An ode to my degree

So this is it, one exam coming between me and the end of three years worth of work. Why isn’t it a 9 am exam, at least then it would be over quicker? But no, it’s at 2 pm which is normally an alright time for an exam, but today it might as well be at midnight. By the time it comes around, I have gone through the past papers countless times, gone over lecture notes, messaged friends on Messenger to figure out whether or not we have covered everything we need for this paper. 

And then 90mins later, we are done, we hand up the papers, leave the exam hall, and try and get our bags and coats from the mountain that has grown with every other student’s belongings. Once I was out in the fresh air, it felt anti-climatic, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, hardly confetti and cheers but a sense of completion, a sense of celebration. Maybe that will come on the graduation when I go collect the precious piece of paper that I have worked 3 years to earn, with my parents watching me; there only daughter getting a Bachelor Degree in Digital Humanities and Information Technology. Maybe that’s when the victory kicks in. For now, there is a sense of something ending which without fail comes with the feeling of burnout and fatigue. Though I didn’t get ill this exam season *touches wood*, it is inevitable that once my body realises, that the stress is over it will without fail,  make me feel the effects of the strain it has been put under over the past few months. And I won’t blame it after all we have both been through a lot.

I think back to the beginning of this whole adventure when I first set foot on the grounds of UCC as a first year. The nerves were intense, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for nor what to expect from a degree of this size and frankly, it excited me. This 23-year-old who had only set foot in UCC a handful of times, one of which I had to call my mother to come collect me because I got lost on the campus and ended up on, where I now know is the Western Road, side of the campus. Mind you I was only 14 at the time and it was for a History revision day for the Junior Cert. Despite living a mere 15mins away from the campus, the college always seemed a world away from me,  a far off place where only a select few of people get to go but now I know, this isn’t the case. Yes, you have to pass exams and go through an application process in order to get there, but if you work hard, you can go to UCC or any university you want. And it took me a while to get my head around it and stop thinking that I didn’t deserve to be there during my first year, that I was an imposter. Thankfully, I put those fears behind me and went ahead of my work and studies, then the years flew by and now I am here, writing this. 

 

Apps That Got Me Through First Year

During my first year of college I decided that I would try and go 100% digital for my studies as I had never done that before, I am more of a paper girl, after all. There were some positives and some negatives to the experience and I think, going into second year I will try and have a more 50/50 approach to things. Between all of this I did find three apps that really made things much easier for me and I thought that I would share them with you!

  1. Notability: This is one of the best apps I have tried in recent year as it is a great all in one tool. Primarily it is a note-taking app but it can also be used to annotate PDFs and can be synced across multiple devices using cloud software like iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive to name a few. What I like about Notability is that you can also record lectures using it so you don’t have to worry about taking  everything your lecturer says to you. YouTube channels like Life is Messy and Brilliant  has a range of tutorials to help you get the most out of Notability. I am definitely going to be using this app going forward into my college education.
  2. Trello: Trello is basically like a running todo list but you can divide your list into ‘boards’ or projects and plan out your workload accordingly. I used this a lot during my final few months of college and I needed somewhere other than my bullet journal to plan out what exactly needs to be done for each module. You are also able to track your time spent on a project with Toggl through your Trello app which helped me see how much time I was spending on each subject.
  3. Google Drive: Because my university offers us unlimited Google Drive Storage while at college, it is a lot easier for me to use Google Drive for all my coursework. This means that all my assignments all go into my Google Drive and my notes from Notability.

                                              Let me know what applications you use for college!!

The End of First Year

This time last week, I was revising for the final exam of the semester and I was procrastinating by making plans for the summer. One of those plans was to commit to posting on my site more than I had been over the past few months. And to start it off I thought it would be a good idea to give an impression of what my first year in Digital Humanities was like.

From what I have gathered from other people, Digital Humanities was much more intensive than other degrees and, to be honest, sometimes the workload got to me but I quickly realised how important time management is and the importance of the work life balance. Long-time readers of my blog will know that I am an organised person by nature, but with deadlines and such I really felt like I had to up my game and this has given me a good indication what is expected for the second year and beyond. It has also given me a chance to work on my planning skills which I will talk about during the summer.

Altogether we had approx 11 subjects completed throughout the year via semesters. This helped to split the workload and also allowed us to focus on a smaller amount of subjects at a time. Some of the subjects included: Fundamentals of Internet Computing, E-Commerce, Multimedia, Python Programming along with three separate Digital Humanities modules. The subjects gave us both a practical and a theoreticial approach to the modules which will aid us while we progress and even during Work Experience.

As some of your may know, I chose to study English as a minor subject and although it added to the workload, I was very happy with my choice as throughout the year I discovered how interconnected both fields are. This will benefit me hugely for my final year project in third year and I will be very interested to learn how projects are combining English and Digital Humanities in order to benefit others. Because, in my opinion, that is what Digital Humanities is all about.

Digital Tool Review: Dragon Dictation

Collaborative Assignment where we were asked to create a digital review of an application.

Gathering Information:

Dragon Dictation was developed nineteen years ago within the Nuance Incorporation. It can be found, along with directions for use at http://www.nuance.com. Dragon Dictation is a diverse tool with practical real world applications. Nuance Inc. considers Dragon Dictation to the be the replacement for the old fashioned dictaphone within personal, business and healthcare situations.  There are many versions of Dragon Dictate available, each with varying abilities, and subscription costs.

See Fig. 1.

Fig. 1 – Comparison of the different versions of Dragon Software. http://www.nuance.com/for-business/by-product/dragon/product-resources/edition-comparison/index.html

Dragon Medical is currently being used in conjunction with The Medical Centre in Illinois to document patient care using the dictation software. More information on this developing project can be found here.

Most reviews of Dragon Dictate are positive (see Fig. 2), while still pointing out limitations of the tool. The reviews fair and balanced, while the product information provided by the company is understandably one sided.

Fig. 2 – Dragon Software achieves a 4+ star rating on the first page of a Google search.

Installation of the tool is simple and easy. Once downloaded a YouTube tutorial video efficiently guides a user through the application. The tutorial video is available to the user through the settings tab along with other video tutorials. The tutorial function ensures smooth and successful usability.

This smooth design with a simple user interface, comes with a price tag. Dragon Dictation requires a monthly subscription of €14.99. Reviewers also suggest that when using this tool with your desktop computer, it would be worth your while to buy a decent noise canceling microphone to refine your experience. Many websites, such as http://www.software4students.co.uk, and www.nuance.co.uk market this tool as ‘ideal for students’, however this monthly subscription charge, along with the possible need to buy further hardware for best results, is prohibitive.

The majority of reviewers claim that Dragon Dictation is far superior to Siri, Google-talk and similar applications. A review from Macworld states that the software is more responsive than Siri or Mac’s own dictation software. In contrast to Apple’s own dictation abilities, Dragon users can dictate paragraphs of text, whereas Apple allows users to dictate only a few sentences at a time. The following table highlights some of the differences between similar applications (see Fig. 3 – produced by https://speechlogger.appspot.com). The main strength of Dragon Dictation, would also appear to be a weakness. Dragon Dictation is intuitive, in that it trains itself to recognise the idiosyncrasies of your voice. The application would not be as receptive or as accurate if a group was, for example, recording the minutes of a meeting. The tool could also not be shared within small offices such as a small doctor’s practice.  Each individual user would have to pay a monthly subscription fee.

Fig.3 – Dragon Dictate tools comparison table.  https://speechlogger.appspot.com/blog/dragon_comparison/

Dragon Dictate is currently on version fifteen for the pc/mac application. Dragon Anywhere for iOS is on it’s first version. As of the 2015 new product launch, Dragon are no longer providing headsets with their dictation software. Overall, users think that the new software is simple to use, but some users have experienced issues with their subscriptions. Despite the more varied ways of purchasing the software, for example, via app store or purchasing a physical copy of the software, Android users have complained about the lack of updates for Dragon Anywhere on mobile devices. The application has not been updated since October 2016. Nuance have official forums for customer support, however, these forums have not been active since October 2016 either. Dragon seems to be focusing attention on Apple devices, updating the software more regularly and providing a more stable platform.

Nuance have not made Dragon software open source. This is possibly due to the nature of the software and the competitive market that it exists in. Providing this software as open source would not be beneficial as the software they are creating exists in a very competitive area with big name competitors launching similar voice recognition products.

Dragon Dictate allows users to sync their Dragon Account with  cloud storage accounts like Evernote and Dropbox. Users can choose their preferred storage system to access their work. The documents are saved as Microsoft Word documents allowing for easy access, remotely, from any computer. Both Dropbox and Evernote have sharing capabilities making the output from Dragon Dictate a competitor to applications such as Google Docs for collaborative pieces of work.

(Fig. 4 – Linking Dragon Dictate with a personal Dropbox account)

Dragon Dictation allows users to input text vocally using a process referred to as the ‘Recognizer Process’. This process involves five steps which include:

  • Speech input
  • Background noise removal
  • Audio sampling  
  • Determines the sounds in each sample and
  • Recognition

To perform all of these steps the application requires a connection to the internet, which means that the recognition part of the process is server side and is not contained within the application itself. Some mobile devices would not have the capacity to store the files being created via dictation and would also be unable to meet the processing needs for the recognition software itself. Making it operate on a server is beneficial to all users who meet the basic requirements set by Nuance.

Recommendation for this tool is positive. It has obvious advantages for people with disabilities, small scale personal use may be prohibitively expensive. For the self-employed it could replace a dictaphone and secretary with some limitations. Unlike its competitors, Dragon Anywhere does not work outside of the application and the dictation cannot be used in tandem with other software to write emails or text messages natively in their respective apps.

Improvements could be made to the application by extending the amount of time that it remains listening if you stop talking. The current length of time is 20 seconds. This may cause issues if you pause to think of something to say or become distracted. Apple’s solution to this problem is the ‘Hey Siri’ function for iOS, and Amazon’s Alexa, is activated by saying Alexa before any command.

Within the academic arena, Dragon Dictation benefits students by allowing them to record research and preparation for essays using the dictation software. This cuts the time required for taking notes by hand and allows students to dictate notes more quickly and fluidly. It frees students from writing and records a clear spoken train of thought. A PhD student has linked dragon software with Express Scribe in order to cut transcribing her one hour focus group recordings. She found that by using both these applications together she was able to cut the time required to transcribe a one hour focus group from six hours to three hours. This is just one example that shows that using software such as this can be used to reduce the effort and time needed to record research that will be used in the future.

Within the collaborative process, working with a group of people that I had chosen to work with was effortless. At first we utilised Messenger as a communication tool, however, we soon moved to Google Docs to more fully document our process. We agreed on a hierarchy of tasks and deadlines for completion. The process ran smoothly as everyone completed their assigned tasks by the agreed deadlines. We concluded our collaborative process by meeting together to complete the review.

After choosing a Digital Tool from www.dirtdirectory.org, we all set about downloading a trial version of the application. We tested the application in different environments such as within lectures, at home in front of the TV, and for personal use sitting at a desk (See Fig. 5). While the only success we had with this version was personal use, the more expensive versions offer various options for recognising different voices and users.

(Fig. 5 – using Dragon Dictate while sitting at a study desk)

A Lookback over Semester One

*In this series, I plan to put content up on my blog throughout the month of December. I am challenging myself to do this in order to fully flesh out what kind of content I want to create on my blog and see what I can come up with.*

Today is the first day of December and it is my second last day of lectures before the semester ends and we begin preparing for our exams. I felt it was a good time to have a look back at how this semester has gone for me and what I have learnt. I’m not going to lie, going to a University was daunting, to say the least, I knew no own on campus and spent a lot of the first few weeks trying to find my way around campus. Now, I’m not saying that I am an expert getting around campus these days, I still need to concentrate really hard in order to remember the directions to the DH Space, but I have a fair idea of where certain rooms are.

Then came the whole academic part of university life. It’s fair to say that whatever I had imagined the course to be when I began was nowhere near as intense as it became. And I couldn’t be happier with how it unfolded. Yes, there were some minor issues and whatever but that would happen anywhere. I got so much more out of this semester than I thought I would, I was challenged to think outside the box in terms of the how our society is evolving along with the modern technology. This course has made me more aware of the updates in the technology world both in Ireland and around the world.

t has also made me think about the fields of study that I want to pursue in Digital Humanities which are Social Media and Virtual Reality. What drew me to these topics was the fact that although the ideals have stayed the same the software and technology has improved greatly over the years. I also love how both of these technologies are constantly changing and are so versatile so that they can be used in a variety of ways. As I mentioned in my presentation, the world of Pop Culture is coming to life through Virtual Reality experiences which I find so exciting as a fan of pop culture. The world of Social Media is also a huge field that I hope to see evolve in the next few years as we see the changing of sites such as Youtube and Instagram.

And it isn’t just the Digital Humanities Modules that I have been excited about, I adore the computer science modules, too,  as I am interested in web design and using the internet for business. And these modules have given me an insight into that along with some other aspects of the internet which I think more people should be made aware of i.e. internet security and hacking.

So yes, I am very excited about semester 2 but just let me get through my exams in one piece!