A panel of three papers:
Taste Testing from the Internet Firehose: Digital Reading in College and Beyond
The Internet has produced a firehose of material to be read: between email and social media, ebooks and databases, the Web offers vast numbers of texts. The speed of access and short attention spans fostered by the constant flow of incoming material lead to highly superficial reading activity, a kind of taste testing. It is clear that the Internet demands more efficient reading but also much deeper and more critical reading of everything that appears on the screen; this talk will support this claim with prior research as well as a recent study of college students. Leading the way toward smarter reading on line are the forces of information literacy, aka librarians. Members of the Association of College and Research Libraries, the professional organization for academic librarians, have recently updated their information literacy standards for higher education which can serve as well for the population at large. Several kinds of data reveal the nature of contemporary digital reading. Studies of eye tracking show where readers look and how they process what they see on the screen. Studies of expert readers reveal their approach to digital and paper text. Studies with students reveal their weaknesses in information literacy based on both their own reflections and on their performance on instruments like the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (SAILS). This presentation will also discuss this prior research with both experts and novices, including how students read and use sources in their own research. The findings point to a clear need for much greater emphasis on critical reading in the online environment. Much greater attention to reading, both traditional and especially digital, is needed in classes and in libraries, in book groups and in online discussions, in every available venue. A number of strategies for improving reading in both digital and traditional venues will be discussed.
Visualizing the "Stuff" of Software: Source Code as Big Data
In 1986, Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores observed that because there is no material link between software's interfaces and its mechanisms, designers can shape interfaces in any way they see fit. While Winograd and Flores urged their readers to recognize that there was no technological obligation to design interfaces a certain way, this gap between representation and mechanism marks the interface as a problematic site for critics and historians of software. Studying the operation of software via its interface is therefore examining it "through a glass, darkly." This presentation explores using the source code to software as a way of mapping the mechanisms without relying on the interface. Unlike Critical Code Studies methodologies, which closely read source code, this project applied digital humanities text analytics to source code. In doing so, this project not only avoids the problems posed by the interface for software study but also addresses problems of scope and scale posed by the size of modern software applications, which can easily surpass hundreds of thousands or millions of lines of code. During this presentation, I will share how I applied a methodology that mixes webscraping with social network analysis and topic modeling to visualize the history of Mozilla's software and other open source projects. In addition to addressing the problems described above, this project also shows how digital humanists can partner with digital media scholars, who in practice rarely cite one another, to test the political promises of the free and open source software movements. Treating software studies as a textual problem by analyzing the sociocultural implications of the functions described in source code will allow us to better understand the political motivations behind development and the cultural implications of design decisions that may not be visible through the narratives of use provided to us via user-friendly interfaces.
Tracing the Workflow of a Digital Scholar
This paper presents findings of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded project conducted at Penn State University from April 2012-June 2013. It also outlines preliminary results of Phase II of the same project, currently underway at Penn State and George Mason University.
Phase I explored scholarly workflow of the Penn State faculty across the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, focusing on the integration of digital technologies at all stages of a research lifecycle—from collecting and analyzing data, over managing and storing, to writing up and sharing research findings. This paper harvests a comparative multidisciplinary perspective of our study to explore specificities of humanists’ digital workflow, enabling development of a service architecture that supports those practices.
Phase I was comprised of a web-based survey (n=196) and a set of ethnographic interviews (n=23). The results showed that across disciplines digital tools were most actively used for finding, storing, and archiving research materials, although disciplinary differences could be traced. For instance, while the respondents overwhelmingly (92%) store research materials, humanists reported the highest percentage of lost and inaccessible files, predominantly because of failing to migrate materials from obsolete to contemporary formats.
Concerning data collecting and analysis, the use of digital technologies significantly differs across disciplines. Respondents in the science commonly noted that their work would be impossible without digital technologies, and scholars in the social sciences indicated digital tools and methods becoming ‘a new normal’ in their practice. In contrast, humanists implied the lack of digital technology use in those segments of their research process. They nonetheless indicated awareness of digital tools and methods that could facilitate their analytical practice, suggesting the lack of training and time as key impediments to developing needed skills.
Disciplinary differences were also evident in data sharing activities. Two thirds (63%) of scholars in the sciences indicated that they actively share their data; a nearly identical percentage of the humanists (69%) indicated opposite practice. Academic standing also influenced data sharing practices, with tenure-track faculty being more protective of their data than tenured scholars.
Annotating and reflecting emerged as research activities where the use of digital technologies is most idiosyncratic, based on scholars’ personal preferences rather than the level of technical skills or availability of digital tools. The use of citation management programs was higher in the sciences (55 % vs. 30 %), but the overall level of use was lower than in other segments of the workflow.
Phase II of our study is devoted to developing a digital research tool for humanities scholarship using Zotero as a test platform. Based on the results of Phase I, we focus on unifying several segments of the workflow, and facilitating elements such as better integration of archiving into the scholar’s online path. Since the loss of information among the humanists is significant, there is a need to build into the research workflow easy strategies for users to self-archive their work. Optimizations to connect the institutional repository within Zotero, as well as expose references and metadata within uploaded PDFs will be explored.