Jun 242014
 Posted by on June 24, 2014 collaboration No Responses »

There are now many different products available for collaborative authoring of documents. The choice of which software to use depends on the particular type of authoring task being undertaken and the nature of the group undertaking the tasks. In academic work, the collaborative authoring of papers has become much more common, supported by products such as Microsoft Office, Google Docs or lesser known services such as Wiggio. However, the writing of academic articles is a highly formal and specialised process, thus in there is a need for high-calibre editing, review, citation and versioning mechanisms, especially when more than one or two authors is involved.

Whilst Google Docs was quick-off-the-mark in terms of providing a cloud-based service for the writing and editing of documents by multiple-authors, the service lacked the tools required for the more formal aspects of academic writing (such as structuring long articles, embedded tables and images, and collaborative editing, particularly through tracking-changes to the documents). Many academics settled on the power of Microsoft Word, with its sophisticated editing and track changes functionality, and then simply swapped version of the documents through email or via cloud-based services such as DropBox. This type of collaboration may be effective for thesis writing or small collaborations between say two people, but when more authors are involved it becomes highly inefficient as versioning (manual) becomes problematic as does the ability to locate who is working on what documents at a particular time.

In terms of collaborative authoring, Google Docs and Microsoft have come a long way in the past couple of years; especially in terms of the integration of their services with their respective cloud drives (Google Drive and One Drive). These cloud drives allows for the sharing and storage of documents in one central location (as with DropBox) but with the advantage of having the authoring, editing and review tools built in (ie. Word and Google Docs). Authors can work on the same document at the same time, with the contributions of each author recorded for review by the other authors.

Microsoft Office 365 is the cloud-based version of the familiar Office and offers the Office suite of tools with a large amount of storage (in OneDrive). The cloud version of Word that comes with Office 365 is not as sophisticated as the off-line version of Word, but it is integrated with it and Word documents may be down-loaded if needed. Documents may be worked on collaboratively in real-time, and then down-loaded and refined for submission as a journal article or book chapter. One of the authors, the lead author or the submitting author, could download the Word document from OneDrive, refine it in the offline version of Word, then submit it to a publisher. This is a very effective way of collaboratively authoring papers.

May 012013

I recently attended a seminar at UWS on Friday 26 April, 2013 led by Lynne and Ray Siemens of the University of Victoria in Canada. The theme of the event was collaboration in the humanities and in particular; how digital humanities projects exemplify effective collaboration in the broader humanities. This is because digital humanities projects often cross-disciplines and geography and the often more demanding collaborative terrain of computer science, computational methods and the humanities.

Lynne Siemens, specialises in project management and team building. She stated that people aren’t always well-trained to work together and outlined some of the positives and negatives of working in teams. She claimed that some people are better able to collaborate than others, often because they have developed skills of listening, are flexible, can negotiate, and can compromise.  Lynne described these as the ‘soft skills’ of effective collaborative teams. A team approach often produces more diverse and possibly higher quality ideas (and is a good way to learn new skills and perspectives), but some projects are better done as an individual (but of course, some projects are beyond the scope and skills-sets of individuals).

Lynne outlined some of successful team interactions she had observed, partly through research she had undertaken through case –studies.  Good communication skills are vital, as is project management, and the ability to think across technology and the humanities and indeed, culture and language. Also the objectives of the team, the outcomes, and the individual tasks need to be clearly described with not too many grey areas that may be potential areas of conflict. And teams operate within institutional contexts so there are certain contingencies to negotiate either within or between institutions.  Still, one of the best ways to build teams is through casual conversations, lots of face-to-face meetings, and large bottles of rum (I put in the last one).

Ray Siemans is a Professor of Humanities Computing at the University of Victoria in Victoria, Canada and is well known for his work in the Digital Humanities and in particular, through the founding of the annual Digital Humanities Summer Institute (that I attended 2 years ago and now attracts around 500 participants).  He discussed the important work of the digital humanities, particularly around content modelling and computational analysis of content (a core form of scholarship within the field). He also discussed the typology of curriculum development in the digital humanities either through stand-alone degrees or through digital humanities inflicted programs and in particular, the highly successful Summer Institute model.


DHSI (Digital Humanities Summer Institute) http://www.dhsi.org/

ETCL (Electronic Textual Culture Lab) http://etcl.uvic.ca/

Apr 272013
 Posted by on April 27, 2013 collaboration, education, gadfly No Responses »

The term interdisciplinary is used a lot, often unthinkingly and uncritically.  I asserted in the last post that the ”socio-technical’ is a false dichotomy and that technical production is also ”social” and technology advances within its own understanding of ‘the social’ (grounded by the laws of physics).  And the separation of the two modes of thinking is unproductive.

It is this idea of ”unproductive” thinking that needs to be explored, especially in fields that exist in the gaps, ie. interdisciplinary fields such as ”STS” or the ‘Digital Humanities”.  Understandings of ”the social” and the tools and methods we use to do this advance rapidly. And tool and methods to understand the world through computer science change rapidly as well (ie programming methods change rapidly).  It is easy to get stuck in one camp and make claims that one is interdisciplinary whilst falling behind in one of the disciplines that are important for your particular ”interdisciplinary” practice. I see this all the time in fields such as cultural studies that are advanced in the finer skills of academic practice, but the technical objects of their study are often many years behind contemporary technical research .   And some technical areas such as eResearch tend to be bogged down in some very old-fashioned ideas of utility and are often unable to contribute to humanities research in a meaningful way because it is far too distant from it and lacks a sophisticated understanding of it.

Interdisciplinary requires deliberation and also empathy towards what one does not know. It is often very difficult if not possible to stay on top of a number of fields, but one can recognize this in ones-self and develop the skills and strategies to make good contributions to the interdisciplinary space that are both balanced and informed and aware of the key work and technical advances across fields.


Apr 212013

I have been undertaking a lot of research of late that involves ‘sociology-technical’ approaches to computing. Whilst the subject matter of the studies is interesting and worthy, I do worry about falling into the academic trap (in which there are way too many) of being ‘socially determinist’. What I mean by this, is exclusively using in the research process, books and related theories that are very distant from the creation and understandings of software. ‘Technical capital’ through exercising technical skills (ie. from the people who built software) does not occur in a social void and the decisions made here are important and are often made by individuals unawares of the otherwise important social theories that someone else may have about them in some other research context. In other words, the ‘sociology-technical’ is a false dichotomy because it all-to-often fails to engage with the the technical production of software and the people that do this (so that they may inform each other). They are also ‘human’ and ‘social’ and have their own understanding of this and it is naive to believe that studies that are exclusivity ‘books about books’ are more in tune with the human condition or more ‘social’ (ie they are lacking in wisdom and balance). It would be much better to educate students about socially responsible coding. This is the two-hands of the ‘sociology-technical’ (that are hopefully connected to the same human being). We suffer from the same false dichotomy in the digital humanities and I think that the problem is more acute here in Australia because we import nearly all the software we use, so we are a long way from understanding the context in which it is made. And the people that make it in Germany, the UK, and the USA will continue to make it in their own context.

I think the hardest lesson I learned as a historian is that technology doesn’t need history. And technology certainly doesn’t need an Australian historian; in fact I may just write a book about this! (or learn how to program a machine that writes books without human intervention; the ultimate revenge of the digital humanist).

Oct 202012
 Posted by on October 20, 2012 collaboration, digital humanities, e-learning No Responses »

I wrote about this some time ago; about the connection between eLearning (blended learning etc.) and the Digital Humanities.  The problem is that the connection is a weak one and should be further developed. I know of very few Digital Humanities modules or plugins etc. that are be used in existing learning environments such as Moodle or Blackboard. And it is not as though the DH doesn’t have the learning materials and methods. There has been much work done on teaching digital humanities, but the work done (both research and development) seems to miss the enormous body of knowledge around LMS and educational design. This field is particularly strong in Australia and NZ and it would be good to see some movement in this area; in the same way that the DH has developed a good working relationship (if not an intellectual one), with eResearch.

Nov 122011
 Posted by on November 12, 2011 collaboration, e-science, eresearch, internet No Responses »

(This is a rough draft of a paper that is planned to be published sometime soon. If you have any comments in terms of factual accuracy or arguments they would be very much appreciated).


The application of diverse forms of eResearch infrastructures to support research has a long history. During the 1970s the genesis of eResearch in the shape of Internet was driven by the needs of the research community. In this latest stage of eResearch infrastructure development, also largely driven by the needs of the research, we are witnessing large scale investments in grids, clouds, federated repositories, and high-end eScience and eResearch projects to support research across institutional, regional, and disciplinary boundaries. But as eResearch expands, there is an increasing need to address the tricky questions of governance. eResearch does not exists in a free-flowing world of ideas, rather like all infrastructures, it exists in a complex, contested, and often contradictory world of varied manifestations of governance. As we will argue, the governance of any system has rarely been brought about in a planned and orderly manner; rather it is usually brought about by a crisis in a system and a contested set of attributes that have forced the extension of governance. As existing capacities meet limits, new approaches to governance are invented and deployed in the attempt to overcome the barriers. eResearch exists in a complex array of governing bodies and without a realistic grounding of its technical vision within the limits of these structures; new infrastructural developments to support eScience or eResearch or even the Digital Humanities will be hindered by institutional divergence.

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