2008 Carver Graduate Education Summer Institute

VISUALIZING RESEARCH:
AN INTERDISCIPLINARY WORKSHOP ON IMAGE CREATION AND EXHIBITION

Institute Leaders:
Dr. Bettina Fabos, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies,
    bettina.fabos@uni.edu, 273-5972
Marilyn Drury, Director, ITS Educational Technology
     marilyn.drury@uni.edu

When journalist Naomi Klein launched her most recent book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism in September 2007, she also launched something else: a short film, released on YouTube, that distilled the key elements of her written text in 6 minutes and 46 seconds of powerful animation, voiced by Klein.¹ By visualizing her text, the book’s content took on greater meaning and Klein’s arguments became more compelling and memorable. By releasing the film on YouTube, her ideas were made accessible for the world to ponder and debate. Similarly, Al Gore, who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing attention to the calamity of global warming, used media technology to make his case. Long before his book and movie An Inconvenient Truth, Gore made speeches on this complex topic more understandable by visualizing the research with an advanced multimedia PowerPoint presentation.

What Klein and Gore have done, brilliantly, is take advantage of our digital culture. Today it is easier than ever to express ideas—journalistic, academic, or otherwise— through digital video, interactive slideshows, animated charts/graphics, and photo-imagery. Those of us interested in visually communicating research or artistic work can do what Klein and Gore have done: We can make a video, upload it to the web, and share it both locally and internationally. We can put our data into animation templates and create seamless interactive pie charts, conveniently drop those charts into a video, and present it to our colleagues in a PowerPoint document. We can search the web for public domain (i.e., copyright-free) photos to illustrate our scholarship in the classroom, for our peers, and beyond. (We might imagine how far Al Gore would have gotten if his ideas on global warming were only released in text documents.)

Many of us already have the raw data—large compilations of digital images or photographic slides tucked away in files or boxes—that could be shared with other researchers in the same way ideas in text form are shared (e.g., via conference papers and publications). As libraries have reconsidered what kinds of things they should archive, there are now new possibilities for visual research to be distributed through library digital collections—including at UNI’s Rod Library. In this way, research in digital visual form can be distributed to students, scholars, and the public globally. Moreover, visualized research becomes a new, more accessible entry point for others to understand the academic work generated at the University of Northern Iowa. Imagine a UNI webpage with links to many of the projects our faculty are involved with, presented visually, promoting the rich variety of scholarship originating at the University.

I am proposing a 2008 Carver Graduate Education Summer Institute to help UNI Graduate Faculty get a strong foundation in visual culture—why visual culture has special significance in our digital age—and then apply that knowledge in practical ways: search for public domain visuals online to support their research, learn how to best visualize their scholarship using a range of digital tools, and present and/or publish their visualized research as multimedia projects, which may later be included in UNI’s own digital collection of digital projects. This project is a truly interdisciplinary enterprise that can benefit all fields of research and creative activity. Graduate Faculty learning these digital skills will be able to teach them to their students, who can then take on visual initiatives of their own. The Institute will also foster interdisciplinary dialogue regarding our expanding digital culture, and offer a means for graduate students to collaborate with Graduate Faculty on subsequent visual projects. TOP ^

¹The film, called The Shock Doctrine, was directed by established film director Alfonso Cuaron, and voiced by Klein.

Anticipated Goals

The First Goal of this Institute is to help faculty understand the significance of the visual as it relates to the communication of ideas and culture. Visual culture has gone through enormous shifts over the last 100 years. The introduction of mass photography at the turn of the century changed the way people understood their environment and the public record. It gave individuals a glimpse of places they would never otherwise see, and enabled regular people to record their own lives in a way they had never been able to do before. For the first time in history there existed an authentic visual record of the appearance and activities of the common man made without literary interpretation or bias. Since that time, photojournalism has captivated audiences and changed history (and, of course, we’ve also come to understand that there can be bias and manipulation in photographic and other visual images). Advertising culture has cluttered our visual spaces, but also gave us a new visual vocabulary from the bold European design of the 1960s to the MTV-style quick-cut editing of the 1980s. To understand how the visual has come to dominate our communication discourse, new fields have emerged in Visual Communication, Visual Literacy, and Visual Rhetoric. Today, visual innovations are coming from the fusion of computer programmers and digital media artists. This partnership has resulted in accessible tools for making multimedia, and has encouraged the emerging field of “visualization.” We’ve long known that readers often skip a news story unless a picture is attached. Now journalism institutions like the New York Times are exploding with multimedia options, which do so much more to engage readers and provide a wider range of entry points into a story than a single image. The same applies for research, especially as it gravitates to the digital realm. The First Goal for this Institute is therefore to give UNI Graduate Faculty a contextual and theoretical base for understanding our increasingly visual culture, and to illustrate for them why digital visual culture matters in communicating theirs and other scholarly work.

The Second Goal is to help our UNI faculty learn about the intense debates that have emerged in academic and legal circles about the role of libraries and nonprofit digital archives in the age of Google. Google, which trumpets the corporate slogan “Do No Evil,” is nevertheless a publicly shared advertising conglomerate that can do much, in the coming years, to limit the open access of information. The role of librarians and nonprofit archivists in this battle over knowledge and Internet control has become critical. Carving out educational spaces on the Web at a time when the Web is increasingly commercialized is an issue that every academic should be aware of. As such, the Second Goal involves introducing Graduate Faculty to the core issues of Internet commercialization as well as the vast array of visual digital archives available online. Many of these archives are located at colleges and universities around the world, where digital librarians are spearheading a massive effort to make information—print, audio, visual, and graphic—available to the public as part of a global information commons. For example, the University of Iowa has a considerable digital archive including historical photos documenting American railroads and a database of images related to geoscience; Rod Library has a growing digital collections Unit that includes digital images of every UNI Yearbook between 1905 and 1923 and audio files of UNI jazz band performances. The University of Michigan is the home to Oaister, a rich database that has joined thousands of digital archives under one searchable interface. Indeed, virtually every academic library is now digitizing all types of media, not just texts, and making them available for public viewing and, when possible, appropriation.

In addition to academic collections, The Library of Congress and the National Archive offer an ever-expanding range of downloadable media; commercial, user-generated databases such as Flickr, Buzznet, YouTube and Google Video offer a rich resource of images that are often free of copyright constraints; and nonprofit endeavors, such as the Internet Archive, contain a formidable collection of moving images, still photographs, audio files (including concert recordings), and open source software.

It is my intent, in this Second Goal of this Summer Institute, to help UNI Graduate Faculty understand the debates surrounding libraries and the public sphere; become comfortable locating relevant digital archives (thus participating in the public sphere ideal of free information access), downloading the material, and understanding the range of clearances and copyright issues that go along with publishing and presenting visual work.

The Third Goal for this Institute is to introduce Graduate Faculty to a range of multimedia software so they can assemble the visuals in a way that reinforces their scholarship. For example, an Institute participant might want to create an interactive audio slideshow, complete with captions, using a collection of images she downloaded from a digital archive. This may seem daunting, but it’s not. For example, in the past year consumer-friendly slideshow tools such as Soundslides have emerged, which enable users to import images and audio and let the program do all the background code. Soundslides is one of many new—often open source—visual tools now available for transforming academic research into interactive maps; interactive, image-based timelines; interactive charts; and simple 2-D and 3-D animations. None of this requires a degree in computer science. All of it is affordable and accessible to use.

Since faculty may come to this Institute with their own personal collections of photographs, maps, or other artifacts, or may be interested in building such collections in the future, part of this second goal is to teach faculty how to best digitize and scan their original materials. This would involve demonstrating different kinds of image formats, resolutions, and best practices for scanning and storing digital files. Beyond image scanning I would also offer an introduction to video capturing, as well as elementary skills in video and audio editing. As I tell my digital video editing students at UNI, if one can write well, one can edit video well: there’s not a whole lot of difference between writing with words and writing with visuals. Indeed, a large part of the Third Goal, which all involves some form of media production, is to be hands-on, to demystify the technology (i.e., focus on content, not technology), and to help faculty create manageable and powerful multimedia.

It is very probable that Graduate Faculty attending the workshop will have a range of levels regarding their experience and comfort with new technology. Some will need extra help; others will want to shoot ahead. I am familiar with this problem as I confront it regularly in classes where I teach aspects of multimedia to undergrads: no-one is ever on the same level. The problem is solved in two ways. First, the projects I introduce will be tiered to offer a number of starting points, from the very basic to the very advanced. Those who need extra help can stay at the basic level; those who are more advanced can add more complexity to their projects. I’m mostly interested in introducing Graduate Faculty to possibilities: if they can leave the Institute knowing what is possible in terms of multimedia creation, even if they haven’t completed more advanced aspects of a project, they can work with their graduate students to learn the next steps, perhaps in interdisciplinary off-shoots after the Institute is over. Second, a plus of this Institute (and not of undergraduate classes) is that I will know well beforehand the skill levels and motivations of each participant. This will allow me to adapt each project so it fits very precisely with participant needs and goals.

The Fourth Goal of this Institute is to help Graduate Faculty learn numerous ways to share or publish their visuals. To understand how to share and publish, we will need to understand the legal implications of copyright and intellectual property. Some scholars no longer refer to our era as the Information Age, but as the Copyright Age. These again are critical times for information, especially visual and audio information. Copyright issues have become an enormous area of debate in academic, legal, ethical, and corporate circles, with scholars such as Lawrence Lessig (Stanford) and Kembrew McLeod (the University of Iowa) calling for a drastic reinterpretation of current laws in order to accommodate our “digital re-write culture.” With this Fourth Goal we would spend considerable time learning about these issues and these debates.

From theory we will turn to practice. We will learn ways to upload media files into a PowerPoint presentation, as Al Gore has so aptly demonstrated—a first basic step. But what about turning that PowerPoint into an online slideshow? What about saving it as a video and uploading it to YouTube, the Internet Archive, or the Wikimedia Commons? What about developing a web page that offers both text and a variety of multimedia illustrations? These days, our exhibition venues have increased dramatically.

One important venue that will factor into this Institute is Rod library. The Technical Services Department at Rod has already completed the groundwork for a robust institutional repository and is welcome to house any digital collection produced by UNI faculty. These are exciting times, not just in terms of digital archiving, but in the way academic institutions can relate to the public: Digital archives enable universities to promote their valuable research and expand the notion of a shared information commons. It’s a way to make knowledge matter, and visuals are a large part of this reaching out. Accordingly, part of this institute will involve helping faculty contribute to UNI’s institutional repository and help them negotiate copyright terms through the Creative Commons and other means. We will learn how to license our academic intellectual property through the Creative Commons, an open source organization established by Lessig. TOP ^

Examples of Interdisciplinary Applications

Visuals are, or can be, a component of every area of scholarship and/or creative activity conducted at UNI. For example, over many years UNI biology professor Laura L. Jackson has assembled hundreds of photographs of prairie landscapes. Some of these images are slides; others are in digital form, and she has used them to support various stages of her research, but has never compiled them into a coherent archive. Because she has taken photographs over the course of a decade, she has valuable visual data to illustrate prairie development and decline. Similarly, UNI history professor Tom Conners has accumulated a rare collection of historical cartoons that would be a precious resource for other historians, graduate students, and interested publics. And Leonard Curtis, professor of theatre at UNI, has his own collection of Wagner-era postcards that, apart from a short-lived exhibition at UNI, lies hidden in his office. All of these visual collections, properly digitized and organized, could become valuable resources for UNI and beyond.

Other UNI Graduate Faculty can invigorate their scholarship or creative work by accessing the expanding range of digital collections available to us online. UNI communication studies professor Tom Hall, for example, studies secrecy, the intelligence community, and classified/declassified documents. Available to him is the digital archive at the University of California-Riverside, where a plentiful collection of historical photographs relating to Harry Truman and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission await him for free download. Anthropology professor Anne Woodrick, who studies immigration protests and their historical context, can locate public domain images from recent anti- and pro-immigration rallies from the Wikimedia Commons; historical images of Mexican and other immigrants entering the U.S. from the Library of Congress, and historical film footage documenting Mexican workers in California from the Internet Archive. Both Hall and Woodrick can freely edit and rework these public domain media files into their own visual projects. They can also work these images into their teaching, their academic presentations, and their print scholarship. TOP ^

Brief Description of Institute Activities

The 2008 Carver Summer Institute will involve both theoretical and hands-on activities. These can be summarized as follows:

1. Understanding the Visual Web

Participants will explore the growing significance of visual culture and investigate the overwhelming opportunities of Web 2.0 for finding and sharing visual data. Discussions will focus on the significance of the “networked public sphere,” the past, present and future of the nonprofit digital archiving movement; and the critical copyright debates regarding visual and audio production, including fair use practices, the Creative Commons, and the implications these debates have for academic research.

2. Seeing the Possibilities

Participants will view inspiring examples of visualized research. They will visit and discuss numerous digital archives to better gauge what is happening to libraries, noncommercial archives, and commercial image repositories, all of which are positioning themselves for the digital age. They will also visit Rod Library’s Technical Services Department (headed by Cynthia Coulter) and see how UNI is embracing digital media in its collections. Finally, a field trip to the University of Iowa’s Digital Collections Unit will enable participants to better understand the promise and growing pains of a significantly more advanced archive than ours at UNI.

3. Demystifying the Technology

Participants will learn how to scan photographs and other images such as maps and graphics to obtain the highest/best image resolution for their specific visual purposes. They will learn where to search for photos, graphics, audio and video relevant to their discipline and how to download and convert these media files. They will also learn how to create interactive slideshows, charts, maps, animations, and timelines. Finally, they will learn how to capture and edit digital video (including time-lapse) and audio, and integrate their Flash-based animation files into these projects. UNI’s Information Technology Service and Center for Educational Technology staff will assist faculty in these activities.

4. Exhibiting the Work

Participants will learn how to upload video content to YouTube; publish text, visual and audio files within the Wikimedia Commons and the Internet Archive; negotiate copyright terms and license work through the Creative Commons, create a basic Webpage, and start the process (if desired) to contribute visual material to Rod Library’s Institutional Repository. Once again, UNI’s Information Technology Service and Center for Educational Technology staff, as well as Rod Library’s Technical Services Department, will assist faculty in these activities. TOP ^

How the Institute will Achieve Grant Objectives

Because this workshop can potentially bring together Graduate Faculty from every college at UNI, this Summer Institute holds great promise towards fostering interdisciplinary dialogue about teaching and learning at the graduate level, a Carver grant objective. It is also a potential Petri dish for project collaboration between disciplines, as Institute faculty find common research/creative interests and discover ways to work together on visual projects.

Moreover, the Summer Institute could very well be the beginning of rich “collaborative teaming” ( a second Carver grant objective) between Graduate Faculty and their Graduate Students, who can participate in the building and sharing of public knowledge, and use the knowledge and skills learned to further their own research.

Finally, because this Summer Institute involves digital technology learning and an understanding of Web 2.0 innovations, it greatly satisfies a third Carver grant objective: the consultation, support and training for faculty in innovative instructional strategies. TOP ^

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