Saturday, September 15, 2007

if:book reports on learning from youtube

The Institute for the Future of the Book (if:book) posted an item Friday (learning from youtube) that amplifies the question I want to pursue this semester in my RTF course about research into Web 2.0. Alex Juhasz is teaching a course through and using the methods of YouTube (student-driven, developed on the fly, self-organized and viral-produced). Her goal is to open up a "critical discussion" of the YouTube phenomenon. She explains her ideas in a 10 minute YouTube video, well worth the time to watch.

The comments of others about the experiment, found on the MediaCommons blog, add important context. She is refining understanding of how learning happens; I would like to refine understanding of how scholarly communication happens, particularly when technology offers tools that not only create new possibilities, but can threaten established norms and power structures. These themes are off in the future for me (I've barely got one toe in the pool at this point), but the start seems to me to be to use the tools myself, to participate in the environment I want to study.

The experiment also illuminates for me a broader context in which the Web 2.0 research class itself exists, combining the aims to teach and to learn about the thing being taught by experiencing it directly.

Coincidentally, if:book reports that NY Times has published its first video letter to the editor (though the qualities of the "letter" bring the characterization into question (it's more an op-ed piece, apparently). This, "getting in the pool to see what swimming is like" phenomenon is itself very traditional.

The research question, which I was able to refine considerably through discussions with and guidance from my committee chair, Phil Doty, is currently constituted like this:

What is it like as a scholar to communicate, collaborate, vet ideas, prove concepts, prepare research results, obtain peer review, store data, and archive materials that demonstrate process and final product (research paper), in a Web 2.0 environment? -- I want to study utilization of Web 2.0 tools for three reasons that build upon each other: to experience first hand alternative forms of scholarly communication before I study others' opinions about or experiences with them; to generate new research questions about alternative forms of scholarly communication and publication across a wide range of scholarly activity; to better inform an inquiry into the future of research libraries, to the extent it may depend upon the future of scholarly communication and publishing including but not limited to the future of the research paper and the scholarly monograph.

I will carry out the research by building a Web 2.0 project Website around an original legal research paper on the effects of mass digitization on copyright law and policy. The Texas Digital Library collaborative repository will host the project Website; I will use an interactive application (CommentPress) to solicit comments on the paper; I may include a short video clip illustrating a contrasting point of view (to the paper); I will utilize the repository to permanently archive all aspects of the project, including the final paper; I will document the process of setting up the site, utilizing CommentPress, preparing the video clip, and the workflow for archiving the project materials at the end of the process.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Research in interactive design -- Web 2.0 got rolling today

My third class got going today. It's offered in the School of Communication, department of radio, television and film. It's certainly about communication, but not about radio, television or film. It's about interactive applications, well, actually, according to some of the foundational documents of Web 2.0, it's about an attitude as much as applications. It didn't come up, I guess partly because it is about a year old now and things a year old are ancient in Web terms, but Michael Wesch's The Machine is Us/ing Us captures what it's about better than most things I've read.

The image I had of myself being on top of the readings 2 weeks into the semester was shattered by the addition of the third class' bibliography and the suggestion of what we'll try to accomplish this semester. Sharon Strover, our professor, is very energetic and so are the students. I am a bit skeptical that I'll get as far as she thinks, but the idea seems to be that we'll all be supporting each other to come up with good researchable questions in this area.

I wrote about this the other day, and now I need to refine my ideas down to 2 paragraphs: first one describes my research question and why I want to do it; second one explains how I'm going to go about it.

So, for context, there's the Texas Digital Library, a collaborative repository, gearing up to define its "road ahead," at TDL: The Road Ahead. I read the conversation there, between colleagues at the Libraries, where I work, and Texas A&M, a collaborator library in the TDL, and realized that the proposal being put forth (the concept document, page 3 of which is pictured above), and Kara's note about CommentPress, created a nice set of hypotheses for my project. What might a scholar do with this capability? What might appeal to an academic? What's worthwhile, what's worthless? What's needed, what's fluff? How do we create services that people will want, that they can use, that they *will* use? I can look around to see what works, what doesn't work. So, how do I translate that into a research question?

Given the cyberinfrastructure of [define what the TDL/IR and our networked connections to it constitute in terms of cyberinfrastructure], what combination of Web 2.0 tools can be implemented on the network/IR to create a space for academics that facilitates: communication, collaboration, vetting of ideas, proof of concept, preparation of research results, peer-review, data storage, archiving of process (gray lit generated by use of the site) and final product (peer-reviewed manuscript)?

Suppose we put together a combination of tools that can be called upon to do these things, in whole or in part, what determines uptake? What obstacles are there to broad-based utilization? What is the definition of success? How long-term are we looking at? There's a slow migration of library services away from current models (providing access to literature) to providing more support throughout the whole continuum of research activity, how long are we talking about? When do we throw in the towel? Oh, I guess I'm not optimistic. Why is that?

And is that the more interesting research question? I was a member of a group that met in DC about a year ago to look at the preliminary report of the ACLS regarding the lack of cyberinfrastructure for the humanities and social sciences. I need to reread the report. I know that it's lacking when compared to the sciences, but the scientists are all over these tools. Maybe I need to not worry about the humanists and social scientists and their lack of interest. They don't work the same way, is that it? They are lone rangers? So be it. No, no , no. I'm a social scientist. I can't just dismiss them. I'm them.

Nevertheless, the science dudes are much more likely to use these tools, but are they more inclined to go to sites that are devoted to their areas, their fields (the nano web or the chemists beaker or the cancer hub or whatever)? Who is our audience? And how do we know what they want?

The tools are all about interaction. That should be a critical element of any definition of audience -- people who need to (not just want to but need to) communicate with others to accomplish a goal. Who is already using these tools and how? Who is not? Why? Ah, why. The question that is the hardest to answer.

Well, this is not getting me anywhere. I need to call in the general, my committee chair, and ask for some guidance on this question of how you generate research questions....

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Bluebonnets were blooming in July this year

I just finished reading a wonderful tribute to Lady Bird in the Wildflower Center's Wildflower magazine, in which someone commented that Lady Bird had visited the Wildflower Center for the last time shortly before she died. That would have been around the beginning of July. The author of this particular article commented that, though it is not their season, bluebonnets were blooming on that day.

Bluebonnets normally bloom in March in Central Texas. I grow them in my garden every year. Like so many wildflowers, they reseed naturally, often in places where you don't really want them growing (the middle of a path, for example). This year the spring was so wet and the summer so wet and cool that I had bluebonnets lingering well beyond their 4-6 week bloom season. In fact, I had one that held on until late July. There are, of course, lots of explanations for this. I like the one that includes Lady Bird in some way or another.

Those of us who have lived here a long time probably don't take our bluebonnets for granted, because they are so beautiful and such a treat, coming as they do only once each year in early spring, but we might tend to be somewhat dismissive of the typical landscape painting depicting a field of bluebonnets. Especially if one has a connection to the art world, this genre is, well, it's a bit sentimentalist at best. All that got swept away as I perused the incredible photos of Lady Bird in her fields of flowers -- Lady Bird with President Johnson on the ranch, Lady Bird with kids in Washington D.C., Lady Bird at the Wildflower Center. Pictures of fields of flowers have never seemed so moving as they are when she is in them. Maybe I'm just in a weepy mood, I don't know. I don't think I'll look at a field of bluebonnets in the same way, ever again.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

An old Star Trek episode stays on my mind...

I record old Star Treks for my mom and me to watch together on Sunday evenings (they come on at 11:00 Saturday nites). One episode that I keep thinking about found the whole crew drawn to a life on a planet that seemed ideal, but it was a mirage of course. A flowering plant would blow pollen or something in a person's face and from then on, the person was just happy, happy, happy. It took a lot for Captain Kirk to convince everyone that happiness that appeared and felt real was in fact empty and wasteful of the very lives they all were trying to enrich by opting for the feel-good. It turned out that the inhabitants of this utopia had accomplished absolutely nothing in decades of living in bliss.

Seek -- 21st century: It's fallen to Captain Google to prod the oh, so contented libraries to do something with our planet, our assets, our energy, stop mistaking satisfaction with the bliss of, well, of whatever it is we might be blissful about, for real accomplishment. Our satisfaction is an illusion and it's causing us to abandon our ship and ultimately, to give up on our mission.

Google announced a number of things recently that take the form of this prodding, though in the 21st century, this is just how the competitive market system works in this country -- you innovate because if you don't you die. So, it's not like Captain Google really cares about us and our planet, planet library, he's just doing his job, playing his part. He's reminding us that standing still is no accomplishment, even if you are intensely happy standing there.

Let's see, there are new Library Partners in Japan and the US (Cornell); new enhancements to Google Book Search (My Library and User Reviews and Ratings, Popular passages added to book reference pages, Sharing passages from public domain works, Google Books in Google Earth, and Google Book Search video testimonials); and of course, the news that Google will begin selling access to books on line, that is, ebooks. Wow. And everyone is talking about how this might affect publishers. And how might it affect libraries? And what will Google introduce next week? And how many weeks are there in a year?

Ok, I'm getting a bit overwrought here, I know. It's just that it really does look like life in the satisfied, happy library planet is getting a good swift kick. It took a knock-down drag-out to get Spock to come to his senses. Maybe it will take the business-competitive equivalent of that for us as well.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Google custom search

Just noticed an O'Reilly Radar post by Peter Brantley, in which he interviews Google's Ramanathan V. Guha about Google Custom Search. Brantley thinks this is a powerful tool that holds a lot of promise, if certain issues can be addressed (the predictable privacy, of course). I had heard about this tool awhile back, and had thought about playing with it a bit, but it seemed way too big a project for me at the time -- it's sort of, at its base, like creating a big list of all the sites that you think are the best on a particular subject, no small task -- but now I'm rethinking my dismissing it so quickly.

I looked at the example Brantley included of the Cornell Law Library's Legal Research Search Engine, and was pretty impressed. It seems to get at the complaint that some in library studies have that there needs to be some curation of Web content for instructional purposes (ie, using Wikipedia for everything and only Wikipedia, I mean, is just not ok), and it also would make a very good assignment for grad students to create such a Custom Search Engine in a subject area. The idea of how you would go about casting your net, winnowing out what you get, thinking very carefully about the decision to bring something in, put something out, all of that would make for a very interesting experience and one the discussion of which would be interesting in its own right. You could put a regular Google Search box right next to your Custom Search Box and people could see for themselves what you had done in pointing to things you think are of the highest quality. We do this with Blogs already (our blogrolls are recommendations) and the selection of other sites we link to. We do it with "resource" pages like mine for Open Access Resources for Authors. In fact, I think it would make a great addition to any resource page to add a "search these resources" custom search box. There are people who like to browse a set of sites; there are people who know what they are looking for and want to search. You can speak to both. Cool.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Shifting the focus for my interactivity research class project

I’ve been planning an interactive research report over the summer that would use the video I made in France in May, along with images of objects I collected, images from the Web and text I will write about the research project. I have the entire fall semester to execute this plan for the College of Communication Interactivity Research class. But it occurred to me this morning that I could shift the focus, making the Effect of Mass Digitization Projects on Copyright Law and Policy the centerpiece of the site, try out CommentPress as the main interactive feature, and use the French video of library interviews and images as a sidebar (the view from France), among possible other sidebars. This makes more sense, puts the French point of view in the broader context, and is more like the pattern that I’d like to develop for my dissertation. There I could focus on the effect of ubiquitous network access and the development of institutional cyberinfrastructure on the use by scholars of alternative forms of scholarly communication (and ultimately, on the future of research libraries). Sounds like a plan, and none too soon, as the class starts in a week. The August issue of CTWatch Quarterly was devoted entirely to this subject and I'll have to squeeze reading it into the framework of all the other readings I've got to do.

Intro to Doctoral Research and Theory got rolling yesterday. Lots to read and think about. I've chosen a journal to review over the semester (and write four short papers about) that seemed an unlikely choice for me (that's why I chose it): Library Quarterly. Sounds so mainstream; published by U of Chicago Press, its contents studied by others over decades to show why library science in this country sort of stagnated on the technology front until after WWII. So why would I choose it? Of the choices, it was the most over-arching in its focus. It seemed to at least touch on big-picture policy, theory and "where are we going" kinds of questions. So many of the others are tightly focused on the nitty gritty of one thing or another. Can't do that right now. So, I read two articles yesterday, both in the January issue. What a span. One was about storytime in public libraries, the other about reassessing the influence of Michel Foucault on the theory of library science. So what is the audience for this journal? I'll get to talk more about that as I develop my first paper on the subject. Coincidentally, I did a short presentation on Foucault in my philosophers' bootcamp class this summer. Foucault and Baudrillard. Both fascinating.