dunescholar – Dune Scholar

Dune Scholar

Science Fiction, Feminism, and Digital Humanities All in One Place

Author: dunescholar (page 1 of 7)

Digital Humanities Article

I am excited to share that my Digital Humanities article on digital literacy has been published in the open-access journal Digital Humanities Quarterly (DHQ) in a special issue (11.3) on undergraduate education. The article is titled “A Long-Belated Welcome: Accepting Digital Humanities Methods into Non-DH Classrooms” and argues that there is a place for DH methods in all Humanities classrooms and that women especially can benefit from increased engagement and confidence with digital technology in the subjects in which they comprise the majority of students.

I look forward to reading all of the other articles in this issue and appreciate being able to share it widely because DHQ is open access! Thanks to all those who have supported me in the two-year journey from start to finish.

Hidden Figures of Digital Humanities

Watching the film Hidden Figures reminded me of my research on women in computing and some of the gender issues in the field of Digital Humanities. In a discussion after the screening that I had both attended and helped to organize/promote with other women (as a special fundraiser to help create an undergraduate scholarship for a woman to study STEM), I mentioned how frustrating it was that women had been written out of the history of computing at large, not just in regards to the space program. It was only after seeing the quizzical looks on the women’s faces around me that I realized the presence of women in computing is not common knowledge either. The stereotype that seems to predominate in the popular culture is that computing belongs to Silicon Valley and male computer programmers.  I have been fortunate to have discovered more of women’s history in computing due to my involvement with Digital Humanities, but it is important that the involvement of women become more widely known. So I write this post as a brief introduction to some of the insights I have come across – to share with those who want to learn about some ‘hidden figures’ and to wonder about whose stories are still left to be discovered in the field of Digital Humanities. Because in fact, women have been instrumental to computing since the beginning…

Hidden Figures posterFor those who haven’t viewed the film (highly recommend! – nominated for three Academy Awards), Hidden Figures follows the stories of three African-American women – Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson – in the U.S. during the Space Race whose efforts in computing, mathematics, and engineering were crucial to the success of the mission to put astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Each woman must overcome various obstacles including racial and gender biases in order to be taken seriously and be respected by her coworkers, and to succeed at her job. For example, one building lacks a bathroom for black women (bathrooms were segregated at this time), and it is not until this issue impedes on the mission’s ability to meet a deadline that something is done about it. The film showcases the genius and resourcefulness of these women whom I and others I talked to admittedly had never heard of before. This film did a great job of bringing their stories and brilliance to life.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), born Augusta Ada Byron, was a gifted mathematician who is now considered to be the first computer programmer, given that she wrote instructions for the first computer program, all the way back in the 1800s. She was the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron and his spouse, Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron. She met Charles Babbage, known as the father of the computer, when she was 17 and he mentored her and enabled her to study advanced math with a University of London professor. Although Babbage invented the difference engine and analytical engine, after Lovelace was asked to translate one of his articles, she added her own ideas about his machine which were about how codes could be used to handle letters and symbols, not just numbers. She also came up with a theory for repetition of instructions, now known as the looping process that modern computer programs use. Though few paid attention to her article when she was alive, she is now honored through the celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, first held in 2009.

*Source: Ada Lovelace Biography.com (2017)

Women Computer Programmers in the 20th Century

During World War II when there was a need for ‘human computers’ who could solve equations by hand and also program computers, women stepped up to fill these roles. Jean Jennings Bartik was one of six female mathematicians who created programs for a new machine belonging to the U.S. Army called the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), which was one of the first all-electronic general-purpose computers. Men built the hardware and circuits but didn’t think the programming was an important job. Bartik said in an interview in 2008 that even though the women were responsible for getting the machine to work the night before its first demo, they weren’t invited out to dinner the next day and weren’t named in the photos. They were basically invisible. Adele Goldstine was another key woman in the development of ENIAC who created a systematic method of programming and the program manual, yet has only recently been acknowledged for her work in the field.

After the war was over, Bartik and her team moved on to the UNIVAC, a major commercial computer. They worked with Grace Murray Hopper, who was a tenured math professor in the Navy Reserve. Hopper discovered a way to program with words instead of numbers, which became a programming language known as COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) that is still used today. She retired from the Navy with the rank of rear admiral and is sometimes known as being the Queen of Software for her work in developing programming languages. There was even a 1967 article called “The Computer Girls” in Cosmopolitan magazine which quoted Hopper as comparing programming to planning a dinner, where you have to plan ahead and schedule everything.

Computer Girls magazine article

“The Computer Girls” article in Cosmopolitan magazine

She said women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming and her goal was that all people should be able to use and program computers. Another woman who worked on the UNIVAC, Adele Mildred Koss, actually found that working in computing was quite accommodating to female programmers who were mothers, making a work-life balance more possible. Many women did not actually have formal training in computing but took advantage of the opportunities that it provided and found success.

*Sources:

Further information: 2014 documentary film Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II and interactive iPad book app The Computer Wore Heels

Women in Early Digital Humanities

This brings us to the history of women in the field of Digital Humanities. For those who haven’t heard of Digital Humanities, it is a relatively new field which sits at the intersection of digital technologies and the humanities (like English literature, philosophy, and history). It sometimes functions more like the sciences in terms of having labs and teams rather than individuals working alone, and can include projects that involve making websites for cultural material, using databases, creating network analyses, examining social media, and doing other tasks that further the study of human culture and generate new ways of teaching and researching. Before it was known as Digital Humanities, however, it was sometimes called Humanities Computing, and its history goes back to the 1940s with its father, Father Roberto Busa in Italy, and what is considered to be the first Digital Humanities project.

Father Busa was a Jesuit priest who thought that the newly developing computing technology could be harnessed to help him create an index of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. He went to the U.S. to visit Thomas J. Watson at IBM and received some assistance to process punchcard data to make his index, which included some 9 to 11 million words of medieval Latin. What is often left out of this story is the fact that Father Busa then employed dozens of women to do the programming, and he proudly believed he was helping them attain valuable job skills through their work on the project. I only know about these women due to Digital Humanities scholar Melissa Terras’ work on uncovering the stories of these women. In fact, she has written a blog post (for Ada Lovelace Day, 2013) about her research, which included traveling to Italy and obtaining permission to share several photos of the women with permission from the CIRCSE Research Centre at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy with a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-NC), which are also in the blog post. I have included three of them here:

Women in Busa Project

Women working on Father Roberto Busa’s index project (1950s-60s) CC-BY-NC CIRCSE Research Centre

 

Women in Busa Project

Women working on Father Roberto Busa’s index project (back left: Rosetta Rossi Bertolli; bottom right Livia Canestraro) (1950s-60s) CC-BY-NC CIRCSE Research Centre

 

Women in Busa Project

Livia Canestraro working on Father Roberto Busa’s index project, being overseen by visiting dignitaries (1950s-60s) CC-BY-NC CIRCSE Research Centre

(This last photo is my favorite, with Ms. Canestraro reminding me of Princess Leia, surrounded by men but seemingly unperturbed.) I consider it a point of pride that women were so instrumental in working on this pivotal Digital Humanities project. But the pioneering work of women in computing leads me to wonder how we moved from women being so connected with computers to the present, where research continues to show that women often feel alienated from computing.

*Sources:

Disappearing Figures

Despite women’s instrumental roles as ‘computers’ themselves and as programmers, by the 1980s, when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates began to appear in the media and personal computers came about, the number of women who majored in computer science began to drop. From the 1980s to 2010, females went from being 37% of college students receiving bachelor’s degrees in Computer and Information Sciences to 18%. This happened even though the overall percentage of female college students was increasing and women were a majority.

There may have been several reasons proposed for this gender shift. Men may have wanted to get into the challenging tasks of programming and with their entry, the field may then have become more prestigious. Professional associations that excluded women may also have prevented them from entering the field. Personal computers were often marketed as toys for boys and the stereotype of the male computer geek became more prevalent in the popular culture.

In just a few decades then, computing and information technology became seen as male-dominated fields, and computing culture became decidedly more associated with masculine traits. The history of women’s achievements is only recently being recovered, with many girls and women unaware at how influential women have been in the field.

*Sources:

Where are the Women?

I see this as relating to Digital Humanities in that I have seen the field struggling recently with issues of diversity, access, and privilege, and that people are speaking out to try to address them. During Digital Humanities scholar Deb Verhoeven’s speech “Has anyone seen a woman?” at the 2015 Digital Humanities Conference, she boldly took the stage and called for men to exit it to allow more women to be heard and recognized. She was addressing the invisibility of women after a “parade of patriarchs” had dominated the stage on the opening day of the conference.

Deb Verhoeven speech

Deb Verhoeven’s speech “Has anyone seen a woman?” at 2015 Digital Humanities Conference

Soon her words ended up having a direct impact on me because just days later I was asked to speak on that very same stage at a small gathering of people for an annual meeting. At first I balked but then was encouraged by two men who were trying to heed her words, and it ended up being a positive experience. Her voice had raised the consciousness of many, and it helped persuade me that it was important for women to be heard even if they may not feel comfortable with public speaking.

Raising women’s visibility – both past and present – and reclaiming women’s history and stories is an important part of feminism; there are countless achievements to celebrate, from small to large. The question becomes how does a field like Digital Humanities avoid making the same mistakes as the history books have with the African-American women at NASA and women in computing? How does it avoid obscuring the labor that often goes on behind-the-scenes in Digital Humanities projects?

If we were to construct a narrative or timeline of women in Digital Humanities, what would it look like? How many ‘hidden figures’ in labs, teams, and projects might be in Digital Humanities?

A Week of Women in Australasia

During the week before International Women’s Day on March 8, I had the privilege of attending two events about women’s issues with a variety of women speakers, and so for an event that I spoke at on the day, I decided to summarize and share some of the points that these women had made with my audience. These points give an indication of some of the current topics that women are dealing with and raise questions about what the way forward is when women are still less visible and considered less valuable than men.

Indigenous Women and LeadershipIndigenous-women-forum

The first event was the Indigenous Women and Leadership Speakers Forum hosted by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. Sacha McMeeking, head of the University of Canterbury’s Aotahi School of Māori & Indigenous Studies, spoke about the difference between Western styles of leadership and Māori styles. The Western style is often about having a charismatic leader who is a type of hero figure, whereas the Māori style recognizes a distributed network with servant-based leadership, where the leaders are supposed to be in it not for themselves but for their community. Māori women, she said, have been doing things that the storybooks don’t tell because they are behind the scenes, but we can miss them if we’re looking for a leader at the front. I thought this was a useful way of thinking about issues of gender, because something that comes up quite often is the struggle for women, especially in male-dominated fields, between adopting ‘masculine’ styles or operating in a different way and perhaps being penalized for it. Shifting our conception of leadership and not thinking that there is only way to be a leader is a way of breaking out of that mindset.

The next speaker was the president of the Māori Students Association, Hana Skerrett-White, who reiterated that she is who is today because of a long line of strong women modeling leadership to her. She said leadership isn’t singular, and even though women’s voices and indigenous voices have been muted at times, that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. The final speaker was Arihia Bennett, who is Chief Executive of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, and she encouraged young women to not wait until they’re older to step into leadership. She emphasized some characteristics of leaders that she thought were important, including competency, compassion, and character. She said to be confident, courageous, and speak your mind—don’t hold back—but also have someone alongside you to push you beyond your comfort zone. You can be humble while still recognizing that you have something to contribute, so listen to people who are encouraging you.

All About Women Satellite (#allaboutwomen)All-about-women-satellite

The second event was the annual All About Women Satellite streamed from the Sydney Opera House by WORD Christchurch. The actor Geena Davis spoke about women and the media, specifically how underrepresented women and girls are in films and television. She started a research institute to gather data and the results aren’t pretty. The good news is that the media is powerful and can be used to change people’s perceptions, and she said the year The Hunger Games and Brave movies came out (2012), girls’ interest in archery went up over 100%. Forensic science is attracting many women, even more than universities can keep up with, due to women in shows like CSI and Bones. But when it comes to the television shows made for children, the percentage of female characters is still pretty low, around 20%. This is similar to the percentage that women have stalled out at in other professions like engineering and IT. Crowd scenes are only about 17% female, making it seem like women don’t gather or aren’t valuable enough to be portrayed. The numbers are even worse in fiction than in real life, so women scientists and other women workers are a smaller percentage in media than in the real work force. There’s something called symbolic annihilation, which happens when you don’t see anyone who looks like you or reflects you. By feeding children this imbalance, she said, we are unwittingly teaching them that girls and women don’t matter as much or aren’t interesting.

Davis noted that overall, the ratio of men and women in film has remained about the same as it was in the 1940s, and when women are portrayed, they are often the sidekicks or romantic interest.  But although making changes in real life leadership, etc. are hard, she said that media could fix the problem it has created almost overnight if it changed to include more women. The next movies could show gender equality, show 50% women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, 50% women as presidents and members of parliament. One media producer has made the commitment to have 50% women crew behind the scenes as well, so that might be another way of driving change in the industry – for men in positions of power to commit to gender equality and actually follow through in their hiring practices.

Then there was a Nasty Women panel featuring Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Van Badham, and Lindy West, and chaired by Fauziah Ibrahim. They discussed a range of issues, including the need to stand together to gain strength and how to deal with trolls. West said that we have power and leverage only in numbers. If one woman stands up against sexual harassment in the office, she might be fired or ignored, but if every woman stands up against it, change can be more likely to happen. Abdel-Magied reminded everyone that historically it hasn’t been people in power saying Yes, we want to help the marginalized, it’s been masses of people demanding it. And if you’re fuming but don’t do anything about it, like contacting your representatives and talking to other people about the issues, nothing will change. West said that she tells people that running for office is not something that other people do, it’s something that’s part of civic responsibility. Regarding trolls, West said that it just wouldn’t happen that a panel of men would be sitting discussing Oh, yeah, I got a petition to have myself fired today, you know.. She said she’s tired of being told it’s just the internet, that’s the nature of how things are. We’re just trying to do our jobs, she said. The culture has to change. Badham said she would rather die on the right side than do nothing. When it gets hard, remember the women who went before you and the ones who will come after you. Women have died for the vote, for rights, for the freedoms we take for granted. Your actions are the most powerful political statement you can make, so make them count, she emphasized.

The broadcast is supposed to be made available sometime on YouTube.

Effective Altruism

I first heard about effective altruism through a guest lecture by Dr. Catherine Low from Students for High Impact Charity on “Effective Altruism and the Environment” in December 2016. At the end of the lecture, the audience split into small groups to debate the merits of several charities that she had pointed out were effective in various areas, and then everyone voted on which one to donate $500 to (with the funds provided by her organization). There was also an opportunity to sign up to receive a free copy by mail of a book by William Macaskill entitled Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference (first published in 2015), so I signed up, not being able to resist a free book and wanting to learn more about the evidence behind this emerging movement. effective_altruism_bookThe thinking behind it offers an interesting critique of the personal-responsibility kind of changes we’ve been led to believe we should be doing, and I’d like to offer some highlights from the lecture and book that people may not have considered before (especially regarding Fairtrade and sweatshop goods!).

Dr. Low’s main thesis was that effective altruism is about using evidence and analysis to do the most good we can do, and that many things we might think are really good aren’t actually making the best use of our money, time, or resources. One of the examples was that the BBC in 2006 was freaking out about Brits keeping phone chargers plugged in because of the ‘ghost energy’ they were wasting. But it turns out that they hardly consume any energy (.01% would be saved by unplugging them). Yet people choose to focus on these minor, inconsequential issues rather than looking at the bigger picture. There was also a study by David Anderson that found that up to 75% of social programs in the U.S. had little or no effect. It turns out that many initiatives aren’t really studied at all and are based on someone’s gut instinct on what will do good rather than research. An example that she mentioned and that is in the introduction of the book is the Playpump, which was rolled out in Africa to get children to help pump water while playing but turned out to be quite ineffective. It was created with the best of intentions, but not enough research and design went into seeing if it would actually work.

Regarding New Zealand charitable giving, she asked us to compare the $40,000 cost of training a guide dog (which who could argue against that cause) with the $25 for cataract surgery to prevent blindness in the Global South. It is clear which one is a better value for money, but that doesn’t mean that people donate according to that criteria. There was also the comparison between $9,000 for a Make-a-wish holiday for a sick child compared to a far lower amount to buy bednets against malaria and save a couple lives in Africa. Again, the former is a nice cause, but the latter makes the money not only go farther but can actually save lives.

Dr. Low said that part of the reason why effective altruism is more possible now is that we have more information to make better decisions about giving. She listed the following places that provide this kind of information:

There is also Stanford’s Carbon Footprint site where you can calculate how much greenhouse gas your activities produce. If you see how much your airline travel is producing, for example, you could offset it by donating to an organization like CoolEarth, which for $350 can protect a hectare of rainforest. This might be more effective than buying an electric car, because there are other costs and issues you need to weigh — if you don’t do that much driving, you could have spent the extra money on a more effective way of protecting the environment, for example. In the same way, you probably don’t need to fret over the Energy Star Rating for appliances, because the $100 or whichever amount you would have spent on buying a more efficient device might be better spent on a charity, since you’re unlikely to get as much energy savings as you think, especially if you use it infrequently. One of questions she left us with was: Are we more morally obliged to prevent human-made suffering (like climate change) or naturally-occurring ones (like malaria)? It’s something to consider as we choose which causes to support.

The book reiterated the point that some ideas are good but are not actually the most effective, or the best use of resources, and most are not evaluated to see if they are working. It offered several seemingly harsh realities, including:

  • You probably shouldn’t give to disaster relief because there is likely to be a large number of people hearing about and giving to those causes, so your contribution will make less of an impact.
  • It is possible that people could have been better off without a charitable intervention, or might actually have been harmed by it, so some intervention is not necessarily better than none. Some problems work themselves out.
  • Looking at overheard percentages, which some evaluations do, is not a good measure of effectiveness. Spending a lot on good administration and fundraising does not mean a charity is not also being very effective at its programs. Outcomes are more important.
  • Following your passion in terms of a career is bad advice because you can have impact in all kinds of fields and don’t need to necessarily go to work for a non-profit or charity to change the world. The book states: “Research shows that the most consistent predictor of job satisfaction is engaging work, which can be broken down into five factors (this is known in psychology as the ‘job characteristics theory’): Independence…Sense of Completion…Variety…Feedback from the job…Contribution” (Macaskill pg. 187). Basically, personal fit is a better indicator to go by, and you can gain a passion out of a variety of types of work. You can look up what you might be interested in at the site 80,000 Hours.
  • Sweatshop goods are sometimes providing better jobs for people in developing economies than other forms of labor and are considered the ‘good’ jobs, alternatives to backbreaking farm work or unemployment. In one case in 1993, a child labor bill brought to Congress prompted factories in Bangladesh to lay off 50,000 child workers; UNICEF then investigated and found that many of them had to turn to more desperate ways to survive, including hustling and prostitution (Macaskill pg. 160-163). So although boycotting sweatshop goods may seem like a good thing to do, it may be more effective to work to end the poverty in those countries that makes those jobs so attractive.
  • Buying Fairtrade-certified products is another example of how what may seem like a no-brainer thing to do may not actually be the best use of that extra money you spend for the Fairtrade product. One of the issues is that only a very small percentage of the money you pay for Fairtrade reaches the farmers. In one analysis by the World Bank, less than 1% at a British cafe chain reached coffee exporters in poor countries; in an analysis in Finland, only 11% reached the countries that produced the coffee; and in an analysis in the US, for an extra $5 per pound for Fairtrade coffee, only 40 cents or 8% would make it to coffee producers) (Macaskill pg. 165). A lot goes to the people in the middle, so you would be better to put the money you would have spent on Fairtrade toward a more effective charity to help the poor in those countries (such as GiveDirectly, in which 90 cents of $1 donated reaches the poor).
  • Thinking rationally rather than emotionally sounds harsh–especially because it might mean saying no to local causes or people asking for money on your doorstep–but it is necessary to be able to evaluate charities and see which programs are most effective.

As presented in the lecture and the book, effective altruism makes a lot of sense from a rational perspective. The trick is that so many charitable appeals work on an emotional level (or religious level), and the urge to help others we can see, in our community, probably won’t be going away any time soon. Thinking more abstractly about giving is certainly a new concept to consider thoughtfully.

National Digital Forum (NDF) Conference 2016 – Day 2

NDF Conference 2016

Annual Conference of National Digital Forum (NDF)
November 22-23, 2016
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand (Wellington, NZ)
Conference program PDF
Twitter feed #NDFNZ
Recordings of sessions on NDF YouTube channel

See Cool Things to Check Out and Stand-out Presentation on my Day 1 post.

The following are my notes from the sessions I attended on day 2 of the NDF Conference. Most sessions were recorded and are available on the NDF YouTube channel.

Day 2 – Wednesday, November 23

Keynote: Ngāi Tahu Cultural Mapping Project – Takerei Norton (Ngāi Tahu Archives Team)

Norton began Day 2 of the NDF conference by stating that this is not a technical talk at all; it is more about how a community tells their story. He said that he found historical evidence through his elder that had a paragraph about a part of land from the 1800s, and they were able to get the tenure review from the government to create a conservation/preservation area of a particular lagoon. Then he had the idea to start mapping all of the Ngai Tahu cultural sites in the high country so they could try to protect more of them. At first, people were adding stickers to 30 maps with different colors of labels (green means food gathering site, blue means river, etc.). It was very laborious but also was a good activity to help people learn history and participate. Then they started taking trips to the high country and bringing 30ish people along. This became a time when they were reconnecting with their landscape.

Eventually, they ended up with over 4,000 place names on the South Island mapped on Google Earth! This is known as the Ngāi Tahu Cultural Mapping Project.

Twitter photo:

Every place name is referenced and validated by locals. They are trying to create an official portal for Ngāi Tahu history. Almost all the sites are on Crown land, and Norton only has access to copies of the original documentation. The originals are in Auckland and Wellington – he asked what are people who want to access their tribe’s history supposed to do if they can’t get to those places? They are also making travel routes and trails on the South Island (in green lines on Google Earth). Little red rectangles are the land that was allocated to the Maori by the government (not necessarily in the same area either). It was not 10% like it was supposed to be.

He said that we owe thanks to Pakeha historians like Beattie and Taylor because without them, we wouldn’t have a lot of history. But they did make mistakes, and it’s the job of our generation to correct them and build on their work to make it better. They have to make a decision on spelling when there are discrepancies. They want schools and other groups to use this resource they’ve created. He believes that it matters that the project hasn’t been done FOR us; we’ve done it ourselves. We’ve got skin in the game.

Keynote: See New Zealand clearly: Using numbers to understand who and where we are, where we’ve been, what’s going on and where we’re heading, or Creating a Data Democracy – Lillian Grace (Figure.nz) @GracefulLillian

Grace began by asking several questions about data. How many Labrador dogs are registered in NZ? How many young people aged 20-24 that should be getting on with their lives but don’t seem to be are in certain areas? (28% in Gisborne/Hawke’s Bay)? How many NZers have there ever been?

For all of time, it’s been hard to share information widely and communicate with other people. For the first time ever, now it’s easy. Devices enable us to share information widely and communicate with lots of people in multiple directions. Back in the day, there needed to be smart people to be great leaders and digest information. Now it can be done differently. We can make decisions in different ways. People are scared to change because they think it means that what they were doing before was wrong. But she thinks that it should be seen as an opportunity instead.

We have finally moved to thinking learning to read is for everyone, but we still don’t do this with numbers. We allow the experts to figure out numbers and use them in their thinking. Figure.nz is trying to change this. She likes to think of numbers as holding stories that not everyone is capable of understanding. Why don’t we use numbers in our thinking?

Datasets were set up before the Internet, so sharing wasn’t even thought about. No standards, etc. But now, people with information are expected to make it open and share it. But this is also terrifying for people who collected datasets, because they are asked to share it and they hadn’t been thinking they would have to do that. Having datasets sorted by source and institution and country is like having a dictionary where the words are sorted by the country they originated from. It’s too hard to deal with and not very helpful to have New Zealand data trapped on each individual website.

She gave the example of her brother, a truck driver, who gets excited about knowing how many accidents happen in a certain area or certain times of year. So people understand the importance of numbers when you present them in a different way. But most people don’t use data, and most of NZ’s data isn’t used.

Figure.nz is a charity and the first organization in the world to assert that everyone can use data. Their mission is to enable everyone to make sense of data and see New Zealand clearly, in a way that inspires us forward. They charge places that have data like the Treasury or other government sites to process their data and tables. [But do these places actually want people to look closely at their numbers?…] Currently on their website you can look at a Pinterest-style page of figures. They know that at the moment, people still have to know what to search for on their website. Ex. A florist in Nelson might not just want to look at data in the floral industry, because it might be more helpful for them to look at other relevant data, such as funeral trends. We need to create a culture where people are encouraged and inspired to learn things and seek out things for themselves [yes, self-directed learning].

Youth, digital agency and encounters with the past and present – Louise Saunders (UNITEC)

 Louise Saunders was filling in for the originally-scheduled speaker. She said that she started as a student, became a leader, and then got published  [great trajectory for young students]. She was in a Communications class that had an assignment to make a community-based oral history project on WWI because of the centenary. It aimed to introduce students (outside of fields like history or cultural studies) to digital storytelling and content, to help them build a transmedia narrative. Her group produced an interactive exhibit called Help Me Tell My Story (www.helpmetellmystory.co.nz). She mentioned that ePress at Unitech is an online publishing platform. The rest of the projects can be seen at www.morethanawar.com.

Even though they considered themselves marvellous Communications students, they quickly realized they didn’t have much digital technology skills, so had to partner with back-end and front-end developers [again reiterating the importance of digital literacy]. She said it was probably the best learning experience they had as students. Students in the class not from New Zealand (like those from Asian countries) said that participating in this activity meant that they could actually relate to the First World War. Once they had something to focus on (WWI), all the things they had been learning about in their degree really came to life (blogging, social media, etc.). Before it was just like ‘blah social media’, etc. Leith Haarhoff asked a question about how the logistics between GLAM and academia worked and if there were any problems. Saunders said that the issues were usually about who would take responsibility but they were always worked out. Strong leadership is needed to see the project through.

A model for relevant technology programming in libraries – Leith Haarhoff (Palmerston North Libraries) and Tyler Benson (Massey School of Engineering)

Haarhoff and Benson took turns discussing the Technology Summer Challenge and Technology Challenge project that involved the Massey School of Engineering and Palmerston North Libraries. Haarhoff began by talking about problems that face the world and then looking at how these can catalyze a solution. There is a pressure on libraries to prove relevance and do that through technology. He said they feel pressure to use 3-D printing and new technologies but don’t necessarily know why. Research shows that 75% of primary school kids are loving STEM, then something happens in the translation to their NCEA choices and it goes down to 25%. Massey is not getting enough students.

Benson is an engineer and made the comment that he was glad to see so many ‘older’ people who know technology in the audience, that it was a great environment to be in [some of them may have been a bit ruffled over that comment!]. He explained that the Technology Challenge used 3-D printers to make stuff and kids were dragging their parents to come over and participate. There was good energy. He saw five factors that made it successful: Real-world context; Hands-on experiments [tinkering]; Peer-to-peer interaction and group collaboration (challenge/problem/project-based learning); Interaction with parents/parental involvement; and Key mentors that are committed. What they learned was that the library can help facilitate the STEM program. This was a key aspect. The library might have the stuff but doesn’t know how to use it in a very advanced way. By bringing in engineering students, this then leads to more expertise around the local city (like engineers who know how to use 3-D printers). One question was about whether there was any transference of skills to library staff. Someone did learn how to solder. If you’re interested in something, it doesn’t take that long to learn a new skill. People felt a lot more confident by the second time.

A fireside chat with Seb Chan in conversation with Courtney Johnston (Chan from ACMI, @sebchan; Johnston from DOWSE Art Museum, @auchmill)

Chan said that he used to say that virtual visitors need to be paid attention to just like physical visitors. Now he realizes that they are differently important. The fact is we are spending more time on screens. Mobile hasn’t reduced the time on screens but has actually increased it. Americans spend about 8 hours on average a day on screens (according to new Pew research).

He discussed a difference between museums in the UK, Australia, NZ which have the idea that things are for the public, and museums in the U.S. There, the nonprofit educational aspect is why donations to museums incur a tax benefit. This seems more paternalistic than NZ and Australia. Chan thinks that the U.S. is a decade ahead in museum practice but a decade behind in terms of funding that practice. The certainty of financial security isn’t there. There are much larger boards with stakeholders (up to 40+). There is also the sense that “digital is done”. It was a way to be seen to be showing innovation but wasn’t necessarily about a structural change. He gave a case study of Cooper Hewitt.

Whenever we do digital projects, we never spend enough time marketing them. You need to demonstrate that your organization is outward-facing. Institutions need to be looking out to the world. We need to get out there. People don’t look down here. We’re far away.

Johnston asked a final question about visitor research vs. surveillance. There are issues of privacy and harvesting data with no real purpose. She says, don’t collect data if you don’t need to (how many people walk by a building with a phone, example).

Panel: Labs and incubators for the rest of us

Tui Te Hau (Mahuki lab at Te Papa) @Mahuki_TePapa
Seb Chan (ACMI) @sebchan
Julia Kaganskiy (New Inc.) @juliaxgulia
Paula Bray (DXLab at State Library NSW) @paulabray

ACMIx at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is a new coworking space (for filmmakers, VR developers, gamers, etc.) for making connections, fostering ideas, and building a community. It has been open for seven months now and has two universities in Melbourne that have postgrads and academics in this space as well.

Mahuki at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand is an innovation incubator.The Mahuki outreach program works with tertiary institutions, the start-up ecosystem, and the wider community. They provide $20,000 funding for teams. They get 6% equity in the businesses so are invested in their success. There is a priority on diversity (gender, Māori, Pasifika).

Kaganskiy runs New Inc., founded by the New Museum in New York. They have 8,000 sq. ft. with 100 creative practitioners. It seemed like every area had an incubator lab except for the arts. Artists lacked business and entrepreurial skills to stay in NY. It costs $600 a month for full time or $350 for part-time, so people pay for desk space. They are trying to offer scholarships and funding for those without means.

Bray talked about the DXLab at the State Library of New South Wales, which is more about Digital Humanities research than being an incubator program.

Question: Why are labs important? How can they be sustainable?

Kaganskiy: It extends the public service that your museum is doing for the community. It is sustainable because of membership fees (60-70% of operational budget) and they have some foundational funding as well.

Chan: Working with universities has removed the need to do things like build labs or studios (specialist physical resources).

Te Hau: They embrace fast failing, so speed is a good thing. Then people can move on to another project.

Q: What does success look like? How do you measure this?

Chan: They need to cultivate an alumni program like universities do, so they can help show the influence they have. The first step is making the lab and naming it. Then it takes more work to go from there.

Te Hau: They are hoping that 8 out of 10 will finish the program (looking like they are on track to do so).

There was a question from Andy Neale: What about organizations that won’t set up these incubators? Kaganskiy responded that these were filling a gap and a need. They weren’t competing with things that were already there. She thinks that the community value-add aspect is the most important. There was a question about whether or not incubators try to encourage people to use their content. It seems to depend on whether they are connected to an institution. New Inc. isn’t a collecting institution, but ACMI does encourage people in incubator to use museum space and ‘try out’ exhibits.

Should you start an incubator? Consider these factors: Real Estate, Community Value-Add, Strategic Partnerships, Business Model, Experiment and Iterate.

Keynote: Incubating culture and creative economies – Julia Kaganskiy (New Inc.) @juliaxgulia @Newinc

Kaganskiy mentioned the ‘Color the Temple’ activity at the Met Museum (Egyptian art being lit up with light). She highly recommended the MoMA R&D website/blog.

She said that incubators can help breathe life into struggling communities. They are most effective when they are site-specific and situated in a specific community. By the year 2020, 40% of the workforce will be freelance. Innovation doesn’t just come from the Sciences. It comes from the Arts too!

Twitter photo:

Virtual Reality is really hot at New Inc. right now. She gave a brief look at some of the exciting ideas coming out of the incubator.

Monegraph is trying to make it easier to share digital works.

Print All Over Me turns virtual designs into real world objects. It is run by a brother and sister duo. After this, the next year they started Kokowa, an easy tool to create 3-D environments. The process is still quite hard, so their startup made a drag and drop interface tool. You can view it cross-platform.

Artiphon is designed to make music really accessible for beginners. It can scale with you as you grow. Professional musicians could use it as well.

Micromuseums are another interesting concept. It is a mobile museum about 6 ft. high by 3 ft. wide, features 15 exhibitions, and is designed to go into places like DMVs and hospital waiting rooms that are classified as dehumanized zones.

Powerplnt is giving free art lessons to teens in Harlem.

Disability is a focus at New Inc. as well. Alice Sheppard is working on a new performance with ramps that she wants to disseminate. For her it is very much an advocacy project.

Elia Life (Education, Literary, and Independence for All) wants to redesign Braille to be more intuitive, because currently it’s very difficult to learn.

Kaganskiy discussed how we need to re-envision the incubator model to foster cultural value not just capital value. They initially had social impact as one of their objectives or focus areas, but then they decided to take it out because it was such a weighty term. But it has ended up happening anyway and has been something they support. Museums act as a credentialler and when connected with an incubator are possibly even more important than physical space.

Closing Remarks – Matthew Oliver (Chair, NDF Board) @talkingtothecan

Oliver offered some reflections on the tumultuous year, including the death of the icon David Bowie and the assault on human decency that Trump brings. Is it the end of Parliamentary democracy; do we need a discussion on neoliberalism? Our sector (cultural heritage) needs to be involved in these conversations. We need to help build society and communities where people want to help each other [empathy]. The future is about building a better world where hate can’t survive. He mentioned issues like sexism. He said that we need to stop trying to prove we’re relevant and just get on with our work. Then the award winners were announced, and the conference was over.

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