A quick guide to using the hypothes.is LMS plugin

 Thanks to hypothes.is for announcing that the pilot program for using this tool with Blackboard is free due to Coronavirus cancelations and closures.

This is a very quick guide to using the hypothes.is plugin with Blackboard to annotate texts with your class. This enables all of your students to mark up a text in a private space without an additional login. With this tool students can write comments, provide links, and use images and videos to annotate a website, PDF, or document on Google Drive.

This first video will explain what hypothes.is is and go through the basic features of the tool. You may consider sharing this video with your students, as it demonstrates how to annotate a text using hypothes.is.

Click the play button for the hypothes.is basics video

Here is the (cut and paste-able) text of the assignment as I post it on Blackboard:

Each students needs to contribute a minimum of 5 annotations and 2 replies. Here are examples of the types of annotations that might be helpful for you and your classmates. You can certainly expand on this list and annotate in any way you find useful!

  1. A summary/paraphrase of specific parts of the article you found interesting 
  2. Definitions of terms used in the article (with links)
  3. References to people/places/things mentioned in the article (with links or images/videos)
  4. Opinions (respectfully, with evidence)
  5. Questions 
  6. Links to related materials or further evidence on the same subject 

Also, here is a blank copy of the PROBE rubric I use for “grading” participation. The students collaboratively define each category the second day of class, and self evaluate twice a term. The rubric governs all in-person and online participation, as is adapted from a version provide by Cristina Garcia in our Diversity & Inclusion Office. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1N4LYLwa2lSq9BizDaJDimOsWY83UMFqqQc1iL2KEpfY/edit?usp=sharing

This next video demonstrates how to add a hypothes.is link to your Blackboard site. Instructors and administrators have the privileges to add hypothes.is links to an LMS for sites with the pilot program installed.

Also, hypothes.is has added a gradebook feature, explained here on their website.


And here are the generic directions they have for adding the app in the course.


For those who wish to use the hypothes.is tool as a standalone application outside of your LMS, here is my walk through of how to create a private group to share with your class.

For the philosophy behind why I use hypothes.is and my pedogogical approach to social annotation, please watch my presentation from the iAnnotate conference:

Or read my book chapter from Digital Reading and Writing in Composition Studies


Please feel free to email me at alicastro [at] stevenson [ dot] edu or tweet @amandalicastro with questions! Good luck!

MLA 2018

“Hacking Grading”
Instructor feedback on writing can have an immense impact on students. Research on writing pedagogy demonstrates that students need and appreciate thoughtful feedback on their drafts in order to grow as writers. Ideally, we would be able to have one-on-one conferences with every student at every stage of writing every assignment. But due to heavy teaching loads, increasing class sizes, and limited office space/time, this is not possible for a vast majority of instructors. Therefore many – if not all – of us who teach writing intensive courses are constantly in search of grading hacks. Not only is grading student writing time consuming, it is often frustrating when the time spent seems to be ignored, misunderstood, or not internalized. These struggles are not in your head – a quick Compile search will show you hundreds of studies documenting that students have difficulty transferring the revisions suggested in written comments to future assignments. Furthermore, the traditional methods of writing in the margins using ink or electronic commenting features (for example Track Changes in Word or Suggesting mode in Google Docs) are not effective, or possible, for multimodal writing assignments including blog posts, timelines, videos, infographics, etc. After exploring a variety of approaches throughout my teaching career, I am sharing my grading hacks here as part of the 2018 MLA panel on “Hacking the Scholarly Workflow.”

The hack I describe will include pre-writing exercises and video feedback, but will focus primarily on the second phase. These tips will work for any assignment collected digitally, including Word documents, LMS posts, or media-rich compositions created in an online forum. After years of trying many platforms, I now exclusively teach using WordPress blogs. The multitude of reasons why is fodder for another post (see posts by the CUNY folks who converted me: Jim Groom, Joe Ugoretz, and Matt Gold), but can be summed up as a dedication to teaching students to learn tools that are useful and applicable outside of academia, and to have control over my own domains and data. Also, all of my assignments are to some degree multimodal, meaning they combine text-based writing with images, videos, hyperlinks, graphics, or other media. I actually wrote my dissertation and this article on the importance of teaching multimodal writing if you want to know more. One of the questions I receive most often about assigning digital compositions, is how I grade assignments that are multimodal and “turned in” on a blog. Here, I offer my response, and hope it will translate to a wide variety of writing projects.

Pre-writing exercises
Teaching students to compose in any form requires careful scaffolding. For major assignments I provide students with time to draft in class, using a variety of techniques from Pomodoro writing sprints, to design thinking brainstorming sessions, and of course lots of daily journaling. Almost all writing projects also go through peer review, organized differently for each assignment. Approaches include reverse outling, guided questions, or formal editing sessions with style sheets for upper level courses. For major – or “high-stakes” –  assignments, I serve as their peer reviewer in face-to-face conferences (my institution encourages us to cancel up to 3 class sessions to be replaced with conference time with students). Therefore, when it comes time for my feedback on final drafts they should have spent a good deal of time considering previous comments and re-writing. This allows me to focus on the top three elements to prioritize in future assignments. Yes, I really try to limit myself to discussing only three areas of revision to focus on for each student.

In order to provide personalized feedback on multimodal blog posts I use screen capture videos that allow me to talk through and visually highlight elements in a student’s work. The field of composition and rhetoric has explored the benefits of audio feedback across decades of scholarship:
http://comppile.org/wpa/bibliographies/Bib26/Audio_Response.pdf. You can see that some of the articles listed in the Compile Bibliography, compiled and annotated by Shannon Mrkich and Jeff Sommers, date back to 1958 when audio feedback was done via cassette recorders, so clearly this is not a new approach. In comparison to written feedback, audio feedback gives the students a chance to hear the voice of the instructor, adding clarity and a personal touch to the comments. It also eliminates the scary and often difficult to decipher “red ink” that has been scrutinized extensively in composition studies. You can see many of the more recent articles included in the Compile Bibliography explore screen capture or video feedback rather than solely audio feedback. The video element of the screen capture gives the extra dimension of the visual walk-through, so the student sees their post while hearing me describe the points where they excelled and the areas they need to work on.

Before recording, I read the paper carefully and make notes when I encounter lovely writing, brilliant insight, and careful reflection on the assignment topic, as well as moments of ambiguity, problematic logic, and mechanical errors. These notes are then prioritized and used as a rough transcript for my video feedback to avoid rambling or disjointed commentary. Each video begins by highlighting positive attributes of the student’s work, and then leads into explaining two or three areas of improvement with examples. I end the videos with their grade, which ensures every student must watch the video all the way through (the grade is not available to them anywhere else for a couple of days). I aim to keep videos under five minutes long, ideally hovering around the three minute mark. Keep in mind, I use this for undergraduate papers from 3 to 10 pages in length. I have not attempted the same for longer, more in-depth research papers at the graduate level. I do however know that several of my colleagues and several of the articles on this process show its efficacy for basic (or remedial) writers.

The image shows a sample ofstudent writing accompanied by a image of Maryland. A portion of writing is highlighted in blue.The image above shows screenshot from a sample video in which I am highlighting an area of a student’s paper while verbally explaining my advice.

This method also allows me to switch tabs on the browser during the recording in order to show the student additional resources, such as OWL at Purdue exercises, language from the assignment sheet, or specific areas of the rubric that correspond to my comments.

The image shows a screenshot from the site OWL at Purdue. The page provided instruction on using commas.The image above shows screenshot from a sample video in which I indicate which exercises on OWL the student would benefit from reviewing.

Connecting my observations to online tools they can use to improve their writing in the future provides students with further explanation and alternative language in case they have trouble understanding my comments.

A grid in various shades of blue labeled "ENG 151/152 Common Rubric" is displayed. The image above shows screenshot from a sample video in which I am describe how my comments correspond to the department rubric.

Referring directly to the assignment sheet and/or rubric demonstrates exactly where the assignment explains the required elements I am requesting be strengthened or improved, reminding the student to read closely and follow instructions carefully (this also eliminates the “I didn’t know we were suppose to do that…” response). As a instructor, constantly connecting my comments back to the learning objectives outlined on the rubric forces me to reflect on how clearly my assignments adhere to the goals set forth by our program.

In order to record and share these videos with students there are several options for free – or freemium – tools. As a Mac user, I rely on Quicktime to record videos. I also teach in a Mac lab, so I can use the same tool to instruct my students to make their own videos. It is important to consider which tools your student demographic will have access to when choosing your platform. For PC users, I recommend JING or SnagIt by TechSmith. There is also an Adobe option for those – like members of our film department – who teach this suite of products, and many LMS platforms include an audio feedback option (I hear Blackboard’s version is fairly user-friendly). For audio only options, most smartphones come preloaded with a free audio recorder, and Audacity is an open source tool that will do the trick.

Aside from considering which tool to use to record the videos, it is also essential to ensure that students can listen and save the videos on a variety of devices. Therefore, I save each video to a (carefully labeled) Dropbox folder using AssignmentTitle_LastName as the file name for each student. This keeps all of the videos organized on my computer, but also allows me to access them via my phone or any internet-enabled device. I use Dropbox because of the ease of link sharing across platforms. The only drawback is that you can quickly hit your storage limit if you teach multiple classes a term. This can be remedied by paying for extra storage, or by deleting old videos each year.  Alternatively, you can use any cloud storage service – such as Google Drive – or save the videos to your institution’s network if there is ample storage and link sharing capabilities enabled. Just make sure that each student can only access their own video. It would violate FERPA to share an entire folder of videos with the whole class. I find it best to share individual links via email (or your LMS) with a personalized note. I typically type out a form letter, and then customize when needed. Sharing the link in an email, rather than attaching the video as a file, is much more effective for getting around size limits and spam filters. But, it is a good idea to remind students to save the video to their personal computers for future reference.

I must thank my friend Andrew Lucchesi for first introducing me to this process back in graduate school when we were both balancing a heavy class load on top of working toward graduation. Andrew convinced me of the benefits the videos offer to students with disabilities, who may struggle to read handwritten comments or digital marginalia when using screen reading technology. If you have a student who is hard of hearing, I recommend either providing captions for the video, or writing out the transcript in the email you send. I’ve also found this to be a useful technique for instructors who have disabilities and need alternative methods of grading. In fact, several of my colleagues have adopted my method after hearing rave reviews from students. It helped one of the instructors to overcome difficulties in physically dealing with large piles of papers, and it aided another in cutting down on time when teaching a 5/5 load.

Student Reactions
I have noticed that providing video feedback has improved responses on my institutional course evaluations, as these specifically ask if the course meets the learning objectives. But perhaps more significantly, students constantly refer to the video feedback in both their anonymous course evaluations comments and in their final reflection letters. It is the overwhelming gratitude and enthusiasm from the students that solidified this “hack” as a regular part of my teaching practice. As evidence, here is a small selection of unsolicited comments from the anonymous evaluations voluntarily completed by my students in Fall 2017:

“For the first paper she sent us each an individualized feedback video going over the paper, which was nice for people like me who are too shy to ask for direct help. All of her feedback was always reasonable and attainable and I feel as if I have become a better reader and writer, solely thanks to her.”

“[…] the video of comments on my essays were very helpful. Most teachers just write notes and it may be hard to understand or just isn’t explained fully. The videos actually explained what should be fixed and how it can be fixed.”

“[…] the grading videos were the most helpful and engaging because it allowed me to see the whole process and how everything comes or should come together…”

“I really appreciate the videos that show us how to improve our writing!”

As an unintended benefit, I found out that students share my videos with the writing tutors in our Academic Link tutoring center. Several of these professional tutors have emailed me thanking me for the useful feedback that helps them tailor their writing sessions with my students. Between the positive responses from students, faculty, and the writing tutors over the last five years, I can say that my experience using video feedback does match the case-studies that explicate the advantages of similar pedagogical approaches.

Although this method will take some time to get accustomed to, it is well worth the benefit to students. I’m happy to answer questions via twitter @amandalicastro or via email.


Here are the materials for my presentation at DH 2017 in Montreal. Feel free to contact me for questions or feedback.



A Faculty Focus video produced by Stevenson University.


200-level literature course – http://stevensonenglish.org/eng28105-licastro16/syllabus/

100-level writing course – http://stevensonenglish.org/eng151-on1-licastro17/syllabus/

Assignment – http://stevensonenglish.org/eng151-on1-licastro17/2017/04/17/final-assignment/

Tools mentioned:



Storyboard THAT

CFP: Composition as Big Data

Computational analysis of big data has changed the way information is processed. Corporations analyze patterns in what people buy, how far they run, where they spend their time; they quantify habits to create more effective advertisements and cross-promotions. In academe, humanities scholars are using computational analysis to identify patterns in literary texts, historical documents, image archives, and sound, all of which has added to the body of knowledge in humanities theory and methodology. Meanwhile, many institutions and writing programs are adopting learning management systems that may digitally archive hundreds – if not thousands or tens of thousands – of student compositions from across levels and disciplines. What is our responsibility, and what is the potential, in harnessing big-data methods as composition researchers, teachers, and administrators?

Composition and rhetoric scholars have begun to adopt corpus-based computational analysis both to better understand the field as a whole – through the rhetoric of job postings (Lauer), professional journals (Mueller; Almjeld et al), and dissertation records (Miller; Gatta) – and to research student compositions, the teaching of which is the primary job of most composition and rhetoric scholars. Through data-driven studies of student entrance exams (Aull), citation practices (Jamieson and Moore Howard), revision practices (Moxley), and acknowledgment of counterarguments (Lancaster), scholars have found patterns that distinguish student writing from published academic writing, suggesting areas to target for instruction.

This edited collection will model and reflect on the research made possible by high-capacity data storage and computation, either alone or in conjunction with close reading and evaluation in context. Authors are invited to submit abstracts for chapters that focus on the rhetoric, methods, and findings of recent large-scale data studies of writing. We are especially interested in contributions that include replicable practices and/or detailed descriptions of method, with an eye toward graduate-level research, teaching, or administrative applications in the intersecting fields of digital humanities, linguistics, and composition.

The following list of topics and questions is not exhaustive, but suggestive, illustrating the range of issues to be taken up:

  • Data Capture and the Captivation of Data
    • When we say “big data” in composition what do we mean? What datasets are available, promising, or already producing insight?
    • What new questions do these datasets allow us to ask or answer? What are their limitations?
    • How has data gathered from large corpora of (student) writing changed the scholarship and practice of composition / rhetoric? How might such data do so in the future?
  • Responsible Research
    • Who is responsible for creating or curating datasets in composition? How might the answers change at different scales?
    • What are the ethical responsibilities of anyone storing, retrieving, or analyzing composition data – perhaps especially where students and their writing are concerned?
    • How, should researchers negotiate issues of consent and representation when recording or reporting on data? How is this affected by the scale or scope of the data?
  • Discourse and Discovery
    • How can computational tools aid in the qualitative coding of (student) writing? How do these practices relate to traditional coding methods?
    • What data-supported models of writing practices emerge from the study of digital corpora?
    • What does or can big data show about the nature of expertise and learning in the context of composing?
  • Pedagogical Practices
    • How can the field of composition / rhetoric use data to positively impact pedagogical or andragogical practices? For example, how can data-supported studies improve composition instruction in higher education?
    • What is the relationship between distant and close reading in regard to assessing student writing? Can and/or should distant reading practices be applied to assessment at the undergraduate level, and in what ways?
    • What role can analysis of big data play for student researchers in composition / rhetoric?
  • Supporting a Data-Supported Future
    • What standards or best practices are emerging for data archiving, aggregation, and interoperability?
    • How might those new to big-data approaches most usefully manage issues of scope or  documentation?
    • How can we best support new researchers, teachers, or administrators in developing comfort with big-data approaches and insights? What does a successful program of big-data training look like?

Abstracts of approximately 350 words should provide, in as much detail as possible, the focus and argument(s) for the proposed chapter. Abstracts and brief bios are due 1 August 2017 via Google Forms at http://bit.ly/comp-as-data. Questions can be directed to Amanda Licastro (amanda.licastro@gmail.com) or Ben Miller (benmiller314@gmail.com) with the subject line “Composition as Big Data.”

The Editors

Amanda Licastro is an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric at Stevenson University in Maryland. Amanda’s fields of research include digital humanities, composition and rhetoric, textual studies, and interactive technology and pedagogy. Recent publications include a “The Problem of Multimodality: What Data-Driven Research Can Tell Us About Online Writing Practices” in Communication Design Quarterly, a co-authored chapter on “Collaboration” in Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments, a webtext in the 20th anniversary edition of Kairos, “The Roots of an Academic Genealogy: Composing the Writing Studies Tree” with Ben Miller and Jill Belli, and her dissertation “Excavating ePortfolios: What Student-Driven Data Reveals about Multimodal Composition and Instruction,” which won the Calder Award for Digital Humanities. Amanda is on the Editorial Collective of The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, and is the co-founder of The Writing Studies Tree. You can follow Amanda on Twitter @amandalicastro.


Benjamin Miller is an Assistant Professor of Composition at the University of Pittsburgh, focusing on digital research and pedagogy. He is the lead developer of the Writing Studies Tree, a crowdsourced, open-access database of academic genealogies in Composition/Rhetoric and related fields, tracing connections among scholars and institutions along lines of mentorship, education, collaboration, and employment; he has written about the WST, with Amanda Licastro and Jill Belli, in Kairos 20.2 (2016). He is also the author of “Mapping the Methods of Composition/Rhetoric Dissertations: A ‘Landscape Plotted and Pieced,’ an article drawing on big data and data visualization techniques, published in CCC in 2014. A founding editor of the open access Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, Ben continues to be an active member of its editorial collective. He received a CCCC Chairs’ Memorial Scholarship in 2012, and a CCCC Emergent Research/er Award in 2017 for Distant Readings of Disciplinarity: Knowing and Doing in Composition/Rhetoric Dissertations. He has taught writing at Pitt, at Hunter College, CUNY, and at Columbia University. You can find Ben on Twitter at @benmiller314.

Teaching Empathy Through Virtual Reality


In Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep the U.N. secretary proclaims, “[m]ankind needs more empathy” (1968). The poignancy of Dick’s novel is its accurate expression of the social challenge of diminishing human empathy. The author offers empathy as the defining characteristic of humanity. As is often the case, science fiction foreshadows our future: longitudinal studies show decreasing rates of empathy in college students over the last three decades. If we believe that empathy is indeed a vital quality, then humanists are uniquely qualified to address this decline: extensive research suggests that empathy can be taught, specifically by reading fiction. Furthermore, preliminary trials indicate that virtual reality (VR) effectively evokes feelings of empathy in viewers. In both cases, the medium can provide the audience with access to situations outside of their everyday experience, offering a perspective into the lives of people unfamiliar to the reader/viewer. Take, for example, the work of documentary filmmaker Chris Milk that immerses the viewer in war torn villages in order to impact immigration policy (see “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine,” 2016) or the content of the New York Times VR application which addresses a wide variety of social justice issues from all over the world. However, as critics such at Janet Murray rightfully argue, the impact of VR is dependent on the execution, which is still in development stages: “[t]he technical adventurism and grubby glamour of working in emerging technologies can make it hard to figure out what is good or bad from what is just new” (“Not a Film and Not an Empathy Machine,” 2016). As the digital humanities has encountered with other emerging technologies – most notably data visualization techniques – these new forms need to be critiqued as they evolve (Drucker, 2012). Inviting students and educators to collaborate with industry professionals in the process of consuming, critiquing, and creating open access VR content creates the opportunity to design thoughtful immersive experiences that may address the decline in empathy in college age students. This presentation will explicate a study-in-progress devised to measure the pedagogical impact of VR content in combination with design thinking assignments used to combat desensitization and evoke empathy across the disciplines.

This research is supported with a case study of students in a series of linked courses at a small liberal arts college in Baltimore, MD. Students were exposed to VR content intended to increase their feelings of empathy for people who represent the “Other” in various ways, such as gender, race, ethnicity, and social class. This study was created through a cross-campus collaboration between faculty from the humanities, social sciences, and school of design alongside the theater director and librarians. Using empathy as the central question, each course integrated VR content and related readings into the curriculum. In each case, VR provided access to experiences not possible within the classroom space, for example an immersion into a refugee camp, a simulation of the human brain, and a documentary depicting gender bias across cultural contexts. The VR was scaffolded into each course in discipline-specific ways. For instance, the literature courses focused on readings that depict representations of virtual bodies in tandem with theory on posthumanism, particularly the work of Katherine Hayles and Donna Haraway. At the same time, the theater program produced The Nether by Jennifer Haley, which raises questions about the laws governing virtual spaces through depictions of pederasty and the murder of young children. Simultaneously, courses in psychology and human services integrated VR to discuss the impact of immersive content on social justice reform, and nursing courses looked at the application of VR for patient care and education. To varying degrees, this work was supplemented with readings on feminism, race theory, and disability studies in order to support discussions of “othering” with students. After analyzing the VR content in conjunction with the course materials, students were  asked to design a VR experience intended to evoke empathy in the context of a discipline-specific audience. Additionally, members of a local VR company contributed as guest speakers and offered internships for interested students. Surveys were distributed at the beginning and end of the semester which prompted students to define, discuss, and debate empathy. At the end of each course students were interviewed to identify which methods of engagement increased their empathy toward people (in some cases characters) they felt were unlike themselves in significant ways.

As a part of this submission the syllabi and assignments will be shared. Ideally, the speaker will bring a VR headset and gaming laptop so participants can experience and consider how this emerging technology can evoke empathy by providing access to geographical, cultural, political, and biological content unfamiliar to the viewer. The goal is to receive audience feedback on the first stage of this study in order to improve and refine the methods before executing the plan on a larger scale. This study is IRB approved and student consent will be obtained for any student work that is presented.

MLA Executive Council Nomination

As many of you know, nominations for the Modern Language Association Executive Council are anonymous, so I was honored to be asked to run as one of the graduate student candidates. The current council told me that my nomination was accepted based on my status as a graduate student, my experience as a part-time faculty member at a wide range of institutions, and because of my work in the digital humanities. Considering that feedback, I have composed an extended version of my MLA candidacy statement below to help voters make this very important decision:

Before starting my doctoral degree at the Graduate Center, CUNY, I taught in an adult literacy center in Baltimore, earned a master’s degree in English with a certificate in Teaching in the Community College in Chicago, and worked as an adjunct at three schools in Northeast Pennsylvania. I have taught in urban community colleges, large public universities, and rural liberal arts schools, all as a contingent faculty member. I began my PhD program after teaching for four years, and know what it is like to fight for course sections to make ends meet. I was fortunate to have mentors who provided professional development opportunities for me at each of those institutions, and for my colleagues who guided me toward the Graduate Center. Now, as a graduate student with an Instructional Technology Fellowship to support me, I have participated in and organized events exploring the issues surrounding contingent labor, especially in the fields of composition and rhetoric and digital humanities. I intend to focus on these issues if elected to the MLA Executive Council for the next four years.

My research agenda has developed from these experiences; I study the intersection of technology and writing through composition studies, digital humanities (DH), and textual scholarship with a focus on pedagogical practices. My investigation into the use of interactive technology in higher education leads me to consider how we can ethically integrate digital tools into our research and teaching, while providing access to educational resources and enhancing our ability to communicate and collaborate. This has led me to experiment with digital methods at every level of my work – including the creation, dissemination, and evaluation processes involved in my scholarship. You can read more about this work here: MediaCommons.

Recently the MLA increased efforts to pursue links between literary and composition studies and support work in DH. I see the connections between the computers and writing, DH, and literary studies communities as productive and generative. I believe an alliance between the MLA and CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication) would be particularly beneficial as we work toward labor equality and security. I have taken an active role in these ongoing conversations, and have participated in roundtables to address this at HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) and CCCC. I am also a part of the Writing Studies Tree team, which is a project I believe really exemplifies the potential of working in these intersecting fields.

As a woman who is the first person in her family to pursue a doctoral degree, I hope to advocate for equal pay and representation in higher education. This dedication stems from my work with the CUNY Pipeline Program, which seeks to diversity the professoriate by diversifying graduate education, and through my ad hoc efforts to highlight the scholarship of women in technology (see the all-female DH speaker series I co-organized for CUNY DHI). I am particularly interested in examining the standards and guidelines for those working under grant-funded and non-tenure track contracts. I have already joined forces with MLA’s new initiative Connected Academics in order to re-imagine doctoral education for both those seeking tenure-track positions as well as those interested in alternative-academic careers. Furthermore, I wish to continue the efforts of the MLA to envision the future of scholarly communication through open-access publishing and a critical look at evaluation practices across the academy. You can see my work on open-access publishing through my role as an editor and author for the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy and through my presentation on the topic at MLA.

I am happy to answer questions and have conversations as the voting period approaches in Fall 2015. I thank you for your time and consideration.

#MLA15 Presentation

Tales from a Silver Medalist: Publishing an Interactive, Collaborative Article in JITP

The following post contains the slides and transcript from my presentation at the Modern Language Association convention held in Vancouver in January 2015. This presentation was accepted as part of a panel on scholarly communication, here is the call:

What Does It Mean to Publish? New Forms of Scholarly Communication   

Combining the immediacy of a blog post with the rigor of a refereed journal, “middle state” publishing is gaining ground in the humanities. How does middle-state publishing — also known as “grey literature” — challenge our notions of what makes something “published”? Scholars wrestle with the import of this question for hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions, while librarians, archivists, and the MLA International Bibliography struggle to document and preserve emerging forms of scholarly communication. This session seeks papers that will engage with the question of what it means to publish. How might institutional repositories constitute a form of publication? How do new tools and methodologies suggest new categories for indexing and analysis? How do new categories of scholarly publication challenge and change how we keep the scholarly record? How do we archive emerging material?

[slideshare id=43176797&doc=mla15jitplicastro-150103183341-conversion-gate01]

After a brief introduction and series of thank yous that accompanied my first slide, here is the text that accompanied my visuals:

First, a little about the journal in general. The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (JITP) is open access and entirely online, built on a customized site on the CUNY Academic Commons – which may be a familiar form to many of you since it is the same platform as the MLA Commons. JITP was founded at the Graduate Center, CUNY as a potential space to showcase the work of doctoral students in the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Certificate Program, and as a student in that program I was invited to be a member of the editorial collective before the first issue launched. The conversations that we, the editorial collective, have had over the past three years have challenged and expanded my conception of scholarly production. Theses issues range from philosophical and ethical, to practical and structural: for example, we grapple with questions of copyright, permission, archiving, and indexing, but also issues concerning what types of media to accept, how to stipulate “article length” in new media submissions, what citation style to maintain, and how to mentor authors whose submissions show potential but don’t quiet meet our criteria. As a new journal in the relatively new world of open access publishing, many of these questions have very few or no examples to provide precedence. The journals we do look to include Kairos, whose editor Cheryl Ball as been very generous in her mentorship.

JITP is working to remix the scholarly journal in a myriad of ways, concentrating on enacting a publication model in which both the form and process adapt to meet new modes of composition. The image here is the JITP mission statement – itself an evolving text – and you can see here, as in our title and twitter handle, our emphasis is on pedagogy. Focusing on a transparent and collaborative peer-review process, this presentation will chronicle the production of the article “Digital Literary Pedagogy” as an example of how editors of online academic journals can work with contributors to expand the definition of publication in innovative ways.

Let’s start with the way our Editorial Collective works. We maintain a balance of students, faculty members, and staff (including librarians, deans, and administrators). We also strive to have two members edit each issue, with one student and one full-time faculty or alt-ac member paired together. This isn’t as easy as it seems considering many of our students have landed excellent jobs across higher education. Which is wonderful! However, this goal remains central to our mission because it is through these relationships that we model the mentorship we hope to extend to our authors.

Screenshot 2015-01-16 10.52.38

As you can see from this graphic, authors are brought into our process as fully as can be expected considering the many layers of labor that occur behind the scenes. Each submission goes through a minimum of three stages of review – all of which are as transparent and open as possible – starting with a double “not-blind” review. The authors receive letters from their reviewers that suggest changes, and then many are assigned to a specific collective member that works with the author to enact those revisions. This is followed by copy-editing and style and structure reviews, which is a subject for another talk. This talk is about a project inspired by the relationship between authors and editors. Roger Whitson, an assistant professor of English at Washington State University, (coincidentally presenting at this same time in another session) wrote to JITP asking if we would like to collaborate with him on a semester-long undergraduate course he was teaching on technologies of reading in the nineteenth century. Roger’s original pitch was grandiose but exciting, and really appealed to our desire to be innovative in both form and process. Along with Kimon Kerimidas, Assistant Professor and Director of the Digital Media Lab at the Bard Graduate Center, I volunteered to be a part of this experiment.

Screenshot 2015-01-16 12.46.45

The timeline you see here is actually the active navigation for the resulting webtext – and will help me provide a narrative for this presentation. You can go to the live site on your own to see this in action. In the first week of class Roger introduced the assignment: the students were to create a collaborative digital project based on the course content as a mock submission to our journal. Then Kimon and I used Google Hangout to speak with the class about the basics of academic publishing, digital scholarship, and JITP. The class then went to work reading, writing, and building webtexts to showcase their work. At the end of the term Roger shared the student’s projects with us (they are publicly available on the course website), and Kimon and I critiqued them as if we were reviewing them for our journal. The students then presented their projects to us live over Google Hangout, and we then explained our feedback to the class in response. Meanwhile Roger, Kimon, and I documented this entire process in a co-authored text done via Google Docs. Although these are essential three single authored sections reflecting our individual experience and expertise, you can see how significantly we influenced each other’s writing through the comments and revision history on our Google Doc drafts – all of which are available as part of the final product. The conglomeration of these elements – the course site, videos, student projects, drafts, and article text – was reviewed by the issue editors and members of the JITP review board in the same way all other submissions are treated.

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Subsequent to publication, “Digital Literary Pedagogy” was nominated for a Digital Humanities (DH) Award. The nominations and votes are all crowdsourced through social media – meaning anyone can nominate a submission and anyone can vote, but it is anonymous. I do not know who nominated or voted for our article.

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To give you some perspective, in 2012 there were three winners in the category our article was nominated for – which is “Best DH blog post or short publication.” You can see that even in the category title there is ambiguity in the amalgamation of form that for me represents the shift in scholarly production that is happening in the digital humanities. All three of the 2012 winners were very innovate in their form – continuously evolving, interactive, public sites of scholarship. As you can see in the example I provide here, Will Self and his collaborators created an interactive network visualization as the navigation for this webtext, which also includes social media integration and other interesting features that explore the affordances of the digital space.

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In 2013, the year we were nominated, there were far more texts featured on the DH Awards site, and the winners represent a much very different view of digital humanities production. Almost all of these do meet the requirement of being short – they are either blog posts or brief articles in journals, and as is necessitated by the process of the choosing a winner – they are all accessible online. Also, all but two include some kind of multimedia, and some are very mutli-modal such as the “Songs of the Victorians” project which incorporates images, sound, and text in novel ways . However, the winner is a 43 page pdf of a book chapter. It is not interactive or mutlimodal in any way. That isn’t to discount the smart, engaging content, which is well-researched and written. But I do question what its inclusion and eventually winning says about the state of the digital humanities.

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And this brings me to the crux of this presentation. In my research I have found convincing scholarship calling for a revolution in academic publishing dating back to 1996, with a huge spike in the early 2000’s when the “crisis” seemed to peak under economic pressures just as the blogosphere gained momentum. However, despite the many grant-funded investigations that have reached the same conclusions regarding the unsustainable trajectory of scholarly monographs in both book and journal form – we still return to these forms as our primary measure of evaluation in the humanities. Why? Because of the three points made by Risam:

Three principle differences between digital and print scholarship in the humanities require a radical revision to how we review and assess scholarly production and to how scholarly work accrues value: digital scholarship is often collaborative, digital scholarship is rarely finished, and digital scholarship is frequently “public.” (“Rethinking Peer Review in the Age of Digital Humanities,” Roopika Risam.)

It is difficult to evaluate scholarship that is collaborative, public, and perpetually in beta. But I want to take this one step further. What can we, as academics producing digital work, offer that the consumer-driven world of publishing, technology, and new media aren’t? It is difficult to compete with the sleek, user-friendly products made by tech conglomerates – but what they aren’t offering is transparency.

And this brings me back to our article. Roger, Kimon, and I did not include the videos and drafts just for the sake of adding technology. Our intention was to show our process so that other instructors could learn from this experience. This goal extends across the journal – which is particularly evident in our short-form sections – Teaching Fails, Assignments, Tool Tips, and Reviews. These sections are meant to be instructive, show process, and focus on pedagogy. I believe this is what we, in higher education, should aim for in the future of scholarly communication, because now we can achieve this goal at a deeper level. We can make our work open access and open source, allowing audiences to reuse, remix, and rebuild our work for educational purposes. We can engage with process at a meta-level, through text and code.

Just this week, Sarah Thomas, vice president for the Harvard Library, was quoted in Harvard Magazine as saying, “We are still in the Wild West of sorting out how we will communicate our academic developments effectively.”

The digital disruption of the print world is transforming both commercial publishing and scholarly books and journals—and is changing structures for teaching, research, and hiring and promoting professors. Obviously, Roger Whitson assigned that project to his students because he believed it to be a valuable scholarly engagement that would help his students build the skills they need to succeed both within and without the academy. Many of us engage in similar practices in our classrooms everyday. But what are we preparing students for if two decades of discussion, research, and calls for change have yielded such incremental impact on our own methods of reward in the academy? What can we do to make these forms of scholarly production count? Well, as many others have called for – notably John Unsworth – we can pledge to only publish in open access journals, we can work on publications like JITP and Kairos, we can negotiate within our institutions to change hiring and tenure practices, and we can continue to teach multimodal, collaborative composition across the disciplines. But we also need to start talking about all of the issues I mentioned at the start of this presentation. The nitty-gritty details of digital production that need to be addressed and adopted on a large-scale in order to ensure the reliability and longevity of our work.

Screenshot 2014-12-28 14.48.41So let’s chat! Tweet, post comments, email, post on list-servs or facebook! Let’s continue this conversation, and work together to find sustainable solutions.

I want to thank everyone who attended our panel and for the provocative conversation that occurred in the question and answer portion. I’d also like the thank Dawn Childress for her excellent organization and moderation, and Harriet Green and Barbara Chen for their presentations in this panel.

Overall, this was a truly wonderful conference. Vancouver is simply breathtaking, and the location of the convention center allowed us to take full advantage of the natural splendor of British Columbia.

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Also, I really feel that the panels I attended were some of the most inspiring of all five MLA conventions I have attended. I saw a great attention to pedagogy and innovation that excites me and holds tremendous potential for the future. I am also thankful for my friends and mentors who took the time to offer guidance and support at #MLA15. You know who you are, and it means the world to me.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!