Getting Started with a Small-Scale Database

We are two history of childhood scholars interested in developing a small-scale relational database to represent available biographical data of past winners of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. We are relatively new to DH and would like to use this project to develop some DH skills–learning by doing, in this case. One of us is a librarian who took a course in database management in library school (several years ago now) but her knowledge, having gone largely unused, has grown fairly rusty (we are, however, in contact with her database management professor). We have identified several possible software programs, including Bento and Amazon’s RDS service (both cost money) and Microsoft’s SQL Server Express (free),
and are interested in using a session to explore the pros and cons of using database software. We’d like to learn what’s involved and find out what kinds of questions we should be asking, resources we need to muster, and decisions we need to make. We see this as a learning-by-doing session and would welcome both fellow learners and especially those with expertise in this area who’d be interested in helping guide the learning process.

Session Idea: Digital Decisions on a Notes Archive

I’ve been thinking for some time about a born-digital version of my ongoing notes on scholarly sources and materials, my own curation of personal ‘digital marginalia’–not project-specific notes, but general notes from an overall generalist practice of “liberal arts” scholarship. I blogged about the concept behind the project earlier this year. The core objectives of the project are, in order of their importance:

a) to document what the ‘lived practice’ of scholarly knowledge consists of, to show what kinds of readings and contemplation goes into interpreting and annotating material on an ongoing basis
b) to provide such notes in a way that is open to long-term sharing, collaboration and repurposing between scholars and wider publics
c) to work towards one possible model of how born-digital notes and marginalia might be incorporated into referencing or cataloging practices

I’m at the stage where I’m testing an implementation of the project, as follows:

a) a flat-file version of the notes deposited in a public folder at Dropbox
b) a publication of the notes to a WordPress or CommentPress blog dedicated to that purpose
c) a publication of the notes to a public Zotero group
d) a publication of the notes to my library on LibraryThing (as ‘reviews’)

I’d love a chance to work through whether these are sound decisions in a collaborative discussion. This is a lot of by-hand effort, for one. I’d like to map some decision trees in concert with a group, as far out as we can take them, and explore some of the ‘roads less taken’ in relation to my own ambitions, the costs and burdens of a project of this kind, and the range of technical and theoretical insight available in a group. I’m particularly interested in thinking about this kind of project against the backdrop of the intellectual history of notation and information management offered by Ann Blair in her book Too Much to Know.

Session idea: Improving a Digital Teaching Portfolio

Teaching portfolios can serve myriad purposes in academia:  support for tenure cases, supplementary materials for job applications, inspiration for peers, making sense for ourselves of the big picture that we’d like to emerge out of our day-to-day just keeping up with classroom management, (lecture and other) prep, and grading. 

Putting a teaching portfolio online provides flexibility to demonstrate teaching strengths through multi-media platforms and to constantly update our materials as we change our approaches, refine our skills, teach new classes, engage new generations of students, etc.  The more our classes become dependent and connected to and through internet technologies, the more reason our portfolios should reflect that.

In this working session, we would walk through the teaching portfolio that I created in the fall of 2011 (and since have minimally updated) at gasperhulvat.com , and discuss how to improve it (and hopefully come up with some ideas for your own portfolios or web-based projects in the process!)

It’s a simple site and built on wordpress.  I’m an art historian, and a complete rookie when it comes to software, coding, graphic design, you name it!  I put this site together myself, hacked away (probably for way too long) at the problems I encountered building it, and I’m looking for any and all advice about what would make it work better.

Some of the questions I’m hoping to answer:

How can I make the homepage more engaging, more of an advertisement of my teaching skills and less of an outline? (I’m on the job market presently, so if I manage to get a search committee member on the site, I want it to hook them in, not overwhelm them!)

What is useful to the various constituencies who might visit my site, and what is junky useless filler?  I.e. How can I streamline it?

Do I need to worry about (anonymously) publishing student work on the site if I haven’t received explicit permission to post it (either verbally or in writing–and does that matter)?  Does having a password to protect the site help with this — is a password necessary, and/or does it place an unnecessary barrier to access which might prevent someone who could use the information from getting to it?  What if the work is already available online (say on Youtube) but only to people who have the http?

How much is too much?  (Right now, the site is too much!)  What can I do to more effectively make the site a “teaser” to my teaching rather than a full-out (confusing) demonstration of it?

People who might want to attend this working session include: 

  • teachers looking to develop online portfolios,
  • experienced builders of offline career portfolios (for tenure or other situations),
  • present/former academic search committees,
  • web designers and programmers (especially with wordpress experience) looking to help a rookie out,
  • folks with graphic design / web design aesthetics training
  • … and anyone else who might contribute to or learn something from this conversation!