Adam Rabinowitz

Adam Rabinowitz

Department of Classics
Nanosourcing: Semantic Tools to Involve Students in Citizen Science and Online Data Publication

Project Update

This initiative involved the construction of a suite of digital crowdsourcing tools to help UT students in humanities classes join the growing ranks of citizen scientists. These tools allow students to engage directly with primary source documents (texts and images) while creating new information that will be useful for both scholars and the public. A customized version of the document transcription platform FromThePage is hosted by UT libraries. Here, instructors can upload handwritten archival documents, and students can log in and contribute to the digital transcription of these documents, making them searchable and indexing particular subjects like people and places.

A Canvas module called Nanosourcer allows students to add tags to images. Unlike normal image tagging, however, these tags consist of persistent, unique identifiers for entities like places and periods, drawn from shared vocabularies. These tags will connect the images to other digital resources that share the same identifiers, allowing them to become part of the emerging Semantic Web. Students in four classes tested these tools in Fall 2016.

Project Overview

My project focuses on the creation of crowdsourcing and citizen-science platforms allowing UT students to become producers, rather than just consumers, of knowledge in the Humanities. Existing web-based interfaces allow general users to help transcribe documents, identify photographs, or mask images for 3-D modeling. The issue is these interfaces don’t allow faculty a way to bring in their own new questions and datasets. They also don’t easily integrate with Canvas, manage student participation, or approve student contributions before going live.

UT Libraries have open-source software that will create flexible online interfaces:

  • enabling the upload of documents or images for collaborative student work,
  • allowing Linked Open Data annotation, and
  • pushing that new information, as agreed between students and faculty members, to the larger Semantic Web environment.

What was an influential learning experience that you had as an undergraduate?

What are you passionate about?

As a field archaeologist, I have always believed that the deepest and most meaningful learning happens in contexts that are both hands-on and creative. This has often meant an archaeological dig site, where students can see first-hand how knowledge is produced at the trowel’s edge. They also participate in the creative endeavor of interpretation and historical reasoning. As an educator, I support any learning environment where students grapple with questions of knowledge production:

  • where information can be found,
  • what sources are authoritative,
  • what problems confront the process of interpretation, and
  • how an interpretation can be convincingly expressed in words.

What is a teaching strategy that you've learned from another Fellow?

I helped to organize a First Friday conversation shortly after being selected; this conversation focused on student experience of group work. I had tried various strategies with varying degrees of success, but invariably I would still get comments from students who were frustrated about their peer evaluations.

After this session, Brad Love talked about a strategy he uses that provides students with more ownership of the peer evaluation process. The entire class collaborates and builds consensus to construct their own contract specifying the criteria for how each member will be evaluated. I instituted it immediately in the class I was already teaching. Student survey responses suggest that it worked really well!