UCL) Centre for Digital Humanities and 4Humanities.
The infographic visualizes statistics and arguments for the humanities, and some of the statistics might be surprising. For example, did you know that a “2012 survey of 652 US-born Chief Executive Officers and Heads of Product Engineering showed [that] almost 60% had degrees in the Humanities”? The entire banner, which has a Creative Commons license, can be downloaded here.
Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like if we did not have novels, poems, biographies, as well as film and television. All the things that examine and challenge our understanding of what it means be human. We might have poor imaginations, for one thing.
Without the humanities, I imagine it would be a little like living on Camazotz, the planet ruled by a big, bad brain called IT in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. When Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin arrive on the planet for the first time, they encounter a neighborhood where all the houses look alike. That’s not so strange to them as is the sense that something is “off” about the children who are outside, skipping rope and bouncing balls. Charles Wallace figures out what’s wrong: “Look!” he says. “They’re skipping and bouncing in rhythm! Everyone’s doing it at exactly the same moment.”1 They quickly discover that people on Camazotz can’t think for themselves. They can’t make up stories or question anything. The humanities doesn’t exist on Camazotz. But when Charles Wallace gets trapped by IT, it is Meg’s stubbornness and her deep love for her brother that helps him escape. She realizes that these two things, which are integral to her humanness, are potent weapons against IT’s mind control.
Without the humanities, Albert Einstein might only have studied science and math. Imagine if he’d ended up in that patent office in Bern, Switzerland until he died, spending his whole life testing out other people’s inventions. Imagine if Einstein hadn’t been acquainted with the philosophy of Spinoza, which helped shape his understanding of order and determinism. How might that have altered his formulation of the theory of relativity? If Einstein had never learned to play the violin, how might that have affected his ability to arrive at E=mc2? How would he have relaxed his big, amazing brain? We don’t know these answers, of course. But, as humanists, we can speculate and imagine, “what if.” In fact, that’s what Einstein did. He asked, “What if the ether did not exist?” If he hadn’t asked that question, if he had assumed like everyone else that the ether existed, he might never have discovered the theory of relativity. The scientist and the humanist have many things in common.
1 L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 1962. Pg. 103.
Despite their membership in the digital tribe, few of my undergraduates have any experience with WordPress or any blogging platform. Using WordPress in my classroom gives students an opportunity to increase their digital literacy as they read and discuss works of literature.
Because to teach is to learn is one of my fundamental beliefs about teaching, I assign a small group of students to teach themselves how to use WordPress. They then teach their peers. Students also investigate the purpose and content of an academic blog, the pros and cons of student blogging, and then discuss their research with the class. My students use the blog to post short essays. They also use it to post abstracts of their final papers and links to online resources and projects they’ve created.
Here are five sources for using WordPress in the college classroom:
- WordPress for Teaching and Learning at Vassar College This slideshow was created for teachers by undergraduate seniors at Vassar. It contains examples of blogs in use at the college along with benefits and outcomes of using blogs in the college classroom. I especially like this piece of advice: “Emphasize WordPress as a discovery process.”
- Teaching WordPress: Building and Running Your Website on WordPress The pedagogical goal of this site, which is a resource for students at Portland Adult Education, is the same as the course’s title: “Create Your Own Web Site Using WordPress.” The site, created by a teacher named Frank, is well-organized and seems to have a little of everything you need to know to develop a site, from “Pages and Posts” to “CSS in 10 Minutes,” which can be helpful for tweaking themes.
- ScholarPress Courseware plugin should tempt anyone looking for a way to use WordPress as a learning management system. According to this Chronicle article by Ryan Cordell, the plugin can create assignments, schedules, and bibliographies inside of WordPress. ScholarPress recently received an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up grant.
- Psychology in the News Nicholas de Leeuw, Dept. of Psychology, Vassar College, maintains this WordPress site. On the right-hand side of the screen, you’ll find some pages offering guidelines for attribution, a checklist for blog post content, a discussion of comments versus posts, and other insights. De Leeuw emphasizes the importance of making original posts and comments, and offers advice on to how to create useful and original content.
- Using WordPress in Your Class for Student Writing and Websites is for teachers who have a WordPress site. Hosted by the College of William and Mary and created by Evan Cordulack, the site is a straightforward resource covering everything from adding students to a WordPress site to offering links to other instructors who’ve written about their experience using WordPress.
Arthur Rothstein. “A farmer listing his fields under the wind erosion control program. He receives twenty cents an acre for the work. Liberal, Kansas.” 1936. Library of Congress. Rights Advisory: No known restrictions. For information, see U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/res/071_fsab.html. Reproduction Number: LC-USF34-002493-E (b&w film nitrate neg.) Call Number: LC-USF34- 002493-E [P&P].Medium: 1 negative : nitrate ; 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches or smaller.
If PowerPoint is a brick, Prezi is Silly Putty. Many people discover the presentation tool Prezi and never go back to PowerPoint.* What I like the most about Prezi is its versatility with graphics, text, and movement. Like PowerPoint, Prezi can create a linear presentation. But very often information is not, should not be, portrayed as being linear. Information and knowledge emerge from a web of connections and influences. Prezi allows a presenter to recreate and stretch that web and then hone in on specific strands.
Some creative people have learned how to maximize Prezi’s flexibility, and not just for oral presentations. They use it to create stand-alone presentations of research, to visualize arguments, and curate collections of material. What follows is a variety of links I’ve collected that discuss and demonstrate Prezi’s potential.
The Journey of the Modern Thought Leader, created by Lulu.com, a self-publishing company, features bold graphics, carefully chosen text, and a smooth flow. It offers self-promoters basic but powerful tips for how to market him or herself in the digital age. This Prezi’s design reminds me of a slide show that’s been stretched and gently twisted, as it climbs up and dips down with each stop on the canvas. Toward the end, the presentation returns to a slide show format, when it moves from left to right to display four links for publicly sharing ideas. Though that shift might sound regressive, it’s not. Rather, the return offers a needed change of pace, surprising the viewer out of the established flow. The slide show format also distinguishes the concrete information–a list of links to Ted/TedX, Ignite, and related sites–from the rest of this Prezi’s content, which are ideas. Ideas, like the ones in “The Journey of the Modern Thought Leader,” follow a fluid path.
“If You Put It That Way” by Leticia Britos Cavagnaro begins with the front page of a newspaper and ends with a wide angle view of a theater stage set. The newspaper frame (which is the equivalent of a PowerPoint slide), contains smaller frames. Like all the frames in this Prezi, the newspaper frame is embedded within the image of the stage. “If You Put It That Way” explains how to make a Prezi by way of example. It uses the combination of image, text, and movement–from a close-up detail to the large picture–to convey information and visualize it as a web of relations. One of Cavagnaro’s main points in this presentation is that our tools are metaphors for how we think. As Cavagnaro writes, metaphors “affect what we do” and our tools are metaphors for what we do, how we do it, and how we think. PowerPoint can only show one slide at time, moving forward or backward, forcing us into a linear thought mode. Prezi, on the other hand, offers an opportunity to break out of that limited movement: Zoom in. Zip out. Go diagonally. Enter layer upon layer of information. Open a portal and watch a YouTube video.
Students and instructors at the Bard Graduate Center for Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, use Prezi to curate materials. For example, “The Christmas Hearth” is a timeline that offers a “50-year cross-section” of Christmas cards with images of Christmas-themed fireplaces. On the x-axis is the decade and the y-axis contains types of cards, ranging from “motif” to “setting.” “The Christmas Hearth” reveals how these different types of cards waxed and waned in terms of popularity over time, thus demonstrating how Prezi can be used to visualize patterns. For example, the timeline shows that in the 1920s, people were more likely to send a calling card with a Christmas motif on it than people did in the next forty years. Different comparisons between the cards can be easily made because it’s possible to see the whole collection in one big gulp or in smaller groups.
Prezi has spawned resumes. Someone has dubbed his a “Prezume.” The challenge with this genre is to use Prezi not as a gimmick but to add something about a job candidate that a regular resume cannot supply. Prezi is most useful when information and design (content, arrangement, and movement) can be combined to convey meaning about someone’s expertise and qualifications. To that end, though I think the Prezume is very clever, it’s difficult to get a whole picture idea of that job candidate. On the other hand, this sample Prezi-based resume does a fairly good, if bland-looking, job at keeping the standard categories of a resume intact and allows viewers to zoom in on specifics, including samples of work. Finally, here’s a Prezi that combines a teaching philosophy with work experience to form a visually stunning resume, one that clearly reflects the candidate’s expertise at storytelling, teaching, and design.
Prezi’s motto is “Ideas matter.” They do, and as some of these examples demonstrate, they are.
*I wanted to find a link in favor of PowerPoint over Prezi. When I googled “powerpoint is better than prezi,” most of the top hits were on the subject of why Prezi is better than PowerPoint.