Digital Citizenship

Our class PRISM of Rimbaud’s “Metropolitan”

With a digital identity comes, I think, some need for digital citizenship–why else do people despise trolls? A few years back, when MLA was in Boston, I heard both Matt Gold and David Shepard talk about how important it is to not only make use of open-source projects, but to contribute to them; just don’t take from the resources, give to them as well.

How do I walk students through that gateway into digital citizenship, especially when their technological know-how might be too low to contribute something like a line of code or a solution to another user’s problem?

I tried to address that problem today by requiring a simple public contribution. In my upper-level poetry class, the students have been using PRISM to collectively interpret some of the class readings. We have been graciously taking what has been given to us by the UVA students who conceived of and built PRISM. What about giving in return? One way to contribute to this project is by adding a text of your choosing for public use. With that in mind, today I asked each student to do the following:

  • Select any Sylvia Plath poem (we’re reading her right now)
  • Make a PRISM of that poem and select three facets for highlighting
  • Highlight and save that poem
  • Make sure it is available for public use (check the box!)
  • Reflect on what it means to make a contribution to a resource that is now globally accessible

At the moment, there is no way to change the private/public setting in PRISM, and my hope was just to make our previous “Metropolitan” PRISM public. But then an amazing thing happens:

  • I post to Annie Swafford on Facebook to ask if this is possible (she helped build PRISM; students gasp)
  • Annie responds in less than 60 seconds by tagging Brandon Walsh, another PRISM creator who I have interacted with on Twitter
  • Brandon indicates that he has added this to Github as a potential feature worth considering; students gasp again

I love this sense community, and I find myself suddenly thankful that PRISM cannot do what I ask at the moment. (The digital humanities community has often made me feel this way.) Again, in what feels like serendipity, my hope is students will see the communicative and problem-solving capability available in the digital networks (once those networks exist) that surround their digital identities. I’m sure this sounds naïve, but I’m trying to think through this in a way that takes less for granted.

So I would like to contribute as well. Here is the link to our class-sourced copy of “Metropolitan.” We would love for you to contribute, to share, to talk to us in some way.

Rimbaud’s title takes on a new sense.