Digital Storytelling Tools: TimelineJS

Following up on an October Teaching with Technology workshop and a recent post on StoryMapJS, today I will introduce TimelineJS–another product of Northwestern University’s Knight Lab. This tool allows users to plot narrative content along an interactive timeline, with text, images, maps, video, and audio files embedded in a slideshow above. Users can click through the slides chronologically or scroll through the timeline to jump to specific dates/events. Like StoryMapJS, TimelineJS requires no coding skills, but users must work in a Google Spreadsheet template. See the documentation pages for more information about the template’s columns.

Le Monde TimelineJS
“Chronologie : une si longue campagne présidentielle”, Le Monde (February 21, 2012)

Note that the supported media types are all URLs and embed codes. If a user wishes to include an image from their hard drive, they must first publish it to the web somewhere, such as a social media site or photo-sharing platform. There are some potential issues with TimelineJS’s functionality in a Humanities-based project, such as the inability to indicate approximate dates and years. You do not have to enter months and days, but you must determine a year for every entry on your timeline, and the spreadsheet cannot indicate “circa” or approximate ranges on the resulting timeline. If projects are based on personal data, it is important to note that you must publish your Google Spreadsheet to the web in order to create your TimelineJS. The data will likely be visible only to people who know the link, and there are advanced options for privacy control for users with JSON skills.

Like all Knight Lab creations, TimelineJS is geared toward people working in the media; however, its narrative and multimedia format would be a great alternative presentation tool for many student projects in which PowerPoint may have been utilized in the past. Timelines can also be embedded into websites to add a new dimension to a web-based project. See the example from a Tumblr site below.

Tumblr site
Akira Toriyama’s World

Workshop Recap: Free Textbooks?!

Logos from different OER resources

Thank you to everyone who attended yesterday’s workshop, “Free Textbooks?! Using Open Educational Resources (OER).” A special thank you to Karen Gonzalez Rice and Joe Schroeder who shared their experiences replacing textbooks with OER. We learned a lot hearing about your experiences – positive and negative! I wrote about their presentations in a previous post – available here.

I heard from several faculty who are interested in the topic but were unable to attend. If this describes you, click on the image above to view our full presentation.

What the presentation doesn’t include, however, is our great discussion about creating courses that are accessible to all students. While many students here can afford course materials, we need to keep in mind that this is not every student’s experience. We should be mindful, when designing our courses, to consider questions of equity and access to course materials. Here are a few points from our discussion:

  • For faculty in the sciences and social sciences, we highly recommend reviewing the open textbooks created for OpenStax. These books are widely used across the world!
  • Finding open resources can be time consuming. If you wish to explore the possibilities of open resources – including textbooks, interactive online modules, quiz banks, syllabi, etc – set up a meeting with your liaison. There is an amazing amount of resources available, but sorting through and integrating them effectively into your course takes time. An instructional technologist can help. This is a great project for Tempel Summer Institute!
  • Some faculty have collected enough materials – articles, websites, etc – that they are able to forego the textbook. We discussed the difference between reading on a screen and in print. There are several ways to deal with this: teach students how to effectively read on a screen and employ tools that allow students to annotate and highlight texts and/or require students to print materials. If you choose the latter, explain to students that the cost of printing is much less than the cost of your previously required textbook.
  • One drawback to using a collection of different materials is that a textbook provides cohesion and important supplemental materials, such as a glossary. You can often find useful glossaries and timelines online and in reference books. In addition, there are tools (iBooks Author, for example) that allow you to create your own book that combines these resources and provide connections and context.
  • If you’re excited and ready to dive in to OER, take a look at the slideshow above. In addition to many linked repositories and organizations, the section on pedagogy and carefully selecting and integrating OER is important.

There is a lot of interest in this topic so I am hoping to offer this again next semester. If you would like to be involved, have questions, or want to meet with an instructional technologist or librarian, contact your liaison. If you find a great resource or try something new, share it with us!

Final Teaching with Technology Workshop of the Semester Tomorrow!


We hope you can join us for our final Teaching with Technology workshop of the semester tomorrow. We will meet in the Advanced Technology Lab (ATL) tomorrow (Wednesday) from 10:30-11:30. The ATL is located on the lower level of Shain Library, just on the other side of the stairs from the IT Service Desk.

Free Textbooks?! Using Open Educational Resources
Wednesday, November 11, 10:30-11:30
Advanced Technology Lab, Shain Library
Do your students complain about textbook costs? Are you frustrated by the format, content, or examples in your textbook? Open Educational Resources (OER) are shared teaching, learning, and research resources that are free for anyone to reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute. Using high-quality, peer-reviewed OER instead of costly textbooks has several advantages, including: equitable access to learning materials, increased student achievement, and complete flexibility. In this workshop we will hear from faculty who are using OER – Karen Gonzalez Rice and Joe Schroeder – and explore high quality examples. You will leave with strategies for finding, evaluating, and integrating OER in your spring courses!

Digital Storytelling Tools: StoryMapJS

I recently led a Teaching with Technology workshop to introduce faculty to free, online digital storytelling tools that can enhance presentations with maps, timelines, and and narrative data content. You can download my PowerPoint presentation via Slideshare, which includes information about data visualization, images from the University of Victoria’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute that I attended this June, information about several tools for digital storytelling projects, and links to example projects. We focused on three tools–StoryMapJS, TimelineJS, and OdysseyJS–which I will introduce here in a series of three blog posts.

StoryMapJS is a product of Northwestern University’s Knight Lab–a joint initiative of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications. The Knight Lab designs open-source tools with journalists and news organizations in mind, but all of their products have enormous potential value for professors and students working in many disciplines.

KPBS Public Broadcasting StoryMapJS Projects
Explore Christo And Jeanne-Claude’s Works Of Art

Many mapping tools exist, but most lack the ability to incorporate narrative elements in a visual and complementary way. StoryMapJS does just that, and to aesthetically pleasing ends! Users can plot points on a map and link those locations with a narrative trajectory, incorporating images, text, and video to tell the story. In just ten minutes, I worked with a fellow classmate in my DHSI course to create the beginnings of a StoryMap based on her dissertation research. Check out some great finished examples here. The platform is easy to use, with no coding knowledge required! Later I will show you OdysseyJS, which takes beginners to the next level and introduces some coding elements.

A slightly more advanced option for StoryMapJS is Gigapixel, which affords the ability to use high-resolution images and historical maps in place of the standard map. Just for fun, here’s a Gigapixel example charting Arya’s Journey on Game of Thrones, using a “historical” map of Westeros.

Games of Thrones: Arya's Journey StoryMap
Game of Thrones: Arya’s Journey StoryMap

Karen Gonzalez Rice envisions making StoryMaps to introduce her students in Art History to the different units of her courses, mapping a trajectory of the course over time and space, with representative images of corresponding artistic styles. Reference Librarian Ashley Hanson would like to use StoryMapJS to present the history of yoga and the ways it spread from its origin throughout the world. Any student projects that have narrative and geographical components could make use of StoryMapJS as an alternative to PowerPoint presentations.

What are the Technology Fellows up to? Part 2

Building with legos

Last Tuesday we spent another productive day with the Technology Fellows in the Advanced Technology Lab (ATL) on the lower level of Shain Library. The first part of the day was devoted to workshopping assignments from Ginny Anderson and Emily Morash. Our theme was creation – both Ginny and Emily had us try out their assignments as student “guinea pigs.” The hands-on activities kept us engaged and allowed the group to provide focused feedback.

  • Creating compelling and educational narratives using InDesign. Ginny’s dramaturgy assignment asks students to play the role of the dramaturg for an upcoming theater performance. Students select a play; conduct research including the biographical, historical and cultural context; organize the information; and use it to create a compelling and interesting guide for audience members. This year, Ginny will require that students use InDesign for the design of the guide. She chose InDesign because previous assignments created in InDesign (instead of Word, for example) were higher quality and students will gain skills in a highly desirable software program. As her “students,” we spent class time analyzing real world examples then learning InDesign together using to begin our own guides. We had a great discussion of the potential challenges and benefits of this project. Ginny will write more about this in an forthcoming blog post – stay tuned!
  • Understanding building structural systems using Legos. Emily is integrating a series of Lego Workshops into her Building Culture course (AHI/ARC 103) next semester and asked us to complete one of the workshops. Questions that she needed answered were: how long will the activity take? what should the group sizes be? are there enough legos? will the corresponding Moodle forum work as anticipated? See the image above showing us using Lego Architecture Studio to create three different structural systems. Aside from having a great time and learning about building systems, Emily now has a better sense of the assignment from the students’ perspective.

Our final Technology Fellows event is in December. In the meantime, all Technology Fellows will be blogging about their experiences!

The JSTOR of Data Archives: ICPSR

Connecticut College is a member of ICPSR (Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research), a data archive of more than 500,000 files of research in the social sciences. It hosts 16 specialized collections of data in education, aging, criminal justice, substance abuse, terrorism, and other fields. In this post, Anrdrew Lopez walks us through one scenario for using this rich resource.

Search Tip: Focus on Variables

Like other library databases, there are many options for searching the contents of ICPSR. This activity of searching for data in ICPSR takes places on the big purple tab. Because many of the studies in ICPSR are so large, however, they often contain hundreds of variables or more, it can be effective to focus a search on finding individual variables inside and across studies, rather than searching for the “perfect” study. 

Inside ICPSR, this involves using the Search/Compare Variables feature:

Purple Search Ribbon in ICPSR

Inside the variable search feature, use one or more keywords to search for variables across studies. I tried searching for “LGBT” and got 63 results. The variable highlighted below in the results list caught my interest, “LGBT organizations addressing the three most important issues facing LGBT communities of color.” 

List of Variables from Search

By clicking on the link to the variable, it opens in the context of the study of which it is a part.

Variable Result in Context

It is very easy to find other variables/questions that were asked in conjunction with the one I selected by looking at the column on the left. Other interesting questions are, “Homophobia is a problem within my racial or ethnic community (Q5A),” “Homophobia is a problem in my neighborhood,” “I feel connected with my local LGBT community,” and more. 

Working with Variables

I am interested in one of the variables on homophobia(Q5A), so I click the link at the top of the page to the study proper: “Social Justice Sexuality Project: 2010 National Survey, including Puerto Rico (ICPSR 34363).” On the study page, I can see this study contains 304 variables, and there is information about accessing the data, where I can see it has been prepared with options for built-in online analysis.

Dataset Options

These options mean the data for the study can be accessed on-screen without the use of any other statistical software, which is otherwise necessary for working with data in ICPSR. To take advantage of either option, and because we are going to be working with sensitive research data, you will need to create an ICPSR account and login.

Run a Crosstab/Frequency

To run a Simple Crosstab/Frequency I select the variables which initially interested me:

  • Row = Q5A: Homophobia is a problem within my racial or ethnic community
  • Column = RACECAT: Race categories
  • Control = GENDERID: Gender Identity
  • Run the table

This produces a series of data tables and charts, where I can see the results for the responses to the question about homophobia broken down according to the race and gender categories I selected. The chart below shows the response data for males:

Chart Showing Survey Results from Males

This chart shows the response data for females:

Chart Showing Survey Results from Females


ICPSR offers many more features for using and teaching with research data. For more information or if you have questions, contact Andrew Lopez, Research & Instruction Librarian.

When Risks Pay Off in the Classroom

As we think about our courses, curriculum, and institution as a whole through the lens of full participation, we should not overlook the additional costs we ask (require) our students to bear in order to successfully complete their education. Textbooks are one such cost that I’ve written about recently.  

Last Wednesday, Joe Schroeder, Karen Gonzalez Rice, Lyndsay Bratton and I traveled to Fairfield University for a very well attended “Workshop on the Open Education Resources (OER) Movement.” The keynote speaker, Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), presented information about the economics of textbooks and the financial and academic impact on students. She shared alternative solutions, such as OpenStax, free, open-source, high-quality textbooks available online and in print sponsored by Rice University. She ended with a call to participate in the OER movement. You can review Nicole’s presentation here.

I would like to thank Karen and Joe, who presented their experiences making the leap from textbook to free online materials. We all benefited from hearing faculty perspectives from diverse fields, especially since faculty are on the front lines of the OER movement.

SmartHistory VideoKaren was able to replace her textbook by using a combination of SmartHistory and ARTstor. These online materials – videos and still images – better support her course goals by modeling how to talk about art, demonstrating that there is disagreement and ambiguity in art history, and showing how scholars engage each other in debate. One important result of Karen’s shift was better, more informed class discussion.  

Joe explained that he has had mixed success and continues to experiment with how best to Image from online textbookprovide required content in an introductory neuroscience course. In his field, the problem with a print textbook is that it does not clearly communicate the complex relationships, sequences and processes that occur in the brain. Recently he found an exceptional online textbook, Neuroscience Online, created at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, that, through  the use of animated images, does this very well. The online textbook also provides the content that students need and that would be found in a traditional print textbook.

One speaker referred to faculty experimenting with OER as brave, and Karen and Joe modeled what it means take risks with their courses. Thank you for your contributions!

Digital Projects and Online Etiquette

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 10.49.43 AM
Tweet showing a Connecticut College student using emoji.
Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 10.52.50 AM
Tweet that talks about Camelympics and asks Japanese students if they have similar events on their campus.

I have been much busier than expected this semester. One of the reasons is my new project, JPN201 Twitter Project. The goal of this project is to create a physical or on-line guide about Japanese college/university students’ lives to prepare students of Japanese for studying in Japan. Before starting this semester, I worked hard to write a description of the project and develop rubrics to evaluate students’ tweets. Before I had asked my students to start the project, I encountered various unforeseen incidents.

Since my students find out how Japanese college students’ lives look like, it is necessary for them to have Japanese correspondents who are college/university students in Japan. The Japanese program at Connecticut College is a part of the Associate Kyoto Program (AKP) through which our students can study in Kyoto. The AKP’s main office is located in Doshisha University. I contacted the AKP office manager and asked her for help to find volunteer students from Doshisha University. They circulated the ad recruiting volunteer students for this project.

As soon as the ad was circulated, I started receiving inquiries from their students. I was excited initially without foreseeing what would have been involved! At our campus, we often discuss manners regarding how students should communicate with us through emails. To my surprise, one after another, I received ill-mannered emails. They addressed me, “Kobayashi-san,” instead of “Kobayashi-sensei.” Sometime they called me “Hisae-san.” I would like to let you know that they are not my peers, but they are college students. Furthermore, I have never seen them. This was their first time contacting me! Some of them did not even say why they contacted me in the first place. They just put their name without providing any proper information.

Although my students always behave appropriately at least when they communicate with me, I was afraid that my students would offend Japanese natives due to their lack of linguistic as well as cultural knowledge. Therefore, I provided the following:


  • Please maintain your cordial, polite, friendly tone.
  • Please be respectful to fellow students.
  • Please be positive when you would like to give feedback.
  • Please avoid making personal attacks in response.
  • Please avoid using Japanese slang you might have found in Anime, Manga, which may easily cause misunderstanding.
  • Slow to anger, abundant in empathy

While I paid my attention to my students’ behavior, I was taken aback by students in Japan! Maybe it is because I live in this country so long and because I do not have enough knowledge of youth culture in Japan.

Suddenly my perspective toward my students has been elevated highly. My students would never behave like them at least toward me. At the same time, I realized that this was one of the negative results of using technologies. Technologies are very convenient as well as beneficial as long as we use them for a right purpose in an appropriate manner. They provide us richer experiences such as my JPN202 Twitter Project. My students can communicate with native speakers of Japanese in the Japanese language while both sides stay where they are. Since I have no control over students in Japan, I decided to use this unpleasant incident to screen the volunteers. I did not respond to ill-mannered emails.  Among those students, one contacted me again to see if I had received her email and to ask me how she would start joining the project. I can give credit to her for willingness to contact me again. I explained to her why my response was delayed. After our appropriate email exchanges, she joined the project.

The project has been going smoothly. I have made many observations about my students’ communication skills. I’ve been enjoying monitoring their tweets and I give them feedback every week. Although it is a lot of work for me, it is valuable experience for my students. I’m looking forward to seeing what they say after the project.

Lastly, I found a way to motivate students in Japan to tweet.  Look at the image below. This photo tells who communicated with whom and who tweets most. After uploading the photo, the number of tweets from Japan increased. They surely continue to surprise me.


Next week is data week!

Next week we are offering two data-related workshops: Working with Data Across the Curriculum and Intro to Data Visualization Tools. Whether you use data in your own research, ask students to use data, or are interested in exploring ways to easily incorporate quantitative exercises into your courses, please join us!

Working with Data Across the Curriculum
Monday, October 12, 12:00pm – 1:00pm
Davis Classroom, Main Floor, Shain Library
The Connecticut College community has access to a treasure trove of data and the tools to use this data through our membership with the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). Use ICPSR data sets and tools to build an exercise in quantitative literacy into your course, no matter your departmental affiliation. The ICPSR database is a one-stop wonder of analysis-ready data collections spanning the social sciences. Take advantage of ready-made learning guides, exercise sets, and connect data directly with the associated scholarly literature. Download data files to be analyzed with SPSS or STATA, or use built-in online data analysis tools without downloading anything and without any specialized knowledge of statistical software. Participants will practice using the ICPSR database and explore opportunities for including it in your teaching. This is a brown bag lunch event, which means you should bring your own, but cupcakes and coffee will be served for dessert.

We do know there is a conflict with the Fall Open House Lunch. Feel free to come late or leave early as your schedule requires. If you are interested in learning more but are unable to attend, contact Andrew Lopez for more information.

Intro to Data Visualization Tools
Tuesday, October 13, 3-4pm
PC Classroom, Lower Level, Shain Library
Research and instruction are increasingly data-driven with the proliferation of both digitized research materials and the digital publication and presentation of research outcomes. Digital visualizations have become a valuable lens through which to make sense of that data. In this hands-on workshop, we will build dynamic story maps, timelines, and graphs, using several open-source tools that can enhance existing assignments and presentation formats in your courses. This workshop will be led by Lyndsay Bratton, Digital Scholarship & Visual Resources Librarian. 

What are the Technology Fellows up to?

Tech Fellows WorkingLast Wednesday the second cohort of Technology Fellows met for a full day of discussion, workshops, and troubleshooting in the Advanced Technology Lab in Shain Library. Three of the five fellows, Luis Gonzalez, Hisae Kobayashi and Leo Garofalo presented their work, shared breakthroughs and challenges, and posed questions to the group.

We will be hearing from the Fellows on this blog over the course of the semester, but if you are wondering what the Fellows are doing, here some themes and a few examples from our day together.

  • Connecting All three fellows that presented are connecting or plan to connect their classrooms to students, professionals and scholars around the world. Hisae is using Twitter to foster dialogue about student life between her students and students in Japan (#ccJpn201). Luis and Leo will have virtual visits and discussions with professionals in Spain and Mexico using Skype and Zoom.
  • Relevance To make learning about culture and history of Spain relevant to students in Luis’s class, students monitor a Twitter list that he and Laura Little created with feeds from local news outlets. Students select articles of interest, read and share summaries of them in Spanish to fellow students. The tool used for the sharing is both Moodle forums and (soon!) Twitter. Hisae’s twitter assignment requires students to ask questions about college life in Japan and share information about college life here – using the language daily and making it relevant to their own lives.
  • Critical Thinking Leo has two upcoming assignments that require students to collect original material, organize it, synthesize it, and use it to substantiate an argument. Material includes images, interviews, ephemera, video, and outside research. In the first assignment, students will create storyboard – selecting material and explaining how they would use it as evidence for their argument. The second assignment, building on the first, requires students to both create a storyboard and create a website that they will present to the class. Students will use WordPress to create the sites.

We will be meeting again for a full day in October when Ginny Anderson and Emily Morash will present their work to the group.