Amir Eshel is professor of Comparative Literature and German at Stanford University.
The Poetic Media Lab is a Digital Humanities research and design group based in the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) at Stanford. We design and build creative platforms and products that promote new ways of conducting research, teaching, and learning in the 21st century. Our interdisciplinary lab includes faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students from the humanities, computer science, and the school of education.
Participatory and collaborative sensemaking of complex phenomena is central in today’s information-rich world. The critical thinking and close reading skills at the foundation of humanistic inquiry are well suited to support forms of sensemaking commensurate with the unique challenges of our century—but exploring connections or contradictions between texts can be challenging when those materials are digitized or involve other kinds of media. However, we in the Poetic Media Lab understand that the interactive options within digital platforms can be purposefully designed to encourage and steer the development of cross-media analytical skills as well as valuable active competencies such as reflective reading through annotation and critical marking.
In our research and design work, the Poetic Media Lab addresses these urgent pedagogical and educational challenges.
In projects like Lacuna Stories, we create dynamic and flexible digital tools for students and instructors to make visible and share their reading, annotation, and discussion practices. Lacuna then provides new kinds of insight, teaching methods, and collaborative knowledge-building otherwise not possible in an “analog” humanities course. Through an user-centered, iterative design process, our team plans incorporate rigorous evaluation of instructor and student needs in order to create simple and user-friendly tools for humanities education.
We also produced free, open-source materials for instructors using Lacuna such as sample activities, assignments, syllabi, and lesson and unit plans to facilitate their “out of the box” adoption by other instructors with features like our Knowledge Base (currently unavailable).
In projects like Poetic Thinking, our lab recognizes that creativity animates the objects we study in the humanities. Humanistic inquiry in academia, however, often bypasses creative forms of expression in favor of more systematic, logic-driven, and analytical practices, formalized in products like argumentative essays. We know that one of the most effective ways for students to evaluate the components and production of creative works is to engage in creative practice, a pedagogical model exemplified the blended lecture and studio model in the arts. In designing new kinds of curricula and tools for Poetic Thinking, we ask: How can digital tools help us to similarly integrate studying and engaging with creativity in the humanities (and other disciplines with similar learning goals) to promote these kindred skills and literacies for today’s students?
Beyond our interest in teaching, education, and the academic study of learning technologies, many of our lab's products are or have been used for collaborative research or to address humanistic research in new ways.
- Programs like UC Berkeley's Anthropological Research on the Contemporary (ARC) lab at one point redesigned Lacuna to facilitate collaborative ethnographic and anthropological inquiry among faculty members and researchers.
- At Princeton University, a project titled Rhizomatic Reading used digital annotation features designed in Lacuna to analyze connections across literary texts.
- In the Poetic Media Lab's "Reader Study" project, Lacuna technology was used to gather reader reception data for controlled studies of participants who read novels and shared their annotations for researchers to gather and analyze "reader response" reception data.