The University Libraries are honoring the four Provost’s Fellows through a series of stories chronicling each of their projects. Information Science PhD student Wendy Norris’ project for the 2019 Provost’s Fellowship for the Libraries “Python for Text Analysis video tutorials” is informed by her own path towards understanding digital humanities-related research methods.
Norris studies social computing, which follows interactive and collaborative behavior through technology. Social computing can look like crowdsourcing, social media, open-source development, blogging, or multiplayer online gaming. Specifically, Norris is looking at social computing in the context of humanitarian crises.
“There are these lovely groups of people all over the world, from every background imaginable who crowdsource information about what's happening in a humanitarian crisis and hand that information over to on-the-ground emergency responders,” said Norris. “The crowdsourcing groups are entirely online— they never set foot anywhere in the zone of the crisis, but they're really good at surfacing information.”
Digital humanitarians who synthesize large amounts of unstructured, text-based information share similar aims with humanities and social science scholars in wanting to better understand the world around us.
Norris said that people drawn to this humanitarian line of thinking have strong beliefs around social justice and equality but often lack the computing skills that allow them to quantitatively analyze their work.
“Through the Provost’s Fellowship, I’m trying to start a conversation with people in the humanities to help them become more confident using computational methods,” she said.
Through a series of brief Python programming video tutorials geared to augment qualitative research methods, Norris hopes to arm newcomers with the programming skills and confidence to extend their research capacity.
“Programming tutorials for beginners are oriented toward learning how to make a game or do software development,” she said. “Researchers have very different needs in learning to apply computational methods to text, media, and the pursuit of knowledge.”
The project idea came from a comprehensive campus-wide survey conducted by the CU Boulder librarians. The approach was inspired by Norris’ professor at Stanford University who uploaded his programming classes onto YouTube. Not only was the class taught in a way that broke down the nature of the subject, but people were also helping each other in the comments. Norris’ goal with making the courses open access is to foster an online community where students can help each other.
Digital Scholarship Librarian Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara assisted Norris with her project. At the end of June, 30 tutorials will be available on YouTube and hosted on a forthcoming GitHub site.
“I joke that researchers only need to know enough programming to be dangerous,” said Norris. “I hope this project can help lower the barrier to entry because there are amazing, new insights in humanities and social science scholarship by just using a few of these methodological tools to extend our qualitative research.”