Author Archives: Vivian Bagley
Author Archives: Vivian Bagley
The benefits offered by these types of visualizations are substantial, which a lead reviewer for the history department recognized. She chose to include visualizations in her final report, making the argument that the review process was made easier to understand through images that represent complex information. The reviewer offered the following comments:
Departments doing self-assessments and reviewers writing reports for administrators and government can use visualizations to see very clearly and easily what has gone on in a department over the preceding years. For example, for our mid-sized Ontario history department, it is very clear from the Bar Graph that the signature form of pedagogy is the seminar discussion group and that teaching leadership skills is a priority for a large number of faculty who specifically grade students on leadership.
The same graph also shows that while traditional research essays continue to be assigned (70 courses), other sorts of writing assignments surpass them: document studies (24), book reviews (26), alternative assignments ( 25). Also, many essays are graded in stages, in which the professors examine proposals, outlines and bibliographies for students before the final writing process begins. If visualizations from previous reviews were available the reviewer of this history department could very quickly identify trends, comment on them, and ask pertinent questions.
The Network Diagram shows that this history department has a balance between traditional assessment methods shared by the majority of faculty (represented by large circles at the centre of the diagram) and a diversity of innovative methods (represented by the smaller circles at the periphery). Again, if reviewers could see a similar diagram from 2005, an evolution could be identified and an explanation sought.
The Word Cloud shows the extent to which criticial thinking skills are taught in this department. ”Analyse,” “Arguments,” and “Demonstrate” are the most often repeated words in the descriptions of students’ learning activities. Parents, students, and employers who wonder about the transferable skills and career prospects that history students have on leaving university need only look at this diagram to recognize the value of a history education.
Although May has come to an end, our work at the Digital Method Blog continues. The Digital Method Workshop Series was a success, and has attracted interest from a number of other people. The workshops had limited attendance but toward the final days, we hosted 4-5 dedicated faculty members and one enthusiastic staff member. Our final workshop on Text Analysis, which featured Voyant and IBM’s ManyEyes received a higher amount of interest than I would have predicted, but the possibilities of distant reading and data visualization are widespread and can solve problems that I’d not have imagined. We were happy to hear that some difficulties might be addressed using the tools we’ve talked about.
Our attendees were consistently willing to try out the new tools and in many cases were excited to apply digital tools to their own research. We also heard reports that word of mouth was spreading the idea that digital tools could augment and improve research methods. If we decide to host another series in the future, perhaps we’ll have even more participants.
Currently, I’m working to edit the lengthy videos that captured the demonstrations and conversations from each workshop. In the next week, most of these videos will be available on the Workshops page. For anyone who missed the workshops, these videos might prove valuable because they often feature questions from our first time users. Also, visit the Tools page for overviews of each tool.
In our final workshop on May 25th, we will be exploring a number of tools that can be used to analyze text at a large scale, a task for which computers are uniquely suited. In his book Graphs, Maps, Trees, Franco Moretti coined the term “distant reading” to describe analysis that uses a computer to quantify text in order to see trends on a global scale that are not visible through close reading. There are many examples of this type of work. Patricia Cohen at the New York Times provides a thorough introduction and overview of the concept and mentions a number of examples.
We will focus on two tools that offer a number of options for graphing, revealing, and analyzing texts. The first is Voyant Tools, which displays results through text and displays statistical information for a text. The other is IBM’s ManyEyes, which provides numerous visualization options to best highlight the important trends in a work. The trick with these tools, as with many others, is experimenting. Upload a text and see what results you can draw out, especially by using different types of visualization in ManyEyes.
The results of distant reading are no substitute for close reading, but can open up the text to uncover larger themes and trends.
Friday’s workshop focuses on Scrivener, a writing tool designed to emphasize writing and leave formatting until the end of the process. For anyone interested in attending, please download and install the free trial of Scrivener so that you can begin to explore its functions and decide whether it is right for you. Feel free to invite anyone you think would benefit from these workshops.
We had our highest turnout on Wednesday and I’m hoping we repeat that success. Thank you to all our participants for your diligence and continued enthusiasm. Videos from the previous workshops will soon be available. Thank you for your patience.
Today starts the third week of the Digital Method Workshop Series. Unfortunately, we had limited attendance last week, so we hope more faculty and grad students will be available this week. I must thank Dr. McLeod of the Department of History for her continued enthusiasm and frequent participation, but also extend my appreciation to the other two professors who have attended our workshops and been eager to learn more.
The workshops this week are particularly useful for two reasons: the first is absolutely crucial for anyone who has a large library of articles printed out and stashed in numerous filing cabinets or piles. On Wednesday, we will discuss scanners and demonstrate how easy it can be to create digital archives from extensive paper collections. The importance of digital sources seems fairly obvious, but the number of activities made easier through digitization is growing daily. Of all the workshops we are offering, the Scanning and Acrobat Pro workshop is probably one of the most useful.
The second workshop this week focuses on Scrivener, a unique composition tool that has potential to improve writing workflows and project management. Unlike Microsoft Word or OpenOffice, Scrivener was designed not for word processing, but for writing. It emphasizes the needs of a writer, academic or otherwise, and eliminates many unnecessary distractions.
I can offer one prime example of Scrivener’s immense value: in April 2012, I was an editor for the Brock University Creative Writers’ Club and was working to compile our members’ writing to publish in our yearly anthology. The other committee members worked tirelessly to edit the submissions while I collected and formatted them with Scrivener. Although the software was not designed for that purpose, we managed to input, format, and create a publishable book in less than eight hours. Scrivener afforded me enough control to create what we needed and is simple to use once you explore its abilities.
Our three participants were excited to learn about digital tools and began exploring enthusiastically, quickly setting up the necessary accounts and installing the free software. At the end of the workshops, they seemed driven to make digital tools part of their research method, or at least to practice using them.
The workshops are designed to build from relatively easy tools toward more complicated ones such as DevonThink. This week will feature Zotero, the citation management software, and wikis, which can be used in courses to improve student participation and access to readings.