A rare Tuesday DAH post, since the last Thursday in November is a coma-inducing holiday.
In my Modern Architecture course, the Mapping Project Part 2 is still in progress. More on that at the end of December.
But I was not inactive on the DAH front in November. In fact I was much busier than usual, helping to facilitate the use of DH in several art history undergraduate courses. While many faculty meetings recently have included the questions “What is Digital Art History?” and “Should we be doing Digital Humanities?” and “Everyone else is doing this, so why aren’t we?”, regardless of whether DAH is a good fit with their research and teaching or not, some faculty are already integrating technology-based projects and upgraded pedagogical methods in their courses. It just seems like we are all doing it at once in the same semester. And, wearing my Visual Resources label, I am in the position of supporting and promoting these goals.
As part of the Digital Salon Series, a once-a-month brown bag lunchtime demonstration and workshop co-sponsored by the Art Department and the Sloane Art Library, I presented to my colleagues on how to annotate images and build presentations and class projects using Thinglink. Art Historians have at this point become very comfortable, some would say too comfortable, with Powerpoint as the presentation tool of choice in lieu of slides–not with the low-image quality of the projection technology compared to slides–but even so adept at creating a more varied image presentation style than just single slides compared side-by-side. And there are challenges to suggesting that Art Historians now move on from this technology in the classroom: 1) Converting from their slide lectures to Powerpoint files was initially time-consuming, and the time spent re-building slide lectures every year has been forgotten as a part of the teaching process where revision, improvement and expansion of the material could occur; 2) Powerpoint files are easy to save to a hard drive or a zip drive, and even for those who have used the software more dynamically with embedded music or video files and hyperlinks, still viewed as the most secure option when faced with a conference venue or a classroom that might not have perfectly working internet access, despite the reality that internet access is nearly universal and high-speed and redundantly backed up in most of these locations (we have over 30 wifi routers in the Art building at this point, 5 of which were added to back hallways and stairwells this fall just to boost the overall signal); and 3) Powerpoint files represent uni-directional pedagogy and are therefore fully within the control of the professor and representational of their chosen teaching viewpoint, an authority and mastery level that is difficult to relinquish to students. And Thinglink pretty much requires rethinking all of those ideas–not just would you have to rebuild presentations from scratch, and work directly within the web rather than from the safety of your zip drive, but sharing with students or on a website can lead to interactive responses and new mixes of the lecture content. We are already handing over so many of our technology needs to Google and its development team (and what exactly are they doing with our data and what do we do if they decide to stop developing our favorite tool), that the corporate structure behind Thinglink still makes one pause at the idea of making it a permanent replacement for a stable and successful software tool like Powerpoint. And the responses to the demonstration were uniformly positive (challenges addressed! level up!). Many faculty saw the value in using Thinglink for immediate in-class quiz and response or peer group activities where many different types of research could be demonstrated (attach a video! link to a survey! add to a blog!). The education technology specialist from the Ackland Museum saw a way to create online guides to individual works in the collection that could be easily integrated into the Ackland Museum website, produce exploratory annotating directly on the image instead of alongside it, and also allow for audience commenting and interactivity with the image of the work. And, bonus, my colleagues also found annotating directly onto images to be fun and expansive (or, in my case, down-the-rabbit-hole time sucking and, okay, maybe kickstarting my first idea for a Valentino-related essay for the website).
Also, the VRL became a classroom computer lab for a colleague’s Islamic Architecture undergraduate course. As part of the course, students are investigating architectural fragments in the Ackland Museum collections. For that investigation they were given two digital assignments, one using a Gigapan camera mount to make a large-scale panoramic photograph of the front of a fragment and the other using their phones and ipads and digital cameras and the software 123D Catch to make a rotatable 3D model of a fragment. The VRL became their classroom workspace for stitching together their many photographs into a single panorama and 3D model, which they would then utilize in a future class for a close observation exercise. The goal was to get the students to look at the object from a new perspective as well as to explore new technologies for object-based research. Overall, the lab sessions were successful and also somewhat surprising: students showed up for the lab session and just started using the installed software to stitch their images without even waiting for the professor or myself to give preliminary instructions, which meant we spent most of our “training” time on getting students to back themselves out of corners they had painted themselves into with the tools (especially when it came to choosing which photographs to use in the final image–the stitching software for both had a hard time with out-of-focus images and the students hadn’t looked at their individual photographs in advance to choose the best ones). And we saw a wide-range of success or not with the tools and projects, including students who couldn’t get their images off their zip drives or SD cards, students who couldn’t get their too large image files to load into the 123D Catch online library (5 MB max!), students who hadn’t really taken enough photographs (if you are making a 3D model, you need to remember to take pictures of the top of the object!), and a multitude of editing glitchiness (take out an intervening blurry photograph and you get Frankenstein-stitched stumps of objects). But we also saw a group of students who were enthusiastically engaged for the full class time, trying to find alternatives and solve problems as they went, and proud of the resulting images they created. The professor and I learned pros and cons of each process and software tool as well: Gigapan.com went out of business at the end of October and their stitching software could no longer be licensed but we could demonstrate how to stitch images in Photoshop as a secondary option; 123D Catch’s online editing tools were broken (a hopefully-soon-to-be-repaired plugin issue with browser updates), and images weren’t successfully uploading from Android phones, but the iPhone and iPad apps worked like a dream, instructed the students on where and how many images to shoot, and instantly created the best 3D models of the bunch; and older model cameras (without internal leveling mechanisms) produced the hardest to work with images, so we need to have newer cameras for students to use.