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   About Transcriptions Instructional Improvement Proposal, 2002


  1. Abstract
  2. History & Context
  3. Proposal
  4. Budget

  • Date: February 19, 2002
  • To: Ronald W. Tobin, Assoc. Vice Chancellor Academic Programs
  • Fr: English Department Transcriptions Project (and Literature & Culture of Information Undergraduate Specialization), Alan Liu (Director of Transcriptions and Co-Director, LCI ), Rita Raley (Co-Director, LCI)
  • Re: Proposal for Instructional Improvement Grant


Transcriptions Funding Proposals

1. Abstract

The Transcriptions Project is seeking an Instructional Improvement grant to develop pedagogy for its new "specialization" in Literature & the Culture of Information (LCI) for undergraduate majors. The funding will assist the five faculty in the Project (Alan Liu, Christopher Newfield, Carol Pasternack, Rita Raley, William Warner) in designing new teaching methods to take advantage of an innovative multi-workstation, networked classroom now being built by the English Department. (This will have an impact on eight LCI courses in academic year 2002-2003). In addition, the funding will help Transcriptions convert its current, experimental undergraduate "research teams" into full-fledged courses (expected impact: one to two courses a year).

2. History & Context

Started in 1998 with a three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (supplemented by the College of Letters & Science and Instructional Improvement), the Transcriptions Project ("Transcriptions: Literary History and the Culture of Information") rests on the belief that while the practical reasons for using information technology (IT) in humanities instruction are compelling–viz., to facilitate or extend the process of learning, to give students skills for employment in today's workplace, etc.–such instrumental reasons are only half the picture. Wiring the humanities should also mean encouraging students to engage intellectually with IT and the social, political, economic, philosophical, psychological, aesthetic, and other forces for which it now serves as such a powerful agent. For the humanities to participate meaningfully in the great contemporary adventure of information technology, in other words, the crucial questions that need to be asked include the following: what can humanities students learn from serious engagement, at once hands-on and conceptual, with the culture of information? And reciprocally, how might information culture–as manifested in the corporate, "knowledge work," "service," and other domains in which many students will spend their lives–benefit from the perspective of humanists trained in critical, historical, and aesthetic inquiry?

In its initial development stage (1998-2001), the Transcription Project's five faculty and more than a dozen graduate-student research assistants collaborated to create 13 new English courses (not including repeated courses).

  • Course Topics: These courses studied IT in the context of contemporary culture and also studied the history of culture as itself a kind of evolving "language tech" (the historical technologies of orality, writing, print, broadcast, and digital media). A course like Carol Pasternack's "Scroll to Screen" thus asked students to explore the way societies change from primary oral culture to manuscript culture, print culture, electronic culture, and most recently Internet culture. (Reading assignments were supplemented with first-hand exploration of oral works, scrolls, early print works, Web-sites, etc.) Similarly, William Warner's course on "Enlightenment Communications" studied the eighteenth-century from the perspective of its transformative media and communications. Other Transcriptions courses focused on contemporary phenomena, including, for example, digital culture, hypertext literature, and Silicon Valley business culture. An introductory lower-division lecture course (Alan Liu's "The Culture of Information") provided an overview of the practice of information from prehistorical times to the present.

  • Pedagogy: In Transcriptions courses during this start-up phase, instructors used information technology in five capacities: (a) to provide students with online readings and resources, (b) to train students in online research (including evaluating the scholarly value of online materials), (c) to train students in Web-authoring as well as collaborative online work, (d) to supplement class discussion with asynchronous online discussion (through e-mail aliases and listservs), and (e) to display Web sites and class notes during class (Transcriptions typically creates Web-based lecture notes instead of Powerpoint slides.) The primary pedagogical goal was not only to experiment with different technologies but to synthesize the right "mix" of such technologies for effective instruction. Evaluation of pedagogical experiments was conducted through course entrance and exit surveys.

In addition, Transcriptions built a large, supporting Web site, created guides and other resources related to IT-assisted teaching, and established a complementary research colloquia series. (See the project's Web site for a fuller record of its initial development cycle.

Now Transcriptions is making the transition to its next stage of development, a transition that started this year but has reached a critical phase dependent on additional funding for next year. In order to harvest the results of its start-up phase, Transcriptions won for 2001-2002 a one-time grant from UCSB's Humanities and Fine Arts division (HFA) to initiate a new Literature and the Culture of Information (LCI) undergraduate specialization within the English major:

  • LCI Specialization and Courses: Students majoring in English elect the specialization by choosing at least four of their upper-division courses from those offered by the LCI (an average of 6-8 are offered each year). Many of these courses were created by Transcriptions faculty previously (see above); but others are new and reflect both the expanding interests of the project faculty and the addition of new faculty (Prof. Raley joined the English Dept. and Transcriptions in 2001-2002 and adds a focus on "new media studies"). In addition, the LCI specialization provides extra-curricular opportunities for students to mix with faculty and graduate students–e.g., through participation in events or classroom visits by extramural speakers. Students in the specialization receive upon graduation a certifying letter from the English Dept. to accompany their B.A. Courses given by the LCI also serve the community of English majors as a whole and a wide spectrum of students from other disciplines. (In Winter 2002, for example, the LCI's lower-division lecture course, English 25: "The Culture of Information," enrolled less than 20% of its students from among English majors. Students from the social sciences, sciences, engineering, and other humanities disciplines made up the rest.)

  • LCI Undergraduate Research Teams: The HFA grant also allowed the LCI to offer four, paid undergraduate research assistantships, which it has used to shape an exciting, new kind of learning format for students. In each of the Winter and Spring 2002 quarters, LCI students apply on a competitive basis to be part of a small "research team" managed by a Transcriptions TA and overseen by the Transcriptions/LCI faculty. These teams choose topics of research related to information culture, conduct research (in the library, over the Internet, and through interviews with experts), and produce each quarter an issue of an online LCI "magazine" devoted to information culture (articles, features, bibliographies, interviews, etc.). The research is managed in a structured way, with weekly assignments and reports, task deadlines, formal presentations to the Transcriptions/LCI faculty and TAs, etc. Currently (Winter quarter), the first of these undergraduate teams is at work on two topics of research: the nature and governance of online communities (especially the role of mediators in such communities); and the technical, social, cultural, and philosophical difference that digitalization makes on the experience of sound and music.

    (See the following Web site for a fuller description of the LCI specialization and its current courses and research teams:

However, the HFA grant was defined as a one-time boost to start the LCI specialization. Transcriptions is requesting funding from Instructional Improvement in 2002-2003 to complete the transitional process started with the HFA grant.


In particular, Transcriptions is seeking funding for two sharply focused needs that have arisen as it solidifies the LCI specialization into a continuing part of the English department curriculum: (a) to develop more advanced, flexible, and robust pedagogies able to take advantage of a new kind of instructional-technology classroom it is now building in partnership with the English Department, and (b) to convert its paid undergraduate "research teams" (see above) into courses. These two steps will allow the LCI to be a pedagogically innovative program for many years, and will have an impact on an average of eight or nine courses a year. (Current plans call for eight regular LCI courses in 2002-2003, serving approximately 255 students. Conversion of the undergraduate research teams into courses would result in up to two more courses, serving another 12 students.)

A. Funding Request for Developing/Evaluating New IT-Assisted Pedagogies:

  • Background: Transcriptions worked with the English Department in 2001-2002 to build a new information-technology classroom in South Hall 1417. Now nearing completion, the classroom will include more than the usual instructor's computing station and digital projector. It will also be a multi-station facility with a minimum of five Internet-enabled, wireless-networked computers that students can use during class (each switchable to display to the digital projector). Additional Ethernet ports will allow for future expansion and will accommodate students who wish to plug in their own laptop.

    Such a multi-station, networked, and scalable classroom will give Transcriptions faculty an opportunity to design new kinds of instructional activities and assignments. Just as importantly, it will facilitate Transcription's primary pedagogical goal (as described above): to "synthesize the right mix" of technology practices for effective instruction. Because of the limitations of previous classrooms and infrastructure, Transcriptions has until the present used IT in spatially and temporally compartmentalized ways–such that, for example, the in-class display of student Web projects has been segregated from the actual collaborative work needed to make such projects (which occurred in a separate computing lab facility) and from the online discussion of such projects (which occurred asynchronously by e-mail). While useful in discrete ways, such compartmentalized instructional IT made it difficult to synthesize a medley of IT practices. It also made it hard to consolidate IT practices with the methods of face-to-face group discussion that the humanities has had long experience with (well before the advent of the "team working" in contemporary business that now threatens to outpace the academy precisely because it more successfully integrates IT practices and group practices).

  • Request A: Transcriptions requests funding for 700 hours of graduate-student research assistance (200 hours each in Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters of 2002-2003 as well as 100 hours in Summer 2002). Research assistants will help the project faculty develop the following pedagogical strategies needed to enhance its courses for the new classroom in SH 1417.

    • Participatory use of IT during class discussion. Up to now, Transcriptions instructors have usually used IT in the classroom only to show students particular digital resources (the equivalent of saying to the class, "turn to page 121 in your book") or to allow a single student at a time to show a work or project. There has been no good way for listening students to participate actively in the use of IT so that they can say in response, "Look here instead" or "Look at it in this way (invoking a different configuration of the program, enacting a different algorithm upon the data set, etc.). Transcriptions wants to develop pedagogies that allow students to take an active role in showing/commenting on digital works during group discussion.

    • Collaborative, team-based Web-authoring assignments. Each quarter, Transcriptions/LCI gives workshops for students on Web-authoring basics and sets up times in labs so that students can work together on assignments. But such activities are not well suited to the standard IT-equipped classroom in which there is only a single computer and projector; nor is it well suited to campus labs where, though there are multiple stations, the configuration of the computers, choice of software, etc., are not controlled by the faculty and cannot be accessed for group activities at need (without advance scheduling). Transcriptions wants to use SH 1417 to accommodate in-class team-working on student projects and in-class presentation/discussion of such projects.

    • Real-time "chat" visits with participating experts and other students around the world. One of the highest priorities of Transcriptions/LCI is to develop pedagogies that can take advantage of a multi-station classroom to offer "real-time," in-class visits with people in remote locations–visits in which the usual problems of chat environments (e.g., a tendency toward fragmentation of discourse) can be offset by a live sense of community and the guidance of the instructor. There are two uses of such pedagogy that the project wishes to implement in particular:

      –Chats with experts on information technology and information culture, including faculty at other universities, researchers in engineering or science labs, and people from the government and business sectors of society. (Prof. Raley recently conducted a proof-of-concept demonstration of a class chat visit in her English 165 course.)

      –Real-time interaction with courses at other universities in the U. S. and around the world. For example, Transcriptions will be seeking to exploit the fact that its director, Alan Liu, will likely be in residence at UC Berkeley two academic years from now in Fall 2003. Transcriptions would like to develop the means to facilitate a cross-campus learning environment in which Prof. Liu's course at Berkeley collaborates with a UCSB course taught by Prof. Rita Raley (co-director of Transcriptions/LCI).

    • In-class discussion of complex, multimedia works. One of the difficulties in teaching recent "new media" literature and art is that the works created by experimenters in digital or networked literature/art are very difficult to "show" in class. For example, a work on CD-ROM or an online work that is navigated through Flash or Javascript links cannot easily be shown because an instructor is unable to "link" to the appropriate page but must instead laboriously navigate to that page. Other new-media or online works require significant load-times. And some new-media literary/artistic works purposefully disable the normal navigational tools in a Web browser (e.g., the "back" button) or create abnormal digital experiences (e.g., art works that appear to take over a user's browser automatically or create non-standard interfaces that make it impossible for a user to tell another user where to click/go to see a particular page). In these circumstances, the LCI needs pedagogies that utilize the multi-station capabilities of its new classroom to mount a repertory of sites and pages, each of which can be switched to the digital projector for display.

    • New uses of digital sound in courses. In keeping with the quick evolution of hypertext fiction and poetry to new media writing, teaching and research in LCI/Transcriptions has begun to investigate material, literary, and aesthetic artifacts whose properties include word, image, motion, and sound. In one recent course, for example, Professor Raley linked two modes of experimental writing (visual poetry and sound poetry) to digital new media, a focus that encouraged students to incorporate sound into their own Web-based final projects. To facilitate pedagogy in the areas of sound and recording media, Transcriptions has recently purchased a high-quality microphone and a digital sound mastering tool for its lab (Sound Forge Pro). With this new addition to the LCI/Transcriptions authoring and production platform, the LCI needs to develop pedagogic resources (guides for student research and practice of digital sound, annotated examples of the way sound is used in contemporary digital poetry, bibliographies of resources, etc.).

    To develop these pedagogical strategies, graduate-student research assistants will work with the faculty to (Task A1) organize two "New Pedagogy" tryout sessions that test/evaluate a variety of classroom activities and assignments in SH 1417 (and follow up once courses begin by administering surveys to evaluate effectiveness). (Task A2) They will also create Web pages on the Transcriptions/LCI site to manage the new pedagogy (e.g., pages that schedule online chat events, pages that archive excerpts from chats or threaded discussions, pages that provide templates for effective, in-class projection of various kinds of materials, etc.). (Task A3) In addition, they will write online guides for students making use of the room; and (Task A4) deploy and configure new software (e.g., the Ultimate Bulletin Board threaded Web discussion system that Transcriptions will be installing).

B. Funding Request for Converting LCI Undergraduate "Research Teams" into Courses

  • Background: As described above, Transcriptions created with the aid of its HFA grant a new kind of learning format that has proved to be very exciting: paid, undergraduate "research teams" in which LCI undergraduates work together with graduate students and faculty. The undergraduates on these teams have a high degree of freedom in choosing their topics of research, and they work alongside faculty and graduate students in the same Transcriptions research-and-development computing facility (the "Transcriptions studio" in the English Dept.). Their work process is supervised in a structured way by weekly meetings with a TA and periodic meetings with the LCI faculty as a whole. The main purpose of these teams is not to turn out a "product" but to create a pedagogically-oriented environment in which LCI undergraduates can participate with faculty and graduate students in research activity.

    Transcriptions finds this format of learning so exciting that it wants to add it as a permanent part of its curricular mix. Doing so will require converting the undergraduate research teams from their current premise–work done for pay–to a different premise: courses taken for credit. (Transcriptions has consulted with the undergraduates currently serving on its research teams, and they report unqualified support for such a conversion.) An extra bonus of such a conversion is that the research-team experience could be opened up to accommodate a larger group than is currently feasible due to funding constraints. Instead of only two undergraduates per research team, an optimal number of 10-15 students (analogous to the English Department's current "upper-division small seminars") would accommodate more LCI students as well as students currently not eligible for the experience: other English majors and majors in other programs. (There is a strong argument to be made on pedagogical grounds, for example, for the inclusion of students from the engineering or science disciplines, some of whom have expressed an interest.)

  • Request B: Transcriptions requests funding for 400 hours of graduate-student research assistance (the equivalent of one assistantship in each of two quarters during 2002-2003) to help its faculty convert the LCI's current undergraduate "research teams" into courses. This conversion will entail the following tasks: (Task B1) Adapt, consolidate, and migrate into a curricular structure the pedagogical strategies, online resources, and technical practices originally created for the paid research teams. Graduate-student assistants will help adapt and formalize the collaboration protocols, weekly assignments, research guides, Web-page templates, and other tools now being created for the research teams so that they can be used for courses. (Task B2) Create new course Web sites and new course information technology (including database backends for creating/editing student projects through Web forms). (Task B3) Create online and other "help" resources to train students in the goals, methods, and technologies of the course.
Note on the Important Role Played by Graduate-Student Research Assistants in the Transcriptions Project: Graduate-student assistants in Transcriptions have in the past acted as full partners in the project. They sit on the project's planning and design meetings, research content for the project's Web site, collect background and critical resources on the use of IT in teaching, design Web pages, and help develop the project's software and networking environments. Students who work on the project develop expertise that complements their research and teaching. (Indeed, an increasing number of English Dept. graduate students now work in areas where their primary dissertation field includes issues of information culture or technology.) Because of the combination of technical and intellectual necessary, recruiting excellent RAs for Transcriptions is a high priority (see explanation of budget below).


Total hours for tasks Average Weekly Hours
Task A1 100 at $13.94/hr N/A (70 hrs. in summer before academic year begins, 30 hrs. for follow-up evaluation during the year)
Task A2 250 at $23.58/hr 8.3
Task A3
150 at $23.58/hr
Task A4 200 at $23.58/hr 6.6
Subtotal: $15,542

Task B1 100 at $23.58/hr 3.4
Task B2 200 at $23.58/hr 6.6
Task B3 100 at $23.58/hr 3.3
Subtotal: $9,432

Faculty Stipends:

Summer stipends of $1,000 each for the Director and Assoc. Director of Transcriptions/LCI for initiating, supervising, participating in, and disseminating the results of the "try-out" sessions of new pedagogy described under Task A1. (The Transcriptions Director and Assoc. Director will receive no course relief or other compensation for any part of the project during 2002-2003.)

Subtotal: $2,000

Budget Total: $26,974

(Note: Total award resulting from this proposal: $15,000. Tasks A and B were conflated and reduced somewhat to fit the funding; faculty stipends were not realized.)

Explanation of Hours Estimated for Each Task Assigned to Graduate Students:
These hours, of course, are approximate estimations. But the are based on the past experience of Transcriptions, which since its inception has supervised the work of over 16 individual assistants. (See also the note above on "The Important Role Played by Student Assistants in the Transcriptions Project.")

Explanation of Pay Rate and Pay Structure for Graduate Students:

The hourly pay rate for academic-year research assistants (as opposed to summer research assistants) itemized above is premised on the fact that Transcriptions/LCI needs to recruit from the select group of graduate students who have the right combination of literary background and information-technology skills. In the context of the English Department, this means that there is no chance of recruiting capable research assistants during F, W, and S quarters unless Transcriptions can compensate them at a level roughly comparable to what they would otherwise be earning as teaching assistants in the English Dept. (All graduate students in the English dept. are guaranteed 4-5 years of support at the level of a TAship. Students who turn down a position with Transcriptions/LCI would be guaranteed a regular TAship.) In previous years when Transcriptions has received an Instructional Improvement grant for RAs, therefore, the hourly rate during F/W/S has matched the hourly rate for TAs in the university ($23.58/hr in 2002-2003).

In addition to the base hourly rate, however, there is also the issue of the benefits that TAs receive but that RAs normally do not. Based on a successful paradigm it has previously applied to Transcriptions grants received from Instructional Improvement (with the approval of Instructional Improvement), the English Dept. will close this gap by matching RAship with a special portion of its general TA funding. That portion will cover the supplementary compensation needed to bring the total package offered to a Transcriptions/LCI RA up to a competitive level (including tuition remission and health insurance).

In summary, the basic request is for Instructional Development to provide a base salary rate that allows Transcriptions/LCI to get into the ball park in attracting high-skilled assistants. The English Department will then match with supplementary funds to bring the total compensation up to the necessary level. This financial model was highly successful during the initial phase of Transcriptions, and Transcriptions/LCI would like to build upon it in its present funding request.

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