Kenia Rodriguez is a Greenhouse Studios CLAS Graduate Fellow
My name is Kenia Rodriguez and I am a second year MA/PhD track student in English at the University of Connecticut (UConn). In May 2019, I earned my Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from California State University, Northridge. I am an HSI Pathways/Mellon Student Fellow who hopes to become a professor of children’s literature. I am a first generation college student and the first member of my entire family tree to pursue a graduate education. My research interests stem from my adolescent experiences with young adult literature (YA) and include contemporary American YA literature written by Latina authors, as well as relationships among gender, race, and citizenship.
Greenhouse Studios has always been concerned with fostering meaningful work using digital tools as a medium. However, the members of Greenhouse Studios, and the Digital Humanities movement as a whole, often rely on physical space to cultivate collaboration as well. While Greenhouse Studios has always used virtual spaces such as Google Docs and Slack in our design process, having a physical space filled with whiteboards, screens, notepads, and other tools has been integral to the process of collaboration. Since the beginning of COVID-19 and the practice of social distancing, Greenhouse Studios has been searching for creative solutions to try to replicate the physical space of the design process. These efforts are exemplified in a recent 2 week fully virtual collaboration by the team.
The team took up the project with the prompt “Social Distance” and condensed the design process to fit a 2 week timeline. Throughout the early, discussion-heavy phases of the project, the team used WebEx, Mural, and Google Docs to replicate synchronous, conversation-based brainstorming. As the project progressed, the team also communicated through Slack and Mural asynchronously. The team even experimented with using the app House Party to try to simulate the random encounters in physical workspaces. All of these tools were used to help create a sense of a common “place” where everyone in the project could meet and share ideas.
Overall, the project was successful, and the team learned a lot about planning and managing online collaboration efforts. The result was a video that explores why people are driven, both voluntarily and involuntarily, to isolate through history and the present moment.
Members of the Courtroom 600 project team recently participated in the 2020 ED Games Expo in Washington, D.C., allowing students, educators, and others to dive into an immersive encounter with the Major War Criminals Trial (1945-46) at Nuremberg, Germany. The annual expo, hosted by the Department of Education, is described by the ED as a “public showcase and celebration of educational learning games as well as innovative forms of learning technologies for children and students in education and special education.”
Collaborators Clarissa Ceglio, Stephen Slota, and Ken Thompson presented an early-stage prototype of the virtual reality experience to crowds of all ages; attendees were able to wear the headset and engage with the project first-hand, while also discussing both the research and the process of creating the experience. Courtroom 600, which integrates collections materials from UConn Library’s Archives & Special Collections (ASC) into the learning quest, is supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities‘ Digital Projects for the Public grant. You can read more about the Courtroom 600 project and its other team members, here, and explore the ASC’s fully-digitized collection of materials from the U.S. Prosecution’s Executive Trial Counsel Thomas J. Dodd, here.
A young ED Games Expo attendee explores an early Courtroom 600 proof-of-concept. ED Games Expo is a showcase of government-supported
educational learning games and technologies.
At the heart of the Greenhouse Studios design process is the concept of “collaboration from the start.” All too often collaborators are brought on board at a late stage merely to implement or put the finishing touches on scholarly projects, not to conceptualize them. This is particularly true with respect to designers and developers, whose labor and expertise are typically used in a service capacity to support the work of credentialed faculty researchers. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with hiring a developer to build a website for a scholarly research project, or having a design technologist create colorful and engaging data visualizations. Indeed, designers, developers and other technologists can enhance conventional research outputs, especially at the publication and dissemination stages, by making them more accessible, more engaging and more comprehensible to broader audiences.
But what happens when collaborators with expertise in design and technology are part of a project team from the very beginning? Moreover, what happens when technologists work alongside other diverse researchers, whose respective fields may lie adjacent to one another, but rarely overlap?
Since the 1970s, scholars in fields as varied as sedimentology, ornithology, sociology, and philosophy have come to understand the importance of self-organizing systems, of how higher-order complexity can “emerge” from independent lower-order elements. Emergence describes how millions of tiny mud cracks at the bottom of a dry lake bed form large scale geometries when viewed at a distance, or how water molecules, each responding simply to a change in temperature, come to form the complex crystalline patterns of a snowflake. Emergence describes how hundreds of birds, each following its own, relatively simple rules of behavior, self-organize into a flock that displays its own complex behaviors, behaviors that none of the individual birds themselves would display. In the words of writer Steven Johnson, emergence describes how those birds, without a master plan or executive leadership, go from being a “they” to being an “it.” In other words, emergence describes a becoming.
We, too, form emergent systems. Emergence describes how a crowd of pedestrians self-organizes to form complex traffic flows on a busy sidewalk. Viewed close-up, each pedestrian is just trying to get to his or her destination without getting trampled, reacting to what’s in front of him or her according to a set of relatively simple behavioral rules—one foot in front of the other. Viewed from above, however, we see a structured flow, a river of humanity. Acting without direction, the crowd spontaneously orders itself into a complex system for maximizing pedestrian traffic. The mass of individual actors has, without someone in charge, gone from being an uncoordinated “they” to an organized “it.” Continue reading →