Praxis Program Ethos and Charter

As Bethany already explained in her last post, the Praxis Program will give a few graduate students the opportunity to learn on-the-job in a humanities shop. The program centers around building a project, named Prism, for public use and critique. For the next academic year, students will work on that project, and in the process critically engage a host of activities we think vital for knowledge workers in the digital age.

No doubt this is hands-on learning: Wayne, Eric R., and David will have students eyeball-deep in programming (and those oh-so-important unit tests!), while Joe and I talk about design and usability. Bethany, Julie, and Eric J. will take turns preparing students for project management and outreach, budgets, and team-building. There’s a rough schedule and list of topics on the Praxis site, but the direction and shape of the year will depend on how each week goes.

Much more than learning to design, code, and manage grants, the Praxis Program strives to realign attitudes about humanities graduate training. We have a developing ethos for this project, one we hope Praxis participants adopt, adapt, and expand:

  • Work is finished only when it’s as good as it can be, which is usually not when you think it is.
  • Like most DH work, learning is on-going and interactive. While this can be frustrating, it can also be exciting and liberating. Embrace it.
  • Don’t ask permission to look into or try something. Just do it, and let us know how it goes.
  • Be willing and ready to share anything you learn and anything you produce. If you’re not learning, you should be teaching, and vice versa.

Students in the program are not code monkeys doing what we tell them to. They will have an incredible amount of agency in shaping the final project and the program as a whole. That agency is reflected in the very first thing we asked Praxis students to do: Create a project charter. The charter is an informal agreement among the group about how the project will be built and maintained and how credit on the project will be given.

To prompt thinking about the charter, we asked the Praxis team to address a few questions:

  • What conflicts might arise from this collaboration, and how would you recommend resolving those conflicts?
  • What would be your policy about authorship and credit for works derived from this collaboration, and why? (E.g. a journal article about the project, an article about your personal contribution to the project, a credits page on the project website)
  • What would be your policy about maintaining/sustaining the project once this is over?
  • How might you deal with colleagues leaving in the middle of the project, or new colleagues coming into the project?
  • What kind of license would you want to apply to this project, and why?
  • Who is, or should be, the audience for this charter? Would you publicize it? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • What are the desired outcomes of the project? Which outcomes do you consider to be required rather than merely desired? (examples: release of working software, release of open source code, formal and informal scholarly publications, professional development / CV enhancement)
  • Who are signatories to the charter? What does this decision imply about the working relationship between Praxis students and Scholars’ Lab faculty and staff?

Look for their first-draft, individual answers on this blog in the coming days. Next week, we’ll draft and post our collaboratively-written charter!

As Design Architect, I focus on front-end development, user interface, user experience, and aesthetics for Scholars' Lab projects, but I know enough programming to cause trouble for the folks in R&D. In addition to helping faculty and students on their research projects, I keep office hours and do research and teaching for our Makerspace. I'm…

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