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Technology and Humanities Will Merge in ‘ODU Writes a Book’ Project

"A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

The wise words of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche will come to life Tuesday, Feb. 11, in the Learning Commons at Perry Library, where members of the Old Dominion University community will gather, in person and virtually, to write a book.

Does that sound chaotic and exciting? That's exactly what the organizers of the "ODU Writes a Book" event are hoping for.

Over a 24-hour period, starting at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 11, anyone on campus that day, as well as anyone with an ODU email address, can join the process of writing the book: "You are (w)here: how knowledge is related to virtual and physical place."

Contributions to the joint-authorship project, believed to be a first done collectively by a higher education institution in the United States, can take any form - scholarly research-based writing, personal reflections, photo essays or audio recordings.

A "flash mob" of co-authors will be physically located in the Learning Commons, but others will be able to contribute virtually to the project - anyone with an odu.edu email address.

Project co-leader George Fowler, associate university librarian for information resources and technology, got the idea for the book after attending a workshop on digital humanities. It inspired him to come up with a way to get the ODU Libraries involved in the digital humanities - the intersection of technology and traditional humanities studies.

"This experiment will have unexpected results, though I am hoping for a hive of activity in the Learning Commons as well as pockets of activity elsewhere throughout ODU and individual participation from everywhere," Fowler said.

His co-project leader, Dylan Wittkower, ODU assistant professor of philosophy, is a scholar in the philosophy of technology. He thinks the project holds immense potential for real insight into the changing relationship between higher education and technology.

"In every field we can think of, in every discipline in the university, we are at a moment when teaching and research are becoming virtual and digital in new, exciting and troubling ways, and this is forcing faculty and administrators to reevaluate the role of place in education," Wittkower said.

"As a project for the Learning Commons, this is a perfect fit, since the Learning Commons exemplifies these changes in the role of place in knowledge creation: the stacks are thinning as we shift to ebooks and electronic journals, but the students keep showing up in person to 'Club Perry' anyhow - it's just that the meaning of this place and the activities it supports have become less about information access and more about integration, collaboration and creation."

The unique resources of the Learning Commons will help bring the project to life. Participants will have the use of a sound booth, video equipment and collaborative spaces, all designed for the type of scholarship and creativity this book aims to engender.

"We welcome all forms of expression that seem appropriate to the participants, including audio, video, photos, interpretive dance, spoken word and any other medium that can be created and made digital within the 24-hour window. All participants will be co-creators of this book," Fowler said.

The project is open to faculty, staff and students. On the day that "ODU Writes a Book," instructors are urged to redirect their classes to the event, organizing students around one or more relevant topics, using the event as an innovative and experimental venue for a group assignment.

"The idea that a library is a simple repository of information is becoming more false than ever, even as access to that information becomes more seamless and weightless through digitization. In the age of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and Wikipedia, the idea that classrooms and universities are simple places of instruction must also become more false than ever - we must find how digitization of knowledge and learning allows the classroom and the university to become places of community and creative collaboration as well," Wittkower said.

In the lead-up to the event, potential participants are encouraged to suggest possible chapter topics on a WordPress site that has been created for the project, at: http://oduwritesabook.digitalodu.com/. Those on Facebook can also like the project's page for updates: http://www.facebook.com/ODUwritesabook.

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