Monday, December 29, 2014

Thoughts on Content Development and Curation for the New Year!

The past couple of years have been a BIG transition for me in terms of my content/curation habits, so before 2015 is upon us, I wanted to share some thoughts about that.

Latin Days Officially Over. For about 10 years, I spent most of my content development time on Latin. That was partly because I had some projects related to fables and proverbs that were really important to me personally, but it was also because I hoped that I could persuade my school to let me develop an online Latin course. Those hopes led nowhere, unfortunately; the Classics department really has stuck to the vow made by the department chair back in 2001 that "Laura Gibbs will never teach Latin in this department again!" (after I resigned my job as a professor there); the departmental resentment has not lessened over the years, even though that department chair is long since retired. Over the course of those years, I wrote five books for Latin students and teachers: one book I did for a traditional publisher, but the other four books I self-published so that I could give them away for free.

You can read about my book-writing process here; it was very much a combination of content development and curation interwoven: Websites, Blogs, and Books. I also created a long-running blog and built up a big readership there: Bestiaria Latina. The blog is the one Latin project that I have kept up with, but I'm no longer doing any new Latn content development (just the occasional new Latin LOLCat) — instead, I recycle the thousands of proverbs and fables that I worked on in those years, reusing them there at the blog.

It was a really hard decision to give up the Latin but finally, two years ago, I did give it up. I was a bit adrift for a while, doing some work on English proverbs, but not really sure which way to go. Then, I came up with the idea of redoing my Myth-Folklore class with the UnTextbook, and that has led to a fabulous new phase of content development that should easily last as long as my Latin phase... or even longer! Plus, I learned a lot from all the Latin work that I did which has let me make really fast progress, learning from old mistakes as I start these new projects.

New Projects, New Tools. Another thing that has happened over the past decade is the explosion of new tools to help me do a better job with all my content development and curation. When I did my first Latin proverb book back in 2005, I had GoogleDocs to help me (spreadsheets rule my world!), and I had just started blogging, but I did not have the amazing digital libraries online that I do now; all my current projects are powered by online libraries like Internet Archive and Hathi Trust. Most important of all, I am now involved in some great social networks online, so that I no longer feel like I am working all alone. It's ironic: when I lived in Norman (where the University of Oklahoma is located) I actually felt far more alone and isolated than I do now, when I am living over a thousand miles away from Oklahoma in very rural North Carolina, but connected to so many inspiring and helpful colleagues online at Google+ and other social networking sites.

Re-Use and Wider Audiences. Luckily for me, it is very easy to repurpose the kinds of content I create (fables, proverbs, etc.) because the content comes in such small pieces! By re-using that content in different spaces (Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, etc.), I am able to reach more people. In addition, that process enables me to curate the content at the same time, correcting errors, adding links, and so on. Over the years, I've learned some really good tricks for keeping track of what content I've used and where I've used it. The main way I do that is with Blogger blog post labels, since Blogger has turned out to be my main content hub. Blogger is where I create new content and then, as time goes by, I update and republish that content while also sharing it again in whatever social networking spaces I am participating in. For 2015, it looks like those spaces are going to be Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest. I like the fact that I can use these different spaces to reach different audiences. Google+ is where I reach my own colleagues online, while Pinterest and Twitter are good ways to reach my students, connect with my school (that's why I started using Twitter), and also encounter complete strangers — Pinterest is really a new world for me that way!

Plans for 2015. My main content development project for 2015 is the upcoming Indian Epics UnTextbook, which will occupy the summer. By having decided on my summer project already, I can get my students this spring to help me find the right materials to focus on. So, I am busily seeking out new India-related books for the students to browse and comment on (growing list of books here), and I am also starting to post some Indian stories at a new blog: Ocean of Stories. Plus, just for fun, I am also doing a Doctor Who project: Doctor Who Quotes.

In terms of content re-use for the coming year, I will be republishing one of my LatinLOLCats every day at the Proverb Laboratory blog. I'm also trying to make better use of the images at my Indian Epics Resources blog by republishing those images and sharing them via both Pinterest and the Twitter stream for Indian Epics. Another re-use project is revisiting the free Kindle books that I originally collected to use in my Class Announcements two years ago; now I'm updating those Kindle book listings with additional bibliographical information based on the availability of the books at digital libraries like Internet Archive and Hathi Trust. These public domain online books are the engine that will be driving all my content development in future years, so I'm excited about revisiting these free Kindle books as a way to refocus and then expand my digital bibliography efforts.

The Evils of the LMS. As you can see, I have not even mentioned the LMS that I am supposed to be using for sharing content with my students (we use D2L BS at my school). From my perspective, the LMS is the worst possible content repository that I can think of: to put content in D2L would be like nailing it inside a coffin and then burying that coffin deep in the digital ground. Ugh. Sadly, as long as my school keeps promoting the LMS while failing to promote other kinds of tools for content development, sharing, and re-use, we are — in my opinion anyway — failing in our mission as a PUBLIC university.

So, I'm expecting great things for my own content efforts in 2015, but will we see any change at my school in terms of faculty and students breaking out of the LMS and taking advantage of the open Internet for connecting and sharing...? Sadly, I doubt it. But Jim Groom is coming to give a keynote address at the University of Oklahoma's January Academic Tech conference — and that's something I wish I were in Norman to see! If anybody can shake things up, it would be Jim Groom... so maybe he will manage to shake loose some of the cobwebs and help us break out of the darkness into the light. What a great 2015 that would be!

I'll include here the video of my favorite session from Connected Courses which features Jim Groom, along with other folks who have great ideas and energy to share about using the web as our shared educational space: Connecting to the IndieWeb Movement.

Happy reading and watching in the New Year, everybody! :-)


  1. That was quite a pronouncement, eh? Laura Gibbs will never ....

  2. Oh, there are stories from those days aplenty! That pronouncement happened at a meeting where the dean of the college called me in with the chair and was going to broker a deal where the dean paid my salary but I would teach online Latin (they did not have, and still don't have, an online Latin course)... but the chair boomed out his verdict, so the dean just turned to me and said, "Laura, how about Mythology and Folklore?"
    And so the Myth-Folklore class was born. :-)

  3. I never have understood why universities didn't have classics programs. Mine doesn't, yet the interest in them is small but intense, true "long tail" behavior. Uni's could do Latin MOOCs, three week xMOOC-style certifications or even 'free' courses for alums or...well, their budgets limit their imaginations. You are their loss and our gain. Thanks for sharing some of your history

    1. Oh, yes, "long tail" is exactly right... which is why the blog has worked so nicely: it has let me get in touch with all kinds of people who, for reasons of their own, really enjoy Latin. I never could have reached so many people at my school; by overcoming the limitations of geography and by bringing together those scattered people here and there, online has the potential to really sustain the study of Latin as a language ... which is a fascinating business for all kinds of reasons. It really was hard for me to give it up, esp. because all the Latin books online now meant I had even better resources to work with than I did when I was a grad student at Berkeley using that wonderful library. But then, the same has proved true for working with all the myth-folklore stuff that I am working on now. These digital libraries are a treasure-trove, no matter what you might be looking for! :-)


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