Digital Literacy and the First Year Student

Digital Literacy and the First Year Student

In my email this morning:

What are the two or three tools you would consider most useful for students to learn about in the arts/humanities, regardless of their discipline and with a focus on what would be useful in doing ‘traditional’ kinds of tasks in regular classrooms?

A very good question. I asked on twitter, and received a wide variety of responses. In order as I trawl backwards through my timeline (click through to see proper context of the conversation)

I particularly appreciate the observation on it being ok to suck at all of this. So many students – especially in arts describe themselves as not being able to handle computers (a self-fulfilling prophecy? Someone pushed them to English or History because they decided that the student was not ‘good’ at ‘tech’, and so the student comes to believe it; which we then reinforce by not employing or valuing the tech skills/perspectives/research of folks we *do* have… but I digress). Any engagement with digital tech is going to have to hit that head on, and making the space safe to experiment, for things to ‘not work’, has to be a critical piece. (Hmm, re-reading what I wrote in response to my correspondent, I note I didn’t say this; but in fairness, he and I have had that conversation before and knows my thoughts on those lines).

Anyway, I wrote the below, taking all of this into account  (upon re-reading, I note I neglected John’s point about the library, which is a big thing to leave out), as well as my own experience in teaching such things. I suggested only one tool, while leaving the rest of it open as a matter of perspective. There is no one right way to do things in digital tech (despite what some might have you believe). The bigger issue is the goal you’re trying to reach. I wrote:

I asked around for what other folks in the dh’y world thought about this question. Many diverging opinions, of course. But I think instead of tools it might be more interesting/useful (?) to arrange around a couple of key issues:

  1. Managing research
  2. Managing online identity & privacy
  3. Using your computer ‘properly’ and knowing how to ask for or find help

So under ‘managing research’ one could begin absolutely with Zotero; but then a person might want to think more deeply about making their research sustainable and future proof (what to do when Microsoft locks you out of your materials until you renew your subscription, right?) For that, something like how to work with simple text files & a piece of open source software called Pandoc (which converts your basic text file into pdf, into doc, into html, into slides, into journal formatting, etc) is a key thing – see for instance )

Under managing online identity and privacy one would have to talk about things like basic web hosting (for which I can’t recommend highly enough : by academics for academics & students) the pros/cons of various kinds of social networks, understanding what the ’terms of service’ actually mean, how to create gravity on the internet for your own personal ‘brand’ (shudders), how to navigate spaces like Slack (see )

Under using your computer properly, I just mean, how to open the hood and get it to do things other than what Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook want you to use. The key to this is how to use the terminal (mac) or command line (pc). Once a student can do this, they have the keys to the kingdom for doing so much more. See . You’ll be able to identify the right tools for the problem at hand, install them, and get them to work. With that comes learning how to use error messages from your machine to actually figure out what’s happening and how to get it to do what you want.  Oddly enough, googling the exact message is far more useful than one would think: but it points out that there’s a community, a body of knowledge, out there and so begins to teach collaboration…

Focussing on particular tools I think risks locking students in, and of course, when tools change, everything becomes more difficult because we haven’t taught how to cope, just where to click, if you see what I mean. (my has a lot in this vein; please do grab anything from there that strikes you as useful.

That last bit about my workbook: that goes for all of you. Take it to bits. Use what is useful. Improve what is not. Toss me a citation if you do. Know yourself out! But, one last thing:

How would *you* have responded to this query?

(Featured image courtesy of @bitsgalore: )


How I Lost the Crowd: A Tale of Sorrow and Hope

Yesterday, my HeritageCrowd project website was annihilated. Gone. Kaput. Destroyed. Joined the choir.

It is a dead parrot.

This is what I think happened, what I now know and need to learn, and what I think the wider digital humanities community needs to think about/teach each other.

HeritageCrowd was (may be again, if I can salvage from the wreckage) a project that tried to encourage the crowdsourcing of local cultural heritage knowledge for a community that does not have particularly good internet access or penetration. It was built on the Ushahidi platform, which allows folks to participate via cell phone text messages. We even had it set up so that a person could leave a voice message and software would automatically transcribe the message and submit it via email. It worked fairly well, and we wrote it up for Writing History in the Digital Age. I was looking forward to working more on it this summer.

Problem #1: Poor record keeping of the process of getting things intalled, and the decisions taken.

Now, originally, we were using the Crowdmap hosted version of Ushahidi, so we wouldn’t have to worry about things like security, updates, servers, that sort of thing. But… I wanted to customize the look, move the blocks around, and make some other cosmetic changes so that Ushahidi’s genesis in crisis-mapping wouldn’t be quite as evident. When you repurpose software meant for one domain to another, it’s the sort of thing you do. So, I set up a new domain, got some server space, downloaded Ushahidi and installed it. The installation tested my server skills. Unlike setting up WordPress or Omeka (which I’ve done several times), Ushahidi requires the concommitant set up of ‘Kohana‘. This was not easy. There are many levels of tacit knowledge in computing and especially in web-based applications that I, as an outsider, have not yet learned. It takes a lot of trial and error, and sometimes, just dumb luck. I kept poor records of this period – I was working to a tight deadline, and I wanted to just get the damned thing working. Today, I have no idea what I actually did to get Kohana and Ushahidi playing nice with one another. I think it actually boiled down to file structure.

(It’s funny to think of myself as an outsider, when it comes to all this digital work. I am after all an official, card-carrying ‘digital humanist’. It’s worth remembering what that label actually means. At least one part of it is ‘humanist’. I spent well over a decade learning how to do that part. I’ve only been at the ‘digital’ part since about 2005… and my experience of ‘digital’, at least initially, is in social networks and simulation – things that don’t actually require me to mount materials on the internet. We forget sometimes that there’s more to the digital humanities than building flashy internet-based digital tools. Archaeologists have been using digital methods in their research since the 1960s; Classicists at least that long – and of course Father Busa).

Problem #2: Computers talk to other computers, and persuade them to do things.

I forget where I read it now (it was probably Stephen Ramsay or Geoffrey Rockwell), but digital humanists need to consider artificial intelligence. We do a humanities not just of other humans, but of humans’ creations that engage in their own goal-directed behaviours. As some one who has built a number of agent based models and simulations, I suppose I shouldn’t have forgotten this. But on the internet, there is a whole netherworld of computers corrupting and enslaving each other, for all sorts of purposes.

HeritageCrowd was destroyed so that one computer could persuade another computer to send spam to gullible humans with erectile dsyfunction.

It seems that Ushahidi was vulnerable to ‘Cross-site Request Forgery‘ and ‘Cross-site Scripting‘ attacks. I think what happened to HeritageCrowd was an instance of persistent XSS:

The persistent (or stored) XSS vulnerability is a more devastating variant of a cross-site scripting flaw: it occurs when the data provided by the attacker is saved by the server, and then permanently displayed on “normal” pages returned to other users in the course of regular browsing, without proper HTML escaping.

When I examine every php file on the site, there are all sorts of injected base64 code. So this is what killed my site. Once my site started flooding spam all over the place, the internet’s immune systems (my host’s own, and others), shut it all down. Now, I could just clean everything out, and reinstall, but the more devastating issue: it appears my sql database is gone. Destroyed. Erased. No longer present. I’ve asked my host to help confirm that, because at this point, I’m way out of my league. Hey all you lone digital humanists: how often does your computing services department help you out in this regard? Find someone at your institution who can handle this kind of thing. We can’t wear every hat. I’ve been a one-man band for so long, I’m a bit like the guy in Shawshank Redemption who asks his boss at the supermarket for permission to go to the bathroom. Old habits are hard to break.

Problem #3: Security Warnings

There are many Ushahidi installations all over the world, and they deal with some pretty sensitive stuff. Security is therefore something Ushahidi takes seriously. I should’ve too. I was not subscribed to the Ushahidi Security Advisories. The hardest pill to swallow is when you know it’s your own damned fault. The warning was there; heed the warnings! Schedule time into every week to keep on top of security. If you’ve got a team, task someone to look after this. I have lots of excuses – it was end of term, things were due, meetings to be held, grades to get in – but it was my responsibility. And I dropped the ball.

Problem #4: Backups

This is the most embarrasing to admit. I did not back things up regularly. I am not ever making that mistake again. Over on Looted Heritage, I have an IFTTT recipe set up that sends every new report to BufferApp, which then tweets it. I’ve also got one that sends every report to Evernote. There are probably more elegant ways to do this. But the worst would be to remind myself to manually download things. That didn’t work the first time. It ain’t gonna work the next.

So what do I do now?

If I can get my database back, I’ll clean everything out and reinstall, and then progress onwards wiser for the experience. If I can’t… well, perhaps that’s the end of HeritageCrowd. It was always an experiment, and as Scott Weingart reminds us,

The best we can do is not as much as we can, but as much as we need. There is a point of diminishing return for data collection; that point at which you can’t measure the coastline fast enough before the tides change it. We as humanists have to become comfortable with incompleteness and imperfection, and trust that in aggregate those data can still tell us something, even if they can’t reveal everything.

The HeritageCrowd project taught me quite a lot about crowdsourcing cultural heritage, about building communities, about the problems, potentials, and perils of data management. Even in its (quite probable) death, I’ve learned some hard lessons. I share them here so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes. Make new ones! Share them! The next time I go to THATCamp, I know what I’ll be proposing. I want a session on the Black Hats, and the dark side of the force. I want to know what the resources are for learning how they work, what I can do to protect myself, and frankly, more about the social and cultural anthropology of their world. Perhaps there is space in the Digital Humanities for that.


When I discovered what had happened, I tweeted about it. Thank you everyone who responded with help and advice. That’s the final lesson I think, about this episode. Don’t be afraid to share your failures, and ask for help. As Bethany wrote some time ago, we’re at that point where we’re building the new ways of knowing for the future, just like the Lunaticks in the 18th century. Embrace your inner Lunatick:

Those 18th-century Lunaticks weren’t about the really big theories and breakthroughs – instead, their heroic work was to codify knowledge, found professional societies and journals, and build all the enabling infrastructure that benefited a succeeding generation of scholars and scientists.


if you agree with me that there’s something remarkable about a generation of trained scholars ready to subsume themselves in collaborative endeavors, to do the grunt work, and to step back from the podium into roles only they can play – that is, to become systems-builders for the humanities — then we might also just pause to appreciate and celebrate, and to use “#alt-ac” as a safe place for people to say, “I’m a Lunatick, too.”

Perhaps my role is to fail gloriously & often, so you don’t have to. I’m ok with that.

Alpheios – Firefox tools for Ancient Languages

… and indeed, a host of languages. From the Alpheios website:

The Alpheios Project’s current initiatives include:

– the development of computer tools for reading classical texts
and learning classical languages

– the creation of a million word treebank of classical Greek

– examples of how literary texts can be collaboratively enhanced,
made more accessible to a wider variety of readers, and
rendered more amenable to comparative analysis.

– examples of how computer analysis of texts and corpora can
contribute to literary research and language pedagogy.

We are initially focusing on the six classical languages with the most
extensive literary traditions:

Greek and Latin, Chinese and Sanskrit, and Arabic and Persian.

Several others are under active consideration, including

Akkadian, Hebrew, Pali, Avestan, Old Japanese,
Old English, Old Norse, Old French, Old High German,
Old Castilian and Provencal/Occitan.

These may be developed as the resources for their lexical and
morphological analysis become available, but we wish to point out that
our programs are designed modularly to facilitate the addition of new
languages with minimal effort, and all our code will be open-source
to encourage others to create similar tools for their own languages.

Shaking up the Textbook Market

Amazon has just announced the launch of the Kindle DX, a digital book reader with a 9.7″ diagonal screen. Their stated aim is to target the textbook market – and it will provide support for PDFs. From Wired Gadget Labs:

NEW YORK — Amazon on Wednesday launched a next generation Kindle, an e-reader with a large, textbook and newspaper-friendly screen dubbed the DX.

With a screen that measures 9.7 inches diagonally — two-and-a-half times the size of the current-gen Kindle 2 — the DX is aimed squarely at penetrating for the first time the potentially massive and untapped market of textbooks, as well offering some life support for the struggling business of subscription-based electronic newspapers.

In its product launch, hosted by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon announced partnerships with three major textbook publishers representing 60 percent of the higher-education market. He also announed that three newspapers — The New York Times, the NYTimes Co.-owned Boston Globe and The Washington Post — will offer a reduced price on the Kindle DX in exchange for a long-term subscription:

He also announced The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.

“A particular class of book that shines with this display is textbooks,” said Bezos. “We’re going to get students with smaller backpacks, less load.”

Among the new feature are an auto-rotating screen, technology iPhone users will be familiar with, and a native PDF reader, finally adding support in that ubiquitous digital format.

The device measures one-third of an inch thick. Shipping summer, the Kindle DX costs $489 and is available for pre-order.

Product Page [Amazon]

For those of us who’ve been producing Lulu-books, which may be marketed on Amazon, or pdf’s of research reports and other gray literature that will never darken a publisher’s door, this potentially is a game changer for how archaeological info gets out there…

Interactive Fiction – bibliography and other directions

Denis Jerz writes of IF,  “Interactive fiction requires the text-analysis skills of a literary scholar and the relentless puzzle-solving drive of a computer hacker. People tend to love it or hate it. Those who hate it sometimes say it makes them think too much”

I like IF. I’m crap at solving puzzles, but I like it all the same.

For the bibliophiles amongst us, some bibliography from the academic literature on Interactive Fiction – you’ll note that most of the academic interest in IF waxed and waned in the late 80s, early 90s. But, there has been a resurgence in interest lately, mostly due to the literary qualities of IF. If that’s the sort of thing that interests you, check out:

Douglass, J. (2007). Command Lines: Aesthetics and Technique in Interactive Fiction and New Media. Dissertation, U. California Santa Barbara. link

as well as the complete oeuvre of Nick Montfort, including his ‘Twisty Little Passages‘. Nick also has a ‘harcover‘ of an IF he created, for sale:

An annotated bibliography of academic IF, published in 2002, lives here.

Emily Short’s articles on the art of creating IF may be found here. If you’re at all interested in the possibilities of creating IF, you must start with Short’s work!

Finally, a blog worth following for the literary qualities of IF and other species of computer-mediated writing: Grand Text Auto ‘A group blog about computer narrative, games, poetry, and art’

Right. Here’s the bit o’ bibliography that I’ve scraped up this morning:

Baltra, A. (1990). Language Learning through Computer Adventure Games. Simulation & Gaming, 21(4), 445-452.

Blanchard, J. S., & Mason, G. E. (1985). Using Computers in Content Area Reading Instruction. Journal of Reading, 29(2), 112-117.

Bonnaud-Lamotte, D. (1986). Contemporary Literary Lexicology and Terminology: An Inventory. Computers and the Humanities, 20(3), 209-212.

Brackin, A. L. (2008). Tracking the emergent properties of the collaborative online story “deus city” for testing the standard model of Alternate Reality Game. (1)U Texas At Dallas, US.

Broadley, K. (1986). Past Practices and Possibilities with Computers. Australian Journal of Reading, 9(1), 41-50.

Clement, J. (1994). Fiction interactive et modernité [Interactive fiction and modernity]. Littérature (Paris. 1971), (96), 19-36.

De Souza E Silva, A., & Delacruz, G. C. (2006). Hybrid Reality Games Reframed: Potential Uses in Educational Contexts. Games And Culture, 1(3), 231-251.

Desilets, B. J. (1989). Reading, Thinking, and Interactive Fiction (Instructional Materials). English Journal, 78.

Douglass, J. (2008). Command lines: Aesthetics and technique in interactive fiction and new media. (1)U California, Santa Barbara, US.

Finnegan, R., & Sinatra, R. (1991). Interactive Computer-Assisted Instruction with Adults. Journal of Reading, 35(2), 108-119.

Howell, G., & Douglas, J. Y. (1990). The Evolution of Interactive Fiction. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 2, 93-109.

Lancy, D. F., & Hayes, B. L. (1986). Building an Anthology of “Interactive Fiction.”. Report: ED275991. 15pp. Apr 1986.

Lancy, D. F., & Hayes, B. L. (1988). Interactive Fiction and the Reluctant Reader. English Journal, 77.

Marcus, S. (1985). Computers in Thinking, Writing, and Literature. Report: ED266468. 20pp. Nov 1985.

McVicker, J. (1992). Several Approaches to Computer-Based Reading Study. CAELL Journal, 3(4), 2-11.

Newman, J. M. (1988). Online: Write Your Own Adventure. Language Arts, 65.

Niesz, A. J., & Holland, N. N. (1984). Interactive Fiction. Critical Inquiry Chicago, 11(1), 110-129.

Packard, E. B. (1987). Interactive Fiction for Children: Boon or Bane? School Library Journal, 34.

Pea, R. D., & Kurland, D. M. (1987). Chapter 7: Cognitive Technologies for Writing. Review Of Research In Education, 14(1), 277-326.

Sampson, F. (1987). Interactive Fiction: An Experience of the “Writers in Education” Scheme. Children’s Literature in Education, 18.

Simic, M., & Smith, C. (1990). The Computer as an Aid to Reading Instruction. Learning Package No. 27. Report: ED333393. 50pp. 1990.

Tavinor, G. (2005). Videogames and Interactive Fiction. Philosophy and Literature, 29(1), 24-40.

Thomas, S. (2006). Pervasive learning games: Explorations of hybrid educational gamescapes. Simulation & Gaming, 37(1), 41-55.

Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age

If you’re going to be anywhere near Trondheim in the next while, you might want to take in ‘Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age‘. If you go, steal all the handouts & powerpoints you can, and send them to me…

I’ve had the pleasure of correspondence with some of the presenters, so I know it’ll be a stimulating programme; I note that Caesar IV is under discussion too – I play way too much of that game… I have mused elsewhere on its possibilities as a counterfactual approach to Roman economics. Ah to be in Trondheim in February…


FRIDAY 20th – SATURDAY 21st of February at Campus Dragvoll, Trondheim, Norway


Auditorium DL33 (’Låven’)

10-10.20 Welcome address and introduction by Dean Kathrine Skretting and Staffan Wahlgren

Session 1: Chair: Marek Kretschmer

10.20-11.00 Martin Dinter, (King’s College London, Classics): ‘Ludological Approaches to Virtual Gaming’

11.00-11.40 Frank Furtwängler, (Universität Konstanz, Media): ‘”God of War” and the Mythology of New Media’

11.40-12.00 Coffee break

12.00-12.40 Stephen Kidd, (New York University, Classics): ‘Herodotus and the New Historiography of Virtual Gaming’

12.40-13.20 Dunstan Lowe, (Reading University, Classics): ‘Always Already Ancient. Ruins in the Virtual World’

13.40-14.20 Lunch

Session 2: Chair: Jan Frode Hatlen

14.20-15.30 Richard Beacham, (King’s College London, School of Theatre Studies) and Hugh Denard, (King’s College London, Computing in the Humanities): ‘Observations on Staging the Ludi Virtuales’

15.30-16.10 Thea Selliaas Thorsen, (NTNU, Classics): ‘Virtually There? Women in Ovid, Tatian and the 3D Theatre of Pompey’

16.10-16.30 Coffee break

16.30-17.10 Gian Paolo Castelli, (Rome, Classics): ‘The Emperor’s Seal. On Producing a Roman Computer Game’

17.10-17.50 Adam Lindhagen, (University of Lund, Archaeology): ‘Constructing and Governing a Province – between Fact and Fiction in Caesar IV’

20.00 Dinner


Auditorium D3

Session 3: Chair: Thea Selliaas Thorsen

10.00-10.40 Andrew Gardner, (University College London, Archaeology): ‘Entertainment and Empire. A Critical Engagement with Roman Themed Strategy Games’

10.40-11.20 Leif Inge Petersen, (NTNU, History): ‘Siege Warfare in Computer Games. Problems and Possibilities’

11.20-11.40 Coffee break

11.40-12.20 Kristine Ask, (NTNU, Technological Studies): ‘Technology in Games and Games of Technology’

12.20-13.00 Jan Frode Hatlen, (NTNU, History): ‘Students of Rome: Total War. A Socio-Educational Approach’

13.00-14.00 Lunch

Session 4: Chair: Staffan Wahlgren

14.00-15.00 Daniel Jung, (University of Bergen, Computing in the Humanities) and Barbara McManus, (The College of New Rochelle, NY, Classics): ‘Latina Ludens. Educational Gaming in VRoma’

15.00-15.40 Andrew Reinhard, (Bolchazy-Carducci, eLearning, USA): ‘eLearning Latin’

15.40 ConcLVSIOns (Thea Sellias Thorsen)

17.00 Guided Tour of the City Centre

Horizon 2009 Report

If you’re not familiar with the Horizon Reports from NMC, then you should take a moment to page through it. The Horizon Reports

describe the continuing work of the New Media Consortium (NMC)’s Horizon Project, a long-running qualitative research project that seeks to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, research, or creative expression within learning-focused organizations.

The report includes numerous links and examples of emerging projects that really push the boundaries.  Two items that caught my eye – my thinking being these would be immediately applicable to archaeology – were the sections on ‘mobiles’ and ‘geo-coded everything’. Some examples already in the pipeline:

Mobile MaaP
Columbia University’s Mapping the African American Past (MAAP) website now includes a mobile version designed to be viewed using the iPhone or iPod Touch. The tool includes text and audio information about historically significant locations in New York City and is designed as a tool for mobile learning.

One could imagine using this kind of application to pre-load all sorts of archaeological landscape information, historic sites, and so on – an augmented reality.

TinyEye Music, Snap-Tell

TinEye Music (http:// and Snap-Tell ( use the camera to record a photograph of a CD, video, or book, then identify the artist or author and display that along with reviews of the piece and information on where to buy it

When I was in the business of identifying Roman brick stamp types, I had a reverse-lookup dictionary on my lap and an equipoise lamp, trying to read the letters, trying to figure out what the **** I was looking at. These two apps could serve as models for us, to tie our catalogues of stamps, forms, fabrics and so on, to our phones. Snap! ‘Vernice Nera ware’… Snap! ‘CIL XV.1 861a’

On the Geocoding front:

Collage (, a photo application for the iPhone, lets the viewer upload geotagged photos, browse photos taken nearby, and see photos as they are taken all over the world. Mobile Fotos ( is another iPhone application that automatically geotags photos taken on the device before uploading them to Flickr.

Obvious usefulness when you have the right device! But if you don’t:

The Photo Finder by ATP Electronics and the Nikon GP-1 are examples; they capture GPS data and synchronize it to a camera’s data card to geotag the photos automatically. Another approach is to use a specialized device like the GPS Trackstick ( that can be carried in a pocket or glove box. It records the path it travels, and the data can be uploaded to create custom maps of walking or driving routes, hiking trails, or points of interest. Geotagging of media of all kinds is increasingly easy to do (or is automatic), and as a result, the amount and variety of geotagged information available online is growing by the day.

And something I’d never heard of, but looks promising:

Virtual geocaching — the practice of placing media (images, video, audio, text, or any kind of digital files) in an online “drop box” and tagging it with a specific geographic location — is emerging as a way to “annotate” real-world places for travelers or tourists; enhance scavenger hunts, alternate reality games, and other forms of urban outdoor recreation; and augment social events such as concerts and other performances. Location ( is one such service. Mobile users can detect the location of nearby drops and retrieve any files they have permission to access.

Some other items:

Geocoding with Google Spreadsheets (and Gadgets)
(Pamela Fox, …And Other Fancy Stuff, 27 November 2008.) This blog post includes step- by-step instructions for embedding a gadget, created by the author, that plots addresses from a Google spreadsheet on a map, providing latitude and longitude data that can be used in other mashups.

The Mapas Project
The fledgling Mapas Project at the University of Oregon is dedicated to the study of Colonial Mexican pictorial manuscripts. Geolocation is being used to link real-world locations to those represented on the maps.

This next one I’ve written about before, but it’s worth keeping your eye on as it develops:

Mediascape is a tool for creating interactive stories that unfold as the viewer moves through physical space and time. By tapping into the GPS on a viewer’s mobile device and incorporating multimedia as well as interactive controls, every mediascape offers a unique experience for each viewer.

I find it very interesting that so many of these emerging approaches focus on merging historical data with geographical data. Public History and Public Archaeology: the next big things!

Next Exit History
Next Exit History is a project by the University of West Florida and the University of South Florida designed to provide geotagged information (podcasts and other media) to assist tourists in finding and learning about historical sites in Florida that are near major interstate highways but often overlooked by visitors.

How Your Location-Aware iPhone will Change Your Life
(Adam Pash, Lifehacker, 5 June 2008.) The iPhone’s location-aware features enhance a host of applications from social networking tools to geotagging photos taken by the phone to nearby restaurant recommendations.

Delicious: Geo-Everything
(Tagged by Horizon Advisory Board and friends, 2008.) Follow this link to find resources tagged for this topic and this edition of the Horizon Report, including the ones listed here. To add to this list, simply tag resources with “hz09” and “geolocation” when you save them to Delicious.

And to close, I’ll admit a degree of ignorance about the semantic side of weblife, but that section should also be of interest –

Tools for making connections between concepts or people are also entering the market. Calais ( is a toolkit of applications to make it easier to integrate semantic functionality in blogs, websites, and other web content; for instance, Calais’ Tagaroo is a plugin for WordPress that suggests tags and Flickr images related to a post as the author composes it. Zemanta ( is a similar tool, also for bloggers. SemanticProxy, another Calais tool, automatically generates semantic metadata tags for a given website that are readable by semantic-aware applications, without the content creator’s needing to do it by hand. Calais includes an open API, so developers can create custom semantic-aware applications.


WorldMapper ( produces maps that change visually based on the data they represent; a world map showing total population enlarges more populous countries (China, India) and shrinks those that have a smaller fraction of the world’s population.

Cultural Heritage

The Fundación Marcelino Botín in Santander, Spain is seeking to create a research portal to cultural heritage information about the Cantabria region, using semantic-aware applications to draw connections and combine data from a wide variety of sources, including bibliographies, prehistoric excavations, industrial heritage, and others.

SemantiFind is a web browser plug in that works with Google’s search bar. When a user types a word into the search bar, a drop down menu prompts the user to select the exact sense of the word that is desired, in order to improve the relevance of the results that Google displays. The results are based on user labels on the pages being searched.

Delicious: Semantic-Aware Applications
(Tagged by Horizon Advisory Board and friends, 2008.) Follow this link to find resources tagged for this topic and this edition of the Horizon Report, including the ones listed here. To add to this list, simply tag resources with “hz09” and “semanticweb” when you save them to Delicious.

The entire report is fascinating; hope this snapshot of its contents shoots you off in new directions!

On Comics

My parents rented a cottage once, when I was a kid. True confession time: I was a nerd. So I was really excited when I found some books in a back room. One of them was an Illustrated Classic. Of what, I don’t recall, but it helped whittle away the hours of what I recall as a particularly drizzly summer. I guess those are now called ‘graphic novels‘, snob appeal to raise them over my usual diet of Archies and Jugheads (…look, I took what I could get. It’s not like there’re any bookstores in this county!)

I’ve seen a couple of articles recently on the value of comics for fostering literacy (one of which is here). This stands to reason; don’t we all learn to read by first looking at the pictures, and only later graduate to all-text works? Even at University, many (if not all) Latin classes use the Cambridge books, where ‘Quintus hic puer est’ and the drawings make us feel like we really can learn the blasted language…

So comics are good for literacy, be that in English or in Latin. Where else are they turning up in academia?

Colleen has some fantastic comics for archaeological outreach. A few years ago, I remember reading about a fellow who made archaeological comics the focus of his dissertation (I would love to get my hands on a copy, if this rings any bells with anyone). And this morning I came across some comics regarding Roman History, which is what prompted this post in the first place. I’d appreciate links to any other examples, and feedback on their effectiveness.


Game based learning and Latin Literacy

Recent items I’ve seen concerning game-based learning of language, and the use of ‘fake dead people’ to populate archaeological VR, reminded me of a project I conceived back in 2005 and had hoped to find money to do. So with the unhelpful help of the XP file search thing, I eventually dredged up the original brainstorm, but not the proposal itself. I did float the idea at a Classical Association of Canada conference session that year – but attendance was rather thin in the session on digital media and learning  (… and there’s probably a lesson in that …)

Thinking it might be useful for someone else, here it is below:

CSI – Cicero’s Sullen Ides, or, Get the Tusculum Villa Ready!
A game-based learning experiment for Latin literacy

Game playing – cognitive benefits
-examples of language games
-examples of literacy games
-so why not mash the two together?

-interactive fiction
-how can learning be assessed in interactive fiction
-through scoring based on completion of in game tasks
-different levels of scoring: basic, for very limited tasks
advanced, for uncovering ‘hidden’ tasks
-benefit also: cost, computing resources, also creates a learning environment similar where performing the skill is similar (literacy is text based).


Written completely in Latin, ‘Cicero’s Sullen Ides, or, Get the Tusculum Villa Ready!’ is a text adventure taking place in Cicero’s villa outside of Rome. Settings include every room in the house, as well as locations on the grounds.

The player plays as Terentia, the wife of Cicero. As the game opens, Terentia is in her room in the Villa. The game opens with a description of the room. Out in the hallway, on a table, is a letter from Cicero advising Terentia to get the villa ready as he will be arriving soon from Rome – time is slipping away! Terentia does not know that Cicero is coming. In fact, she is woken by a slave who informs her that a quantity of money has gone missing from the villa strong box, and the same slave neglects to inform her of the letter. She does remember some turns later, and informs her mistress…

The Aims of the Game:

The game then involves two challenges – solving the mystery of the missing money, and getting the house ready for Cicero. The player will have to have an understanding of the daily routines of a Roman villa in order to successfully complete the second task, as well as a grasp of the Latin language. Since most people today do not need to know how to write Latin – and the structures of latin are mostly too complicated for a simple text adventure to parse – the game will be structured to accept simple imperative constructions – read the letter, go north, tell the servant to clean the room. The level of Latin of the descriptions will be aimed at the student entering a second year Latin course, or finishing off a first year course. Indeed, the game could be used as part of the summative evaluation of the course, where the scoring indicates the level of literacy the player has achieved (sub-plots can be explored by the player, requiring higher literacy skills to solve, and accordingly, higher scores when puzzles are solved or ‘rooms’ are unlocked).

Implementing the Game:

The ADRIFT game generator (v4.0, Wild 2005) can display graphics files associated with different rooms and events. Careful selection of imagery then to support the text will help the player to decipher the text or give hints as to what the player should do next. Similarly, sound files may be added to the game, either as background in particular ‘rooms’ (running water by a fountain in the garden) or as auditory clues for particular events (a chiming bell indicating that a meal has been laid out in the Tablinum, heard from elsewhere in the Villa. A player understanding the significance of the bell would process immediately to the tablinum…) Non-player characters will be roaming the house, doing tasks, and the player will be able to interact with them to a degree, directing slaves to do particular tasks, or interrogating them to discover what happened to the money. Terentia will have to interact with the non-player characters correctly in order to proceed.

Concerning the language capabilities of the game generator software, a simple text file can be created that swaps the english in-game commands for their Latin synonyms. Students should be advised before playing the game of the correct mood, tense, and voice to use when playing; alternatively, they could be left to figure that out on their own and the score adjusted accordingly once they’ve issued their first successful commands in the game. Scores may be adjusted too to reflect how many ‘hints’ the player needed before successfully completing a task. Finally, the game generator can scale the total score within the game against a maximum. That allows the game creator to decide that ‘all easy tasks will be worth 5, all medium tasks will be worth 20, and all hard tasks will be worth 50 points’ and then the game will rescale the total points during game play to, say, 100 points, allowing the final score to actually represent a score out of 100. This allows the game creator to create appropriate game tasks without having to worry about the ultimate weightings and point calculations.

Finishing the Game

The game could end with Cicero’s return to the Villa, which could be triggered by Terentia completing a particular task, or it could be triggered by a certain number of turns expiring. At that point, Cicero might interrogate Terentia about the missing money, asking very simple questions to which the student would have to compose (equally) simple responses. These might be in the order of – where are my slippers? –who took the money? –has the bath been heated? That is, he could ask a series of questions that relate to all of the various tasks that Terentia may or may not have completed, or objects she may or may not have collected. Because these would be simple responses (and because the creator knows what kinds of possible answers there might be and can accordingly let the program know what to expect), scoring would be simple in this part of the game. A certain number of ‘correct’ answers, and Cicero could pronounce himself well pleased, and the player would win the game. A certain number of incorrect answers, and Cicero could become very petulant and sullen, making Terentia go back and complete the missing tasks and then return to him (at which point, the correct answers would be worth half as much).

Game play and learning

In this fashion – through play and immersion in an imaginary world that relies on the student’s knowledge of Roman civilization and the Latin language – the game would reinforce the student’s grasp of the language, and through game play the student would be able to display an understanding of the language divorced from the usual ‘sight translation exam’.

[… you can see that I ran out of oompf in that last session, though now I have a much greater grasp of the relevant literacy, case studies, etc. If I was to do this over again, I’d move that section first and flesh it out greatly, as classicists sometimes need greater prodding than others – though, in fairness, this isn’t always the case.]