Category Archives: 2013 Teams

#DocShop meeting 04

What we worked on

Mentors and group members contributed their ideas for problems/research questions and initiatives to address these. Our group looked at funding sources, including the Harvard i-Lab Dean’s Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge, and did an analysis of whether our particular problem would fit this.

What follows are the ideas brought by group members.


Dan’s main question was ‘How do we expand the audience of interactive documentary and introduce filmmakers to these new audiences?’ An iteration he brought up to address this concern was to create an immersive theatre environment, in the vein of Sleep No More, or another setup where there is a low barrier of entry (cheap door $) and then the value is added inside by selling other experiences, in order to raise money for the arists and filmmakers who are showing their work. How to make it an event or happening, that will connect new audiences to the work? Dan also met a fellow at the MIT Media Lab who has a bunch of footage and archival media, she is interested in collaborating with the group.


Rachel had a question of how to connect filmmakers with resources, such as a platform for funding and other technical resources that artists need. How can we connect the voices of the filmmakers with audiences? How can we use top-down approaches combined with content we generate to make meaningful changes for the users?


Léa became excited at the prospect of working with footage and material from a documentary filmmaker or journalist, perhaps with the aim of building out  a prototype of an interactive doc, whether it be webdocumentary, interactive or immersive doc, or another extralinear form, including geosophic mapping combined with narratives.


The main problem that Joe brought concerns the desire for this project to continue beyond this semester and academic year. The questions of interactive documentary cannot be solved, but they are here to stay and should continue to be examined by stakeholders including filmmakers, technologists, journalists, historians, humanities scholars, and audiences interested in the form and content of the docs.

Cambridge/Boston is a fountainhead of documentary filmmaking and there are many opportunities to enhance opportunities that exist here, in terms of artists, institutions, audiences, and entrepreneurs. Is there a way between public-private partnerships and bringing together audiences and filmmakers by way of workshops, seminars, and screenings?

Here is a proposal for one potential solution:


Valery’s main concern was the question of authorship in docs that employ the collaborative and participatory modes, especially with regards to aesthetic and film language (montage, duration, composition, mise-en-scene). Do the traditional forms of pictorial representation, dramaturgical film form, and textual analysis apply to interactive docs?

metaLAB team

Cris and Matthew brought some interesting concerns, including how to document our process and how to showcase the work (such as a design guide or field guide), how to scale up the project, and how to visualize our problem as a venn diagram where docs, platforms, and events could intersect.

We met Sherri Wasserman, metaLAB fellow, who has worked extensively with museums and digital storytelling. With metaLAB, she primarily focuses on the development of multiple interactive documentary projects, new paradigms of publishing, and the intersections of storytelling, mobile technologies, and physical space. She brought some wonderful problems of how to define the users and audience and how to engage larger publics with questions of interactive doc in both real and virtual space.

What went well

Generating many ideas, . The group is still on board with functioning as a workshop for documentary artists, journalists, and other creative technologists working with media. Potential visiting folks would include Jessica Landerman, Rebecca Richman Cohen, the filmmakers of Living Los Sures (by UnionDocs), and Michael Kleiman, who is the director of Web the Film.

What was challenging

Choosing among the myriad problems of interactive documentary that we have outlined and narrowing the scope to fit this project. With so many amazing ideas, it will be hard to choose, but perhaps there is a way of combining some of the questions.

What’s up next

We have to decide on one question or set of questions that we will go about solving. This will include a potential program, prototype, or product that we will work on, along with process documentation of the creation and deployment. Once we create an initial prototype or event, we can capture some narratives of users and stakeholders to test the validity of our question. We hope to build a showcase for the DPSI project showcase that can be installed in GUND 522 and will serve as a pilot.

Joe will share his notes from meeting with UnionDocs in Brooklyn, EYEBEAM artist colony in NYC, and the DocYard in Boston, including narratives and lessons learned documentation from the beginnings of these organizations. Dan will present his work the week of Halloween, with a trip to Lawrence to see his site-specific documentary.

Developing big data analysis tools 2.0

What we worked on

The Big Data team spent the past few weeks introducing the group’s work so far and setting concrete goals for this semester. We are extremely excited to welcome new highly qualified and interested team members!

During our first meeting, the team joined the Privacy Tools group of the Center for Research in Computation and Society to talk about the results from the group’s work last year and the CACM paper that followed.

Next, we met to learn about every member’s interests and goals discussed how might we work together to define and explore the key questions that are interesting to the group.

Our Work Plan for the Semester

Throughout the semester we will be asking 3 key questions:

(1) Do current anonymization techniques used in large datasets able to maintain the data and its properties reliable and complete?

Can we use anonymized datasets in research?

Can robust insights be generated from such anonymized datasets?

To answer such questions, we will analyze samples of such datasets and try to understand whether analysis of the original datasets and the anonymized ones generates the same results.

(2) If current methods do not maintain the data’s key properties, is there an anonymization method that can do so?

We will experiment with different ways of anonymizing data and try to understand which one, if any,  generates robust and satisfactory results in a way that maintains the qualities of the original data and does not compromise users’ privacy.

(3) Finally, if anonymizing data in a way that maintains its original properties is not possible, we will research and brainstorm new concepts of privacy

Can privacy exist without anonymity?

This is a huge undertaking, and one that many have thought of in the past. We will spend the semester researching different notions of privacy and try to understand what lies at the core of it, and whether we can generate a kind of privacy without anonymity. While we may not succeed, we think that spending time on this issue is important.

What went well so far

Everyone seems genuinely fascinated by the problem and excited to get our hands dirty trying to do some meaningful work on the subject. We are all thrilled to be working on a subject that not many others have explored before us.

What was challenging

Since we are stepping into a path not many have walked before us, we will have to figure things out as we go. This may be challenging at time, but we will work to create a supportive community that will facilitate a productive process.

What’s up next

We have been building a reading list to get everyone up to speed on concepts in data anonymization, de-identification methods, legal requirements, and related notions of privacy. In the next week or so we will discuss the readings and the larger themes around them. We are also working on securing access to some large data sets so that we can start conducting preliminary analysis and visualization.

Innovation Labs Team visits the Harvard i-Lab


An innovation space should accommodate all kinds of group collaboration through mixed methods and both physical and virtual space. (And chalkboards!) The DPSI Innovation Spaces team shares insights from site visits to unique innovation-oriented centers in Boston.

Full Version

Academic life in Cambridge has its quirks. Many of us spend much of our time expanding our intellectual universes from the comforts of desks and dorms and relatively little time physically exploring the world outside of Cambridge. This fall, though, the Innovation Spaces team has shown the moxie the rest of us lack (at times): twice, they’ve crossed the river into Boston for two field trips – which complements the globe-wide searching of innovation spaces/centers/incubators/labs/etc. that they do virtually.

The Innovation Spaces team (also known by its lengthier title: Cataloging, Designing, Evaluating, and Developing Shared Practices Around Innovation Labs) visited Bolt, a hardware-oriented seed fund in Boston, and the Harvard i-Lab in Allston, where they chatted with i-Labbers about what being an innovation space really means in the context of their work. Whether it’s physical structures and layouts, programming (like workshops, contests, and more), or human interaction, the i-Lab has several ways of fostering and facilitating groups of people to work together on new ideas.


Here are a couple thoughts on the video highlighting the i-Lab field trip:

  • Physical space in the i-Lab is designed to be multi-use and multi-purpose. It’s versatile; perhaps modular.
  • Physical space can be designed for applications that involve making large groups work and talk together, like in large plenary events. Having a/v that enables speakers and audience members to be heard by one another throughout the room, and which easily enables recording, is a nice feature. Idea paint and chalkboards, on the other hand, allow shared space to be come intimate group-work and -think space spontaneously…
  • Which leads me to my next point: time-tested analog assets, like chalkboards, can still go a long way!

Brainstorming and inspiring asynchronously (Museums Team)

Advancing a common goal while acknowledging competing demands on team members’ time is a fundamental challenge all the DPSI projects face. One tool the Lightbox team is making use of is a tumblr for sharing links, images, essays, and ideas impinging on the work of designing a flexible, media-rich, curatorially-sensitive program for bringing data to life in the new Harvard Art Museum. We’re finding the tumblr especially useful for assembling a kind of mood book or pinboard for the project. In this early phase, the collection of posts clusters around charismatic precedents, demos of candidate display technologies, and links to essays that inform our approach as designers of a curatorial invention in art history. As the project matures, we’ll continue to document our own process there as well. The tumblr should not only facilitate our group’s work, however, but foster connections beyond the group as well—so if the flavor of posts there inspires a connection in your thinking, please do comment, link, and be in touch!

matthew battles

Navigating Regulation and Data Sets (Big Data Team)

Dealing with the complexities of data in both programming and policy is an apt way of  characterizing the last two months for the Big Data team. On the programming side, we’ve tackled a massive trove of information that is in need of organization and translation. Our product aims to resolve these discrepancies and provide a useful tool for educational researchers. On the policy side, we have dug even deeper into theFamily Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and have found, to our surprise, that no one seems to have “the answer” on de-identifying student data in the MOOC (massive open online course) context.

The programming team of our group has been working on understanding the data we receive from EdX and HarvardX courses. We have started writing code to convert the data we receive into a more digestible form. We are also putting together basic sanity checks on the data. For example, if a student appears in the list of students considered for a certificate in a course, do they also appear in the list of users signed up for the course? After these basic checks, we will also continue interfacing with the policy side of the group to figure out exactly how this data can be made available to educational researchers. One interesting way to test the dataset is the concept of k-anonymity. For a user who has a certain set of attributes, are there at least k-1 other users that have the same set of attributes? This allows us to see how many users would be uniquely identifiable in a dataset and then work to make sure the attributes that are included give us a fully de-identified dataset.

On the user experience design branch of the team, we have created a plan for the design process and interviewed Justin and Sergiy, HarvardX Research Fellows, to get their insights on the existing user interface provided by edX. From their feedback, we have better defined the task at hand. The next goal is to meet with a few faculty members to develop use cases and continue the design process from there.

Our policy team has met with lawyers involved with EdX and other Harvard staff well-versed in FERPA and data privacy. These meetings have revealed how unclear FERPA is on online-only education. We have concluded, however, that FERPA applies to our project and thus that we need to identify levels of data for release to our different constituencies. The most challenging aspect of this is developing a de-identification process that will allow the release of student data to researchers without violating FERPA. Our next step is to complete a memorandum discussing our options and possible de-identification methods.

— Elise Young

Educational institutions & social media (Social Team)


What’s the role of an educational institution in listening to, aggregating, or amplifying individual voices online? This is the question the new digital/social/mobile world serves up to all educational institutions — staffed primarily by digital immigrants — as they engage with digital native student populations. I think of it as the creepy/kosher divide — where is an institution inappropriately inserting itself into social media conversation, and where does it serve as a welcome connector/aggregator/amplifier? What do students appreciate, and what do they fear? What constitutes a student opting in for public participation, particularly when the institution commands a large audience?

Social media also raises questions of who should be paying attention, and where. Two recent articles highlight these challenges: should admissions offices be taking students’ social presences into account? And should schools, and secondary schools in particular, be watching current students on the internet?

We’re lucky to have a group of students interested in these and related topics joining the DPSI Social team. We have social media skeptics, like Lauren Taylor, who questions its ability to foster meaningful dialogue over soundbites. We have heavy social media users, like Zach Hamed, who work in the tech industry. We have insightful policy thinkers, like Chris Farley. And we have people interested in its applicability to both the university community and educational endeavor, like Andrew Reece.

As a first step, we’re pulling together a student survey to better understand current student social media usage and attitudes. After that, we’ll look at both a social media directory and constructive ways that social media can connect people around learning.

It’s early days for this group, with lots of questions and discussion. Many thanks to the team at the Berkman, and especially Sandra Cortesi, for helping propel us forward.

From the DPSI Launch Event –

Erin Driver-Linn, Sam Moulton, Brooke Pulitzer, and Sarah Shaughnessy, mentors of the HILT’s Digital Identities team, discuss the challenge and opportunity of increasing and enriching exchange about innovative teaching and learning ideas across Harvard as a startup unit located centrally within the university.