So…just what IS this “DH” thing all about!?!!

Happy October, CSLS bloggers and followers! When I think of fall I inevitably think about PSL (Pumpkin Spice Lattes) at my favorite coffee shop, Starbucks. So, allow me to share a brief anecdote. The other day I was in Starbucks (with a fellow Graduate Student Affiliate) and overheard a conversation between two thirty-something men about Digital Humanities or DH. The comments of both seemed to echo the thought: “I don’t really get ‘it’…what is DH and what can it do for me?” When thinking about DH, I feel as thought this sentiment is pretty common. Now that the term circulates widely within the humanities and university-based scholarly circles, most people just nod their heads when they hear about new DH projects and initiatives. Yet, I think less than half of these individuals “familiar” with the term could successfully define the term or talk comfortably about a DH project. In relation to this cloud that seems to muddle the understanding of DH, one of the things I am currently working on is to make DH more approachable for academic communities like ours here at Vanderbilt. Last year, I wrote a research paper and conducted a study on the use of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) at Vanderbilt. What stood out most to me was the fact the language instructors as Vanderbilt often knew very little about the implementation of technology in language classrooms and more often than not the classroom was flipped in the sense the students ended up teaching the instructors about how to use different technological tools in the language classroom setting. While CALL and DH – and this is important to remember – are not synonyms, I think there are similar conclusions to be made when thinking about DH. While we “digital immigrants,” to borrow Scott Prensky’s term, are actively engaged in acquiring TEI skills, digital gaming skills, and learning how to use other programs such as GeoJSON, Drupal, etc., these skills are often second nature for our students. For example, they may have learned how to code in high school and they likely don’t blink an eye when asked to digitally represent data or create a digital archive for a classroom project. I think it is increasingly important to reflect upon these differences, or this notable “divide”, between students and teachers in the university setting, keeping in mind how we can possibly “teach” students to use DH tools during one class period.

My more palpable DH projects at this time can be separated into two. For one, as the co-founder and co-president of the Vanderbilt Graduate Student Modern Language Association (GSMLA), we are planning our (first annual!!!) spring conference (April 4, 2015) and have just confirmed our keynote speaker: Dr. Carl Blyth from UT Austin. Dr. Blyth studies the intersection(s) between language, culture and interaction and is particularly interested in the use of digital tools and social media to facilitate “collaborative social action” (sites like Wikipedia, for example). On a more personal level, I am currently attending the digital mapping/Geospatial working session here at the Center for Second Language Studies where I am learning to use GeoJSON to add points and features on a map. The creation of annotated maps is of interest to me since my plan is to create a digital map to analyze a novel important to my dissertation. The particular novel is set on the Haitian-Dominican border and the trajectory of the main character from the Dominican sugar plantation to the Haitian border-town appears to be a inversion of the river itself (a geographic interpretation that works well with my thesis). My end-goal is to create a visually appealing annotated map where people can click on certain points and images to get further information (I plan to include text as well). I hope to integrate the map I will create (and have already started creating…) into a formal presentation of my dissertation project. I’ll keep you all posted on how my mapping project progresses! And, of course, you are all welcome to attend Dr. Blyth’s keynote presentation in early April. Until next month!


Welcome/Bienvenidos/Bem-vindos to our readers!

Welcome to our new CSLS blog! My name is Megan, and I am one of the Graduate Student Affiliates here at the Center for Second Language Studies. I can hardly believe this is my fourth year working in the Center. A little about me: I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Spanish and Portuguese Department working on a dissertation on the representation of Haiti and Haitians in Dominican and Dominican American literature. Although in the past I have taught Spanish courses here at Vanderbilt, this fall I am teaching Portuguese (PORT 102). Regardless of the language, I love teaching. I stress the communicative aspect of my language classrooms and my students are constantly moving around the room and speaking with different classmates. If you want to sit in the same chair every class and not get out of it until class ends, my class is probably going to be a wake-up-call for you (quite literally)! An important part of my language classroom is engaging the students with authentic material – you can expect to walk into my classroom and hear a video clip playing, a music video blaring, or a Skype conversation with a native speaker/classroom taking place. The incorporation of technology into the language classroom is also important to me. I am very interested in Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). I have worked on projects using programs such as WeVideo, Google Earth, and Skype (a form of Oral Computer Mediated Communication or OCMC). This past summer I taught Spanish 101 and used Pinterest in the classroom for the first time to make virtual dictionaries and create a space for students to interact digitally with one another to practice different grammar concepts learned in class. My hope is that students walk away from my class with not only improved speaking, listening, and writing skills, but also an understanding of the culture(s) related to the language and a more in-depth sense of inter-cultural competence. Once again, bloggers, Welcome! Bienvenidos! Bem-vindos! Thanks for reading!