versus The Twitter Times

I’ve run my twitter feed (electricarchaeo) to both and The Twitter Times. Of the two, I find more aesthetically pleasing (and it displays my own materials much more prominently) than Twitter Times; it also imposes a bit of order on the materials by classifying into broad categories. But it only updates once every 24 hours; Twitter Times is a bit quicker in that regard. It also displays materials based on how many of your ‘friends’ and ‘friends of friends’ have tweeted a particular item, and it displays the link back to that original item.

So a draw! Two different services for slightly different effects.

The Mines of Gatineau Park

The Mines of Gatineau Park – (S. Graham – appeared in Gatineau Park Chronicle v2, 2009 v4-5)

The same geology that makes Gatineau Park a stunning panorama, from the Eardley  Escarpment to the rolling landscape of the Meech Creek Valley, also made the area  attractive to miners in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There is a certain romance in mines named “Eva” or “Pink,” and their ruins and tailings can be spotted underneath the dense underbrush which has, for the most part, reclaimed them. The names recall some of the earliest landowners and entrepreneurs: Forsythe, Baldwin, Lawless, Pink, Morris, Headley, Eva, Fortin-Gravelle, Laurentide, Wallingford, Cliff, Fleury, Chaput-Payne and McCloskey.

The most commonly mined mineral was mica. In the 19th century, mica was valuable for its use as a heatproof window material and, later, as an electrical insulator. Mica mined in the park was transported to Hull, where it was cut and processed. However, only a few of the more than 14 known mines in the park were actually exploited on what can be considered an industrial scale. Many were little more than surface scratchings by farmers looking to create another source of income. The Fleury mine, opened in 1898 by M.C. Brown of Cantley, was one of the larger mica operations. Twenty tons (18 metric tons) of mica were removed from two pits over 30feet (9 metres) deep; one crystal of mica was removed from this mine that reportedly weighed more than 500 pounds (about 227 kilograms).

Today, the most easily accessed mica mine in the area is the Pink Lake Mica Mine. This mine was first prospected by the Kent Brothers of Kingston in 1903. By 1904, the mine was producing mica, which was being shipped along the Rideau Canal to Kingston,  here it was cut and readied for market. This mine consists mostly of surface cuts, most of which were opened (using steam powered machinery) by 1905. By the mid-1910s, the mine had closed down, only to be reopened by the Pink’s Lake Mining Company at the end of 1945. This company even ran a tunnel from the edge of the lake to the earlier surface pits, but this was the last gasp for the mine. It was closed by 1946, all the equipment was removed, and now only a keen eye can spot the earlier diggings.

In terms of economic value, the more important and longest-lived mines in the park were the iron mines in the Pink Lake sector, and the Moss Mine in the Onslow/La Pêche Lake area. (here for Pontiac County; here for the townships split from Pontiac County into ‘Municipality’ of Pontiac)

The Iron of Gatineau Park

The discovery of iron in the Gatineau Hills is connected with the first surveys and  settlement of the area. In 1801, John MacTaggart, who was surveying the area for Philemon Wright, noticed the needle in his compass swinging wildly about as he traversed a certain portion of lot 11 range 7, in what was later known as West Hull Township. The reason, of course, was that the high iron content in the rock was interfering with the Earth’s magnetic field. MacTaggart and Wright were not able to exploit this discovery until 1826, when they formed the Hull Mining Company, and dispatched a colonist to occupy the lot. This was little more than a claim-staking exercise, and the mining that did take place was small scale at that time. Tiberius Wright sold the rights to this Hull Iron Mine to Forsyth and Company of Pennsylvania in 1854 (thus renaming the mine as the Forsyth Mine).The ore was of such quality that the company exhibited a ton of ore from this mine at the 1855 Paris International Exposition.

Production increased dramatically. Between 1954 and 1860, about 15,000 tons (13,600 metric tons) were shipped, and 13 men worked at the mine. Ore was taken out of the hillside (near where the modern hydroelectric pylons cross through the park from Hull to Aylmer) to the little village of Ironside, where they were loaded onto barges for the journey along the Rideau Canal to Kingston. In Kingston, the ore was transshipped onto lakers, which transported it to Cleveland and the iron mills.

A fire in 1870 destroyed the village of Ironside and the infrastructure there for preprocessing the ore. At this time, Alanson Baldwin purchased the mine, as well as some neighbouring properties which also had promise for iron mining. The Baldwin mine produced roughly 3,000 tons (2,721 metric tons) of ore during the 1870s.Various legal difficulties beset Baldwin, and the ownership of the various mines in the area (the Forsyth, the Baldwin, and the Lawless) passed through a succession of hands over the next 50 years. Production continued, intermittently, during that time too, but never again at the same pace or with the same economic impact as during those 20 years in the mid-19th century.

The Moss Mine: Biggest in theWorld!

In the far western corner of Gatineau Park, there are several mine pits, underground tunnels, building foundations and crumbling structures standing as silent witnesses to an important episode of our industrial heritage. Nearly 100 years ago, this area of North Onslow Township was the epicentre for one of the biggest mines of its type in the world. Well over 100 men worked and toiled in the pits of the Wood Molybdenite Mine, with their families living above the underground shafts. At the time, the mining camp was one of the largest towns west of Aylmer. There were over 40 buildings, and more than 300 people living at the mine site during the First World War, the mine’s greatest period of prosperity.

Molybdenite comes from the Greek word meaning “lead.” Indeed, the first owner of the land thought that he had found lead while target shooting at cans on an outcrop of rock behind the family farm. The odd stray bullet would chip flakes off the rock. Examining these chips, the owner noticed a bluish coloured metal. A nearby mine on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River was mining lead, so he thought he might have found a lead deposit. The chips were sent to the Dominion government for testing, and were found to contain 15 percent molybdenum disulfide (MoS2). The men from the Galetta mine (the nearby mine in Ontario) tried to stake a claim, but discovered that the farmer had the mineral rights. Negotiations ensued, and soon a new company was formed. Henry Wood of Denver, Colorado, a pioneer in developing economical ways of extracting molybdenum from ore (achieving 80 percent efficiency), was brought in to develop this mine site. It was soon producing at full capacity.

Molybdenite has a high melting temperature, so it was used in alloys with steel to strengthen armaments. The miners processed 150 tons (136 metric tons) of ore daily. Over the lifetime of the mine, nearly 250,000 tons (226,795metric tons) of ore were milled, 1,000,000 pounds (453,600 kilograms) of concentrates were created, and 25,000 tons (22,680 metric tons) of waste rock were mined. All of this was transported by horse power to the PPJ Railroad, several kilometres to the south. The value of molybdenum during the First World War was over $2,000/ton, and the mine earned back the cost of opening it within the first few months.

With the worldwide depression following the end of the war, the price for the commodity dropped, and the mine closed. The mine changed hands—and names—several times over the next 20 years. It was reopened with a skeleton staff during the boom times of the 1920s, but closed with the onset of the  Great Depression. The Second World War saw a resumption of production at nearly the same level of intensity as during the previous war. However, once the United States joined the war effort in 1942, cheaper sources of molybdenum could be exploited via open-pit mining, and the mine in Onslow closed down.

The mine was never known officially as the “Moss Mine,” but perhaps the origin of that name comes from the procession of crates of mineral, drawn by horses down the long road to the train station, each one with the chemical formula “MoS2” written on it. Even as recently as the 1960s, there still stood some structures on the site but, after the mine was closed, most of the buildings were sold and dismantled (much of modern Quyon’s  building stock has its origins in the mine buildings), the equipment was shipped away, and the forest was allowed to reclaim the site. The ruins stand in mute testimony to the men who worked in the deeps, making their own contributions to the Allied war effort.

Moonshine and the Moss Mine

The Second World War touched everyone in countless ways. On the home front, a daily reminder was the need for rationing. Ration books contained coupons for a variety of  daily goods. One of these was alcohol; it was not unheard-of for teetotallers to sell their alcohol coupons on the black market, or trade them for other goods. Some workers at the mine had other ways of meeting this demand for alcohol. Every mine needed a chemist to test the ore and, during the war, some enterprising workers drew the chemist into a scheme to distill alcohol in a secure room in the laboratory. They coloured the alcohol with tea and flavoured it with essences that could be had from the ration books. The alcohol was strictly for the coterie’s private consumption, as there would be enormous trouble with the police if the alcohol was sold.

Nevertheless, word got around and soon “the Provincials” were in the area, asking if any bootleggers were about. They visited the mine, and were directed to speak to a man who “knew a thing or two” about life in the area. He in turn directed them to an old man, whom they questioned as follows.

“Who is making the moonshine around here?” they asked.

“What’s it worth t’ye?” said he.

“Ten dollars.” (A good sum in those days!)

“Give it t’me and I’ll tell ye alright,” said the old man.

They gave him the money, and the old man said,

“God makes the moon shine, and I’ll give ye a tip: He makes the sun shine too!”

(Story recounted by Edward Mulligan in the Shawville Equity, December 10, 1986.)

(with files from the Gatineau Park Heritage Inventory)

eat, dance, play @ Çatalhöyük

From Middle Savagery – looks like an interesting day coming up!

Join us for eat, drink, play @ Çatalhöyük, a project led by Professor Ruth Tringham of UC Berkeley that explores the intricate life practices of a Neolithic village in Turkey. Okapi Island, which has been in development since 2006, offers individuals the unique opportunity to explore reconstructions of Çatalhöyük, visit our virtual museum, and take guided video walks through the Island. In this demonstration you will join in authentic cooking lessons, dancing by the firelight, and canoeing down the river of Çatalhöyük. We will present student work and changes we made to the island over the past semester. Don’t miss the chance to explore the unique multimedia exhibits of Çatalhöyük research data and come connect with us on Okapi Island.Your browser may not support display of this image.

eat, dance, play @ Çatalhöyük Activities

2:00- 2:15 PM (PST)

Introduction to Okapi Island by Ruth Tringham (Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley, and Principal Investigator of Berkeley Archaeologists at Çatalhöyük). Join Ruth as she explains the background of the project, current projects, and future goals.

2:15– 2:30 PM (PST)

Tell Tour/introduction to the changes on the Island by Colleen Morgan, including a brief presentation about her 2009 Archaeologies publication.

2:30- 3:00 PM (PST)

Student demonstrations of their work this semester, including cooking lessons and an lecture about archiving cultural heritage in Second Life.

3:00- 4:00 PM (PST)

Extemporaneous Machinima Creation, directed by Ruth Tringham. Dress up in Neolithic clothes and flintknap, dance, and join a feast!

4:00- 4:30 PM (PST)

Film Festival – Showing of movies and machinima associated with the island.

4:30- 5:00 PM (PST)

Chat and dance next to the fire with the creators of Okapi Island.

What is Second Life?
Second Life is a 3-D virtual world created entirely by its residents. Okapi Island is owned and build by the OKAPI team (that’s us below!) and the Berkeley Archaeologists at Catalhoyuk.

Getting Started
To visit Okapi Island, you will need to create a user account and download the client software–both free.

To create an account, visit, click on Join (in the upper right corner) and follow the instructions. Note: You do not need a premium account to use Second Life or visit Okapi Island.

Next, download and install the Second Life client for your computer:

Launch the Second Life client and enter your password. You will likely begin in Orientation Island. To visit Okapi Island, click Map, enter “Okapi” in search field and click Search. Alternatively, you can click on the following slurl (second life url) in your browser, and you will be transported there:


See you there!

3 Funded PhD spots for Heritage Remote Sensing

An interesting opportunity:

The DART project has advertised 3 funded PhD opportunities on their website: in addition to and FindAPhD
DART is a 3 year multidisciplinary research project looking at how to improve heritage remote sensing. It will do this be increasing the understanding of the dynamic interaction between soils, vegetation and archaeological residues and how these affect detection with sensing devices. This requires understanding how the archaeology differs from, and dynamically interacts with, the localised soils and vegetation and how these differences can be detected. Data fusion techniques will be utilised to determine the factors that lead to contrast detection, the impact these factors will have on the sensor spectrum and the nature of any contrast dynamics. This knowledge will be distilled into domain ontologies which will become the core reasoning framework for decision support tools. The 3 PhD studentships offer a fantastic opportunity to work on a multi-disciplinary project combining industry and governmental organisations and researchers from archaeology, soil science, remote sensing and computer science.
We would be grateful if you could pass these details over to students, colleagues or other relevant institutions and networks. A flyer is available which can be posted on your institutional noticeboard

Rolling your own: early draft

I thought I’d try something different. I’m giving a paper at a conference before too long, and I thought I’d solicit feedback on it *before* I give it: I’ll write the thing in public. I am always such crap when it comes to properly formatting citations etc, and I have a mental block when it comes to words that sound alike… so please be gentle. Feedback in the comments, please.

This terrifies me, to some extent, but I watched a similar experiment unfold on Grand Text Auto a while back, which had excellent results. And so, I offer:

Rolling your Own: On Modding Commercial Games for Educational Goals

Shawn Graham – University of Manitoba, Grand Canyon University

Making modifications to existing commercial games is a strong and vibrant sub-culture in modern video gaming. Strictly speaking, ‘modding’ refers to actually changing the rules by which a game operates, but a less rigorous definition includes scenario building, or the set up of the pieces on the game board. Many publishers now provide tools to make this easier, as part of their marketing strategy. Talented individuals who make and release mods or scenarios for popular games such as the Civilization franchise have been been plucked from the fan communities to employment with the publishers (Jon Shafer, lead designer of the upcoming Civilization V, is one notable example).  Most scholars who have focused on Civilization have addressed its narrative of technological progress and American exceptionalism (REFS); others have concentrated on how the game can be employed in classroom settings, its anachronisms and theoretical outlook on history (Sid Meier famously stating that he did not set out to create a work of history, he wanted to create a game). In this piece, I wish to focus attention on the fansites as the locus for learning.

I too wanted to use Civilization for paedegogical ends in my online classroom. With the help of participants on, I created a scenario (with one rule change; thus a mod) to address a problem I was having in my Introduction to Roman History class. I carefully crafted a scenario to reflect the events of AD 69, the Year of the Four Emperors, devised an assignment to go with it, and launched it on my students. It was a flop. Its lack of success I suspect is due to the ‘creepy treehouse’ phenomenon (Stein, 2008), referring to the urban legends surrounding treehouses built with no other purpose but to lure children. In online learning, the ‘creepy treehouse’ plays out as a use of some aspect of social media that does not emerge naturally from the class dynamic, but rather is imposed from on top and thus feels artificial to the participants – an instructor who requires every student to post 3 times a week to the class blog, for instance.

In this paper I explore just how my experiment with modding and scenario building ended with a ‘creepy treehouse’. That experience refocused my attention to the fansites themselves and the participants who helped me build my scenario. This points us as educators to an under appreciated value of game-based learning using commercial video games. When we ‘roll our own’, it is the aspect of creating it in public that might have the greatest educational impact. The nature of the fansites promotes the kind of learning we labor to facilitate in our online classrooms, spontaneously and from the bottom up: teaching without teachers.

The Year of the Four Emperors

The death of Nero launched the Empire into a period of turmoil and civil war, with four Emperors being declared in various parts of the Empire, in quick succession. My introduction to Roman history class were struggling with the period. Vespasian was the last of the four contenders to be declared Emperor by his troops. In looking at the period, my students were explaining Vespasian’s success in pacifying the Empire and consolidating his hold on Rome in terms of his later role as Emperor: “Of course Vespasian would win the civil war because Vespasian was the Emperor.” This is to put the cart before the horse. As I discussed the period with them, I realized that part of the problem, aside from confusion of cause and effect, was a poor understanding of the realities of Mediterranean geography and of the difficulties of communications in a pre-industrial world (factoring in the time it took for news to travel and how that influenced the political dynamic).

I wanted my students to understand the contingency of history, that Vespasian’s eventual triumph was not fore-ordained, and that physical and political geography played a role. Thus I embarked on the creation of a scenario, using Civilization IV. Civ IV comes with a piece of software for setting up scenarios, the ‘world builder’. I quickly became frustrated with using it. It is meant to allow the player to place all of the different pieces on the map, to set up the starting positions for the game. Many of its features are disabled, and cannot be unlocked until the player adds a line of code to the Civilization initialization file. This information is not provided by the game’s documentation, but rather comes from the fan sites. Trying to unlock the worldbuilder led me to the modding community (indeed my post relating what the unlock code is, is consistently the most visited post on my research blog).

As I became more and more excited about the possibilities of scenario building, I came to rely more and more on the fan sites for help (principally, Civilization IV was built using XML to describe nearly every object in the game. By adjusting the information in the XML, one can change the names of leaders or cultures (or add more); one can adjust the game calendar so that each turn represents a single day, week, or month. One can add ancillary information to set the scene for the scenario when it opens, or prevent certain kinds of technology from ever being ‘discovered’ (a world without gunpowder, for instance). How to find this information, how to change it, was all courtesy of the fans.

Eventually, with the help of ‘Carloquillo’, I had a working scenario of the Roman world in AD69. The aim was to outmanouevre the other claimants to the throne, whether politically or militarily (the ‘Senate’ would examine the balance of power in Italy periodically, and declare one or the other of the rivals to be the ‘Emperor’ – thus simulating the ineffectualness of the Senate at this period). The scenario was not perfect of course – Vespasian kept converting to Judaism if the artificial intelligence was allowed to play as him. I devised an assessment exercise for my online students. Instead of writing the final paper, I would instead have the students play the scenario through. At set intervals, they would take a screenshot of the world map, and record a narrative of what was going on in their counterfactual history (they would be its historians). Then, to conclude they would identify and address the similarities and differences between the game’s version of ‘history’ with what had in fact happened in the past (which would make a virtue of Vespasian’s conversion to Judaism, for instance). My hope was that in playing the scenario the students would begin to appreciate the difficulty of Vespasian’s position, initially; how difficult it was to act; what an accomplishment it was in fact to manage and control such an enormous hetergeneous territory; and by identifying anachronisms better understand the important concepts of the period.

This is the point where the scenario failed. A number of my online students did indeed have copies of Civilization IV. I offered the scenario to these students as an alternative to the final assignment, confirmed that some of them were playing it, and waited to see what would happen. While feedback on the scenario was positive – “this was a fun scenario, sir” – to a person, none took up the offer to play the game for credit, turning in standard essays instead. I asked why, and every response was evasive. I initially put it down to the conservatism of students: everyone understands how essays work as far as grading goes, but maybe a game-for-credit was a step to far. I have not tried this scenario again in a classroom setting because I now realize that the major error I made was that I sprung it on my students without any kind of preparation. There was no buy-in, because it was a ‘creepy treehouse’. I selected the period to model; I had made it; it was my representation. Of course there could be no buy-in.

But there was one mitigating factor. The thread I started on Civfanatics asking for help attracted the attention of 14 other players (very nearly the same size as my class). They helped me to build it, they asked questions about the period, and they suggested ways of accomplishing what I wished to model using the game. The scenario that I uploaded to that thread was play-tested by them, and has since been downloaded nearly 1000 times. On the Civfanatics site, my role as a university instructor did not put me in any privileged position vis-a-vis the other participants; I was just one of many people who enjoyed the game.

Learning did happen as a result of my experiment in scenario building. It just didn’t happen in my classroom.

Assessing the educational value of online discussion forums

The major learning management systems used by colleges and universities rely on a twenty year old metaphor: the bulletin board, or discussion forum. Students make posts, leaving messages commenting on some topic. Posts are organized into threads (thus mixing metaphors). Similarly, Civfanatics relies on posts and threads. Significantly, online courses rely on the instructor to keep the discussion flowing, to push it into the interesting areas, and to assess the students’ learning in the forums. While Civfanatics has ‘moderators’ who monitor the discussions, their role is solely to make sure that topics are in the right place – don’t post your wish list of features for Civilization IV in the area marked for scenario swapping, for instance. There is therefore no authority ‘in charge’ of any discussion on Civfanatics. What order there is is in a given thread is largely self-organized. The literature of formal online learning can usefully be explored to assess what kind of learning is taking place in these self-organized forums. In the thread that I started, I clearly learned about how to simulate using the game. But what of history?

In the classes that I teach, when I assess a discussion forum, I am looking for posts that demonstrate an understanding of the material; that engage with others’ thoughts and comments; and which push the conversation forward. In truth, my rubric is not overly elaborate. A more rigorous rubric and approach is proposed by Uzuner (2007). Uzuner makes a distinction between ‘educationally valuable talk’ (EVT) and ‘educationally less valuable talk’ (ELVT). He situates this distinction in the traditions of Vygotsky’s 1934 insights concerning language and how “knowledge building is created between/among people in their collaborative meaning-making through dialogue.” Uzuner’s approach therefore is firmly rooted in a constructivist approach to education. Uzuner suggests that EVT, in the context of discussion threads, is

a particular interactional pattern in online discussion threads characterized as dialogic exchanges whereby participants collaboratively display constructive, and at times, critical engagement with the ideas or key concepts that make up the topic of an online discussion, and build knowledge through reasoning, articulation, creativity, and reflection. (2007)

On the other hand, ELVT is talk “that lacks substance in regards to critical and meaningful engagement with the formal content or ideas that are discussed in the posts of others in an online discussion” (2007).  Uzuner then provides examples of different kinds of EVT and ELVT, with 11 different kinds of EVT, and 5 kinds of ELVT. I reproduce Uzuner’s two tables below:

Table 1. Online Conversations and Educationally Valuable Talk (EVT) Indicators

Indicator Acronym Defined Examples Source
Exploratory EPL Recognition of some confusion/curiosity or perplexity as a result of a problem/issue arising out of an experience/course readings; posing a problem and enticing others to take a step deeper into it. “I wonder…….”

“I am not sure if what the author suggests…….”

“In the article X, the author said …. This brought up a few questions in my mind ….”

Mercer (1994);

Garrison, Anderson & Archer (2001)

Invitational INVT Inviting others to think together, to ponder, to engage by asking questions, requiring information, opinion or approval. “Jane says …….. What do you think?”

“Do you think ……?”

“The authors suggest …., no?

Uzuner & Mehta (2007)
Argumentational ARG Expressing reasoning (with analogies, causal, inductive and/or deductive reasoning etc) to trigger discussion “If teachers ……., then ……..”

“Teaching is like …………..”

“X is important because …….”

Kumpulainen (1996)
Critical CRT Challenging or counter-challenging statements/ideas proposed by others OR playing devil’s advocate “I agree that …. However, …….” Uzuner & Mehta (2007)
Heuristic HE Expressing discovery (similar to “A ha!” moments or expressions like “I find it!”); directing others’ attention to a newly discovered idea. “I did not know that there is a name for XXX. I think XXX is …..Has anyone experienced that too?” Kumpulainen (1996)
Reflective REF Examination of past events, practices (why/how they happened) or understandings in relation to formal content “I’ve noticed that I had a tendency to ….. After reading X’s article, I’ve learned not to ……” Uzuner & Mehta (2007)
Interpretive INTP Interpretation of formal content through opinions that are supported by relevant examples, facts, or evidence. “In my opinion X is …… Y is a good example of why …….” Uzuner & Mehta (2007)
Analytical ANL Interpretation of content through the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of others’ understanding “The original question was … Joe said … Mary said … As for me ….” Uzuner & Mehta (2007)
Informative INF Providing information from literature and relating it to course content/topic of discussion “I read an article about X once and the author said …. You can find more information about this in …” Kumpulainen (1996)
Explanatory EXPL Chain of connected messages intended to explain/make clear OR statements serving to elaborate on the ideas suggested in previous posts “I want to build on your comment that ……..” Uzuner & Mehta (2007)
Implicative IMP Assertions that call for action OR statements whereby participants formulate a proposal/decision about how to achieve a certain end based on the insights they gained from the course readings/discussions “Teachers should / should not ….”

“X must not be forced ….”

Uzuner & Mehta (2007)

Table 2. Online Conversations and Educationally Less Valuable Talk (ELVT) Indicators

Indicator Acronym Defined Examples Source
Affective AF



Short posts that ONLY contain a statement of personal feelings (likes & dislikes)

Short posts that ONLY contain appraisal (praising & thanking someone)

Questions or comments that add social presence to the discussion but do not contribute new information.

“I never liked Math either”

“Thank you for offering your insights into ….”

“I have been to your country once and I visited X, Y, Z when I was there”

Garrison, Anderson & Archer (2000)
Judgmental JA


Short posts that ONLY contain brief statements of agreement without elaboration

Short posts that ONLY contain brief statements of disagreement without elaboration.

“Yes, I agree with you ….”

“I do not think so”

Kumpulainen (1996)
Experiential EXP Posts that only contain personal experiences, narratives, descriptions that are not followed by reflection “I did the same thing when I was teaching X. “I did A, B, C. It was fun” Kumpulainen (1996)
Reproductional REP Repeating/reproducing the ideas mentioned/proposed in the previous posts without elaboration “You are right, X is …… “ (followed by a sentence) Kumpulainen (1996)
Miscellaneous MIS Opinions that seem to be off topic OR statements regarding technical problems/course logistics “I am unable to open Jay’s file…” Uzuner & Mehta (2007)

Uzuner’s schema thus provides a route for understanding the educational potential of the discussion forums on Civfanatics. I therefore assessed the posts in the most-viewed scenario in the Civilization IV – Scenarios forum, John Shafer’s WWI Scenario.[1] This scenario was first posted on May 6th, 2006. To date, it has been viewed over 94 000 times; the most recent post was on January 19th, 2009. There are 311 posts in this thread. I read each post, and tallied the kinds of educationally valuable or less valuable talk that was occurring.

Table 3. Educationally Valuable Talk in Shafer’s WWI Scenario thread

Kinds of Valuable Talk # of instances
EPL 10
ARG 28
CRT 22
HE 3
REF 13
INF 18

Table 4. Educationally LessValuable Talk in Shafer’s WWI Scenario thread

Kinds of Less Valuable Talk # of instances
AF 2
AA 0
ASP 79
JA 11
JDA 11
EXP 14
REP 14
MIS 184

A straight tally would suggest that the ‘less educationally valuable talk’ carries the day, with 315 posts to ‘educationally valuable talk’s 137. But this misses some important dynamics. The ‘miscellaneous’ category captures two distinct kinds of posts – ‘how do I install this scenario / it didn’t work’ queries, and more complex play-throughs of the scenario, reporting what exactly took place. These latter posts are actually quite valuable, in that since the scenario is a kind of simulation, each play-through records a different kind of trajectory through all of the possible outcomes of the scenario. It’s a kind of sweeping of the scenario-as-simulation’s ‘behavior space’ (cf Graham 2009) and so provides important fodder for other kinds of educationally valuable talk.

The development of the forum follows a distinct trajectory. Shafer introduces the forum on May 6th. A flurry of appreciative posts and ‘how do I…’ technical queries ensues for about 50 posts, followed by a second phase of play-testing and reporting of bugs. Educationally valuable talk picks up in this second phase as various individuals pick up on items in the play-throughs. By post 79, the conversation has turned to how to best represent the carnage, social, and strategic impact of trench warfare given the procedural rhetorics (though not framed in those terms) of the game. This phase continues for around another 100 posts, and includes discussions on the real world impact of the Russian Revolution on the War, and how this should best be simulated. There is a strong concern throughout these posts for verisimilitude and ‘authenticity’ – but what constitutes authenticity is debated. A flame war erupts in post 92 on this very question, and is eventually quelled by Shafer who notes that this is just a game and is meant to be engaging. In post 103, another individual suggests modifications to the scenario, and actually begins another thread elsewhere on Civfanatics to improve and expand on Shafer’s work. In posts 171, the author uses the scenario to leap into counterfactual history, and propose quite a complex counterfactual based on his play throughs of the scenario. By September of 2006 most of the heat has gone out of the thread, and most subsequent posts are again of the ‘how do I make this work’ or the play-through variety. This continues until the thread goes dormant in January of 2009.

The other aspect that needs to be considered, to give fullness to Uzuner’s approach and Vygotsky’s insight, is the social aspect. Who is talking to whom? I mapped out the pattern of social interactions in the forum as a kind of network. If ‘DoctorG’ addressed ‘JLocke’, then I connected the two individuals. If ‘KobatheDread’ posted a note recounting a play-through, I mapped that as a response to Shafer’s original post (since everything posted is public, in a sense, every individual is connected to every other individual, and so for the sake of analysis and simplicity, can be disregarded from the network). If Shafer responded to Koba quoting JLocke, I connected all three together. The resulting network is more-or-less star shaped, with Shafer in the middle and everyone else radiating off as spokes. However, there are clumps of highly interconnected individuals representing sub-conversations and discussions that developed in the forum.

Figure 1: Conversation in the WWI Scenario Thread as a Social Network. Shafer is in the exact center. There are 59 individuals.

[network diagram of pattern of social interaction in the threads; mostly starshaped, but interesting cluster of connections spins out of it]

Using the Keyplayer program from Analytech (Borgatti, 2008), I assessed the most central individuals in this network; that is, the individuals whose removal from the forum would result in a disrupted graph, or would ‘break’ the conversation. Keyplayer reported that the removal of Shafer, Jlocke, Dom Pedro, Kitten of Chaos, and Koba the Dread would cause this network to fragment almost completely. These individuals between them account for a majority of the educationally valuable posts made in the forum. This is quite interesting from the standpoint of an online educator, in that it suggests that we can determine from structure alone the individuals who are making the greatest contribution to the learning going on in a forum.

This was a forum without an official leader, or any one acting in the role of ‘teacher’. The contrast with my own Year of the Four Emperors thread is striking.[2] My thread began on May 16 2006, and went stagnant by September. Fourteen individuals contributed, and noticeably, aside from my own initial post, there is a large absence of EVT, unless you count the technical ‘how-to’ posts I made, and the play-through reports. As a social network, the graph is entirely centered around me, in a star shape. Why the difference? I think I once again created a ‘creepy treehouse’. It was all about me. I was also very upfront about my identity and the use I wished to put the scenario, which made it more of a curiosity than a scenario that got people excited.

Rolling your Own: Lessons Learned?

If we are going to ‘roll our own’ scenarios or otherwise use commercial video games like Civilization in our teaching, we need to approach it more from the point of view of a fan, than as a teaching professional. Otherwise, we create artifacts that do not create the kind of response that we wish. Learning is obviously going on in the fan forums, and using tools like Uzuner’s typology is one way of assessing what kind of learning is happening. The pattern of social interaction, and the evolution of those discussions are also extremely important it would seem. One would need to study a much greater number of the threads to see the fuller picture – this is an area where text mining could be usefully employed. Perhaps we can emulate the way these discussions tend to evolve, and foster game-based learning in our classrooms that way. As an example to the online educational field, the idea that structure might be correlated with educational impact (and thus could be measured automatically) is intriguing, and needs to be explored further.

Borgatti, Steve (2008) Keyplayer

Garrison, R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical Inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2 (2-3), 87-105.

Graham, Shawn (2007) ‘Vespasian, Civ IV, and Intro to Roman Culture’.

Graham, Shawn (2007) “Re-Playing History: The Year of the Four Emperors and Civilization IV” Case Study, Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology, United Kingdom.

Graham, Shawn (2009) Behaviour Space: Simulating Roman Social Life and Civil Violence. Digital Studies / Le Champ NuméRique, 1(2). Retrieved January 25, 2010, from

Kumpulainen, K. (1996). The nature of peer interaction in the social context created by the use of word processors. Learning and Instruction, 6(3), 243-261.

Mercer, N. (1994). The quality of talk in children’s joint activity at the computer. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 10, 24-32.

Stein, Jared (2008) ‘Defining the Creepy Treehouse’

Uzuner, S. (2007) Educationally Valuable Talk: A New Concept for Determining the
Quality of Online Conversations
Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 3.4

Uzuner, S. & Mehta, R. (2007, August) Aiming for educationally talk in online discussions. Paper presented at the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching – MERLOT Seventh International Conference, Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Original work published in 1934).



Papyrology shows the way: according to Dan Cohen

What should digital humanities projects look like, what should they do? That’s the  question posed by Dan Cohen’s recent post, Eliminating the Power Cord . It’s all down to how secure we feel in what we’re doing. And interestingly, it’s papyrology leading the way:

the more a discipline is secure in its existence, its modes of interpretation, and its methods of creating scholarship, the more likely it is to produce stripped-down, exchangeable data sets. Thus scholars in papyrology just want to get at the raw sources; they would be annoyed by a Mac-like interface or silo.  They have achieved what David Weinberger, in summarizing the optimal form of the web, called “small pieces, loosely joined.”On the other hand, the newer and less confident disciplines, such as the digital geographic history of Civil War Washington, Hypercities, and Grub Street feel that they need to have a Raskin-like environment—it’s part of the process of justifying their existence. They feel pressure to be judge, jury and executioner. If the Cohen-Chandler law holds true, we will see in the future fewer fancy interfaces and more direct, portable access to humanities materials.

On a related note, the Open Archaeology lists have been quite active, with the stirrings of a plan to liberate the grey literature… – A newspaper format for your twitter feeds

Twitter is useful. It keeps you connected. But it’s a pain to read. is a new service, still in alpha no less, that takes all of your feeds, searches, groups, tweets, etc, and analyzes them once a day to create a newspaper-style presentation. Videos referenced in a tweet? will present them to you. Photos, media… it’s all there. I quite like this! Here’s the Electric Archaeologist Today

So – if you created a twitter account and used it not so much for your own tweeting, but rather to aggregate the twitterverse for say all things archaeological, museological, politics & archaeology etc… you’d have a daily publication with the latest from the ‘real-time’ web.

As soon as I get this marking done, that’s what I’m going to do. Look out Digital Humanities Now! :)

Zotero’s Got Game: ZoteroSquare


The service works as follows: ZoteroSquare users “citat-in” in order to earn “badges” sure to inspire envy and admiration in tenure committees around the world. A few examples include:

Local: You’ve been at the same place (e.g. curled in the fetal position inside a library study carrel) 3x in one week!

Super User: That’s 30 citatins and nothing written in a month for you!

JetSetter: Hopping around the world one soul-crushing panel at a time… congrats on your 5th conference citatin and safe travels!

Bender: That’s 4+ years of graduate school for you!

Explorer: You’ve citatinated into 25 different twelve-step programs!

Asked for background on the inspiration for ZoteroSquare’s path-breaking innovation of citatins, Zotero Developer Fred Gibbs protested, “How are we supposed to pronounce that? Citation? Citating? That doesn’t even make any sense!” The stunning new functionality not only exploits Zotero’s millions of intelligent and lonely users, it also leverages the full extent of the software’s origins. “Few people know that Zotero is at its core powered purely by dating software,” revealed Dan Stillman, Zotero’s Lead Developer.

Zotero Web Developer Faolan Cheslack-Postava shrugged in disgust when asked for comment, but Community Lead Trevor Owens enthusiastically dubbed ZoteroSquare “the most depraved navel-gazing software since Dragon NaturallyTweeting.” Zotero Co-Director Sean Takats added that he had grown bored with providing researchers with useful tools and now simply wanted to cash in with premium services. According to Takats, Zotero’s future business model could hardly be more straightforward:

1. Add social networking features.
2. ???
3. Profit!

When confronted about the new feature’s striking similarity to the inexplicably popular service FourSquare, Zotero Co-Director Dan Cohen tersely asserted that he has been appending ”-Square” to the end of various words since at least 2001

I enjoy the jest… :) but for a moment I confess I was taken in. A hazard of seeing the world through game-coloured glasses! But seriously: game elements do have a place, even in something like keeping track of bibliography. The NetherNet uses this sort of thing; heaven’s above, even Weight Watchers. Imagine a contest to put together the ultimate research bibliography on some obscure topic (Roman brick stamps, anyone?), and using this kind of mechanism to crowdsource it out….

Ethan Watrall on ‘Branding’ and Interdisciplinary Identity: Amen, Brother!

For those of us who fall between the cracks, I heartily suggest reading Ethan Watrall‘s Profhacker post on ‘Building an Interdisciplinary Identity in a (Mostly) Non-Interdisciplinary Academic World’

Hi there, my name is Ethan and I’m an archaeologist.  Well…maybe not exactly. I haven’t run an excavation in years, and I don’t teach in an anthropology department.  Ok, lets try this again.  Hi my name’s Ethan and I’m a digital historian.  Ok, thats a little better, its got the “digital,” and I also live (mostly) in a history department.  But, my PhD isn’t in history.   Hmmmm…ok, how about digital humanist? Well, its got the “digital,” so that’s good.  I also “live” in the digital humanities community, work with many people who identify themselves as digital humanists, and have received digital humanities grants.   The problem is that I’m not a humanist.  Ok, mmmm…Game designer? No. Serious game designer? Not really..its what I work on, not what I am. Oh bother, what the heck am I?

The problem, dear readers, is that I’m an interdisciplinary scholar.  I sit on the happy intersection of several domains (both traditional and “progressive”).  As such, it is always a challenge for me, as well as many other who swim in these crazy interdisciplinary waters, to build and maintain an academic identify.

I have a pretty similar background to Ethan. I too am an archaeologist… wait, digital… well, history? humanist? anthropologist? dilettante?

Ethan invites us to consider our ‘brand’. I think Electric Archaeology has a pretty good brand going. I’ve got a pretty good turf staked out.  Ethan has some pointers:

Don’t know the best way of coming up with your academic brand?  Ok, try this little exercise.  Google “building a brand” (or some such phrase), and you’ll get a list similar to the one below.  Answer all of these questions (replacing words like “company,” “product” and “service” with more academic-y words), and you’ll be well on your way to developing your own personal scholarly brand.

  • What products and/or services do you offer? Define the qualities of these services and/or products.
  • What are the core values of your products and services? What are the core values of your company?
  • What is the mission of your company?
  • What does your company specializes in?
  • Who is your target market? Who do your products and services attract?

As an aside, when I was writing this, Tom Scheinfeldt pointed me towards something he wrote on his own blog called “Brand Name Scholar” (  The piece has some great points, and is well worth reading in this context.

I recently sat down and wondered to myself – if I had 30 seconds to sell my research, what would I tell people? I came up with the following:

—Social networks in history & space
—GIS & ABM to simulate & explore our understandings of the past
—Game Based Learning as an extension of simulation
—The Tiber, The Pontiac, and the Gatineau, from Antiquity to the Relatively Recent
  1. Social networks in history & space
  2. GIS & ABM to simulate & explore our understandings of the past
  3. Game Based Learning as an extension of simulation
  4. Effective online education
  5. The Tiber Valley, The Pontiac, and the Gatineau (P & G are regions of Quebec), from Antiquity to the Relatively Recent

Ethan sums up his field of endeavor as  ‘Cultural Heritage Informatics’.  In fact one piece of advice Ethan gives out is to give your ‘discipline’ a name. Cultural Heritage Informatics. I like that. Does what I do fit in that discpline? Maybe, maybe not.  I once suggested ‘xenoarchaeology’ for archaeologies of virtual worlds, but that didn’t really catch on, perhaps for its star-trek like associations.

I need a word to capture the ideas of simulation, procedural rhetorics, human antiquity, and ‘new media’. Answers on a postcard, please.