IRIS open house showcases digital research opportunities

From left: Sammy Seale, IRIS student assistant and Samantha Winkler, Dr. Hildebrandt's student assistant at the open house listening to information given by Hildebrandt.

The Interdisciplinary Research and Informatics Scholarship (IRIS) Center is hosting a series of open houses for faculty and students. The first open house was hosted on Friday, October 5, at the Center, in Peck Hall, room 0226, and the second will be hosted on Tuesday, October 9, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., also at the Center.

On Friday, faculty and students were warmly welcomed into the space with refreshments and contagious enthusiasm to explore the possibilities of digital research within the humanities and social sciences.

Hosted by the center’s founders and directors, Assistant English Professors Dr. Kristine Hildebrandt and Dr. Jessica Despain, the open house was conducted to raise awareness of the numerous, innovative digital research possibilities that IRIS offers and to the fact that research in the humanities and social sciences is evolving with advances in technology.

“[IRIS is] based on the idea that a lot of research now in the humanities and the social sciences is dependent on digital technologies,” Hildebrandt explains. “It’s not just a case of professors typing into Microsoft Word after reading a book anymore.”

Since its opening in 2010, the IRIS Center has strived to cater to the growing need of digital resources and tools for Humanities and Social Science faculty. The center’s advisory board, as well as Hildebrandt and Despain, developed the idea of IRIS as recognition of that need.

From left: Dr. Kristine Hildebrandt and Dr. Joel Hardman

Hildebrandt and Despain, both avid users of digital research, believe that IRIS can help faculty to not only be more efficient and organized in their work but also have the opportunity to share and work together. Despain, with her own research focusing on creating a digital edition of Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide World, saw the need for community among digital research firsthand.

“[The digital edition is] a project that really couldn’t exist without the possibilities of research online, and in order to make that work successful, it had to be a project that other people worked on with me,” she says. “It had to be that we had shared materials, shared space, shared ideas.”

The tools that faculty and students can find readily available in the IRIS Center assist with web research, web design and writing, archiving and archival technologies, and much more.

“It looks like an innocent little computer lab when you first walk in, but actually each of these computers are designed with particular projects in mind, so they have special software on them,” Hildebrandt explains.

Humanities and Social Science faculty have been using the IRIS Center’s digital resources to conduct and organize important research. One of the focal points of the IRIS Center open house was the showcase of work that SIUE faculty and students have done or are currently doing at the University, thanks to the IRIS Center.

The IRIS Center's book scanner

One faculty member who has been making extensive use of the IRIS center is Linguistics Assistant Professor Dr. Nikolay Slavkov, whose research expertise lies in wh- questions and syntax-pragmatics as well as second language acquisition. He is currently using IRIS to start a project that will be done partially at the IRIS Center and, he hopes, partially in Canada, as he is studying how Canadian French speakers learn English.

Slavkov is thankful for the use of space and equipment that the IRIS Center has offered him and for the overall support that the Center offers him in his research.

“It’s just a wonderful opportunity because usually for projects like mine, you need space and equipment,” he says. “Sometimes people need to apply for separate arrangements for room and equipment, but this is already here, and it’s great that one can come here and ask for support and get it.”

Other ongoing faculty projects that the IRIS Center supports include Anthropology Associate Professor Dr. Cory Willmott’s work with the Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Arts and Culture (GRASAC); Philosophy Professor Dr. Greg Fields’ study of Native American tribal languages from Pacific Northwest; and Assistant History Professor Dr. Jeff Manuel’s study of object histories in Southwestern Illinois, among others.

Humanities and social science students will also find ample opportunity to utilize the IRIS Center’s resources. Despain, with her constructing a digital edition of The Wide, Wide World has a large team of students helping her on the project.

Despain takes them into the IRIS Center to scan pages of the first edition of the novel, rename files, and use the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), which she explains as “a kind of web coding particularly designed for analyzing text online.” She additionally has them involved in original research and writing for the web.

Eventually, Hildebrandt and Despain will implement a minor in Informatics Scholarship. With the minor, students will be able to conduct digital research that pertains to their area of study.

“We hope to have students mixing this minor with their major,” Hildebrandt says. “They can take [their] major and then work through digital technologies concepts and issues to enhance the major.”

Despain believes that students will additionally gain a deeper learning experience in Humanities and Social Science fields, which are evolving with the growth of technology and challenging students in different ways.

“For students in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, these kinds of hands-on skills [involve]…taking big questions and using computers to analyze those big questions,” Despain says. “They’re also not just using technology, but building technology, and that’s the kind of skill that’s going to be really important for them after they leave the University.”

Hildebrandt and Despain believe that this minor will help students gain invaluable skills that will make them, as Hildebrandt puts it, “techno-savvy and techno-literate,” which will help them compete in the job market and in academia. Despain says that with the minor, students will be able to “conceptualize, explain, and imagine data,” which is impressive in both corporate settings and in universities and libraries.

All students and faculty from the Humanities and Social Sciences are encouraged to attend the second open house on Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. to share research experiences, gain insight from others’ research, and even be inspired to take on new research by knowing what is available through IRIS.

To learn more about current research and opportunities at the IRIS Center, please visit the IRIS Center Blog and the SIUE IRIS web page.

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