All posts by Amy Ridderhof

571 Final Presentation

Post-script:  Although the PPT is properly embedded on my blog, I think that the settings on our course blog site aren’t the same, so my slides appear as individual images. Crud! However, if you scroll down to below the final slide and then click on “Original Post” it will redirect you to my page that has it formatted correctly. 

I just wanted to thank all of the students in 571 this semester — Alec, Ally, Hussah, Nhu, Safa, and Vincent — for helping to make the course so enjoyable. To be honest, I think that I learned as much from you as from Dr. Howe this semester (okay, well almost as much as I did from Dr. Howe!). Usually, by the end of the semester, I am glad to be done with a course. This is the first time that I honestly have not wanted it to end!

I’m going to continue to play around and experiment with my blog (like a few others, I hadn’t had a blog post prior to this semester). The task that I set for myself this morning was to figure out how to embed my final PPT presentation into the post. Initially, I could only do so by adding each slide individually as you would for a photo. That was both clunky and visually unappealing. Anyway, after a bit of experimentation, I finally figured it out!

PS. If anyone would like to embed their final presentations into their blog posts but don’t know how to, I am planning to post screenshots and quick directions, hopefully in the next day or so (right now, however, I am getting ready for the arrival of several out-of-town family members who will be in for the weekend).

More soon & thank you again to my fellow classmates!

Original Post

SRC Reflection

Glossophobia

I have enjoyed reading my classmates’ reflections on the experience of presenting at the SRC, almost as much as I enjoyed their actual presentations. I found myself chuckling along when reading their observations about the effects of nervousness, particularly as I had similar physical and emotional reactions that night. For example, I discovered that my extreme nervousness at speaking in front of an audience caused two primary physical issues while I was presenting:  the first, which I was painfully aware of at the time, was that I felt as if I was continually mispronouncing words, despite having practiced my presentation multiple times; the second was that from the moment that I began to speak, I immediately suffered from a debilitating severe case of dry mouth, which made speaking impossible quite difficult. Afterwards, Alec pointed out my rookie mistake shared his tip of taking a glass of water to the podium. In retrospect, I can’t believe that I didn’t think to do that! In any event, I will definitely file his suggestion in my mental toolbox if I ever present again for the next time that I present.

Nhu’s comment that there are always going to be “unanticipated circumstances” that arise each semester really resonated with me, particularly as I struggled with many of these myself this term  (for instance, literally starting the semester off in January with pneumonia, then having a tree fall on our house during the Nor’easter in March, and finally having my son home sick with Strep and requiring constant hands-on care for a week in April). Although these issues did not prevent me from doing extensive research for my project, I did find that both my attention span, as well as my ability to write, was nonexistent severely compromised and I continually felt (and unfortunately still do) pulled in a dozen different directions.

Tree Falls on House

(Imagine this, but without the snow!)

In his reflection, Alec made an astute comment regarding the process of preparing a presentation, specifically that the process of information selection helped in terms of “thinking more carefully about the final paper.” I, too, felt that way as I was preparing my presentation. In addition, I found the questions and comments afterwards (such as the suggestion that I look up Jeffrey Cohen’s chapter “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” which I have now read and am working on incorporating into my argument) to be extremely valuable in helping me to identify places in my argument that I still need to expand upon and develop.

I know that I mentioned this after Victor’s Vincent’s presentation, but I have really enjoyed absolutely loved seeing his project develop this semester. In particular, the visuals that he created for his SRC presentation (specifically the texting images between Elizabeth and Victor) helped to make his proposed assignment seem much more concrete. They also reinforced for me the importance of good visuals in a formal talk and what an aid they can be.

Lastly, Ally’s enthusiasm for her project was contagious. Good presentations, like good ideas, can really inspire us as scholars to explore new areas of inquiry, and I found myself taking copious notes for a potential future project (after this semester is over!). Specifically, I’d like to use Syuzhet to graph both the 1818 and 1831 editions of Frankenstein to see whether their degrees of sentiments differ, and if so, in what ways. I can honestly say that that is NOT something that I could possibly have envisioned being willing to tackle four months ago!

In terms of how my presentation has informed the direction that my project has taken, I realized that although I had the majority of my argument worked out, I needed to find a way to explain it to others. This has helped me in my drafting process. For example, I had a slide of various descriptors that Victor Frankenstein uses when referring to the creature. When I constructed this slide, I grouped the terms thematically (i.e. listing similar terms together), but while I was presenting, I realized that for my purposes, it would be more productive to focus on how those descriptors evolve throughout the text based on plot developments (I am currently mapping this out in order to revise my argument).

One of my PPT slides

Finally, although I did not feel this way in the days leading up to the conference, I am extremely grateful that we were forced encouraged to submit our work to the SRC. Had it not been for that, I definitely most likely wouldn’t have, and thus would not have benefited from the experience of presenting. It has been over 15 years since I last presented at a conference (coincidentally, my presentation was also on Frankenstein). MU’s SRC was an excellent opportunity to dip my toes in the proverbial water again, challenge my fear of presenting (thanks to some much-needed words of encouragement and support the night before), and prepare me for future opportunities to present. Because of this, I honestly don’t think that I will be nearly as nervous or apprehensive the next time that I present at a conference. From a professional development standpoint, this truly was an invaluable experience. (865)

We survived!

Original Post

Preliminary Outline for 571 Final Project

Zombie humor…

Preliminary Outline

1. Introduction –  explain and outline the scope of my project (apx. 1 page)

2.  Explanation of Kristeva’s concept of “the Abject” & its connection to Frankenstein (apx. 2-3 pages)

“The abject is not an ob-ject facing me, which I name or imagine…The abject has only one quality of the object—that of being opposed to I” (Kristeva 1).

“[W]hat is abject, on the contrary, the jettisoned object, is radically excluded and draws me toward the place_where meaning collapses. A certain ‘ego’ that merged with its master, a superego, has flatly driven it away. It lies outside, beyond the set, and does not seem to agree to the latter’s rules of the game. And yet, from its place
of banishment, the abject does not cease challenging its master. Without a sign (for him), it beseeches a discharge, a convulsion, a crying out. To each ego its object, to each superego its abject”(Kristeva 2).

“The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is death infecting life. Abject. It is something rejected from which one does not part, from which one does not protect oneself as from an object. Imaginary uncanniness and real threat, it beckons to us and ends up engulfing us” (Kristeva 4).

3.  Discussion of naming/not-naming the creature (apx. 3-4 pages)

  • Michael Ragussis – Acts of Naming: the Family Plot in Fiction
  • Illegitimacy aspect
  • Gothic Double (Victor Frankenstein & the creature)

4.  Brief summary of main differences between 1818 & 1831 editions (apx. 2 pages)

  • Anne Mellor “Revising Frankenstein”

5.  Explanation of DH tool (most likely just Juxta Commons, but possibly Voyan’s Text in Context tool). Comparison of Shelley’s description of the creature in key scenes (still to be finalized, but I’ve identified numerous places in the text to consider); this section will include graphs from Juxta with detailed analysis/explanation and ideally, 3-4 comparisons/examples  (apx. 5-6 pages)

6.  Discussion of TEI and naming (this will be the final section of my project and time permitting, will be included. However, it is what I feel the least confident about right now, and I am still working out how/what to say in this section) (apx. 1 page)

7.  Conclusion – include questions and/or ideas for future development (apx. 1 page)

8.  Bibliography/Works Cited

Note:  Current anticipated scope is apx. 15-18 pages

Unfortunately, how I feel at the moment…

Original Post

The Challenges of Continued Research…

“The Angel of Destiny” by Odilon Redon

“To bestow, find, reveal, or earn a name; to take away, hide, or prohibit a name…such acts are the means and ends of the characters in fiction, and as such lay bare a novel’s deepest levels of plot.”

~Michael Ragussis

In continuing to develop my project over the past few weeks, I have found myself at both a literal and figurative impasse: I am still grappling with and exploring the fundamental (foundational?) question of why Mary Shelley chose to leave the creature in Frankenstein nameless. I have realized, however, that my attention has been misplaced, and should instead be on the effect that the creature’s namelessness has on our reading of the text.

Ironically, my recent research has caused me to (at least initially) widen the scope of my focus, which on one hand has been a bit overwhelming, but on the other hand, has allowed me to more precisely tease out my research question. My recent readings have included several new articles and book chapters (see additional sources below) on Julia Kristeva’s concept of the “abject,” the issue of naming in literature, gothic literature as a genre, and lastly, the specificity of the “female gothic.”

With those topics in mind, the following briefly summarizes my current thoughts about the question of naming (or not-naming) in Frankenstein. Specifically, the creature’s lack of a name serves two purposes:

1) It situates him as “illegitimate” within the text, both in the literal sense of his parentage and in the figurative sense of his relationship to society.

2) It positions his character as a gothic double for Victor Frankenstein.

I am still working on developing the latter, but this mirroring/doubling can be seen not only in Victor’s and the creature’s relationships with each other, but through their interactions with other characters, and with their respective actions throughout the novel. However, both possibilities refer back to the ontological paradox of whether something can have an identity if it does not have (or rather is denied) a name, which ties into the portion of my project that focuses on the issue of TEI and name coding a character.

In addition to the supplemental theoretical reading and research that I am doing, I’m also currently reading the 1831 edition of the text, in particular with an eye on comparing Shelley’s descriptions of the creature with those that she made in the 1818 text. While I have found much that has been written on the differences between the two texts (largely, on the characters of Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor Frankenstein, and Henry Clerval, as well as on the biographical events in Mary Shelley’s life that largely informed her revisions to the latter edition), I have yet to come across anything that examines the ways in which the portrayal of the creature changes (or does not change) from the earlier to later text. I am also currently using Juxta to assist with this close textual reading and comparison, but may also use the Keywords in Context tool in Voyant to help with this as well (I’ve been experimenting with both to see which would better suit my purposes).

My plan is to be done with my research this weekend and begin drafting my project immediately afterwards. My outline will follow in my next blog post!  (547)

Additional Sources:

“Approaching Abjection.” Powers of Horror: an Essay on Abjection, by Julia Kristeva, Columbia University Press, 1982, pp. 1–31.

“Abjection in Literature.” Abjection and Representation: an Exploration of Abjection in the Visual Arts, Film and Literature, by Rina Arya, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 156–188.

Davison, Carol Margaret. “The Female Gothic.” History of the Gothic: Gothic Literature 1764-1824, 1st ed., University of Wales Press, 2009, pp. 83–110. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qhhjn.9.

Kilgour, Maggie. The Rise of the Gothic Novel. Routledge, 1995.

Ragussis, Michael. “Introduction: In the Name of the Child.” Acts of Naming: the Family Plot in Fiction, Oxford, 1986, pp. 3–16.

Original Post

“The Nameless Mode of Naming the Unnameable”: (Un)coding the Non-human in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

For centuries, philosophers have grappled with the ontological issue of what it means to be human. In her seminal novel, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley examines and challenges this very question. Shelley’s protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, endeavors to artificially create life, however, at the very moment of animation, he vehemently rejects his creation. Instead of being elated by his success, he is immediately repulsed by the “demoniacal corpse.” His rejection of the creature at that moment, which is continued throughout the remainder of the novel, functions as the catalyst for the creature’s subsequent violent and murderous actions.

Frontispiece of the 1831 edition of “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus” (British Library)

Much like both the creature’s fragmented body and the novel’s corresponding narrative bricolage, my project consists of multiple parts. The first part will focus on Shelley’s textual descriptions of the creature in the 1818 edition of the novel. I will examine how her decision to leave this character unnamed, instead referring to him throughout the text by various sub-human descriptors such as “dæmon,” “animal,” and “fiend,” reinforces the binary division between human and nonhuman.

The second part of my project will focus on how Shelley’s literary treatment of the creature evolved between the 1818 edition and the later 1831 published text. While I recognize that this type of a comparison could potentially expand to a much larger project, I plan to narrowly focus my examination on Shelley’s descriptions of the creature by conducting a variant analysis of the two texts using Juxta Commons. For my witnesses, I will use the existing online texts of the 1818 and 1831 editions edited by Stuart Curran.

Image of sample variant analysis on Juxta Commons

The third and final part of my project will conclude by further exploring the binary distinction that Shelley created between human and non-human, but will be situated in the larger realm of digital humanities. Specifically, I plan to examine the challenge that “naming the unnameable” creates when attempting to code the character of Frankenstein’s monster in a current digitization project.

While the scholarly body of work on Frankenstein is expansive, both in terms of the depth and breadth of previous academic explorations, based on the research that I have done thus far, I have not found any similar projects with my specific focus (though I hope that as I continue to work on this project, I will find some other examples on which to base or model my work). The two primary questions that I plan to explore in my final project are:  What issues arise by the naming, or not naming, of the creature, both in terms of computer programming and in literary analysis? What does that tell us about how we as readers and as scholars make the distinction between human and the ‘other’?

(478)

Bibliography

“Articulating the Abstract: Theories of the Unnameable.” The Unnameable Monster in Literature and Film, by Maria Beville. Routledge, 2013, pp. 51–69.

Burnard, Lou. What is the Text Encoding Initiative? How to Add Intelligent Markup to Digital Resources. Marseille: Open Edition Press, 2014. Web. <http://books.openedition.org/oep/426>.

Carroll, Noel. “The Nature of Horror.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 46, no. 1, 1987, pp. 51–59.

Cummings, James. “The Text Encoding Initiative and the Study of Literature.” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, edited by Ray Siemens and Susan Schreibman. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008, www.digitalhumanities.org/companionDLS/.

Duyfhuizen, Bernard. “Periphrastic Naming in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Studies in the Novel, vol. 27, no. 4, 1 Dec. 1995, pp. 477–492.

Hockey, Susan M. Electronic Texts in the Humanities: Principles and Practice. Oxford University Press, 2001.

“Frankenstein and the Unnameable.” Gothic Fiction/Gothic Form, by George E. Haggerty. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989, pp. 37–63.

“A Gentle Introduction to XML – The TEI Guidelines.” P5: Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange, TEI Consortium, 31 Jan. 2018, www.tei-c.org/release/doc/tei-p5-doc/en/html/SG.html.

McGann, Jerome. “Marking Texts of Many Dimensions.” Edited by Susan Schreibman et al., A Companion to Digital Humanities. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004, www.digitalhumanities.org/companion.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Edited by Stuart Curran, Romantic Circles, University of Maryland, 1 May 2009, www.rc.umd.edu/editions/frankenstein.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. D.L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf, 3rd ed., Broadview Editions, 2012. Print.

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The Many Challenges and Rewards of Peer Review

As a writing instructor, one of my biggest challenges is how to help students learn effective revision strategies. One tried-and-true method in the first year college composition classroom is peer review.

I have to confess that I have a love/hate relationship with peer review. While I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly see the value in having students read and review each other’s writing, I know from experience that this does not always translate into a productive classroom exercise.

The two types of feedback that peer review tends to elicit are “global” and “local.” Global (or holistic) feedback is by far the more productive and helpful of the two and includes things such as organization and idea development. In contrast to this, local (or surface-level) feedback includes the nuts and bolts of writing, such as grammar, punctuation, and word choice.

Students in beginning writing classes tend to focus on the latter at the expense of the former. There are many reasons for this, but namely, because surface-level errors are often more apparent than global issues. Also, it is less threatening to offer that type of minor feedback. However, what ends up happening is that students who have only received this type of surface-level feedback are left feeling that if they just address these local concerns, then their papers are done and do not require any further revision work.

My personal pet peeve is the ubiquitous comment: “It’s great, I wouldn’t change a thing!”

This week I looked at numerous articles in the journal Computers and Composition, but ultimately selected the following to focus on: “Comparison of Online and Face-to-Face Peer Review of Writing.”

This article questions whether the benefits of face-to-face (f2f) synchronous peer review translate into asynchronous online peer review. The two research questions that the authors investigate are: 1) “Do the benefits of using f2f peer writing groups, as identified in the research literature, also accrue to online peer response groups?” and 2) “What are the particular strengths and limitations of each context of response, f2f and online?”(91). Ultimately, there are no clear-cut answers to these questions, and the authors conclude that both formats offer advantages and disadvantages.

For example, f2f feedback gives students the opportunity to practice giving oral feedback and helps students to develop a greater sense of community. However, online feedback gives students more opportunities for writing, more time to read through each other’s drafts, and the ability to offer more deliberate feedback. In  addition, instructors are able to see (and evaluate) the feedback that students give each other when given online.

In terms of disadvantages to each, the authors point out that the online environment lacks the immediacy of a f2f peer review. Also, giving online feedback can “be a barrier for students who have reservations about their writing skills or their ability to effectively communicate solely online”(91). Lastly, technical challenges may arise when participating in online feedback, which can be a source of frustration for students.

One strength of this article is its very thorough literature review, both in the general area of composition theory, but more importantly on the specific topic of f2f and online peer writing groups. However, the authors based their research on a small group (16 participants) of K-12 teachers who were participating in an intensive, one-month graduate level course in the teaching of writing (92). In my opinion, it would be extremely interesting to apply this type of research to a large-scale comparative study of online and f2f students in a first-year composition classroom. (625)

Work Cited:

Pritchard, Ruie Jane, and Donna Morrow. “Comparison of Online and Face-to-Face Peer    Review of Writing.” Computers and Composition, vol. 46, 2017, pp. 87–103, doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2017.09.006.

***Click title below for the full-text article:

Comparison of Online and Face-to-Face Peer Review of Writing

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“Messy-Minded” Writers

I confess I am a disorganized mess. I’m not being self-deprecating, just honest. My writing process is similarly disorganized. I am a notorious note jotter. I have notes everywhere…tucked in pockets, stuck to the refrigerator, used as bookmarks in books, and even on the visor of my car. They somehow seem to multiply (like the old shampoo commercial, “and they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on…”).

(While I was referring to the Faberge Organics shampoo commercial from the ’80’s, this Wayne’s World parody is even more apropos…)

Thinking back to my earliest memories of formal writing, I wrote all of my drafts in high school on a typewriter. Once the pages were typed out, I would take scissors to them and cut them into sections, paragraphs or even smaller segments. I would then spread them out on the floor and start to arrange them like a jigsaw puzzle. That was my favorite part of the writing process: organizing and reorganizing the sections in various ways until somehow they began to fit together in a logical flow. Once I was fairly satisfied with the result, I would then type another draft using the “Franken-draft” that I had taped together, adding introductory phrases and transitions as I went to “sew” these segments together.

As a college student, I did a semester abroad in England and was absolutely shocked to find that they did not have computers, or even typewriters, available for students to use. My instructor (“tutor”) informed me that we were to legibly hand write our essays each week in blue or black ink. I cannot count the number of pages that I had to re-write due to errors that I made as I was copying and recopying these essays. I felt that I had literally traveled back in time, and it gave me a much greater appreciation for writers who wrote prior to the advent of the typewriter.

A few months ago I read John McPhee’s collection of his creative non-fiction entitled Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process. In the chapter on structure, he talks about the transformation that he made in the early 1980s from typing his notes for magazine articles to using a computer program called “Kedit” that was not a word processor, but rather a combination “text editor” and data organizer. According to McPhee, the program “did not paginate, italicize, approve of spelling, or screw around with headers, wysiwygs, thesauruses, dictionaries, footnotes, or Sanskrit fonts”(36). It was bare bones, but McPhee used that basic program for nearly three decades.

When I was teaching writing on the Community College level, I encouraged my students to use Google Docs – both because of the collaborative nature of it, but more importantly, because the program was free. It may not be as robust as the MS Office Suite, but students can do a great deal with it nonetheless. In looking at other word processing programs that we were asked to examine this week, the only one that I was not familiar with was Scrivener. Unlike Google Docs or Word (which is my preferred program for personal use), it seems that Scrivener might closely approximate my former style of drafting, writing, organizing, and editing in terms of its ability to move around whole sections of text. I am only just starting to learn what the program can do, but I am drawn to the fact that it can be shared among multiple platforms, be it a computer, smart phone, or tablet. Unlike Google Docs, which is free, there is a nominal fee for Scrivener. Even so, at $38.25 for an educational license, it is a fraction of the cost of Microsoft Word. I can see encouraging my students to download the free 30-day trial to experiment with it. That is precisely what I am going to do this week. (628)

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200 Years & “It’s Still Alive” (Take 2)

 

(Illustration by Henning Wagenbreth, The New Yorker)

Franco Moretti begins the second chapter of Graphs, Maps, Trees by posing the following question: “Do maps add anything to our knowledge of literature?”(35). I would vehemently argue that yes, they do. Specifically, they enable the student/reader to be able to comprehend and theorize about the text in a new, deeper, and more meaningful way. As Moretti himself acknowledges, when you read a book, you are able to imagine the locale. However, if you take that information further, and proceed to organize it visually in terms of a map, then as Moretti notes, “everything changes”(36). Patterns begin to emerge that were not readily apparent in the text. For example, to use the Mitford text that Moretti examines, what had been understood as linear narrative space suddenly becomes circular, as seen in his illustration:

(37)

Over the past few days I have experimented with two new DH tools (new to me, anyway), namely Timeline JS and GoConqr. Both of these tools would be valuable assets in a variety of college classrooms, but my focus here is specifically on how I could utilize them in a literature or writing class. As an instructor, I know that the more I am able to specifically tailor my course content, the more interesting it will be to my students. Likewise, the more agency students are able to have in terms of their own learning, the more successful they will be in terms of knowledge acquisition. I found that both Timeline and GoConqr were relatively easy programs to use, adapt, and connect to various topics.

I recently read an article in The New Yorker by Jill Lepore, entitled “It’s Still Alive: Two Hundred Years of “Frankenstein.” Using some key dates and information from Lepore’s article, along with the addition of some basic biographical information, I decided to experiment with the Timeline JS program. That program allows users to create a new timeline using an existing Google Spreadsheet template that they provide, so it is quite simple to manipulate. Students could utilize this program individually, or in groups, to create presentations to share with the class. Once the data and supplemental images are input into the spreadsheet, it is a simple process to input the link into the Timeline JS program and publish the timeline. Here is a link to a sample timeline that I created (note:  I plan to continue to expand this timeline with more information, but for the moment have limited this sample timeline to some basic dates and biographical information about Shelley’s life):

Mary Shelley Sample Timeline

Unlike Timeline JS, which is solely for creating timelines, GoConqr is a much more dynamic suite of tools that enables students and instructors to create various type of content and learning aids such as slide sets, mind maps, flashcards, and even quizzes. I used it to create two sample slides that I have linked here, the first of which contains the embedded article by Lepore, and the second of which contains the full page artwork that accompanied her article:

2 Sample GoConqr Slides

Another thing that makes GoConqr particularly valuable is that it is also available as an app for cell phones. As an instructor, I could easily embed PDFs for my students and they could read them virtually anywhere, making coursework more accessible to all. Students could also create their own study materials, and could easily collaborate on group projects as well.

Moretti concludes his Maps chapter by noting that he has “made maps/diagrams of fictional worlds, where the real and the imaginary coexist in varying, often elusive proportions”(63). Such visualizations, particularly when created by students themselves, enable them to move beyond a superficial understanding of the text and to be actively involved in their own learning. Web 2.0 tools such as Timeline JS and GoConqr would enable students to do precisely that, in ways far greater than Moretti could have even begun to conceptualize when he first published Graphs, Maps, Trees in 2005. (662)

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Polls, Mind-Mapping, and Variant Analysis…Oh My!

In Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom, Battershill and Ross emphasize the importance of continually connecting online activities to course objectives, not only to increase student “buy-in,” but also to ensure students’ overall accomplishments regardless of any possible technological failure. They assure us that in the event that an activity or exercise does not go as planned, as long as “the students’ efforts meet stated course objectives, then the activity is a success regardless of the outcome on the screen”(4). This seems to require a leap of faith on both the parts of the students and the instructor.

Scaffolding classroom activities throughout the semester in a way that enables students to not only learn the course material, but also to increase their knowledge of various DH technologies strikes me as a win-win situation, particularly if it is combined with some type of self-reflective practice on the students’ part. For example, while I have always incorporated online quizzes into my classes, I have never tried conducting any sort of a pre- or post-assessment poll, be it through sites such as Google Forms or BuzzFeed. That type of assessment seems to offer a great deal of potential though, both in terms of what I as an instructor can learn about my students’ perspectives and existing knowledge-base, as well as what the students can learn by seeing the (anonymous) results of those assessments/polls.

Another activity that I would like to try in a writing classroom is to use an online mind-mapping or visual diagramming program such as “Coggle” or “Free Mind.” I think that would be particularly beneficial in helping students work through the writing process, from brainstorming through their final drafts. For example, here is a visual map of Frankenstein posted on Coggle:

Students could use this program to work on their own, or collaboratively in pairs/small-groups, to create non-linear charts for thematic brainstorming, outlining, and/or other writing-related activities.

Of all of the suggested activities presented in our text, however, the one that most piqued my interest is to have students conduct a variant analysis of a text through an online site such as Juxta. For example, here is a screenshot of a side-by-side comparison of the 1818 and 1831 editions of Frankenstein:

I have only just begun to explore that site, but already I can envision multiple ways to incorporate it into the college composition classroom, both in terms of looking at model essays by published writers, as well as for students to compare and analyze their own writing drafts. Students would easily be able to see and compare textual variations and would then be able to reflect on those differences and revision choices.

Trying new DH technologies in the classroom requires “adaptability, creativity, and openness,” but even more importantly, the ability for us as instructors to “value the unforeseen, accidental, and contingent”(5). These tools offer a tremendous amount of pedagogical benefit to our students, but we must first be willing to take the proverbial leap into the unknown and unfamiliar. (498)

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“Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast…”

Having moved over twenty times, books have been the one constant in my life: they offer the ability to travel to far corners of the world, to develop empathy, to escape from daily life, and most importantly, the opportunity to grow as a human being. Given my love of not just reading, but of books themselves, I was initially extremely reluctant to give up the tactile pleasures of reading a print book for an eReader. However, commuting for hours each day via public transportation while living overseas gradually convinced me that the convenience of reading online far outweighed what I missed about print literature. I could virtually carry an entire library in my Kindle, along with the numerous conveniences that come from that device.

Furthermore, as an educator, particularly as one who has taught on both the public university and community college level, I deeply appreciate the liberatory potential of eBooks, online literature, and open access texts: they truly level the proverbial playing field in that educational resources are available to all students, regardless of socio-economic background. This is the aspect of online literature that I think offers the most promise and potential.

In addition to the financial advantage of online literature, there are other scholarly advantages as well. For instance, the ability to instantly access the definitions of unfamiliar vocabulary, to view other frequently highlighted passages of a text, and to be able to click on a hyperlink that shows supplemental resources such as visual supplements to the text are among the most beneficial aspects of it.

Unfortunately, research has overwhelmingly shown a correlation between retention and medium: studies prove that students are generally able to retain more information when they read printed text versus digital text (c.f. the following recent post from two UMD professors: http://theconversation.com/the-enduring-power-of-print-for-learning-in-a-digital-world-84352). It is worth noting though that the researchers in this study recognize that there are times that the convenience of reading an eBook is paramount, and that students can be taught to slow down their reading of digital literature, which then increases their comprehension.

There is a saying in the military that “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” I often think of this when I’m rushing through a reading assignment and risking sacrificing comprehension for speed. At those moments, I have to take a deep breath, refocus my attention, and more deliberately attend to the words in front of me. Perhaps the same can be done with our students and their online reading habits?

In a world where we are constantly forced into a binary dichotomy, I wholeheartedly reject the idea that we have to choose between print or digital literature. Why does it have to be an either/or proposition? Why can’t it be a both/and scenario? Both mediums have advantages and disadvantages to offer readers and students, so I reject the notion that one format is superior to the other. I think that it is more important to recognize their differences and use them to our personal and pedagogical advantage… (499)

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