Dear Data: Challenging Data One Post at a Time

CP’s Note: This story about my collaboration with the course, Race, Racism, and Power originally appears in my department’s ‘Teaching with LITS’ nook on the College’s website. I've edited it slightly to fit the style of this site.

Caro Pinto worked with the course Race, Racism, and Power taught by Assistant Professor Vanessa Rosa of the Department of Spanish, Latina/o and Latin American Studies during the fall 2017 semester. The class includes an assignment known as 'Dear Data.' For this assignment, students generate data visualizations of their readings several times throughout the semester. They use numbers, drawings, dotted lines, and other forms of visual communication to frame their posts. This assignment is modeled after the project and subsequent book Dear Data by Gioriga Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. The assignment grew out of informal hallway conversations between Pinto and Rosa in 2016 and continues to evolve each semester Rosa offers the course.

The assignment interrupts naturalized and calcified conceptions of what 'data' is or is not. It creates space for new forms of engagement with course readings and for student interactions. Why is a two page response paper the main way students engage with readings? Must academic communication simply be limited to writing? This assignment liberates students to imagine new forms of engagement with knowledge production.

Excited about the new possibilities this assignment afforded them, students wanted to share their posts more broadly. They organized an exhibition of their Dear Data posts in atrium of Williston Library and created a zine of their posts for viewers to take with them to reflect on their work. The exhibit created a space for the campus to engage with their visualizations and consider how much ‘data’ encompasses. Selections from the Dear Data Exhibit in the Williston Library Atirum

New Haven Memories Brought to You by Testing WordPress Plugins

I'm testing WordPress plugins that manage media files and through the course of my testing, I came across a cache of photographs from two websites ago (thanks, Tumblr import!) that narrate part of my life in New Haven. They are primarily outtakes from two years working at Yale. Looking through the photos is a nice diversion as the semester comes to a close.


I'm embedded in course called Race, Racism, and Power with Vanessa Rosa that includes an assignment known as 'Dear Data.' In 'Dear Data,' students generate data visualizations of their readings several times throughout the semester. They use numbers, drawings, dotted lines, and other forms of visual communication to frame their posts. This assignment is modeled after the project and book by Gioriga Lupi and Stefanie Posavec.

The assignment interrupts what I think of often naturalized and calcified conceptions of what 'data' is or is not. It creates space for new forms of engagement with course readings and for student interactions. It's one of the best things about my work and I am already looking forward to incorporating more examples and framing for the future!

This semester, the students wanted to stage and exhibit and I'm excited to share that some their posts are on view in the atrium of the library until 19 December 2017. I'm excited to celebrate the opening of the exhibit and to share the zine they created tonight at 7 pm.

The students' energy around this project was infectious and spirit lifting. Come and see their work if you can. I'll plan to post some other photos here soon, but here are some tweets from Vanessa as a start.

And finally, some photos from the opening itself:

The Bank Stops Here or Revising my Commodities Session in Environmental Studies 100

As the librarian for Environmental Studies, I have the pleasure of teaching a VERY exciting research session for Environmental Studies 100. Students enrolled in this course must research and write a short paper outlining the lifecycle of a commodity. Students choose a range of commodities from beef to iPhones.  This is a challenging assignment as many of the students enrolled are first years who have yet to undertake an interdisciplinary research assignment like the one before them.

The class is on the large side at the College; typically there are about sixty students in a large lecture hall. I teach two sessions in one week while half of the class tours the campus from an ecological prescriptive. There is a lot of ground to cover with the students; this project demands that they use multiple research databases, open web resources, and trade publications. We have to cover what the difference is between these types of sources. I have to show them ALL of the databases that might be most beneficial to them while they research their commodity. Frankly, this assignment intimidated me.

icon-calendar For the past three or so years, I lectured outlining every contingency they might need. I was their knowledge bank and they were eager to make withdrawals. Their eyes expressed fear and many of them would meet with me individually after the session to get additional help. I met with a lot of students individually and I began to notice some patterns about our interactions:

  1. Their commodity topics were far too broad.
  2. They needed reassurance.
  3. They were confused about how to toggle from one discipline to another.
  4. They needed reassurance.

icon-edit Every year, I vowed to make improvements, but I struggled to figure pinpoint where I could improve without sacrificing time to show them ALL THE RESEARCH OPTIONS.

icon-lightbulb-o This year, I had an epiphany after reviewing my Trello cards from past years where I make small notes to myself about what went well and what did not go well. The students needed time together to narrow their topics into more digestible ones. In one one one meetings with students, I would often help them locate a New York Times article or an article from a trade publication about how boots are made and distributed and show the student the clues in these articles that generate the search terms they need to complete the research for their assignment. Why do this in one on one meetings when I can do it in groups during class? Further, I could collocate ALL the sources into a course guide and encourage them to apply the lessons learned in their groups with the resources in the guide and encourage them to follow up with me later.

icon-wrench This also led me to revise my course guide and examine it with a more critical eye. While I could prepare them for ALL THE CONTINGENCIES, I realized that this would lead to information overload and if I wanted this to be a resource of use, I needed to trim down the guide to make it more user friendly. I also added some prompts to the guide to help students learn to read different sources different to extract the information they needed to complete their assignment.

I came to class this spring as a facilitator. The students would review the guide at the start of class, break into groups, read an article with the prompts on the guide, discuss the prompts and answer some questions. Finally, they would report back if they could narrow their topic from BEEF to something more specific like 'GRASS FED LOCAL BEEF.' The students appeared to be less befuddled and overwhelmed.

icon-thumbs-o-up In the end, I only met with two students outside of class this year. The revision made for some bumps during the seventy-five minute session, but I am better prepared to refine the guide and prompts for next spring. I am grateful that the banks stops here and that I can share authority with the students instead of lecturing to them.


Zotero 5.0 is Here: Giving ‘My Publications’ a Spin

icon-pencil-square-o Zotero 5.0 is here! I will not go into a release notes deep dive, but I wanted to write a few words about the new 'My Publications' feature, but first, a few quick notes:

  1. I've been a Zotero user for so long that my username is my secret shame; it is identical to the Yahoo! account I used in 2005/6 barely out of undergrad.
  2. Due to limited storage, I eliminated many citations I no longer needed from unrealized writing projects to 'maybe later' readings to books I wanted to buy for library collections I no longer support. It felt good to part ways with those items and enjoy Zotero 5.0 with the essentials.
  3. I did not collect the citations of published works, so I reflected on how much I've accomplished since 2005 when I was in a history graduate program unsure of my future.

Bullet three is a lead into some quick thoughts about the new feature 'My Publications' that allows users to syndicate their publications on their Zotero profile page. Mine was bare; I did not have an 'about me' nor did I have a photograph of my myself. It was yet another reminder of my caropinto2004 self.

This is a screenshot of Caro Pinto's Zotero profile with links to publications, a biography, and a photograph of Caro Pinto
It Me. Sans Followers.

icon-clock-o Fast thoughts on 'My Publications:'

  1. Easy to save citations from around the web/repositories/libraries and move them into the 'My Publications' tab.
  2. You can assign a creative commons license that allows for people to peruse your publications and share files. Or if you've published in a journal where you cannot share freely, you can hold copyright and just display the citation. I felt like it was a healthy audit of how many items I've published can be distributed with a Creative Commons license and how many cannot. I've learned a great deal about considering the terms of publication over the last five years and I still have a ways to go, but I am more or less happy with my ratio of sharing versus not.
  3. Many items will auto import metadata that might not totally jive with the reality of your citation. I had to make a few adjustments from 'web page' to 'blog post' and 'blog post' to 'journal article.' It's a gentle reminder to us all that COMPUTER is not infallible.
  4. Sadly, you cannot create custom fields for 'My Publications.' I wanted to add some of my book reviews to my page and sadly, I could not find a 'book review' category nor the space to create a custom field from the stand alone version. Perhaps there are other workarounds.
  5. I imagine this will be a useful teaching moment for Zotero workshops...