Communication through Cookbooks
My final project can be found here
To review my project, I asked three of my roommates to take a look at my project. I explained to them the background and aim of my project and the way the media platform was supposed to work. At this point, I had largely finished the project, but I wanted to know if there were any glaring mistakes in my analysis or difficulties with the platform that I had overlooked.
I asked my roommates the following questions:
1) Do you feel that the narrative flows well from one section to the next?
2) Does the layout allow the user to understand the ways in which the different examples of symbolism often overlapped?
3) Do you feel that my argument or presentation are lacking in any way? If yes, how so?
4) Have I included enough primary source examples to craft a convincing analysis?
I included the background, aim and media description with these questions and a link to the project in a word document, and I sent each roommate the document. I asked them all to look over the project and answer the questions, then send the document back to me.
The first question received positive responses. Each critic reported that the analysis flowed well, though one claimed to have some trouble navigating Scalar.
The second question also received positive responses. They each reported that the analysis clearly explained notes that employed multiple types of imagery. I was pleased with this response, but I had wanted to take it further. The Scalar Path Map should have shown the ways in which these images were interconnected by connecting them on the same path, but I ran into trouble getting the software to do cooperate. Instead, it would duplicate the page on the Path Map. I explained this struggle to the reviews, and I plan to work to correct the problem.
My roommates gave me some criticism with the third questions. One complained that the interface was not user-friendly, and he suggested including images on the Path Map. Another, reminded me to emphasize that the analysis was my interpretation of the notes to avoid any confusion for readers.
The fourth question also received positive responses. Each reviewer felt that I adequately supported my argument.
The peer-review did not prove all that useful for (I think) two reasons. One, I used a working draft of the project for the peer review, so a lot of the questions were issues that I had already thought about in creating the draft. Two, the questions were a bit too pointed. I found that my only open-ended question received the most varied responses, so I should consider asking for suggestions instead of asking for an evaluation the next time I need to ask for friendly criticism.
To review my project, I enlisted the expertise of three peers. Before showing them my project, I explained that it is still in its preliminary stages and has a long way to go before completion. Mainly, I wanted to glean whether or not my project would be taken seriously as a way of presenting a historical argument, and whether my portrayal of multiple voices would be irritating or amusing–and how distracting it would be to audiences. Therefore, the three questions I asked of my peer reviewers were:
To present my project to my reviewers, I read the portion of the script that I have already prepared. Then, I asked them to respond to the questions.
The first question received unexpected responses. While I was reading my script, I was particularly conscious of the unconventional elements of my project, and I was worried the audience would not take my argument seriously, or that it would be overshadowed by the dramatic flair. However, my peers responded, “I think you’re good” and “I don’t think so,” and didn’t elaborate any further.
The second question evoked more detailed responses. One peer reviewer said that she appreciated the voice acting because it facilitated differentiation between the interviewer (me) and my guest (Mary Hooker Cornelius), but that Cornelius’s character became annoying after a while. Another peer praised the acting element because it was funny, but admitted that it can be kind of distracting. The third peer concurred with this observation. She recommended that I include the acting, but use a voice that is different enough from my own to allow differentiation, but not make Cornelius’s character as much of a caricature.
In response the third question, one peer (Yiyao Xie, a native Chinese speaker), confessed that she had trouble understanding the podcast. However, she thinks this is due to difficulties understanding fast-paced, complex English about an unfamiliar subject. Another peer simply recommended my removal of a part that she found “kind of unnecessary.” The third peer advised that I make a clear thesis. I will take this advice into consideration; however, I want to work on making my argument clear without explicitly declaring it to be my thesis. Overall, they found the podcast to be enjoyable and do not suggest any major changes.
It’s finally here: my final project submission, and my peer review!
My final project can be visited here. My peer review follows:
I presented my project to three peers, who, on the whole, found the project really interesting. These are the questions I asked them:
Did the web application…
… illustrate the uniqueness of railroad companies’ narratives?
… demonstrate the varying challenges that early railroads faced?
… make learning about railroad development more accessible and fun?
Did the following user interface components compliment or detract from your experience?
The first reviewer contrasted my application to a book, saying, while a book progresses in a single direction, my application was able to extend in many different directions at once. Consider the expression, “train of thought,” which implies that the human mind processes thoughts linearly. I am neither a neurologist nor a psychologist, but can reason, in the manner of a philosopher, that the human mind does not operate in this way. Rather, thoughts explode outwards in every direction upon receiving a stimulus, like ripples in water. My application is largely effective because it appeals to the non-linear thought process. It starts with a pebble, and then spreads outwards in every direction, pursuing the narratives of many railroads at once.
A less complimentary reviewer noted that my application, in fact, was not so different from books, because it required a lot of reading. The information modules associated with each railroad line contained relatively bland background information, and (this hurt) relied on novelty to engage users, rather than compelling arguments. In response, I resolved to eliminate as much text from the application as possible, because the whole point of the project was to convey a historical point using digital tools, not language.
To evaluate the user interface and experience (UI, UX), I made a point of not demonstrating the application, hoping to observe how they naturally interacted with it. From watching their behaviors, I was able to determine what elements of the interface were intuitive, and what elements felt confusing. It quickly became clear that the lengthy introduction that appears on the front page negatively impacted users’ experiences. Having to read so much tested their patience, and significantly increased the interval between loading the page and interacting with the dynamic map, which is, of course, the most important part of the application.
I also realized that by including directions, I was essentially admitting that the controls were not self-explanatory. My peers were not immediately aware that the project was essentially an interactive timeline, for if they had been, the concept of moving to the “next” or “previous” date would have been much more clear. Perhaps making the year a more central part of the display, rather than putting it off to the side, would help users identify the application as a timeline.
Finally, it was not entirely obvious that the railroad lines were clickable. A better visual indicator would solve this problem. For example, they could illuminate when users hover over them.
Ultimately, despite these critiques, my application was well received among users. Their grasp of the content seemed to suggest I had achieved my goal of undermining the “macroscopic, monolithic and opaque” history of railroads in the United States. However, an improved user interface would make their learning experience even more immersive, natural and fun.
As Alec and Kurt noted, the presentation date falling a week before the final deadline was a bit concerning. For starters, I was underprepared as I had let myself forget about it, thinking all along “Oh, I’ve still got time; I have another week.” I panicked the day of trying to transpose my thoughts from Microsoft Word to USCScalar. Let me tell you… USCScalar was much more stubborn than its promotional and instructional materials let on. Specifically, I had trouble uploading documents to fit well into Scalar. Every time I tried, the text would end up off-kilter, and it looked awful. Maybe I should have seen that coming. Regardless, I am excited to work with the software and figure out the intricacies that make it churn out the linked, polished pages to which Dr. Shrout has exposed us throughout the semester.
Enough about my presentation.
I was surprised and impressed to see the variety of digital media my classmates employed in their projects. Between all of us, I don’t think a single method of digital representation was repeated. I think the diversity in choice reflects on the diversity of our interests as a class. Even with multiple classmates presenting on transportation networks, they all chose to illustrate similar information through different means, showing that they have different visions for the end project. Further, this speaks on the importance of technical presentations as a whole, as they allow the publisher to portray the information as she sees most fit regardless of artistic ability. Different digital media are designed for different digital representations, streamlining this process. Obviously, I have to commend Sherwood for creating his own website entirely, giving him absolute autonomy over his finished product. But this approach isn’t feasible for most. The use of differing platforms is exciting because it leads me to believe that we will have a variety of interesting project topics each shown in its own interesting way.
While figuring out how to organize my thoughts for this blog post, I read through my classmates’ thoughts on Tuesday’s presentations and was amused to see Aidan express jealousy (however slight) for those of us attempting more “creative routes” in our final projects. I had been concerned that my unconventional–one might say wacky–approach to the project paled in comparison to the more official, traditionally academic pursuits of my peers. In particular, Sherwood’s use of mapping and Avery’s social network site struck me as emulating projects we have studied in class. Despite encouragement from Dr. Shrout, I still came away slightly nervous that my undertaking is too “out there.”
The main source of my worry concerns my ability to present a clear historical argument in my podcast. I want to smoothly integrate my argument into the podcast without clearly defining it as a “thesis,” but I also don’t want the argument to get lost in the anecdotes and dramatic flair of the program. Another challenge I anticipate is to write the podcast with a tone serious enough so that historical arguments do not sound out of place in the dialogue, but dramatic enough that it doesn’t sound like an essay read aloud.
Although Alec expressed relief that our classmates are encountering technical obstacles and frustrations, I had the opposite reaction–hearing about my peers’ difficulties makes me realize that I have a long way to go before I turn in my final project.
Finally, congratulations to my classmates for a successful semester of digital history.