Learning to Code the Web with Code Year

On January 9th, I received my first unit of Code Year, a one-year, weekly lesson in Javascript programming offered freely by CodeAcademy. A short time later, the Boy and I were working through it together.

Javascript is the programming language on which most of the Web is built, and is one of the simplest coding languages to learn. And, just as natural human languages share most of their basic features with one another (nouns, verbs, adjectives, &c), the elements of Javascript are also used in other programming languages like Perl or Ruby.

Any of you who know me–or who see how rarely I’ve posted here lately–know that I am pretty extraordinarily busy these days. So why would I take ten minutes, a few evenings per week, to learn something of computer code?

How much of your work is accomplished on the Web or by means of some digital tools or other? Whatever percentage that is, remember that those environments and tools are the way they are because somebody decided that that is how they should be. Learning to code means learning what some alternative possibilities might look like. If we understand something of programming code, we begin to join that community of deciders.

If you are in the Humanities, you may well already be a “Digital Humanist“: do you ever use digital tools to accomplish Humanities research? Or, do you ask Humanities-questions about the growing digitalization of our information and our practices? You don’t have to code to be a digital humanist, but learning something of how the Web is coded may spark ideas for you about tools or processes that could improve your research and writing.

Do you have kids in school? If they even have “computer class,” that’s likely to mean, “Learning to use things made by Microsoft,” rather than “Learning to build cool things that don’t yet exist but could.” The weekly units in CodeYear are broken down into several short lessons, perfect for children’s lower stamina and shorter attention spans. (Okay, by day’s end, my own stamina and attention span are pretty well shot as well.) Sit together on the sofa for ten minutes in the evenings, and learn together the language used to create on the Web.

If you are interested, you can read what others are saying about Code Year, or about Code Academy. But I recommend you just jump right in and sign up for your weekly email lessons. Have fun, and tell me if you decide to get started learning to code.

[Learning to Code the Web with Code Year was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2012/01/13. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

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Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities 2011

Along with everything else in life that you’ve been missing, the Day in the Life of Digital Humanities (“Day of DH”) 2011 came and went a couple of weeks back. What are the “Digital Humanities,” you ask? You could settle for me telling you that it’s humanities accomplished digitally, or you could ask the Wikipedia about it; or best of all, you could simply hear the explanations offered by those who have self-identified over the last three years as working in “digital humanities.” Here are just a few:

Digital Humanities is the application of humanities methodologies and theories to modern technology research. -Andy Keenan, University of Alberta, Canada

Under the digital humanities rubric, I would include topics like open access to materials, intellectual property rights, tool development, digital libraries, data mining, born-digital preservation, multimedia publication, visualization, GIS, digital reconstruction, study of the impact of technology on numerous fields, technology for teaching and learning, sustainability models, and many others. -Brett Bobley, NEH, United States

I think digital humanities, like social media, is an idea that will increasingly become invisible as new methods and platforms move from being widely used to being ubiquitous. For now, digital humanities defines the overlap between humanities research and digital tools. But the humanities are the study of cultural life, and our cultural life will soon be inextricably bound up with digital media. -Ed Finn, Stanford University, USA

On the Day of Digital Humanities, hundreds of folks who see their work in this way agreed to write a blog post about what they were doing that day, March 18, 2011. (This was the day that I became aware of the term, “digital humanities,” because the Day nosed its way onto my Twitter feed, whereupon I followed the tag #dayofdh for the rest of that day and the next.)

You will be excited to know that I’ve saved the best news: Because the fine folks at Day of DH have made the RSS feeds for the blog posts available as an OPML file (or, to translate, “Because blah blah the internet is cool”), I have been able to place the blog posts on my public NetVibes page! And you have a whole year to peruse them before Day of DH 2012!

[Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities 2011 was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/04/05. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

VOST2011: The Visions of Students Today

What do students in Higher Education see today? What do they “see” in the sense of, “What are their visions?” And, what do they literally see from the place in which they are expected to learn?

This is the question posed by Michael Wesch, professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. Wesch is well known for his work so far in gathering and analyzing the experiences and voices of higher-ed students in an internet age.

Watch some of the YouTube videos tagged VOST2011. For an educator in Higher Ed, the videos are rather hypnotic, occasionally disturbing, and often illuminating. Take the following as an example:

More upbeat, but not less analytical or thought-provoking, is this piece from a student at University of the Philippines:

In the professorial circles in which I run, I am probably among those more likely to identify with the students of VOST2011: besides being a “distance pedagogies guy” (in progress), I am after all a Gen-Xer, and until a subject matter grabbed me in my Masters work, felt continually disenchanted with and alienated from the structures of education, while still identifying strongly with other students as a peer group. At the same time, however, I am formed by an exceptionally traditional and modernist Ph.D. program, and believe as strongly in “disseminating data” as in facilitating constructivist activities for peer-to-peer learning.

Professors: What do you think of Wesch’s call for submissions, and what do you think of some of the videos? How do they speak, or not speak, to you as educators?

Students: What are your visions today? What do you see from the place where you are expected to learn?

[VOST2011: The Visions of Students Today was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/03/25. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Closed Captioning for User-Generated Video (via ProfHacker)

[Changed title, but not URL, to reflect distinction between subtitles and closed-captioning.]

Yesterday, ProfHacker posted a blog entry about how to produce closed-captioning for your videos using the site Universal Subtitles. As ProfHacker points out, when you have created the subtitles, they exist only at the Universal Subtitles web site; but, you can download the subtitles as a file and upload that file to your video on YouTube. ProfHacker shows the process, step by step.

Embedded below is my first effort at closed captioning. The main glitch is that my videos often already have subtitles of varying kinds, because they are often language-learning videos. And, you cannot (I think) change where the closed-captioning sits: it is always at the bottom of the screen. Now, if your already-existing subtitles are YouTube “annotations,” you can always go into YouTube and move them around. But, if your subtitles were created with the video itself (as in iMovie or whatever), then you would have to actually go back and re-edit the video and upload the revised version (which would have a new URL on YouTube).

The take-away on this for me is that, when I produce subtitles in my videos (that is, subtitles that are not closed-captioning), I will want to keep them at the top or sides of the screen, so that there is room reserved at the bottom for closed-captioning. As you can imagine, the screen “real estate” will really be filling in at that point.

This is my video on how to sing Happy Birthday in Hebrew. In the few places where my subtitles and my closed-captioning collide, I have not tried to fix it (yet). Obviously, you will need to click the “cc” (closed captioning) button at the bottom of the video screen.

What experience do you have with closed captioning, whether needing it or producing it? What issues should I know about as I continue to closed-caption my videos?

[Subtitles for User-Generated Video was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/03/11. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Links for SBL10 Workshop Presentation

“‘To Those Far and Near’: the Case for Community at a Distance.”

The Background:

A Community of Scholarship, Emory’s Candler School of Theology.

Episode CXXVIII of the Endless Thread, Pharyngula.

Losers of Friday Night on Their Computers, Twitter search. [link fixed]

SBL Annual Conference 2010 (#sbl10), Twitter search. [link fixed]

Intro to OT Online Group Paper (concluding summary), Wetpaint.

Dissecting Community: Example from Sociology:

Community, Infed (Informal Education).

The Project:

Bible and Teaching Blogs via feeds, NetVibes.

Collaborative Wiki on the Hendel Affair, Wetpaint.

[Links for SBL10 Workshop Presentation was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/11/22. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything

This is an idea about which I could not be more enthused (hat tip to Pharyngula).[1] Ten biologists collaborate together to answer any questions that a layperson might pose them. The front page provides some relevant caveats; for example, if the question is quite basic, they might gently point a reader to the standard textbooks, rather than be roped into doing someone’s homework for them.

I especially like that the site builds a searchable growing repository of questions already answered. This should be a helpful resource, not only for inquirers, but for the team members to consult when dealing with new questions.

The idea of a similar, “Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything,” site has seized my imagination. In my experience, answering questions about the Bible and biblical studies for genuinely curious laypeople is a delight. Part of that delight comes from my sense that only a few people have a resource in their lives to field such questions; when I make new acquaintances, they often have a short list of questions about the Bible that they’ve waited to unload, or that they’ve bounced off of others without receiving satisfying responses.

Some desiderata that come to mind are:

  • As with AaBA, there would need to be a fairly large team: at least eight, I think. The good news is, I suspect recruiting new team members wouldn’t be all that hard, such that the team could grow (or shrink) according to traffic. The idea is that nobody should have to spend more time on it than they want to, with a very low minimum expected commitment.
  • Team members should have terminal degrees in biblical studies, or else be candidates in a terminal degree program.
  • The team members would have to have a shared understanding that “biblical studies” is a non-confessional literary and historical enterprise, relying for its claims on the shared public evidence of the biblical texts and such extra-biblical evidence as variant manuscripts, ancient Near Eastern texts, material remains, and so on (rather than on private revelation and confessional dogma). Theologically, it’s about the theology in the texts rather than one’s theology of the Bible. This understanding would need to be communicated on the front page of the site.
  • There would have to be a standard rubric for recognizing and dealing with poor-faith inquiries coming out of the culture wars. This would, at the same time, have to allow for good-faith inquiries coming from those whose frame of reference has been distorted by the culture wars. (In English: What about spamming inquiries from folks like Answers in Genesis? What about well-meaning inquiries from folks whose minds have already been addled by AiG?)

I’m not in any hurry on this—believe me!—and it is the very beginning of the school year, with all its busy-ness. Still, if anyone who meets the second criterion above would be interested, let me know, and we can begin to look into it. If enough scholars were interested that the work load were low, it could be a real service.

BACK TO POST By the way, P.Z. has been having a hell of a time. He won’t be grateful for your prayers, but if you’re in a position to give to Red Cross, donate blood, or otherwise render service to heart patients, he’d be pleased.

[Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/08/26. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Reading and Tweeting

Lisa Halverson (Open High School of Utah) is reading Lord of the Flies with her students, and they are Tweeting as they read using the hash tag #lotf. (Apparently another group recently began using the same tag for “Land of the Free,” but you’ll find a solid group of Lord-of-the-Flies material if you scroll down a bit.)

Many Twitter users have observed that, on balance, Twitter is shaking down to be more about information-distribution than about building communities. However, this is a continuum, not a binary: users do experience the creation and especially the maintenance of communities on Twitter. It seems to me that this might be especially true for reading groups.

A Twitter hash tag search is easily saved as an RSS feed and can be incorporated into a class’s web site and consulted whenever the reader likes. Feeling isolated in your reading? Want some inspiration from your co-readers? Check the feed. Contribute to it. Build up your reading community.

My principle shared reading project right now is reading Context of Scripture in a year, mainly with Joseph. But I am also reading The Story with members of my congregation. And of course, I am frequently reading biblical texts along with my students.

This application of Web 2.0 is almost ridiculously easy, and so is readily introduced to the non-web-savvy: sign up with Twitter, learn to use a hash tag. Have you ever Tweeted as part of a reading group? Can you imagine doing so?

[Reading and Tweeting was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/09. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]