ODATE: Open Digital Archaeology Textbook Environment (original proposal)

“Never promise to do the possible. Anyone could do the possible. You should promise to do the impossible, because sometimes the impossible was possible, if you could find the right way, and at least you could often extend the limits of the possible. And if you failed, well, it had been impossible.”
Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

And so we did. And the proposal Neha, Michael, Beth, and I put together was successful. The idea we pitched to ecampus ontario is for an open textbook that would have an integral computational laboratory (DHBox!), for teaching digital archaeology. The work of the DHBox team, and their generous licensing of their code makes this entire project possible: thank you!

We put together a pretty ambitious proposal. Right now, we’re working towards designing the minimal viable version of this. The original funding guidelines didn’t envision any sort of crowd-collaboration, but we think it’d be good to figure out how to make this less us and more all of you. That is, maybe we can provide a kernal that becomes the seed for development along the lines of the Programming Historian.

So, in the interests of transparency, here’s the meat-and-potatoes of the proposal. Comments & queries welcome at bottom, or if I forget to leave that open, on twitter @electricarchaeo.

~o0o~

Project Description

We are excited to propose this project to create an integrated digital laboratory and e-textbook environment, which will be a first for the broader field of archaeology

Digital archaeology as a subfield rests upon the creative use of primarily open-source and/or open-access materials to archive, reuse, visualize, analyze and communicate archaeological data. Digital archaeology encourages innovative and critical use of open access data and the development of digital tools that facilitate linkages and analysis across varied digital sources. 

To that end, the proposed ‘e-textbook’ is an integrated cloud-based digital exploratory laboratory of multiple cloud-computing tools with teaching materials that instructors will be able to use ‘out-of-the-box’ with a single click, or to remix as circumstances dictate.

We are proposing to create in one package both the integrated digital exploratory laboratory and the written texts that engage the student with the laboratory. Institutions may install it on their own servers, or they may use our hosted version. By taking care of the digital infrastructure that supports learning, the e-textbook enables instructors and students to focus on core learning straight away. We employ a student-centred, experiential, and outcome-based pedagogy, where students develop their own personal learning environment (via remixing our tools and materials provided through the laboratory) networked with their peers, their course professors, and the wider digital community.

Project Overview

Digital archaeology as a field rests upon the creative use of primarily open-source and/or open-access materials to archive, reuse, visualize, analyze and communicate archaeological data. This reliance on open-source and open-access is a political stance that emerges in opposition to archaeology’s past complicity in colonial enterprises and scholarship; digital archaeology resists the digital neo-colonialism of Google, Facebook, and similar tech giants that typically promote disciplinary silos and closed data repositories. Specifically, digital archaeology encourages innovative, reflective, and critical use of open access data and the development of digital tools that facilitate linkages and analysis across varied digital sources. 

To that end, the proposed ‘e-textbook’ is an integrated cloud-based digital exploratory laboratory of multiple cloud-computing tools with teaching materials that instructors will be able to use ‘out-of-the-box’ with a single click, or to remix as circumstances dictate. The Open Digital Archaeology Textbook Environment will be the first of its kind to address methods and practice in digital archaeology.

Part of our inspiration comes from the ‘DHBox’ project from CUNY (City University of New York, http://dhbox.org), a project that is creating a ‘digital humanities laboratory’ in the cloud. While the tools of the digital humanities are congruent with those of digital archaeology, they are typically configured to work with texts rather than material culture in which archaeologists specialise. The second inspiration is the open-access guide ‘The Programming Historian’, which is a series of how-tos and tutorials (http://programminghistorian.org) pitched at historians confronting digital sources for the first time. A key challenge scholars face in carrying out novel digital analysis is how to install or configure software; each ‘Programming Historian’ tutorial therefore explains in length and in detail how to configure software. The present e-textbook merges the best of both approaches to create a singular experience for instructors and students: a one-click digital laboratory approach, where installation of materials is not an issue, and with carefully designed tutorials and lessons on theory and practice in digital archaeology.

The word ‘e-textbook’ will be used throughout this proposal to include both the integrated digital exploratory laboratory and the written texts that engage the student with it and the supporting materials. This digital infrastructure includes the source code for exploratory laboratory so that faculty or institutions may install it on their own servers, or they may use our hosted version. This accessibility is a key component because one instructor alone cannot be expected to provide technical support across multiple operating systems on student machines whilst still bringing the data, tools and methodologies together in a productive manner. Moreover, at present, students in archaeology do not necessarily have the appropriate computing resources or skill sets to install and manage the various kinds of server-side software that digital archaeology typically uses. Thus, all materials will be appropriately licensed for maximum re-use. Written material will be provided as source markdown-formatted text files (this allows for the widest interoperability across platforms and operating systems; see sections 9 and 10). By taking care of the digital infrastructure that supports learning, the e-textbook enables instructors and students to focus on core learning straight away.

At our e-textbook’s website, an instructor will click once to ‘spin up’ a digital laboratory accessible within any current web browser, a unique version of the laboratory for that class, at a unique URL. At that address, students will select the appropriate tools for the tasks explored in the written materials. Thus, valuable class time is directed towards learning and experimenting with the material rather than installing or configuring software.

The e-textbook materials will be pitched at an intermediate level; appropriate remixing of the materials with other open-access materials on the web will allow the instructor to increase or decrease the learning level as appropriate. Its exercises and materials will be mapped to a typical one-semester time frame.

Rationale

Digital archaeology sits at the intersection of the computational analysis of human heritage and material cultural, and rapidly developing ecosystems of new media technologies. Very few universities in Ontario have digital archaeologists as faculty and thus digital archaeology courses are rarely offered as part of their roster. Of the ten universities in Ontario that offer substantial undergraduate and graduate programs in archaeology (see http://www.ontarioarchaeology.on.ca/archaeology-programs), only three (Western, Ryerson and Carleton) currently offer training in digital methods. Training in digital archaeology is offered on a per project level, most often in the context of Museum Studies, History, or Digital Media programs. Yet growing numbers of students demand these skills, often seeking out international graduate programs in digital archaeology. This e-textbook therefore would be a valuable resource for this growing field, while simultaneously building on Ontario’s leadership in online learning and Open Educational Resources. Moreover, the data and informatics skills that students could learn via this e-textbook, as well as the theoretical and historiographical grounding for those skills, see high and growing demand, which means that this e-textbook could find utility beyond the anthropology, archaeology, and cultural heritage sectors.

Our e-textbook would arrive at an opportune moment to make Ontario a leading centre for digital archaeological education. Recently, the provincial government has made vast public investment in archaeology by creating ‘Sustainable Archaeology’ (http://sustainablearchaeology.org/), a physical repository of Ontario’s archaeological materials and centre for research. While growing amounts of digitized archaeological materials are being made available online via data publishers such as Open Context (http://opencontext.org), and repositories such as tDAR (https://www.tdar.org), DINAA (http://ux.opencontext.org/archaeology-site-data/dinaa-overview/) and ADS (http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk), materials for teaching digital archaeology have not kept pace with the sources now available for study (and print-only materials go out of date extremely quickly). Put simply, once archaeological material is online, we face the question of “so what?” and “now what?” This e-textbook is about data mining the archaeological database, reading distantly thousands of ‘documents’ at once, graphing, mapping, visualizing what we find and working out how best to communicate those findings. It is about writing archaeology in digital media that are primarily visual media. Thus, through the e-textbook, students will learn how to collect and curate open data, how to visualize meaningful patterns within digital archaeological data, and how to analyze them.

Furthermore, this e-textbook has two social goals:

  1. It agitates for students to take control of their own digital identity, and to think critically about digital data, tools and methods. This in turn, can enable them to embody open access principles of research and communication.
  2. It promotes the creation, use and re-use of digital archaeological data in meaningful ways that deepen our understanding of past human societies.

Research materials that are online do not speak for themselves, nor are they necessarily findable or ‘democratized’. To truly make access democratic, we must equip scholars with “digital literacy” — the relevant skills and theoretical perspectives that enable critical thinking. These aims are at the heart of the liberal arts curriculum. We know that digital tools are often repurposed from commercial services and set to work for research ends in the social sciences and liberal arts. We are well aware that digital tools inherently emphasize particular aspects of data, making some more important than others. Therefore, it is essential that students think critically about the digital tools they employ. What are the unintended consequences of working with these tools? There is a relative dearth of expertise in critically assessing digital tools, and in seeing how their biases (often literally encoded in how they work) can impact the practice of archaeology.

To that end, we employ a student-centred, experiential, and outcome-based pedagogy, where students develop their own personal learning environment (via remixing our tools and materials provided through the laboratory) networked with their peers, their course professors, and the wider digital community.

Content Map

E-textbook Structure (instructional materials to support the digital exploratory laboratory)

The individual pieces (files and documents) of this e-textbook will all be made available using the distributed Git versioning control software (via Github). This granularity of control will enable interested individuals to take the project to pieces to reuse or remix those elements that make the most sense for their own practice. Since the writing is in the markdown text format, learners can create EPubs, PDFs, and webpages on-demand as necessary, which facilitates easy reuse, remixing and adaptation of the content. The granularity of control also has the added bonus that our readers/users can make their own suggestions for improvement of our code and writing, which we can then fold into our project easily. In this fashion our e-textbook becomes a living document that grows with its use and readership.

Introduction. Why Digital Archaeology?

Part One: Going Digital

  1. Project management basics
    1. Github & Version control
    2. Failing Productively
    3. Open Notebook Research & Scholarly Communication
  2. Introduction to Digital Libraries, Archives & Repositories
    1. Command Line Methods for Working with APIs
    2. Working with Open Context
    3. Working with Omeka
    4. Working with tDAR
    5. Working with ADS
  3. The Ethics of Big Data in Archaeology

The digital laboratory elements in this part enable the student to explore versioning control, a bash shell for command line interactions, and an Omeka installation.

Part Two: Making Data Useful

  1. Designing Data Collection
  2. Cleaning Data with OpenRefine
  3. Linked Open Data and Data publishing

The digital laboratory elements in this part continue to use the bash shell, as well as OpenRefine.

Part Three: Finding and Communicating the Compelling Story

  1. Statistical Computing with R and Python Notebooks; Reproducible code
  2. D3, Processing, and Data Driven Documents
  3. Storytelling and the Archaeological CMS: Omeka, Kora
  4. Web Mapping with Leaflet
  5. Place-based Interpretation with Locative Augmented Reality
  6. Archaeogaming and Virtual Archaeology
  7. Social media as Public Engagement & Scholarly Communication in Archaeology

The digital laboratory elements in this part include the bash shell, Omeka (with the Neatline mapping installation) and Kora installations, mapwarper, RStudio Server, Jupyter notebooks (python), Meshlab, and Blender.

Part Four: Eliding the Digital and the Physical

  1. 3D Photogrammetry & Structure from Motion
  2. 3D Printing, the Internet of Things and “Maker” Archaeology
  3. Artificial Intelligence in Digital Archaeology (agent models; machine learning for image captioning and other classificatory tasks)

The digital laboratory elements in this part include Wu’s Visual Structure from Motion package, and the TORCH-RNN machine learning package.

Part Five: Digital Archaeology’s Place in the World

  1. Marketing Digital Archaeology
  2. Sustainability & Power in Digital Archaeology

To reiterate, the digital laboratory portion of the e-textbook will contain within it a file manager; a bash shell for command line utilities (useful tools for working with CSV and JSON formatted data); a Jupyter Notebook installation; an RStudio installation; VSFM structure-from-motion; Meshlab; Omeka with Neatline; Jekyll; Mapwarper; Torch for machine learning and image classification. Other packages may be added as the work progresses. The digital laboratory will itself run on a Linux Ubuntu virtual machine. All necessary dependencies and packages will be installed and properly configured. The digital laboratory may be used from our website, or an instructor may choose to install locally. Detailed instructions will be provided for both options.

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