3.818 supporting the humanists, cont. (109)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Sun, 3 Dec 89 21:03:02 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 818. Sunday, 3 Dec 1989.

(1) Date: Sat, 2 Dec 89 20:01:00 EST (39 lines)
Subject: 3.804 supporting the humanists (John Slatin)

(2) Date: Sat, 02 Dec 89 12:08:00 CST (48 lines)
From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@SMSVMA>
Subject: self support?

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sat, 2 Dec 89 20:01:00 EST
Subject: 3.804 supporting the humanists (John Slatin)

The question of support is interesting to me, not least because I direct
the English Department's Computer Research Lab at the University of Texas
(Austin), and because we're in the process of putting together fairly
ambitious plans looking forward to the needs of the next several years.
The CRL is primarily devoted to research and teaching (we also support
the computer classroom mentioned by Helen Aristar-Dry some time back,
before I'd actually joined HUMANIST), but we also end up doing a lot of
informal (i.e., unpaid and generally unacknowledged) support. On the
basis of this experience, as well as my own fumbling experience with
BITNET, the mainframe, etc., I'd say part of the "support problem" has
to do with the number and nature of the things people need help with--
there are those (colleagues) who have trouble finding the "on" switch or
who've successfully formatted an entire document as a running-head;
there are those who want to know whether one conferencing system can
talk to another; there are those who are thinking about how to adapt
pedagogical practices of long standing to the conditions of a networked
classroom; those who need help with specific details of specific
programs; those who need help with conceptual issues about computing in
general; those who've tried the manuals and gotten lost; those who won't
open a manual to save themselves. By the same token, there are support
people who understand how to talk to people who don't know enough to
know how to ask useful questions, and there are support people who are
only useful if you already know quite a lot about what you're doing and
how you're going about it. And of course there are teachers who can
talk about literature to undergraduates who don't know much about
literature, and there are teachers who can't or don't do that very well,
but do splendidly when talking to knowledgeable colleagues. There are
bridge problems here, many of them, and they seem to me to have a great
deal to do with the way computing is entering into humanities teaching
and scholarship. I suspect that, as time goes by, more and more
humanities departments will be employing people (e.g., advanced
undergraduates, grad students, etc.) to deal with technology; and I hope
that more and more departments, acting either singly or in concert, will
establish computing centers, in which discipline-specific or
interdisciplinary questions can be focused and addressed.
John Slatin
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------56----
Date: Sat, 02 Dec 89 12:08:00 CST
From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@SMSVMA>
Subject: self support?

The current discussion of desirable forms of support for humanities
computing painfully reminds me of the limitations I suspect many of us
in smaller institutions face, where "support" is limited at best.
Without intending to sound self-pitying or to otherwise derail the
discussion, may I raise a second question: how many of us find ourselves
in the following sort of position because of _lack_ of support?

I'm using IRIS Intermedia to develop course tutorial materials -- which
further requires a network of Macintoshes running A/UX 1.1. Because my
institution currently enjoys but one full-time computer support person,
who is kept busy with administrative mainframe and student/faculty PC-
related issues -- the task of learning enough UNIX to install the
network (including such things as setting up NFS [Network File System]
and Yellow Pages; configuring the kernals appropriate to memory, etc.;
setting up user accounts and other system administration tasks; and of
course installing the software itself) fell to me.

Two questions here, really. (1) I would like a relatively objective
estimate of just how difficult such a task is -- from the standpoint of
my more computer-literate colleagues on this list who (a) have been at
this much longer than I, and/or (b) are primarily support personnel
(bless your hearts!) who are most intimately familiar with these
procedures. How would you describe such a task, say, to a faculty
member interested in doing the same sort of thing -- so that faculty
person could make some judgment as to whether or not the demands of the
task were worth the cost? How would you describe such a task to a
faculty advancement committee which is attempting to determine the
"value" of this activity alongside other such things as teaching,
publication, etc.?

(2) Are there others out there who find themselves in similar
situations -- i.e., taking on what appear to be unusually demanding
tasks usually reserved for "professional" support personnel, for the
sake of some project which otherwise would not get accomplished?

I anticipate that responses to these questions will tell us something
about computers and the humanities among faculty who find themselves
with less than all the support they might ask for.

Thanks in advance,

Charles Ess
Drury College
Springfield, MO