The Worldwide MOOC

MOOCs are perhaps the hottest topic both in the DH community and throughout the education system. In fact, it has been said that MOOCs and the study of them are changing so rapidly, there is something new being published about them nearly every day. The Chronicle of Higher Education is closely following the trend, and just yesterday printed an article and flow chart of the Major Players in the MOOC Universe.

Following the discussion panel titled “MOOCs in Higher Education: education for everyone?” held today at UMD, it is clear there are still many questions that need to be answered, not just for today’s audience, but across the MOOC universe.  Here are the ones Susie and I devised for class discussion.


• Where is the money coming from? How much is money motivating educational reform and encouraging them to enter into the MOOC sphere?
-UMD did not pay anything to join Coursera
-Coursera is free to students
-however, it is a for-profit institution
• How much does “marketing” play a role in MOOCs? How does this compare to tuition-based education?

• What are issues with public vs. private institutions? How does this tie into claims about elitism vs. open access?
• Even though it’s open to the masses, are MOOCs from schools such as Harvard, MIT, & UPenn giving you an elite/Ivy education?
• How could open access education help students who otherwise might not have been admitted to a four-year college, or be able to afford it?
-MOOCs similar to open admission at CUNY?
-stepping stone to a better education prior to attending a 4 yr university?
-access to elite institutions based on finances and admissions?

Purpose & Benefits
• What can you “do” with a MOOC? You can’t get a degree, ultimately, so what purpose do they serve?
-MOOCs supplement education
-thus far are not able to obtain more than a certificate
-MOOCs are not a replacement for traditional education
• Which types of classes work best in the MOOC format?
-subjects—some more effective in a MOOC format than others?
-which students benefit most from a MOOC format?

• How do MOOCs differ from a traditional campus-based education? What are the pros and cons?
• What is lost between the online platform & the traditional campus environment?
-proven that face-to-face interaction is important, beneficial & sought out
-meet ups between students in MOOCs
• How would you define our 668k class? Is it an online course? Hybrid course?
• How does evaluation change in an online/MOOC platform? Is peer review as effective? How do roles in the classroom shift when instructor/student ratios change so drastically?
-is peer review effective?
-instructor/student ratio
• How does online education interact with journalism, theatre, publishing and other fields of study?

Trendiness & Bureaucracy
• Is this just a “trend” and what role does college administration play in the MOOC movement?
• How are “disruption” and “innovation” helpful in reevaluating traditional structures?

Immigrants vs. Natives
• How will instructors have to adjust to digital teaching?
• What pressure is there to become a “digital immigrant?” Do you think this is a real problem?
• Will “digital natives” prefer MOOCs to traditional teaching in the future?

Efficacy & Retention
• Is attrition a bad thing? How does this affect a community of learners?
• Retention of students
-losing nearly 90% of initial registers
-quality of course/production value

Sample MOOC

A DH Round-up. Yeehaw!

I will admit it, none of these things has anything to do with each other, except for the fact that they are all things we have discussed in class and I found interesting enough to want to share because I thought you all might enjoy them.

QR Codes

As I said in my posting when we created a QR code, mine was in a rather prominent position–right out there on the poster for the Portrait Gallery along 7th Street at Gallery Place.  I thought my intellectual vandalism would surely be removed by now, but as I work nearby, I wandered by just to check if it was still there.  And it was!  This is when I really regretted not having registered my QR code just to see how many people have checked it out in the ensuing weeks since I taped it up there on a cold, rainy day.  Since then, the sun has come out & spring breakers have descended on DC like the 17-year cicadas that are about to take over in a few weeks.  Surely somebody has been curious enough to scan it.

Interactive Books

Is it a book?  Is it an app?  Is it a film?  Well, it’s all three.  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore was the winner of the Best Short Film of 2011 at the 84th Academy Awards.  But it was simultaneously released as an iPad app that was a book.  But wait, there’s also an actual book.  So which is it?  There’s no simple answer really, other than that’s it’s all three.  All I can tell you is, it’s worth checking out.  You’ll be amazed at the ways the reader/viewer/iPad user becomes part of the book/film/app.


Talk about making your mark on the world and making Google Maps go crazy!  An Australian couple recently saw the Google Street View Car about to drive by and decided they wanted to make mapping history.  What better way than to simulate sex on the hood of the car while chugging a Corona?  Now when you check out Duke’s Highway, you’ll also get the sight of this “inventive” couple.

The Masked Storyteller

Twine and Bklyn Trash King became my first foray into interactive and hypertext fiction.  Like Kathryn, I had heard of Patchwork Girl, but have not read it.  However, I did hear about it’s quirks and kinks since it is a CD-rom.  Needless to say, I had higher hopes with the stories on Twine since it is internet-based.

I initially set out to read Hunt for the Gay Planet, but just a few sentences told me it wasn’t my kind of story, so it was onto Bklyn Trash King.  At first, I thought something was wrong with my version, or this was just a VERY short story, when I kept hitting the “refresh page” link and got the same page of text over and over again.  Clearly, creator Ben Esposito knows it is easy to trigger the average computer user’s frustration, because I was willing to keep clicking this link until something happened.  And it did.  I was rewarded for my need to make the link work via incessant clicking and taken to the next page of the story.  I had to chuckle at Esposito’s cleverness at having the same page appear for both the narrator and the reader, thereby effectively putting the reader in the role of second person narrator.

What worked well was the continued use of tricks like this.  Esposito included links to outside sources/websites to further place us in his story and give it some validity.  One was a genuine news story about raccoons becoming pests in Brooklyn–the plot of Bklyn Trash King–which acted as a rather long footnote.  I actually took the time to make sure the article wasn’t just Esposito going the extra mile and making a mock news story.

Using the tried and true method of the choose-your-own-adventure tale, Esposito nearly lost me, but alas, it was another of his tricks.  For the first few “pages,” no matter which link I clicked, at the end I was rerouted back to the initial page where you were given options.  I then had no choice but to click the additional options.  Finally, I was taken back to a page where a third option that wasn’t there before has appeared.  Curiosity piqued.

At this juncture, the story truly becomes choose-your-own-adventure.  You are no longer taken back to the starting point with two choices, but are taken along a new path.  Of course, I had to know what happened in the other story I did not choose, so I started from the beginning again.  And here I was disappointed.  It was like a rom-com where you find out Gwyneth Paltrow’s fate is to be with this ONE guy, no matter which course her life takes.  I would have preferred an original ending for each course Bklyn Trash King took.

I’m sure creating these stories takes a lot of time and effort, but a little more attention could have been paid to minor details like spelling and grammar.  Those things immediately take me right out of a story.  Also, the deal between the narrator–you–and the Raccoon King to kiss the butts of three raccoons, plus his, just for a retweet seemed quite juvenile.

Overall, I liked the way the story worked and am curious to read more of the stories on Twine.  I think it will definitely give me some ideas on how I want to pursue my own Twine story next week.


Mapping the Humanities with Digital Humanities


When I first moved to DC at the beginning of 2012 to begin graduate school, I was very excited to learn almost all the museums are free.  This was a huge change from New York City–where I moved from–where entry to museums could be upwards of the “suggested” amount of $20.  Even better, the closest one to me is actually two-in-one and is only a quick 7 block walk from my apartment. The National Portrait Gallery and The American Art Museum are housed in the same building, which is easily accessible from the red, yellow, and green lines at Gallery Place.

Portrait Gallery 1

So, on a cold winter’s day, I took my first trip to the galleries.  I was only able to spend about an hour there the first time I went, but it was ok because it hadn’t cost me a thing!  The next time I returned, my parents were visiting during the July heatwave.  This time, it was a welcome reprieve from the sweltering sun.  In September, friends and I dipped in to kill time before a movie at Gallery Place on a rainy day.  On each occasion, there was something new to see and I didn’t feel pressured to see everything in one go knowing I could make a quick walk down there at any time.

Preamble to the Constitution written on license plates from all 50 states.

Preamble to the Constitution written on license plates from all 50 states.

When I started work at the new J. Crew around the corner from the Portrait and American Art Galleries in July, it became the ideal place to do lunch.  My coworkers and I would grab sandwiches and rest our weary feet and thaw out from the AC constantly blasting in the store on the gallery’s steep stairs.  This proved to be a popular spot for those on lunch around Gallery Place.  It is also a popular bathroom for the local pigeons, so you have to be careful where you sit.  When the weather got cold, the gallery’s gorgeous atrium became the place to lunch.  With its ornate lattice ceiling, indoor fountains, and fauna, it made for a tropical getaway from the winter.

Indoor atrium connecting the two museums.

Indoor atrium connecting the two museums.

"Mind if I use the bathroom & try to steal your food?"  A ubiquitous gallery pigeon.

“Mind if I use the bathroom & try to steal your food?” A ubiquitous gallery pigeon.

But perhaps the reason the Portrait Gallery is most significant to me is it was where my boyfriend and I sat talking on the steps for an hour after our first date.  We had had dinner and drinks and were at a loss for what to do next, but it was a beautiful September evening, so we decided to take a seat and get to know each other more.  At the end, he asked me for a second date.

Great place for lunch and dates!

Great place for lunch and dates!


Needless to say, there are many reasons the Portrait Gallery has become one of my favorite places in DC.  There are also many places to put a QR code.  I felt a little strange posting my rather large QR code onto the galleries’ outdoor signage by the steps.  Part of me felt like I was defiling the poster, but I only used tape, so it is easy to remove if any curator or custodian feels the need.  I’m sure one of the capital’s many spring break tourists (they’re everywhere!) will be at least a little curious to find out more.

QR: Come check me out!

QR: Come check me out!

Interestingly, I came across this article while working on this week’s exercise.  Granted, I had to download a free QR reader for this exercise, as I had never bothered with one before, however, these new technologies still seem to have the same download-and-scan properties as the QR code.  So is the QR code really dead or is it just being modified?  Since technology is always changing, either option is certainly possible.






When I first read this assignment, I thought it was going to be a piece of cake for me.  As a TV production assistant–and beyond–I was required to transcribe taped interviews on an almost daily basis.  But trying to decipher Jeremy Bentham’s handwriting is not even remotely close to rewinding a tape to pick up words during Courtney Love’s drunk ramblings.  Bentham’s handwriting has Love’s slurred speech beat, hands down.

After many of the same issues Mary discussed in her post–namely Firefox not being Transcribe Bentham-friendly–I finally was able to view the manuscripts available for  transcription.  After perusing a few that had not been transcribed and seeing the writing was nearly illegible, I opted for an “easy” manuscript.  Of course most of these had already been done, so it was back to the untranscribed category and clicking at random to find one that might possibly fall into the “easy” category if I was lucky.  I chose JB/002/010/001 because it looked user-friendly.  I was wrong.

It seems every other word got a <gap> label, resulting in numerous ellipses in the finished transcript.  Phrases such as the following left me puzzled and the document …

Screen shot 2013-03-06 at 12.31.16 AM

Overall, I think Transcribe Bentham is a great project.  Although I’m still not sure if its intent is to get people like us who think this stuff is super cool to do free work for them.  Perhaps it’s just mutually beneficial.

How Software Affects Writers

I was reading this recent article in The New Yorker digital edition and was struck by how apropos it is to our class.  In his article “Structure,” non-fiction author John McPhee talks about how important structure is to writing a story, but most interesting to us digital humanists, talks about how a software program called Kedit (kay edit) profoundly changed the way he structures and lays out his stories.  Even when newer software became available, he stuck to his anachronistic version because it was what he knew.

“Structure” strikes me as incredibly interesting for DHers because McPhee was writing when personal computers became available, and how he documents the way it impacted his work.  I found it to be one of the first instances of the digital changing the humanities.  Of course, nowadays, almost every author writes using some kind of word-processor, but McPhee had to switch from his typewriter to Kedit.  It’s very enlightening to those of use who have always almost had the use of a personal computer.

McPhee Structure

Twitter & Topic Modeling

I came across this really interesting data today that speaks directly to everything we’ve been discussing in class: Twitter, topic modeling, word clouds, data collection.  This site categorizes tweets in New York City based on the language that is being tweeted in.  Here, we are given our topics (language), but it also gives us an idea of what the ethnic makeup and diversity of neighborhoods is within the five boroughs.  Imagine it as a word cloud of what makes up the city!

Having lived in NYC for 10 years prior to moving to DC last year, I find this extremely enlightening, especially given that I was always told Queens (where I lived) was the most diverse county in the entire United States.  Judging from this, Manhattan is way more diverse, at least in terms of languages spoken.  I’m also shocked that Chinese isn’t one of the languages aggregated by this site, as there is a very large Chinese population in Flushing, Queens.  Additionally, I lived in Astoria, Queens, which has a large Greek community.  Prior to seeing this data, had I done an exercise similar to the farmer’s market exercise we did last night, I would have included topics/languages not seen here.

Make sure to zoom in and out from the streets and also use the roads-to-black scroll bar at the bottom for optimum choices.  There is also a view of London.

NYC Tweets

The Prejudice of Stripped Texts

To start this week’s exercise, I decided to have a little fun. Kind of like stretching before a big work out. Using Google’s Ngram Viewer, I compared the heroine of my chosen text, Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet, to her modern-day counterpart, Bridget Jones, with whose diary we are intimately acquainted. Because Helen Fielding has openly admitted to basing her characters on Jane Austen’s—especially Mark Darcy on Mr. Darcy—I thought it would be interesting to see how else they compare. I was surprised to see how Miss Bennet’s popularity waned for so many years and then, at the turn of the century, increased and hasn’t stopped since.  Additionally, I was surprised to see that Bridget Jones’ popularity peaked higher than Elizabeth’s ever did.

Ngram Viewer

Then onto the hard part of the work out—creating a definition for digital humanities. And not just any definition, one with strict boundaries. My humble result below.

DH Definition


Wordle vs. WordItOut

While I generally consider myself a hands-on learner and quick on the uptake when it comes to basic computer programs and technologies, I found this week’s exercise to be more than a little frustrating. Wordle would not allow me to insert the Project Gutenberg (or any other) link to get my word output, which resulted in me copying and pasting the book in its entirety into the “Paste in a bunch of text” box. Oh, I pasted in a bunch of text alright! Finally, I got this beauty:


Then it was time for WordItOut, which was a much quicker task after figuring out Wordle’s quirks.


I actually took the time to try to make the two look as similar as possible in coloring for easier comparison. I think Wordle has WordItOut beat in basic aesthetics, but otherwise the results were nearly identical. I was very surprised to see “Mr.” was the word most used throughout Pride and Prejudice. Despite being the nineteenth century’s chick-lit by a female author, it is clear that it was still a man’s world at the time of writing and publication. However, the word “Elizabeth” does run a close second, which is a bit refreshing.


Up-Goer Five Text Editor

Next up, the commonality of words. It appears things haven’t changed much in 200 years since Miss Austen put pen to paper. In fact, other than proper names, only four words she used were not in the top 1000 words of Up-Goer Five: indeed, pleasure, till, and manner. However, this made me curious what the results would be if basic words like came, made, most, and go were not allowed to be analyzed. I was surprised at pleasure being so widely used. It’s not a word I hear used often, and it seems the connotation has changed over the years.

Up-Goer Five



CLAWS was my least favorite of all the sites. To me, it did not lay out the results in a clear, easy-to-read manner. It was also counterintuitive that the key wasn’t listed on the same page as the results, so that you had to toggle back and forth between pages. Additionally, this seems more like it would be useful for grade school children learning grammar than it would be for any other purpose.




When it came to TAPoR, I wasn’t nearly as interested in the HyperPo abilities as I was with the program’s ability to run lists of words and compile how many times each word occurs in the text. The word “Elizabeth,” which appeared to be a close second to “Mr.” in the Wordle, is actually used 200 times less than “Mr.” Futhermore, I was particularly interested in the listing ability for two reasons. First, Stephen Ramsay writes extensively on the tf-idf formula and how its findings affect critics when looking for patterns in a text, which I found intriguing. Second, in Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, a character tries to categorize and determine the genre of books based solely on the words that recur and appear the most in a given work. It’s an interesting thought, trying to decide what a book is about without having read it for its sentences, but for the words it features.



While all of these sites were fun to play with and produced interesting results, I think they ultimately take away from the true meaning of what a book is hoping to convey. Making a book a thing of quantitative results removes the reader’s ability to interpret the text for himself and to engage in the nuances the author has created with grammar, punctuation, and voice. The only work that comes to mind that would benefit from these results would be Gertrude Stein’s “Portraits and Repetition,” where her goal is to use the same words as many times and in as many ways as possible. As Ramsay himself writes:

“It is one thing to notice patterns of vocabulary, variation in line length, or images of darkness and light; it is another thing to employ a machine that can unerringly discover every instance of such features across a massive corpus of literary texts and then present those features in a visual format entirely foreign to the original organization in which these features appear” (Ramsay 16).

I couldn’t agree more. Just as Project Gutenberg states that anything may be done with a public domain text, which may result in the text being changed in ways that dissolve its power and purpose, stripping it to just its words changes it too.

Pride for Google Books, Prejudice for HATHITrust


As a Kindle user, and more importantly, as someone who plans to work in digital publishing, I found this exercise very informative.  I initially attempted to find my favorite book, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, but it was only available on Google Books.  So, onto a favorite I knew would be a more viable option: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

I am fairly familiar with free domain books, as I have downloaded many from for classes.  In fact, I have Pride and Prejudice via free download on my Kindle.  I was not, however, familiar with the answers to any of the questions Professor Kirschenbaum asked us to investigate.

Pride and Prejudice was available on all four platforms: Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, the HATHITrust, and Google Books.  With so many options to choose from, I dove into Google Books to see what I could find about the provenance of the book.  Where to begin?  There are seven versions available on page 1 of the initial search alone!  A sampling includes editions from Harvard dating from 1962 but copyrighted in 1918, Lenox Library with an 1853 copyright, and even a version from an imprint located in our neighbor Rockville, MD from 2008.  Some copies can only be read on the Google Books website, but others have a PDF and EPUB versions available.  From experience, I know PDFs can easily be transferred to an e-reader.  Thus, with the PDF, the reader now has four options on how to read—on the computer, printed out, on a smart phone, or on an e-reader.

The graphics and formatting were retained in all of the versions I researched.  Additionally, all of the versions I opened had a search feature.  Only a few had the option for reading the text in a more user-friendly way.  Some had options of reading one page at a time, side-by-side as you would a hard copy, and via thumbnails.  You can even save the book to your own online library.  As far as highlighting, Google Books had at least one version where you could create clippings and share them via social media.  For additional social media options, you can write your own review.  I did not, however, find a place where you can write about errors, nor did it seem there were any restrictions to usage, despite a Terms of Service.  Overall, Google Books was very user-friendly and provided a variety of ways to personalize your reading experience.

Next it was onto Project Gutenberg.  I was overwhelmed from the get-go when my search returned 29,141 downloads.  Further investigation led me to realize this was how many times the book had been downloaded for free.  From here I was given a variety of ways I could view and download, from HTML to QiOO Mobile, something I’ve never even heard of before.  I clicked on the very first HTML link.  There, I was greeted wit an interesting message:

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

This intrigued me because, in my former life as a TV producer, there were restrictions on everything from music videos, to still images, to movie clips.  Everything came with a price and specifications as to how it could be used.  But what really got me was the release date of August 26, 2008 and a note that the version had last been modified November 5, 2012.  Surely Pride and Prejudice has not changed in the 200 years since it was first published.  But then, at the very bottom of the site, the full terms of license are listed.  Again, there were two interesting passages:

Updated editions will replace the previous one--the old editions will be renamed.

How are these editions being updated?  Why do they need to be updated?  What is being modified?  My questions were endless.  Then:

You may use this eBook for nearly any purpose such as creation of derivative works, 
reports, performances and research.  They may be modified and printed and given 
away--you may do practically ANYTHING with public domain eBooks.

This clause shocked me!  If you can do anything with public domain books, can we trust that we are getting the book as it was intended?  Are we getting the whole book, or some annotated version?  Because it can be modified in any given way, it seems as if we are given license to recreate the book to our liking.  Forget Elizabeth ending up with Darcy, let’s just change it around to have her wind up with the abhorrent Wickham.

The one option I found especially interesting on Project Gutenberg was the availability of a QR code, so that the user can scan it with their smart phone and automatically download a version to their mobile device.  PG also offers a link to “mirror sites,” which are mostly international universities offering the same version of Pride and Prejudice for download from their university library.  I found this to be disappointing because I was hoping it would offer me a version of the book translated into other languages, but it did not.  While it first appeared that PG was going to offer many versions of the book, all formats led to the exact same version, which is much different than the variety offered on Google Books, but also gave me a sense of faith that perhaps Pride and Prejudice wasn’t being mangled by users doing anything they want with the text.

Using the Internet Archive initially appeared to just cull the books that had been digitized elsewhere.  In fact, various versions specified they came from Google Books—the same Harvard version mentioned earlier—and Project Gutenberg.  Despite the versions being the same, the Internet Archive had a much more user-friendly format.  If you desired to read the book online, it immediately led you to a side-by-side page layout, that, when flipping pages, animated the page turning. It also allowed the graphics to be seen more clearly.  One of the most unique features was that the version was available as an audio book.  However, the audio was very computerized and it attempted to read aloud quotation marks and other punctuation.  While none of these features change the text, somehow it made it a little more enjoyable to know of the bells and whistles available.

The Internet Archive also offered your basic search functions, download options, and a place to write user reviews.  Strangely, the terms of use has not been modified since 2001.  Surprising given how much has changed in the digital humanities in the past 12 years.  It did, however, give an email address to contact someone about copyright information.  One of the versions even had a link to an editable page, where you can edit the book.  Thus far, only eight users had done so since 2008.  I guess people aren’t as inclined to mess with classics, until you have the bright idea to write Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, as Seth Grahame-Smith did.

Finally, it was onto HATHITrust.  As soon as I clicked on the page I knew it wasn’t nearly as user-friendly and complete as any other online library.  The initial results only returned options that would search for the book in hard copy at nearby libraries.  It was the eighth result that was actually a full-view online version.  I clicked, only to find it was the trusty ol’ Google Books version yet again.  It too had the side-by-side page flip option, but the words were so small you couldn’t read them and the zoom feature did not work.  The only was to read it online was in the traditional view.  However, it was available for PDF download just like the others.

HATHITrust also had what I’ve now come to realize are the basic features of an online library: document search, a personal online library, and a way to share links from the book on a social networking site.  It did have a more prominent feedback link for users to share how they found the quality of the text.  One reportable problem is missing parts—perhaps they got an editable version.

Overall, Google Books and the Internet Archive had the best sites, in my opinion.  Either way, I think it’s great there are so many classic books available to readers so easily.  No matter which site was chosen, the reader was going to get a legitimate copy of Pride and Prejudice, one of the most beloved books of all time.  As for me, I’ll stick to my Kindle for reading digital books for now.  However, a hard copy version will always be my first love.


What Doesn’t Fall Under the DH Umbrella?

Hello!  I’m Courtney.  I am a second year MA student at American University and this is my first class through the consortium.  I’m really excited to be in the DH class because our program at AU offers nothing remotely similar, and, as someone who wants to work in publishing post-graduation, I think it’s extremely important.  As I said during our class introductions, I come from a TV production background.  I was a writer/producer at MTV/VH1 for nearly a decade and left for the career change.  I wanted to marry my love of TV and its technologies with my love of literature, and I feel digital publishing will be that field.  I also feel that it would be remiss not to study the field of DH as it is the field where every other field will have some contribution to it, especially in the publishing industry.

While I have never before considered myself a DHer, I’m now curious if, based on my previous career, I am without knowing it.  I am curious about Ramsay’s “On Building,” and whether or not each of us who tweet, status update on Facebook, or share pictures on Instagram are unwitting DHers.  Do these actions constitute building, as we are adding to the forum?  Or is only coding building?  Similarly, I was struck by Scheinfeldt’s “Sunset for Ideology, Sunrise for Methodology?” and his idea that DH is influencing all areas of study.  I am currently taking a course called Modernism and Painting and it reminds me of how Impressionism influenced the writing of the time.  Will DH influence all aspects of our work and lives?  I’m certainly curious to find out!