This session will provide an overview of potential approaches, tools, and considerations for your THD 250 visual research assignment, with a focus on digital assignment options.
Date: September 13, 2022
Instructor: Tierney Steelberg (Digital Liberal Arts Specialist, DLAC)
Table of Contents
- Beyond the Research Paper: Options for Digital Visual Assignments
- Hands-On Sandboxing: WordPress & Omeka
- Brainstorming & Outlining
- Some Things to Keep in Mind
- Get Help When You Need It!
Beyond the Research Paper: Options for Digital Visual Assignments
Your research assignment for this course has a focus on the visual, and could take many forms: a video, a website, a zine, an infographic, a comic, a digital exhibit… Many of those approaches might require the use of a digital tool. Together, we’ll spend time considering possible options and paths for digital visual assignments.
Pick one of the following examples of undergraduate student work on a variety of topics (most research-based) and spend some time reviewing it. What is effective about these forms of visual communication?
- examples from Professor Sarah Purcell’s Fall 2019 Digital History course
- Zine or comic:
- Ejen Liu (Barnard College): My Experience as a Barnard International Student in the Age of Covid-19 (PDF in Box)
- Other digital zines, many created by Barnard students, available at Barnard Zines with Online Links
- WordPress website:
- example entries from Professor Ross Haenfler’s Subcultures & Sociology site (individual site pages created by students, many classes’ worth)
- Omeka website:
- Eva Hill ’22: The Stepford Lives
- 20th Century World at War exhibit by Fall 2019 HIST 1012 students at UC Boulder
Discussion: What Makes a Compelling Visual?
In looking at these examples, consider:
- What is effective or impactful about this method of visual communication?
- What makes you want to keep reading or viewing?
- What design choices do you find compelling?
- What design choices might you critique?
Notes on our conversation are shared here:
- WordPress website
- Helpful when text is broken up with captioned photos: draws viewer in.
- On website, page broken up into tabs helps condense content.
- Variation in text itself is helpful in addition to images (font and size).
- Text should be a legible color against the background.
- Difficult structure can obscure even great content.
- Omeka website
- Cover page draws viewer in and gives sense of content.
- Good spacing is important.
- Watch out for content that doesn’t work.
- Organize larger selection of content into groups.
- Consider responsiveness across devices (what does tool do for you, and what doesn’t it).
- Consider what content appears across all pages (maybe a large header that’s the same on each page isn’t so helpful).
- Keep sources close to where they’re cited.
- Combination of images, text, organizational titles on each page.
- Consider use of color.
- Be thoughtful about color of text against background.
- Importance of accessibility (ex: screenreader access).
- Many different possible approaches.
- Interest in topic and format are important for viewing experience.
- Be thoughtful about size and export quality.
- Ensure captions are correct (even automatically-generated ones can be edited).
Hands-On Sandboxing: WordPress & Omeka
Pick ONE of the two possible options below: (WordPress, for a traditional website, or Omeka, for a digital exhibit) and do some hands-on sandboxing in a shared class web space to learn about a possible approach and hone your digital skills. I have created sandbox sites for each of these tools. These sites will remain active throughout the semester, so feel free to come back to them for sandboxing as you decide on an approach. If you want to use one of these two tools for your assignment, we will create your own site for you.
Option 1: WordPress
WordPress is a powerful, open-source content management system for building websites.
For this exercise, you’ll work on creating a webpage of your own. I have preloaded the site with some media for you to play around with, though you can feel free to add your own to the site media library.
- Get logged in to the class WordPress site at https://thd250-wordpress.steelberg.sites.grinnell.edu/wp-admin using the account activation link that was emailed to you.
- Click Pages in the left-hand navigation menu.
- Click Add New to create a new page.
- Use the text editor to add or edit page content.
- Currently sites.grinnell sites use the Classic editor thanks to a plug-in (other WordPress sites may use something called the Gutenberg editor or block editor, which can be enabled on the site level).
- Buttons at the top allow you to edit the font, styles, and layout (bulleted or numbered lists, text alignment).
- By highlighting text and clicking the insert/edit link button , you can associate a URL and turn that text into a hyperlink.
- Use the Add Media button to insert images or add links to PDFs and other documents. You can select existing media from your Media Library, or click the Upload files tab to upload a file directly to a page (which will also automatically add it to your Media Library).
- If it’s an image, it will be added to the page where your cursor is.
- If it’s a document (PDF, PowerPoint, etc.), it will be added as a link to the file in your media library where your cursor is. It defaults to using the item title, but you can edit this.
- Use the Preview option (top right box) to view your
- When you’re ready, click Publish to save and publish your changes – or click Save Draft if you’re not ready for it to be published yet.
Option 2: Omeka
Omeka is an open-source content management tool that allows users to build online collections and curated exhibits of digital content. You add “Items” to Omeka, that can be grouped into “Collections” and subsequently shared in “Exhibits” or on “Simple Pages.”
For this exercise, you’ll work on creating an exhibit, as I have preloaded the site with some items for you to play around with. Exhibits allow you to organize your items into public-facing presentations, grouping them together along with accompanying text (description, analysis, etc.) and other elements as desired. Exhibits are composed of one or more pages with a linear chronology. Items can be used in multiple exhibits.
- Get logged in to the class Omeka site at https://thd250-omeka.steelberg.sites.grinnell.edu/admin using the account activation link that was emailed to you.
- Click “Exhibits” on the left-hand Omeka navigation pane.
- Click the button to add a new exhibit.
- Give your exhibit a title, custom URL slug and description.
- Decide whether you want your exhibit to start on this summary page, or on the first exhibit page you create.
- Choose a custom image from the site items.
- Add a page, then give your exhibit page a title, optional shorter menu title, and a slug.
- To add content to your page, select a content block layout option, then click “Add new content block.” You can enable the HTML editor to view simple text editor options.
- Add items and/or text to your content block: use the add item button to select items from the site list.
- Optionally, you can add items or files using their shortcodes.
- Add more content blocks to your page.
- When your page is ready, either save the changes, or save and add another page to create more exhibit pages!
Brainstorming & Outlining
Pick an approach for your assignment and start brainstorming: how might you outline the research topic you have in mind within this particular framework? It might be a wireframe for a website, a storyboard for a video or comic, an overview in note form of an exhibit or zine…
Some Things to Keep in Mind
“Accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, vehicles, or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design and practice of accessible development ensures both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers).” (Source: Wikipedia)
Here are some general digital accessibility recommendations to help you get started:
- consider your use of color (color contrasts, colors that are too bright, colors conveying meaning…)
- consider the legibility of your typeface and font size
- break up walls of text
- provide text alternatives to multimedia content (alternative text, a.k.a. alt text, for images, captions or transcripts for videos)
- create links that make sense out of context (avoid “click here”)
Specific approaches and tools will have their own accessibility considerations: the accessibility of a WordPress website has differing considerations from the accessibility of a zine PDF.
There are accessibility checkers you can use to check websites and documents for issues to correct. See DLAC or Assistive Technology staff for support with this.
Copyright & Licensing
When creating digital work that is publicly available, it’s very important to look for and use images and other media that are licensed for you to reuse freely, so you do not have to worry about copyright infringement.
- A Creative Commons license is a copyright license that allows works to be used by others. Different types of Creative Commons licenses exist.
- Works in the public domain are freely available to the public as a whole and are not subject to copyright laws.
If an image or media resource is copyrighted, or you are unsure of an image’s copyright status, do not use it on a publicly available digital assignment.
There are a wide variety of resources out there for finding Creative Commons & public domain images:
- Artstor (database to which the Libraries subscribe – contains art & images from a variety of cultural institutions, licensed for uses that are non-commercial, scholarly, and educational)
- digital collections from museums and more (the Met, Cleveland Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art…): make sure to check specific reuse options, as licenses may differ for different works
- Digital collections from national libraries (Library of Congress, the British Library…)
- Wikimedia Commons (user-uploaded pictures – public domain & CC-licensed)
- Google Images (Tools > Usage Rights > “Labeled for noncommercial reuse”)
- Open Culture has a roundup of other sources for open art images online
- Unsplash (freely reusable stock photos shared by creators)
- Flickr (filter your search results by license using drop down below search bar)
Sharing & Privacy
Note that you will want to think through how you share this work: by default many website platforms make a resource publicly available, but it is possible to keep a site private and password-protected if you do not want your work to be public.
Tool Suggestions by Approach
Here are some suggestions of potential tools for different assignment approaches.
- Websites: WordPress, MediaWiki… (available for free through Sites @ Grinnell)
- Digital exhibits: Omeka, Scalar… (available for free through Sites @ Grinnell)
- Videos: WeVideo (request a free campus account from Gina Donovan), iMovie, Adobe Premiere…
- Infographics: Microsoft Sway, PowerPoint, Canva, Adobe InDesign…
- Zines (digital): PowerPoint, Canva, Adobe InDesign…
Get Help When You Need It!
There are a variety of resources on campus that you can turn to for help when you need it – whether it’s getting help exploring scope or selecting tools for a digital assignment, help learning how to use a particular tool, or help troubleshooting a tech issue or glitch!
Vivero Peer Mentoring
Vivero Digital Fellows trained in a variety of digital tools and approaches hold drop-in hours from 7-9 PM in the Burling Library Media Room (on the lower level) Sundays through Thursdays every week while classes are in session.
Digital Liberal Arts Collaborative (DLAC) Staff
- Tierney Steelberg, Digital Liberal Arts Specialist, can help with a wide variety of digital approaches and tools, including WordPress and Omeka
- Gina Donovan, Senior Instructional Technologist, can help with infographics and video editing with WeVideo