Educational Games vs Consumer Games

For the past few weeks, I’ve been playing through video games that explore civics and history in an attempt to gain insight into what type of educational video games exist out there and what I thought about them. Given my experience with consumer video games, I felt that it would be interesting to play through educational games for comparison. This was an enlightening, and oftentimes quite frustrating, experience for me.

I will say upfront that many of the educational games that I played were not fun. There was no inherent pleasure or excitement in playing them, and that is one of the most important aspects of a video game. One of the educational goals of video games is to make learning fun. Given the types of audiences these games are trying to reach, it seems important to create something that would be fun to play as well as educational. My thoughts throughout the entire process of playing these games is that there are commercially successful games that have really good ideas on how to make a fun game that aren’t particularly complicated in how they run or how to play. Double Fine’s works (Grim Fandango and Broken Age) are a good example of point and click adventure games, and they have engaging stories and gameplay. They are also very accessible in regards to actually playing through the games. The only educational game that I played that I thoroughly enjoyed (Jamestown Game) was only entertaining to me when I was completely going against the history of Jamestown. This game only lasted about 5 minutes total, as well, which is not going to be engaging for long for students, with written explanations of what the Jamestown settlers actually did when everything is completed.

I feel that there must be a way to incorporate the engaging stories of civics and history while including fun gameplay in a way that would make educational games fun and exciting for students. Mission US is the closest to an educational game that had the makings to be something fun while helping students learn. The classic style “point and click” games, where one is able to gain items to solve puzzles and choose dialogue options, have been very successful in commercial venues. This style is what Mission US follows; however, in its attempts to follow history and allow choices, the writing is very flat and uninteresting. If there was a way to keep this style for learning about civics and history while providing a narrative that is well-written and promotes learning while being fun (easier said than done, I know!), I feel that it would be a successful educational game.

The educational games, much to my surprise, also had a lot of accessibility issues. Many of them came with no subtitles, which limits the ability of students with hearing issues to engage with the games. However, this also made me question how students would be playing these games in general. Would they have headphones? Would they play in a classroom? Would they play in groups? These types of questions are important to consider when creating an educational game. I have not encountered many commercial video games that do not have subtitles or allow for toggling them on or off. This feature should be very important to reach a broad audience with educational games. There were also very few games for younger students. The primary focus was on middle and high school students. The few that were accessible to younger students had no educational value whatsoever.

Overall, I felt like this experience was incredibly helpful for me to try and think about what the goals of educational games actually are and how well they accomplish that task. I see that there are currently many limitations on how educational games can work (resources to create them, writing, accessibility, age groups, etc).The primary goal of educational games is to make learning entertaining, but I think that many of the games currently out there miss the mark. Using engaging writing with a coherent storyline–whether it is historical, on civics, or anything else–will help many educational games to reach their intended goal. When I think of educational game, I think of the games I played when I was a kid–Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. These were very story-driven games, which I think is the important aspect that we should focus on.

 

My First Year Fellow Experience in the Education Divison

My first semester in the Education Division of RRCHNM has been an interesting and educational experience. Since January, I’ve been lucky enough to work on the 100 Leaders project for National History Day and played a major role in adding up leader votes in different ways and then uploading them to the 100Leaders.org website.  What made the project so interesting was that (after 100 days of voting) the results were far from what anyone at NHD or RRCHNM expected.  Interestingly, once voting opened in November, social media voters from other countries started pouring in and these votes single handedly knocked down most of the famous western leaders that many people thought would steal the top ten.  Instead of Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson as the most influential leaders, voting ended with Muhammad taking the number one spot, Mustafa Ataturk in second, followed by Jesus of Nazareth in third.  On the 100 Leaders website, National History Day published a fascinating background story on the findings and how so many votes were cast from outside of the United States.

After working for weeks on the 100 Leaders website, I was also given the opportunity to work on the new Digital Humanities online certificate that will be offered by George Mason University through RRCHNM in Fall 2015.  This exciting new project for the university and the center also comes with a lot of background work.  Everyone in the Education division has been very hands on—from recording interviews from creators of digital humanities projects to transcribing those projects, to outlining assignments.  I’ve had the opportunity to research a lot of the projects that new certificate students will be asked to complete.  As a content provider, I’ve been on the lookout for different types of digital archives, content data bases for mapping and text mining, and open source/copyright free sites so students have the best tools available when learning what exists in the digital world.

Outside of working in the Ed division, the first year fellows and I have had the interesting opportunity of holding Clio II tutoring sessions every Monday between noon and 5pm.  At our table in the center we offer help on the PhD required Clio II projects where all of us have been asked to create a digital history project and build our own websites from scratch.  While I was the first year digital history fellow who came in with the least amount of knowledge in DH, being able to tutor on coding has not only helped with learning HTML, CSS, Java Script, etc, it’s given me a confidence that was severely lacking last semester. I’ve learned through helping others build websites and have become a pro at looking up answers for website building questions and can now quickly solve issues.  Last semester I was nervous and lost.  The Clio II help desk  has helped me retain knowledge of coding and I’m excited that I no longer have to constantly lean of W3 schools for information.  I’m finally retaining how to move an object from point A to point B on my computer screen.

While there is only a month left in my fellowship at RRCHNM I am thankful for how much I’ve learned this semester and look forward to how much more I can cram in my brain in the following months.

 

Reflection on Micki Kaufman’s Presentation & Live Tweeting

Yesterday Micki Kaufman came to CHNM to deliver a presentation on her dissertation, “Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me”: Quantifying Kissinger. Her presentation was fascinating, and her use of digital methods was eye-opening. What I found particularly interesting was the subtext that ran through both the presentation and the question-and-answer session about how various specializations/professions view and analyze information; in particular, how historians, librarians, and digital historians/humanists do so. This was especially evident when she was discussing the computer-generated and human-generated list of topics found within the documents after running them through topic modeling software. Historians may or may not find that one use of Cambodia in a document of use to them, but librarians have to list Cambodia as a subject because the associated metadata is intended to show the breadth of the document. Another interesting point I took away from the presentation was that digital methods don’t have to solely be a methodology. The use of digital methods can also be epistemological in nature. The way Micki approached her research is fundamentally different from how historians have traditionally operated. Rather than going into the archive with a prepared set of questions, Micki took all of the documents from the archive and, using digital methodologies, discovered what the documents were telling her. A question I think should now be approached is how to reconcile the epistemology of digital history with that of traditional history. Do the two have to remain separate from one another? How can we, as digital historians, make it easier for traditionally-minded historians to adapt digital methodologies into their research?

I also live-tweeted Micki’s presentation, as did other staff members at the Center. My thoughts and opinions on tweeting as a form of scholarly communication have not changed since my November post on the same topic. Twitter continues to be an excellent platform for scholars, and is an easy way to remain up-to-date with the happenings in the DH world. I especially like using Twitter for presentations and conferences because my tweets can serve as my own notes and simultaneously I am making information available to the general public.

Midterm Reflection

This semester I am working in Public Projects. Last semester, when the first year DH fellows were rotating through the division, we worked on the Histories of the National Mall and the 9/11 Digital Archive. This semester, I am continuing to work on the 9/11 Digital Archive in addition to the Papers of the War Department (PWD).

Papers of the War Department

I am assisting Ron and Megan in managing the PWD. My work includes creating transcriber accounts, protecting and exporting documents, communicating with the transcribers when needed, and raising awareness of the project through blog posts and tweets. I always find it interesting to discover why people are signing up to become transcribers, whether it’s because they are history teachers or students, conducting genealogical research, or are simply interested in the time period. I’ve finally started to gain familiarity with the MediaWiki page, having never before used a wiki page. The variety of subjects contained within the PWD is fascinating. I wrote a blog post about a document in which a poor mother was inquiring whether her son, who had served in the Revolutionary War, was due any clothing or money at the time of his death. Today I tweeted about a letter written by George Washington in which he discusses his thoughts on the commander in chief uniform.

9/11 Digital Archive

For the Archive I have been working on reviewing content and making collections public. I first worked on the 13th Anniversary Collection and the 10th Anniversary Collection. Both of these collections include personal reflections on the respective anniversaries of 9/11 in the form of pictures, audio clips, and text. I went through each item within the collections to ensure there wasn’t inflammatory content, and then made both collections public. I also wrote a blog post about the Boston Federal Aviation Administration Filings, which Jordan, Stephanie, and I worked on describing when we rotated through Public Projects last semester. It’s a fascinating collection, filled with interviews, reports, transcripts, and more, and I hope the blog post draws attention to that particular section of the Archive.

Currently I am working on reviewing the content of the Sonic Memorial Project, which tells the history of the World Trade Centers (WTC) through interviews, voicemails, ambient sounds, and stories. Like the PWD, I am continually amazed by the diversity of items within this collection. There’s information about and recollections from a range of people, who provide (often first-hand) insight into Radio Row, which preceded the WTC; the Mohawk Ironworkers who helped build the Towers; building stewardesses who answered questions when the WTC was still under construction and a point of controversy; artists-in-residence at the WTC; stories of love and marriage at the Towers; the Fresh Kills Landfill; and memories of 9/11.

Some of the material is shocking and saddening, like the FDNY radio transmissions from 9/11, or this compilation of WNYC’s coverage of the day and weeks following. Other items reveal how people have dealt with the events of 9/11, including this recording of a poem, and this artist’s description of her Day of the Dead art installation at the Pelham Art Center. Despite the sadness, there is a multiplicity of people who called into the Project to describe happy memories, including this doctor’s story of her engagement, which happened at Windows on the World.

Editor-in-Chief and Other Experiences

This semester, my cohort of fellows were placed into different divisions. Since we are on the accelerated one-year fellowship tract (the previous two cohorts each had a two-year fellowship), every division currently has two DH fellows. I was assigned to my first choice, the Research Division. This was the first division my cohort rotated through last semester and was a bit more technical than the other two divisions. However, I am excited to get involved in their current projects and to contribute as a member of the team. You can read my reflection on my rotation through the Research Division here.

“Catching Up”

For the first few weeks, I was familiarizing myself with various aspects of the divisions work. Even though I came into the fellowship with experience in programming and web design, I was by no means at the same level as the rest of the division. Taking a few weeks to introduce myself to the tools used in the division’s work would allow me to better understand the workflow and processes involved in the different projects.

Git and Github: The two main projects that Research is involved with are Zotero and PressForward. Both of these are programs are open source and available online in their entirety at Github.com. Github is an online repository for source code and allows for collaboration in the development process.  Currently, the Research Division is working on  releasing updated versions of PressForward. By learning how Github and git commands work, I would be able to understand how these updated versions are created, shared, tested, and released. I went through a handful tutorials on git commands from both Github and on Code School. I even created my own project repository on Github and practiced pulling and pushing files. I worked through the command line (Terminal on Mac) to communicate with Github. It was an interesting and definitely new experience. I now understand the theory of how to save various stages in the coding process and uploading them to Github. Most importantly, I can follow people’s conversations about Github or their online repositories. I am looking forward to learning more and becoming more comfortable with the process.

PHP: I came into this Fellowship with experience in a few programming languages. I had taken two programming classes in my undergraduate in C# and had some experience with HTML, CSS, and Java script from a capstone class. PressForward works a lot in a scripting language called PHP. I went through the tutorial on Codecademy for PHP and reviewed Java script as well. I didn’t come out an of the tutorials with a mastery of the language but it did teach me how to following the syntax and logic of the code. That really is half the battle in programming.  I now have a greater appreciation for programmers who have expertise in multiple languages as well. I only have a basic knowledge of a handful of languages and they are already bleeding over into each other in my mind. In spite of this, I enjoyed working with programming and want to continue to improve my skills and utilize them in my own work as well as within the Research Division.

Editor-in-Chief

The crux of my time in the division thus far has been preparing for and working as Editor-in-Chief for Digital Humanities Now. The idea of being Editor-in-Chief was a bit daunting, especially with the immediate publication that comes with the digital medium. However, I was aptly prepared and supported with my first time through.

Preparation: In the weeks leading up to my assigned time, I shadowed Amanda Regan and Amanda Morten during their weeks as Editor-in-Chief. They showed me how to format each post for publication, how to find relevant information from the Google documents, and how to email the editors-at-large. The most imposing task was to find the Editor’s Choice articles. I felt comfortable with identifying the various news items for publication but the Editor’s Choice articles are more involved and the focal point on the DHNow website. A helpful way of understanding Editor’s Choice articles, as it was explained to me, is that they should be focused around an argument or position. With this understanding, I decided to spend some time going through former Editor’s Choice articles from the previous months to better ground my judgment. As my week of Editor-in-Chief approached, I felt prepared and excited for the task.

My Week: My week started with a suggestion from Ben Schneider that I look through the nominated material the day before publication. This would allow me to gauge if we have enough material to publish or that I needed to devote time to aggregating articles. So I spent an hour or so drafting posts and prepping for the following day. I left work on Monday feeling confident that I had plenty of material for the Tuesday publication. The following morning, I returned to find that most of the material I drafted the day before was almost entirely Humanities focused with little to no digital component. Luckily I started the day early to allow for “hiccups” such as this and was able to work through and find things to publish. Thursday went a little faster, after having already gone through the entire process on my own. I was able to find, with relative ease, plenty of news items to publish for both days. Editor’s Choice articles were, however, more time consuming. In the end, I was able to publish two Editor’s Choice pieces on both Tuesday and Thursday.

Reflection: I really enjoyed being Editor-in-Chief. It was somewhat empowering to be the individual who decides what is being published. It also imbues a sense of responsibility that the posts you choose are quality in nature and relevant to the digital humanities community. Taking on this role gave me a glimpse at the vast amount of material being published on the Internet. PressForward has over 400 RSS feeds coming into the All Content page and this is only a mere fraction of the content being published daily. I can definitely see the need for programs such as PressForward to aggregate, organize, and publicize digital work. This being my first experience with online publishing, I found it to be very rewarding and encouraging. I have three more weeks to helm the Editor-in-Chief and I am looking forward to them.

Reflections on the Seminar

This blog post will conclude my first semester in the PhD program here at George Mason University. The semester moved by very quickly and it is amazing to see how much we have all learned from the fellowship. Each divisional rotation expanded my understanding of the field of Digital History as well as my own capabilities within it. Our final rotation for the semester was a seminar with Dr. Stephen Robertson. Largely focused on the recent 20th Anniversary of the Center, I was able to learn a lot more about digital history centers in general and how they function.

We started the seminar with a list of readings on Digital Humanities Centers. It was interesting to compare what we were reading to our experiences over the last four months. I was surprised to see the complexity in establishing DH Centers. Issues were raised over where the center would reside, what function would the center have, and even if creating a center is the right thing to do. I reflected on my reasoning for applying to GMU. George Mason ranked high on my list of graduate schools because of I wanted to work at CHNM.  If I knew of a professor who worked in DH but didn’t operate in a center, would that deter me from applying to that university or program? I really liked Stephen Ramsey’s post Centers are People where he articulated a preconceived notion that I had in applying to programs. He states that for many, centers are how you get into DH. However, he goes on to highlight how this isn’t always the case. These questions about centers are really interesting to me as I aim to be a collegiate professor who is also a digital historian.

After our brief crash course in DH centers, we focused the remainder of our time on the 20th Anniversary. We thought it would be a great resource if we aggregated the tweets from the two days of the conference using Storify.  Using the #rrchnm20, we went back through twitter and grouped the tweets according to the day and session of the conference. The ability to do this capped off my largely increased appreciation for twitter that I have developed over the semester. I have come to greatly appreciate it as a platform to communicate with other scholars and to disseminate information and ideas. It also, as I learned from this, a convenient and easy way to categorize and save these communications. I can truly say that I have been converted. The saved tweets can be found here.

The majority of the seminar focused on creating an Omeka exhibit for the 20th site. Having recently come out of our rotation through Public Projects, I was interested in the history of the September 11 Digital Archive. We, the first year fellows, had the opportunity to add metadata to recently received items, so I had a little experience with the archive itself. The approach I took was to contextualize the Archive with its place in CHNM’s history. How was it influenced by other projects? Did it feed into or help bring about other projects? How does a center preserve a project over time? In locating the Archive in the overall story that is CHNM, I learned a lot. I was able to explore other Digital Memory Banks that the Center has created such as Blackout History Project and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. I was able to read through the various documents for the Archive which addressed interesting points such as what to do with submission that could be falsified or blatantly racist. Also I was able to come to appreciate the magnitude of such a project and the importance of collecting history online. If you would like to see my exhibit, follow the link here.

I found the topic of the seminar, on that of DH centers and the history of CHNM, to be a great way to wrap up this whirlwind of a semester. Each of the three divisions allowed us a glimpse into the various projects CHNM undertakes and broadened my understanding of the field. The seminar allowed us to step back and take in the broader sense of centers and their functionality in the discipline. I am coming away with a greater understanding and  even more questions.

Reflections on the Fall Semester in Research

This year I am a second year fellow and am spending the year in the Research Division working on PressForward.  In addition to working on PressForward, I’ve continued to be involved in the Support Space, Digital Campus, and mentoring the new fellows. Over the course of this semester the PressForward team has been busy wrapping up the first PressForward grant and, in October, we began PressForward 2 which was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  As one of the GRAs on this project I’ve worked on multiple things over the course of the semester including redesigning the PressForward website, continuing to manage DHNow, and was involved in putting together the most recent issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities. In the midst of all of this, we’ve been refining and further developing the next version of the PressForward plugin.  I’ve been testing the plugin and have even started contributing code to the most recent version.

This summer I was given the opportunity to work on PressForward and this enabled me to get a head start on my assignment for this year.  It was incredibly useful to be around for the launch of the plugin and to be able to use the summer to really familiarize myself with the plugin, Digital Humanities Now and other aspects of the division.  In our brief rotation through Research last Spring we didn’t get to spend a lot of time looking at the nitty gritty details of how DH Now or PressForward work.  Over the summer I was able to take some time to familiarize myself with the organization of the plugin and the daily administrative work for DHNow.  It turned out to be such a useful summer because I returned in the Fall ready for the fast paced wrap up of PressForward 1 and the beginning of our implementation phase.

Among the projects I undertook in Research this semester, redesigning the PressForward website took a large amount of my time.  PressForward 2 is an implementation grant and over the next 14 months we will be working with several partners to develop publications using the plugin.  In this new capacity, I was asked to help redesign the website and transition from a blog about a research project on scholarly communication to a website focused on our plugin and its features.  I spent quite a bit of time looking at both the Omeka and Zotero websites and thinking about what made a good digital humanities tool website.  How do you effectively communicated the major features of the tool and its application for both humanities projects and more general use?  The PressForward plugin is available on the WordPress directory and has a wide range of applications outside of just academic publishing.  The website needed to reflect both applications and focus on what makes PressForward different from a standard RSS reader.  Furthermore, it needed to have support forums as we begin to develop a community of users.  Both Omeka and Zotero have very broad and dedicated communities that contribute to these open source projects.  PressForward 2 will be, in part, about cultivating a similar community for our tool and that begins with support and education about the plugin and its uses.

Looking at other examples, I designed a site that very much mirrored the organization of both the Omeka and Zotero sites.  On the homepage the dominant area is filled with tabs that each focus on a key feature of PressForward: the overall point of the plugin, features for collecting, features for discussing, and features for sharing content.  In each tab a large download button takes the user to the PressForward GitHub repository. Below the features are links to each pilot partner’s web page and a link to our blog.  This was a very useful project because it led me to not only think about the way digital humanities tools communicate their goals but also I learned quite a bit of php while I hacked around in the theme. It worked out that I happened to be taking Lincoln Mullen’s Programming for Historians class at the same time and the skills I had learned in that class complimented this project, and working a bit with php, well.  As we move forward I’ll be doing some more theme development for PressForward 2 and will also be contributing, what I can, to UI/UX issues on new versions of the plugin.

In addition to all my work on the PressForward project, I have also been participating in running the Digital History Support Space which is always a rewarding experience.  Over the course of the semester we’ve helped numerous people from all of the Clio I courses and we expect to have more frequent visitors next semester during Clio II.

In November, the center had its twentieth anniversary conference and opened up the API for the archive that we began building last Spring (and Jannelle Legg spent all summer refining and adding content). On Friday, the first day of the conference, a few of us decided to use the API to make a network graph of all the people and projects at the center.  We coded like mad for the whole day, and—with a lot of help from Lincoln Mullen—we ended the day with three network visualizations. I think this was an interesting way to wrap up our work from last year on the archive and was a practical use of the skills Jannelle Legg and I had been learning in Lincoln Mullen’s Programming for Historians seminar.  The visualization reflects some of the decisions we made when creating the archive last summer and the some of the limitations of the archive.  All of the nodes and edges on the graph represent the information provided on the coversheets of grants.  As a result, staff that were hired after the grant was awarded are not reflected on the graph and grants that were iterative aren’t necessarily connected.  I think the project was a great example of the choices that have to made when creating a digital archive and was a fun way to wrap up the project we began last Spring. The visualization is available here. (The visualization was a collaborative effort by: Ken Albers, Peter Carr Jones, Lincoln Mullen, Patrick Murray-John, Allison O’Connor, and Faolan Cheslack-Postava).

We also have a new cohort of Fellows this year and at the beginning of the semester we paired off each second year with a first year to act as a mentor.  Our role is to mentor them throughout their first year.  Their first rotation this semester was through research and over the course of their first two weeks they worked on PressForward and Digital Humanities Now. I helped walk them through the goals of the project and showed them how the plugin worked.  They watched me do Editor in Chief and then served as Editors At Large before taking on Editor in Chief themselves. Walking them through the projects, I was struck by how much of a better understanding of the center and the various projects I have now than when I first began at the center.  Looking back on our first year, its impressive the range of material we were introduced to and the ways it complimented our coursework to provide us with a unique perspective on Digital History.   I’m really looking forward to continuing to work with the new fellows and having one of them in Research next semester.

Seminar Reflection

My final reflection for the semester is on the first year fellows’ time in the seminar block. We began our first week with a group of readings on the establishment, structure, and dissolution of digital history centers in addition to readings on the history of the Center. During the discussion of the readings, we talked about the physical location of DH centers, many of which are housed within university libraries. While that seems to be a reasonable and logical choice, it is not always best for DH centers for various reasons, least of all funding. This particularly peaked my interest because, as a librarian, I can see how placing these centers within libraries would impact libraries and the services they provide to their patrons, as well as how such a location would impact the libraries internally and the DH centers.

We also worked on compiling the information and notes taken during the 20th anniversary conference. We edited the Google docs from the Saturday morning and afternoon sessions and created an archive of the Tweets from the conference through Storify. All of this work can be accessed here. I am glad we were able to re-visit the notes from the sessions, and adding a synopsis and further resources was helpful in reminding me of the breadth of discussion that occurred at the conference. It’s also been convenient since I was unable to attend all of the sessions that I wanted to, as many of them overlapped.

Finally, we began working on our final projects for the semester. I’m working on a timeline using Timeline JS that maps out the birth of various technologies, centers, projects, works of scholarship, and blogs. I wouldn’t have been able to complete the timeline if it hadn’t been for Anne, Mandy, and Jannelle’s work on DH centers, this map from Vox, and this timeline from the Pew Research Center. It has been interesting to see what has overlapped, when certain technologies came out and how that affected centers, the first digital history projects, and the birth of blogs. It’s been difficult to find a stopping point for adding information to the timeline – there is always more that can be put in, since the history of digital history encompasses so many things. For example, I know that the timeline would really benefit from a history of CMS; adding in death dates of centers when appropriate; a history of flash; a history of CD ROMs; and more DH projects from other centers. As it is, I already have over 200 entries on the timeline, and the process has proved to be very time consuming, but also fascinating and fun. I am hoping to create four pages within an Omeka exhibit that explore Firefox and Zotero; blogging technologies; open access/open source; and Who Built America. All of our final projects will be put up on the RRCHNM 20 site.

Reflections on the Fall Semester

It has been a busy and beneficial fall semester as a second-year fellow at CHNM. The time rolled along quickly and throughout I’ve had a number of new opportunities and experiences that have built on the work that we did last year as first-year fellows.

As a second-year fellow in the center, our roles at the center changed considerably. The first year of the fellowship focused on circulating us through each division at the center – a six-week process that exposed us to the various projects and enabled us to work with faculty and staff throughout CHNM. The second year of the fellowship has been much more concentrated. My work in the Education division has afforded me more time on a project and allowed me to work more directly with members of that division. In turn I’ve been able to understand the facets of the project to which I have contributed and have enjoyed greater integration into the division.

Getting Started with Phase 1 of 100 Leaders:

In this case, the majority of the fall semester was spent working on the 100 Leaders in World History project. The site, which I have reviewed here, allows for interaction with historical figures on the subject of leadership and encourages teachers and students to extend these subjects further by rating these figures on particular leadership traits. CHNM was selected by National History Day to develop and design the site last Spring. At the start of the semester the site was still in the first phase of development. I worked to add the content from National History Day to each of the pages and familiarized myself with the back-end structure of Drupal. Throughout this period I had a number of interesting conversations with Jennifer Rosenfeld about the complexities and challenges of creating interactive and educational materials for the web. I learned a good deal about the importance of collaboration on a project of this scale. With over 100 distinct pages on the site, minor edits, like the addition of italicization, called for discussion, notation, and a division of labor to ensure that each page was updated appropriately.

Mentoring and moving into Phase 2:

As the semester rolled on, the first-year fellows circulated into the Education department for a four-week accelerated rotation. Stephanie, Jordan, and Alyssa each completed a blog post that described their experiences. During this period I took on a larger role in mentoring them and organized each of the activities we would undertake. We began with user testing across browsers and devices. At this stage, the 100 Leaders in World History project had entered the second phase of development and this user testing aided in the development and design of the current voting interface and served to test and validate that the underlying voting algorithm was capturing and recording appropriately. We consistently tried our best to break everything and shared our findings with Jennifer and James McCartney for improvement. (Anyone viewing the site on a smartphone will appreciate our feedback as the larger slider buttons were a direct result of these tests!)

Next, we worked to gather image content and citation information for videos on the site. At first, our discussions focused on digital images and copyright, but soon we turned our attention to issues of diversity and representation in terms of time period, geographic region, gender, race, ethnicity, and type of leadership. We tried to be thoughtful in our selections, considering the ability of a single image to convey particular types of information about a leader or juxtaposing images to create alternate or additional meaning about a figure or figures. The final activity undertaken with the help of the first year fellows was the creation of a guidebook that will aid National History Day in modifying and maintaining the 100 Leaders in World History site.

Each of these activities was useful in demonstrating the different complications that accompany large-scale, collaborative, educational websites. User testing encouraged us to deal with the user experience and to gain insight into the processes required to build a site of this size. Contributing images moved us back into our comfort zones as historians doing research on particular subjects- but the added complication of copyright was useful in expanding the Fellows’ thinking about what digital historical research entails. While we each campaigned for our favorite images or leaders, we also took seriously the importance of crafting a meaningful visual narrative that supported the dialogue of each video. Finally, the guidebook allowed an introduction to the back-end of a Drupal site and encouraged us to think through questions about making navigation easier and more efficient to those without experience programming.

Working on 100 Leaders after the launch:

After the first-year fellows completed their rotation in the Education division, my work continued to focus on the completion of the Guidebook as well as video transcription, user testing, data manipulation and a website review. On November 3rd, the voting interface on the 100 Leaders in World History site went live. To aid in marketing the site and to inform teachers about how it could be used in the classroom, I wrote a summary of the site’s features for Teachinghistory.org. This website review encouraged me to revisit my earlier discussions with Jennifer about online learning and to view the 100 Leaders in World History site with fresh eyes. Since then, interest in the site has exploded and we have recorded over 200,000 votes in just over a month. It has been a busy but useful semester for me in Education and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to contribute to a project like 100 Leaders.

CHNM Anniversary:

In November, CHNM celebrated its 20th anniversary with a conference held here at George Mason. As I described here, the second-year fellows spent a portion of last spring engaged in a discussion about the history of the center. From that seminar with Dr. Robertson, each of us researched a foundational project in the center’s history and created an archive in Omeka to organize and display our findings. Over the summer I worked to expand our efforts to include the broader range of projects using grant materials, oral histories, and internal communications to trace the development and growth of important projects. As a relative newcomer to the field, this process was particularly meaningful. This work culminated this fall in the release of the RRCHNM20 Collection which made these materials public and invited others to contribute. The RRCHNM20 Collection is an important step toward creating a unified narrative of CHNM’s role through recording and preserving the hidden processes and persons at each phase of CHNM’s history. In fact, a group of us used a portion of our time at the conference to mine the RRCHNM collection and create a visualization that represents some of the connections between projects and people across 20 years.  Furthermore, the conference events brought former and current employees together in a productive and meaningful dialogue about the past, present and future of work at DH centers like CHNM (I live-tweeted these experiences throughout the conference.)

Additional Fellowship Responsibilities and final thoughts:

The additional responsibilities of a second-year fellow include producing a podcast, serving as a mentor to first-year fellows and the operation of the Digital Support Space. It was interesting to be on the other side of the mentorship process this year. Last year, Ben Hurwitz, Spencer Roberts, and Amanda Morton served as mentors to the incoming fellows. They were each very helpful to us and I was excited to provide the same assistance for the new group. Across the semester I’ve made myself available to each of them for support, but my interaction during their rotation in the Education division was particularly significant. During that period I was able to provide direct support and work with each of them individually on a project. Not only do I feel that I got to know them better, but we had a number of useful conversations about the fellowship and the PhD program broadly. I also worked this semester with my mentee, Jordan, to research and produce episode 108 for the Digital Campus podcast. Finally, I also extended time and resources to individuals in Clio I, Clio 3, and Digital Storytelling classes through the Support Space.

Overall, has been a fast and busy semester but a successful one. I’ve learned a good deal about project management and collaboration through my experiences on the 100 Leaders in World History project and I’m pleased to have had the chance to work more closely in the Education division.

 

Reflections on the Fall Semester

During the fall semester, I was assigned to work in Public Projects, which has been a wonderful experience for me. Most of my time during the semester was spent working on Histories of the National Mall, including writing content, editing, and working to choose and distribute content throughout the social media platforms (Facebook, Tumblr) every week. I’ve felt like this has greatly enhanced my ability to think in terms of a public audience for history, as I tend to think of questions such as “will this topic fit with the date?”, “what type of interest would this gauge?”, and “how do I use the content to create more buzz for the site?” We were able to gain several new followers through social media during my time in Public Projects, which I think was both good for myself and the project.

Writing content for the site was also helpful, since it allowed me to think in ways of presenting concise but historically relevant and accurate information to the public. In the past, I have created exhibits, but working online where people have many options of clicking away from the content, it is important to consider how to catch and hold attention. I feel that working on this project has made me think in different and new ways, which I think strengthens me as a digital historian going forward.

One of the most fulfilling parts of my semester was the opportunity to mentor the new Digital History Fellows. Although Alyssa Toby Fahringer is my official mentee from the new cohort, I tried to assist Stephanie Seal and Jordan Bratt as much as possible, too. As a group, we assist each other in the Digital History Fellow space, asking for advice, bouncing off ideas, and also continuing the successful Digital History Support Space.

I also got to continue my work as a producer for the Digital Campus Podcast. With Alyssa, we were able to work on a couple of podcasts, including the back to campus edition and the live podcast at the 20th Anniversary Conference for the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. These podcasts provide an interesting and unique opportunity for the Digital History Fellows to get insight into the field from current experts, do our own research into what stories are important, as well as to plan how to present the content in an interesting way so that listeners will want to hear that episode.

Lastly, I had the great opportunity this semester to be a part of the 20th Anniversary Conference for the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. After last semester’s contribution to the creation of the website, a lot of time was spent this semester prepping more for the conference. As DH Fellows, we were able to attend sessions and serve as scribes to ensure the content of the the conference was available once the conference was finished. I also chose to livetweet the conference as well, which provided my own insight into what I experienced.

Overall, this has been a very productive and enlightening semester for me. I have been able to consider different realms of digital history, such as the public consumption of content, social media, working with new colleagues, and celebrating the history of CHNM while exploring the future of digital humanities.