Leila Walker edited the blog post Transcultural Dialogue Mashup in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 4 days, 18 hours ago
Richard Kabiito, Makerere University
Christine Liao, University of North Carolina Wilmington
Jennifer Motter, Co-president of the National Art Education Association Women’s Caucus
Karen Keifer-Boyd, Pennsylvania State University
The Transcultural Dialogue project presented and discussed in this article can be used, and adapted accordingly, as an effective approach to learn about self and others. By facilitating transcultural dialogue, teachers can guide students of all ages in diverse locations in powerful collaborative meaning-making through group artworks that deconstruct and reconstruct visual culture. The Transcultural Dialogue contemporary approach to global group work embraces and supports peer-to-peer learning and generative knowledge construction. We discuss challenges, possibilities, and opportunities of collaborating online between two higher education institutions: Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and Penn State at University Park, Pennsylvania, USA.
Visual Culture Mashup
Transcultural Dialogue is an action research project, begun in 2007 by Karen Keifer-Boyd, with colleagues at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and University of Helsinki. The Transcultural Dialogue concerns contemporary visual culture in U.S., Ugandan, and Finnish contexts in a project designed to erode assumptions, ignorance, and misunderstandings about each other’s lives, beliefs, and values through reciprocal reflections, in the form of a conversation, as a mashup of perspectives. Mashup is a term most often associated with a musical genre of new work composed of selected elements of other songs, seamlessly blending diverse lyrics, vocals, riffs, and instrumental soundtracks. Typically, the purpose is to critique music culture. The Transcultural Dialogue project is a techno-cultural mashup–that is, a hybrid mixed reality of virtual and physical, participatory pedagogy and online architecture for learning about self and others. We adapt the term “mashup” to describe the Transcultural Dialogue process of critiquing visual culture through participatory pedagogy. Visual culture is an economical and powerful medium for creating artwork, as it involves using images that are easily accessible, surround us daily, and subconsciously impact our worldviews and beliefs. In collaborative visual culture artworks, meaning is made through the collective art-making process and interpretations of the finished work. Multiple voices have the potential to create rich artworks that lead to deep interpretations. Group effort can generate unanticipated new knowledge and unique learning experiences that vary based on participant grouping.
The Transcultural Dialogue project was created in order to find ways to breakdown cultural stereotypes and misunderstandings between people from different cultural backgrounds. We achieved our goals through the use of social media to facilitate learner conversation and collaborative art-making (see Figure 1). This is based on three theoretical arguments. First, visual culture is a powerful space to explore social justice issues and one of the means to teach through visual culture is through creative mashup art-making (Darts 2004; Freedman 2000; Garoian 2006; Knight, Keifer-Boyd, and Amburgy 2004). Second, collaborative constructivist learning (such as creative mashup art-making) creates a community of learners who work together to transform their learning experience (Hung et al. 2005, Mintrop 2004, Whitcomb 2004). Third, after establishing a reflexive understanding of the learning process in a local setting, social media is an effective means to promote dialogues among people across different cultures and geographic locations (Ertmer et al. 2011; Higgins, Wolf, and Torres 2013; Leppisaari and Lee 2012; Rautenbach and Black-Hughes 2012; Sun and Puterbaugh 2013). From researching Transcultural Dialogue participants’ reflections and experiences, we argue that our approach of using social media to create a community of learners and facilitate learner collaboration of visual culture mashup art-making to disrupt misconceptions about different cultures is effective and meaningful for use in art courses from sixth grade to higher education to help students learn about self and others in relation to societal expectations and embodied place-based experiences.
Presented here is the third iteration of our Transcultural Dialogue project, in 2010, which involved students at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda in dialogue with students at Penn State, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA. The authors share their experiences of teaching and learning using social media to collaborate in creating art from dialogue between two groups of art students who are culturally and geographically distant from each other.
Ladson-Billings (1995, 2012) introduced culturally relevant pedagogy as a theoretical model to understand student achievement in developing critical perspectives that challenge inequities. The pedagogical approach, also referred to as culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2000), incorporates and explores, through a dialogic and collaborative learning project, the culturally situated knowledges and standpoints of students and facilitators. The Transcultural Dialogue project, based in culturally relevant pedagogical theory, provides collaboration opportunity for project participants to make visible to self and others their cultural beliefs, practices, and values.
The project began with participants bookmarking websites that they perceived represented the visual culture of Uganda and the United States. We used a free Web 2.0 tool, Diigo, that could be used with low bandwidth, an issue for the Ugandan participants. The original plan was to use Dabbleboard, an online whiteboard, to create artworks collaboratively between Ugandan participants and U.S. participants. However, Dabbleboard would not work on the weak Internet connection in Uganda. Diigo is a social bookmarking tool that has a plug-in for web browsers. Participants used the plug-in with their browsers to bookmark websites. A Diigo group was set up on the Diigo website as a virtual space for the interactions between participates. The U.S. and Ugandan participants were asked to bookmark websites they think related to the culture or visual culture presentation of the other country and add their comments on these sites. All the bookmarked sites and commentary fed into the project’s group in Diigo set-up by Keifer-Boyd, the facilitator who designed the online pedagogical architecture, and participated in all stages of the project and artmaking while in Uganda. Each of the participants in the project commented on why they selected the particular representations to bookmark. Participants next explored what was bookmarked regarding their own country by those not from their country. They read the rationales for the selected visual culture representations and commented in response regarding if and how the representation relates to their life. The commentary and selected representations were the source for collaborative artworks. Participants dialogued about the images in relation to their lives, and constructed art that visually conveyed a particularly meaningful exchange in their dialogue about how the image portrays or does not portray their lived experiences. At this collaborative artmaking stage, participants worked together via email to send their individual visual response to the dialogue and to discuss how to collaborate so that the individual artworks inspire a work created by all in the smaller groups of two or three participants from each country. After uploading the finished collaborated artwork into VoiceThread, participants discussed the artworks and recorded their responses to these three questions: How is subjectivity constructed in the image? Whose subjectivity is constructed? What prior knowledge is assumed? The five collaborative artworks generated from the dialogue concerned specific references to familiar activities, daily-life objects and themes, as well as to larger issues such as power differences, absence of taboo topics, and cultural pride (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Five collaborative artworks created by groups comprised of both Ugandan and U.S. participants during the 2010 Transcultural Dialogue project.
Throughout the world, people are connecting with free, open source applications such as online collaborative workspaces, social networking tools (Human Rights First 2012), and mobile devices (Johnson, Levine, and Smith 2009, 5). “Improved collaboration can enrich learning when people come together to discuss a topic, especially when the participants have different backgrounds and can amend one another’s knowledge,” claim Tétard, Patokorpi, and Packalén (2009, 5). Importantly, collaboration among educators fosters dialogue that can be reflective about teaching with suggestions from collaborators and can further curriculum and resource development. We asked the following questions in reflecting on a 2010 iteration of Transcultural Dialogue:
How will faculty and students in institutions of higher learning initiate and sustain online collaboration under the constraints of cultural and geographical distance? What are cultural differences between the Ugandan and U.S. institutional and personal contexts and how would these potentially affect online collaboration? How will students relate to each other online in terms of their own cultural orientation and what effects would this have on collaborative learning? Which types of social software are familiar to students and how would they enable the creation of communities of learners?
Although other studies of transcultural collaborations have diverse goals and backgrounds as well as rules of engagement, almost all show that participants learned to appreciate their cultural differences and others’ perspectives (Ertmer et al. 2011, Camardese and Peled 2014, Leppisaari and Lee 2012, Lindberg and Sahlin 2011) and learned more about their own cultural identity (Leppisaari and Lee 2012, Lindberg and Sahlin 2011). Even though “social matters prove to be the main obstacles for successful virtual collaborative learning” (Tétard, Patokorpi, and Packalén 2009, 5) and language and time zone differences can create difficulties (Camardese and Peled 2014; Sun and Puterbaugh 2013; Higgins, Wolf, and Torres 2013; Leppisaari and Lee 2012; Ertmer et al. 2011), the value of transcultural projects outweighs the challenges in the context of classroom learning for students who do not have many experiences with in-depth dialogue about their cultural beliefs and practices and with creating art with people from other cultures.
Several studies have shown that transcultural collaboration motivates the participants because of the opportunity to collaborate with people with different backgrounds (Camardese and Peled 2014; Sun and Puterbaugh 2013; Higgins, Wolf, and Torres 2013; Leppisaari and Lee 2012; Ertmer et al. 2011; Rautenbach and Black-Hughes 2012; Lindberg and Sahlin 2011). Abramo, D’Angelo, and Solazzi (2011) demonstrated that transcultural collaborations provide diversity that leads to greater learning, understanding, and innovation for researchers. Based on their research into collaboration that utilized social media between two academic libraries, one in the U.S. and the other in China, Sue and Puterbaugh (2013) conclude that “the dissimilarities in language, culture, and general outlook provide a richer work relationship” and more meaningful outcome (64). Higgins, Wolf, and Torres (2013) studied collaboration between comparable undergraduate marketing classes in the U.S. and Ireland, in which both U.S. classes used the social media platform ValuePluse but one class did not have the international component. Their research shows a significant difference in students’ learning from their peers in the international group and indicates that the transcultural component adds engagement and interest for students’ learning. The examples above and the Transcultural Dialogue project’s participants’ reflection below all indicate that transcultural collaboration provides meaningful learning experiences and creates an important space for sharing and exchanging perspectives through written text, spoken audio recordings, and images. Moreover, participants, as conveyed in Kabiito’s reflections below, were able to learn how others from a different country view their country.
It has been an exciting but challenging engagement with the Transcultural Dialogue project. It provided an opportunity to produce works of art in different ways. I mostly create art with physical objects. In this class, I was able to work with a digital medium, which is not only an end in itself, but also a material for artistic engagement. Secondly, it was revealing to learn about how people from outside Uganda view us, and how Ugandans view the United States. (R. Kabiito, personal communication, November 26, 2011)
The Transcultural Dialogue project presented here stems from learners’ participation in culturally relevant pedagogy where one’s cultural orientation comes into play (Lu 2008). The Transcultural Dialogue project is designed as a culturally relevant pedagogy with a community of learners. This practice is aligned with what these studies have identified as the significance of transcultural collaboration.
Challenges Across and Within Communities of Practice:
Time Constructs, Cultural Difference, and Geographical Distance
Social media can further communities of practice with constructivist learning principles. Constructivist learning begins with learners collaborating with others from their own interests and concerns (Tétard, Patokorpi, and Packalén 2009). Transcultural dialogue makes visible social relations, behavior, beliefs, preferences, and orientation toward others.
Ligorio and Van Veen (2006) note: “The community of learners approach focuses on the social dimension of learning and considers collaboration to be the engine of learning” (105). To create a community of learning requires three component parts: cognitive presence, teaching presence, and social presence (Anderson 2008). Cognitive presence refers to learners’ reflective and sustained dialogue to challenge their assumptions and construct new understandings, a transformative learning. Students perceive teaching presence when facilitators are engaged in making and sustaining the dialogic space of learning. With social presence in particular, students establish supportive environments in which they “feel the necessary degree of comfort and safety to express their ideas in a collaborative context, and to present themselves as real and functional human beings” (Anderson 2008, 344). Presence in contexts with the potential for dialectic and dialogic learning can be democratic spaces “whose relationships mediate learning as much as the processes and tools that are in play” (Ravenscroft et al. 2008, 6). In dialogic educational spaces, new forms of intersubjective orientations are created in which transformative learning can happen. It is from these premises of democratic spaces for culturally relevant practice with a community of learners that the Transcultural Dialogue project was launched in spring 2010.
In the Transcultural Dialogue model, the intersection between visual culture, stereotyping, and transcultural communication may present problematic issues. For example, transcultural communication has the potential to unveil participants’ hurtful false beliefs and stereotyping of others that stem from mass media consumption. Unfortunately, mass media provides a limited portrayal of others’ reality, and it has the power to (mis)inform and mold our beliefs and opinion of others based on narrow perspectives. If this is the case, a participant’s comments may offend other participants. Also, there is the possibility for misrepresentation, miscommunication, and misinterpretation to occur when participants from different cultures interact with one another using the Transcultural Dialogue model. However, in our experience some participants expressed fear that they might unwittingly offend and none mentioned they were offended, only misinterpreted. Differences in interpretation were discussed in the exchanges. Long waits for responses was the main frustration expressed by U.S. students.
Similar to other studies on transcultural collaboration, challenges of scheduling and technology were part of our Transcultural Dialogue project experience. Language was not as great an issue in the 2010 Transcultural Dialogue as it was found to be in other studies involving collaboration between different language speakers (Sun and Puterbaugh 2013; Higgins, Wolf, and Torres 2013; Leppisaari and Lee 2012; Ertmer et al. 2011). Scheduling with time zone differences is a challenge (Camardese and Peled 2014, Sun and Puterbaugh 2013, Leppisaari and Lee 2012). The U.S. students in the Transcultural Dialogue project had regular class meetings twice a week. They often had to wait for the Ugandan participants to respond to their posts because of the different scheduling. This sometimes created disappointment if U.S. participants did not receive responses within their time expectations. Ugandan students participated outside of a structured course, and while this choice to participate motivated involvement, obstacles such as frequent electrical outages and slow bandwidth kept them from responding as frequently as the U.S. students expected. Ugandan participants seemed to be patient with electricity and technology. Some Ugandan participants found particular times of the day provided faster Internet connectivity. Several commented that the Internet is faster when the United States sleeps. Similarly, the concept of time as a constraint or being integral in the constitution of culture may not be understood in the same way. In Uganda, time may appear as a given, whereas in the United States, time is often interpreted as a constraint. For most Ugandan participants, time as a given meant there is a schedule but adherence depends on other life circumstances and situations. For most U.S. participants, they expected to work within the time constraints allotted for the project in a course that had a specific ending date.
In addition, technical difficulty was a huge challenge. Munguatosha, Muyinda, and Lubega (2011) state that for developing countries to adopt learning with social media, it requires “self efficacy, reliable technical and administrative support, infrastructure, system interactivity, adequate budgeting and accountability, and a flexible organisational culture” (307). This highlights the challenges in many transcultural collaborations with social media. Sue and Puterbaugh’s (2013) study of collaboration with China and Rautenback and Black-Hughes’ study of collaboration between U.K., U.S., and South Africa also found that technology difference is an obstacle. For our Transcultural Dialogue project, the bandwidth problem altered the original plan of using certain technology, such as Dabbleboard. The art-making collaboration therefore moved to e-mail communication, which is more difficult to track.
Social software that is available and accessible in Uganda and the U.S. should provide a platform for collaboration with minimal physical contact, yet it is mired with challenges. The challenges include differences in how students relate online in terms of conversation, understanding of self in relation to others, understanding of others’ concept of time and how time is spent by other cultures, human activity, sources of truth, commitment to school, friends, or family, and cultural understandings of giving and receiving respect. For example, one participant reflects on her notions of time in relation to the 2010 Transcultural Dialogue project:
Time and technology presented challenges and restricted the project. Instant feedback could not be expected due to the time difference and Uganda’s slow Internet speed. At times, this made it difficult to engage in dialogue with others. As a participant in a group art project in which communication was vital, I waited hours/days for Ugandan participants’ responses and contributions. This was challenging for me living in a culture of instant gratification. However, delayed response time served as a reminder of the distance and difference between our locations and cultures. Reflecting on time and technology constraints, I find our Web 2.0 artmaking/meaning-making accomplishment admirable. We were able to connect, learn, and create with others in an enlightening way. (J. Motter, personal communication, November 26, 2011)
Difference in time and timing in several other ways is one of the greatest challenges to both online and face-to-face (F2F) collaboration. F2F brings everyone into the same time space and promotes richer learning experiences than online if the time immersed in another culture can be for ten weeks or more. Short visits are mired with problems of tourist views. Ten or more weeks can still be within a semester, making a F2F visit possible for a group of university students. However, ten weeks in an online collaboration may be too short if the time during the ten weeks is divided among many other responsibilities, including work, study, and family. From our experiences, projects spanning less than ten weeks do not work well because shorter durations fail to allow for flexibility with holidays, electrical outages, and other unforeseen events like university faculty strikes or other environmental, cultural, or political crises. Ten weeks is the minimum we have found and fifteen weeks might be the optimal length of time for an online Transcultural Dialogue project so that the focus on creating collaborative art is not lost.
Culture is commonly understood as attitudes, beliefs, and daily practices that distinguish one group of people from another. Cultural practices are both sustained and changed through language, material objects including art, and educational, social, religious, and political institutions. However, one’s own culture is often invisible when there is not dialogue about attitudes, beliefs, practices, and material objects with cultural groups different from one’s own culture. Through dialogue and art-making with those from cultures different from one’s own, misunderstandings surface, making visible the nuances and complexity of cultural comparison across space and time. The Transcultural Dialogue project examines issues of cultural difference within and between groups, as well as cultural differences understood through the lens of place and identity—that are socially, historically, politically, and psychologically constructed and practiced.
The 2010 online Transcultural Dialogue project revealed cultural differences in conceptualization, dialogue, and application of knowledge and resources available to the collaborating students from both regions. Students in Uganda viewed culture as something that had already been constructed. For the U.S. students, culture existed in the present and was therefore always in a state of becoming; for the Ugandan students, on the other hand, Ugandan culture is perceived in the distant past, prior to colonial legacies that control the present. This represents a contrast in the understanding of culture between the two groups of students.
U.S. participants learned about themselves through others’ misconceptions. Knowing how others understand their culture gave them a chance to reflect on the influence of media and visual culture. However, Ugandan participants did not seem to benefit from this because U.S. participants generally lack knowledge about Uganda’s culture. The following are reflections from participants on the process of the 2010 Transcultural Dialogue from a cultural-difference lens.
Admittedly, I was unsure of what to expect when beginning my participation in the project. However, I was excited about the opportunity to utilize Web 2.0 to converse and collaboratively create with others whom I likely would not meet otherwise. When thinking about my exposure to the contemporary visual culture of Uganda, I recalled a colorful yet simplistic batik that my cousin purchased in Uganda and now decorates her home. I envisioned the contemporary visual culture of Uganda as handmade artifacts.
When asked to bookmark digital visual culture that conveyed how I perceived Uganda and to comment on the websites I selected, I bookmarked Uganda Travel Guide, a site for tourists, which includes information about the traditional crafts of Uganda including pottery, basketry, and wood-carving. I also bookmarked Ugandart, a Uganda Online Art Consortium that includes a video of a 2009 sponsored workshop that facilitated children’s exploration of art in Namungona. The children partook in drawing and jewelry-making, as well as collaboratively created a large oil on canvas mural by contributing painted symbols of familiar objects and living beings including houses, vehicles, and wildlife. This video, while only a glimpse of Uganda, influenced my understanding of the culture represented. Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) is another website that I bookmarked. It exists as a conservation education model to educate the public, including youth, on preservation of wildlife. All animals at UWEC have been rescued from poachers, illegal traders, or accidents (Uganda Wildlife Education Centre 2010). My bookmarked websites represented my perceptions of Uganda, as well as my personal interests.
When contributing to collaborative artwork, these bookmarked websites influenced the imagery that I selected for inclusion in our digital piece. The imagery that I contributed included a child beading a necklace, a heart-shaped beaded necklace, and a child’s painting that depicted a woman, bloomed flower, fish, water, and connected people in the background. My group’s artwork is titled Hope (the lower middle artwork in Figure 1) and is visual culture that represents my understanding of Uganda via visual culture exposure and transcultural dialogue. Makerere University students’ clarifications of Penn State students’ contemporary visual culture selections, descriptions, and questions helped me to better understand Ugandan visual culture by providing missing context that can influence meaning. (J. Motter, personal communication, November 26, 2011)
I also participated in creating a collaborative artwork (see Figure 2) and helped facilitate U.S. students’ art-making. My visual response to my small group of Ugandan and U.S. participants was to create an image that reflected the experience of dialogue with people from different cultures so I began by composing an image of participants’ portraits from screenshots that I took of the participants as posted in our Diigo forum. Besides learning from our conversations, I loved the idea of communicating with others through an online platform. Therefore, the artwork showed the process of this project. Later, other participants in my group added question mark symbols to reflect the questions that arose in the communication process. Making changes and adding to the artwork was a way to collaboratively reflect on our common experience. The action of other participants in my group showed that we all considered the questions exchanged between participants an important part of this experience. (C. Liao, personal communication, November 26, 2011)
Figure 2. Artwork created by participant Christine Liao.
The dialogue, for me, began when I made a remark, out of a cultural misconception, that people in the U.S. do not know much about the outside world. This was a remark based on Sarah Palin’s misinformed statement that “you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska” (Walls and Stein 2008, para. 9). When asked about what people from Uganda knew about the U.S., I based my analysis on film images and the mass media, which regularly project contradicting images. On the one hand, the U.S. is portrayed as a land of plenty, where everything is in abundance, yet on the other, we see images that project violence and extreme crime. Indeed, my last night in the U.S. in 2009 was spent in New York’s neighborhood of Harlem, a place I have “known” for crime. I was so uncomfortable that I did not move out into the streets or even peep through the window. I did not, however, find any difficulty walking to the train station the following morning. More so, the warm reception that I received in the U.S., specifically at Penn State, was not what I had anticipated. I had anticipated a numb and detached people, self-conceited due to the vices of capitalism. This and other misconceptions were expressed in the dialogue as we gave rationales for our visual culture selections of the other country and those living in the country responded if and how the visual culture conveyed their experiences. The dialogue, which became the content for our collaborative artworks from our collective reflection on the dialogue, often revealed and challenged stereotypes perpetuated in popular culture or news media representations. (R. Kabiito, personal communication, November 26, 2011)
One challenge for this project was to start with asking questions. One of my students said that she did not know where to begin because she did not know anything about Uganda. This is an interesting imbalance in this project. One group of participants believes they know “more” about the other group of participants. Some people from Uganda learned about U.S. culture through the pop culture export and globalization. However, most U.S. university students did not know much about Uganda. Their almost nonexistent knowledge about Uganda could lead them to have misconceptions about Uganda’s culture(s). The beginning of Transcultural Dialogue, thus, from my observation, started with U.S. students searching for information on the Internet to learn, for the first time, about Uganda. Their understandings of Uganda came from the Internet. Then the dialogue began. They posted what they found about Uganda on the Diigo discussion forum. Some of the Ugandan participants responded, but not everyone’s post received a response. Some participants from Uganda talked about their perception of the United States. For example, one Ugandan participant mentioned that the U.S was uninhabitable because U.S. is often portrayed as violent in the movies. The U.S. students replied, thus sparking discussions about how the media creates stereotypes. Learning happened with such discussion. However, to increase learning, participants needed to do more research about each other’s country before or at the beginning of this project. The U.S. participants appreciated direct answers to their questions, but this did not challenge their previous knowledge, and would be similar to an initial exchange with a foreigner, such as learning about a holiday in a different country. Hence, the learning of Ugandan participants could be different from what U.S. participants learned. (C. Liao, personal communication, November 26, 2011)
Unlike in the transcultural dialogues research previously conducted (e.g., Tupuola 2006, Gilberti 2006), this study takes a new twist. In the studies cited above, the interlocutors are mainly fact-to-face with the members of the dialogue team. In some instances, we have virtual environments in play, but such environments are not the focus of the study. In Tupuola’s transcultural study, for example, she creates an engagement process that in a sense was imaginary, whereby dialogue between youth from different geographical locations was mediated by a transnational researcher who relayed the words of one group to another across borders. This is a far different model from the one adopted in this study where dialogue is in real time, only mediated by technological interfaces. This provides a more inclusive basis for participation in the dialogue. The participants’ location introduces a new dimension to the dialogue where educational technologies are used as a set of tools to facilitate the dialogue.
There is an intrinsic connectivity between the platforms under use to facilitate dialogue and the nature of the dialogue itself. The concept upon which the dialogue is built comes with demands of democratic spaces for interaction between dialoguing members. This demand is facilitated by the free access of social media such as Diigo, a tool used in this particular study. Within this space, members are able to exchange views, ideas, and even engage in art-making, even though many of them have never been in real-time encounters outside the virtual environment. The transactional borders are immediately erased to allow real-time dialogue within a common space accessible to everyone regardless of location.
In this way, since members in the dialogue are free to enter, exit, and re-enter the space, more democratic means of dialogue are established and the result is a rich collection of trans-cultural texts—texts not bound by borders, ethnicity, age, or gender insofar as the dialogue is shaped into a whole, meaningful text. At the end, all these texts are built into a tangible outcome that constitutes a common structure of texts that bring together new ideas, understandings, and knowledge within a diverse group of people. This is a unique aspect not part of the design of other transcultural dialogue projects. The following is a reflection from one participant in the 2010 Transcultural Dialogue project regarding use of social media with those who are geographically distant and how social media interaction between two groups of people reveals the impact of visual culture.
The greatest benefit of using social media in this project is that it provides images and texts of visual culture that are easily accessible on the Internet and going online is most people’s daily experience, at least among the U.S. participants. My first thought about the project came from my own transcultural experience—from Taiwan to the United States. I thought it would be like learning cultural traditions from friends who were born in and grew up within the United States when I first came to the U.S. I knew little about Uganda before participating in the project. I had not even heard much about Uganda from news and other media. The images and stereotypes I had about Uganda were generically similar to my stereotypical understanding about African countries—poor, underdeveloped, and war-torn. I thought it would be a good chance to hear from Ugandans about their own country and culture. However, it was not until starting the project that I realized that Transcultural Dialogue is much more than learning traditions of a different culture from friends of a different country. Through social media, we can see how visual culture and images are prevalent on the Internet and how easily we can obtain mis/conceptions through these visual culture presentations of a country. Knowing how Ugandans learned about the U.S. from these presentations was like putting a mirror in front of the U.S. participants and provided them a different angle to see the impact of visual culture. It is a way to create reflexivity for one’s belief and understanding of culture. Reflexive means turning things back toward itself. Through hearing others’ (people from another country) mis/conceptions of what one (the person from the country that is discussed) believes to know better, the exchange shapes one’s knowledge and critical thinking about truth and myth (C. Liao, personal communication, November 26, 2011).
Development of Transcultural Dialogue
We present reflections on our experiences forming and participating in the 2010 Transcultural Dialogue project using a dialogic first-person writing form to weave a narrative of distinct experiences and positionalities of the four authors of this article. The potential of transcultural dialogue emerges from our collective reflections.
Richard: In 2006, while pursuing my doctoral studies at the University of Art and Design Helsinki–TaiK (now Aalto University), I became interested in joining a class titled “Virtual Learning Communities in Art Education: Current Issues and Practices,” taught by Dr. Keifer-Boyd, a Fulbright professor. One of the things I had promised myself before I left Uganda was to create as many linkages and initiate as many collaboration opportunities with foreign universities as possible in order to introduce indigenous Ugandan arts and culture to the world. I presented my ideas for collaboration between Makerere University and Penn State to Dr. Keifer-Boyd. The Margaret Trowell School of Art and Design (MTSIFA) at Makerere University was in the process of transforming its programs to integrate local indigenous cultures into its arts curricula. The Transcultural Dialogue project could support our efforts in revisioning the MTSIFA programs with a focus on Ugandan culture, rather than the current MTSIFA art curriculum based on a modernist European art education curriculum established by the British founder of the school, Margaret Trowell.
In March 2009, I visited Penn State, attended some of the classes, and made presentations about Ugandan culture in general. The visit was not only an academic presentation, but also an initial exchange between faculty—those from the U.S. and Uganda. This visit included meetings with university administrators to propose a student/teacher exchange between both institutions. Several students were curious to know about Uganda and how people there lived. A student in one of the classes asked whether they could freely walk into an Internet café and surf the net. I replied that Uganda has Internet cafés. It was an eye-opening experience indeed.
While visiting the U.S. at Penn State, it became apparent that we were already moving forward with one of the ways of continuing our collaboration—an online and onsite exhibition of work by MTSIFA and Penn State students. Since we did not have a source of funding that would allow students and teachers to travel abroad, social media would be an inexpensive yet effective option for collaboration. Moreover, our online collaboration would build support networks for teachers and students to travel and study in both university visual arts programs in Uganda and the United States. To begin an exchange, I requested that Dr. Keifer-Boyd visit Uganda. During her trip, she would visit our physical facilities, learn about our infrastructure, study our curriculum, attend some of our classes, and generally make recommendations to collaborating partners on how to proceed with an exchange. She would also facilitate a Transcultural Dialogue project as one of the ways of crossing cultures and transcending the barriers that have, over time, created misconceptions about our own cultures and others.
Karen: In preparing a grant proposal, I asked Dr. Venny Nakazibwe and Dr. Richard Kabiito, professors at Makerere University who had visited Penn State in 2007 and 2009 respectively, for feedback on the proposal and a letter of support to include with the funding application. Nakazibwe, the Deputy Dean of the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts, wrote a letter of support that emphasized the development of “mutual understanding, cultural, and academic exchange.” After introducing the Transcultural Dialogue project to students at Penn State, I traveled to Kampala, Uganda, to introduce the project there with these goals.
Christine: I first learned about Transcultural Dialogue from Dr. Keifer-Boyd. In preparing for her visit to Uganda, Dr. Keifer-Boyd asked if I would be willing to participate and lead students at Penn State in the “Visual Culture and Educational Technologies” course during the semester she visited Uganda.
Karen: I planned for Ugandan and United States participants to get involved in different stages in the Transcultural Dialogue project in spring 2010. I met with the students at Penn State who would be participating as part of their course taught by Christine in order to explain the project and to inspire their involvement. I also drafted a plan and discussed it with Venny and Richard via e-mail and Skype so that we could launch the Transcultural Dialogue project during my five-week visit to Makerere University.
In the first week of my visit to Uganda in March 2010, I met with MTSIFA faculty and studied through observation, artifact exploration, interviews, and reflective journal writing about MTSIFA’s curricula, types of pedagogy, and student and faculty teaching and learning culture. During the second week, through critical reflection from week one at MTSIFA and from my presentation to faculty members about possibilities with Web 2.0 free applications—such as VoiceThread, Diigo, Second Life, Google Docs, and wikis—we developed a plan of action for transcultural critical dialogue with art students and art teachers in Uganda and the United States. In the third and fourth weeks, I participated with faculty and students at MTSIFA and Penn State in the Transcultural Dialogue project. Also, I visited high schools in Kampala to meet art teachers, see their art teaching facilities, and ask if they were interested in a future Transcultural Dialogue project with a high school class in the U.S. The English language is used in the Ugandan schools and there was interest. Almost all students had e-mail addresses. Some of the high school students used e-mail regularly, often after school at Internet cafés.
Jennifer: My interest in Web 2.0 technologies’ potential for collaborative, generative, and transformative learning and knowledge stems from my enrollment in New Media Pedagogy, a graduate course taught by Dr. Keifer-Boyd, in spring 2009. During this course, I facilitated Challenging Gender Stereotypes, a week-long online learning activity in which I asked art education graduate students to use Diigo to post critical comments that unveiled their assumptions about the identities of creators of postcards displayed on PostSecret (http://www.postsecret.com) based on the revealed secrets, imagery, color palette, handwriting, and other potential visible indicators of gender stereotypes. This online learning activity led to my further exploration of the potentials for meaningful informal art education via Web 2.0.
In spring 2010, I accepted Dr. Keifer-Boyd’s invitation to participate in the Transcultural Dialogue project, as I found it to be an excellent opportunity for powerful transcultural collaborative art-making and exploration using Web 2.0 tools. My cousin Natalie Sara Weaver’s stories about her recent trips to Kampala, Gulu, and Pader in Uganda also inspired my participation in this collaborative project. My cousin’s goal was to teach songwriting as a tool for empowerment by enabling youth to tell their stories of oppression, resilience, and hope in creative and transformative ways, which resulted in repeated trips to Uganda. Natalie piloted a songwriting program for young women living in Uganda who were previously enslaved as child wives, child soldiers, and/or who had been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, poverty, and war (The SONG Project Live 2011). What little knowledge I had of Uganda, prior to participating in Transcultural Dialogue, derives from stories of my cousin’s experiences working with youth and music in Uganda and my own exposure to minimal Ugandan media coverage.
Future Transcultural Dialogues
Gilberti (2006) cautions against reducing reality to a limited space in dialogue, suggesting instead that we should work toward entering a third space “where differences are understood to be complementary to each other” (33). In this space (also referred to as “relational space”), there is commitment to learning and understanding each other. This outlines the future of transcultural dialogue. Transcultural dialogue emphasizes relations with others, which effectively changes people’s approach to others, in real situations (Mangano 2009). Transcultural dialogue is crucial, as an approach, in eroding assumptions and misconceptions about different cultures and transcending the borders of a single culture to develop a transcultural model of analysis and debate (Dagnino 2012). In an increasingly interconnected world, “cultures are increasingly intertwined and people often constitute their cultural identities by drawing on more than one culture” (Dagnino 2012, 6). Indeed, in addition to creating an open atmosphere where we become more tolerant and get to know new friends, it also creates a space for fundamental explorations of ideas from different perspectives.
Although there are still many challenges as outlined in the earlier section, the potentials of transcultural dialogue exceed these challenges. The greatest potential is that it opens up new spaces for collaborations and understandings. This is supported by the belief that new understandings within new cultural contexts open up new ways of interacting, building networks, and creating platforms upon which future interactions are built. Lindberg and Sahlin’s (2011) study on transcultural collaboration found authenticity in students’ learning about a different culture because they were in conversation with those they were studying. Our Transcultural Dialogue project also provided an authentic experience of conversation between the U.S. and Ugandan students. Such an experience motivated some students to want to collaborate further and to travel. Similarly, Ertmer et al. (2011), who used Web 2.0 technologies to facilitate pre-service teacher’s global perspectives, found that because of the transcultural collaboration experience, the pre-service teachers were more likely to incorporate similar activities into their future teaching. Most of the U.S. participants of the Transcultural Dialogue project were pre-service teachers planning to teach art in k-12. Transcultural dialogue in pre-service curriculum could motivate students to include transcultural collaboration in their teaching and participate in cross-cultural activities (Ertmer et al. 2011). Indeed, one of the 2010 U.S. participants, inspired by the 2010 Transcultural Dialogue project, expressed interest in creating a transcultural collaboration with people in Belize, where she has connections.
The online collaboration between two groups of people at different locations creates a mashup space where online virtual spaces host real learning experiences. The selected websites, discussion texts, artworks, and voice reflections are the elements that constituted our transcultural mashup experiences. With changing technologies, we expect that ways of communicating between distances will improve. We envision that some of the misunderstandings between cultures will change, but also caution that new misconceptions may arise. Transcultural Dialogue is a space where students from different cultures can develop new knowledge about each other, and visual culture, texts, images, and voices can be mashed up to create new meanings.
The Transcultural Dialogue project utilized Web 2.0 technologies to create a mixed reality experience in which participants brought their physical lived experiences into virtual space and created unique insight and knowledge that was not easy to obtain through classroom lectures alone. Accessible Web 2.0 technologies afforded participants the opportunity to deconstruct, construct, and reconstruct cultural narratives through the sharing of the personal in a global public space via transcultural, collaboratively generated user-content that disrupted stereotypes and preconceived notions. This approach can be developed further in the future when technology and energy infrastructure improve worldwide.
Translation, transfer, critique, and questioning of relevance to the context were important to setting up the online architecture and facilitating the dialogue in this project. The Transcultural Dialogue strategies are intended to further understanding and to celebrate and sustain difference. In our work to pedagogically enact this goal, we have identified challenges, tried solutions, and continue to develop an arts-based research and teaching methodology.
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 There is no lead author. Instead, we used a collaborative exchange of writing to develop the article. We list our names in alphabetical order with one exception to this order for Keifer-Boyd, whose leadership style is one of initiating, motivating, and joining forces. Correspondence regarding this submission should be sent to Karen Keifer-Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org
 Martina Paatela-Nieminen, Richard Kabiito, and Karen Keifer-Boyd developed the first iteration of the Transcultural Dialogue project in 2007 titled Intertextual House. The goal was to foster an intertextual approach to inquiry and engagement with others concerning the subjective process of producing meaning from relationships between images, discourses, and cultures of house as experience, symbolism, and metaphor (e.g., governing houses as in House of Parliament, body as house as in Louise Bourgeois’s art (1947-1993, see http://maddicara.com/2013/12/10/documents-of-memory-the-house-and-the-body-in-the-work-of-louise-bourgeois/), and house as site of identity and societal expectations as explored in WomanHouse (1970-71) and At Home in Kentucky (2001-2002) art installations. An intertextual interpretation emphasizes social and cultural contexts of images as the necessary framework for understanding meanings and functions of signification systems. Other Transcultural Dialogue iterations included Keifer-Boyd’s courses with Kabiito’s or Paatela-Nieminen’s courses, or both together. Kabiito and Keifer-Boyd continued to incorporate the Transcultural Dialogue project in our courses in fall 2010, 2011, and 2012 semesters (Keifer-Boyd 2012). The fifth iteration is being planned for 2015.
 Participatory pedagogy refers here to the participation of many people in a dialogue about visual culture in which their dialogue is the artistic medium and material from which collaborative artworks are created.
 Communities of learners, also referred to as communities of practice, are formed from shared interests in which the community utilizes collective resources of experience, skills, and shared access to materials and facilities (Wenger-Trayner 2006).
 Dabbleboard was an online whiteboard for collaboration. Users can type, draw, or import images to create a board together. It was shut down in August 2012.
 VoiceThread enables users to post images, documents, or videos, and others can make comments using voice recording, video recording, or text.
 Sarah Palin was the governor of Alaska from 2006 to 2009 and the Republican candidate for vice president of the U.S. in 2008.
 For further information about the Challenging Gender Stereotypes activity, see “PostSecret: Disrupting Gender Stereotypes” (Motter 2010).
Leila Walker edited the blog post “All Corners of the World”: the Possibilities and Challenges of International Electronic Education in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 4 days, 18 hours ago
Sheila Cavanagh, Emory University
The World Shakespeare Project (WSP) uses videoconferencing to link students in the US, UK, India, Morocco, Argentina, Brazil, and North American Tribal Colleges. This essay discusses the practical and theoretical bases of this project, including its background in brain-based learning. The WSP engages students in wide-ranging discussions and performance exercises, facilitating pedagogical communication between a disparate group of international institutions.
The World Shakespeare Project (WSP) uses new media to enable college and university students to interact academically across several continents, including North and South America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. We also collaborate with incarcerated students studying Shakespeare at Monroe Correctional Facility in Washington State and have begun partnership discussions with universities in Ethiopia. Though an increasing number of online educational models rely on asynchronous communication, the WSP focuses on live interaction whenever possible. Some of the WSP’s partners are located in urban centers, with access to diverse modes of information and communication technology. Others reside in comparatively isolated rural regions, with limited technological facilities. Nevertheless, as much as possible, the WSP promotes “real time” academic and cultural conversation between disparate groups of students who are studying Shakespeare.
This essay details some of the pedagogical, philosophical, and technological facets that simultaneously invigorate and challenge this project. Since the beginning, the WSP has benefitted greatly from the kind of collaborative engagement that undergirds so many electronic academic projects. At the start, the WSP included co-instructors who inhabited different continents: Sheila T. Cavanagh (author of this piece), Professor of English at Emory University in Atlanta, had just been named Emory College Distinguished Teaching Professor. Kevin Quarmby, a long-time professional actor in the United Kingdom, had recently completed his PhD and was teaching for a variety of academic programs in London. Cavanagh had taught a “Shakespeare in Performance” course for many years and the pair determined that introducing an actor turned scholar into the academic mix might prove valuable. At the outset, neither participant had any real idea of what would happen and how students would receive it. Needless to say, however, this initial foray became a resounding success. After a few months of linking classes between London and Atlanta, Cavanagh (with support from the Halle Center for Global Learning) called an international meeting of expert faculty and educational technologists and began exploring the promises and pitfalls of global education through videoconferencing. Soon afterwards, the World Shakespeare Project was born. Within a couple of years, the WSP had expanded its partnerships across many continents, time zones, and cultural differences, creating vibrant exchanges between students, faculty, and technologists in widely disparate settings.
The WSP uses videoconferencing, iPads, iPhones, Blackboard, email and other electronic resources to redesign traditional classroom encounters. In some sessions, participants from multiple venues participate in what we term “on yer feet” performance modules designed to recreate the rehearsal process followed by actors at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre or Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Other times, students in places such as Atlanta and Casablanca join email or videoconference conversations that range from textual analysis to cultural exchange and discussions about educational, historical and familial differences related to Shakespearean drama. This essay uses the WSP to illustrate the kinds of educational opportunities and questions that modern technology can facilitate. While these benefits are not exclusive to Shakespeare, his drama appears to offer unusual ways to engage people from multiple cultures, something that London’s 2012 Globe to Globe Festival illustrated magnificently when 37 Shakespeare plays were presented in 37 different languages. Shakespeare’s recurring presence in theatres and classrooms around the world makes it particularly valuable for cross-cultural conversations and collaborations, although the techniques we employ are designed to be transferable across disciplines. Shakespeare may not achieve universality, but the canon still provides access to an international academic conversation that many, including the College Board’s Lawrence Gladieux (1999), worry could be undercut by expanding technology use. As he suggests, “the virtual campus may widen opportunities for some, but not generally for those at the low end of the economic scale. [. . .] The Internet has great power and potential for good, which we must harness to the cause of educational opportunity. We must not let information technology become a new engine of global inequality” (3). Noted educational theorist Philip Altbach (2007) raises similar concerns, remarking, “Contemporary inequalities may in fact be intensified by globalization” (2).
If employed judiciously, however, electronic communication creates portals for international and other cross-institutional interactions that were previously unimaginable. As the WSP has grown, it established partnerships with a range of distinctive institutions. The exchanges are vibrant and valuable for those involved. Often, however, these collaborations do not fit the profile regularly invoked at Emory when academic linkages are discussed. WSP partnerships frequently do not involve “peer institutions”; they do not necessarily formalize ties with the kinds of prestigious colleges and universities Emory typically races to embrace. Instead, the specific WSP collaborations emphasized today bring together Emory students—enrolled at an American private university that prides itself on its US News & World Report “top 20” ranking—with students who are commonly the first members of their families to participate in tertiary education. Some of the non-Emory students come from families completely lacking in formal education. Distinctive from most Emory undergraduates, these WSP collaborators often come from homes and communities where educational opportunities have been extremely limited, where English is rarely or never spoken, and/or where role models for economic, professional, and academic success remain hard to find. Rather than seeking personal advancement by attending a wealthy, well-established private university, many of these students study, for example, in tribal colleges, institutions that were created specifically to bring higher education to what is often, though controversially, called “indigenous” populations. As Ladislaus Semali and Joe Kincheloe (1999) suggest, “indigenous knowledge is an ambiguous topic that immediately places analysts on a dangerous terrain. [. . .] Nevertheless, we perceive the benefits of the study of indigenous knowledge sufficiently powerful to merit the risk” (3). They further encourage goals closely resembling those of the WSP, namely, “enhancing the internationalization of the curriculum of academic institutions by giving faculty and students ready access to a global network of indigenous knowledge resource centers” (Semali and Kincheloe 1999, 5). This essay emphasizes the value of including eclectic international, indigenous, and incarcerated students with more mainstream partners and teaching materials. The WSP promotes these kinds of “asymmetrical” academic collaborations. In a 1947 UNESCO symposium on “The Universal Right to Education,” I. L. Kandel notes that “even when equality of educational opportunity is provided, certain social and economic classes feel that the opportunities are not intended for them” (quoted in Spring 2000, 16-17). While this situation arguably continues today, the WSP operates from an assumption that opposes such educational divides. As Michael Peters (2006) argues, “The economics of knowledge and information is not one of scarcity [. . .] but rather one of abundance, for, unlike most resources that are depleted when used, information and knowledge can be shared and can actually grow through application” (96). If this is the case, the Shakespeare world and the broader educational community has much to gain by sharing information and concerns with faculty and students who were essentially impossible to reach prior to the availability of modern technologies such as videoconferencing.
Typically, WSP interactions by email or videoconferencing focus predominantly on Shakespeare, but they also allow participants the opportunity to converse on other topics. Emory undergraduates, for example, tend to know little or nothing about African literature. In the midst of discussions about Shakespeare’s prominent place in British drama, therefore, Moroccan students frequently urge the Americans to read significant global authors such as Tahar Ben Jelloun and Driss Chraïbi. Other international classes have provided similarly unforeseen but fruitful interventions. During a session linking Emory with undergraduates in Argentina and director Tom Magill in Northern Ireland (director of Mickey B, a film version of Macbeth acted by prisoners in Belfast), for instance, the conversation took an unexpected detour after a chance comment about frequent journalistic comparisons between Lady Macbeth and diverse contemporary and historic female political figures. At the mention of then recently deceased Margaret Thatcher in this context, everyone in Argentina and Belfast cringed, while Emory students looked on without comprehension. The ensuing discussion circled back to Macbeth, but also included illuminating accounts of British actions in the Maldives/Falkland Islands and their treatment of political prisoners during the Irish “troubles.” Such unanticipated, fruitful results from our encounters with far-flung partner colleges are common. In the middle of a segment devoted to passages from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, for example, one student’s face appeared transformed as realization dawned. For this young mother, a full time student at Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College in Michigan (http://www.sagchip.edu) and a leader in her tribe, a section of Shakespeare’s text suddenly hit home, as documentary maker Steve Rowland’s film of the class indicates:
[youtube width=”700″ height=”394″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJl6ELWUBLM[/youtube]
Shakespeare describes Prospero, the exiled Milanese Duke in The Tempest, arriving by ship at a remote island. In the years that followed, Prospero claims sovereignty over the land and its inhabitants, namely, a magical being called “Ariel” and the locally-born “monster” Caliban. Numerous Shakespeareans in recent years have written about postcolonial interpretations of this play (Thomas Cartelli, for instance), but this nontraditional Chippewa student needed no post-colonial insights to grasp familiar implications from the text. As soon as the words were spoken aloud, she exclaimed about the parallels between the history of American tribal populations and what had happened to the natives of Shakespeare’s unnamed island. Shakespeare was clearly telling the story of her people despite the centuries separating his writings from contemporary society.
[youtube width=”700″ height=”394″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zoe23j8zFio[/youtube]
As often happens, Shakespeare’s narratives found immediate resonance with a temporally and geographically distanced audience. As this American Indian student explained, the challenges associated with Shakespeare’s language did not overpower the cultural connections his drama forged with the students at this Midwestern Tribal College, one of the thirty-seven colleges forming AIHEC or the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
A few months earlier, students at Sido Kanhu Murmu University, an institution established for the local tribal population in Dumka, Jharkhand, India, experienced a similarly striking Shakespearean moment. Performing the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice in their native Santali dialect, these first-generation learners then shared childhood stories of watching their parents being beaten by local moneylenders and discussed how these memories helped shape their representation of the moneylender Shylock in Shakespeare’s play.
Figure 1. Students at Sido Kanhu Murmu University
The power of these students’ stories and the resonance between their life histories and the details of Shakespeare’s texts was palpable for all who witnessed it in person or through viewing the flawed electronic record. Dumka, a recipient of financial support from India’s “Backwards Regions Grant Fund,” has not typically been involved in international educational dialogues. Until the advent of widespread modern technology, they had no opportunity to discuss intersections between their lives and these plays with anyone outside their local environments.
The tribal colleges and universities the WSP works with in India are located in comparatively remote regions that suffer from poverty and geographical isolation compounded by the significant presence of armed Maoist rebels. Those conditions often make travel dangerous and occasionally interfere with the possibility of electronic communication. In March, 2014, for example, 15 policemen were ambushed and killed by Maoist insurgents in the state of Chhattisgarh, a region adjacent to WSP partner communities. The students who attend these tribal colleges typically reside in homes with only basic amenities or they stay in local hostels. Faculty often provide supplementary meals as well as education for their undergraduates. During site visits to homes of several WSP educational partners in Purulia, West Bengal and Dumka, Jharkhand, students regularly comment that they have never met a “foreigner” before. The students majoring in English literature typically plan to teach English in elementary or secondary school, although occasionally, the WSP encounters students with aspirations for advanced degrees. One student in Dumka, for example, who performed Shakespearean scenes during site visits in 2012 and 2013, plans to translate all of the Merchant of Venice into Santali as part of the doctoral study he hopes to undertake after he completes the M.A. he is currently pursuing. In this same environment, however, where doctoral education can now be imagined, several local women are killed every month after accusations of witchcraft, an occurrence documented in the international press as well as in student and faculty narratives. In studying plays such as Macbeth, the combination of such contradictory perspectives within the same villages opens up remarkable possibilities for discussion and research. Students’ own experiences enable them to respond to many facets of the drama, such as Shakespeare’s integration into his plays of folk beliefs, intellectual conceptualizations, and common human emotional experiences.
The dynamic pedagogical snapshots described above occurred during site visits undertaken by the WSP in preparation for its subsequent live videoconferencing sessions. Created with seed grant funding in 2011 from Emory’s Halle Institute for Global Learning (halleinstitute.emory.edu) and Emory’s Center for Interactive Teaching, in 2012 the WSP became the sole recipient of Emory’s “High Risk/High Potential Initiative” grant (Guo 2012). Throughout its development, the WSP has collaborated with a team of talented educational technologists in order to create a template for synchronous global educational exchange that can facilitate a similar linking of international institutions seeking a range of pedagogical and disciplinary goals. Collaborators are chosen both through strategic planning and through less structured means. As noted above, collaborators encompass students and institutions from a broad spectrum of religious, national, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. While the partnerships involved vary considerably, the WSP always seeks to align with the tenets Renate Nummela Caine and Geoffrey Caine (1994) associate with “brain-based learning” which, in their terms,
involves the entire learner in a challenging learning process that simultaneously engages the intellect, creativity, emotions, and physiology. It allows for the unique abilities and contributions from the learner in the teaching-learning environment. It acknowledges that learning takes place within a multiplicity of contexts—classroom, school, community, country and planet. It appreciates the interpenetration of parts and wholes by connecting what is learned to the greater picture and allowing learners to investigate the parts within the whole. (9)
As much as possible, the WSP employs these and other concepts of brain-based learning. As we expand our scope, we hope to create additional ways that cooperative international education can draw from key pedagogical and technological advances in order to enhance the educational experience for all concerned. Since an expansion in contemporary research focused on cognition and learning has paralleled the growth in educational technology, the WSP actively draws from experts in both areas as it develops its curriculum.
The performance exercises that remain central to WSP classes were initially transmitted through Skype, more through default than design. The instructors already communicated regularly through Skype and the platform was relatively available and reliable. While the WSP’s reliance on fairly basic technology originated without conscious deliberation, however, it has now become an important philosophical tenet of the project, employed whenever possible. Although the WSP regularly tests more sophisticated videoconferencing platforms, such as Vidyo, the Blue Jeans Network, and others, we insist upon widespread availability. Sometimes our partners can take advantage of Emory’s site licenses to gain access to advanced technologies; nevertheless, we remain committed to using the most affordable avenues possible for interactivity. While Emory’s educational technologists are thrilled, therefore, when we partner with an institution that boasts cutting edge equipment or expertise, we resist limiting our interactions to colleges or universities with robust electronic infrastructures. To do so would undermine our primary goal of bringing together widely diverse academic populations. Comparative affluence is not a barrier to participation in the WSP’s educational endeavors, but it is not a demand either. Some of our most memorable exchanges—such as our initial communication with Nistarini Women’s College in Purulia, West Bengal—have relied solely upon an instructor’s laptop, iPad, or iPhone.
Figure 3. The Macbeths in Purulia, West Bengal, India
Keeping technological requirements as minimal as possible facilitates access with a broad range of institutions and populations. While we still need to confront practical issues, such as time zone differences and varying curricula and exam schedules, therefore, we embrace the joys and frustrations accompanying widely available videoconferencing platforms, such as Skype and FaceTime.
Collaborating with the WSP often leads, however, to expanded technological resources at our partnering institutions, as our affiliation with Université Hassan II Ben M’sik in Casablanca, Morocco demonstrates. In this instance, the WSP traveled to Morocco in late February, 2012, in order to assess local interest in the project. Since we were working predominantly with Hindu communities in India at this time, it seemed appropriate to explore collaborative possibilities with an Islamic institution. At Hassan II, we encountered an enthusiastic group of students, who relished the opportunity to perform scenes from Shakespeare, even though this drama is not currently a regular part of their curriculum. They also eagerly participated in classroom discussions with students in Atlanta, where both groups confessed ignorance about each other’s cultural and educational circumstances. While the Moroccan technological infrastructure was limited, electronic challenges were offset by the collective energy contributed by actively engaged students on both sides of the Atlantic. These international dialogues also reflected what Jay Caulfield (2011) identifies as the power of learning that integrates a “blended classroom” with “online and experiential activities”:
A learner constructs knowledge primarily through dialogue. It is a process whereby the learner internalizes what is being learned by finding a personal application for the new concepts while determining the worthiness of those concepts. (21)
Technology did not enable a “perfect” dialogue, but it did offer students the opportunity to put this Shakespearean study into a context that made sense to them.
In addition, the technological landscape at Hassan II soon changed. Traveling back to Morocco in order to facilitate class meetings during Emory’s inaugural intensive, three-week “Maymester” term, the WSP encountered a completely different technological landscape. Inspired by classroom links with Emory, Université Hassan II had generated sufficient governmental support to institute immediate and extensive upgrades to their facilities. In contrast to the outdated computer used during connections in early March, the May class sessions enjoyed state-of-the-art equipment housed in newly renovated classrooms. As this clip indicates, the local technological support team enthusiastically welcomed these changes, which opened up a host of new electronic possibilities for their campus. As remarkable as this transformation at Hassan II was, the WSP finds that this kind of renewed investment in technology often accompanies institutional involvement in our cross-cultural educational partnerships.
[youtube width=”700″ height=”394″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvFgaM1eoCk[/youtube]
The technological advances enjoyed in Casablanca and elsewhere resulted from the enthusiasm generated when WSP participants recognize the exciting possibilities of such connections, even though most WSP interactions take place only for a few short sessions. For several semesters, however, the WSP experimented with lengthier virtual classroom collaborations. In August, 2012, Quarmby began a tenure-track appointment as an assistant professor of English at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is situated on the site of Emory’s original founding in 1836, about thirty-eight miles from the main campus in Atlanta. Serving first- and second-year students only, Oxford College enrolls about 900 students who move to the Atlanta campus to complete their degrees. For three terms after Quarmby relocated from London, UK to Oxford, Georgia, the WSP offered a “Shakespeare in Text and Performance” class simultaneously to students on both campuses. Using a Cisco High-Definition Videoconferencing system, the students were seated in semi-circles in their respective classrooms, forming a virtual Shakespearean “O” (Henry V, Chorus, prologue 13) to provide space for discussion and performance. Screensharing facilitated joint presentations between students in the two locations, while technical crews supported our regular, extended sessions.
For this shared class, we wanted to eschew premiere technology in order to replicate the experience and resources of our non-Emory partners. Unfortunately, technical issues proliferated, threatening to undermine student patience with the vagaries of electronic communication. As a result, we decided to use the sophisticated room system available to us, while concentrating on how best to integrate students from different locations into a unified classroom experience. Concurrently, we enlisted the expertise of Emory’s Educational Analyst Leah Chuchran, who works on developing appropriate assessment tools to monitor student satisfaction and their dismay with this unconventional configuration. Our periodic adjustments in technological practices and philosophies indicate some of the complicated issues emerging during these electronic pedagogical interactions. We still employ many common videoconferencing tools, but remain open to change, as needed. At the moment, WSP connections with domestic and international partners generally occur in distinct modules. Sometimes these sessions include interactions with multiple sites simultaneously, but they are limited to a few days in duration. These structured parameters provide opportunities for students to engage directly with each other during class and afterwards, but they reduce the scope for the frustration that can develop with longer collaborative units. In our experience, the challenge of keeping a three- or four-site connection live and stable for a few classes does not unduly distract students. When the regular Oxford College / Emory College shared meetings began, however, it quickly became clear that students were not prepared for regular electronic disruptions. Typically, students accommodated the occasional audio or visual glitches with apparent good humor; but more frequent or extended interruptions were not patiently tolerated. While the novelty of videoconferencing has not yet worn off completely, it is no longer sufficiently exotic to override student demands for consistently high-quality exchange when they are communicating with a fairly comparable population. Students typically remain relatively sanguine about electronic mishaps when they are linking up with their peers in culturally distinctive locations, but appear to expect a more seamless connection with those close to home. It seems as though distances that cannot be easily traversed without technology generate more patience than the forty miles separating the two Emory classrooms, particularly since those Georgia conversations include students from reasonably similar backgrounds.
As suggested above, the WSP includes a number of separate, but interrelated elements, including site visits, videoconferencing, visiting fellows, and shared guest speakers. Occasionally, students are even able to meet in person, as when two Emory students served as WSP interns for the 2012 International Theatre Festival hosted by our partner university in Casablanca (http://www.fituc.ma). Typically, classes share common features, whether the sessions bring together students from abroad, from American Tribal Colleges, or from the relative proximity of urban or rural Georgia. During sessions with performance exercises, for instance, we solicit a “casting director” from each location, who assigns dramatic roles to students on a campus other than their own. This maneuver offers students a way to participate even if they prefer not to recite aloud. At the same time, it gives everyone a chance to interact and makes the casting process less predictable than it might be if students were choosing from a group they are familiar with. A casting director from Morocco, for example, will not know which American students tend to shy away from discussion and which grab the spotlight whenever possible. In comparatively small gatherings, such as those incorporating Emory College, Oxford College, and Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College, it also allows students to build on their growing knowledge of each other. After a few classes, students can refer to one another by name, rather than identifying each other predominantly by gender and clothing. Such shifts both mark and deepen the level of community feeling that the program strives for. Even before such enriched communication becomes possible, however, students exchange significant information about themselves and their cultural backgrounds that provide insights into their lives and environments, while simultaneously illuminating Shakespeare’s texts. An early class session between Atlanta and Casablanca, for example, focused on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Students in Morocco, who initially were unnecessarily concerned about their level of fluency in English, were emboldened by realizing that Shakespearean vocabulary is difficult even for native speakers of the language. Watching American students struggle with deciphering the surprisingly unfamiliar word “auditor,” for example (Act 1, scene 1), reduced the Casablancan undergraduates’ hesitancy about admitting that there were words in the text they did not know. Soon, a shared willingness to experiment with the unknown brought the students together in a mutual endeavor.
These performance modules invite students to present sight-readings of a given text, an exercise that invariably produces verbal stumbling. After an initial presentation of the lines, the instructors and students start to unravel the chosen passage before the students are invited to offer it again, with their newly found knowledge and insight informing subsequent readings. As Colin Beard and John P. Wilson (2006) note, dramatic exercises such as these can prompt both strategic and fortuitous educational results: “The concept of planned and unplanned learning can be further explored in dramaturgy, which recognizes that learning design and learning outcomes can be both anticipated and unanticipated” (112).
In WSP classes, these modified rehearsal techniques not only increase student comfort with the text, thereby supporting formal curricular goals, but they also open up space for significant unscripted cultural exchanges. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for instance, many of the central characters are fairies. In discussions between the two countries, students are asked to recount their personal knowledge or experience with fairies. Typically, American students offer lighthearted accounts of these creatures. Happily ignoring the darker side of famous “Western” fairies such as Tinkerbell, Emory undergraduates describe fairies as being playful and effervescent. For American students, fairies spark happy childhood memories. In Morocco, however, fairies evoke malevolence and danger. Students there tell stories of modern day security guards abandoning their posts when fairies were reported in the vicinity. For these undergraduates, fairies connote danger. Some of the Moroccan students we’ve encountered express belief in fairies, while others deem them fantastical, but everyone we have spoken to in Morocco categorizes fairies as evil. Shakespeare’s fairies incorporate both playful and malicious tendencies (Act 2, scene 1). Puck, for example, contains a vicious streak that American students generally overlook until this aspect of the character is specifically highlighted, while Moroccan undergraduates often miss the benign traits associated with the Fairy Queen Titania’s followers. Having peers introduce these topics gives them added resonance, however, that cannot be matched by an instructor’s intervention into discussion. After sharing their cultural preconceptions of this otherworldly set of characters, both groups of students recognize complications in the text that were previously hidden.
Figure 4. Université Hassan II Ben-M’sik, Casablanca, Morocco
In addition to incorporating concepts supporting current theories of cognition and learning, the WSP exemplifies what is popularly, though often confusingly, known as “hybrid” or “blended” learning, a model that combines face-to-face interactions with electronic classroom involvement (Caulfield 2011), via such tools as videoconferencing and email. This type of pedagogy offers students ways to partner with each other and with visitors before, after, or instead of, meeting personally. This particular aspect of hybrid learning is something the WSP frequently explores. As noted, this project has received considerable moral and financial support from Emory University, which has wholeheartedly embraced the goals of the project. As part of this close collaboration with the broader university, the WSP has been able to invite a series of significant visitors to its live and virtual class meetings in order to determine how such hybrid interactions might work in different settings. We were honored the past two years, for example, to welcome University Distinguished Professor Sir Salman Rushdie to participate in sessions about Shakespearean drama and for an evening of “on yer feet” scenes where he undertook the role of Iago from Othello, playing opposite a student’s Roderigo.
In addition to performing, Rushdie was able to introduce the unique perspective of one acclaimed writer discussing another. While involving internationally renowned writers in videoconferencing sessions is unusual, the WSP incorporates theatrical and technological professionals in the physical and virtual classrooms as often as possible in order to deepen the impact of each interaction both within and beyond Emory’s physical boundaries. We regularly include international actors and directors in our sessions with overseas and American Indian partners and invite a number of Shakespeare in Prison practitioners, such as Curt Tofteland (Shakespeare Behind Bars) and Tom Magill (Mickey B) to join our classes.
This pedagogical examination of the technology supporting the curriculum is most pronounced in the WSP “Maymester” course offering “International Shakespeare in a New Media World,” which balances a pedagogical focus equally among the “international,” the “Shakespeare,” and the “new media” elements of the course (Jacobs 2012).
[youtube width=”700″ height=”394″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-xmBXmbwMI[/youtube]
The “new media” aspect of the syllabus includes readings, guest speakers, and assignments designed to encourage student engagement with both theoretical and practical aspects of electronic communication. During these discussions, introducing the trajectory leading from 19th century international telegraphy to Skype often transforms students’ understanding of how information is communicated and the similar ways that disparate technologies can foster international dialogue. Students typically have never given much sustained thought to the role of technology in their undergraduate educations. In this course, however, they are asked to deepen their familiarity with a diverse range of current and historical technologies and to give thoughtful consideration to philosophical and ethical issues that arise when these media are implemented. They are concurrently required to make individual connections with international students and others that enrich their Shakespeare work as they grapple with intersections between the drama and their cultural differences. With rare exceptions, these transnational conversations involve ICT (information communication technology), whether the students communicate through phone, email, or videoconferencing. The course also includes discussions and writing assignments exploring the ways that both media and internationalization transform Shakespearean drama.
The final student project assignment guides participants in drawing together these varied course components. Students are asked to use “new” media to create an internationalized Shakespearean product in conjunction with a standard academic essay whereby they present and analyze the electronic, international, and Shakespearean material that led to their creation. Some students fashion electronic books, score operatic compositions, or make movies. Others find innovative ways to bridge cultural and academic divides through multiple media. In one instance, a Mexican and a Korean student joined forces in order to make a complex image merging Macbeth with an Aztec calendar. They then decided to emulate Shepard Fairey by posting copies of their art at different points in Atlanta, using Emory as the epicenter of a four-quadrant grid. Once the posters were hung, they waited for people to view the art, then interviewed passersby about their reactions to the drawing. Finally, in addition to writing the assigned analytical essay, they filmed and edited a documentary video that recounted their process and included segments of their interviews, including a conversation about Macbeth with a local self-described witch.
Figure 5. Aztec Calendar Macbeth
Given that the entire semester lasted only three weeks (with intensive daily meetings), the students’ projects and the analysis they offered were remarkable. By the end of the short term, Emory students in this course had spoken with people in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and the Middle East, while engaging in serious consideration about the ways that Shakespeare, the world, and new modes of electronic communication intersect. As the image below suggests, such international interactions consistently generated enthusiastic responses. These students from Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina, joined the WSP in live sessions in 2013, then performed and discussed Shakespeare for the next two years via videoconferencing with Emory students. Students in each location requested email addresses so that they could continue their conversations privately.
Figure 6. Universidad Del Salvador, Buenos Aires, Argentina
The WSP remains an evolving entity, but the significant progress made since its relatively recent inception suggests that this approach to cooperative, international electronic education holds great promise. Now that many WSP links are well established, we look forward to expanding the number of partners we can effectively communicate with simultaneously and to increasing the ways that students from the diverse participating institutions can work collaboratively. We recently submitted a grant proposal, for instance, to develop partnerships with universities in Ethiopia. We know, of course, that any shifts in or additions to our collaborations or our techniques will introduce new issues that will need to be addressed. Our commitment to international technological and pedagogical cooperation creates both opportunities and pitfalls. The modern electronic technology journey continues to provide a host of challenges and possibilities that the WSP hopes to confront productively. As Shakespeare might have said, the course of true learning never did run smooth, but the opportunities for global educational exchange continue to stimulate pedagogical advancements. The intersection of Shakespeare and videoconferencing portends a dynamic pedagogical future.
Altbach, Philip G. 2007. “Globalization and Forces for Change in Higher Education.” International Higher Education. The Boston College Center for International Education. Number 50. OCLC 62585048. http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/research_sites/cihe/pdf/IHEpdfs/ihe50.pdf
Beard, Colin and John P. Wilson 2006. Experiential Learning. London: Kogan Page. OCLC 71145611.
Caine, Renate Nummela and Geoffrey Caine. 1994. Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley. OCLC 30475673.
Cartelli, Thomas. 1987. “Prospero in Africa: The Tempest as Colonialist Text and Pretext.” In Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology, edited by Jean E. Howard and Marion F. O’Connor. New York: Methuen. 99-115. OCLC 15790380.
Caulfield, Jay. 2011. How to Design and Teach a Hybrid Course. Sterling, VA: Stylus. OCLC 750943378.
Emorysummerprograms. 2012. “International Shakespeare in a New Media World.” Sheila T. Cavanagh and Kevin Quarmby. Maymester, Emory University. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDhqA73ISpg.
Gladieux, Lawrence E. 1999. “Global Online Learning: Hope or Hype.” International Higher Education: The Boston College Center for International Higher Education. Number 18. OCLC 62585048. http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/research_sites/cihe/pdf/IHEpdfs/ihe18.pdf.
Guo, Ling. 2012. “Research Funds Available for Faculty Research in All Disciplines.” Emory Report. May 30. http://news.emory.edu/stories/2012/05/er_university_research_committee_funding/campus.html
Halle Institute. 2012. “World Shakespeare Project.” http://halleinstitute.emory.edu/research/world_shakespeare_project/.
Jacobs, Hal. 2012. “Skyping Shakespeare.” Emory Quadrangle. Accessed 25 September, 2014. http://www.college.emory.edu/home/news/quadrangle/2012fall/pages12_15.html.
Peters, Michael A. with Tina Besley. 2006. Building Knowledge Cultures: Education and Development in the Age of Knowledge Capitalism (Critical Education Policy and Politics). New York: Rowman and Littlefield. OCLC 62322201.
Semali, Ladislaus and Joe L. Kincheloe, eds. 1999. What is Indigenous Knowledge? Voices from the Academy. New York: Falmer Press. OCLC 52467562.
Shakespeare, William. 1986. The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press. OCLC 15548918.
Spring, Joel H. 2000. The Universal Right to Education: Justification, Definition, and Guidelines. Mahwah, N.J.: Laurence Erlbaum Associates. OCLC 45732162.
Wikipedia Contributors. 2014. “Shepard Fairey.” In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 24 September, 20:09 UTC. Accessed 25 September. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Shepard_Fairey&oldid=626939361.
World Shakespeare Project. Directed by Sheila T. Cavanagh. http://www.worldshakespeareproject.org.
 Quarmby is no longer participating in the WSP, but we appreciate his involvement in the early development of this project. We also thank all the educational technologists at Emory who support the WSP, including Jason Brewer, Brenda Rockswold, Barbara Brandt, Wayne Morse, Jr., Stewart Varner, and numerous others. Emory’s ongoing commitment to this project is gratefully acknowledged.
 Long after I received my PhD, Emory provided support for me to complete a Master’s Degree focused on cognition and learning through the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Teaching Excellence. I wish to acknowledge both Emory and UNH with gratitude.
 In an effort to support future innovation, all theses sessions are recorded. The students sign consent waivers, so that a pedagogical archive can be fashioned while simultaneously serving immediate teaching goals.
 Classes in India and Morocco tend to include dozens of students. Class sizes in Argentina vary considerably between institutions: some class sessions include a handful of Argentinean students; others fill an auditorium. At the two Emory campuses, the WSP Shakespeare courses are limited to 20 students per site. The drama class linking Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College with the WSP was a new course, specifically established in order to facilitate this partnership, with only a handful of students enrolled. Our Tribal College collaborators, Cankdeska Cikana Tribal College in North Dakota (http://www.littlehoop.edu) and Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College in Michigan, have total student populations that comprise no more than 200 students. Currently, we are working with Scott Jackson of Shakespeare Notre Dame in order to further our Tribal College initiative, which is being supported by the Royal Society of the Arts (http://www.blog.rsa-us.org/2013/05/the-world-shakespeare-project-received-challenge-grant/).
Leila Walker wrote a new blog post Inspiring Student Engagement with Technology in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 week, 2 days ago
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Leila Walker edited the blog post How (Not) to Plan Your Entire Course in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 5 months, 1 week ago
Chris Friend, Saint Leo University
How can we involve our students in syllabus planning?
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Leila Walker wrote a new post, Digital Technologies and the Transformation of the Academic Conference: An Experiment, on the site Independent Study Projects 10 months, 3 weeks ago
ITP student Benjamin Haber (Sociology) reflects on his independent study project
With some notable exceptions, academic conferences have remained largely unmoved by the digital technologies of the twenty-first century. PowerPoint feels like the last technology to really disrupt the conference form, and the aesthetics and rhythms of that program have become so pervasive that it can feel more exciting just to hear people read. Of course, livestreaming and video rebroadcasting of conference sessions are becoming more popular, and Twitter seems to play an ever-larger role in conference interaction and communication, but these technologies have largely functioned to expand the audience for academic ideas and conversations (an important goal, of course) while leaving the structural form and affective tone of the conference itself relatively intact. In other words while conferences have slowly begun to utilize digital technologies to bring scholarly research and ideas to new publics, they have largely failed at using these technologies to transform the academic conference itself, a form that is in desperate need of reinvention.
In this paper I explore a project that in its own small way attempts to leverage digital technologies to transform the experience of the conference itself. It is my hope that doing so shows both the potential for networked digital technologies to transform the in-person work of academic life, while also highlighting the challenges of these transformations, both in terms of design and implementation as well as resistance by users to new forms of academic scholarship and unpaid labor.
Theory and Design
For this project, my colleague Christina Nadler and I have designed an interactive online environment to facilitate scholarly communication prior to an in-person seminar meeting. While the typical seminar format involves distributing readings on a topic that then get discussed in person, we thought that an interactive online platform would allow the for a more productive and enjoyable face-to-face meeting by focusing the conversation on the theories and practices that most interest the participants. This is particularly the case because the topic of the seminar we are leading, Animality, is a still emerging, interdisciplinary academic movement whose contours will be in large part defined by the research and theory produced under this banner. Thus, rather than focusing discussion on readings that reflect our interests as seminar leaders, we decided to organize the discussion around a wiki comprised of ten keywords, populated by seminar participants with academic texts, reflections, discussion, media and art that reflect the collective research interests of the group.
Trying to strike a balance between creating a useable structure and keeping discussion open-ended we defined the ten keywords but tried to keep them as expansive as possible: Biopolitics, Slaughter, Race, Civilization, Pedagogy, Bodies & Environment, Domestication, Biotechnology, Digital, Art. We picked words that were major terms in the discourses of animal studies and cultural studies but also words that were of significance in popular culture. Our hope is that the interconnected but divergent applications of these concepts in popular and academic discourses offer productive points of generation. However, the inclusion of these particular ten words is to some extent arbitrary and guided by our own interdisciplinary histories so we fully expect that some words will attract more interest than others. If this project continues after the conference perhaps some words will fall away and others will emerge.
We asked each of the seminar participants to “bottom-line” two of these subtopics, but encouraged them to participate widely by adding content to any of the keywords they felt inspired to take on. We have also enabled CommentPress on the wiki to offer another avenue for participation, for those who may want to comment on certain additions or subtractions from the wiki through marginalia. CommentPress is an open-source project, as well as a WordPress plugin and theme, designed to turn static documents into interactive conversations through in-text commenting.
This ongoing wiki was to form the basis of our in-person conversation at the Cultural Studies Association’s Annual Meeting in late May of this year. A few days prior to the conference, Christina and I would review the wiki and come up with a number of structuring questions, focusing on points of convergence and contention, opportunities for future research and praxis, and interactions between academic research, activism and cultural production. This would allow us to tailor the seminar to the concerns of the participants in a way not possible in a traditional seminar format, but as important it gave participants the opportunity to get familiar with the particular discursive styles and research interests of those who they will be talking with. Our hope was that this would prove to be particularly helpful in an interdisciplinary seminar where differences in the ways of talking and theorizing about similar topics can alienate participants and derail conversations.
In addition to the wiki, our site has a CommentPress enabled blog where participants are able to post their original research for commentary and constructive criticism. This feature foregrounds what is still the most important and often the most alienating part of academia—publishing. A seminar is theoretically a perfect opportunity to make connections with people who are doing similar research as you, but the ephemeral nature of these meetings often prevents this from happening in reality. By stretching the amount of time spent with participants, and adding to the points of interaction, the site perhaps makes the networking benefits of conferences a bit more tangible. The blog itself offers a mechanism for feedback with a built in audience of receptive, knowledgeable scholars who, better than most, can reflect and critique works-in-progress prior to sending them out for publication.
The blog works in tandem with the wiki. While the wiki allows the development of intertwining genealogies of interest and theoretical inspiration, the blog shows the specific work that participants are doing. Participants were asked to initially post their animality-related conference abstracts to the blog, with longer pieces to come later. It is likely that the blog will become more useful as participants use the site more and become more comfortable with other seminar participants. The initial request for abstracts rather than articles was in part in order to create a “safe space” online where participants could get comfortable through a gradual sharing of work and ideas.
CommentPress has been used to tremendous effect in a couple of high-profile cases, perhaps most notably with Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence, whose success as a CommentPress case study was in no small measure due to the subject of the manuscript (the future of academic publishing). Though Fitzpatrick outlines many of the barriers to the mass adoption of the technologies of open peer-review, one of the most significant hindrances to making this work in practice involves finding a scholarly community and creating structures of accountability to other’s work. While Fitzpatrick suggests that the technologies of the internet will facilitate this sorting into communities of interest (2011, 17), it is clear that this remains one of the ideals of digital technologies that at best has only been embryonically realized. By integrating these technologies with in-person conference meetings (for many academics the only opportunity to engage with scholars outside of their university), our hope is that projects like this can speed up the process of academic community making. As the university becomes increasingly interdisciplinary, while still organizationally structured through and around disciplines, the creation of new forms of scholarly community will only increase in importance, especially for graduate students just beginning to find their place in the academy.
Our site was built using Wordpress-based plugins and hosted on Opencuny.org. Our construction decisions were mostly practical, driven by the resources at our disposal and the constraints imposed by the short window of time between our invitation to lead a seminar and the conference itself. It would not be unreasonable to see this as a test-run or a prototype that if successful could be customized and further developed for future conferences.
Opencuny.org is the student-run, open-source, online community for the CUNY Graduate Center. We looked at variety of platforms, including the CUNY Academic Commons and running Wordpress on a privately hosted site, but Opencuny offered both unbeatable affordability (free!) and the versatility afforded by Christina’s position as an administrator. The administrative access proved to be particularly important as it allowed us to install plugins not already approved for general use (like the wiki plugin), and most importantly allowed us to add people to the site who are not academically affiliated with the Graduate Center (only one other seminar participant besides Christina and me are CUNY students).
We decided to use the CommentPress theme to structure our site, reasoning that the ability to comment on blocks of text would be useful for all components of our site. On top of that theme we activated the Wiki plugin in order to support the interactive keywords component of the site. This proved to be a more technically complicated and less elegant solution than we would have hoped. While in theory the wiki plugin works fine with the CommentPress theme, in practice the wiki periodically deactivated itself with compatibility issues. While we have been able to get the site back online, those with less technical skills and administrative access would likely have not. More importantly, as I will discuss later, its ongoing technical glitches undermined participant’s confidence in the site. In addition to technical problems, we ran into the restrictions of working with pre-existing software. For example, the free version of the wiki plugin is not set up to allow easily embedded video, making that portion of the site less aesthetically rich and media diverse. In short, we encountered the common problems of Wordpress incompatibilities and the limitations of working with free software.
It was important for us to use already existing Wordpress plugins because we wanted to explore the possibilities for creative and transformational digital projects for those with only the most minimal of technical skills. While it would be ideal if many scholars in the humanities and social sciences had the technical skills to build and utilize digital tools, this is unfortunately not yet the case, despite a flood of interest and capital into the Digital Humanities and “big data.” Alongside a new push to give academics outside of the computer sciences the digital literacy needed to be “makers,” should be a concerted effort to highlight the many simple, free and cheap tools that are widely available and can help academics make their work more interesting, more accessible and more interactive.
The most pressing and immediately evident challenge to this project’s success is one shared by many innovations in online communication—the labor problem. It is all well and good for me to write about the potential for this platform to make conferences more interesting and useful, but at the end of the day, this way of running a seminar requires the sustained work of all participants for it to be successful. While you basically can get the work of a traditional seminar done on the plane ride to the conference, this mode of pre-conference engagement requires ongoing intellectual labor, and just as important, the affective labor of making yourself vulnerable to your peers.
The magnitude of this challenge became evident right away. After sending multiple emails asking participants to join the site, we finally managed to get everyone signed up a little more than a week after the site went live. Asking people to post their abstracts and begin to populate the wiki initially was met with a tepid response- two weeks after the site went live only about half of seminar participants had put any content on the site at all. In part this can be explained by the amount of time between site launch and conference. Despite our enthusiasm for this project, academics are asked to manage an increasingly daunting array of projects and contributing to a seminar that is almost two months away is likely not high on that list.
This put Christina and me in the awkward position of having to be enforcers of a certain level of production when paradoxically one of the goals of this project was to decentralize the seminar experience. Indeed, one of the weaknesses of this project is the incompatibility of ownership over the site and the ideas it represents. In other words, the collectivizing intention of this site has been hampered by the centralized way it was conceived and designed. In hindsight, it probably would have been better to have collectively formulated the plans for the design and construction of the site to whatever extent possible. For example, rather than coming up with the ten keywords ourselves, we could have utilized a Doodle poll to both solicit words and vote on which ones to include. More fundamentally we could have proposed this unconventional approach to a seminar and put it up for discussion rather than unilaterally implementing it.
Since perhaps two months is too much time for seminar participants, we decided to wait until May 1st for any further gently prodding emails. Perhaps concentrating the energy of participants into a smaller period of time would prove to be wise. In my experience as both a professor and student I have noticed an increasingly pervasive inability to do work well before a deadline (among both my most and least motivated students and peers) that perhaps is the attention deficient condition of the twenty-first century—the cultural equivalent to just-in-time manufacturing and high-frequency trading (see Randy Martin’s recent article on the “Social Logics of the Derivative” ).
In any case, this project highlights the way that for many academics, digital tools and online interactions feel like unpaid labor and increasingly like very high stakes unpaid labor. While for some Twitter is a fun and casual tool for speaking their mind and engaging with others, for academics it is serious business, yet another space where our already perilous career paths can be made or unmade. The Digital Humanities both relieves and exacerbates this problem. By treating our online activities as labor, Digital Humanities perhaps provides a platform for recognizing and renumerating what is now by and large unpaid labor. But in its larger pull on the academy—by increasing the pressure to engage on ever-multiplying platforms in various ways while teaching loads and adjunct hiring continue to rise in tandem—it can increase the expectations of scholars in an academy in flux.
To return to this project, what I want to emphasize is that getting seminar participants to contribute to this site is exhorting them not only to participate in unremunerated labor, but also a certain kind of digital affective labor that most of us receive no training for. Every academic knows the work of (good) college teaching or presenting at a conference, while often extremely rewarding, is particularly taxing because of the affective labor involved. Getting seminar members to participate is asking them to not only post things to a website, but to subject themselves to scrutiny, to quickly engage with other academics at a high intellectual level, to master the difficult art of gentle critique, among other tasks. How do we convince ourselves and others that the rewards of online engagement are worth the real costs of participation?
In part the answer lies in the gap between the increasingly digital, collaborative and generally non-textual production of academia in the 21st century and the still old school ways of representing our academic accomplishments. Graduate students in particular are forced to straddle an academic hiring system that still relies on the credentialing system of the twentieth century—namely peer-review publishing in print academic journals—while increasingly emphasizing the need to use digital tools to do things in public. Until we find ways to more fully and equitably compensate academics for the new kinds of academic scholarship we are doing, we at least need new ways to get credit for our work. Maybe we need to add new and strange sounding sections to our CV’s (“Digital Collaborative Curation” perhaps?) until they start seeming less new and less strange.
Successes and Failures
While this was certainly a worthwhile experiment on the possibilities of new digitally facilitated collaboration, problems both technical and structural in nature limited the success of this project. Most pressingly perhaps were technical glitches on the site that we were unable to fully resolve and unfamiliarity and uncomfortably with the format both of which limited participant engagement. However, the site was effective in giving seminar members a better sense of the other participants and their work and by providing a novel digital space for informal collaboration that encompassed both academic and popular media. With some technical and organizational modifications, this project could provide a template for using simple digital tools to facilitate more productive and engaging seminars.
While most seminar participants had participated in building the site content by the time of the in-person meeting, the level of engagement did not meet our expectations. While some conversations or discussions did occur on the site—mostly relating to the abstracts posted on the blog—engagement with others work was the exception rather than the norm. More common were posts and comments that made interesting connections or asked compelling questions but did not cohere into a discussion. While this is part reflected the short time period between when people started participating in earnest and the conference itself, there were also concerns both structural and affective that limited sustained engagement.
In the seminar meeting at the conference, some participants expressed a hesitance to post that was part technical and part affective—a waiting to see what others posted, unsure of how this was going to go, unclear if it was worth the effort—kind of reticence. Because of the novelty of the form it took a while for the particularized style, tone and content of the site to cohere. While nobody mentioned this in the meeting specifically (we only had time for brief comments at the end of the seminar on the participant’s experience of the site), I suspect some of this hesitance has to do with a general chaffing at the increasing demands that digital participation places on academics, along with a not unreasonable fear that communication on the internet is more likely to be negative and unproductive than in-person conversations. Indeed, in informal conversations many academics have told me they are disengaging from the big two proprietary “social media” platforms at least in part because of the groaningly unpleasant affect that in particular seems to poison conversations between strangers. Now that many of the seminar participants have met and talked in person, I suspect the affective barriers to participation will lessen.
There was also some disappointment that the website and the seminar meeting were not as integrated as they could be. In part this was because while the media posted to the website represented the broad theoretical and thematic interests of the seminar participants, we wanted to focus our in-person conversation on possible common ground—both practical and theoretical—and thus spent a large portion of the conversation discussing what animality is in the context of Cultural Studies and other disciplines. That said, perhaps we were not as successful as we hoped in imbuing the spirit of the site into the conversation.
Also mentioned by participants was a structural problem with the website, by which I mean the lack of a temporal structure of engagement. In other words, many thought the site would be more effective if instead of a nebulous wiki-style slow build of content, we structured it around time sensitive topics. In hindsight, this would have been a far more preferable way to structure the wiki—rather than picking the ten keywords, we could have had participants both pick and bottom line a new word on a weekly basis. That would have defined a more concrete structure of participation and would concentrate most of the labor of posting into one week. Because of the technical glitches of the site—which seem to be a compatibility problem between the CommentPress theme and our plugins—after the conference we changed the theme in order to host future conversations in a more decentralized and time-sensitive manner.
All that said I consider this project to be a success. Most participants liked the idea of the site, and had we been able to work out the technical glitches before the conference, I think participation would have been more robust. Numerous people indicated that it was helpful as a way to get to know the other participants, and that they liked having a centralized space for learning about other people doing similar work. Seminar participants also highlighted that they particularly liked the opportunities it opened up for humor, non-textual media and non-academic articles. It’s easy to imagine this site as a sort of third-space between the academic and popular worlds of cultural studies, which combines the best aspects of both kinds of communication.
While the failures of this project seem to outnumber the successes on paper, my hope is that the failures are ones of growth, and that this experiment contributes towards conversations about new and better ways of integrating the digital and the fleshy in the service of innovative collaborative academic research. There are always hiccups in major transitions, and academia’s quickening reorganization by the digital will not be smooth or uncomplicated. The more we get comfortable as both participants and creators of digital tools the better they will become, and the quicker we will move from seeing these kinds of projects as novel experiments to seeing them as the new mundane that we then look to overcome.
Integrating digital tools into pedagogical and research practice is not simply a project of acquiring technological skill. The increasing calls to digitize academia come along with a variety of affective, labor and social implications that deserve more attention as money and attention flood to digital initiatives. While this project has shown that technical barriers (both real and perceived) can and do hinder the adoption of digital tools, it also highlights the need to ask new questions about the digital academy: How can we design and utilize the digital in ways that don’t exacerbate (and ideally ameliorate) the labor demands that have been so acutely piling up in late capitalism? What new feelings and capacities do these new technological circuits encourage, and how do we mindfully incorporate these affects into our discussions of the digital academy? What do our in-person academic encounters lack, and what new digital tools can be useful in making meetings, conferences and classrooms more interesting, productive and collaborative? How do academic systems of hiring, promotion and funding stifle experiments in integrating the digital into pedagogy and research?
I hope our project has suggested speculative answers to some of these rhetorical questions. At the core of many of them is the suggestion that more digital tools and projects should emerge from conversations about what is not working about academia. Indeed, framing conversations about “digital making” around the possibilities of a more vibrant and compelling academic life would be an easy way to accelerate the process of interesting those faculty and students whose work does not focus with technology into participating in digital projects. If these kinds of experiments (even failed ones) become more widespread it will go a long ways towards recognizing them as labor (and thus deserving of remuneration and professional acknowledgement) but also recognizing that they can make the in-person experiences of academic life more enjoyable, creative and vibrant.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. New York: New York University Press, 2011. Print.
Martin, Randy. “After Economy?: Social Logics of the Derivative.” Social Text 31.1 114 (2013): 83–106. Print.
ITP student (James) Anderson Evans (MALS) reflects on his independent study project
Addressing the Need for Technical Pedagogy in the Digital Humanities
The purpose of this paper is to address the need for digitally malleable forms of pedagogy, the technical and mechanical forms of scholarship practiced in the Digital Humanities as they might be addressed through “Gentle Introductions.” As Digital Humanities becomes a more recognized area of interest within higher education, approaches to its more challenging technical aspects need to be addressed. This paper will describe the concept of an ideal resource (referred to herein as the Gentle Introduction Resource or simply GIR), critique current resources that demonstrate the need for such a resource, and describe initial implementation of the GIR’s infrastructure.
What is a Gentle Introduction?
Gentle Introductions vary by author, but they typically provide clear, introductory information on specific technical, scientific, or computational concepts that can be engaging even to an audience that has no prior knowledge of the subject under discussion. This does not mean they do not provide a roadmap toward experimentation, but they can be key in reaching a place of initiation and understanding as to what specific strengths and weaknesses a complicated method or technique might involve.
Why do we need a Gentle Introduction Resource?
Presently most gentle introductions must be sought out specifically. For instance, to find a gentle introduction to XSLT transformations one must use specific search queries like “XSLT gentle introductions,” in a search engine. The foresight to engage this search suggests that one has already moved beyond gentle introductions to be aware of a niche acronym such as XSLT.
II: The Gentle Introduction Resource (GIR)
History of Gentle Introductions
The “Gentle Introduction” moniker for layman introduction to high-level technical concepts is not new, and there is something quietly vintage about it. This explicit descriptor can be found in academic articles at least as far back as the early-1960s. In running a Google scholar search the earliest articles I found apply “Gentle introductions” to a range of technical concepts from probability and statistics in the early 1960s to programming PASCAL-like languages in the 1980s .
A particularly deft, and more recent self-proclaimed “Gentle Introduction,” came in University of Pittsburgh Professor David J. Birnbaum’s approach to XML or eXtensible Markup Language. Birnbaum takes the time to present a contextual, clear, and engaging discussion about how the markup is used in the context of Digital Humanities, not making the choice so many make and launching right into static, aggressive instruction. He is able to speak about XML as it relates to other, more conventional topics, such as university departments and foundational uses. When he does speak of XML in and of itself, he does so with terms that make its definition digestible, not more difficult.
XML is a formal model that is based on an ordered hierarchy, or, in technical
informatic terms, a tree. It consists of a root (which contains everything else), the
components under the root, which contain their own subcomponents, etc. These
components and subcomponents are called nodes. (Birnbaum 2012)
Compare Birnbaum’s quote with the first entry that results when “XML” is queried in Google.
XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language.
XML is designed to transport and store data.
XML is important to know, and very easy to learn.
This quote from the w3schools.com website is followed immediately with code. While XML is indeed a form of markup that is very human readable, and in some cases self explanatory, contextually this fast-and-dirty introduction fails the student attempting to engage with foreign subject matter. This blurb treats XML like a product, something a strong Gentle Introduction like David Birnbaum’s would never do
While I don’t yet have hard data illustrating exactly how many present day graduate-level humanities academics are familiar with “Gentle Introductions,” from my own experience, most are not familiar with it as an over-arching concept. Even those who have been assigned a “Gentle Introduction” often think this is a clever way to title a tutorial, not realizing that the offering fits into a genre bigger than the concept central to their reading.
In November 1991 the commercial publishing industry came up with a title that proved far more marketable than “Gentle Introduction”: “For Dummies.” This moniker is already problematic not just in its tongue-in-cheek insult to its audience, but in its forced separation of the layman from the expert. Instead of introducing the layman to the infinite progression through a technical topic, it establishes a road block to the depth of understanding a layman should think of himself or herself of being capable.
Even while the first “For Dummies” offering, titled DOS for Dummies was indeed a technical concept exploration, the title proved lucrative enough to effortlessly flow into almost all facets of understanding from quilting to line dancing. These books, and the channels through which they are distributed, were (and are) often written by academic experts, yet it would be startling to see them assigned in academic syllabi. The books are typically colloquial to a fault, and in my own experience their quality is low, and they go on at length examining concepts that could be expressed with far greater brevity.
The bulk of technical instruction utilized by both the layman and the expert are now found on the Internet. While official “Dummies” books are still being written and distributed, these are titles that are still primarily print-based, and the concept, a book “for Dummies,” is now a proprietary concept. In the world of free and open Creative Commons scholarship distribution this moniker is not available, but I would suggest that this is, in fact, a good thing.
It seems that, at least within the niched community of academia, the “Gentle Introduction” is coming back into vogue. As the scholar’s library becomes increasingly web-based, opportunities for scholars, students, and learners to engage in free and open scholarship have flourished. Without having to engage in the traditionally slow model of academic publishing, academics themselves can use their computers and personal devices to relay scholarship with immediacy. Peter Suber writes about the advantages of Open Source and Open Access scholarship in Open Access, giving numerous reasons that such models of scholarship are more practical and ethical than outmoded forms still often clung to in the present day academy. Suber lays out an argument with 15 tenants describing why traditional peer-reviewed publishing model is no longer sustainable (Suber 2012, 29-43), and then at great length describes a system, already in play, that disseminates knowledge far more quickly with legal frameworks protecting content producers intellectual property, but allowing them to share their knowledge quickly and without cost (Suber 2012, 77-147). Scholars hoping to engage students and the general public with programming competencies, are posting new “Gentle Introductions” at regular intervals. Schools like MIT are using Open Access models through their OpenCourseware programs, publishing an entire semester’s worth of Gentle Introduction pedagogy. If ever there was a prescient time to aggregate as many quality Gentle Introductions into one location, it would seem that time is now.
Doing The Digital Humanities
From beneath the rising umbrella discipline of “Digital Humanities,” in which humanities scholars search for ways to inject digital/computational methodologies into humanities scholarship, the distribution of pedagogically sound introductions has become essential. Ways of wrangling the vast number of introductions (gentle or otherwise) that could prove useful has been a major handicap to the discipline, leading to more arguments about how essential or necessary specific technical methods are than to paths of artisanal exploration. This is perhaps best illustrated by the provocative debate that grew from Stephen Ramsay’s insistence during the 2011 MLA Conference that one could not be a digital humanist without sufficient programming knowledge. As a Master’s candidate for a degree in this discipline I hope to offer a theoretical solution to gently addressing this problem in ways that I believe others have failed to do.
Critiquing Bamboo DiRT Wiki
In the introductory course to Digital Humanities at CUNY Graduate Center taught by Professor Matt Gold, a DH expert, my fellow graduate students and I were introduced to “Bamboo DiRT Wiki.” This resource was constructed by a team of more than 16 credentialed university members, overseen by five highly respected institutions, and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The “About” section of the Bamboo DiRT site reads:
Bamboo DiRT is a tool, service, and collection registry of digital research tools for scholarly use. Developed by Project Bamboo, Bamboo DiRT is an evolution of Lisa Spiro’s DiRT wiki and makes it easy for digital humanists and others conducting digital research to find and compare resources ranging from content management systems to music OCR, statistical analysis packages to mindmapping software.
The mission of Bamboo DiRT seems to be an admirable one, yet I feel that it illustrates a misstep by the humanities community at large in its attempt to work digitally. Many humanists currently feel secure beneath a blanket of software packages and suites that seem to remove the necessity of core computational skillsets and many DHers move forward with complete ignorance as to what makes these pieces of software work under the hood. I am not so bold as to suggest that a digital humanist should have technical expertise that mirrors that of the computer scientist, but without deeper understanding of how utilized software works, there is a damning amount of ignorance that makes its way into the traditional humanities scholarship synthesized with digital components. The scholarship reveals its flaws in the published online works of insufficiently educated practitioners. If software contains bugs, or is constructed erroneously, the digital humanist without deep understanding of the core software processes is taking the dangerous risk of communicating flawed results. This creaties risk not only in the scholar’s own research, but also for the DH community at large.
The issues with Bamboo DiRT as I see them can be narrowed to three specific complaints:
Filter failure: the pure bulk of software this site attempts to connect its users to becomes more of a hindrance to organization than a help. Even with use of tagging and metadata, the 30 DH-themed sections prove to be far too broad to encapsulate the sheer number of offerings. In many cases, hardly comparable software packages are pushed together without enoughexplanation for the uninitiated to grasp their differences. This is a problem throughout the internet, often appearing to the less informed as “Information Overload.” Such problems have been more appropriately termed by NYU Professor Clay Shirky issues of “filter failure”.
Interface: The Bamboo DiRT interface suggests that software does specific things that the software linked to within the resource may or may not do. There is little to no room for users to give feedback and keep the most useful items visible.
Pedagogy: Pedagogical write-ups of the specifically academic/DH software usage are completely ignored.
This critique focuses on Bamboo Dirt Wiki not because it is the only DH Resource suffering from issues in thorough digital pedagogy as utility, but because of the initial attention it has garnered and the fact that it has been generously funded.
The Gentle Introduction Resource does not look to replace a site like Bamboo DiRT, but rather to serve as a supplement to such digital spaces that offer access to useful tools. The GIR will give scholars a network in which to share their initial explorations and forays into both digital and humanistic study.
The Gentle Introduction Resource Design (Initial)
The GIR’s design will begin it’s alpha testing as a twitter clone built in Ruby on Rails. When initially prototyping the early versions I attempted to make a useful site in pure HTML and CSS, but found this approach lacking, especially in terms of expandability and longevity. In the span of six months I moved through the following frameworks as a higher level solution to basic html:
Flask, PythonAnywhere, and Django – These frameworks are all based on the Python computer language. In experimenting with these frameworks I made some major strides in my own understanding of how computer language is communicated from the user to the machine and back to the user. I hit several roadblocks in deploying these frameworks in the public sphere, primarily because of the difficulty in uploading the local SQL database. The SQL database is the component necessary to allow registered users individualized participation on the site.
Ruby on Rails – I was hesitant to put away the Python and begin working with Ruby, but I was surprised with the relative simplicity of the Ruby on Rails framework. I don’t believe I would have found it accessible if I had not first labored over several projects using Python. The Ruby language is an Object Oriented language just like Python, and many of the rules that I learned when implementing Python allowed for a seamless transition into Ruby. While the differences between Ruby and Python are plentiful, the Ruby language has a supportive online community that has helped me push past the challenges I was unable to overcome with the available Python web frameworks.
As I have indicated, I chose Ruby on Rails as the framework to move forward with and have initiated the design of the GIR to parallel that of the twitter network. By creating a database more focused on the community invited to use the service, there is a stronger understanding of what the developing needs of the DH community engaged with the GIR actually might be. By crowd sourcing a list of pedagogical writings on topical tools and methods that explain both the foundations of DH software offerings and higher level academic software packages a digital space can be created showing and telling DH scholars about what is initially foreign and anxiety inducing.
Using the mediaCommons project, InMediaRes, as inspiration, I plan to create a membership system based on academic credentials. Members would be able to add Gentle Introductions to their personalized data stream, and moderators would be able to add these introductions to a regularly updated blog featuring the most useful Gentle Intros shared in the universal site’s data stream feed.
Finally it should be said, all linked Gentle Introductions would be in either the public domain or distributed under a Creative Commons License.
This GIR proposal is not set in stone, and any time proposals meet the realities of implementation there are usually concessions that have to be made. That said, it is of key importance that in the implementation phase, critiques of projects that have come before are reflected upon. The most essential aspect of this proposal is the belief that pedagogy should be a stronger focus than tool resources; That a smaller number of tools engaged with through expert pedagogy is an optimal goal. This project aims to focus on molding the layman into an engaged explorer and eventual expert. This act is far more valuable than access to an aggregation of resources with which the intended audience does not understand how to comfortably engage.
Canelake, Sarina. A Gentle Introduction to Programming Using Python. MIT OpenCourseware. January, 2011. http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-computer-science/6-189-a-gentle-introduction-to-programming-using-python-january-iap-2011/index.htm
Donadio, Rachel. “Dumbing Up.” The New York Times Online. September 24, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/24/books/review/Donadio.t.html
Harpold, Terry. “Screw the Grue: Mediality, Metalepsis, Recapture.” Game Studies 7, no. 1 (2007).
Kasten, Eric. 1995. “HTML: A Gentle Introduction.” Linux Journal 1 (15). Online Version (July): 1–5.
mediaCommons. About. inMediaRes. Accessed May 22, 2013. http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/about
Mosteller, Frederick. “Continental Classroom’s TV Course in Probability and Statistics.” The American Statistician 16, no. 5 (1962): 20-25.
Pattis, Richard E. Karel the robot: a gentle introduction to the art of programming. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1981.
Project Bamboo. Bamboo Dirt Wiki. About. Accessed May 20, 2013. http://dirt.projectbamboo.org/about
Ramsay, Stephen. “Who’s In and Who’s Out”. Stephen Ramsay Homepage. January 8, 2013. http://stephenramsay.us/text/2011/01/08/whos-in-and-whos-out/
Shirky, Clay. Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. Penguin books, 2008.
Suber, Peter. 2012. Open Access. Vol. 1. Essential Knowledge Series. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
Swinehart, Christian. Samizdat Drafting co. CYOA. http://samizdat.cc/cyoa/
Unknown author. Unknown date. “XML Tutorial”. Instructional. W3schools.com. http://www.w3schools.com/xml/.
 [exempli gratia] Birnbaum, David. 2012. “What Is XML and Why Should Humanists Care? An Even Gentler Introduction to XML.” http://dh.obdurodon.org/what-is-xml.xhtml. || Canelake, Sarina. 2011. “A Gentle Introduction to Programming Using Python”. MIT Open Courseware MOOC January, Online. http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-computer-science/6-189-a-gentle-introduction-to-programming-using-python-january-iap-2011/. || Kasten, Eric. 1995. “HTML: A Gentle Introduction.” Linux Journal 1 (15). Online Version (July): 1–5.
 Frederick Mosteller. “Continental Classroom’s TV Course in Probability and Statistics.” The American Statistician 16, no. 5 (1962): 20-25.
 Pattis, Richard E. Karel the robot: a gentle introduction to the art of programming. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1981.
 Birnbaum, David. 2012. “What Is XML and Why Should Humanists Care? An Even Gentler Introduction to XML.” http://dh.obdurodon.org/what-is-xml.xhtml.
 [sic.] Unknown author. Unknown date. “XML Tutorial”. Instructional. W3schools.com. http://www.w3schools.com/xml/.
 Rachel Donadio. “Dumbing Up.” The New York Times Online. September 24, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/24/books/review/Donadio.t.html
 Suber, Peter. 2012. Open Access. Vol. 1. Essential Knowledge Series. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
 Sarina Canelake. A Gentle Introduction to Programming Using Python. MIT OpenCourseware. January, 2011. http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-computer-science/6-189-a-gentle-introduction-to-programming-using-python-january-iap-2011/index.htm
 Stephen Ramsay. “Who’s In and Who’s Out”. Stephen Ramsay Homepage. January 8, 2013. http://stephenramsay.us/text/2011/01/08/whos-in-and-whos-out/
 Project Bamboo. Bamboo Dirt Wiki. About. Accessed May 20, 2013. http://dirt.projectbamboo.org/about
 Clay Shirky. Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. Penguin books, 2008.
 I will also note that Bamboo DiRT is still being worked on, and I notice many issues I have criticized are at least slightly improved.
 mediaCommons. About. inMediaRes. Accessed May 22, 2013. http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/about
Leila Walker wrote a new post, Enlightened Educators: Reflections on Pedagogy, Website Development and Collaboration, on the site Independent Study Projects 1 year, 6 months ago
ITP student Laura Kane (Philosophy) reflects on her independent study project
Just over a year ago, I set out to create a wiki for philosophers – an online, collaborative resource that would help newer graduate teaching fellows and adjuncts create lesson plans around topics they have never taught before. I named the wiki Enlightened Educators hoping it would be a space that inspired educators with varying levels of experience to come together and offer suggestions for overcoming many of the obstacles that newer educators face when trying to determine the most effective ways to teach their students. As I write this report summarizing my work toward this goal, the wiki remains largely unused. It is not entirely devoid of content and contributions, but it has not taken off with the kind of enthusiasm that I had envisioned it would. Instead, its current state has served as a reminder to me that it’s very difficult for those of us in academia to break with the traditions we’ve been inculcated with since entering doctoral study.
Academics are often encouraged to work alone and discouraged from introducing any new work until it has already reached a semi-polished state. We become defensive about sharing our early ideas with others for fear of receiving less credit and prestige when those same ideas finally come together in formal conference presentations and published articles. This rationale is not only limited to scholarship; the same kind of behavior occurs regularly when we approach teaching undergraduate students.
As many of us have already learned, graduate students are often thrown into the classroom with little to no pedagogical training. We must create our own guidelines and lesson plans, with very little guidance from our peers or professors. Expectations are immediately placed upon us to create interesting and comprehensive lesson plans that are informative, engaging and open-ended enough to allow for substantial student participation. While it is intimidating enough to step in front of the classroom for the first time, it is even more intimidating to do so when our lesson planning is also balanced with the demands of doctoral coursework, effectively limiting the amount of time we have to spend on creative approaches to teaching new material.
Creating a lesson plan for the first time is a time consuming and challenging task. With no clear indication of how students will engage with our chosen material, we try to determine the best way to teach complex concepts and large quantities of information without overwhelming our students or leaving most of them behind. This raises many questions, including:
How much should I rely on the assigned reading to guide classroom discussion?
What kinds of questions will best elicit responses from students?
Are there any exercises or activities that would help to convey the core ideas in the readings to students?
How can I ensure that students will engage with the material and actually understand it?
With little to no empirical evidence available as to what works best, it is often very difficult to answer these questions.
The Internet houses a vast landscape of teaching guides for undergraduate classrooms. While it’s possible to find a useful guide for how to structure a syllabus or how to keep students awake and paying attention, it is very difficult to find any guidance on how to structure a lesson plan around Book VI of Plato’s Republic. That’s the result of the fact that guides for teaching undergraduate students are very general and meant to be used by educators from many different academic disciplines. While they may provide some general answers to the above questions, they don’t necessarily give us the tools we need to plan effective strategies for teaching students specific ideas and concepts. Moreover, much of the general advice given to new educators is outdated and doesn’t reflect the varying types of education and backgrounds that current undergraduate students come to college with.
My desire to create Enlightened Educators came from reflecting upon these issues as I struggled to create my own effective lesson plans for the first time. After discussing these issues with my colleagues, I found that I was not alone in wanting some kind of resource that would offer more targeted guidance for teaching concepts and ideas that are specific to my discipline.
My initial proposal for Enlightened Educators was largely inspired by my own struggles to come up with the most effective strategies for teaching undergraduate students. My colleagues and I would discuss at length the types of questions we would ask students and the kinds of exercises we would do in class to encourage student participation, comprehension, and engagement with our chosen material. However, these discussions would only occur after we had already taught our lessons! We had little or no guidance about how to make our initial lesson plans, and were only able to improve our lesson plans after we had already discovered for ourselves what worked and what didn’t work.
New educators would certainly benefit from hearing about these experiences before they teach material for the first time. I searched for any type of tool – a blog, a database, an archive – where more experienced educators shared their tested teaching strategies with others, but I came up empty-handed. I decided to try and build a resource that would be available to all educators who wished to collaborate with one another, building the form of a database of shared experiences related to teaching specific content to students.
There were, however, a few things that I wanted to avoid when creating this kind of resource. Firstly, it couldn’t be something with a blog-like structure. A blog-like structure would privilege the first account written – the main blog post – leaving alternative accounts, suggestions, revisions and additions in a comment stream that would not receive nearly as much attention. Such a structure would ensure that these strategies,despite whatever feedback was given by those who commented, would remain static and unchanging, so that someone stumbling onto the blog for the first time might find a strategy that was posted three years prior that hasn’t been updated or vetted since. Teaching strategies change over time as we repeat lessons over and over again, and this resource needed to reflect the kinds of revisions that we make year after year. Blog posts are not meant to be revised over and over again, nor are they typically capable of being collaboratively edited to reflect multiple experiences. The discussions around lesson planning are extremely important for educators as we seek to build off one another’s experiences and suggestions. A blog would severely limit how much these lesson plans might change over time as compounded experiences are taken into account.
Secondly, the resource needed to be dynamic in terms of navigability. A blog does not offer the same kind of dynamic environment as a wiki. While one can tag blog posts so that they can be aggregated in different categories, a wiki provides a user with a fluid searching experience. Users can search for a topic that directly links to other related topics, and all of these topics are taxonomized as a network instead of a hierarchy. A network of topics is far easier to navigate than a hierarchy, as no particular topics receive preference over others and no topic is subsumed under another. Hence, it would be easier to add topics to something based on a wiki.
Thirdly, the resource couldn’t be something that allowed one strategy to become dominant. A wiki would keep the main content for each post open to revision so that different voices could participate with equal authority in crafting a teaching strategy. Such openness and equality should encourage any educator to feel comfortable adding their experiences to the database.
With these criteria in mind, I proposed to build a wiki using MediaWiki, a free open source wiki software package, that would be inviting, easy to navigate and easy to contribute to. My goal was to create a venue for educators to come together and collaborate with one another to develop the most effective lesson strategies for teaching philosophy to undergraduate students. I emphasized how each page would be modifiable to encourage potential users to generate and edit content, and to collaborate with one another to ensure that each lesson plan was as comprehensive and adaptable as possible. I also emphasized that the wiki would be open to all so as not to exclude anyone who wishes to participate in discussions around certain topics. With these goals in mind, I set out to create my wiki, though it was not quite the experience that I had hope it would be.
My initial proposal indicated that it would take about one month to do a complete structural build-out of the site, before user content could be added. This estimate wound up being fairly accurate.
I had used Wikipedia – a wiki also built using the MediaWiki software package – pretty extensively in the past and was very familiar with how to create and edit content, create pages and participate in discussions. However, I had no clue how to build my own wiki. I researched how one would go about creating a wiki using MediaWiki and discovered that MediaWiki has a quick installation option called a “1-Click Installation” – an option allows one to bypass a manual installation of software. The quick installation option is compatible with several different hosting services, so I set out to find the best one for my purposes.
Initially, I had wanted to host my website on OpenCUNY or the CUNY Academic Commons; however, I also wanted to ensure that my wiki could be used by non-CUNY adjuncts and educators alike. I discussed what option would be best with my professor, Michael Mandiberg, who had been guiding my progress on the wiki’s development. He suggested that I host the website on my own so that I would have the option to expand my user base to include non-CUNY members. He also advised me to limit my initial user base to Graduate Center colleagues only – something he thought would contain any potential scope creep regarding managing users in the site’s earlier phases. Tasked with finding my own hosting service, I asked for recommendations from friends and colleagues and decided to use DreamHost.com.
Installing the wiki software was very simple (it was designed to be), and soon I was staring at the home screen of my very own blank wiki! I felt very empowered – this was going to be the start of a new and exciting project! – so I got to work right away putting content on the site. I created the Main Page with an inviting welcome section and included a mission statement about the intended use of the wiki; I created the main discipline page and an FAQ Page for users who were unfamiliar with wikis; and lastly, I created the first entry on the site: how to teach Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Everything was going smoothly, and I began to mention the site to my colleagues in the philosophy department. Given our previous conversations about pedagogy and the dearth of resources to help us with our lesson planning, they all seemed very excited that a new tool might be available soon. I felt confident that they would be enthusiastic to jump in and start adding their own teaching experiences.
And then the spammers hit.
I had heard from friends who were working on their own wikis that they were having problems with spammers, but I didn’t think much of it. How would spammers even find my wiki? It had only been built a month prior and barely had any user activity. As far as the Internet was concerned, it existed more in potentiality than actuality with its low MB usage. Much to my surprise, it is exactly these types of websites that spammers attack.
I went to my site one afternoon and thought I had typed in the wrong URL. The site I had landed on was blank save for some barely comprehensible text about Viagra and life insurance. My site had been spammed.
WikiSpam, as it is properly called, is perpetrated by owners of different websites who wish to improve their position in Google searches. They spam wikis with advertisements to their websites, not realizing that these spamming attempts actually have no bearing on Google’s page ranking system. The way they spam is infuriating; when spammers enter a wiki, they remove all of the original content on the page (in my case, it was my Main Page that kept being spammed) and replace it with their advertisements.
Fortunately, MediaWiki has a failsafe for such situations. One is able to revert back to earlier edits of a page, essentially erasing any damage to page content that spammers have done. Unfortunately, the spammers are relentless. When one spammer finds your wiki, other spammers join in, arriving to your wiki in droves. Worse still, these spammers “carpet-bag” wikis – they continually edit the same page over and over again, adding one or two new lines of text each time, until your original page is so far back in the history that it is difficult to find. This process can result in hundreds of edits per day on your wiki, effectively destroying any original purpose the wiki had. After several months of constant spamming, I decided that I’d had enough and took the site offline.
Eight months later, fueled with a new eagerness to get my wiki up and operational, I brought the site back to life again. I had restored the wiki back to my original posts and began to research ways to combat spammers. Soon after I relaunched the site the spammers were back, but I was determined to find a way to beat them.
My original build-out did not take spammers into account; hence, I did not have any protective firewalls to keep them out. What I needed was a way to put editing obstacles on my site to deter spammers from endlessly posting advertisements without also deterring my intended audience from posting real content to the site. What I found was a bit of PHP code that would make it mandatory for anyone who wanted to post on the site to create an account before they would be allowed to post. This seemed like a pretty solid fix; the spambots that were targeting my site might not be able to get past a mandatory account creation and my users would be required to create accounts that would give them a greater sense of responsibility for their content. I felt confident that I would finally be able to share my site with my colleagues.
Several days after I added the code to my site I noticed that I was receiving the same volume of spam again, only this time my spammers all had random account names. My “solution” did nothing other than give me a false sense of security for a few days. Increasingly frustrated, I began to reach out to more experienced wiki builders for their advice and assistance. I was growing desperate and resigned to the fact that I might never get the wiki to a stable place for users.
I explained my situation to Micki Kaufman, one of my fellow CUNY Graduate Center Digital Fellows, and asked her for any advice she might have. Micki offered to help me create a stronger barrier for account creation – one that would require an email confirmation from me (acting as the site administrator) for the creation of any new account. When I went to log into the site to show her what we were up against, I was again surprised at what I had found: my site was gone. Completely gone. An error code, “MediaWiki internal error. Exception caught inside exception handler,“was all that existed in place of the entire wiki.
After digging around a bit in PHPMyAdmin, the MYSQL database manager for my wiki, Micki was able to detect what had happened. One of the spammers had hacked into my site and deleted the database. The MYSQL database for a website holds all of the content for that website – every bit of site structure, every post, every photo, etc. – and the database for my wiki had been completely wiped out. I was crushed; why would someone commit such a malicious act against a complete stranger? My wiki wasn’t political or offensive; it didn’t make any unjustified claims or spread any rumors. The wantonness of the act made my skin crawl.
Micki was quick to point out that most hosting services back up the data for their users, so there might be a copy of the database on DreamHost’s servers. After poking around the DreamHost site for a bit, we discovered that it does have a backup service that continually backs up your database for you; however, these backups are only saved for five days and then replaced. Since I hadn’t been to my wiki in a couple of weeks at that point, the oldest backup contained the already wiped database. My site was, in fact, totally lost.
Before I could completely give up, Micki assured me that this was a step in the right direction. We could install a completely new and updated version of MediaWiki that would have the built-in protection needed to defend my wiki against spammers and hackers. The quick installation options that MediaWiki offered came with various levels of restricted access for unregistered users and had been updated to make it more difficult for hackers to enter the backend of the software. After discussing some of the positives and negatives of the different builds, we decided upon a type of installation that would mandate that all edits require accounts and that all accounts had to be created by the site administrator.
The downside to this added security is that the wiki would lose the openness that I wanted it to have. Anyone that wished to contribute an experience to the site would now have to contact me first, and I would have to generate a new username and temporary password before they could log into the site and make a contribution. I knew that these new restrictions would limit the number of users who would actually make contributions to the site; however, realizing that this was the only option available for a truly secure wiki, I decided that sacrificing this openness was worth it. After we completed the install, Micki showed me how to make my own backups of the database. I remade all of my original pages, including a rewrite of all of my original content, and made a database backup.
I finally had a secure wiki with reassuring failsafe measures in place, and finally felt confident about recruiting my first group of contributors.
After securing my site, I crafted an email to my friends in the Philosophy Department that explained my motivation behind making the wiki, a list of potential uses for our PhD program, and a request for contributions to help build the database of teaching resources. Almost immediately after sending the email off I received several positive responses and offers for contributions. I was elated! My colleagues were genuinely into the concept behind the wiki – especially those who were going to be teaching for the first time – and seemed excited to take part as contributors. Within days after sending my initial email, I had made six new user accounts and was anxiously waiting for the wiki to become a hub for strategizing about the best ways to teach Philosophy students about topics like Compatibilism, Virtue Ethics and Skepticism. Two contributions were made fairly quickly, sustaining my excitement for the future of the site. But then the site just sat; no new colleagues offered to participate, and no other contributions had been made in the month following my initial email.
I started to feel defeated again; I had made so much progress battling the technical setbacks I encountered that I assumed my struggles getting the wiki off the ground were over. I was determined to get eight to ten new contributions on the site, so I decided to send an email to my colleagues again. However, this time I opted to send individual pleas for participation hoping that a more personal request would motivate some colleagues to make contributions. As it happened, the individual emails did the trick; within two weeks of sending the personalized pleas I had twelve unique contributions to my site.
The contributions posted to the wiki were very good – they were candid, on point and very informative:
Each contribution reflected a strategy for teaching certain philosophical concepts or articles to undergraduate students – precisely what I had hoped for. The posts provided secondary source materials, open-ended questions to generate discussion, targeted questions to elicit certain responses, recommended classroom activities and step-by-step guides for clear presentations.
I would love to say that these contributions amounted to “success” for the wiki. However, after the contributions were entered the wiki sat again, and continues to sit with no additional contributions. There have been no discussions and no collaborations around how to teach certain topics. There have been no revisions or alternative suggestions made for posted strategies. Instead, all of the contributions were made in isolation from one another, and logged site activity has plummeted: no users have signed back into the wiki since making their original contribution. A total failure? No, certainly not. The wiki has some fantastic content on it that reflects a breadth of the topics that typically fall under an Introduction to Philosophy course. Hence, the wiki already has the potential to be useful to someone crafting lesson plans for the first time. Nonetheless, the conceptual impetus behind creating the wiki has yet to be realized.
Upon reading all of the contributions, I noticed that none of them involved the use of digital tools as teaching aids. I suspect the most plausible explanation behind this observation is that philosophy doesn’t require much beyond the faculties of reason and imagination, at least not in a classroom setting. We are asking students to apply critical thinking skills to centuries-old problems that have never required digital tools in the first place. If philosophers aren’t using digital tools within their lessons, then how likely are they to use a digital tool to help them plan lessons?
I’d like to think that these are two disparate issues. Philosophy graduate students use digital tools all of the time to help them with research, networking, job searches and citation management. The addition of a digital tool to assist with lesson planning seems par for the course not only for philosophy graduate students, but for graduate students in all disciplines. That philosophers are not using digital tools as regularly as some of their peers in other disciplines is not a bad omen for Enlightened Educators – it merely reflects the process behind teaching philosophy as one that requires very little beyond an apt mind.
Still, in its current state, the wiki lacks the vibrant discussions and revisions that it was created to foster. The collaborative structure of the wiki has done little to motivate the contributors to interact with one another through the site. Instead, it seems to have perpetuated the isolated approach to lesson planning that we’re already familiar with – one that doesn’t require the use of a digital tool like Enlightened Educators. This result is not necessarily permanent, though, and I haven’t given up on making the site a true success. Perhaps it’s a matter of involving more individuals with the site by reaching out to a wider audience beyond the Graduate Center, or perhaps it’s a matter of offering alternative suggestions or revisions to the already existing content to motivate those who have already contributed to revisit their strategies. I plan to promote the site throughListservs, the CUNY Academic Commons Philosophy Page, various Philosophy Blogs and Facebook Groups, and I plan to ask faculty members to contribute to the site. One way or another, I intend to continue recruiting more individuals to the site with the hope that a community of users will eventually emerge.
User Reception and Experience
The user reaction to the wiki was, for the most part, extremely positive. I received several emails from newer Graduate Teaching Fellows who were excited about the potential of the wiki, and several emails from more experienced Graduate Teaching Fellows who were happy to have a place to share their teaching experiences. Despite the small number of contributions by friends in my department, there seems to be an acknowledgement that a resource like Enlightened Educators could have a tremendous impact on the way we teach lessons to undergraduate students.
After contributions were made to the site, I sent a questionnaire to those who participated to ask about their experience using the wiki and their assessment for how useful the wiki could be for our department. I received responses from a third of the contributors, and those responses were relatively similar across the board.
Of those who responded, none had any difficulty logging onto the site for the first time after receiving their accounts from the site administrator. This was a positive sign for me, as I was worried about how difficult the new login restrictions would be for new users to navigate the site and worried they would deter some from wanting to participate in the first place. Of those who responded, all agreed that the main Philosophy Menu was easy to navigate, but responses were split about how difficult it was to add content to the site. Two respondents had difficultly with HTML formatting, adding that they did not feel that they were able to format their contribution as they wanted. Two respondents mentioned that they had consulted the FAQ to help them with their contributions. All of the respondents agreed that the information on the site, once entered, was easy to find and easy to access.
I was very happy to receive such positive responses. Although most people are familiar with wikis like Wikipedia, many have never made a contribution before. I was worried that this would be an impediment to using my wiki, but I was happy to hear that contributors were able to complete posts on their own or with the assistance of the FAQ.
Lastly, all of the respondents agreed that Enlightened Educators would be a useful resource for our department, and all respondents answered that they would use the site again if it became an official departmental resource. I was pleasantly surprised by one respondent’s disclosure that they had used an entry on the site to help with a lesson plan!
Despite the myriad difficulties I’ve encountered as I try to build my wiki into a comprehensive database for educators, I’m happy with the way the site has taken shape. It is far more secure now than it has ever been, and I perform regular backups to ensure that no content is ever lost. There is a decent amount of content up on the site right now, though it is far sparser than I had envisioned it would be. This problem, along with the collaboration issue, may be resolved by attracting new users to the site. While this has proven to be a difficult task, there are steps I can take to try and promote the site as a valuable resource worthy of continued participation.
After sending out both requests for participation – the more general request and the more personal request – I realized that the wiki, as a new, empty database, doesn’t have anything to attract users. The responses I received after sending out my general request for participation were focused primarily on the concept behind the wiki, and an excitement over what potential it may have once it was full of content. However, something like a bystander effect occurred among those to whom I sent the email: they all assumed that someone else was going to contribute, so they didn’t have to. Hence, the site only received a contribution from one person after that initial request. My more personal pleas for participation were successful at attracting more users to the site because my colleagues are also my friends, and their contributions were made to help me move my project forward. The next phase of my project must address the issue of how to attract more users to the site on their own terms. This may be a bit easier now that there is some content up on the site, but I’m sure a bystander effect will still linger among those that visit the site for the first time. One possible solution involves my department endorsing the site as an official departmental resource. This is something that I plan to work on in the next year.
My final remarks concern two particular responses I received when I sent out individual requests for participation. These responses encapsulated for me the main obstacle behind academic and educational collaboration.
Two respondents seemed very interested in contributing to the wiki, mentioning that they had crafted some excellent exercises for specific topics. Both of these respondents also inquired about what kind of credit they would receive if others used their exercises.
I had gone to great lengths to convey to my colleagues that the wiki was to be a collaborative endeavor, one that encouraged educators to come together to help one another create successful lesson plans for their classes. The structure of a wiki precludes giving formal credit for contributions; instead, it encourages users to engage with one another over the best way to represent a certain topic or idea. Unfortunately, this approach is in tension with how academics traditionally do research and, consequently, how they create their lessons. The responses I received from these two colleagues captured this tension and further exemplified the resistance to change that plagues many of us who wish to receive as much credit as possible for all of our academic pursuits. Granted, we are all at the beginnings of our careers and receiving credit for our projects and endeavors is an important part of establishing ourselves as scholars. However, academia is becoming increasingly more collaborative – especially with the recent surge in digital humanities partnerships – and this is a good thing. Collaboration doesn’t preclude the assignment of credit for work done. Rather, it has the potential to increase the profile of the projects that we work on and the potential to improve how we begin and sustain our own scholarly pursuits. My goal for Enlightened Educators is to create a venue for collaboration to take place where individuals are less concerned about the credit they receive for their contributions and more concerned about whether their contributions are improving the type of scholarship that we are all involved with.
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