Building Communities

Posted by on Feb 24, 2015 in Blog, Conferences, Projects

[Submitted by Alex Christie]


Last month, I had the chance to participate in INKE’s “Sustaining Partnerships to Transform Scholarly Production” conference in Whistler, BC. In its second year, this conference holds a special place for me, since it’s the one time I get to see the diverse people within INKE who collaborate digitally throughout the rest of the year. The pleasure of catching up with colleagues from near and far was equally matched by the diversity and forward-looking ideas shared during our jam-packed conference schedule. This group really knows how to come together both as a collaborative and an intellectual community, sharing ideas in the spirit of forward momentum that can only be achieved through a diversity of group-minded creative endeavors. With this spirit of our gathering in mind, Alyssa Arbuckle and I co-presented our paper “Intersections Between Social Knowledge Creation and Critical Making.” In our lightning talk, we argued that the production of scholarly platforms functions as a critical making activity, where researchers, publishers, librarians, and others can work to embed the intellectual values of open and social knowledge exchange into the online platforms they produce. In essence, we argued that the testing of theoretical concepts and ideas can and should figure into the collaborative production of digital scholarly platforms, making scholarly production a venue for bringing cultural and theoretical models to the real-world experience of online users.

I had the chance to present a real-world example of the critical process Alyssa and I outlined during the Digital Demonstrations portion of the gathering, where I demonstrated Pedagogy Toolkit. Pedagogy Toolkit is an open source repository of digital teaching materials that I am building with microgrant funding from the ACH at . Among other resources, the Toolkit hosts community-generated guides for teaching with digital humanities tools. This means that classroom implementations of digital humanities tools can function as feedback for the tool developers, while key features produced by the development team can inspire creative applications of a given tool in the classroom. What’s more, experienced digital pedagogues can test and share their digital activities through the Toolkit site, where those new to digital pedagogy can easily access those activities and integrate them into their own classes. This is all by design, since the Pedagogy Toolkit project is deliberately built with the critical concepts of cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional sharing and collaboration in mind. As such, it attempts to implement the critical production process Alyssa and I advocate in our paper. In addition to helping theorize the intersections between digital humanities tool development and pedagogy, my project explores web design and repository building strategies that make those connections happen in the real world. For this reason, I was particularly excited to see developer-led presentations of Voyant and NewRadial at the gathering, in addition to hearing Alix Shield discuss her research applications for JuxtaCommons.

At the gathering, I also revealed an upcoming addition to Pedagogy Toolkit: an online syllabus builder that will let anyone rapidly template a draft digital humanities and/or composition syllabus (produced through the critical synthesis of contributions from a range of digital pedagogues in various fields). The syllabus builder will be launching as a beta soon. For me, this online tool isn’t (just) powered by the web code I’m writing, but also by the intellectual contributions of a wide and diverse online community. This feature of the Toolkit project not only seeks to build communities in and around digital pedagogy, but also demonstrate how and where those communities contribute raw material for building the project out in new directions. This self-propelling process of production in many ways reflects my takeaway of the Whistler gathering as a whole: in building community, we build the intellectual crosswalks our future work will traverse.

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