From Ink to Hyperlink: Experimenting with an Online Comprehensive Exam Portfolio

 

Kate Nesbit

Kate Nesbit is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Iowa. Kate studies recitation, elocution, and oral reading practices in Victorian England and is currently working on her dissertation on the nineteenth-century practice of reading aloud in the home. Her website can be found here. Her Twitter handle is @nesbitkate

Don’t get me wrong—I love paper and ink. I am of the strange species that still takes notes in notebooks, annotates paperbacks, and loves the satisfying sense of completion that follows stapling a freshly printed essay. As an English PhD student here at the University of Iowa, I was—like many doctoral candidates—tasked with the preparation of a rather infamous print document: the Comprehensive Exam Portfolio.

The Comps Portfolio—referred to by my fellow English grad students as “the port,” “the port to doom,” and “the fartfolio”—is an approximately 100-page compilation of written work meant to profile your expertise and prepare you for writing the dissertation. The portfolio is comprised of various parts—a review essay, an academic article, annotations of critical and theoretical texts, syllabi—that are ideally supposed to talk to each other and point towards the student’s dissertation.

I specialize in nineteenth-century sound, listening, and oral reading, and as I began to prepare for my exam, I realized print was perhaps not the best medium for my portfolio’s content. I wanted to link to audio and audio-visual content, and—as someone interested in oral exchange—I wanted the different parts of the portfolio to converse with each other more explicitly.

Image of Kate Nesbit's portfolio homepage
Figure 1: The “Home Page” and “Table of Contents” of my online Comprehensive Exam Portfolio

I completed a print version of my Comprehensive Exam Portfolio, but I also compiled an online version. I constructed this online portfolio using Scalar, a digital humanities publishing platform run by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture at University of Southern California—Los Angeles.

As I began constructing the Scalar portfolio, the online version became central to how I thought about, composed, and organized my materials. I take great interest in media and how it shapes information, thought, and consciousness. In the case of my portfolio, the Scalar platform influenced how I perceived and experienced the Comprehensive Examination preparation process. I came to see the portfolio materials as:

  1. Non-linear: Scalar, like most website platforms, allows a user to link different pages of her site through hyperlinks, paths (linear), and tags (non-linear). The Scalar portfolio
    Figure 2: “Special Interest Area Annotations” Visual. Found at http://scalar.usc.edu/works/comprehensive-exam-portfolio/special-interest-annotations

    asks users to follow self-guided lines of inquiry through thematically linked content. Take, for example my special interest annotations. The Scalar platform allowed me to not only place annotations in multiple categories, but also visualize the relations between annotations and their thematic groupings (Fig. 2).

  2. Conversational: In trying to think about where I could link to different pages and content on my online Portfolio, I found myself thinking more creatively about the connections between different scholars, as well as different aspects of my own work
  1. Porous: By this, I mean that, by looking for ways to link to outside content (YouTube videos, other websites, online archives), I came to more fully appreciate how others’ ideas as well as my own are very much affected by and affecting happenings within and beyond the academy.

That being said, my online portfolio had its limitations. Since the URL is public, I could not include my article, which I hope to eventually publish elsewhere. My exam committee rightfully took issue with some of the ways I categorized, connected, and linked information. And…since I had to create both a print and an online portfolio, it took a lot of extra time.

Even so, I encourage departments and students—especially those interested in media studies—to experiment with different portfolio platforms. An online portfolio just may lead to fresh lines of inquiry and conceptual connections that are—believe it or not—even more satisfying than staples.

Ivan Kreilkamp on Creating a Twitter Voice

rv93f492_400x400@IvanKreilkamp

Guest post by Kate Nesbit, PhD student in the Department of English.

How can we craft personae and build professional and intellectual communities in posts of 140 characters or less? On Tuesday, November 1 (BCSB 101), Ivan Kreilkamp joins us to discuss the genre of the tweet in our third Next Gen PhD symposium. Kreilkamp, co-editor of the journal Victorian Studies and professor of English at the University of Indiana-Bloomington, curates a lively Twitter account. His tweets engage in intellectual debate, promote others’ scholarship, link to his publications, and—of course—mourn the woes of the current election season. Young scholars and graduate students admiring Kreilkamp’s Twitter presence may wonder: How can I cultivate an online voice that feels authentic and conversational, but also scholarly and professional? How can I create a community of thinkers who take interest in what I have to say?

What we hope to accomplish through Twitter, Victorian authors like Benjamin Disraeli, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Charles Dickens hoped to accomplish through novels. For, as Kreilkamp argues in his book Voice and the Victorian Storyteller (2005), Victorian novelists tried to create in their fiction an “imaginary-voice-in-writing.” Victorians figured the novel as the utterance of an authentic, charismatic storyteller, he argues, in order to reconstitute isolated readers as a community of rapt listeners. Kreilkamp challenges characterizations of print culture as oppositional to oral culture. He reads Victorian fiction in relation to the phonograph, Victorian shorthand systems, and other attempts to represent the sounds of speech in writing.

So, how can we describe the “Voice of this Victorianist Tweeter”? Kreilkamp, too, is adept at crafting a personable and smart imaginary-voice-in-typing, a voice accessible and engaging to a community that extends beyond the academy. He has published scholarly articles on topics ranging from speech and voice in the nineteenth century to Victorian pet-keeping and animal studies. Yet he also publishes regularly in venues geared toward wider audiences—The New Yorker, Public Books, and The Los Angeles Review of Books—on issues literary, academic and otherwise. In short, his is a voice worth listening to, whether in the form of an article about dogs in Great Expectations, an opinion piece on pulp comics in Public Books, or a 140-character tweet about whether men should be pictured squashed under skillets instead of high heels.