Learning Outcomes Word Cloud
Similarly, the activities that instructors assign can be analyzed to show which student activities are most common across the department.
Unlike a complicated spreadsheet, these images are easy to understand, and make trends within the information easy to identify. External reviewers might save hours by identifying important trends through visualizations, then going to the original sheets for specific statistics.
Although information collected during a review process can be converted into the necessary formats for these types of visualizations, the process would be more efficient if all recording sheets were designed to facilitate visualizations. In the above cases, the raw information went through three or four different conversions before it could be used as input.
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.
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.
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 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.