One Perspective on The Digital Scholarship Institute
Carmel Levitan, Assistant Professor, Cognitive Science,originally applied to last summer’s Digital Scholarship Institute because she wanted to explore how new academic technologies could help her create data collection platforms that would enhance her research efforts. Levitan had been impressed by the resources and expertise provided by the CDLR, so she suspected the team could help her sort through the mass of apps and software available today to hone in on the just tools she needed. “It's so much more efficient to have people who have already tried the various options show us the cream of the crop solutions -- and teach us how to use them. In truth, I could definitely have explored things on my own, but it would have taken me a lot longer,” she says. Levitan’s proposal “got the nod,” not simply because it was a thoughtful and timely concept but because her interests intersected with others who would be attending the DSI. According to Marsha Schnirring, Associate Vice-President for Scholarship Technology, one goal of each institute is to bring together faculty from different disciplines that might benefit from some of the same core technologies. That way each session might be structured around specific tools could focus on common themes. The idea is to create interdepartmental synergy. Levitan thinks the August 2010 DSI achieved that end – and then some. “The Institute dramatically exceeded my expectations. I already knew that the CDLR was a great resource, and I expected lots of technical help and ideas. But I didn't expect the amazing interactions with other faculty (though I should have, in retrospect)! I got so many ideas, and actually many had nothing to do with technology -- it was the stimulation of getting us all together that led to lots of great inspiration,” she says. Not only was she able to gather her colleagues thoughts about effective use of various digital technologies in the classroom, but Levitan says, she also heard “cautionary tales” about approaches that hadn't worked which she found just as important. For Levitan, highlights of the weeklong conference included talks by T. Mills Kelly, Associate Director of the Center of History and New Media at George Mason University and by Gardner Campbell, Director, Academy for Teaching and Learning, Baylor University. She also appreciated the chance to “go deep” into specific subjects in breakout groups. One application that struck her as particularly useful was Zotero. Zotero is a software that helps researchers collect, cite, manage and share data from websites. The elegant program formats and stores citations automatically, instantly builds bibliographies and allows users to compile a collection of mixed media from books to pdfs to “objects.” It can be set to “sense” what the researcher is reading and automatically save reference data for those web pages. Zotero’s advanced search options help users uncover a broad range of resources, including other experts or potential collaborators. The open source program is a production of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and is funded by the United States Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Says Levitan, “Marsha didn't just show us how to use Zotero. A group of us discussed lots of ways that it could be used in the classroom. This exchange of ideas is something that just wouldn't have occurred without the focused time in the institute.” Dr. Levitan is gradually introducing her students to Zotero. Next fall she plans using the program in a whole unit around thinking about and collecting sources when writing a literature review, and Schnirring has already spent a day teaching the program to her whole class. “I did have a Zotero day and I know the students appreciated it. One came to me last week and mentioned that ‘it was the greatest thing ever’ when he was writing final papers for his classes.” Although the research platform Levitan originally “pitched” to the institute is still under construction, Levitan predicts it will definitely help it to enhance student experience in years to come. Most important of all, the new capabilities have broadened Levitan's perspective about the potential for using new academic technologies in her daily work. "I’ve been inspired to think more about web-based assignments, so that students can better engage with the world outsideof Oxy and become part of a larger conversation about ideas," she said.
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