Archive for April, 2010

Looking Back on the Class

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Top Three Things I Liked About the Class Structure:
1. Like a lot of other people have mentioned, I liked that each group got to build a project from scratch. It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, but it was fun to have the freedom to think big and then experiment with what actually worked. And now we all know that our sites really reflect what we wanted them to be.
2. I liked that we had to blog and present about our progress. It was fun learning about what the other groups were working on and also helped to keep us on track with what we had to be doing to make progress on our own site.
3. The collaborative aspect of the projects was pretty great as well. We had our group members, but then we also got to hear feedback from our classmates, professor, DTLT staff, map groups, and, in our case, all of the alumni that we met. When we had questions someone out there could answer them, find the person who could, or come up with a creative way around the problem.

Three Things I Would Change About the Class Structure:
1. The technology intros were great, but they sometimes felt rushed. And I would make sure that each tool presented had an accompanying example, too, just so everything isn’t quite as abstract (when all you’re hearing are things like ‘code’ and ‘widgets,’ it can be hard to picture real world usage for things. Or maybe that’s just me).
2. Maybe after the initial onslaught of tools, there could be a few mini seminars in things like basic HTML or Omeka or something. Even if one person from each group went the group would at least have a foundation to stand on.
3. I would have liked to have met with the map groups a little earlier, or even just had more of a conversation about what the map groups can and cannot do a little earlier. It’s hard coming up with a plan for a map when you aren’t sure what the mapmakers resources are going to be.

Suggested Future Topics for Projects:
1. Why, a continuation of our site, of course 🙂
2. I think something on the history of slavery in Fredericksburg would be interesting. We all confront it every time we walk past the auction block downtown, but I don’t think people necessarily know much about the role of slavery in this area.

Advice for Future Students:
1. Communication with group members is key. It’s important that everyone’s on the same page for the duration of the project.
2. Even if you think you don’t know anything about computers or the internet, don’t be afraid to be creative and think big.
3. When in the process of thinking big you get stuck, there are plenty of people around to help you work out the technical side of things. Ask them.
4. Make a solid contract, keep to your deadlines, and have fun!

Final Thoughts

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Would have had this written earlier, but I got distracted poking around everyone’s finished sites and musing over how impressive they are, especially when considering we all started only three months ago with vague project outlines and a bunch of technological tools we didn’t know how to use. The Alumni Images group hit the ground running with our project; our collective enthusiasm for what we were working on helped us bond as a group and kept us on track to meet all of our deadlines while our now novel-length Google.doc allowed for easy collaboration, serving as a space where each member of the group could contribute her or his ideas.

Our contract underwent several edits within the first few weeks of the semester as we worked to define exactly what our project would be, but the contract we settled on gave us a solid base for all of the work we’ve done since that point. We met all of our deadlines, most importantly the site launch date. We used Omeka, with only minor difficulties, to organize and lay out our site, and we used other technology that fit with the purpose and goals of our site, such as our Google Map and Guest Book, which allow alumni to interact with the site, and our slideshow that provides a general overview of the images.

As for our primary goals for our site, to collect information from alumni and to create a place for alumni to enjoy the images, I believe we met those to the best of our ability. We intended the, admittedly unwieldy, Omeka plug-in Contribute to allow visitors to submit their own images and information about the photos we already have, but so far only Dr. McClurken has done so (thanks!). But that is not to say that we haven’t learned a lot. Various people have left Facebook messages, emailed us, or contacted us in some way or another to share what they know. We’ve also had several offers of significant contributions, including newspaper articles from a scrapbook, a video of the 75th anniversary of the school, and photos from various alumni who worked for the Bullet or other school organizations. We’ve done our best to communicate with everyone who has contacted us and sincerely hope that they will be able to get their items onto the site. We’ve also done a good deal of our own research and learned a lot about the photos we chose from the archive as well as fun facts about our school. We didn’t quite reach our goal of uploading 200 images, but we do have a spreadsheet full of data to add to the archive’s records. As for whether we’ve created a site that alumni enjoy visiting, our Google Analytics records seem to indicate that we succeeded. We’ve had hundreds of hits, and visitors as of now spend an average of more than five minutes clicking through the images. I couldn’t be more thrilled that people are taking the time to view this site we’ve worked so hard on throughout the semester.

It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to this project because our site has the potential to continue growing, something that each of us hopes will happen in one way or another. All in all, this class has been unlike any other I’ve taken at Mary Washington. I’ve learned the importance of having a sense of humor and experimentation when it comes to using technology (and map groups), of considering your audience, of teamwork based on individual talents, and the satisfaction of having something to show that we built from the URL up. Thanks to my group members and all of the other wonderful people who have helped make our site what it has become.

And, the Archive Ends Up in the Archive?

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Kind of hard to comprehend that our semester is so close to wrapping up. I so impressed by everyone’s work, and it’s really quite cool to see how far each group’s project has come since we all started with vague concepts and an overwhelming amount of internet tools back in January. The images group has been adding a few things here and there to help make our site as complete as possible by next Tuesday (though, with a site like ours, complete is an interesting term. But more on that later). Caryn put together a sources page, listing all of the different yearbooks and reference materials that we’ve consulted in putting together our site. We also added an acknowledgments page so that we could thank all of the people who have been so much help in making our project a reality. Finally, we created a spreadsheet to document all of the research that we ourselves have done and all of the new details that alumni have sent us so that we can easily pass the information along to the UMW archive. We’d love for them to be able to update their records and fill in some of the missing gaps that our group was created in large part to fill.

We did also finally get a second version of our map, one which we all agreed was a pretty big improvement from our first one. We’re not overly thrilled by it, in large part because it does look rather strikingly similar to the standard maps that UMW hands out to any and all campus visitors, but it does have its value, and we plan on linking it to our site from the page which houses our current map. Speaking of that map, Jonathan and DTLT are working on getting it set so that the code put into it will function like it’s supposed to and any guestbook updates from alumni will automatically plot onto our Google map. It’s pretty fun to look at if you haven’t checked it out yet. Just sayin’.

Oh, almost forget Research and Creativity Day! We presented for our wonderful classmates who I’m sure are tired of hearing us ramble on about yearbooks and alumni by this point, the camera man, and Jonathan’s parents. His mom was great for asking both groups questions. There’s something terribly ironic about our project, which grew out of the archive, being documented to go into the archive. Life is funny that way. But we’re all really honored and excited to come back in twenty or thirty years and try and find the video of our long gone undergrad days.

Our last big part our contract that we need to complete is creating a guide for a future administrator of the site. We’ve split up the information that we’ve think will be the most helpful, and once each of us writes our section we plan on adding the guide as a non-public item on the site. Sadly, no one at the moment seems especially willing and able to take on the project. I’m sure that all of us will continue to check up on it and maintain it when we have the chance. I, for one, would love to have more time to work with it. Ever since the April e-newsletter went out to the alumni a few days ago we’ve received a huge jump in guest book entries, several notes correcting an item in our glossary (that was actually correct, but still, the point is people are looking!), and at least three or four offers of substantial amounts of photos from various people. Since we don’t have much time left in the semester, it’s a bit difficult to respond to some of these notes (what can we do with a CD with the yearbook photos of the entire class of 1968?!), but we’re beyond thrilled that people are offering us their contributions.

History in the Digital Age

Monday, April 5th, 2010

The article titled “Blogging for your Students” caught my eye first, probably because of all of the blogging that we’ve been doing for this class. The author starts by basically explaining to his audience of professors what a blog is, which for me reinforced how lucky we are to have UMW Blogs and professors who not only know what the technology is but are willing to experiment with its use in class. I like the idea of a professor keeping a blog for a class, but for the entire article I was wondering why he didn’t also have his students writing their own posts instead of limiting their thoughts to smaller comments on his blog. Then I got to the end and discovered that students doing their own blogging was the ‘next step’ in the use of blogs for class. Apparently we’re all far more advanced than we realize 🙂 His comments on blogs being public were important as well. I think many people believe all blogs to be entirely informal online journals of sorts, but I suspect that even those who begin blogging rather sloppily will take more time to sort out their thoughts once they really understand that their content is public, perhaps through a comment or Google Analytics tracking.

I also read the article on Wikipedia since it connected in a way with the discussion we had a few weeks ago about Wikipedia and its validity as a source. Of course we spent only a class period mulling over the merits of Wikipedia while her class spent the better part of a semester, but I think both classes followed the same sort of progression in thought. We kind of doubted Wikipedia’s accuracy, then we got all excited about how people watch over it to maintain it and update it, then realized that it is in fact an encyclopedia and should be treated as such. I definitely like the idea of history being ‘created’ rather than ‘discovered’ though, which I think is something all of us are grappling with in our projects. The way that facts, figures, stories and such are framed and determining what’s included and what’s left out of a discussion about a time/place/person in history can truly influence someone’s perception of historical “reality.” Many of the discussion page debates we read while poking around Wikipedia dealt with this issue, and, in creating out project sites, we’ve all dealt with what information to include and how our interpretation will subsequently influence our visitors’ knowledge of our topics.

Last but not least, I read “Doing History in the Digital Age.” She talked about how when people read digital copies of journals they often read only those articles relevant to a narrow list of interests rather than scanning through an entire issue. This has been my mom’s argument against digital newspapers since the day our hometown paper shrank considerably to cut back on costs, and I suggested she read the news online instead. She insisted that when she had a newspaper in front of her she ultimately read about a greater range of topics, many of which she wouldn’t have bothered even looking at had she instead been staring at a list of headlines online. I think both the author and my mom have a point in that most people are creatures of habit and will read what is familiar and avoid the extras when possible. It presents quite the challenge to digital journals to create ways to entice readers into exploring a wider variety of topics without making them feel like they are being forced to read them. Ah, the joys of the digital age!