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Transliteracies Revised Work Plan, v. 1.1

— from Alan Liu, Project Director,
to Transliteracies Project Members

(Oct. 8, 2005)
The following is version 1.1 of the Transliteracies Revised Work Plan. Version 1.0 was posted for comment on 16 Sept. 2005. Suggestions from project participants have been folded into this version 1.1. Some of the most substantive of the suggestions are: encouraging faculty to supervise independent studies courses for graduate students wishing to participate in the project; adding a comparative case study to the supporting materials for the “White Paper”; additional detail on the mission of the project publications advisory group; additional known examples of graduate courses that will contribute to Transliteracies; and an example of faculty research interests feeding directly into “reports” for Transliteracies.
—-Best wishes, Alan        
Amtrak Coast Starlighter
Further down
the track

Go to Work Plan v1.1

Revised Work Plan (v 1.1, 8 October 2005)

The basic idea of this revised work plan is that we stage things so that first we do the rigorous homework that brings our disciplinary methods into convergence and defines the specific needs we wish to address; and then we build—not a “tool” per se—but the blueprint (a specification or declaration) for an integrated humanistic, social, technological, and educational framework to improve online reading (part of which will include spec’ing and demo’ing “speculative tools”). The specification would be named the UC Online Reading Framework (on the model of such standards-setting frameworks as the W3C specifications and recommendations, the Text Encoding Initiative, the Electronic Literature Organization’s Preservation/ Archiving/ Dissemination (PAD) Initiative, etc.). Our framework, however, would define not just software or technology standards but also complementary social, cultural, aesthetic, pedagogical, and institutional best practices.

The $75,000 per year (for five years) that we have to work with on the MRG grant should be enough to undertake this two-stage process; and the end product will be a blueprint written up in the form of a proposal for a subsequent implementation grant (in the range of several million dollars). The blueprint would say, in essence: “Here is a balanced humanistic, social, and technological plan to improve online reading that takes account of existing solutions but identifies crucial missing pieces that can be magnets for research development.”

Products along the way to this blueprint will include the creation of a clearinghouse of reports on relevant intellectual, technological, and other developments; casebooks mined from these reports; courses and course materials; and demo’able “speculative tools.”

I. Discovery Process (time frame: 2005-7)

In its first two years, Transliteracies will engage in a rigorous discovery process (equivalently, a “recovery” process) to learn about, share, and assess leading-edge research developments (technological, social, intellectual, etc.) related to online reading. This process will draw from many fields, and will take the approach both of object-analysis (“what is it? how does it work”) and reader-analysis (“who is it for? what practices are enabled or hindered?”). Examples of developments of interest might be: a tool or interface; a technical protocol; a net project; a recent trend in a field (as represented by a paper or book in areas as diverse as “history of the book” and “new media studies”); a related project or program; a new publishing, social, or business practice; etc. Small working units of graduate students and faculty will start the process by creating reports on developments of interest; then a rolling process of collaboration will ensure the sharing of discoveries, common reflection on the state-of-the-field in various disciplines, and by the end of the second year a consensus on what’s been done, what hasn’t been done, and what our project in particular can do that is unique and valuable.

Implementation Steps:
  1. Creating a clearinghouse. We will create a clearinghouse on the Transliteracies Web site for the collection of reports on developments of interest. The clearinghouse will consist of:
    1. An initial “collection point” where project members can suggest developments we should look at, accompanied by any comments, references, links, or ideas.
    2. A working (unpublished) “repository” where we create “reports” on developments of interest picked off the list of suggestions above. These reports will be contributed by graduate students and project faculty (see staffing below). They will be in a standard format that we will define—consisting basically of who, what, when, where, why, how; a screen shot or sample (within fair-use rules); and then a brief assessment of context, relevance, opportunities, or limitations, plus a short list of citations or related references. Reports will be signed with a byline.
    3. A publicly viewable version of the above repository to which we “publish” the reports once they have been screened through an editorial or quality-control process yet to be determined. (For example, we could set up a small editorial board on which project members serve by rotation.) In addition to the reports, the publicly viewable repository will also include a cumulative annotated listing of related projects and online reading tools.
    4. The repository described above will be extensible. Reports on developments of the highest relevance or interest—whether to the project as a whole or to project members’ particular research—could be extended into fuller papers, reviews, etc. (Where the author of such a fuller paper needs to publish it first in a journal or monograph, we will ask for subsidiary and possibly concurrent publication on our site, perhaps in conjunction with the UC eScholarship Repository and Academic Commons .) In addition, by the end of the second year of the project, we will be asking groups of participants to produce overview reports on “fields in context” (developments in particular fields seen in overall context).
    5. Transliteracies Casebook Series. When we have accumulated a critical mass of reports and extended reports, we will group and package them as “casebooks” (the UC Transliteracies Casebook series) published on our site. Alternatively, we could investigate publishing particular casebooks as a special issue of such peer-reviewed, innovative digital-format journals as Vectors or Digital Humanities Quarterly. There might also be a print tie-in if a publisher can be interested.
    6. Publication Advisory Committee. We will appoint a small group of project members as a publication advisory committee to coordinate avenues of publication and also make policy recommendations on intellectual-property issues. In publishing the results of our discovery process, our goal is to find a balance between the ideals of the Open Access publishing movement < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access> or the Creative Commons License < http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/>, on the one hand, and the need of scholars working in existing systems of promotion and review to publish in established venues. The specific functions of the publication advisory committee might be as follows:
      1. Critique the plans for publication and dissemination in the current project work plan (which includes “reports,” papers growing out of some reports, casebooks, white papers, a general-public paper, and software demos) in light of the following factors:
        • effectiveness or impact
        • coherence
        • fit with the promotion and recognition issues you raise
        • intellectual property considerations
      2. Consider some of the current online or online + print models of research publication. Some questions, for example:
        • is anyone else disseminating the variety of materials from different disciplines and in different media that we are, and how are they doing it?
        • do we publish online some parts of the project results (e.g., the “reports”) under Creative Commons license?
        • are there open-access journals or book series we should look into for other kinds of project results, such as articles that grow out of reports?
        • if one of us publishes an article in a proprietary journal, can we arrange to have it also appear afterwards on our site, in the UC eScholarship repository?
        • what copyright notice to we operate under on our site?
        • are there print publishers or journals that might be interested in publishing one of our casebooks?
      3. Putting “1” and “2” above together: recommend a coherent dissemination strategy for the project.
      4. Optionally, draw up a general statement of principles that might guide other projects now navigating the interface between print and online, as well as individual and collaborative, publication. This could itself become a product of the project: a policy or paradigm that we publish.
    7. Annual “Transliteracies Award.” To enhance our ability to learn about new developments related to online reading (and also to help publicize our project), we will establish a small annual award of $1,000 for an outstanding contribution to the understanding or improvement of online reading. Nominations for the award will be sought nationally and internationally; and a small awards committee each year will select a winner. An interview with the winner will be published on the Transliteracies site together with a write-up of the winning project. In addition, the most interesting runners-up will earn reports in our clearinghouse starred for special notice.
  2. Staffing the discovery process. We will staff the process of creating the clearinghouse as follows:
    1. Part-time research assistant positions for graduate students. In the first year of the project, we will recruit approximately 14 graduate students interested in working a limited number of hours (for a stipend of $2,000 each, approximately 140 hours of work) to write “reports” on developments as outlined above. (Some variant of this plan for RA’s will also apply to the second year of the project, but specifics will be determined by our experience with the first year and the amount of progress that has been made.) Ideally, we want to recruit grad students from a variety of disciplines and UC campuses whose own research is related in some way to the project. Research assistants will normally be nominated by a project faculty member willing to serve as a mentor (with light supervision duties, amounting in essence to a first level of quality control and signing off on a mid-progress and final progress report form). If possible (but not required), each mentor would also be entrepreneurial in seeking cost-sharing funds from their campus for Transliteracies RAships; Transliteracies can provide an extra $500 per RAship to match cost sharing. RAs and mentors will be recruited beginning in Fall 2005, with work to begin in late fall or early winter quarter. (In the future, we may also wish to experiment with involving a few, highly-motivated undergraduates as RAs—perhaps by appointing one or two paid interns based on competitive applications.)
    2. Full-time (.5 FTE) project RA (with benefits). Alan will be aided by a full-time RA at UCSB. (The full-time RA for 2005-6 will be Lisa Swanstrom of the UCSB Comparative Literature program, who was also an assistant at the June conference. She will start full time in winter quarter, and also do some preparatory work in fall.) The full-time RA may also contribute directly to the discovery process by writing reports in her areas of interest.
    3. Graduate students in courses. Transliteracies will recruit project members and other faculty (at UC and elsewhere) to set up graduate courses relevant to the topic; create assignment modules that could be plugged into existing courses; and/or supervise independent study courses for students interested in participating in the project. Such curricular activity could be designed to produce “reports” as described above. For example, an assignment could require the writing of a brief synopsis report as an abstract for a larger paper or research project (which itself could also be published on the Transliteracies site; see the idea for an “extensible” clearinghouse above). Some ideas for cultivating such courses and assignments:
      1. Solicit courses. Project faculty will be asked to consider creating or adapting a graduate course (or a portion of such a course) to bear on some facet of the Transliteracies topic.
      2. Create a curricular page on the Transliteracies site to share course ideas, syllabi, and assignments.
      3. Set up dual-campus, team-taught courses. Depending on the geographical proximity of the campuses involved, the course could either alternate between campus locations or operate as two parallel courses that periodically meet together virtually. (We can explore technical solutions for such virtual course meetings—e.g., using the AccessGRID or various multicasting or videoconferencing locations on UC campuses.)
      4. Alan or other project members can visit classes to discuss the project. (Alan plans to make a number of trips to other campuses to visit project faculty, local projects or labs of interest, etc.)
      5. Known examples of relevant graduate course work (so far):
        • Alan is teaching a graduate seminar in Winter 2006 titled “Textuality in New Media Ecologies, 1600-2000.” Where their projects are relevant, students will be asked to contribute a report for the Transliteracies clearinghouse.
        • Rita Raley is teaching a graduate seminar in Winter 2006 titled “Reading Code,” in which an optional assignment will be to write a report for the Transliteracies clearinghouse.
        • Alan may lead a future instance of Computer Science 595N/PoliSci595N/Engl593N at UCSB focused on the “online reading” topic
        • Bill Warner may teach a Transliteracies-themed grad seminar next year
        • Bill Warner and Lisa Parks may introduce a Transliteracies-themed module or assignment in their co-taught media seminar this year
        • Ronald Rice or others in the UCSB Communication Dept. could supervised interested students in the department’s “Directed Reading,” “Directed Research,” or “Master’s Thesis Research and Preparation” independent studies courses.
    4. Faculty contributions. Transliteracies project faculty will contribute at each step of the creation of the clearinghouse—e.g., by suggesting developments to report upon, contributing “reports” related to their own research, writing extended papers or reviews, serving on the editorial board or publishing committee, serving as mentors of RAs, creating relevant courses or course assignments, supervising independent study courses, and (as described below) leading working groups. (As an example of faculty research that could be folded into the project: Warren Sack is interested in writing analytical reports on “artificial intelligence efforts to build software to read and summarize news stories,” on the MIT Media Lab group on “narrative intelligence” (working at the intersection of narrative theory and artificial intelligence), and on the Amazon.com api that allows access to its data about which texts are being purchased and in what conjunctions.)
    5. Extramural contributions. Once the project has gotten started in earnest and we have created part of the clearinghouse to serve as a precedent, we may wish selectively to invite extramural faculty and grad students (or UC faculty from outside our project) to contribute reports. A title such as “Transliteracies project affiliate” or “contributing editor” might be established to help our project form ties with other programs and projects.
    6. Contributions from UCSB Arnhold Postdoctoral Fellow. Funding (separate from Transliteracies funding) has recently been secured that will allow the UCSB English Dept. to appoint the Arnhold Postdoctoral Fellow in Early Modern Literature and Media Technology, beginning in 2006-7. (Call for the position.) The Fellow will be a recent recipient of the Ph.D. working in some area of British literature 1500-1800 who directly addresses the material, technological, social, aesthetic, or other dimensions of literature as media. (The Fellow’s research, for instance, might be related to such current fields as “history of the book,” “media archaeology” [history and theory of past “new media”], or the technology of literature.) The Fellow would participate in the Transliteracies project as well as in the UCSB Early Modern Center.
    7. Tie-in with possible new UCSB summer institute. Yunte Huang, who is a Transliteracies project member and director of UCSB’s Consortium for Literature, Theory and Culture (CLTC) is investigating the creation of a summer institute run by CLTC that would bring faculty and graduate students to UCSB for a week each summer to focus on a topic directly related to Transliteracies. If this summer institute comes about, it has the potential to feed into our discovery process.
  3. Collaboration and Evaluation. In itself, the clearinghouse (and any resulting “casebooks”) will be a first-stage “product” of the project. But the primary purpose of the clearinghouse will be to serve as the basis for a process of collaborative discussion, assessment, and evaluation that will lead by the end of the project’s second year to committing to a precise direction for improving online reading. Steps in this collaborative assessment process will include the following:
    1. Formation of Working Groups. We will organize faculty and graduate students participating in the discovery process into approximately three or four working groups on particular areas (to be defined once we see who is involved and what groupings of research naturally emerge). The goal will be to balance between representing established disciplinary boundaries and ensuring that there is cross-fertilization between fields. Thus, instead of forming groups that break predictably along humanities, social science, and engineering lines, we might follow something like the MIT Media Lab model of topical or goal-oriented groupings (e.g., their research groups titled Center for Bits and Atoms, Things That Think, Communications Futures, Digital Life, Hundred-Dollar Laptop Project, and so on.) (Imagine, for example, Transliteracies working groups titled along the lines of: Before and After the Book, Reading Digitally Together, Text Plus, Machines That Read, etc.) Each working group will have a faculty leader.
    2. Working Group Meetings. Working groups will meet according to a schedule set by the leader of each group, though there are some project-wide deadlines (as described below). The function of the meetings, supplemented by ongoing forms of collaboration by email and posting to the project web site, will be to coordinate activities, discuss research directions, and identify emerging larger patterns. Meetings will occur through the following means:
      1. Physical meetings. Because collaboration works best when there is a basis of direct personal contact to build upon, Transliteracies will sponsor a limited number of in-person working group meetings each year (perhaps involving only a subset of each working group). These meetings will be hosted either at UCSB or at the UC campus of greatest convenience.
      2. Remote meetings. Besides remote collaboration through email and the posting/commenting features available on the project Web site (which allows project members, for example, to comment on or rewrite reports, add images, etc.), Transliteracies will sponsor the following means of remote, technology-assisted meetings on a rolling basis:
        • Low-tech route: A teleconferencing service that allows people to dial in to a number, enter an access code, and be placed into a conference call of up to 15 or 20 people.
        • High-tech route: Use of the AccessGrid facility on each UC campus (see http://www.accessgrid.org/)—possibly supplemented by new humanities Grid capabilities coming online through the UC Humanities Research Institute’s participation in WUNGrid—to allow working groups to meet together in a multi-point, multimedia, high-throughput environment. (Fallback option: videoconferencing). [Note: at least initially, we are avoiding the middle-tech route of web-conferencing, net-meetings, etc., on the advice of computer scientists and organizational psychologists consulted during planning.]
      3. Meeting minutes. Meeting minutes will be posted on the project site.
    3. Project-wide remote meetings. At periodic intervals, perhaps once or twice a year, we may conduct a project-wide remote meeting—whether through simple teleconferencing or the AccessGrid—to allow the various working groups to talk to each other. To make such conversations manageable, we may want to restrict them just to group leaders or some other subset of the groups.
    4. Evolving Definition of “Online Reading”. At the beginning of the discovery phase, we will post on the project web site a preliminary working definition of “online reading”—one that positions the practice as what might be called “text-plus” in the directions we are interested in (that is, text adapting to, or folded into, the new environments of networked, multimedia, and global information). Then, as we proceed, we will periodically revise, expand, or narrow the definition in light of our discussions. Such an evolving definition will serve as a common reference point for the project. (We may also wish to create to deploy a visual tool for cognitive maps of the definition, thus allowing components to be linked visually and aggregated.)
    5. 2nd-year project evaluation colloquium. At the end of the project’s second year (or possibly as late as fall 2007 at the beginning of the third year), Transliteracies will sponsor a project-wide meeting of representatives of all the working groups at UCSB to evaluate at a high level what we have “discovered” about the state-of-the-art in online reading (and in its contributing fields), and thus what we think our mandate should be. Given what has been done in the past, that is, what is currently a hot development zone, what is missing from the picture, and where can we make a difference? To prepare for this colloquium, working groups will be asked to prepare in advance an overview or “fields in context” report based on what they have learned so far—i.e., a report on trends, opportunities, suggested directions, etc.
    6. Site visits by project director or other project members. During the discovery phase of the project, the project director (Alan) is planning to travel periodically to other campuses to meet with working group members and visit programs, classes, projects, labs, etc. Site visits of this nature may also be sponsored for other project members (e.g., working group leaders).
II. “Blueprint” Process (UC Online Reading Framework) (Time Frame: 2007-10)

As indicated above, the result of Transliteracies’s discovery phase will be an assessment of what directions can be followed to improve online reading (for a particular audience) and what our project can uniquely do to address underdeveloped research areas that have the potential to open up new configurations of online reading practices. The later years of the project will be devoted to working out in detail the declaration for an overall blueprint to improve online reading (to be called the UC Online Reading Framework). The blueprint will include research development plans, recommendations for best practices, and implementation and evaluation procedures for an integrated range of technological, social, and humanistic solutions. In essence, such a blueprint will say: “Based on our technological, social, and humanistic (historical, interpretive, artistic) research, a desired growth path for online reading is as follows. Certain pieces of the puzzle now exist, are under development by others, or can be adapted (e.g., migrated to an open-source platform) to help move this vision forward. But certain other crucial pieces do not exist, are currently under-researched, and are unlikely to move forward without the kind of multidisciplinary, non-proprietary, and long-term-benefit advantages of a university research environment. To realize the vision, the UC Online Reading Framework maps out a targeted set of high-priority research needs and an overall process for integrating and implementing all the pieces of the puzzle.”

This blueprint would be published as a co-authored white paper accompanied by an innovative set of supporting materials with a creative component.

  1. White Paper. The white paper will describe the overall vision, integration between parts, intended technical design, and implementation and evaluation plans for a clearly defined audience and desired set of online reading practices. The paper will be about 30 pages long (not including appendices), and will attempt a level of detail appropriate to the narrative portion of a grant proposal (for which the paper would prepare)—that is, sufficient to model a concrete research and implementation agenda without trying prematurely to sketch the fine architecture of technical and other programs that can only realistically be developed during a full-scale implementation phase.
            (The white paper would thus be similar in scope and intention to a recent white paper on the preservation of digital literature that Alan lead-authored for the Electronic Literature Organization after a two-year collaboration process: A. Liu, et al., “Born-Again Bits: A Framework for Migrating Electronic Literature,” v. 1.1, 5 Aug. 2005, < http://www.eliterature.org/pad/bab.html>. [Not included in “Born-Again Bits” are the budget, staffing, and other implementation models that were also created in preparation for a later grant proposal.])
            Optionally, we may wish to accompany the white paper with a briefer, broader statement or manifesto pitched toward a general audience. Various print and online analogies for such a statement exist—e.g., such much-cited early attempts to shape the direction of networked society as the Progress & Freedom Foundation’s 1994 “A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age” (by Esther Dyson, George Gilder, George Keyworth, and Alvin Toffler), the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s white papers, and so on. (An additional idea would be to simplify our recommendations to a simple list of principles of good online reading that could be publicized as an eReader’s Pact or Deed (to allude loosely to something like the Creative Commons Deed.)
  2. Supporting Materials. The framework for improving online reading specified in the white paper would be supported by a combination of both objective and creative materials:

    1. Factual and bibliographical “thumbnail” reports. As appropriate and useful, we will mine the preliminary reports prepared by the project’s working groups to append thumbnail summaries or overviews of particular fields of research—e.g., “current directions in research on literacy and the computer,” “the state of the art in research into the history of reading,” “current directions in human computer interface design,” “recent research on the social use of the Internet,” etc.
    2. Speculative Tools. We will create and demo what might be called “speculative tools” to imagine what certain parts of our blueprint will look like (especially the parts that require developing new networking, application, and interface designs, or significantly adapting existing designs). For example, we might create a demo that matches something like the discourse-visualization projects that George Legrady, Warren Sack, Marcus Hauer, Anne Pascual, and Christiane Paul showed at the June 2005 conference session on “The Art of Online Reading” to the statistical text-analysis methods that John Mohr in our project has developed). Or again, we might create a demo of an “understanding online text” tool that implements algorithmically the basic, early steps in “close reading” (on the model of Cleanth Brooks’s and Robert Penn Warren’s influential New Critical textbook, Understanding Poetry, which J. Hillis Miller cited in his remarks at the critique session in the June conference).
    3. Fictional Scenarios. We may also write up or create short videos of pseudo-fictional scenarios (“stories,” “vignettes,” “scenes”) of how people will be reading online in the future according to our blueprint, and how that compares/contrasts with the way people read together or alone in the past. The idea would be to find a way to communicate the prospect of new reading practices with something like the excitement that must have attended the experience of holding a book in one’s hands for the first time after the invention of printing or reading together the latest issue of a newspaper during the heyday of the corresponding committees in the American Revolution.
    4. Comparative Case Studies. We can write a case study (possibly comparing two to four sites that use significantly different online reading approaches or technologies). The cases would be culled from the clearinghouse materials created earlier in the project.

During the process of creating the blueprint and white paper, Transliteracies will consult with various grant and foundation officers and begin writing one or more large-scale grant proposals that seek implementation funding for the blueprint (in the $3 million range).

Implementation Steps [TBA]

Detailed implementation steps for the “blueprint” stage of Transliteracies will be worked out after we have advanced sufficiently in the preceding discovery stage to see how the direction for the later years of the project should be revised. Also, experience in the discovery stage will allow us to see which processes have worked best and should be carried forward into the next stage. For example, it may be anticipated that some version of the working group model of organization will continue (with the groups reconfigured to address particular parts of the blueprint), that graduate students will continue to be appointed as research assistants, and that we will continue to collaborate through a series of remote/physical meetings paced by a final deadline for the white paper and subsequent grant proposals.

(Go to budget)
  ayliu, 10.08.05

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