Website Work

I’ve mentioned before that one thing I do quite a lot of at work is website development. We use WordPress to build our sites, and host them on a Davidson server. I have learned a lot since I first started working with WordPress and have worked on several different sites, but there are a two sites I am especially proud of my part in building, so I thought it might be fun to feature those. Of course, I had TONS of help in working on both of these, from the professors and also from my boss Kristen, who is fabulous at WordPress and has taught me a lot. Enjoy!

Media & Community | Suzanne Churchill 

Dr. Churchill is one of my favorite professors at Davidson and I took several classes with her as an English major. During my fellowship, we’ve worked together closely on a few projects. This semester, she wanted to build a site for her class, Media & Community. I didn’t do much – she had a great sense of what she wanted and how she wanted the website to function, but we worked together to set it up and I think it is a good example of a class website.

Classics Semester Abroad | Jeanne Neumann

This is another site I am very proud of. The Classics Semester Abroad program is travelling to several different countries during the semester, under Dr. Neumann’s brilliant leadership. I helped Dr. Neumann design and set up her site, and trained the students to use WordPress before they left. The website houses class readings as well as student reflections and assignments for easy access and grading. Also, it allows friends and family to keep up with them as they go. Be sure to check out the page under “Our Itinerary,” which features a map that I set up showing where they currently are, and where the group is headed next.



from Dublin City Public Libraries

The Physical and the Digital

Today was the first ever CLAW conference , which was hosted at Davidson and supported by Libertas and The Davidsonian. I attended several of the events during the day, and I gained a lot from the sessions and lecture I went to, even though I wasn’t the target audience (the conference was mainly for student editors of campus publications.)

I intend to write a couple blog posts summarizing what I learned and thought about at the various events, but in this post I want to focus on something that I thought about a lot today, and which causes me (and clearly others,) a great deal of anxiety – the values and challenges posed by physical and digital forms of media and information.

This is something I have thought about a lot as I have learned more about digital humanities work and the ebook publishing world, both of which fascinate and excite me. As we go digital, what do we lose? The content may be the same, but what will we sacrifice? Is the payoff of democratized access and more content more important than the physical substance of a book, a library, an academic journal, or a student newspaper or publication? What do we lose when we leave behind physical space and records?

At the CLAW conference, Fred Moody talked about this when he was discussing the landscape of digital humanities work. He discussed the changing role of the university library in the context of new digital work. He said that in a recent study, a university found that many of its books had never even been checked out, which is an obvious waste of resources, salary, and space. The days of browsing idly through shelves and flipping through pages to find information for a research paper are past. Libraries and research spaces with some foresight have adapted, transforming into physical hubs where digital information is accessed; for example, Seattle University  has dubbed itself a “Learning Commons,” or, in Moody’s words, a “digital playground.” Moody pointed to the Digital National Library of Korea as an excellent example of a physical / digital workspace.

The academy and the library are changing, and there are real positives to the change, most particularly the wealth of information that digitization makes possible, and the democratization of access to that information. Digital humanities is closely tied to this idea of democratizing information – the flipped classroom, which makes a professor a “guide on the side” instead of “sage on the stage;” the use of open source software for research tool; the new model of collaborative writing; the building of course websites, accessible to all; the new trend of MOOCs; the use of social media for discussion and work; etc. Several prominent digital archives even explicitly state democratic principles in their mission statements, such as Europeana, which says “we make heritage available to people,” and DPLA, which wants the “cultural and scientific record available for all.”

All of this is deeply exciting. As a digital native, I am used to having information literally at my fingertips in a moment. But the implications of that accessibility go far beyond the ability to research and write a paper from your dorm room. It also gives the university – and especially the much maligned humanities – a new and important relevance. If the university can become the physical access point and provider of that digital information, it can stay relevant while also claiming the traditional role of the university as the base of knowledge: written, spoken, collected, and transmitted. What the university or college cannot do is remain the arbiter of knowledge, or it will become irrelevant. The ivory tower will not be able to stand in the new age of flooded information; it will need to be dismantled and rebuilt as, well, something new, something as yet unknown and unnamed.

I welcome these changes, and I think universities and their libraries will adapt. But some part of me definitely mourns the changes. Especially the changes that I think Moody rightly suggested, are coming to libraries. I love the romance of the book and the library. I have fond memories of my elementary school library, discovering Misty of Chincoteague, Little Women, and Nancy Drew because they had pretty covers. I found them, and claimed them, and sank into their pages happily in the enforced quiet of the school library.

Maybe I am being ridiculous. As my boss pointed out as we discussed this on twitter, “content still the same!” But as I responded, “yes, but you lose the physical pleasures of musty smell, old pages, and quiet corners. I think it’s the future, but I am wistful.”

And when the group of student editors discussed the possibility of moving their magazines to digital and dropping print, they had similar resistance to abandoning the print forms. I understood. It’s not quite as satisfying to say, here Grandma, look at my poem online, as to hand her a printed copy in a bound anthology. Why is that? Is it simply that we are trained to revere the printed? That digital is too new? Are we afraid of letting others in? Making it less special, less unique? I don’t know.

But, I feel a similar emotional tug when I think about ebooks. I LOVE ebooks. I’m thrilled with the development, excited about the changes in the industry, and energized by the possibilities. I love the convenience of reading on my Nook. So many books can get to so many people. It’s great. But, I still cherish the books I physically possess, and their familiar wrinkles and stains and smells.

Things are changing – for the academy, publishing, and writing, and I want to be apart of it. But I guess I can understand the resistance, because I feel it in myself too. There is fear and a sadness to leaving behind the way we’ve always done things. What if my far-distant daughter or son never enter a library full of books? What if they never feel that magic?

Then again, if they can have access to all the world’s knowledge, and all the world’s stories, won’t that be even better?


from Zadi Diaz, Flickr


I am very behind on posting and writing about the new things I am learning, so I thought I would add a few posts and hopefully catch up a bit to where I am now.

One important thing I worked on last semester was for a class where I taught script writing. The class is called “Writing in the Community.” Over the semester, they worked on several projects with local organizations, helping them to develop their brands and reach new members. For their final project, they worked with the town of Davidson to develop scripts for short, informational videos. They didn’t film the videos, but they did create storyboards, so that someone in the Town’s office could create the videos in the future.

from Zadi Diaz, Flickr

There were a few important “take aways” that I got from this project.

First, I was once again reminded of how many free tools there are in the world. Once higher ed has caught up to the free tools available for their use, I think it will revolutionize education. For this class, I taught the students to use Celtx. Celtx is free, has a cloud hosted space and also a desktop application, and allows for collaborative work and writing.

The second take away was related to the student’s collaborative work. I was once again reminded how little experience Davidson students truly have with collaborative work. I gained a lot of experience working collaboratively last year; when writing the sitcom, we struggled to find ways to productively write in teams. Does one person write it all and the others edit? Does the group try to come up with all the dialogue together? Do you break up into smaller teams and then reconvene?

Watching the students struggle with this, and hearing about it from them in their reflections, I was again reminded that script writing was an excellent format for learning to work as a team – not just to split up the work, as so often happens – but to really has through problems together. The students noted at the end how hard this was, but I was thrilled that so many of them found it to be a useful exercise. I think it is great practice for the “real world.” And as higher education becomes more collaborative and interdisciplinary, co-writing may become more and more the norm.

My third take away from the experience was the importance of a clear vision. I mean this in two ways; my vision for them was unclear, and they had to learn to communicate visions to one another. For my part, I don’t think I was as effective as I could have been in presenting a clear vision of my expectations to the students. Especially when it came to the storyboarding aspect, they seemed confused, had questions, and didn’t understand all the parameters of what I wanted turned in. I think clearer guidance would have been helpful for them. When they finished their scripts and storyboards, many of the groups noted how important it was for them to be on the same page. Sometimes they thought they were headed in the same direction, with the same goals in mind, only to realize that they weren’t. At which point, they had to step back and reassess.

I found this to be a particularly satisfying lesson to see them learn. I think it’s helpful in any working relationship to say “Hey, are we on the same page here? What are you thinking?” This “checking in” seems extraordinarily valuable to me. It’s one thing that I’ve found to be important in any meeting I have – I like to clarify, “This is what I’m hearing. Is that what you think / what needs to happen / what you’re suggesting?” That sort of clarification – checking on the shared vision – can go a long way toward preventing miscommunication, frustration, and wasted energy.

Overall, I’m pleased with the successful run of the scripting adventure. Although I probably won’t be here when other classes try it out, I am glad we had a great first try. Who knows, maybe there will even be a whole script writing class some day. (Just kidding, that will never happen at Davidson.) But an instructional technologist can dream.


Rennibister Earth House

Poem: Rennibister Earth House

Rennibister Earth House


Rennibister Earth House


Burial smells like I expect,

when I descend into a barrow

behind the stables of an old farm,

wet soil, salt, and old books

I crawl on my elbows, dirt

shaking into my hair

fingernails catch the earth


I half-somersault into

the small tomb at the end

and laugh in the darkness

because I am curled

like a lemon peel

in this sacred space, where

someone’s bones once lay


Python & Twitter

It’s been a few weeks since my last post but Thanksgiving – and football games – make for a perfect opportunity to catch up on some posts.

Recently, I worked on a fascinating project collecting data from Twitter. We had a student come in requesting help in gathering tweets from forty or so different politicians. Neither my boss or I had used Twitter to gather data before, but we were both interested in learning the process and figuring out how to use social media to collect data for analyzing.

Luckily, we knew another student who was using Python code to do this exact thing. So we talked with the student and he was willing to share his code with us. Using that, and a book called Mining the Social Web, we were able to accomplish what the student needed. To make a long story short, we asked the student to create a twitter handle and follow only the politicians whose tweets he wanted to capture. Then we created a csv file with columns for handle, date, time, and tweet content. The code we wrote captured the tweets (from the last time the program ran) and put them into the csv file along with their metadata. This allowed the student to compare and analyze them quantitatively. For example, how many times was the President mentioned in a positive manner by Republican politicians? How often did politicians mention the word “compromise?” How often did they tweet at members of their own party? How often at the other party? What times were the most popular for tweeting? Which politician tweeted most often? And so on. The excel format allowed the student to analyze this information with far more accuracy and options.

I have dabbled in Python, but I am not a programmer and I don’t know much coding at all. But I am trying to learn, and I really enjoy it. Coding feels sort of like puzzle solving, and I think it’s fun to try and figure out how to make it all work. I hope to learn more Python in the coming months; I signed up for a Coursera course to learn Python, but I haven’t had much time to focus on that. I really liked getting to see Python in action. It inspired me to really dive in and attempt to learn more. Some part of me really wishes I’d majored in Computer Science instead of English…hopefully, after this fellowship I’ll find a job that will allow me to use both skill sets.

I was also really pleased with the collaborative process with this project. I love the fact that we went to a student for help; what a cool model for academia, where you draw on the skills and knowledge of everyone on campus. It wasn’t the technologists teaching students – instead, the student was teaching us! I found that very neat. I enjoy working collaboratively, and this was a perfect example of using all the “people resources” available to solve a problem.

Besides all that, I am just really fascinated by market research and data (as I’ve written about before,) and this was another chance to do some of that. There is so much freely available data on social media, and it’s becoming more and more important to harness and analyze that – for either commercial or academic purposes. I am excited to use this in other projects. Maybe admissions could collect tweets or Facebook comments from Prospective students. Or maybe a student could follow the tweets of researchers or authors in their field. Or perhaps we could set up an archive of all Davidson students’ tweets for future research purposes. The options are limitless even on campus – I can only imagine the applicable uses for a commercial business.




An Open Letter to ABC

Dear ABC,

You’re doing it right. You are navigating the new waters of digital content brilliantly. As a consumer who watches almost 90% of my content online, I am often annoyed and frustrated when I can’t watch shows easily, legally, and cheaply. Sometimes it seems like the networks don’t even want me to watch their shows. And, I’ll be honest, sometimes I have watched shows illegally online. I’m not proud of it, but, like many in your target audience of ages 18-35, I have done it. But, ABC, I promise right now, I will never watch an ABC show illegally ever again.

Let me give you my own anecdote, which revolves around your show Once Upon a Time. I heard lots about Once Upon a Time last fall, when several of my friends started watching. A few weeks ago, I saw that the first season was available on Netflix and I started watching. I loved the show, and I understood the hype. But even more, I appreciated ABC making it available to Netflix customers like me. I never would have stumbled on it otherwise.

Once I finished the second season, I went to see if the first few episodes of the second season were online. To my surprise and gratitude, they were! So I caught up online, and now I’m hooked. And you know what? When it airs next, I’m going to watch it on television.

You’ve won yourself a loyal audience member – one who will buy DVDs, watch your advertisements, and buy merchandise. Because here’s the thing – I want you to make a profit. I want you to succeed. Most people don’t WANT to illegally consume content. We want to watch your shows because they’re good shows! So thanks for making it easy for us, the consumers who want to support you. By making your content easily available, on Netflix, online, on mobile devices, we watch on your terms, and you get the profit you deserve.

Keep up the good work.








Survey Results & Research

A while ago, my department sent out emails to the faculty requesting feedback on the technology and set-up in the classrooms on campus. And guess who got to compile and analyze the findings? This girl!

IT. WAS. SO. FUN. Basically, I read through all the emails, and then I pulled out the main points in each email. I separated those into the main themes and trends that I saw emerging. I also noted which professors made what comments so I could count and compare – somewhat quantitatively – what were the most common complaints / comments. I also made note of several important quotes that shed light on general trends in opinion.

Once I had all my data, I wrote a short report summarizing the findings and also discussing the factors that might have altered or affected the responses. I also arranged the findings into an excel document and created a graph showing the relative importance of various changes.

The process was incredibly rewarding. I started with this massive amount of information, then sorted through it to pull out the important things. It reminded me of panning for gold during  Gold Rush Day in elementary school. Which is apparently not something they have in the south. Anyway, it was very neat to take all this stuff and turn it into usable information.

Once I’d gone through everything we had real data that showed us, for example, that almost half of all respondents wanted more whiteboard space, and to be able to use whiteboards and projection simultaneously. And since the data is quantitative – i.e. 43 % of respondents mentioned this need – it becomes a much stronger argument in favor of smart-boards or more whiteboard space, as opposed to a few anecdotal stories.

The project also gave me some real insight into the process of gathering opinions and analyzing the results. In this instance, there were several weaknesses to the format of the survey. The email sent to professors was completely open-ended, which led to a variety of responses that were not always on target. It also did not lay out specific definitions, so when I got responses about “the desk” at the front of most classrooms, I couldn’t always tell if they were referring to the IT console, the table at the front, or the lectern. I think it would have been more beneficial to give clearer guidance, and to ask specifically about each item – projection, table, console, lectern, furniture, white boards, etc. The open-ended questions also made it hard to quantify and compare data; the only tool I had was comparing the number of professors who specifically thought to bring up an issue. I also reflected on how important the phrasing of questions is. For example, the original question asked for feedback about the classrooms, but because it came from ITS, many professors only responded about the technology, assuming that we were uninterested in that. If the email had asked specific questions, or asked for feedback on specific areas, we would be able to more accurately evaluate the results.

This has been a really rewarding and interesting process, and I am looking forward to doing more work in this area. I’ve always been interested in market research, and this was a really fascinating first taste of that field. I am interested in how people think, what they like and dislike, and what decisions they make. Whatever field I end up working in next year, I know this will be a useful skill. Every field and industry has a product to sell and a customer base to reach, and the more you can analyze the desires of your customer / reader / viewer and find out what they want, the better you can serve them. And then everyone is happy!





Learn things. Figure stuff out.