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Kevin at MERLOT

Monday, August 11, 2008 7:45 am

The eighth annual MERLOT Conference, held in Minneapolis, had much to offer. Under the banner of “Still Blazing the Trail and Meeting New Challenges in the Digital Age”, there were an impressive number of sessions (from 15 minute mini-sessions up to 2 hour workshops) shared among several different conference tracks. The library track, ‘Reinventing Libraries in the Digital Age’, unfortunately, seemed rather lightly represented.

Sessions ran the gamut: from the opening plenary’s ‘stuck on an escalator‘ video to Saturday evening’s consideration of learning and cognitive neuroscience. In between, I attended many other interesting sessions: the challenges of repository creation in the context of sharing educational resources; an analysis of effective online instruction and hybrid course development; the use and importance of self-assessment in asynchronous class discussions; the integration of social network environments within the campus learning context; and an examination of accessibility and deprecated development techniques in the context of online education.

Overall, it was a informative conference, where the varying perspectives on and degress of hybridity indicated the value and complexities of the changing landscape and its new opportunities.

Tufte on Analytical Design

Friday, March 28, 2008 10:51 am

Yesterday, I attended Edward Tufte‘s Presenting Data and Information, a one-day course on information design and display, in Raleigh. Tufte, a professor emeritus at Yale University, is a master of data presentation and information display; his books – Beautiful evidence, Visual explanations, Envisioning information, and The Visual display of quantitative information – are impressive and instructive. He is also known for his critique of PowerPoint.

The course, which was very heavily attended (overflow parking in an adjacent field was insufficient), ranged from an examination of Charles Joseph Minard‘s depiction of Napoleon’s march to Moscow to an assessment of the iPhone. Tufte discussed:

  • high resolution versus low resolution display
  • the centrality of content
  • the human eye-brain system and the poverty of information
  • cognition and information density
  • small multiples
  • image annotation and numerical language
  • how design mimics bureaucracy
  • flat interfaces
  • the popularization of personalization
  • and many other things

In his discussion of interface design, he focused on several main points. He lamented the prominent inclusion of what he called ‘computer administration functions’, that is, instructions on how to interact with the interface. He sees the necessity of these instructions as a failure of design; the goal should be to eliminate all of the administration functions and fill the screen with content. Of course, too much content often feels cluttered, crowded, and chaotic; clutter and confusion, he replied, exist not because of complexity of information but, again, because of failures of design. According to Tufte, the answer is not to remove or otherwise attenuate the information; the answer is to redesign, annotating and labeling, enhancing the multivariate and removing the redundant.

Another key point in his discussion of interfaces was the importance of flattening hierarchies. Hierarchies are too bureaucratic, inefficient, and influence a poverty of information throughout a site or organization. Navigating by hierarchies is equally inefficient. He recommended creating a flat interface, providing full choices and full content, and not underestimating users’ cognitive abilities.

It was an exceptional course, a compact yet rigorous sketch of a critical topic.

DigCCurr : Day 2

Friday, April 20, 2007 8:29 pm

Some of today’s sessions included:

  • Views from National Libraries and Archives. It is apparent that answers to the important questions of digital curation are still materializing. Brief session notes are available.
  • Building Capabilities for Digital Curation Repositories. There was not an empty seat in this session on defining capabilities, capabilities which included standard concerns like server space and backup migration as well as advanced concerns like organizational sustainability. It was mentioned several times that organizations need to transition from a stage of the digital “project”, the ad hoc level, to a platform of the digital “program”, where formalized and dedicated roles and responsibilities, workflows and policies ensure greater sustainability.
  • Digital Curation in Practice. Abstracts from this session on collection development are available in the DigCCurr wiki.

Well-organized and important, DigCCurr 2007 provided a solid foundation in understanding the serious work that’s being done and that needs to be done to support and secure our digital world.

DigCCurr : Day 1

Thursday, April 19, 2007 7:41 pm

A long day of talking about digital production, preservation, maintenance, and sustainability. Some of the day’s sessions included:

  • What do digital curators do and what do they need to know? Abstracts and brief notes on the research perspectives of this question are available in the DigCCurr wiki.
  • Identifying digital curation services and functional requirements. The user services section, during a discussion of the use of social software features in digital collections, emphasized the necessity of having guidelines in place for managing the comments, for answering the questions and handling the requests that users submit. Also, during a discussion of gathering comprehensive statistics and assessing how users interact with a site, Google Analytics was lauded.
  • Mechanisms for influencing data curation practices. The section on conceptual frameworks for repository architecture demonstrated models of database and XML structures and considered methods for merging varying sustainability concerns, including technological, organizational, and economic concerns.

DigCCurr : Welcome

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 9:15 pm

Kevin here, in Chapel Hill for the next couple of days at DigCCurr 2007, an international symposium on digital curation.

On the bus ride to tonight’s reception at Wilson Library, I spoke briefly with a librarian from the University of Kansas who described a freshman honors tutorial she teaches. Unrelated to digital curation, the course, which examines the nature of information as information ecologies, pursues the (re)invigoration and expansion of our understanding of “information”, moving it outside the library’s range of scholarly information to encompass genetic material, cultural memory, and questions of history, etc. and supplementing it with concepts from biological ecologies, such as diversity and coevolution. She also mentioned that she uses contract grading, where each student accepts a grade letter contract and the work that the specific contract requires.


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