Scribd, the Collaborative Classroom, and the Paperless Blake Class
Like Kate Singer, I too have been thinking about the rise of the Digital Humanities at MLA 2011. I agree, largely, that making should be a hallmark of identifying as a digital humanist but – like Kate – I wonder if making is limited to coding. Building or making may refer to the construction of scholarly and student communities. Matt Kirschenbaum in “What is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in English Departments?” makes the following claim:
Whatever else it might be then, the digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed, a scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit than we are generally accustomed to, a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend upon networks of people and that live an active 24/7 life online. Isn’t that something you want in your English Department?
One way I try to engage in the collaborative infrastructure that Kirschenbaum imagines here is by publishing my syllabi on Scribd. Scribd is a website that allows you to upload, share, and embed .pdf files. Here is a copy of my syllabus:
Scribd reformats your documents to allow them to be read on smartphones and tablets like the iPad, and any document type may be uploaded (.doc, .docx, .pdf, .ppx (for PowerPoint), xml, OpenOffice). Readers can, furthermore, share whatever documents they find on Scribd by “readcasting” them. Readcasting generates Facebook updates and Tweets with links to the document being read. Readcasting can, for example, be a useful way to have students engage in peer review and collaborative research.
Of course, copyright does become a problem with Scribd. Users have in the past violated copyright by placing protected documents on the server. However, I do feel that Scribd opens up some really interesting possibilities – especially for classrooms that wish to do away with paper.
I say this in response to a recent post on the NASSR listserv by Adam Komisaruk:
I’m slated to teach a graduate “readings” course in Blake this summer, and book orders are due soon. As I contemplate and reject several alternatives (the Dover facsimiles are too sporadic, the Princeton facsimiles are too expensive, the Erdman/Bloom lacks illustrations, etc.), I’m wondering about the viability of “going paperless.” I’ve already requested a fully wired classroom–i.e., with individual iMac terminals, overhead projection, and a high-speed Internet connection–so, assuming my students have similar equipment at home, I could conceivably use the Blake Archive and eE as my texts.
The majority of respondents mentioned using the Johnson/Grant Norton edition in conjunction with The Blake Archive. While I largely agree that this is a great way to go (I’m currently using the Johnson/Grant edition in my Blake class), I feel that the current generation of students is too savvy with the internet and social media to passively accept the edition we order in the bookstore. For example, I ordered the Johnson/Grant edition, but I know that many of my students use the free Erdman edition of Blake on the Blake Digital Text Project, supplementing it with the Archive and tagging websites and .pdfs using Diigo or A.nnotate. I initially resisted this development in my class but inspired by Komisaruk’s comment, an article by Leeann Hunter, and a revealing expose on the textbook industry by Anya Kamentz, I’ve decided to encourage the digital revolution percolating in my students.
Instead of assigning individual papers, I maintain a WordPress site called William Blake and Media as a hub for my collaborative classroom. On the site, you can find my Scribd syllabus, a description of the first and second projects, a group blog maintained by my students, and a Twitter feed. I use these, in conjunction with papers distributed by Scribd, as a way to reduce (if not currently eliminate) paper in my Blake class. Check out the site and give me some suggestions.