Digital Tools & Methodologies Assignment 2: Curated Digital Narrative

My second Digital Tools & Methodologies assignment involved groupwork. We – Aisha, Niamh, Senan and Jadwiga – were required to explore a chosen dataset, interrogate it and, through visualisation, analyse it for a pattern, thus creating a curated digital narrative. We chose to examine the Leaving Certificate results statistics, to be found on the State Examinations Commission website and also here. With the aid of the DIRT Directory, we found several tools which we could use for the data, given its mainly numeric and temporal nature. These included Gephi, Dedoose, Sylva, RAW Graphs and VIDA. After exploring each of these tools in turn, we opted for the latter two to use in our visualisations: both of them offer a wide range of options for visualising numeric data. For addressing the temporal nature of our data (we wanted to compare several years’ results), we decided to produce an interactive timeline in TimeMapper.

We sought to answer several questions that we asked about the data in relation to the Leaving Cert statistics. The data in spreadsheet format was difficult to interpret and analyse, and we hoped to expose the patterns hidden in it through visualisation and answer the questions that we asked. 

 

In which subject do the most students achieve an A1?

In RAW, we experimented with various visualisations of the percentages of students who achieved A1s in the Leaving Certificate; the answer was rather surprising and reminded us that there is always a narrative surrounding the result. The above visualisation illustrates that Russian is apparently the easiest subject in which to achieve an A1, with 72.1% of those sitting the examination achieving the top grade. Does this mean that Russian is an easy language? It is not a widely-examined subject, with only 333 students – who are mostly native speakers, as Russian is not a school subject – sitting the examination. This leads us to suspect that the Russian examining board may be somewhat lax, as it does not take much pains to implement the well-known bell curve in order to ensure an appropriate standard of difficulty for students.

The visualisation also shows which examining boards are the most vigilant at implementing the bell curve; our suspicions that the more popular subjects would be on this list – such as Irish, English and Mathematics – are proved correct.

 

Which subjects are boys and girls respectively better at?

Proportions of male and female students taking each subject at Higher Level:

A1 results according to sex:

The above doughnut charts give us some thought-provoking answers. Unsurprisingly, girls excel at languages and subjects such as Art and Home Economics, and boys do better in mathematical subjects; however, we were surprised to find the almost fifty-fifty balance between the sexes in subjects such as Chemistry, Accounting and Geography.

Comparison of A1 results in English (made in RAW)

Comparison of A1 results in Construction Studies (made in RAW)

The above visualisations of subjects typically associated with certain sexes prove these “stereotypes” correct.

 

Is it true that Higher Level Mathematics is being “dumbed down”? To what extent has the introduction of additional points for Honours Maths influenced numbers of students?


In the first visualisation, produced in VIDA, we can clearly see the sudden jump from just over 800 students taking Mathematics at Higher Level in 2011 to over 1100 doing so in 2012. What could have encouraged such an enthusiasm for Maths? The explanation lies in the circumstance that, from 2012 onwards, 25 additional points have been awarded to those who pass Honours Mathematics, as an incentive for students not to drop to Ordinary Level. This decision led to protests that the Higher Level examination was being simplified in an effort to accommodate the weaker students, who would normally have dropped to Ordinary Level. We decided to investigate whether this objection was valid and produced a visualisation in VIDA to map the proportion of grades from A1 – C1 from 2009 to 2016 achieved. As can be seen, there was definitively a smaller proportion of A1s in 2012 (3.4%) compared to previous years (5.7% in 2011 and 7.5% in 2010) – but, after this drop, it again rises in the next few years, even though the number of students continues to increase. This points us to the conclusion that, in an effort to ensure that grades correlate to the bell curve distribution, the examining board has indeed lowered the level of Higher Maths, thus rendering it easier for weaker students.

GCSE and LC Comparison – Evaluation

Interpreting data sets from both the UK’s GCSE examinations and the Irish Leaving Certificate (LC) examination proved interesting. We decided to compare subjects which are usually core or very common subjects in both examinations, such as Maths, English, German and French. 

Taking the GCSE 2016 student performance analysis  for these subjects and the 2016 LC subject results, patterns and similarities between the two could be identified. In RAW, the data from the various spreadsheets was first carefully dissected and then subsequently visualised. For the sake of simplicity, we chose the grade bracket of A1- A2 for LC subjects and A* – A for GCSE subjects.

Unexpectedly, the percentage of students attaining these grades were, for the majority of the subjects, on par. A number of factors had to be taken into consideration when evaluating and interpreting the visualisation. A greater number of students sat some of the GCSE subjects, and a larger number of students allows more room for a variety of both grades and abilities. To put this into perspective, 3657 pupils sat the Higher Level LC English paper while a staggering 513,285 students took the GCSE equivalent. There is a notable difference in the results of the Mathematics exam, in which a far greater percentage of students scored well in the LC exam than the GCSE one. We found this surprising as we were aware of Maths being taught at a higher level in the United Kingdom. This could be due to the fact that LC Mathematics has, as seen from our findings, been “dumbed down”.

 

Leaving Certificate French and German – Genders

 

This comparison of French and German results across a number of years unsurprisingly shows that females performed better on all occasions; however, it portrays this information in a fresh and engaging manner. What is notable is that French takes up a much greater amount of space on the diagram due to it being the only foreign language available in many smaller schools.

The following visualisation shows the proportion of females in comparison to the proportion of males who received A1’s in higher level Irish in the 2016 LC:

Proportion of female/ males who received A1’s in Honours Irish in the 2016 Leaving Certificate.

What is interesting with the languages in particular is that they are not a “gendered subject”, such as Home Economics, which has always had a larger number of female than male candidates. We will now examine a similar situation with another core subject, Mathematics.

Participation by sex in Higher Level Mathematics, 1930 – 2016

In order to map the overall progress in participation for both boys and girls in Higher Level Maths, we used examination results statistics from the Department of Education and Skills website, which contains statistical reports going back to 1924. This line chart once more validates the long-held observation that boys have a greater aptitude for mathematics than girls. Furthermore, a close correlation between the rise of the figures for boys and those for girls sitting the exam is noticeable. This led us to conclude that, with the exception of the post-WWII period, it is hard to say that girls were ever prohibited from taking the subject at Higher Level through discrimination – an assumption that is occasionally made nowadays .

Additionally, it is easy to understand why the 25 extra points for passing Higher Level Maths were introduced in 2012 – the total number of students doing Honours Maths steadily fell after 2001. One is wont to wonder: why? Did the Celtic Tiger make us lazy?
The temporal nature of the dataset we chose prompted us to create a timeline of our visualisations in TimeMapper and add a story to explain the figures. The keywords feature of this tool allowed us to curate our digital narratives according to both time and theme. 

Click here for a better view of the timeline!

The answers to our questions were only part of what we learned. We also gained experience in working with real-world datasets: the spreadsheets of statistics provided by the www.examinations.ie contained vast quantities of data, which could not be entered unprocessed into a visualisation tool. We had to know what statistics we were looking for, often extracting the appropriate figures into a separate spreadsheet. Since Excel spreadsheets could not always be directly imported into the tool, we also became more aware of working with various file formats, such as CSV, TSV and JSON.

An example of a data-packed spreadsheet from the Examinations Office website.

Another challenge that we encountered was determining the correct visualisation method for the data we were handling. We learned to stop and consider which ones accurately and truthfully presented the data being handled. We remembered to keep in mind that we were the ones looking for the answers, not inventing them.

The many visualisation options available on RAW Graphs

The many visualisation options available on VIDA.io

Like the visualisation showing Russian as being the “easiest” subject, we gained a better understanding of how statistics and aesthetically-pleasing visualisations can be misleading when one lacks the narrative surrounding it. This narrative is the key to data; but data is also key to a good narrative. The close interconnectedness of the two requires careful handling so as not to distort the objective truth. Digital tools greatly aid us in this task, as they enable us represent multiple aspects (theme, sub-theme, chronology) of the narrative in a single interactive visualisation.

Digital Tools & Methodologies Assignment 1: Zooniverse

Zooniverse.org is a platform for “people-powered research”: it involves crowdsourcing to enable large-scale research. It is the web’s largest platform for crowd participation in academics, with over fifty diverse projects and topics to choose from, ranging from physics to literature to biology (Zooniverse, no date). For my first assignment for DH2002 Digital Tools & Methodologies II, I was required to participate in one or more of these projects and reflect on the experience.

The broad range of Zooniverse projects

I chose to contribute to the project Operation War Diary. It involves the annotating of over 1.5 million pages of World War One unit war diaries provided by the National Archives, in co-operation with the Imperial War Museum and Zooniverse (Operation War Diary, no date). After creating an account, one chooses which of the 51 unit war diaries provided to work on. The diary is then opened on a page, ready to be annotated. A quick tutorial instructs the user on how to go about the task – for example, specifying the type of page (diary page, report, orders) and annotating various features, such as dates, times, places and people. There are also more specific tags regarding unit activity, including “Under Fire”, “Unit Movement” or “In the line”, and army life, for instance “Parade”, “Inspection” or “Religion”. When finished annotating a page, the user can click on the timeline button in the top right-hand corner and see the result in the format of a timeline. There is also the option of a “Talk” button, where one can draw the community’s attention if one finds noteworthy detail while annotating.

Operation War Diary in action

Timeline of annotations.

Talk comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The platform designed for this project is effective, thorough and intuitive. The many options in each category – for instance, the many types of casualties which can be specified – demonstrate that the authors of the project are familiar with this material and have considered their objectives carefully. The idea that the user is not required to transcribe the entire page, but only annotate certain details, also impressed me. The project organisers knew that a full transcription of the diaries would give them more unorganised data and less volunteers: naturally, one is less willing to participate in a project involving much menial work. Unorganised data requires more time and energy to process and categorise.

Notwithstanding, there were a few limitations to the platform as well. It is cleverly-designed enough to have given me most of the pages I transcribed in chronological order, so that I could methodically follow the soldiers’ adventures; I would much more have preferred, nevertheless, to have been able to choose which page to annotate. Once or twice (I admit), I accidentally clicked “Finished” before I had filled everything in – but the platform did not allow me to return to the page and amend or add anything. Such restrictions would be non-existent if I were doing this with a physical diary.

Tagging and annotating unit war diary pages gave me the idea of implementing a similar method to my minor subject, German. One could annotate a digitised version of a German piece of literature, such as a poem (see an example of an annotated article which I produced for one of my other modules – the concept is very similar). This could serve the purpose of note-taking or even teaching. For example, difficult words or literary techniques could be annotated to create what could be called interactive footnotes. Overall, the learning experience would be rendered more engaging and interactive.

Contributing to Operation War Diary was also an occasion for me to experience and reflect on the methodologies of this type of project: digitising, crowdsourcing and educating. It is taking advantage of collective intelligence in order to process digitised data – and also to educate the crowds.

There are three advantages to digitising documents: access, preservation and manipulation (O’ Keefe, 2016). Diaries are not only rendered legible, but can also be effortlessly searched and accessed by anyone in the world, thanks to their being tagged with metadata. Thus, the many restrictions that existed on the access of knowledge prior to the digital age are removed. The physical documents may be enduring the imprisonment of a dark archive somewhere, but they are alive and accessible in virtual form. Secondly, virtual items do not undergo decay with increased viewing and usage, unlike their physical counterparts, and can therefore serve the purpose of preservation. Finally, digitisation in many cases allows for more flexible manipulation of the artefact. For instance, I can mark and annotate diary pages without damaging the originals.

The methodology of crowdsourcing in such a project as this has both advantages and disadvantages. Naturally, it is an ingenious way of accomplishing the enormous feat of annotating over 1.5 million pages. But it also engages the public in the contribution of data for public usage. The sense of community that develops encourages participants to take an interest in the project and be involved; after all, it is easier to accomplish something with the help, or at least the company, of others. People are familiar with it before its launch and are more likely to view a project to which they contributed, resulting in a ready-made, interested and educated audience. In addition, collaboration raises society’s overall interest in the material and heightens public awareness, so the project benefits from crowdsourcing in a long-term manner.

What I think is particularly appropriate to Operation War Diary is that this community-engaged project produces a sense of authorship among the public. It is right that the new content (that is, the metadata) is user-generated since the original content was produced by the nations’ (British and Irish) people as well. Patriotism and a sense of heritage are imbued into the public in a different manner than if the war diaries had simply been annotated by a team of scholars and then released for public viewing. Since it is the work of the community, it is fitting that the Operation War Diary website states that “all of the data produced by Operation War Diary will eventually be available to everyone free of charge”(Operation War Diary, no date).

The disadvantages of crowdsourcing are far outweighed by its advantages, but are nevertheless worth mentioning to ensure an objective assessment of the project. For instance, some users may omit to record details that they may consider irrelevant, but are actually worth annotating, while other users may, out of sheer enthusiasm, overload the page with unnecessary annotations. We must also keep in mind that contributors to this project are voluntary, not paid, and will probably not overtax themselves on paying attention to details which may be difficult to decipher. Such inconsistencies and deficiencies would be avoided if those employed in the work were solely paid historians (or others experienced in this field, such as librarians). However, the overseers of the project prognosed such shortcomings and have made an effort to reduce them by designing the platform so that each page is annotated by more than one user (Operation War Diary tutorial, no date).

The final methodology, which I call crowd-educating, is what lends the project its momentum. It is important because, as a citizen humanities initiative, the project isn’t merely about treating its contributors as a voluntary workforce, but also as a body of thinking individuals ready to learn.

Citizen humanities is the involvement of citizens in humanities projects; it is a fairly new concept, which stems from a branch of crowdsourcing called citizen science (Kelly, 2013). This participation of public communities in humanities research has been rendered possible on a large scale with the advent of the digital age (Dunn and Hedges, 2012, p. 3); Operation War Diary is one such project that illustrates this.

Citizen science produces amateur researchers in the scientific world; citizen humanities develops the public’s appreciation of the humanities and produces more educated, thoughtful citizens. Let me give an example of how this works.

In total, I annotated about twenty pages. I found the work engaging and rewarding; I have a personal interest in history, and these first-hand accounts of the soldiers’ adventures drew me in. I chose to work on diaries of two Irish regiments, brigades of the 9th and 11th battalions of the Royal Irish Iniskilling Fusiliers, and I was lucky to be assigned diary pages detailing  the Battle of the Somme. Other, minor, entries, such as the entry “Divine Service” every Sunday, or the account of a sports day, helped to enhance and vivify my envisagement of these Irish Catholic soldiers’ lives. I also began to understand the high level of discipline and organisation in the British army, what with daily diary entries, accurate summaries of casualties and attention to minute details, such as grid references. Already after only twenty pages or so, I have acquired a more personal insight into a soldier’s life at the Front, compared to a more general, summarising overview of the Great War that I might find in a history textbook.

My case is one among many. I am sure that other participants also found the project to be didactic. I believe that one gains something more from this type of project than just a sense of community and nationalism: knowledge. Thus, we see how citizen humanities projects play a role in the formation and education of the public.

To conclude, participating in Operation War Diary enabled me to understand the benefits of citizen humanities crowdsourcing projects. Not only researchers and institutions benefit, but also the community. The digital environment is a tool for enabling access, preservation and easy manipulation of the documents, as well as bridging people together by a common task. A sense of identity is created as participants discover their heritage. Finally, this project’s benefits are long-term as the information gathered will be an invaluable resource for future education and research.

Bibliography

Dunn, S. and Hedges, M., 2012. Crowd-Sourcing Scoping Study:
Engaging the Crowd with Humanities Research. Available at: http://crowds.cerch.kcl.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Crowdsourcing-connected-communities.pdf [last accessed 17th February 2017]

Dobreva, M. and Azzopardi, D., 2014. Citizen science in the Humanities : A promise for creativity. Available at: https://www.um.edu.mt/library/oar/handle/123456789/987 [last accessed 17th February 2017]

Kelly, A. R., 2012, Music, Mayans, Maps: Citizen science and the digital humanities. Available at: http://blogs.plos.org/citizensci/2013/06/03/music-mayans-maps-citizen-science-and-the-digital-humanities/ [last accessed 17th February 2017]

O’ Keefe, T., 2016. Digitising Your Collection. Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/dri_ireland/tim-keefe-dri-training-series-2-digitising-your-collection [last accessed 17th February 2017]

Operation War Diary, no date. About Operation War Diary. Available at: https://www.operationwardiary.org/#/about [last accessed 17th February 2017]

Zooniverse, no date. About Us. Available at: https://www.zooniverse.org/about [last accessed 17th February 2017]

Digital artefact and Presentation are up!

As part of the assessment for my DH2001 Concepts and Collaboration module, I produced a digital artefact in the form of an interactive article and recorded myself making a presentation about digital libraries, museums and web archives.

Feel free to have a look through them – they’re to be found on separate pages near the top on the right-hand-side menu under About.

Here are the permanent links to the projects:

Digital artefact: https://www.genial.ly/58778572233b570ad890b5f7/digital-artefact

Slideshow: https://www.genial.ly/5878b6ccc3bcd511b824a7f8/exploring-digital-museums-librara

Presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iY2DWSP0tM

Exhibition on Screen

Recently, I went to see a screening at the Omniplex Cinema in Mahonpoint entitled Exhibition on Screen: The Curious World of Hieronymous Bosch. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect – I had never before heard of anyone called that, and, as far as I was concerned, Bosch was simply a washing-machine manufacturer.

Then I found out that Hieronymous Bosch was an Early Netherlandish painter living in the 15th and early 16th centuries, known for his imaginative and captivating style of painting. He would often use surrealistic imagery to depict sin and hell, but also painted a number of depictions of Christ and the saints. His works are fascinating to look at due to his strange, phantasmical style.

Exhibition on Screen, a film production company, produce documentary-type films exhibiting works found in art galleries and museums – places which people would often love to visit, but simply do not have the time or resources (Exhibition on Screen, 2016). The Curious World of Hieronymous Bosch takes us on a tour of the Bosch collection in Het Noordbrabants Museum (Bosch’s hometown) in the southern Netherlands. Have a look at the trailer below:

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E-Literature – a New Form of Narrative?

What is the difference between standard literature and e-literature?

I only discovered that such a term as e-literature even exists in my Digital Humanities lecture last week. Electronic literature is, one could say, an emerging form of narrative; it is literature that was created digital and specially suits the digital environment. It does not include printed works in electronic format, such as an e-book. Generally, e-lit is interactive and resembles a narrative game. For instance, an e-lit narrative can be told through hyperlinks, hypermedia, additional sound, animated text and images and so on. The viewer/ reader of the piece is often required to interact and input something – mostly by mouse, keyboard or touchscreen interaction. Thus an e-literature narrative may differ each time it is read, depending on the extent to which it is designed to subject itself to user interaction.

The Electronic Literature Organization [sic] (ELO) defines e-literature as:

“works with important literary aspects that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.”

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Digital Humanities in Deutschland!

Since I study German as my minor subject, I thought it would be interesting to do a bit of research on how the field of digital humanities  is faring auf Deutsch. I researched a few German Universitäten and, after only a few minutes of mouse-clicking and scrolling, was quite surprised to see how enthusiastically the digital humanities have been incorporated into many deutsche universities.

In 2011, there were approximately 12 German universities offering Digital Humanities -related courses. This has increased to 16 universities at the present, including well-known institutions such as the Cologne and Hamburg Universities. Most, such as Würzburg University, have a Bachelor program in Digital Humanities. In addition to this, many also offer courses related to this field of study, such as Bamberg University’s MSc Computing in the Humanities program or Bielefield University’s BA in Text Technology and Computer Linguistics (Digital Humanities in Deutschsprachigen Raum, 2011). Continue reading

Europeana and Copyright

What is Europeana? It is Europe’s largest digital, online, freely accessible collection of cultural heritage data.

Simply put, it houses collections of Europe’s musical, artistic and historical heritage from over 2,500 European institutions. According to the Europeana website, approximately 10% of Europe’s heritage has been digitised and harnessed by the organisation – that’s around 300 million digitised books, paintings, letters, recordings, interviews, photographs and so on. Once this has been done, Europeana then aggregates the files, organises them and presents them to the viewer in an engaging and interactive manner.

However, Europeana is experiencing a problem with making its material available to the public.Only 34% of this material is available online as much of it is held behind copyright barriers, locked away in archives and libraries from the public. In an effort to increase the amount of publicly-accessible digital heritage, Europeana is actively involved in lobbying the European Parliament for improved copyright laws. (“Europeana Strategy 2020: ‘We Transform The World With Culture'”) Continue reading

Cork City Library – It Seems History is to Blame

Launched in 2013, the It Seems History is to Blame programme is being run by Cork City Library. The aim of the programme is to augment our understanding of the events from 1913-1923 – what happened, and why – and also “to learn lessons for our own time.”

So far, projects as part of this programme have included The Crucial 100: one hundred books which inspired a revolution and Europe’s Last Summer, amongst othersOne of the 2015 projects sought public suggestions on an Irish National Day.

As I was exploring the City Library website, however, what caught my eye was a digital centenary map of the major events of 1913-1923 around Cork City. Continue reading

Redesigning My Blog

As part of my Concepts and Collaboration module for Second Year, I am required to come up with a specific digital-humanities-related theme for my blog – something that would help orientate me towards a specific career and prepare me for work experience next year. Since I have a strong interest in languages and history (my minor subject is German), I have decided to go along this route and give my future blog posts a history/ language-related slant.

More specifically, I would be interested in embarking on a project that would help others understand some aspect of their heritage, be it national or international. Digitising a history project – for example, preparing a digital presentation for a local library, heritage centre or museum – would be an ideal task for me. I remember when my History teacher took my history class on a trip to London in my Leaving Cert year and we visited as many museums and historical places as we could schedule into two days. What I remember from that trip is how skilfully history was digitised and presented in places like the Winston Churchill museum and the British War Museum; the entire learning experience was much more vivid and didactic. Or take for instance Frederick Kaplan’s TED Talk, in which he explains his ideas for digitising Venice’s priceless archives dating back centuries, so that they can be viewed and explored by anyone. If I had the opportunity, I would like to work on this kind of digitisation of knowledge.

An equally ideal area of work for me would be something German-related. As I mentioned, this is is my minor subject and I have been learning the language for the past six years. A job in which I could combine my German with my IT skills is something that I would find very appealing.

Visually Analysing “Pickwick Papers”

For my final Digital Humanities assignment this year, I was asked to experiment with some visualisation tools and then see what I can learn from a text by visualising it through an analytical process. This text can be anything that is publicly available – such as a book, film script or document, and the tool I decided to use is Voyant 2.0.

I chose to analyse  Dickens’ Pickwick Papers not only because it is such an enjoyable read, but also because Dickens is a master at shaping characters through their use of language. Every character has his or her own particular way of expressing themselves when speaking; so much so that certain colloquailisms in the English language can be easily recognised and associated with Dickensian characters – “Bah! Humbug!”, for instance. Therefore, I thought that the process of analysing various patterns and word recurrences in Pickwick Papers would prove to be both stimulating, fruitful and would answer questions such as

  • Out of the numerous characters in such a large text, which are the main ones?
  • How does Dickens develop/ cast off his idea of the Pickwickian club as the novel continues?
  • What were the differences in language use between the upper- and working-classes in the 19th century?

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