MADS News

MAD Studio to Join Weinberg College IT Solutions

There are some some exciting behind-the-scenes organizational changes taking place at the start of the 2019-2020 academic year for the Media and Design Studio. We hope that these changes will enable new opportunities for growth and enhancement of our services, all while keeping the same commitment to our faculty collaborators, their manifold instructional support needs, and the continued development of innovative pedagogical and scholarly projects.

As the main part of its organizational change, the Media and Design Studio is shedding its legacy classification as an academic program and becoming an administrative unit that is fully connected to Weinberg IT Solutions (WITS). In many ways, this new classification better reflects the technical nature of the work that we do, and follows decades of existing partnership.

Although we are changing organizationally, our mission is the same. With a nod to our 50-year history that began as the Northwestern Language Laboratories, we keep our attention to the technological and pedagogical needs of language instruction, even as we bring many of the techniques and solutions originally pioneered in this area to the benefit of scholarly activities spanning the broader humanities.

In the new organization, I will continue to oversee the unit’s development, services, and support operations as Director of the MAD Studio. In this capacity, I report to Mike Satut, Senior Director of Information Technology for Weinberg College. Together, Mike and I look forward to identifying all of the ways our technology teams can nurture a helpful cross-pollination of ideas​ and improved sharing of resources.

Working with me in MADS is the same great team that has earned accolades for their professionalism and performance:

  • ​​​Cecile-Anne Sison, a leading voice on instructional technology and the focal point of the daily operations in the “lab”
  • ​Sergei Kalugin, the Studio’s lead developer whose design and engineering are behind all of the unit’s stunning web and mobile projects; and
  • ​C.A. Davis, a resident digital storyteller who has engaged with faculty to help them communicate their research and teaching to wider audiences

We are the same team, have the same mission, and so also do our services remain the same. For example:

  • ​​We offer customized technology enhanced teaching spaces with computers equipped for individual and group audio activities, videoconferencing equipment, and ultra-high-definition presentation systems. ​
  • Faculty can request cameras, audio recorders, or iPads for a course, receive advice on sharing audio or video with students, or simply check out a missing adaptor for their computer.
  • Our web and mobile development projects remain very much in progress, as are plans for support and upkeep. And, we eagerly await many more innovative and collaborative project ideas to come.
  • ​We offer workshops on various topics of interest to faculty and students, and stand ready to provide teaching assistance for digital tools and techniques in various courses.

We will endeavor to keep our services and support responsive to what is most valued or needed. And, with the help of your input and feedback, we anticipate continuing to​ update and enhance​ our offerings in the future.

For services and support, our e-mail contact addresses are the same:

  • ​Room reservations and questions: mads-rooms@northwestern.edu
  • ​Equipment reservations and questions: mads-circ@northwestern.edu
  • ​General inquiries, feedback and project questions:  madstudio@northwestern.edu

Please feel free to share requests, ideas, suggestions, or questions through these channels or with any of us personally!

The Pulter Project

On Building a 21st Century Reading Experience with a 17th Century Poet

In 1974, when The Riverside Shakespeare was published by Houghton Mifflin, the venerated two-volume collection of Shakespeare’s poems and plays was thick as a Tewkesbury mustard. The edition came loaded with extras. So many extras—in the form of notes, footnotes, critical essays, justifications for modernized language, photographic inserts and more—that Stephen Booth, reviewing the 2,057-page collection for the New York Review of Books, feared its monumental size “would cause iatrogenic malnutrition in students” and would be too heavy to carry to class.

Today, four decades and two editions later, many students of Shakespeare are still hefting that “big, ugly” Riverside like seven pounds of early modern flesh. Despite the bracing sticker price of $200, a great many professors, sold on the critical bona fides of those extras and lured by the convenience of everyone being on the same translucent page, require students to buy it.

Booth believed that Houghton Mifflin’s sales strategy—bundling critical notes pitched to faculty in order to tap the student market—positioned the student as a permanent outsider. The Riverside failed as an aesthetic experience, he wrote, because “its concerns are usually different from, inconsistent with, and invidious to the concerns of those who will read it.” It’s hard to make something good. Harder still when a crucial piece of that something is authored by someone else, for someone else.

Happily, there are technological affordances that enable us to meet literary figures on more intimate terms, free of editorial cruft. We can, for instance, build an edition around a poet whose life briefly overlapped with Shakespeare’s. And we can front that edition with contributions by critics and scholars—as did the Riverside. Crucially, though, we can make those notes and essays disappear with a tap, leaving nothing visible to the reader but the original ink-smudged manuscript. And we can make it free.

With The Pulter Project: Poet in the Making, edited by Wendy Wall and Leah Knight, developed by Northwestern’s Media and Design Studio, that’s what we did.

The Pulter Project is a digital collection of Hester Pulter’s poetry, engineered to adapt to the concerns of all who will read it. Readers seeking minimal interruption and basic editorial notes can activate a pared-down elemental edition, while those seeking additional context and commentary can enable the site’s editorially beefed-up amplified edition. The cumulative effect might be compared to visiting a museum that not only displays works on the wall, but gives us a chance to enter into that work, the making of it, the reception of it. The Pulter Project is also outfitted with a tool that compares editions side-by-side for a granular study in how poems evolve as they’re touched by different editors—as well as numerous other means of accessing the verse of this 17th century artist whose work was nearly lost to history.

Nobody seems to know a whole lot about the route taken by Pulter’s calfskin-bound manuscript before it was found by Mark Robson, a graduate student with a keen eye for verse, in a Leeds University archive in 1996. Prior to Robson’s recovery, the manuscript was owned by Gilbert Ingefield, a former architect and book collector who also happened to be the mayor of London. Ingefield auctioned off the book at Christie’s in 1975, when it was acquired by Leeds.

The Pulter Project interface was designed by Sergei Kalugin, a Russia-born developer who maintains exacting diets and competes in triathlons. “The initial design,” he says, “was based on the fact that the only real thing that we have here is Pulter’s manuscript. It’s the pillar. I was convinced from the very beginning that the reading itself should be the sole focus of the interface.” He notes that even printouts of the poems, the overlooked stepchild of screen-centric digital publishing, are intended to please the eye.

“Early on,” says Kalugin, “as we researched other digital editions, one thing struck me: the default mode for pretty much all of them was severe overload. I didn’t like that. I tried to avoid that overwhelming quality. With the Pulter Project, we wanted the user to feel comfortable doing one thing. Reading.”

Among the site’s more poignant features is access to scans of Pulter’s manuscript. There’s an inescapable intimacy to these hand-lettered pages. That this should be meaningful probably says more about our touchscreen era than anything else, when the mortal sweat of a made thing is routinely concealed from us. It seems not to matter that most of these poems were copied from earlier drafts by a scribe rather than Pulter herself (though corrections believed to be in Pulter’s hand are laced throughout the manuscript).

What does matter is that a reader today can glimpse how literature was made in the 17th century, before print culture dominated. Hint: it’s maybe not that different than the 21st century, when nearly all writers continue to rely on coteries of trusted readers, friends, and frenemies. This is one of many ways The Pulter Project argues, through its breadth of features—the ability to compare editions, the ability to offer multiple edits of Pulter’s poems in a way that’s transparent to the reader—that literature is rarely, if ever, the work of one.

Partial scan of The Eclipse

Detail of “The Eclipse,” from Pulter’s manuscript, circa 1660.

Elemental edition of The Eclipse, by Hester Pulter

Readers can view the elemental edition of “The Eclipse” for a minimalist rendering of the poem without visible editorial intervention.

Sample note from "The Eclipse"

Editorial notes reside in the background until activated by the reader.

Amplified edition of The Eclipse

The amplified edition of “The Eclipse” differs from the elemental text, and also indicates critical notes…

Critical notes for The Eclipse

…contributed by literary scholars, critics and editors.

Version comparison tool

Different editions can also be compared side-by-side.

Telling Refugee Stories

Project Profile: Notunterkunft

Last spring a group of twelve Weinberg students traveled to a refugee shelter in Berlin to conduct research at the Notunterkunft Wilmersdorf, a World War II-era government building repurposed to accommodate the influx of displaced families from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. The students were enrolled in an advanced German course taught by Franziska Lys, who challenged them to inquire into lives almost unimaginably different than their own.

“Students need to know about diversity all over the world,” Lys said. “They need to understand their own backyard, but they need to contribute to that diversity in a more global sense.” Students interviewed refugees in German, English and Arabic. They also volunteered at the shelter, assisting with childcare and custodial chores.

One compelling outcome of that experience is Notunterkunft, a bilingual collection of digital stories, which Lys and her students assembled in collaboration with the Media and Design Studio. These stories are derived from a combination of interviews and immersion research, and take multiple forms that go beyond the page. Students crafted essays enhanced with sound and image, short documentaries, even a collection of plays.

What these stories depict is, at times, harrowing.

In a graphic memoir by Courtney Chatterton, a Syrian child regards a sturdy structure made of Legos as something invariably ruined, with lives cut short. Yet the Notunterkunft project is not without some room for hope. In a podcast produced by Maya Daiter, entitled “A New Life,” we meet Hayat, a Syrian woman expecting her first child. As she receives prenatal care at the shelter, there is no mistaking her determination to build a better life.

To realize this multiform digital project, the Media and Design Studio supplied equipment for students to document their experiences, including field recorders, lights, cameras and other gear. We also sent our instructional technologist, Cecile-Anne Sison, to Berlin, to provide project-specific training and logistical support. Cecile shot and produced this video, which, in addition to serving as a mosaic of student experiences at the Notunterkunft, rather wonderfully complicates one’s definition of the word refugee. Lastly, MAD Studio developer Sergei Kalugin conceived and developed the Notunterkunft website with assistance from Lys and her students, ultimately delivering a sensory-rich and intellectually rewarding record of this era-defining story.

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Write-On Surfaces in the MAD Studio

Many of you know that both you and your students can reserve small meeting spaces in the Studio for tutoring, group study, or team meetings. But did you know that you can now write on most of the wall surfaces?  Over break, we painted several walls with “Activity Paint.” These vast writing surfaces allow for highly creative and collaborative diagrams, think maps, grammar explanations, or any other impromptu drawing. For those who don’t have dry erase markers handy, we offer them for check-out at the front desk.

MMLC’s New Student Employees

The MMLC’s student employees currently occupy positions from lab aide to developer. Some have a knowledge of the equipment and how it runs, while others use their knowledge of coding to develop projects going on within the MMLC. Cecile-Anne Sison, who hires most of the MMLC student employees, explains how the center integrates this youth in the workplace. Full Post

MMLC Welcomes Visitors to Open House

With the start of a new year comes the advent of new technology, or in the case of the MMLC, new facilities. The MMLC recently held an open house, debuting its range of technology and new collaborative spaces. With nearly 100 people in attendance, the MMLC staff welcomed faculty from varying departments, some MMLC student alumni and the Dean of Weinberg himself, Adrian Randolph, to explore its new space in Kresge Hall. Full Post

Excitement About our Move

As the Spring 2016 term closes, we celebrate another great year of creative and scholarly pursuits by our team, the faculty who call upon us, and, most of all, the students whose classes and projects often take shape in our labs and studios, including:

  • Developing a virtual walking tour of Ancient Rome in Chicagoincluding in-depth video explorations of various sites
  • Learning how to research and author online maps to chart Shakespeare’s Circuits around the globe
  • Honing skills to ‘write’ audio essays, including one on Tom Dooley which won the History Department’s annual Joseph Barton Essay Award
  • Adding 84 new entries to the WildWords dictionary
  • Taking one of the 1,965 online language placement tests processed this year
  • Being in a group of 597 fellow students who perfected and evaluated their language pronunciation using DiLL in our computer classrooms

Full Post

Students Produce Virtual Walking Tour of Ancient Rome in Chicago

Students of a recent course taught by Classics Professor Francesca Tataranni titled “Ancient Rome in Chicago” have completed an impressive virtual walking tour that explores how the city showcases its engagement with the classical past through its streets, buildings, and monuments.

A student-produced virtual walking tour highlights ways in which the classical world is memorialized in Chicago. The virtual tour uses StoryMapJS from the Northwestern University Knight Lab.

The 300-level research seminar course was designed to allow students to take ownership of their learning through knowledge creation, and to explore the nature of the humanities in the digital age. Full Post

One Stop for Media Requests

Starting this fall, all media requests can be made via a single Course Reserve form that can be found within Canvas. Prior to this change, certain types of requests needed to be sent separately to either the Library or the MMLC, causing confusion.

Through a new streamlined process, completed Course Reserve requests are first sent to the Library, where they are carefully reviewed and then fulfilled by the Library or forwarded to the MMLC based on the keywords and information found in the request.

For every request, streaming video is made available to students through the new Library Media tool within Canvas. This tool is replacing both the old video streaming systems of the Library and the MMLC. Faculty still using older URL links to video and audio items should expect these links to stop working and plan to use the Course Reserve form to request new versions of the items.

A notable difference with the new Library Media tool is that access to the reserve items are made accessible only for the duration of the current course and term. Previously, course reserve links worked indefinitely. Now, each quarter, faculty must explicitly request media items again using the Course Reserve system.
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