Recently in Arts/Humanities Website Category

Report on Bamboo Workshop #6

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Last week I attended the Project Bamboo workshop with John Harwood, the senior director from Teaching and Learning with Technology. Project Bamboo ( is a proposed platform for both a social network site for humanities scholars as well as a space to store digital data and access online tools for humanities research analysis.

Penn State TLT staff who would like to read a more formal report of the workshop can access it via the TLT internal blog at

"Race" and Genetics Demo

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How different are the "races" really? According to the graphic on not that much.

This is a great Flash demo that shows that while there is a relatively large amount of diversity in Africa, the home of homo sapiens (at least beneath the skin), it's much smaller in Europe and Asia. In fact, it's so small that the Asian and European circles are almost right on top of each other. That's a lot of people with a lot of common DNA!

Researching the U.S. Presidents

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At a recent ID meeting, I commented that in high school I had to research information on each and every president in the United States (in batches of 6 throughout the year) Despite the active learning spirit of the exercise (I had to look up the information), I actually felt that I remembered very little (other than my mother commenting that Lincoln was able to enact the Land Grant School system in the middle of the Civil War).

Although I think learning factoids in context is important, this exercise swung too far. We had to bundle dates of administration, names of vice-presidents, list of critical event in the era (even if it was 1836-1840) and a list of presidential highlights. It was worse because I was not in a position to easily access an encyclopedia at 11PM the night before (imagine how Wikipedia impacts this assignment now).

I finally saw a piece on the History Channel, called American Presidents, which added the missing piece - the historical context. Each president got about 10 minutes at the most (except for LIncoln), but the experts were able to spin out a good narrative. I have to say I have a new appreciation the Missouri Compromise and how badly Andrew Jackson messed up our banking infrastructure. You can also see the University of Virginia American President Online Resource which has essays for each president (again why couldn't have I had this in high school?).

So now that I'm an instructional designer, how would I approach learning the presidents? First, I would let the students use something like the UVA Website (or maybe Wikipedia) as a resource. It would make a great study guide.

I think I would keep the research aspect also, but lessen the amount of factoids crammed in. How? I would assign only one president from each era to a student instead of every president. A student would only research maybe five presidents throughout the year, but know each one a little bit more.

And instead of compiling just the facts, I would ask for a review of online and maybe a few print sources. Bibliographies could be shared. And maybe some debates could occur - such as worst president ever (hint: most candidates were from just before the Civil War) or how viewpoints change over time. Maybe students could address why presidents from certain eras seem more "forgettable" than from other eras.

I do think knowing your president's and their impact is important for understanding the social and political history of the U.S. But even I have to admit that facts alone don't convey the history. The purpose of knowing dates and facts isn't to win a trivia contest, but to provide important details to the narrative of our past.

For instance the fact that over 50% of U.S. exports were of cotton in 1840 isn't just a fact, but probably the reason why few Northern politicians were abolitionists.

A Russian Pop Music Blog From ....

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I know it's another foreign language example, but ... I do like this Far from Moscow blog which combines audio, picture and photos to get you the latest info on the Russian pop music scene.

This is a totally Web 2.0 design, but from a usability perspective, it has some features which help you navigate the site if you're new to Russian pop music. First, I appreciate that a Front Page link is included - there really are a lot of people out there who aren't familiar with clicking the logo to return to the front page.

Second, I do like the categories links on the side (it also works with tags). Who knew there was Russian reggae? A third feature of note is that there are static tutorial Pages with information about the Web site, links to labels and other information. Again, if you're a new to the world of Russian pop may know where to get a basic primer. Finally, the entries themselves are written with the general audience in mind. Many include a short intro to the artist as well as links to audio clips.

This is a good example of how a blog can introduce you to the basics of a topic, then keep you updated in little ckunks (did anyone say "Just in Time Learning").

The biggest surprise of's sponsored by the UCLA Slavic Department (specifically David MacFayden). It's really great to see an Web site from an academic that really understands how to deploy the new tech!

P.S. There's some good music on here. I have no idea if it's on iTunes.

Flickr Photo Contests

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I ran into three Flickr "Contest" Areas where users post photos/digital art on certain themes (e.g. color, abstract and black & white) and a user group votes on it. You can even invite people with a striking image to submit to the contest. I had heard that Flickr was becoming a place to show off your digital art, but I hadn't realized the extent of it.

Not only are the images lovely,but I also found the artist commentary very helpful. Might be a great opportunity for our budding digital artists at Penn State.

Google Map Mashup for Linguistics

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The World Atlas of Language Structures Online ( from the Max Planck Digital Library is a great new resource that maps languages with phonological, morphological or syntactic features.

I wrote it up in my linguistics blog If you've ever wondered which continents have tonal languages, go visit

I love that all the data sources are cited and that you can export map data as XML or KML (for other GIS programs) - I could recreate a version for myself if I wanted. My only recommendation is to shrink the size of the icons to 10.

Portraits of "Famous People" from Library of Congress

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I'm trying to track down images of key historical figures from U.S. history and I just found this site from the Library of Congress which lists peoples across the different collections.

But I have to be honest here and admit that one of the best tools I've found recently is Wikipedia (which does track sources of most uploaded photos). Ironically many of them ARE from the Library of Congress, but sometimes using Wikipedia is actually slightly more efficient than trying to navigate the LOC.

Create a Comic Strip

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We've seen courses, especially social sciences, in which students are sometimes asked to write scenarios. Maybe it's a vignette on a diversity issue or maybe you might be asked to write a script the miniseries on Balboa's discovery of the Pacific.

In any case there's a new tool - where students can create comic strips. In this tool, students can select a cute character (animals and humans), then write out dialogue or thought balloons. It could be useful for elementary video storyboarding. Interesting premise.

ESL Blog

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There are a lot of great applications for language learning with new technologies coming out these days, and this instructor is determined to explore them all.

From Second Life to YouTube, you will fun something fun to do on this "English as a Second Language" Blog.

Birth Blog

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Sometimes the Penn State faculty are ahead of us. Here's an interesting blog from Natalie Jolly on media perception of birth issues.

Between TomKitten, Brangelina, and Brittney, she has no shortage of stories to comment on.