J.R. Carpenter, the University of Alberta's newest Writer-in-Residence, has come at the perfect time. A writer who's work is primarily digital, Carpenter's expertise and experience has become even more necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you're interested in more information, including Carpenter's office hours, check out the U of A's article, "Meeting the Moment in the Time of Pandemic."

Digital Synergies researcher and Linguistics PhD Dr. Jennifer Hinnell has received the Governor General's Gold Medal for her linguistics research into the relationship between body movement and speech. 

One of Dr. Hinnell's research projects includes Language in the body: Using big data and motion capture to explore the body’s contribution to communication. As she states, "I investigate properties of language use in face-to-face conversation. I use advances in data science, such as the availability of large audio-video language databases as well as 3D motion capture, to explore recurring patterns in both the speech signal and in coordinated body movements like gestures, shoulder shrugs, head nods, and others. My research helps us to understand the role of the body as part of the linguistic communciation system". 

She has interviews with both the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Graduate and Research Studies about her award and her research. 

Dr. Hinnell is continuing her research with a Killam postdoctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia with cognitive linguist Dr. Barbara Dancygier, and we look forward to future collaborations with her! 

On June 3rd 2020 Luciano Frizzera, Morgan Cselinacz, Mihaela Ilova, Astrid Ensslin, and Geoffrey Rockwell presented the paper Knowing Ourselves: Building an Interactive Researcher Map at the University of Alberta at the CSDH-SCHN 2020 Building Community Online Conference, chaired by Kim Martin and hosted via Zoom by the University of Alberta’s Art Resource Centre. 


Despite claims to interdisciplinarity, universities typically organize knowledge along disciplinary lines in departments and faculties. Institutes like KIAS at the University of Alberta (UofA) have been set up to encourage the development of interdisciplinary research projects, but what do we really know about the research of our colleagues and the connections among them other than their departmental affiliation? How is an institute or interdisciplinary group to know what research directions are pursued by its constituency? Knowledge is vital, and yet Universities struggle to know their own research community This paper describes the development of a research network map of the interests of the humanists, social scientists, and artists at the UofA, which is part of KIAS’ project to understand where there were interdisciplinary strengths at the university and to help connect researchers. In particular, we will describe the challenges around gathering information at an institutional level, and demonstrate the Research Map. The Research Map is a web-based network visualization that shows the connections between faculty members, their research interests, and their departmental affiliation. The outcome is a visualization showing clusters of knowledge and webs of intersectionality, revealing not only the richness of the academic production but also the possibilities of future collaboration between scholars and departments. We are now in the process of adapting the Research Map to be used by other research groups like the Digital Synergies research group. It is a “signature area” for research and creative collaboration focused on digital society, digital methodology, and digital literacies. Adapting the Research Map to be embedded in a website streamlines the process of organizing and visualizing the connections between researchers. We are, in effect, using digital social network analysis methods to help people understand the interdisciplinary network itself.

Frizzera opened with a brief overview of the University of Alberta Researcher Cloud and the Digital Synergies Researcher Map. He also discussed the rationale behind the map, and showed a video of the map being used. As Rockwell describes in his notes on the conference, available here, “the Research Map was developed to allow people to explore interdisciplinary links between people and interests at the University of Alberta”. Some of the main challenges of the map he describes included getting reliable data for colleagues, maintaining data, developing an easy-to-use data format, and abstracting the project for others to use it. 


The floor was then opened up to discussion and questions about the map, which have been paraphrased below.

Q: What have been some of the challenges of these large collaborative projects? There are many issues navigating institutional infrastructures and negotiating the structures of knowing ourselves, and the obfuscation of information within these webbed structures. Research is also structured differently in different disciplines. Although this map brings attention to interdisciplinary research, how could the structure of these maps leave out information and how could this information be filled in through different means? 

Rockwell: In regards to the research map, there was precisely this problem because we didn’t know who was the driving force. The Kule Institute is supposed to be an interdisciplinary institute, but we didn’t know all the people spread across their various departments, and we didn’t know how to bring them together. Heads might know who is in their specific faculties or department, but not across faculties. The way to get this information was literally to go through department to department and scraping websites, and then send it back to the department or person - some people found it very inaccurate because they never updated their online information. What was uncovered was a vast inattention to the way the University presents itself on the web.

Ensslin: Additionally, one area of challenge for adapting it to a research area is thinking that you know yourself, but you don’t really because people use different tags [to describe their research interests] to describe the same things and you end up with lots of tags that are diverse, but you don’t end up linking people together that should be linked because there isn’t an agreement on the terms. We found it challenging and are trying to address this to honor diversity in conceptual thinking and nomenclature that are often discipline and even researcher-specific.

Q: In your data, has there been any changing of keywords? 

Cselinacz: We first built off of the words that Digital Synergies researchers used in the original researcher map and transferred them to our new map. We also had people interested in becoming a part of our map fill out a google form which was built off of the SSHRC ontology which was a good starting point for higher level connections, and of course we also asked the researcher for other keywords related specifically to their research. But it has also been very challenging to build those connections because, for example, someone may use consumerism and someone may use materialism - and although they are similar, there are also intricacies to them that make it hard to lump together. So that’s something we will have to figure out and are looking at moving forward with the map. 

Q: How do we make sure these representations and the way researchers want to be seen or not want to be seen does not reproduce this issue of competition? For example, putting more down keywords because they want to seem that they are doing more, and the aspect of performativity. Additionally, junior researchers might not want to be involved because they don’t “fit”? 

Rockwell: There have been no signs of competition, but there are signs of certain departments being very savvy about their web presence while others are not, and this can cause tension. For example, I talked to a certain department and they said that they don’t want to use the institutional repository that we were providing them and they preferred to use academia.edu.  In this way, they see themselves more as independent contractors and are looking for the best way to promote themselves. So, the answer in some ways is to make this a service. The institutional repository is working with departments on a yearly basis to make sure connections are updated and improved.

Ensslin: Also, coming from outside of Canada, research excellence is often assessed externally by the government. In this way, researchers are often required if not forced to deposit information for governmental review, and there is a lot of fear and anxiety about doing this correctly, and making your research visible enough to merit promotion or even to keep your job. It becomes an element of stress and so people are often reluctant to do this voluntarily exactly for this reason. Complacency also could play a role. Universities are becoming quite neoliberal, especially in Alberta, and so this could go in a similar direction in different parts of the world. 

Q: The goal of the researcher map is to get new knowledge or insight about folks/connections, what are some things that have become visible that you didn’t know about before? 

Rockwell: We worked with the VP Research Office for the initial researcher map, and created word clouds based off of the information we found about each department. And the departments themselves were surprised by the results of their word clouds. It made them work to make their pages more representative of their current research and interests, especially for new students coming in. Additionally, the Kule Institute is a interdisciplinary hub for the University - so, when people come to the Kule Institute looking for collaborative opportunities, we point them towards the researcher map which has helped a lot.

Q: Is there a sense of new emerging areas of expertise? Are there people working on the same thing in parallel that did not realize it? 
Ensslin: Digital Synergies is a good example of this. When we first began to think about if it was worth it to make a signature area based around digital synergies, we contacted many people around campus. We then realized that there were many more people in the field than we realized. [The map] brings people together in our signature area, where people are savvy and use these tools. So, some of the big prerequisites for the map include making it look nice and making it user friendly. Additionally, we want to make it editable so that researchers can go in and add in their own terms as they want, but this is also a challenge and there are risks that it could become unmanageable. 

Q: Because there are people who do not maintain their website but they may update on a third party resource such as academia.edu, is there a possibility to scrape the data from there? 

Frizzera: It’s a very good idea. We currently only have a certain amount of metadata - we don’t even have the researcher emails, we just have the department and research interests. Moving forward, we should enrich our data source with outside information, so we could use an API or scrape these websites and gather data in a way that is not manually put out by people. In addition to that, we could add timestamps to the each entity we add to the dataset. In a long run, this can reveals trends and patterns in university research.


There were also a variety of other papers presented by Digital Synergies researchers during CSDH-SCHN. The papers, as well as where to read them, are listed below: 

Archiving Database Driven Websites for Future Digital Archaeologists by Bennett Kuwan Tchoh and Geoffrey Rockwell
Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/v412-8896 

Visual Matters: Experiments in the Public Visualization of Text by Geoffrey Rockwell, Stéfan Sinclair, Chaolan Wu, Jingwei Wang, Bennett Tchoh, and Ali Azarpanah
Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/022r-xp28 

Knowing Ourselves: Building an Interactive Researcher Map at the University of Alberta by Luciano Frizzera, Morgan Cselinacz, Mihaela Ilovan, Astrid Ensslin, and Geoffrey Rockwell
Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/dqwr-sd88 

Towards a Linked Infrastructure for Networked Cultural Scholarship by Susan Brown and Kim Martin
Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/nwnq-tm04 

Big Data Literary Style by Harvey Quamen and Joel Blechinger
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2YZB2C3xH4&feature=youtu.be 

Replicating Fortier's THEME System for Digital Text Analysis by Kaylin Land, Stéfan Sinclair, and Geoffrey Rockwell
Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/k1fn-n824 

On the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence by Ali Azerpanah, Jared Bielby, Katrina Ingram, Emad Mousavi, Howard Nye, Geoffrey Rockwell, Jingwei Wang, and Tugba Yoldas
Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/8v1d-5426 

From Feminist Participatory Co-Design to Research-Creation: Developing a Digital Fiction for Body Image Bibliotherapy by Astrid Ensslin, Megan Perram, and Christine Wilks
Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/9nwf-j232

On March 5th 2020 Digital Synergies presented at the Faculty of Art's Celebration of Research - an event to showcase its various Signature Research Areas. With only seven minutes to show what we are all about, we spent our time collecting data, synthesizing it, and analyzing it all in front of the crowd at the Timms Centre for the Arts. 

Our own researchers Dr. Astrid Ensslin, Dr. Matthew Guzdial, Chelsea Miya - with help from Dr. Kyle Stooshnov and Morgan Cselinacz - presented on how even simple data sets could harbor bias, and the importance of keeping this in mind while working with data sets. Through "The Quest to Decode Human Bias in Computation", our researchers collected data on the audience about their favorite color and number. After some quick computing, we showed the audience their favorite color and their favorite number, and even using a simple machine learning algorithm to show what another audience may look like based on their inputs. 

Finally, we delved into some of the possible bias issues with the data - this included accessibility issues, political bias, choice bias, to just name a few. 

Below are a few photos of our lovely researchers at work. Overall, it was an insightful and successful event! Make sure to stay tuned for future Digital Synergies events in the future by joining our listserv by e-mailing digisyn@ualberta.ca



Please see below for the full video of our presentation!


On November 21 2019, Digital Synergies officially launched their new website as well as various Digital Synergy researcher projects in the Digital Scholarship Center at the University of Alberta. Dr. Astrid Ensslin opened the event, with Morgan Cselinacz explaining the new website and all of its features including: submitting news, viewing and adding Digital Synergies events, becoming a Digital Synergies collaborator, and signing up to the listserv to name a few.

Dr. Geoffrey Rockwell then presented lexigraphi.ca, "A Dictionary of Words in the Wild" which captures a variety of words and phrases with distinct meaning when captured in photo form. From their website, "The Dictionary of Words in the Wild is a community collection of images of public textuality, specifically words outside of the usual print contexts. We are interested in words that are: in the public view, in an interesting context where the location adds texture, visually provocative in some way, and part of phrases that add another intersection of meaning. The idea for the Dictionary came from discussions at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities when Geoffrey Rockwell was there in 2001-2, especially discussions around the deformance of textuality and transcoding."


Dr. Astrid Ensslin followed up with the release of her book Approaches to Videogame Discourse, discussing the various ways in which videogames create meaning and can be discussed. "The first significant collection of research in videogame linguistics, Approaches to Videogame Discourse features an international array of scholars in linguistics and communication studies exploring lexis, interaction and textuality in digital games."


Next, Dr. Scott Smallwood and Nicolás Arnaez presented Lost Garden, a game that tells a story through sound. Players are able to solve puzzles by listening to the sounds and music surrounding them. As described on the website, "The Lost Garden is a first-person audio puzzle game that features sonic exploration in an abandoned underground urban environment. As a stranger here, the player explores the soundscape of a world cut off from nature, perhaps a future us, by interacting with sonic puzzles that open doors to new areas, and, ultimately, the lost garden. Through listening and interacting with sounds, players are encouraged to consider the fragile nature of our natural soundscapes, and to speculate on what the story might be for the abandoned game world. As puzzles are solved, clues are revealed, and doors to new areas are opened, ultimately leading the perceptive player outdoors, to the lost (last?) garden." 


Dr. Michael Frishkopf and Yourui Guo presented the "Sounding the Garden" app for the multisensory Aga Khan Garden. From the website, "Sounding the Garden provides an additional aural dimension. Through your mobile computing device (phone or tablet) you can hear an augmented reality - a new soundscape, comprised of music, speech, and birdsong -- superimposed on the garden, through the frame of a famous mystical poem, Farid al-Din Attar’s “Language of the Birds” (Mantiq al-Tayr). As you stroll through the garden you will hear different sounds through your phone or tablet, varying with your current position, time of day, day of the week, and month of the year, whose sources are virtual. Such sound is known as “acousmatic” - it is not directly coupled with your physical environment, and its “sources” are hidden from view."


Dr. Rob McMahon and Amanda Almond also presented "We Are All Related AR" - "The We are All Related Augmented Reality (AR) project seeks to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in post-secondary education, encouraging processes of critical, reflective, and reciprocal relationship-building though the co-creation of AR content. Augmented reality layers digital information over a view of the “real-world” on a mobile device, offering an innovative approach to engage faculty, students and Indigenous peoples to share insights and knowledge beyond what is first observed. Cree teachings in digital narrative form, created and presented in AR platforms, can share location-based knowledge, history, and language in engaging ways that reveal settler and Indigenous histories, present activities, and potential futures co-present in shared spaces."


Dr. Marilene Oliver finished off the Mega-Launch with her "Digital Corporealities" VR artworks. From her website, "Since September 2018, Marilène Oliver has been working with radiology and computer science researchers at the University of Alberta to create a series of high-resolution full body magnetic resonance (MR) scan datasets in order to create a series of sculptural installations that have virtual reality elements. Based on the premise that the way we see ourselves informs how we understand ourselves, creating material and immaterial visions of the body based on data captured by a digitally mechanised machine offers an opportunity to compare and contrast the affectiveness of virtual and real media. Each work has an especially created audio created by Gary James Joynes using recordings from the original MR scan." Participants were able to interact with the sculpture with a pair of VR goggles and handset. 


Additionally, Dr. Sourayan Mookerjea and Javier Fuentes showcased various Intermedia Research Studio projects, including "PerfectStorm!: a feminist renewable energy role playing game" and "Toxic Media Ecologies: Critical Responses to the Cultural Politics of Planetary Crises". 

The event had a wonderful turnout and is the first of many Digital Synergies researcher forwarded events. 





A new Media Studies undergraduate program has launched at the University of Alberta under the Office of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Faculty of Arts. Applications are now being accepted for the 2020-2021 academic year.

 "Media Studies examines the content, history and effects of media on our social, political and cultural systems. You’ll learn about how different media can be used to communicate different messages to different audiences. Explore the dynamics between various types of media and learn how media influence the way people act — in business decisions and in their personal lives,  and how human beings respond to each other’s communicative actions related to identity, power, and belonging.

Focus your creativity and your interest in world events, storytelling and social media on a degree that can lead to a variety of exciting careers. You’ll learn to navigate, analyze, critically evaluate and contribute meaningfully and ethically to today’s global media environment.

You’ll study current and emerging media types, and learn the foundational theory to understand the development and history of media, from the printing press to social and mobile media." 

For more information about the program, please visit the following links:



Or contact Nicola DiNicola at dinicola@ualberta.ca