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 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.
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.
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.