Giving Them a Reason to Read Online: Reading Tools for Humanities Scholars

  1. 1. Ray Siemens

    University of Victoria

  2. 2. John Willinsky

    Education - University of British Columbia

  3. 3. Analisa Blake

    Geography - University of Victoria

Work text
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A good deal of the emerging research literature
concerned with online information resources
focuses on information retrieval, which is concerned with the use of search engines to locate desired information.
Far less attention has been paid to how the found
materials are read and how that critical engagement can be enhanced in online reading environments. Building on research reported in relation to Willinsky’s work in and around the Public Knowledge Project (, Warwick’s “No Such Thing as Humanities Computing?” (ALLC/ACH 2004), and Siemens, et al., “The Humanities Scholar in the Twenty-first Century”
(ALLC/ACH 2004), among others pertinent to our
community, this paper reports on a study examines the question of whether a set of well-designed reading tools can assist a sample of 15 humanities computing scholars in comprehending, evaluating and utilizing the research literature in their area. In progress at present, the study of our group will conclude in January 2006, with results available in March 2006. Should the paper be accepted for presentation at the conference, at that time the authors will revise their abstract, fully detailing the results of the study, which will include an analysis of the degree
to which different types of reading tools (providing
background, related materials, etc.) contributed, if at all, to these scholars’ reading experience. Context
The larger study, a subset of which is devoted to computing humanists, investigates how journal websites can be designed to better support the reading
of research in online settings for a wider range of readers than has traditionally been the case with research. Given
that well over 75 percent of research journals now
publish online, with a number of them made free to
read, the reading experience and audience for research is changing. This work looks at whether the design and structure of the journal’s “information environment”
can improve the reading experience of expert and novice readers of this literature. Specifically, it examines whether
providing far richer context of related background
materials for a given text than is available with print,
assists the online reading process. In this way, the study seeks to understand, better, reading for information in online environments.
Growing out of Willinsky’s design work in online
information environments for schools, policy forums, and academic journals over the last five years, and work
within the digital humanities, this study evaluates whether
the specific online tools and resources that journals are now able to provide can assist expert and novice readers in making greater sense and use of the research literature. By drawing on related work in reading comprehension in schools, as well as from initial design experiments with journals in online settings, it is posited that information environments that provide links to related resources will enable a wide range of readers to establish a greater
context for comprehending and potentially utilizing the research they have come to read. It may also support the critical engagement of more expert readers.
This study focuses on testing a context-rich Reading Tools which can accompany each journal article (and if proven useful can also be used with online conference
papers, reports, and theses). This tool provides (a)
background on the article and author, (b) links from each research article to directly relevant materials (based on the keywords provided by the author), and (c) opportunities
for interactivity, such as commenting and contacting the author. Utilizing research studies in medicine and
education as the publishing content to be read online, the contribution of this Tool will be assessed with a sample
of faculty members and students in education and
medicine, as well as well as with a sample of
policymakers and members of the public.
The study, in this case, is being conducted with computing humanities scholars. A sample of 15 scholars will read
an article in their field, and utilize the Reading Tools to see which tools, if any, and to what degree, these tools
contribute to their comprehension, evaluation, and
interest in utilizing the work they are reading. These
tools will connect the reader to the author’s other works,
related studies, book reviews, summaries of literary
critics; work, online forums, instructional materials, media reoports, and other data bases. The readers will be asked to reflect on their reading and use of the tools in a think-aloud protocol, with the researcher. Lessons
drawn from these and other readers’ experience and
assessment of the value of the Reading Tools will assist
our understanding of the nature of online reading, the
potential readership of online research, the role of context
in reading, while the study is also intended to contribute to improving the design of journals and other informational resources in online environments.
Siemens, R. G. (2001). “Unediting and Non-Editions.” In The Theory (and Politics) of Editing. Anglia 119.3: 423-455. Reprint of “Shakespearean Apparatus,”
with additional introduction. “Shakespearean
Apparatus? Explicit Textual Structures and the
Implicit Navigation of Accumulated Knowledge.”
Text: An Interdisciplinary Annual of Textual
Studies 14. Ann Arbor: U Michigan P, 2002. 209-240. Electronic pre-print published in Surfaces 8 (1999): 106.1-34. <>.
Siemens, R. G. (2004). “Modelling Humanistic Activity in the Electronic Scholarly Edition.” Presented at
The Face of Text (CaSTA: The Third Canadian
Symposium on Text Analysis Research), McMaster U (November).
Siemens, R.G., Susan Schreibman, and John
Unsworth. (2004). The Blackwell Companion to
Digital Humanities. Oxford: Blackwell. xxvii+611 pp. Siemens, R. G, et al. (2002). The Credibility of
Electronic Publishing: A Report to the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada. R.G.
Siemens (Project Co-ordinator), Michael Best and Elizabeth Grove-White, Alan Burk, James Kerr and Andy Pope, Jean-Claude Guédon, Geoffrey
Rockwell, and Lynne Siemens. Text Technology 11.1: 1-128. <
Siemens, R. G, and Jean-Claude Guédon. (forthcoming). “Peer Review for Humanities Computing Software
Tools: What We Can Draw from Electronic
Academic Publication.” A section of “Peer Review for Humanities Computing Software Tools” an
article cluster, in progress, with Stéfan Sinclair,
Geoffrey Rockwell, John Bradley, and Stephen Ramsay.
Warwick, Claire. “No Such Thing as Humanities
Computing?” Presented at ALLC/ACH, Tuebingen,
2004 <>.
Willinsky, J. (in press). The case for open access to research and scholarship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Willinsky, J. (2003). Policymakers’ use of online academic
research. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 11(2). Retrieved October 6, 2003, from
Willinsky, J. (2002). Education and democracy: The missing link may be ours. Harvard Educational
Review, 72(3), 367-392.
Willinsky, J. (2001). Extending the prospects of evidence-based education. IN>>SIGHT, 1(1), 23-41.
Willinsky, J. (2000). If only we knew: Increasing the public value of social science research. New York: Routledge.
Willinsky, J. (1999). The technologies of knowing:
A proposal for the human sciences. Boston: Beacon.
Willinsky, J., and Forssman, V. (2000). A tale of two
cultures and a technology: A/musical politics of
curriculum in four acts. In C. Cornbleth (Ed.),
Curriculum, politics, policy: Cases in context (pp. 21-48). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

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Conference Info



Hosted at Université Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV (Paris-Sorbonne University)

Paris, France

July 5, 2006 - July 9, 2006

151 works by 245 authors indexed

The effort to establish ADHO began in Tuebingen, at the ALLC/ACH conference in 2002: a Steering Committee was appointed at the ALLC/ACH meeting in 2004, in Gothenburg, Sweden. At the 2005 meeting in Victoria, the executive committees of the ACH and ALLC approved the governance and conference protocols and nominated their first representatives to the ‘official’ ADHO Steering Committee and various ADHO standing committees. The 2006 conference was the first Digital Humanities conference.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (26), ACH/ALLC (18), ALLC/EADH (33), ADHO (1)

Organizers: ACH, ADHO, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None