Discussion of related technical themes and integration with other services and technologies.
SIG Coordinator: Timothy Hill
Using Pelagios for teaching
June 29, 2016 at 3:25 pm #1545
I would like to take the opportunity to pick your collective brains, if I may…
Next Tuesday (5 July) I’m going to be having a meeting with departmental colleagues about the potential use of Pelagios in the design of a new module. The module is a level 2 (second-year undergraduate) general introduction to the classical world in four parts: Homer and archaic Greece; Athens and classical Greece; the Roman Empire at home; the Roman Empire abroad. As you’ll see, the format is pretty traditional (our students will be new to the classical world): but I had in mind trying to leverage Pelagios to make the module more innovative and contemporary.
The question is, of course, how? At the most basic level, it probably makes sense to use digital mapping tiles we’ve helped develop to give the students a sense of this world geographically and challenge assumptions (i.e. the ancient Greek world is *not* the same as the modern nation state we know as “Greece”.) More ambitious would be to enable students to more actively learn about the Greek and Roman worlds and search out different places and the resources associated with them.
But there is a major challenge facing our students. The Open University is a distance-learning institution, so any tasks that we set the students need to be both clearly defined and achievable *without* the intervention or assistance of an instructor. (Students will be studying at home, alone.) As a result, is all too easy for our students to feel “lost” if guidance is lacking or the purpose is unclear. And yet here’s the rub: the Pelagios network of linked data is continuously growing and could easily give the impression of being a poorly defined hairball mess of information. (My description, not Leif’s!)
So, my question / appeal for help is: what kinds of things do you think we could ask students to do (either individually or collectively in tutor groups) that would make more interesting use of Pelagios (the data that are being made more discoverable and linkable) than simply a few maps showing the extent and reach of the Greek and Roman worlds? How would we be able to do that? (Could we, for example, create a “safari park” environment for the students to go off exploring for themselves in relatively secure surroundings?) And, above all, what kinds of things would the students be learning? (What would be – in pedagogic terms – the learning outcomes?)
Any thoughts you have will be gratefully received! And, if any of you have already begun to use Pelagios in the classroom / lecture theatre, I would be very keen to find out what/how/why…
June 29, 2016 at 3:46 pm #1547
When @gabrielbodard and I had to decide some practical exercises for the Sunoikisis session last february, we had quite a conversation about what was realistic for the students to do and to achieve. You can find our materials here, I hope they can be helpful: https://github.com/SunoikisisDC/SunoikisisDC-2016/wiki/Named-Entity-Recognition:-SNAP-and-Recogito-(February-24)
One of the most important and appreciated exercises we had them doing was annotating places in Recogito. We provided them guest accounts and they had great fun doing it. Then, they were expected to do some use of those annotations, as you can see in the “exercise” section of our syllabus. In this case, the crucial problem is the nature of the audience. I think your students are mainly not Classicists/Philologists, so it makes sense to have them work on translated sources in the first place. Also, they may be “computer-compatible” or not but it doesn’t require a Steve Jobs to play around with QGIS and the Pelagios APIs, and especially to do some basic research tasks with Peripleo. Therefore, if you choose your sources accurately, you may have them do some serious critical work on the geographical dimension of “Greece” through time, on the type of archaeological sources associated with it, on the literary projection of the “Greek world” at various stages of history and so on. If it were for me, I’d have them annotating Thucydides, but there’s plenty of choice.
I’m sure @aurelien-berra has some thoughts on this as well. We were virtually together in this wonderful experience that was Sunoikisis, and his students have done amazing annotation work on Homer.
June 29, 2016 at 3:53 pm #1548
I introduced a new module into KCL’s MA in Digital Humanities last year called “Maps, Apps and the GeoWeb: Introduction to Spatial Humanities”: <a id=”LPlnk718664″ class=”x_x_OWAAutoLink” title=”http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/ddh/study/pgt/Modules-2015-16/7AAVMAPS.aspx
Ctrl+Click or tap to follow the link” href=”http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/ddh/study/pgt/Modules-2015-16/7AAVMAPS.aspx” target=”_blank”>http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/ddh/study/pgt/Modules-2015-16/7AAVMAPS.aspx. One of the lectures I did was “Ancient World Geography”, in which (of course) Pelagios figured prominently, but I didn’t actually “use” it as such. This was because the course is a broad introduction to spatial methods for students who had no programming background, and who (mostly) had only very limited programming (and I myself am no programmer), if any, elsewhere in their programmes. Rather, for the assessment, I focused on question framing and problem solving using GIS — they had to identify a spatial research topic from the course, design a project and implement a solution using basic Quantum functions, and then write a short critical report on what they had learned. I had the sense that the bulk of their thinking actually went to the formation of the question, and the ones that did that well there went on to do well in the projects, and the ones that formed generic or shallow questions performed less strongly.
While I’m going to narrow the focus of the assessment down for next year, the principle seems to work OK, and I imagine it’s an approach that could be adopted in the more specific environment of a Classics degree using Pelagios rather than Quantum. Actually, a few of the really good student projects from Maps and Apps were on Ancient World topics. One explored the relationship between shrines dedicated to different deities and conurbations, another looked at locations of libraries and archives in classical Greece, and another looked at trade routes. There were a number of skills involved – understanding geocoding, acquiring base data, data manipulation, CRS projection etc.
I would likewise be very interested in any experience people have of teaching in this area.
July 12, 2016 at 8:46 am #1598
Thanks to Elton for starting this thread – I’m involved in producing the module which Elton describes above and we’re currently at the early stages of planning how best to use an interactive map to engage our distance-learning students and to help them to meet some of the module’s learning outcomes (these include skills like finding and handling information using different tools/media as well as understanding the geography of the ancient world). At the simplest level we need maps to use in orientation exercises throughout the module (providing an overview of the scope of the ancient Med as well as more detailed info for particular key sites); and as Elton points out we are keen not to overwhelm our students with too much info or overly complex tasks at this early stage in their encounters with the classical world. I’d be really interested to hear from any of you who might be using Pelagios as the basis for this kind of task as I’m sure there are things we haven’t thought of which would be possible. Thanks!
October 14, 2016 at 8:39 am #2048
A very belated answer to Chiara’s mention… I have not been using GIS with my students beyond Pelagios – and now the XML exported files, which are a boon. Still, I’m interested in the latest developments of these teaching ideas. I guess the KCL module and the next iteration of Sunoikisis DC are the places to watch, then?
October 22, 2016 at 5:47 pm #2074
It’s worth flagging up that I’ll be running a new Masters module on Spatial Technologies for Historical Analysis in the Spring term. Like Stuart’s module (which has a lot of resonances) they primary focus will be on GIS, while trying to cover a range of related methods and technologies as well.
FWIW, I think the Pelagios tools are perhaps more effective as means of getting students to think about issues (What is a ‘place’? What is a toponym? How do we represent spatial geometry and uncertainty?, etc) than something that they can simply learn and move on. I suspect that the new Recogito will be much better suited to this style of teaching because students will have their own space to explore and make mistakes (which is important!). Peripleo is perhaps a different kettle of fish, and there’s obviously a lot of work still left to do to make it robust enough for general users. Again, however, I think it could be used to raise questions about research and information retrieval more generally. What are our sources of information? What kinds of things can we do with aggregate data and what can’t we do? How what are the benefits and limits of digital approaches compared to print? In other words, all the things we worry about daily and they ought to worry about too! Obviously, many students may wonder why they have to concern themselves with such meta-questions (aren’t we here to learn about Rome?) but I’d say that they help get to the heart of what (at part of) what research is about.
October 23, 2016 at 4:51 pm #2076
<div>I think this point raises an important further question/distinction. There are certain overarching requirements of an MA degree, and thus of any use of GIS and geospatial technologies within that. The story may be different for MSc’s or equivalent programmes dealing with GIScience topics, but my own module is part of an MA, in university with a rather small-c conservative approach to such matters. In this context it is exactly those questions which are key to the learning outcomes – what is place, how is it defined, how do digital representations of place and space relate to the ideas of key thinkers such as Yi Fu Tuan and Doreen Massey, etc. These are outcomes associated with critical thinking, dialectal reasoning between arguments and the evaluation of evidence in all its different forms. This is not the same as training in GIS, or any related toolsets – which is not to say that one is any more “valuable” than the other, whatever that means, just to recognize that they are different activities with different purposes, and serving different requirements.</div>
<div>But life is never that simple, and of course one cannot teach such an MA module without some element of practical training/education in computational methods. My question therefore is is there a “bucket list” of specific functionalities of generic GIS packages (such as Quantum, which I use) and associated families of bespoke geo-tools for the humanities – such as Pelagios et alia – which students should learn as part of a course whose primary aim is critical education? What would these be? Bearing in mind that all one has is ten one hour lectures and ten seminar/practicals; and that the first lecture is likely to be the first time the students have come across GIS, or at least had a detailed explanation of what it is.</div>
<div>All the best</div>
November 8, 2016 at 12:46 pm #2092
This is a great question, but the answers may be quite domain specific. For instance, in archaeology, I’d probably want to have emphasis on features related to topography and vector drawing, whereas in history or classics there might be a greater emphasis on comparing heterogeneous and fragmentary sources. In terms of GIS, there always a bit of a debate as to whether to start with an initial primer on relational databases (which underlie the GIS model to some extent). That may also depend on whether there is provision for this elsewhere in the curriculum, but there may be a greater need for it in ‘data-heavy’ subjects like archaeology. That being said, I still think relational databases are so fundamental to many areas of digital practice, that I’d probably want to include it anyway. A historian marking up text in TEI may never need it, but if I was employing someone on the basis of their ‘digital humanities’ qualification I’d be concerned if they had no experience with databases at all. But I digress…
Between, the Lancaster, KCL, OU, Sunoikisis and other offerings I suspect there could be a lot of mileage in having a conference call (or even meeting?) to think this through. This is particularly the case with Sunoikisis where the ideal would be to have an offering that complements the syllabus of related courses in bricks & mortar institutions.
November 8, 2016 at 1:53 pm #2094
The domain specific point is certainly true, although one would have to ask whose need to understand the technology in any one academic endeavour is greatest. E.g. someone working on the micro and macro configuration of villas in Roman Britain will be working with texts, maps and archaeological data, the latter largely in the form of site plans. There is a question as to how much “humanistic space” (Yi Fu Tuan again) crosses domain boundaries, and indeed where it should and shouldn’t — although I could never see a point at which studying humanistic space would not need at least collaboration with experts within a particular subject area.
Another bee I have in my bonnet at the moment is the fact that GIS has its origins in the observation and analysis of space in the contemporary world – I hope that’s not a controversial statement – and there are multiple unresolved issues in co-opting it for the analysis of space that is mediated through any form of domain-specific humanities discourse, be that text, (old) maps images or whatever. There are many wonderful applications of qualitative GIS from the CritGIS world, but all the ones that I am aware of take as their starting point contemporary world data – interviews, observations, traffic systems, present day census surveys etc. That merely entrenches assumptions about what “qualitative” actually means in this context. I suspect that teaching “qualitative GIS for the humanities” is something different entirely
I would be very up for such a call/meeting. Perhaps there is even room for a training/pedagogy SIG in these august digital halls?
November 9, 2016 at 2:39 pm #2107
As Leif knows, of course, in the Sunoikisis Digital Classics module I’m convening this semester, we introduce students to (a bit of) Recogito, cartography and GIS as ways of approaching historical space and place. (Some feedback from all that is also on our docket to report in the Recogito Users SIG.) There is always tension between introducing students to the practicalities (including shortcomigns) of the technologies and methods, and helping them to engage with the critical and research implications of geographical work on classics/history. My approach tends to be that the two are indivisible—or rather that we introduce one through the medium of the other: they practice tagging images on maps of the ancient/late antique world, they practice QGIS with data about Roman Britain, etc., and they ask themselves throughout, what am I learning from this? In this type of course, where geo is a small part, rather than the focus of a whole semester, there are sacrifices that have to be made, which brings a different perspective to Leif’s question of whether to introduce relational databases in detail, and also reinforces Stuart’s comment about the necessity of collaboration, since no one can be an expert in everything, but it helps to know a little bit about a lot of things to have a handle on the big picture around any such collaboration.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I’d be very interested in such a discussion of the place of Pelagios/Linked Pasts in pedagogy, as well.
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