LACOL’s working group on Active and Engaged Reading focuses on the role of reading in liberal arts teaching and learning. At liberal arts institutions, we want to meet students where they are and support their ability to read in the variety of ways they will encounter in college. AER is also interested in how different technologies may enable new reading pedagogies through means such as text mining, group annotation or collaborative reading techniques.
Activities and Interests of this group include:
Is reading changing for our students in a digital age? If so, how?
Regular dialogue on emerging pedagogies for Engaged and Active Reading
On Monday, June 19th, join the Active & Engaged Reading and Effective Teaching & Learning working groups for an online meetup and discussion of Lacuna, a platform for digital annotation and social and collaborative reading developed at the Poetic Media Lab in the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford.
Several academic reading groups at Stanford and beyond are using Lacuna for collaborative reading and annotation. The development team is working on release version 3.0 which will include a more robust analytics dashboard for readers to reflect on what kinds of critical thinking are represented in their annotations. Join this meeting to learn more about the pedagogies and digital tools for reading.
Event: Web conference in Zoom Title: Lacuna Conversation and Demo with Brian Johnsrud & Amir Eshel from the Stanford Poetic Media Lab Audience: All LACOL members are welcome Date: Monday, June 19 Time: 3:30-5pm Eastern
For details on how to join the web conference, contact Liz Evans
Project Background: Throughout the liberal arts curriculum, there are numerous ways, old and new, that reading skills and related habits of mind are taught. A rapidly evolving technology landscape is also shaping the student experience. To help document emerging pedagogies for reading, LACOL’s Active and Engaged Reading working group is embarking on an survey of faculty and academic staff across the disciplines at our member institutions. The survey tool was developed jointly by the AER project team with guidance from the Institutional and Educational Research offices of participating colleges.
The purpose of the survey is to gather insights into how our faculty cultivate various reading skills and practices for students at all levels of the curriculum, with a particular focus on the digital dimension. Results of this survey will be used to inform Active and Engaged Reading working group projects, including a collaborative thought piece on reading for the liberal arts in a digital age.
Instructions: The survey consists of several short answer questions and may take 15-30 minutes to complete, depending on the level of detail you can share. Your input is invaluable to the project. Thank you for your time!
To advance their shared inquiries, AER is launching two initiatives this year: a multi-campus survey on the teaching of reading, to be followed by a thought piece that reflects on reading-related challenges and opportunities for liberal arts educators and students. A team of faculty, librarians and technologist from member campuses will collaborate on both projects, with coordination from AER’s co-leads, Ron Patkus, Associate Director of the Libraries for Special Collections and Adjunct Associate Professor of History at Vassar College (pictured at right) and hari stephen kumar, Instructional Designer and Associate Director of the Learning Collaborative at Amherst College. (See a talk from kumar at LACOL2016.)
Multi-campus survey of teaching practices for reading across the curriculum
Throughout the liberal arts curriculum, there are numerous ways, old and new, that reading skills and related habits of mind are taught. To help document emerging pedagogies for reading, AER is embarking on an survey of selected faculty and staff across the disciplines at our member institutions. The survey questions and methodology are being developed jointly with input from the Institutional and Educational Research offices of participating colleges.
I learned about The Early Novels Database when my English professor, Emily Vasiliauskas, told me about a joint END/LACOL effort to include more undergraduate students through summer internships. The project offered a unique combination of scholarly research available to undergraduates in the humanities with an introduction to a rapidly emerging sector of my own field I knew very little about. Throughout the summer, I worked with peers and mentors from Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library, Haverford College, and the Tri-College Digital Humanities initiative to gather metadata on early English novels. The experience acquainted me with the breadth and depth of works beyond the traditional literary canon. It also provided me with a rare opportunity to learn unfamiliar skills in the digital humanities in the context of my own discipline.
The daily routine of paging through dozens of never before cataloged early modern novels might seem repetitive on the surface. In practice it acquainted me with a new way of close reading distinct from what I was accustomed to in my academic courses. I learned about preservation and handling techniques essential to maintaining special collections and preserving aging works. I became fascinated with the question of the book as object. Specifically, I was interested in books which had been physically torn, annotated, or stitched together, and books which comprised edited compilations of other works. One of the most interesting examples of alteration to the book as object is the popular 18th century practice of binding together periodicals received over a subscription period to form one larger volume. Certainly, there is a sense of continuity or comprehensiveness, even status, that comes with a complete set of matching volumes, a gilt-edged collection of encyclopedias. I wonder whether at least a portion of the appeal of this completeness might have been the pretense of omniscience, or appearance of omniscience, it conferred on the owner.
At one time, owning a complete set of encyclopedias might have connoted possession of nearly all officially recorded, general knowledge—a possession that, in the digital age, is simultaneously impossible in physical form as information is constantly generated, and accessible to everyone via the Internet.
The practice of interacting constantly with dozens of rare books gave rise to my final project, Imagined Distance: Visualizing Place and Space in Faux Epistolary Travel Novels. I had the opportunity to peruse a variety of epistolary novels. Many of the characters wrote to one another across divides of cultural and physical geography, age, gender, and class background. My project focused on how epistolary novels ignore, honor, or attempt to collapse those distances: geographical, emotional, or even spiritual. I sought to contrast and quantitate, when or if possible, the various types of distances in a novel as the author conceived of them with the distances I could map through various digital tools that use a standard Mercator projection. I used a corpus of literature that eventually organized itself around a particular subgenre, one both oddly specific and widely published in the 18th century.
This genre, faux epistolary travel fiction, emerged as a way for Europeans to read about the adventures of primarily non-white travelers–except those travelers were actually white British writers impersonating people of color.
What I found so interesting, even alarming, about the faux travel fiction trend in particular is that it creates and then purports to collapse a fictional distance from the dominant culture that the writer does not actually have to negotiate in the first place.
I used the intentionally blunt tool of mapping out locations I noted in the novels, noticing which details fell off the page. I was particularly interested in those distances that defied my attempts at modelling. After completing close readings, I used the Stanford Name Entity Recognizer tool to identify locations in the novels I’d selected. I created in Google My Maps a map of each of the novels, with their geographical references displayed on a standard Mercator projection map, and I used Google Fusion Tables as a further tool for exploration. I brought together my newfound facility with digital tools and my love for geography in literature in a final public presentation supported by faculty and my peers. Examples of the maps I created can be found at the top of this post and below.
Over the past decade, academics (students and faculty alike) have been doing more and more of their reading on screens— monitors, tablets, and even smartphones. With the increased convenience of electronic documents, however, have come a number of costs. The ergonomics of reading from a vertical monitor are less than ideal, as is the visual experience of reading a backlit screen. And, of course, with computers come distractions: your smart phone buzzes an incoming text, your email pops up an incoming message, Facebook beckons to you with a only few keyboard strokes away. All in all, the shift to electronic documents poses serious challenges to the kind of serious, long‐form reading that is the lifeblood of the academy.
The Discipline project was conceived by Amherst College Associate Professor of Religion Andrew Dole as a way of mitigating these problems by moving the reading of electronic documents to the ‘final compute platform’, virtual reality. Discipline is a set of immersive, distraction‐free environments in which texts are displayed in the form of virtual pages, books, or other artifacts. Discipline focuses the user on the task at hand by providing aesthetically pleasing environments and eliminating distractions. Imagine sitting alone in a grand library reading room. Gold leaf volumes line wooden bookshelves while sunlight streams through stained glass windows onto the leather‐topped mahogany table before you, on which lies an ancient illuminated manuscript. Or imagine sitting on a porch in Maine in late summer with the sunlight glinting off a lake, the only sounds the rhythmic breaking of the waves and a gentle breeze rustling the pines. Or imagine a leather wing chair in a wood‐paneled study, with dancing shadows cast by a fire crackling in the hearth, a grandfather clock softly ticking behind you. These are your working environments when you enter the Discipline project. (more…)
In November 2014, the Liberal Arts Consortium for Online Learning (LACOL) sponsored a two-day conference at Vassar College titled “Engaged and Active Reading.” LACOL faculty and staff gathered to consider how reading may be changing in a digital age, and the implications for teaching and learning in the liberal arts.
Brainstorming on cross-campus collaborative reading, annotation, and curricular development projects, course modules, or models .
Workshop discussion explored various ways to promote a robust “culture of engaged reading” for the liberal arts through practice and course assignments. While online life can contribute to distraction, there are also interesting new pedagogies for engaging with text with digital tools. Several of the workshop participants are also active in LACOL’s Active Reading Working Group which continues to explore these questions more deeply through collaboration. (more…)