Two Project Proposals, by Ian

Project 1: The Linguist’s Kitchen

Description

Introductory linguistics courses are typically taught by using cooked data sets that present specific linguistic phenomena to investigate or illustrate a specific theory or hypothesis. In addition to selecting language data sets based on their illustrative value, instructors should consider utilizing data collected from populations that students interact with, including their own social groups. By analyzing these kinds of data, found close to home, students will not only be learning linguistic principles and how to apply theory to data but also scrutinizing their language-based perceptions of the language and its speakers. By performing linguistics analyses on samples of languages about which they may have certain feelings or opinions, students will be encouraged to view the language as an object and, through learning by analysis, will discover for themselves the systematic nature of the language and may perhaps come to understand that all natural human languages are products of complex cognitive processes and should not be used to stereotype individuals. Teaching linguistics in this way may engage students by studying material relevant to their lives outside of the classroom, phenomena that they experience first-hand. By having students analyze language collected from their home environments, rather than cooked data sets from a language they’ve never heard, we may grant a degree of power to students as authorities on the subject and creators of knowledge. This method may also benefit linguistic thought by developing analyses of potentially unique linguistic phenomena such as novel combinations of code switching, second-language (L2) phonology, heritage languages, and unique sociolinguistic practices that students may produce or discover, record, and analyze.

Some existing technologies could be used in combination to assist students in analyzing language they use or encounter in their homes and communities. If existing speech analysis and transcription tools are brought together in a very user-friendly way, it may assist students in objectifying and analyzing languages they interact with, which may make studying linguistics a more meaningful experience.

Personas

Don Powers – Don is taking an intro to linguistics course to fulfill one last liberal arts requirement. In four months he’ll be completing his degree in accounting. He is not incredibly interested in language and just wants to know what he needs to get an A. Don knows his way around an app and is quick at understanding how one works by experimenting with it.

Sarah Babel – Sarah is a sophomore who has recently declared a major in linguistics and is taking this course as a core requirement in her discipline. She is quite interested in the topics presented in the course and actively engages in class discussions with enthusiasm. For years, Sarah has been using her computer for email and checking out friends’ vacation pics on Facebook, but that’s about all she uses it for.

Ben Frazzled – Ben is a first-time adjunct lecturer fulfilling the two-section-per-semester teaching requirement attached to his funding package. Ben also needs to submit his first qualifying exam by the end of the semester in order to stay on pace for completing his doctorate in five years. Ben loves linguistics and has a passion for teaching but at this point in his life, completing his qualifying exam is his first priority. Ben makes use of various apps to network and do research and is adept at learning how to use new applications.

Gladys Solvent – Gladys is a tenured professor in the linguistics department. She has been researching and teaching for 30 years and has it down pat. Her syllabi, lessons, examples, and assignments have been carefully crafted over three decades into the perfect teaching packages. At this point in her career, Gladys needs to make few adjustments to her teaching practices each semester and teaches from the book, literally. Gladys does not make use of digital technology in her teaching but a recent growth in student disinterest is prompting her to find a new way to engage her students on the subject matter.

Use case scenario

Users of this app will most likely have discovered it through word of mouth, so will probably have some idea of what it’s used for and what it does. The value of this app is that it may assist the user in objectifying her/his language (or any language), which is necessary in conducting linguistic analyses. Instructors will likely use this app in an instructional context, perhaps utilizing its functions to demonstrate how language can be objectified and dissected, then having their students use it to analyze language samples from their home and community. A student will hopefully use this app for exploratory purposes, uploading language from her/his home or community and making use of the functionality to gain an objective perspective of the language.

Full-fledged version

The fully functioning version of this idea is quite complex and will have analysis tools, guides, and reference links for phonetic/phonological, syntactic, and morphological analyses as well as data storage and sharing capabilities. There are several existing analysis programs that can hopefully be incorporated into the Kitchen: Praat (http://www.fon.hum.uva.nl/praat/) is a suite of freely downloadable phonetic analysis tools and Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) is a freely downloadable audio recording and editing program. Analysis guides can be made by hand and references can be linked to. I don’t know if there is anything existing for syntactic and morphological analysis, but I have an idea of how a useful interface should look and function. All of this functioning will be (hopefully) housed on a WordPress site, at least to begin with.

As far as tools, I think I will have to “beg” the creators of existing analysis programs (e.g. Praat, Audacity, etc.) to incorporate them somehow into the Kitchen. I will need to use various WordPress plugins, HTML, and CSS to incorporate the tools I’d like the suite to have (whether they’re created from scratch, borrowed, or begged). At this point, I am not very confident that all of the moving parts proposed above will work together.

Time and skills required

To complete the full-fledged version, I will need to develop a reasonably good understanding of WordPress, HTML, and CSS. I will also need a fair amount of time to tinker with the app design and functionality. Realistically, this will probably take a year.

Stripped down version & time and skills

The stripped down version will include just the tools to conduct a syntactic and morphological analyses. As these will be built by hand, I can cut out the begging, borrowing, and compatibility issues in the full-fledged version, but this will still require a good amount of tinkering time. Including my learning of WordPress, HTML, and CSS, I could probably produce the syntactic and morphological analysis tools with guides and reference links (but probably not storage or sharing capabilities, sadly) with a summer and a semester.

 

Project 2: WordPress Research Management Theme

Description

Managing a research project, especially one with a massive scope, multiple PIs, and several looming deadlines is not an easy task. RAs and PIs involved in a project are also balancing their individual obligations, which makes communicating ideas, coordinating efforts, and moving a project forward challenging. Communication is vital to moving the project and organization is the key to getting anything accomplished (and maintaining sanity). The complexity of conducting research (especially with human subjects) adds an additional layer of difficulty to the process: grant applications, IRB applications, the creation and testing of data elicitation instruments, recruiting participants, technical training, collecting, storing, analyzing data and record keeping must all be organized. Keeping everyone informed and coordinating efforts to complete tasks is not all that efficient even with email, cloud storage, and planning apps like Doodle. The problem is that vital pieces of information end up in a dozen different places and the manager ends up being the one source of knowledge for all project-related information. When new RAs join the project, there is a serious learning curve to figuring out where everything is. What would alleviate some of this pressure on the project manager and give all collaborators access to the information they need to function efficiently is a virtual space in which all aspects of the project can be organized and recorded. This goal of this project is to develop a WordPress theme for research management, which contains all of the tools needed for researchers to work efficiently as a team, and hopefully be useful enough to add to the WordPress theme repository.

Personas

Will Depleted – Will is a third-year grad student that got involved in a developing research project last year and has, by default, become the project manager. The grant application is due in three months, and the pilot testing phase has been delayed by a glitch in the stimulus presentation program. This project itself is a three-phase experimental procedure involving data collection via ERP. In addition to coordinating the development of grant application materials and IRB application with the four project PIs, Will is working in conjunction with the other three RAs to fix the stimulus presentation software, organize training for ERP procedures, recruit participants and plan for data analysis. Will knows his way around an app or two.

Harvey Warzmahtyprater – Harvey has enjoyed a long and prosperous career in linguistics research. He has managed a dozen large-scale research projects and knows how to get a job done. Harvey is open to using technology–he is an avid email user and likes the Internet–but prefers to have a hard copy and meetings in person. Harvey has developed a file organization and naming system as well as a document annotation method that suite his needs quite well, and he is reluctant to stray from his tried-and-true ways.

Alyssa Newbeigh – Alyssa is a first-year grad student that has recently joined the lab and is interested in getting involved with a research project. She has never participated in research and isn’t quite sure what it entails. Before joining a project, she’d like to know more about the research goals, methods, and the phenomena under investigation. Alyssa has a Gmail account and makes extensive use of Google Calendar, Drive, Dropbox, and has an active presence on various social media platforms.

Use case scenario

This theme will provide the basic structure and functionality needed to effectively manage research though users will need to customize it somewhat for their specific projects. The idea is that once created, a research project website using this theme will serve as the center of information and communication for all activities related to the project. A project manager user may act as the project website manager, customizing the site, updating and repairing as needed. RAs and PIs may use the site to find and interact with all project documents and each other. Experiment participants may use the site to communicate with researchers and, after the experiment, find out more information about the project.

Full-fledged version

The tools that will be used to develop this theme are WordPress, HTML, CSS, and various WordPress plugins (e.g., an interactive calendar, chat function, timeline, discussion board, password protection). The aim of this project is not to create anything new but, rather, just compile existing functionalities in a very user-friendly layout. The focus of this project is on creating a highly-effective design rather than complex functionality. I don’t see too many moving parts at this point, so I am fairly confident that the pieces will work together without too much special adaptation. I would like it to have document syncing capabilities, storage of previous document versions, and automatic backup to a hard drive somewhere, which may complicate development.

Time and skills required

I am not creating anything new. I am mostly just joining together a bunch of already-existing programs to create an easily-navigable interface. The vision I have for what it will look like is still not that clear, so this project will take a significant amount of tinkering and experimentation. For this reason, I see the full-fledged version taking at least the summer and probably part of the next semester.

Stripped down version

The stripped down version will include just one or a few pages that organize different aspects of the project and contain links to documents. There will be few or no moving parts in this version, though I will need to figure out where to find storage (free storage would be great, but buying may be required here).

Time and skills required

As the focus of this project is the interface and its usability, the minimally viable product will still require tinkering to get the arrangement right. This can be completed over a semester.

One thought on “Two Project Proposals, by Ian

  1. Maura A. Smale (she/her)

    Ian, we ran out of time last week to discuss, but your Linguist’s Kitchen idea makes me wonder whether you can pull any ideas/platform possibilities out of some of the qualitative analysis software out there? One that I’ve never used but am intrigued by is Dedoose, a browser-based application (I’m heavily invested in Atlas.ti for my current project but will likely try Dedoose in the future). It’s proprietary but not sure if it would be helpful to peruse?

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