Leila Walker edited the blog post Education Technology’s Conscientious Objector in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 2 weeks ago
Audrey Watters, Hack Education
Review of Elizabeth Losh, The War on Learning: Gaining Ground in the Digital University (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2014). $29.95 hardcover, $20.95 e-book.
The War on Poverty. The War on Drugs. The War on Cancer. The war metaphor is often invoked to marshal resources and formulate policies in order to defeat some sort of social scourge. (Indeed, that sentence I just wrote highlights how this metaphor typically brings with it all sorts of military terminology.) As such, the title of Elizabeth Losh’s 2014 book on education technology, The War on Learning, is perhaps a little unsettling, posting “learning” as the prepositional object under attack. Why would anyone wage war on learning?!
And yet here we are, immersed in policy and media debates about the future of education, with various pronouncements about how education technology might alternately spell triumph or defeat for students, teachers, and institutions in turn. All this makes Losh’s The War on Learning an important and timely intervention as, unlike so many other recent books on the topic, the text doesn’t fuel the fire with hype, hope, or horror at the so-called ed-tech revolution.
Indeed, more typically it is the word “revolution” that is bandied about to describe the transformational promise of education technologies; “war,” not so much. “Revolution” as a metaphor for technological change tends to erase the battles and their destructiveness; it’s harder to invoke “war”—even as a rhetorical turn—without mentioning these costs.
The costs here aren’t solely to academia. It’s notable that Losh’s book is not called “The War on Higher Education,” nor, as Dana Goldstein describes her history of the teaching profession The Teacher Wars, “The War on the Professoriate.” According to Losh, we’re in the middle of a war on and about learning.
One way to read the title of Losh’s book would be, quite simply, to acknowledge the ways in which ed-tech policies, products, and practices are challenging how we learn. That is, of course, an argument that ed-tech’s advocates have long made, some with sweeping claims about the increased efficiencies and engagement that new technologies will engender. Losh is much more pragmatic. Others have described education technology as disrupting institutional power, shifting control of learning experiences away from faculty and towards students. But Losh rejects these narratives as well as an oversimplification of education—both as an institution and as an activity—and cautions against the rhetoric that increasingly describes learning as a product and not a process (seen most obviously in the push for more hardware and software in schools). This corrective is particularly crucial as this rhetoric is so frequently intertwined with efforts from tech investors and entrepreneurs to turn our public learning spaces into privatized commodities.
Losh observes that “the war on learning” is often formulated as something fought between teachers and students. No doubt, this is how controversies and concerns over most technologies in schools are routinely framed in popular discussions of education: students want to use their personal computing devices in the classroom, for example; professors ban these devices as distractions. Students are “digital natives,” comfortable and competent with new technologies; professors are Luddites. Students prefer the latest software and hardware; schools insist on outmoded learning management systems. Losh dismisses these stereotypes, contending that this focus on “professor” versus “student”—“our technologies” versus “their technologies”—is not just an all-too-neat generalization, but actually misses the point of how and why this “war” is taking shape:
I see problems both with using technologies to command and control young people into submission and with the utopian claims of advocates for DIY education, or “unschooling,” who embrace a libertarian politics of each-one-for-himself or herself pedagogy and who, in the interest of promoting totally autonomous learning in individual private homes, seek to defund public institutions devoted to traditional learning collectives. (Kindle Locations 620-623)
Losh’s book moves beyond this “us” versus “them” dichotomy, offering a necessary and nuanced take on education technologies. She also tries to move beyond the ever-so-common rhetoric of crisis—for example, fears that digital technologies will somehow destroy students’ attention spans or literacy skills—and its counterpoint, the rhetoric of disruptive innovation—proclamations that these same technologies will destroy that anachronism, the university.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have served as the front line of this “war on learning” in recent years. In her chapter on MOOCs, Losh explores “the rhetoric of the open courseware movement,” challenging the notion that these free online classes are really a democratizing force, making higher education available for everyone. As Losh points out, over 80% of Coursera’s students already have undergraduate degrees. Moreover, as Losh argues, “the rhetoric of MOOCs has much more to do with the ambitions of the Silicon Valley and the anxieties of the Ivy League than it does with the aspirations of the developing world” (Kindle Locations 2714-2716).
Losh observes, too, that the producers and promoters of MOOCs, as with so many other recent ed-tech endeavors, attempt turn the focus to learning—at least in the way they talk about their offerings. However, these products remain very much concerned with “content delivery” and instruction: video lectures are still lectures, even if you break them into 3 minute chunks. The vocabulary of Coursera’s founders, Losh writes, “deliberately moves the rhetorical focus from teaching to learning and often appropriates the lexicon of the ‘connected learning’ movement, despite the company’s proprietary interest in the hierarchical structure of MOOCs” (Kindle Locations 2874-2876). Framing new technologies like this is meant to assure us that these new technologies are more “student-centered,” more “personalized,” and even more liberatory than higher education currently provides. But from the Terms of Service to the honor codes, from the reliance on multiple-choice quizzes to the LMS-like platform itself, it’s clear there is very little freedom for learners here.
In her chapter on MOOCs, as she does throughout the book, Losh positions herself as both a professor and as a learner—as a student in a Coursera MOOC, for starters, and as someone who must negotiate new technologies alongside her students. Although she is highly critical of the history of ed-tech (remember Second Life? Losh explores this along with early iPod implementations, viral campus videos and more), the book is hardly a rejection of technology. As the subtitle suggests, it is committed to “gaining ground in the digital university,” that is, to building initiatives in which digital learning can flourish; but that ground must not come at the expense of either critical discourse or care. “Effective educators should be noncombatants,” Losh argues, “neither champions of the reactionary past nor of the radical future.” Instead, she maintains she is a “conscientious objector in this war on learning” (Kindle Locations 623-625).
Conscientious objectors are required to justify their opposition to war, and Losh has done so here quite thoroughly. She closes the book with six principles that could guide a new digital university moving forward, urging us to embrace new technologies not when they promise efficiency and novelty but when they can help education become “more inclusive, generative, just, and constructive” (Kindle Location 4951). And those ends require a commitment to the larger community—to scholars and to students alike.
About the Author
Audrey Watters is a journalist specializing in education technology news and analysis. Although she was two chapters into her Comparative Literature dissertation, she decided to abandon academia, and she now happily fulfills the one job recommended to her by a junior high aptitude test: freelance writer. She has written for The Atlantic, Edutopia, Fast Company, Inside Higher Ed, The School Library Journal, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere across the web, in addition to her own blog Hack Education. She is the author of the book The Monsters of Education Technologyand her next books, Teaching Machines and Reclaim Your Domain, are both due out in 2015.
Leila Walker edited the blog post #FYCchat – A Case-Study of Connected Learning and Educators in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Lee Skallerup Bessette, University of Kentucky
In January 2011, #FYCchat held its first Twitter chat. Created to connect those teaching Freshman Writing, #FYCchat became a powerful tool for collaborative learning, professional development, reciprocal mentoring, and community formation. The following essay explores the origins of the chat, theories around Twitter chats for educational professional development, and a close reading of one #FYCchat around the topic of community and collaboration.
We have opened up this article as an experiment in collaborative, open peer-review. JITP has always been committed first and foremost to teaching and learning, and we intended that the journal itself—both in process and in product—provide opportunities to reveal, reflect on, and revise academic publication and classroom practice. We are so grateful to Lee Skallerup Bessette for allowing her article to be part of this experiment that we hope will reveal and reflect on the peer review process in order to develop a model for better pedagogy in professional practice. Continue reading, and participate in the conversation.
About the Author
Lee Skallerup Bessette is Faculty Instructional Consultant at the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) at the University of Kentucky. Her interests include Digital Pedagogy, Connected Learning, and Student-Centered Pedagogy. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature and is also interested in translation, both literal and figurative in literature and in education. She blogs at College Ready Writing and you can find her on Twitter as @readywriting.
Leila Walker edited the blog post Collaborative Curricula Linking Digital Studies and Global Health in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Virginia Kuhn, University of Southern California
Heather Wipfli, University of Southern California
Jason Lipshin, TomTom
Susana Ruiz, Take Action Games
Digital media, deployed in the service of real world issues, have the potential to foster the type of collaborative learning needed to prepare for the dynamic, interconnected world of the 21st century. In this article, we describe a project in which two university-level classes, one in new media and one in global health, were combined in order to improve the learning experience of each. While studying the complexities of global health can illuminate issues surrounding large-scale digital literacy in a globally networked world, working with multiple digital tools can prepare students for the complexity of a career in the field of global health.
It has become impossible to ignore the fact that the cultural and technological shifts responsible for a globally networked world have also rendered many conventional approaches to university pedagogy untenable. As such, many universities are exploring ways to enhance the undergraduate experience, often via the integration of emergent technologies. Against this backdrop, we embarked upon an educational collaboration, receiving support from a competitively awarded fund for innovative undergraduate teaching on our campus. During the spring of 2012 we paired two upper division courses taught in two disparate programs at a research university—New Media for Social Change and Case Studies in Global Health. Both classes served relatively new academic programs: a minor in Digital Studies at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy (IML) and a major in Global Health offered by the Institute for Global Health respectively. While the classes were taught concurrently, we strived to ensure that each retained its core academic integrity. The classes combined a curriculum, though from an administrative perspective, they remained separate.
Given the resonance between the two disciplines, we imagined that this pairing would enhance the intellectual experience of each: while the field of new media or digital studies attends to the interrelationships among technology, culture, communication, and expression across the registers of text, audio, video, and interactivity as they impact large-scale literate practices, the field of global health investigates the close interplay between medical, economic, geographic, and environmental factors as they impact human health. Both disciplines require knowledge of the systematic complexity that characterizes our highly mediated, globally networked world. The exploration of real-world issues underlies both disciplines and is, or perhaps should be, a fundamental component of both educational programs. Further, both are iterative and dynamic in their scholarship, and their researchers seek to uncover solutions to complex problems by collaborating in academically diverse teams. Moreover, even as researchers in both fields tend to make decisions based on varying degrees of available data, they do so with a keen awareness of the extent to which change in one element of a global system affects all others.
In sum, the classes seemed a natural fit for collaboration.
In the recent book Cheating Lessons: Learning From Academic Dishonesty, James Lang (2013) surveys academic dishonesty from ancient Greece and China to the present day and arrives at four features of environments that discourage cheating and, by extension, tend to foster learning. These environments are characterized by the following features: 1) they are mastery based, rather than performance based; 2) they offer intrinsic motivation; 3) they promote a high expectation of success; and 4) they offer many types of and opportunities for assessment (rather than a single high-stakes measure). Cheating Lessons is emblematic of the recent debates about the state of higher education and the growing interest in the scholarship of teaching and learning. With the benefit of some critical distance, we now ask ourselves how we might view this effort using the features of Lang’s successful learning environments.
To back up for just a moment, we should note that the two faculty members already had a working relationship. We were two of only three faculty sent by our Provost’s Office to present at a conference in Washington, DC, that was geared to reinventing undergraduate education in Research I universities. We also collaborated on a project for ABC News and the Gates Foundation, creating a Facebook game, One Thousand Days, that teaches the importance of early childhood nutrition. Our collegiality and shared commitment to teaching were instrumental in the decision to pursue this project, and the funding we received was also integral since it allowed us to: 1) hire a research assistant, Jason Lipshin, to help with planning in advance of the course; 2) send Jason to train on ArcGIS (i.e., on adding data to maps); 3) conduct planning meetings; and 4) purchase some materials such as books and hard drives. Finally, we were both deeply involved in establishing our respective institutes’ curricula, and this helped us manage both conceptual and logistical issues. While the classes we combined were intended for advanced students in each program, we hoped that the lessons learned, the methods established, and the materials created would be of more general use in university pedagogy, particularly for those who teach at institutions with less access to material resources and less time for experimentation.
We now see that the most compelling portions of the class included features of Lang’s criteria for successful learning environments, and like Lang, who culled educational insights from studies of cheating, we found that the resistance we encountered from students was just as instructive as those aspects that seem most immediately successful. We should note from the outset that we approached this project with a belief in the efficacy of small class sizes and a distinct skepticism of the lecture model with its “sage on the stage” approach. We agree with Paulo Freire’s prominent condemnation of the banking system of education, whereby students are posited as empty vessels just waiting to be filled with faculty wisdom. We profess a constructivist approach to knowledge, one that is situated, active, and rigorous. Logistically speaking, each class was listed and enrolled in its home department, but scheduled in the same room. Each class enrolled about twenty students for a total of forty-three, and each had a faculty member as well as a graduate teaching assistant assigned by the department—Susana Ruiz for digital studies, Allen Shu for global health.
In preparation for the class, we asked ourselves what sorts of projects would help to foster the goals of each discipline. The two faculty members met frequently with Jason, the research assistant, during the semester prior to the class. During the semester the class was convened, the meetings expanded to include the two teaching assistants. After some background work on the ethics of representation, the relative nature of power and privilege, and global health statistical reports, we divided the course into three main units, each lasting about five weeks. Each unit contained a corresponding multimodal project: 1) visualization of public health data; 2) geospatial disease mapping of the contemporary cholera outbreak in Haiti; and 3) a video-based argument around complex issues associated with HIV and the law. We used emergent tools that allowed students to engage research in multiple formats using numerous methodologies. Students were also tasked with weekly reading responses that included selections from both fields, and the two group projects required a mix of students from both classes. All course materials were distributed and all student work was submitted using a course wiki that was password protected.
In what follows, we describe the three units, their rationale, and an overview of the project assigned to each, after which we enumerate some of the lessons learned. These insights were gleaned from a variety of sources: our own impressions, student reflections, course evaluations, and an examination of the projects created. We conclude by assessing the course through the lens of Lang’s criteria for successful learning environments. We also include some ancillary materials: students were filmed at the close of the course, and their reflections, as well as the projects created for the class, were gathered and placed online using a WordPress site: http://iml420.wordpress.com/. These materials, which are embedded throughout this article, are included as evidence, so that they may illuminate the claims we make about the course, even as they might also serve as models for future courses or for units within more traditional class settings. Indeed, the two faculty members have made use of the materials in subsequent classes, and the video-based projects have been shared widely including their circulation during the International Conference on AIDS (hereafter referred to as AIDS 2012), which took place soon after the course ended.
Unit I: Visualizing Health Data
The graphical representation of information, a practice referred to as information visualization or data visualization, comprised the focus of the first unit. In 1945, Vannevar Bush decried the deleterious effect of information overload and poor data management. More than half a century later, the trend has increased exponentially, as data deluge and the complexities of a globally networked world amplify the situation. Thus, it is no surprise that the visual display of information has exploded as a means of representing these vast datasets, necessitating critical engagement with their visual expression.
We also believe that critical engagement with any semiotic system includes consumption as well as production since it can be difficult to understand the rhetorical choices involved in creating a graphical representation without actually having made those choices. When visualizing information, certain elements of the data are suppressed in order to emphasize others. For instance, subway maps tend to sacrifice geographic accuracy in order to accentuate the paths of the various routes. As such, this assignment asked students to investigate the ways in which data become information and, further, to explore the ways that information shifts its meaning depending on its context and mode of presentation.
This early focus on data fulfilled another of our goals in terms of interdisciplinary efforts. Data gathering is often viewed as a pivot point at which the hard sciences and its methodologies depart from humanistic or artistic types of inquiry. Indeed, when discussing the early readings—a bulletin titled Global Public Health: A Scorecard (Beaglehole and Bonita 2008) and a few chapters from Allan Johnson’s Privilege, Power, and Difference (PPD)—one student suggested that the global health readings were more valid, scientific, and evidence-based since they used statistics, while the PPD reading was merely anecdotal. This was the perfect opportunity to explore the very nature of research methodologies, allowing us to ask questions such as: what counts as knowledge in each field? Are interpretive methods purely subjective? What data is used in statistical models and how is a datum defined? Do statistical models in global health rely on self-reporting? If so, might survey data also be seen as subjective? How might mixed methods add veracity to a topic and make it compelling? Are there any statistics to be found in the narrative of Power, Privilege and Difference? A close reading of one paragraph, for instance, revealed at least five data points, but since they were presented in narrative form, they were not immediately recognized as such. Calling received wisdom into question became a key course theme, and we believe this type of “defamiliarizing” of knowledge is vital to critical thinking.
The information visualization assignment was the only individual project, and although no professional-level tools were required, students were asked to use at least two tools and to create four different visualizations of the same data points: a pie chart, a bar graph, a box plot, and a heat map. In this way, it became a comparative project that complicated the very nature of these images that are rampant in the media. Students were further encouraged to step outside of their comfort zone: we hoped the global health students would eschew their go-to tool, Microsoft Excel, and that the digital studies students would eschew their general anxiety about using statistics. Students were required to submit a project plan with an overview of their chosen health-related dataset and its provenance, as well as the types of visualizations they planned to create.
An ongoing list of resources was available via the course wiki, from the conceptual Periodic Table of Visualization Methods to tool-based sites such as ManyEyes and Gapminder, both of which offer access to datasets as well as the ability to upload one’s own. Requiring a project plan allowed us to offer input and suggestions while assuaging some of the concerns students voiced about the experimental nature of the course. The global health students, who were mostly pre-med, tended to be more comfortable with a single correct answer and necessarily more concerned with their individual grade point average, an understandable concern given the competitive nature of medical school admissions. The project also required students to write a two- to four-page report describing and contextualizing each visual they produced, and this, we noted, gave them the opportunity to explain any failures they might encounter when using new applications. Students also had the opportunity to briefly present their work in class, which gave them a further opportunity to articulate goals that might not be apparent in the final project.
STUDENT VIZ PROJECTS
Unit II: Geospatial Disease Tracking
While the information visualization assignment was effective in introducing students to issues in the filtering and representation of complex data, the formal parameters of the assignment necessarily limited the conceptual scope. Although statistical representation has long operated as an important genre for both conducting global health research and communicating that information in diverse contexts, it also became increasingly clear to us during the progression of our first unit that representing the complexity and dynamism of global health problems remains difficult when using only static visualizations. Thus, in our second unit’s disease-mapping project, we sought to move from representation to simulation, building upon many of the skills introduced in the first assignment while also more fully integrating systems thinking on both conceptual and formal levels. Using the interactive mapping platform Hypercities, we asked students to collaborate with peers from both global health and digital studies in order to create a media-rich map of the multiple forces contributing to the 2009 outbreak of cholera in Haiti. We assigned the four groups and their topics as detailed below, although we did give students a chance to request a change.
We began the second unit began by reading Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map (2006)—a historical account of how John Snow, “the father of modern epidemiology,” tracked the source of the infamous 1854 outbreak of cholera in London. In charting Snow’s inquiry, we emphasized Johnson’s characterization of Snow as a systems-level thinker, drawing connections across anthropology, urban planning, and the life sciences, while also encouraging students to consider the important role of mapping in providing context and visibility to these transversal relationships. Having introduced students to Snow’s interdisciplinary methods for investigating cholera in 1854, we presented the interactive mapping assignment as a way to connect past and present, asking students to consider how similarities and differences in social, technological, and geographical contexts might be brought to bear on the construction of our collaborative project. To illustrate the value of interdisciplinary approaches, we had a visit from a documentary filmmaker who screened his filmic reenactment of Snow’s discovery. Guided by Johnson’s narrative about how to represent and make use of complexity, we were particularly animated by such questions as: how might the need for interdisciplinary and systems-level thinking be amplified in a globally networked society? What might “the ghost map” of the 21st century look like? And how could it be used to trace the complex set of forces that led to the 2009 outbreak of cholera in Haiti?
In order to tackle such issues, we divided the class into four groups of ten students equally composed of digital studies and global health students. Each group was then assigned a seemingly discrete research topic related to the Haitian cholera epidemic, which would then be plotted as a self-contained “layer” of data on the Hypercities map. The breakdown, wherein each group was tasked with structuring a story around the assigned topic, was as follows:
GROUP I, PEOPLE: Population characteristics (density, socio-economic status) and refugee camps.
GROUP II, WATER: waterways (natural and municipal), power sources; and waste management.
GROUP III, CARE: Health systems (health care services/clinics, medical schools, and disease distribution).
GROUP IV, INTERNATIONAL AID: International aid, international focus, UN peacekeepers, and NGOs.
Within each group’s layer, students were encouraged to present their research across multiple registers—from text and image, to video and information visualization—and think about the various potentials and limitations of each form. Students were also urged to think about the specifically spatial and temporal qualities of their argumentation, teasing out what it would mean to design their research in ways that depart from the traditional academic paper. It is, perhaps, in this latter aspect that some of the most interesting outcomes of the project emerged, as Hypercities (built on the Google Maps API) holds many time-based affordances, which are quite rare among typical mapping platforms. For instance, Hypercities includes the ability to specify the time frame in which a particular point appears and the ability to place points in a linear narrative sequence. This time frame feature allowed students to explore differences in data before and after the 2009 earthquake, while the narrative feature allowed groups to effectively create virtual “tours” of the crisis, crossing vast geographical distances and toggling between local and global scales according to the rhetorical needs of the particular argument (please see accompanying screen shots and overview video).
Such unique features contributed to the emergence of many compelling and innovatively structured arguments. But we soon realized that it was much more interesting to see each group’s layer in conversation with others: to see the ways that one kind of data interacts with another in a complex system. For instance, by toggling on layers of data from two groups simultaneously, we were able to see the ways that sources of drinking water intersected with waste management systems, providing a visceral portrait of how cholera was transmitted in and around Port-au-Prince. Likewise we were able to see the ways that high mortality, lack of adequate health care facilities, and low socioeconomic status often overlapped, providing students with a stark picture of how aid in disaster contexts is often unequally distributed along class lines. Thus, while each team researched in relative isolation and plotted their data as a discrete “layer” within the Hypercities map, it was only in seeing the multiple overlaps and intersections between economic, social, political, and biological factors that more telling insights could emerge.
[caption id="attachment_2828" align="alignnone" width="600"] Figure 1. A screen shot from the class project in which students mapped the cholera outbreak in Haiti using the Hypercities platform.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2830" align="alignnone" width="600"] Figure 3. Screenshot from Hypercities class project on Haiti.[/caption]
Unit III: Video Argument: HIV and the Law
The third unit of the course centered on HIV, AIDS, and the law, and was tactically deployed in anticipation of the XIX International Conference on HIV and AIDS (a.k.a. AIDS 2012) slated to convene in Washington, DC, a few weeks after the course’s completion. This was the first time in twenty years that the conference was held in the United States, a fact due mainly to a shift in policy that had heretofore been inhospitable for visiting AIDS activists and those living with HIV, many of whom are one and the same. Using video testimony from the Commission on HIV and the Law’s regional stakeholder consultations as a jumping off point, student groups focused on the production of research-based video arguments, or what we refer to as digital arguments. In constructing their digital arguments, students were expected to use the available semiotic resources—text, sound, still and moving images, and animation/effects—to create a nuanced and sophisticated academic argument about some aspect of the complex issues related to HIV and the laws that govern its research and treatment.
During this unit, students read 28: Stories on AIDS in Africa, a monograph by journalist Stephanie Nolen (2008), as well as policy briefs and peer-reviewed articles about the relationship between HIV and the law. In addition, we had a guest speaker, a colleague who is a noted legal expert in the field. The project associated with this unit moved more closely to established pedagogical approaches: video-based or digital argument is a foundational assignment developed at the IML and modeled in other new media programs in the US. Unlike new media programs that have grown out of English departments, writing studies, or schools of communications, the IML’s location in the School of Cinematic Arts has meant that there is a strong emphasis on images—both still and moving—founded on an awareness that digital technologies are as amenable to images as they are to words. Founded in 1998, the IML has expanded its focus to include interactivity, networking, social media, physical computing, and geospatial technologies, yet the emphasis on images remains a vital one.
Concurrent to the study of HIV and AIDS, the global health students received training in how to find, capture, and convert existing video assets, followed by a brief overview of professional editing tools. The IML students, already well versed in these applications and workflows, were given tutorials in special effects based on kinetic typography in order to help them animate dynamic visualizations to enhance the testimonial footage. For this final project students working in groups of three or four used stakeholder testimonials and additional news reports, images, original text, voiceovers, and music to construct a five- to eight-minute video argument covering some aspect of the ways that laws impact HIV prevention and treatment around the world. The project’s scaffolding included an ideation stage during which groups discussed their ideas with one or more of the teaching staff. We also required rough cuts that were screened in class, allowing each group to receive feedback and ideas for completion. The labor required to complete production-based projects is often underestimated by students and often invisible to faculty unaccustomed to teaching them. As such, it is crucial to build in these milestones.
The resulting projects were incredibly rich and well researched, and they covered a wide range of issues with more depth and nuance than we had imagined going into the unit. For instance, one group explored the complexities around the treatment of migrant workers—there are 105 million worldwide—who are often treated as criminals and deported from the country if they contract HIV, regardless of the country of infection. Another group explored the linkage between domestic violence and HIV, showing the ways in which women, particularly those in deeply patriarchal cultures, are often infected by their husbands and then left with few options. Divorce is taboo and even testing and treatment is untenable since it brings shame. The emotionally laden approaches to needle exchange programs were addressed by another group, while yet another explored AIDS in the US and the delicate balance between public safety and individual privacy.
This highly successful unit was a great way to complete the course, and while viewing these videos one after another, one notices a certain over-reliance on kinetic typography (words that are animated to move across the screen in interesting ways), the technique that IML students learned during the unit. However, it is also evident that the IML students took the unit seriously and pushed themselves to acquire new skills—there was no project requirement to use the technique—while it also meant that the global health students participated in the production work, doing some of the less sophisticated tasks such as capture, compression, and rough cut editing. Moreover, sequential viewing of these projects is not the norm, even as individual videos have been viewed far more widely than a text-based equivalent such as a research paper would have been. Indeed, students noted having sent their video projects to friends and family, and many of them shared their work via social networking sites.
Pedagogical Dissonance: Key Challenges
In the broadest terms, the course was consonant with Lang’s four features of successful learning environments:
1) It was mastery based, as opposed to performance based. There were no tests requiring rote memorization or the type of cramming of facts that may soon be forgotten. The work was tied to real-world events in a way that encouraged mastery, we hope, rather than a single high-stakes performance whose outcome would be final.
2) The main assignments were project-based, and the projects were designed to foster intrinsic motivation by giving students autonomy in setting their own goals insofar as was viable. The assignments included enough structure to ensure rigor, but enough openness to allow students to take an approach that was meaningful to them either personally or professionally. Moreover, seeing others students’ work during presentations may effectively raise the stakes as students put their best foot forward as a matter of pride.
3) The course offered many modes of assessment: not only were the projects themselves evaluated, but so too were the weekly reading responses, the reflective essay in the second unit, and the oral presentations for each project. Students also had the opportunity to articulate their difficulties and to revise their work in light of feedback from both peers and instructors.
4) Lastly, the course offered a high expectation of success. There was no curve to the grading process in either class and no reason all students could not do well. Each project and its requirements were carefully explained in class and models were offered for each unit. In addition, we provided resources—access to both faculty and TAs, as well as lab techs and software tutorials—so that students could stretch themselves beyond course requirements should they desire to.
Even as the course seems to have more than met these features of successful learning environments, there were several challenges, and these are, perhaps, the most useful to enumerate as they prove enlightening. We briefly sketch them below.
Establishing and managing group work among students is always a somewhat dicey issue, particularly given the fact that faculty assign grades separately. The first project, which centered on visualizing health data, was undertaken individually, and this may have inadvertently shown students the value of collaboration: When presenting their work in class, the IML students suggested that they struggled with the statistical aspect of this assignment, while the global health students remarked upon the design prowess that they saw in their colleagues’ projects but felt lacking in their own. They seemed happy to know that the next two projects would be group work.
Unlike the first assignment, the second project—disease mapping with the Hypercities platform—was collaborative. The groups were relatively large: four groups of ten or eleven students each. We were fully aware of the logistical obstacles of a group this size; scheduling a common meeting time for instance, would be daunting, especially for juniors and seniors with full course loads in addition to the demands of internships, part-time work, extracurricular activities, and the like. Conceptually speaking, this size could also be a problem in terms of leadership, decision-making, and the distribution of labor. On the other hand, in some ways we saw this assignment as a class-wide endeavor (and it truly was experimental since none of us had used the platform heretofore, even as the IML faculty member and TA were well acquainted with it), and so breaking it up this way felt to us more like splitting the one large group into quarters rather than building large groups of students. We advised students to use collaborative tools like Google Docs for planning, and to also break into smaller groups within the larger one. Moreover, as we told the class, working in groups will be a regular part of life after school, and so making decisions about how to navigate such efforts is always a useful endeavor. We urged students to make this a learning experience at the meta-level as well as at the curricular one. What will you do, for instance, when a group member fails to complete a task? Would you handle it the same way in a work setting? How will you address intragroup conflict? We wanted to give students agency along with all the responsibilities that accompany it.
When the two faculty members, who hail from very different academic disciplines, showed differences of opinion, students expressed discomfort. The evidence of this discomfort comes in a variety of forms: from the frequent emails to faculty, to the oral discussions with faculty and teaching assistants. In an effort to gather as much data as possible about student learning, we filmed extensive interviews, asked for frequent private feedback, and attended to course evaluations. Unedited reflective interviews with students may be found here: http://iml420.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/student-reflections/
During course planning meetings, we actually reveled in the differences we uncovered, finding them to be a great source of new knowledge and a chance to reexamine our own thinking. As faculty, we felt such differences in disciplinary approach would enrich the experience of the class and remind students of the possibility that other truths existed beyond their own worldview, while it would also demonstrate the importance of context.
For instance, the issues surrounding the way technologies of surveillance operate tend to be viewed differently in each field. In global health, the beneficial nature of surveillance tends to dominate: Not only does such scrutiny allow for more accuracy of data collection, making epidemics easier to track, it can also help with monitoring health care compliance. By contrast, the oppressive nature of surveillance technologies tends to be the focus of new media studies, where it is seen mainly as a disciplinary measure with the potential for abuse by ideological state apparatuses (cf. Althusser, Foucault). Indeed, a regular part of the IML’s foundational course sequence includes a camera assignment in which students create an argument about some aspect of private and public space. They are asked to research and speculate about issues such as whether the increasingly ubiquitous cameras in public places protect individuals from crime or simply provide the means for keeping them in check. Adapting this project for the combined class initially seemed interesting and provocative, but in the end, the skills and resources necessary felt prohibitive; not only does this project require extensive instruction in techniques for shooting film (framing, lighting, sound, etc.), the number of cameras, sound kits, and hard drives required would drain equipment stores when they were needed for IML courses with required camera projects. Further, the video project on HIV and the law seemed more valuable, both conceptually and practically: The global health faculty were offered access to this testimonial footage, its topic was germane to the project, and working with found footage not only requires less equipment, but editing professionally shot footage is also a valuable in teaching one about the way a visual argument is framed. That said, during class we did not attempt to hide our differing views on surveillance and other topics, though we did so in a respectful way. Still, some students expressed discomfort at the lack of a single definitive approach to such issues.
If one of Lang’s key features of successful learning environments lies in the presence of multiple opportunities for evaluation, the relationship of such evaluation to grades is worth considering in more detail. As we noted previously, students were often likely to seek a single and uncontested correct answer, and this tendency we have found to be more pronounced in the hard sciences. Undoubtedly, the data-saturated culture that permeates contemporary educational institutions has amplified students’ need to attend to data points such as test scores and grade point average, although one student did note in his course evaluation that in the absence of a test, he could not be sure he had actually learned. But beyond this desire for confirmation of learning, the fact remains that students’ apprehensions about grades are justified. Indeed, the impact of grades is often tangible, affecting material concerns such as financial aid, scholarship, group memberships, and medical or graduate school admissions, which often pivot on GPA.
As such, a key aspect of this type of pedagogy that requires students to complete work that is unconventional and often unfamiliar lies in clarity of grading parameters. Students must be told the basis on which they will be assessed, particularly when it comes to group projects. We see this as an ethical imperative, and so we took many steps toward transparency. All projects were explained in class and were accompanied by a detailed assignment sheet that included a set of assessment parameters. In general, the following aspects of each project were gauged:
Complexity of subject matter. Example of simplicity: War kills. Example of complexity: Is it worth killing a few people to free many others?
Message: the extent to which your message is conveyed in a rhetorically appropriate way.
Technique: the project should be unencumbered by malfunctions/misspellings and the like.
Textual rationale and citation of sources.
Each project also required a student to complete a structured review of another’s project, and students were graded on the quality of that review. In other words, students are not impacting other students’ grades—that responsibility should never be surrendered by faculty—rather, peer review gives students practice at critical engagement with digital texts, even as it helps them see how their own projects will be received. Moreover, such individual assignments—peer review, reading responses, reflective essays—help students exert a measure of control over their own learning in a class that includes so many collaborative efforts.
Many educators and institutions of higher learning tout the value of critical thinking, and yet, by definition, critical thinking means one must challenge accepted ways of knowing. The sort of critical consciousness that such challenges can foster often brings discomfort as students must rethink ideas they have been raised with, but as noted cultural critic bell hooks contends, such anxieties should not be dodged; rather, instructors can anticipate them and provide a space in which ideas can be tested and validated or shown to be faulty (hooks 1994, 86). Indeed, this was vital to us in approaching our collaboration since we strongly felt, and continue to feel, that the critical thinking necessary to solve the complex problems of a globally networked society is distinctly at odds with authoritarian modes of education.
Traditional university education based on disciplinary silos and the presumed straightforward transfer of information from instructor to student, if ever a viable approach, is certainly no longer one. This approach fails to elucidate the dynamic and systematic nature of burgeoning disciplines like global health and digital studies. New forms of digital media, used collaboratively, can help overcome these more traditional approaches. On the one hand, disciplinary sovereignty disappears within digital space that is based on integrative systems that connect and link various forms of information in multiple and continuous ways. On the other, recognizing that access to global health information is no longer confined to the scientific elite but readily available to anyone with access to the Internet requires that quality educational programs refocus, moving away from transferring facts and figures toward teaching to consolidate, evaluate, and use information effectively and responsibly. Moreover, in many ways Internet access requires far more expertise since data deluge and information overload render the expert far more valuable in terms of accessing, analyzing, assessing, and triangulating information. We can no longer teach students what to learn, we must teach them how to learn.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the USC Provost’s Office for Undergraduate Education‘s Fund for Innovative Undergraduate Education (administered by the USC Center for Excellence in Teaching), which helped make this class possible.
Althusser, Luis. 1971. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Translated by Ben Brewster. In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays,121–176. New York: Monthly Review Press. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm
Beaglehole, Robert, and Ruth Bonita. 2008. “Global public health: a scorecard.” Lancet 372, no. 9654: 1988–96. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61558-5
Foucault, Michel. 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. Edited by Colin Gordon, Translated by Colin Gordon et al. New York: Pantheon. OCLC 6554112
Friere, Paolo. 1996. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 2nd ed. New York: Penguin Books. OCLC 34270225
hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge. OCLC 30668295
Johnson, Allan G. 2005. Privilege, Power, and Difference. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill. OCLC 57134413
Johnson, Steven. 2006. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. New York: Penguin. OCLC 70483471
Lang, James M. 2013. Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty. Cambridge: Harvard UP. OCLC 840460705
Nolen, Stephanie. 2008. 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa. London: Portobello Books. OCLC 183917081
 For instance, see Elizabeth Losh’s recent book The War on Learning: Gaining Ground in the Digital University, in which Losh problematizes the different types of technologies used by universities (courseware) and by students (social media platforms), which are often somewhat oppositional, at least in their aims (e.g., security versus sharing).
 The authors gratefully acknowledge the utilized support received from the USC Fund for Innovative Undergraduate Teaching (FIUT). The FIUT is a USC Provostial initiative that supports novel educational initiatives by faculty who teach undergraduate courses.
 In 2014, the IML became a full academic division of the School of Cinematic Arts called Media Arts + Practice, with its own undergraduate major and PhD. The IML remains a research unit under the Division, which includes several interdisciplinary programs.
 While the lectures, discussion, and assignments were the same, written feedback and grading was done by the respective faculty member and teaching assistant.
 We will use the terms “new media” and “digital studies” interchangeably in this article to indicate a curriculum that focuses on a theory/practice model in which emergent forms of media are both studied and made. This is sometimes referred to as “critical making,” and used to be called “multimedia literacy,” but these terms are fluid and dynamic.
 We are gauging the relative success of the unit based on the quality of the student projects, as well as the students’ ability to articulate their intentions and the insights gained by completing the work.
 We should note that Allen Shu, the global health TA, was not interested in pursuing this publication, and was somewhat reluctant to participate fully in problematizing the pedagogy. An international doctoral student in statistical analysis, he felt this work to be too far afield from his career plans, and we honored his wishes.
 Jason Lipshin, one of the authors of this article, was hired as the research assistant. Jason had completed the Honors in Multimedia Scholarship program but had one final course to complete during the time he worked on the project. He has since earned a Master’s from MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program.
 The IML had been using the “X Wiki” for several years due to its media-friendliness, and IML programmers also built a portal around the wiki. Apple is no longer supporting this wiki software, and the IML, now the Division of Media Arts + Practice, no longer has a dedicated programmer. Even during this course, however, the Global Health class also made use of a Blackboard site because its faculty and students were familiar with the Blackboard course management system and because the wiki didn’t offer support for things like grades.
 We conducted the course under an expedited IRB and all students were given the option of remaining anonymous. None chose this option, and, indeed, many requested their work be online so they could show it to their friends and family.
 His prominent essay, “As We May Think,” has become a seminal text in many new media classes. Interestingly, the example Bush uses to make his case is Mendel’s groundbreaking work on genetics, which he notes was lost to the world for a generation because it was not accessible to those who might expand upon it.
 As our USC colleague and legal expert Sofia Gruskin noted, many AIDS activists were reluctant to visit the US because for many years US Customs required visitors to declare their HIV status upon entering the country. Activists justifiably saw this as a violation of privacy and one with potential ramifications for their lives upon their return home. It was the suspension of this policy that made the US a viable site for the AIDS2012 conference.
 For a fuller discussion of digital argument, please see “The Rhetoric of Remix,” TWC 2012: http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/358/279;
and “Filmic Texts and the Rose of the Fifth Estate,” The International Journal of Learning and Media: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/ijlm_a_00057
 Camera projects are a core component of many IML classes, and, being in the School of Cinematic Arts, we use professional-level tools and require a high degree of sophistication in filmed footage. So while we could have geared the assignment to allow students to capture video from their mobile phones, for instance, the resulting quality of the work would be uneven across student groups, or simply sub par.
 For a more expansive view of IML approaches to assessment, see “Speaking with Students: Profiles in Digital Pedagogy,” Kairos 2010: http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/14.2/interviews/kuhn/, which features five-minute overview videos in which students in the Honors in Multimedia Scholarship program discuss their digital theses, which are based in their major area of study.
About the Authors
Dr. Virginia Kuhn is an Associate Professor in the Division of Media Arts + Practice in the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Her work centers on visual and digital rhetoric, feminist theory and algorithmic research methods. In 2005, she successfully defended one of the first born-digital dissertations in the United States, challenging archiving and copyright conventions. Committed to helping shape open source tools for scholarship, she also published the first article created in the authoring platform, Scalar titled “Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate,” and she serves on the editorial boards of several peer reviewed digital and print-based journals. With Vicki Callahan, she recently finished work on an edited collection, Subversive Performance and Feminist Bodies (Parlor Press, 2015). Kuhn was the 2009 recipient of the USC Provost’s award for Teaching with Technology. She directs on undergraduate Honors program, as well as a graduate certificate in Digital Media and Culture, and teaches a variety of graduate and undergraduate classes in new media, all of which marry theory and practice.
Dr. Heather Wipfli is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the USC/Keck School of Medicine and in the Department of International Relations at the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. She is also the Associate Director of the USC Institute for Global Health. Her research focuses on global health politics and the development of innovative forms of global health governance. She has successfully led a number of large multi-country research and capacity building projects focused on global health and policy, including a study of secondhand smoke in homes in over 30 countries. She also contributes to improving the capacity of individuals and organizations to address global health issues through the development and delivery of innovative onsite and online curriculum, including having developed numerous undergraduate and graduate global health courses that experiment with new modes of learner-centered learning, including the use of technology, interactive play, and professional immersion. Dr. Wipfli has published work on policy diffusion, capacity building in developing countries, globalization and health, and health security. Her book on global tobacco control was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2015.
Jason Lipshin is a user experience design researcher for TomTom in Amsterdam. He focuses on the exploratory stages of product development, working on next generation navigation devices and fitness-oriented wearable computing. Before TomTom, Jason worked as an interaction design intern for Disney Interactive Group in Tokyo, Japan. He helped create wireframes and concepts for apps that will be soon be released to the Japanese market. In 2014, Jason received his M.S. from MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program, where he wrote his thesis on ubiquitous computing. He was also a researcher for both the MIT Mobile Experience Lab and the MIT Imagination, Computation, and Expression Lab, where he wrote publications and developed prototypes devoted to these (and other) topics. Jason graduated from USC in 2011. In his time there, he worked extensively with the Institute for Multimedia Literacy (now the Division of Media Arts + Practice).
Susana Ruiz is an artist and scholar whose teaching and research are broadly concerned with how the intersection of art practice, game design, computation, and storytelling can enable emergent forms of social justice, aesthetics, and learning. Much of Ruiz’s work takes place via the studio she co-founded, Take Action Games (TAG), which has an evolving portfolio of “serious”, documentary, and “art” game design, participatory culture, and transmedia storytelling. TAG’s accolades include the Games For Change Audience Award, the Adobe MAX Award for Social Responsibility, Honoree status in the Webby Award Activism Category, and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ prestigious Governors Award as part of the mtvU Sudan campaign. Ruiz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Film and Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She was a member of the first cohort in the Interactive Media and Games MFA program at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and then a member of the second cohort in its Ph.D. program in Media Arts + Practice. She was a USC Provost’s Fellow and recipient of the University of Southern California’s Ph.D. Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed on doctoral candidates at USC.
Leila Walker edited the blog post Interactive Technology for More Critical Service-Learning? in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Possibilities for Mentorship and Collaboration within an Online Platform for International Volunteering
Willy Oppenheim, Omprakash
Joe O’Shea, Florida State University
Steve Sclar, Omprakash EdGE
International service-learning programs have rapidly expanded in higher education in recent years, but there has been little examination of the potential uses of interactive technology as a pedagogical tool within such programs. This paper explores a case study of an interactive digital platform intended to add more reflexivity and critical rigor to the learning that happens within international service-learning programs at colleges and universities. The digital platform under consideration, Omprakash EdGE (http://www.omprakash.org/edge), facilitates collaboration between students, international grassroots social impact organizations, and a team of mentors that supports students before, during, and after their international experiences. The authors represent both sides of a collaboration between Omprakash EdGE and a program at Florida State University which works to help students find affordable, ethical, and educational opportunities for international engagement. The paper begins with an overview of the troubled landscape of international service-learning within higher education, and an explanation of the authors’ rationale for collaborating to develop a new program model revolving around a digital platform. Then it discusses the ways in which the authors have sought to cultivate international learning experiences that are dialogical, reflexive, personal, and experiential, and it explains how a digital platform has been central to this effort by enabling students to build relationships with host organizations, engage in pre-departure training, and receive support from mentors. It then explains some of the challenges and successes the authors have encountered in their collaboration thus far, and concludes with reflections on the pedagogical constraints and possibilities for interactive technology within programs aiming to generate critical consciousness through international engagement.
Within the broader trend of internationalization sweeping through colleges, universities, and even some high schools in the United States and elsewhere (Gacel-Avila 2005; Harris 2008), the phenomenon of international service-learning raises a number of interesting pedagogical and programmatic questions. As educational institutions in resource-rich countries (the so-called “Global North”) increasingly endorse opportunities for students to travel to resource-poor countries (the so-called “Global South” or “developing world”) to volunteer or intern in settings that include schools, clinics, orphanages, and community centers, what forms of student learning are they hoping to promote, and how do they assume that this learning actually unfolds? What are the ethical and pedagogical principles —if any—that inform the design and implementation of international service-learning programs?
It is well-established that young people are leaving their home countries to volunteer abroad at an unprecedented rate (Dolnicar and Randle 2007; Hartman et al. 2012; Mcbride and Lough 2010, 196; Ouma and Dimaras 2013). Some aspects of this trend are not new: its roots reach back at least as far as the founding of the United States Peace Corps in 1961 and the United Kingdom’s Voluntary Service Organisation (VSO) in 1958, and are entwined with older trends of faith-based international mission work. Yet regardless of these various historical precedents, researchers agree that the trend has spiked dramatically in recent decades, spurred on by both government programs and a huge range of program offerings in the private sector (Rieffel and Zalud 2006; Leigh 2011, 29). Recent data suggest that over 350,000 individuals aged 16–25 engage in some form of international volunteering each year (Jones 2005). Within the United States, tens of thousands of young people per annum volunteer through non-profit organizations such as churches and charities and through for-profit companies that chaperone group volunteer trips or “place” volunteers with foreign “community partners” (Rieffel and Zalud 2006). Recent reports estimate the value of this emergent “voluntourism” industry at anywhere from $150 million to over $1 billion per annum (Mintel 2008; Stein 2012). Meanwhile, whether under the banner of creating global citizens, preparing students to compete in a global knowledge economy, or fostering intercultural competence, colleges and universities are seeking new partnerships, developing new programs, and mobilizing new discourses that all celebrate the value of immersive, non-traditional educational experiences in international settings. Within this context, programs that revolve around international service-learning have become increasingly popular, and such programs have been the subject of a considerable amount of recent academic research (e.g. Crabtree 2008; Green and Johnson 2014; Hartman et al. 2014).
Against this backdrop, academics and mainstream media outlets alike have recently put forth well-justified criticism of international volunteering (e.g. Biddle 2014; Hickel 2013; Zakaria 2014). Some authors (e.g. Ausland 2010) have usefully delineated between various forms of this phenomenon within and beyond universities—distinguishing, for example, between mission trips, slum tourism, middleman companies that “place” individual volunteers, and faculty-led group service trips. Many argue that the practice of sending untrained, unskilled young people into sensitive foreign contexts on short trips for the purpose of “serving” is a paternalistic impulse that smells of neocolonialism (e.g. Crossley 2012; Simpson 2004). At the same time, a growing body of peer-reviewed research has argued for the socially and personally transformative potential of student volunteering through university service-learning programs, especially when those programs take an explicitly critical stance and explicitly orient themselves towards the pursuit of social change (e.g. Crabtree 2008, 2013; Hartman and Kiely 2013; Mitchell 2008).
The authors of this paper represent a collaboration between the director of Florida State University’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement and the directors of Omprakash EdGE, a web platform that connects prospective volunteers with autonomous grassroots social impact organizations and provides intensive volunteer training and mentorship via an online classroom. We share many of the same concerns and hopes described above, but our aim here is not to restate the common refrain that “good intentions are not enough,” nor to offer another aspirational but abstract vision of what service-learning programs “should” achieve. Instead, we identify three common characteristics of service-learning programs that we find to be deeply troubling, and then explain our ongoing attempt to confront and improve upon these programmatic features via an innovative model that revolves around an interactive digital platform. By sharing the case study of our own experience, we aim to raise new questions about the educative capacity of interactive technology within the sphere of international service-learning, and to generate further debate and collaboration in this direction.
Our collaboration grew out of a shared concern that many, if not most, organizations in the business of selling or facilitating volunteer opportunities meet one or more of the following three conditions: 1) they act as a middleman; that is, they “place” volunteers with organizations or in communities from which they are distinctly separate; 2) they charge high fees for this service and more or less guarantee a placement to those who pay these fees; and 3) they promote their work by insisting that a) volunteers will be “making a difference” regardless of their background or qualifications, b) even a little bit of help is “better than nothing,” and therefore c) no significant pre-departure training or preparation is necessary (see Ausland 2010; Citrin 2011; Hartman et al. 2012). We contend that the convergence of these common program features is deleterious to student-volunteers and the organizations they purport to serve.
This paper centers on our attempt to develop an interactive digital platform that enables alternatives to these trends, and its central question is whether this model is indeed a viable one. Circling around this question are many others: If international service-learning is inherently a distance-based and loosely-defined educational experience, then how do we track learning, and what can be the role of technology in this tracking? How can a digital platform be used to remediate many of the broader problems of service-learning and ‘voluntourism’? How can an interactive digital classroom and mixed-media curricula be integrated toward that end? What role can a trained mentorship team play in facilitating learning before, during, and after students’ international trips? And most crucially, in a world characterized by stark inequalities, is it possible to use an interactive digital platform as a vehicle for critical pedagogy that sparks social and personal transformations?
In what follows, we attempt to answer these questions by sharing data and reflections from our own experience. We begin by elaborating our guiding pedagogical principles and then describing the online volunteer-matching platform, classroom, and mentorship system that are central to our program. Then we offer qualitative and quantitative data to illustrate some of the challenges and successes we have encountered thus far. We conclude by reflecting on the possibilities for interactive technology as an avenue towards more critical and transformative service-learning.
II. Programmatic Origins and Pedagogical Principles
Founded in 2004, Omprakash is an interactive digital platform that enables vetted international partner organizations to build profiles, post positions, and recruit volunteers. Prospective volunteers search and apply for positions posted by Omprakash partners, and partners have full autonomy to determine when and if they offer a particular position to a particular applicant. Volunteers pay for their own travel and in-country living expenses, but pay no program fee to Omprakash in exchange for the connective services offered by the Omprakash platform. In early 2012, Omprakash administrators launched Omprakash EdGE (Education through Global Engagement) as an attempt to actively confront the most problematic aspects of the service-learning industry described above: namely, that volunteers are often provided with little to no pre-departure training and mentorship, and that the learning half of “service-learning” is often a disconcerting grey area. The EdGE program couples volunteer trips with a 12-week pre-departure online classroom, a dedicated mentor, and a required field-based inquiry that culminates in a Capstone Project documenting local perspectives about the social issue(s) that the volunteer’s host organization is working to confront. The program is tuition-based, and one of the motivations for its design was to create sustainable, not-for-profit revenue to support the broader Omprakash platform. Omprakash sought university collaborators for the pilot year and found a strong partner in Florida State University (FSU).
In the fall of 2012, Omprakash and Florida State University’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement (CRE) partnered to create an FSU Global Scholars program (http://cre.fsu.edu/Students/Global-Scholars-Program) that would offer a combination of online training and immersive international volunteer opportunities to several dozen FSU students per year. A particular focus of the program is to recruit participants who are from low-income backgrounds and are first-generation college students, as this population is often underrepresented in these types of experiences and stands to benefit greatly (Finley and McNair 2013). In the first iteration (’12-’13 academic year), 37 students were selected to be Global Scholars by CRE administrators. These students each participated in the EdGE online classroom during the spring semester and then spent at least two months during the summer with one of Omprakash’s international partner organizations. In the second iteration (’13-’14 academic year), 28 students participated, and the online classroom was complemented with weekly in-person meetings among the Global Scholars on the FSU campus. At the time of writing, we are in the midst of the third iteration of the EdGE/Global Scholars collaboration, with 49 students involved.
Our work together has revolved around four pedagogical principles. First, we believe that the learning in international service-learning should be dialogical: learning should emerge via interactions with others and exploration of different perspectives, and various “truths” should be uncovered and interrogated in an ongoing process of exploration, rather than received as static “facts.” Second, learning should be reflexive: it should encourage students to reflect on their own positionality, to recognize and share their own biases, and to understand the process of learning about others as inextricable from a process of learning about selfhood and subjectivity. Third, learning should be personal, meaning that it should emerge through human relationships characterized by empathy, camaraderie, compassion, and humor. Finally, learning should be experiential, meaning that it should be grounded in empirical inquiry and exploration, and that students’ international experiences should recursively inform each other’s ongoing learning.
We make no claim to the originality of these guiding principles—indeed, we readily acknowledge the extent to which our own work has drawn inspiration from the broader trends of constructivist epistemology and critical pedagogy, in particular the work of Paulo Freire (1970). Yet our unique challenge has been to apply these principles to the creation of interactive technology intended to facilitate and support international engagement. The next section provides further details about why and how we have attempted to do so.
III. The Omprakash EdGE Digital Platform: Rationale, Functionalities, and Possibilities
Rationale for Using Interactive Technology
The prominent role of interactive technology within the EdGE/Global Scholars program is a response to several key contextual points. The first contextual point is one of geography and logistics: a digital platform is the most obvious solution to the parallel challenges of enabling students to connect directly with potential host organizations around the world, and also enabling students to maintain contact with each other and to maintain some semblance of intellectual continuity before, during, and after their field positions. Likewise, the chronological flexibility of digital learning means that a wider range of students can find ways to integrate the EdGE pre-departure curriculum into busy schedules.
The second contextual point concerns program costs and accessibility to a diverse group of students: in contrast to chaperoned “voluntourism” trips, the Omprakash digital platform can operate at scale for relatively minimal overhead costs, and thus Omprakash experiences are financially accessible to students whose less-privileged backgrounds might render them unable to afford more expensive “voluntourism” trips. The key difference is that Omprakash does not spend administrative resources on placing volunteers or chaperoning trips; instead, its digital platform allows individuals and organizations to connect organically and arrange their own plans via direct communication. Omprakash invests time and resources into the initial vetting of its partner organizations to ensure a degree of quality and reliability, but the ongoing vetting process is largely driven by users’ reviews of their experiences, and this is another example of the ways in which Omprakash has been able to expand and strengthen its network without incurring expenses that must be passed on to users.
The third contextual point concerns the institutional and bureaucratic inertia faced by administrators at FSU and many other universities: despite a genuine intent to integrate rigorous academic content with students’ international experiences, universities often lack the funding and institutional will to incentivize or allow faculty to teach accredited interdisciplinary courses that explicitly prepare students to approach international service-learning with intellectual seriousness (Crabtree 2013; Hartman and Kiely 2014). Against this contextual backdrop, it made sense for FSU’s CRE to use the Omprakash EdGE online platform instead of developing a new on-campus course.
Browsing and Applying for Volunteer / Internship Positions
Omprakash administrators developed their volunteer matching platform as a deliberate alternative to the dominant “placement” model in which middlemen restrict direct contact between volunteers and their host organizations prior to arrival, and volunteers are not required to apply for specific positions. The basic rationale for this platform is that it provides greater power and autonomy to host organizations that tend to be marginalized within the dominant “placement” model.
In the dominant model, middleman organizations have little incentive to allow for direct dialogue between volunteers and hosts, because doing so might allow the volunteer to sidestep the middleman and avoid paying the middleman’s fees. Consequently, host organizations possess little to no autonomy to determine which volunteers might (or might not) be a good fit for their organization’s needs, values, and specific position openings. Likewise, volunteers have limited to no opportunity to learn more about different potential hosts and decide which one might be the best fit for their specific skills and interests.
The Omprakash model reverses this pattern by empowering partner organizations with full autonomy to solicit applications for specific positions, and to accept or reject applicants as they see fit. In addition, this programmatic feature is also an important component of students’ learning experiences: by requiring students to apply for specific positions and communicate directly with Omprakash partners, Omprakash challenges the embedded paternalistic assumptions that NGOs working in resource-poor contexts are desperate for foreign help, and that “anyone can do it.”
The EdGE Classroom
Course content in the EdGE digital classroom is divided into separate weeks that are sequentially accessible. Weeks are clustered into thematic sections, and each week is oriented around a single essential question. For example, the theme of Weeks 1–3 is “Good Intentions and Unintended Consequences,” and the essential question of Week 1 is “What might be wrong with international volunteering?”
Each week is divided into three sections: Learn, Respond, and Browse. The Learn section (see Figure 1) of each week is further divided into slides in which Omprakash administrators arrange learning content: a reading excerpt, an embedded video, a photo collage, a public service announcement from the Omprakash narrator, or any combination of the above. At the base of each slide, students are able to write observations and browse the observations of their peers. The Learn section of each week contains anywhere from ten to twenty slides and is designed to require 1–2 hours to complete. Upon completing the Learn section of a given week, students enter the Respond section (see Figure 2) and submit a written reflection or recorded video to a prompt related to the week’s essential question and associated content. After submitting their weekly response, students enter the Browse section (see Figure 3), where they explore and comment upon the responses of their peers. The end result is three ways for students to interact with classroom content and each other on a weekly basis: observations in the Learn section, responses in the Respond section, and comments in the Browse section. All participants are notified with an email whenever their response receives a comment, and mentors are notified with an email whenever their mentees post an observation or response.
[caption id="attachment_2819" align="alignnone" width="505"] Figure 3. Cropped screenshot from the Browse section of last year’s EdGE/Global Scholars classroom.[/caption]
In contrast to a typical Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), we sought to ensure that student experiences within our online classroom would involve a significant degree of personalized mentorship and instruction. With this in mind, Omprakash administrators solicited applications and built a team of EdGE Mentors who would work with FSU Global Scholars as they worked through the EdGE online classroom. The EdGE Mentor team is comprised mostly of graduate students and young professionals with deep experience as researchers and practitioners in fields such as international development, public health, gender studies, and anthropology. EdGE Mentors are geographically dispersed—the current team of seventeen Mentors is spread across locations including Atlanta, Berlin, New York, Oxford, Quito, Port au Prince, and Toronto—but collaborate with students and with each other via the EdGE digital classroom. For each cycle of the Global Scholars program, each mentor is matched with a handful of mentees and is expected to maintain contact with his or her mentees before, during, and after the mentees’ field positions. Mentors are compensated on a per-student basis.
The mentorship team has multiple nodes of contact with mentees. Firstly, mentors make themselves available to mentees via email and video calls. As students progress through the online coursework, mentors schedule “office hours” with their mentees, usually via Skype or Google+. Omprakash administrators request that mentors hold office hours at least four times throughout the 12-week pre-departure classroom, and mentors use this time to answer questions and build personal rapport with their mentees. Secondly, within the classroom itself, mentors are engaged in almost exactly the same way as their mentees: each week, mentors write observations, responses, and comments. Within the Browse section, mentors are required to provide a substantial comment to each of their mentees’ responses. Mentors are welcome to provide comments to any student, even if the student is not one of their designated mentees. While these comments are public to all users, the online platform also affords mentors the opportunity to send private weekly feedback to their mentees.
Upon acceptance into the Global Scholars program, students are enrolled in a one-credit, pass-fail course during the spring semester. The on-campus course is facilitated by CRE administrators and meets weekly. These meetings are usually devoted to answering logistical questions and giving students time to discuss content encountered in the EdGE classroom thus far. These meetings constitute a key feature of the collaboration between Omprakash EdGE and the CRE: while the EdGE digital classroom provides space in which students can explore content and discuss with mentors and each other, the weekly on-campus meetings add another layer of personal interaction to the experience.
EdGE Curriculum and Capstone Projects
Rooted in Paulo Freire’s notion of conscientization (“raising critical consciousness”), the EdGE curriculum is designed to help students move beyond the superficial urge to ‘help others,’ and to work towards more holistic and reflexive understandings of the intersecting contexts in which they and their host partners are situated. The curriculum begins by challenging students to reflect upon the intentions and assumptions that underlie their desires to volunteer abroad. It dedicates a week to deconstructing the catch-all term “culture.” Another week is devoted to exploring the complexities of conflicting local interest groups and power dynamics that are often obscured by overly-romanticized notions of “helping the community.” Three weeks explore intersections of social, economic, and environmental inequality, and thereby help students locate themselves and their host organizations in relation to global configurations of power. The latter part of the curriculum teaches research methods—particularly the tools of ethnographic observation and community-based participatory research (CBPR)—so that students can complete observer-activist Capstone Projects which document the roots of a complex social issue and are meant to be shared with all members of the Omprakash network as well as other audiences back home.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The Omprakash digital platform allows Omprakash administrators to easily track each student’s observations, responses, and comments throughout the duration of the twelve-week pre-departure curriculum, and to qualitatively assess how a given student’s understandings seem to shift (or not shift) over time. Likewise, the platform also allows Omprakash administrators, EdGE Mentors, and FSU administrators to easily answer quantitative questions such as which pieces of classroom content elicit the most student responses, which mentors have the most consistent back and forth dialogue with their mentees, and how trends in classroom participation vary between students with differing background characteristics.
To supplement these data sources, we also administer surveys to our students on a periodic basis. Students complete a pre- and post- survey that builds upon established survey instruments, such as the Global Perspectives Inventory (https://gpi.central.edu/) and the College Senior Survey (HERI), and also includes original questions and constructs. In addition, students offer qualitative feedback and reflections on the quality of our program via surveys administered at the midpoint and conclusion of the pre-departure curriculum and upon returning home from their field positions. Finally, Omprakash administrators also solicit feedback from Omprakash partners about the contributions of each student-volunteer.
All of this is to say that we have managed to accumulate abundant data reflecting student experiences within our program. However, we will be the first to acknowledge that conducting meaningful analysis of this data is much more challenging than simply collecting it. In the next section, we attempt to draw some inferences from the various forms of data we have collected thus far.
IV. What We’ve Learned—Challenges and Successes
Having provided an explanation of the roots and structure of our program and collaboration, we now offer a deeper analysis of the challenges and successes we have encountered during our collaboration thus far. We focus on three core aspects of our digital platform: the volunteer matching system, the EdGE classroom, and the remote mentorship model.
Matching Volunteers and Partner Organizations
By requiring potential volunteers to apply for positions, establish dialogue, and build rapport with potential host organizations before they leave home, we encourage a bridging of the real and imagined gulfs that separate the two parties. In addition to reducing our administrative burden and thus making our program more affordable and accessible to students from a wide range of backgrounds, this aspect of our program actualizes a key dimension of our ethos: by allowing volunteers and hosts to engage autonomously, exchange information freely, and establish a preliminary relationship, we enact a preventive strategy to discourage distorted relations, perverse incentive structures and perpetuated biases.
Omprakash has been refining this aspect of its platform for a decade, and the platform has facilitated thousands of fruitful collaborations between volunteers and partner organizations. However, our experience with this platform has also uncovered some troubling ironies related to digitally-based dialogue and collaboration. To state the obvious: technologies intended to connect people do not always result in increased connectedness or in successful collaborations. Prospective volunteers can be very fickle when communicating with partners: in many cases, they delay in answering emails; they forget about scheduled meetings—whether due to time zone confusion or other distractions—and they express themselves in casual, lackadaisical terms which partners sometimes interpret as immature or unprofessional. Given that Omprakash partners are real organizations confronting real social issues and are not pop-up projects that exist only to facilitate feel-good volunteer experiences, this sort of digital interaction with prospective volunteers can be disconcerting or even offensive.
Omprakash prides itself on its commitment to providing an alternative to the dominant “placement” model, and collaborators at FSU and other universities share this commitment. However, at times it seems as though some students would be much more comfortable if Omprakash would just “place” them on a volunteer trip and save them the trouble of needing to browse real organizations and apply for specific positions. Likewise, some parents and university administrators balk at the lack of “on-site supervision” within the Omprakash model. Of course, all partners provide their own “on-site supervision,” but it seems that the embedded concerns of some parents and administrators will not be soothed unless supervision comes in the form of a well-credentialed American or European chaperone. The Omprakash digital platform is meant to facilitate direct collaboration between diverse people and organizations, but some prospective volunteers, parents, and university administrators seem that to prefer paying a high premium for a guaranteed “placement” rather than grapple with the complexities and uncertainties of building relationships with locally-run social impact organizations that may or may not actually want their help. The irony here is that volunteering abroad is ostensibly a process of collaboration, but many prospective volunteers seem intimidated by the fundamentally collaborative ethos that underpins the Omprakash platform and would prefer crisply packaged “voluntourism” products designed for mass consumption.
The EdGE Classroom
On the whole, FSU Global Scholars have interacted deeply and positively with the Omprakash EdGE online classroom. There was marked improvement in the level of engagement from the first year of the program (’12–’13) to the second (’13–’14). We attribute this to two main factors. First, FSU administrators facilitated on-campus weekly meetings in the second iteration of the program. Providing this structure seemed to help spur participation. Second, Omprakash administrators gave the EdGE curriculum a thorough makeover before the second year based on feedback from first year students. Omprakash administrators added a great deal of new content, removed content that had not resonated, and developed new tactics for structuring the material in the Learn section. For example, in the first year only one piece of content (reading, video, etc.) was put onto each slide, which meant that some weeks had over 20 slides. In the second year, to whatever extent possible, slides were crafted to deliver a specific message and multiple pieces of content were arranged on a single slide to tell that story.
The post-course evaluation completed by 82% (23/28) of the 2013-2014 Global Scholars provides a clearer snapshot of students’ experience in the online classroom. Only one student disagreed with the statement “I found the classroom intuitive to navigate,” and all students agreed that “the classroom was well-organized.” Nineteen of 23 (83%) students agreed that the weekly content was “stimulating” and 20 (87%) agreed that “the flow of the course from week to week was logical.” Nineteen (83%) agreed with the statement “I valued the opportunity to engage with peers and mentors in the weekly forums.” In response to a request for general feedback, one student wrote:
I liked how it had a curriculum set up that consisted of a learning, responding, and browsing stage. It really makes me feel engaged with my peers and administration. I liked how it felt like we were in a live class. It was enjoyable to learn things online at our own pace.
With regard to self-reported learning in this evaluation, 100% of students agreed with the statement “I am a better prepared international volunteer because of this course” (of which 14 (61%) “strongly” agreed). This is encouraging, but even more encouraging is the overwhelmingly positive written feedback, such as:
I really loved how Omprakash opened my eyes to a whole new world of international aid, public health, anthropology, and research that I’ve never known about.
This program changes your perspective on international volunteering and issues like no other. It helps you reevaluate any prejudices and biases you may not even be aware you have, and learn how to best be an informed and engaged intern. It gives you extremely valuable resources and a network of people to help along the way.
I’m sure that if I were left to my own devices, I would have been more likely to literally wait until possibly even now to START preparing. It made me consider a lot of things that I wouldn’t have considered, and throughout taught me several things I will use over the course of my volunteering experience.
IT was the absolute BEST program I could ever recommend to anyone looking to volunteer abroad. It was the most eye opening experience of my undergraduate experience.
It is exciting to find students expressing this level of appreciation for a web-based learning platform. The final quoted comment reads like a typical testimonial about a ‘life-changing’ experience in another country, and thus is all the more fascinating given that it was written weeks before the volunteer even left home.
Feedback like this makes us confident about the depth of learning that occurs in our online classroom, but we still see a great deal of room for improvement. The structure of our Learn section requires students to click through each slide, but it is difficult to gauge how carefully or carelessly students are engaging with weekly content unless they submit observations or responses that blatantly demonstrate a lack of understanding. Such instances are not rare and are certainly disheartening, but it is worth noting that the student tendencies of taking shortcuts and skimming are hardly problems unique to digital learning environments.
One of the most common critiques about digital learning is the high rate of attrition, estimated to be 93.5% for MOOCs such as Coursera (Jordan 2014). In this credit-bearing collaboration, we do not face this problem. If Global Scholars do not participate in the EdGE classroom, they will fail a course that appears on their FSU transcripts. But because it is a pass-fail course, our challenge is making sure that students are doing more than the bare minimum to pass.
EdGE Mentors are a crucial component of our effort to ensure that our online classroom is dialogical, reflexive, and personal. Our expectation that mentors provide thoughtful comments on each of their mentees’ weekly responses is the cornerstone of our strategy to ignite dialogue in the weekly forums. In ideal circumstances, every student’s weekly response will garner comments from his mentor and peers. In reality however, most but not all responses in any given weekly forum will spur this level of dialogue.
At the conclusion of the most recent Global Scholars session, we reviewed each mentor’s engagement with his or her mentees and provided substantial quantitative and qualitative feedback to each mentor. We analyzed mentor engagement and coded it according to seven possible categories: supportive, i.e. “This is a great post”; affirmative, i.e. “I liked when you said…”; follow-up, i.e. “How would you explain…?”; own opinion, i.e. “My perspective on this is…”; personal anecdote, i.e. “When I was in grad school…”; refer-to-material, i.e. “Freire would say…”; for-further-reading, i.e. “Check out this article about…”. This coding system allowed us to identify major trends in each mentor’s style of engagement. For example, one mentor’s evaluation reads that 93% of her comments were ‘supportive’ and ‘follow-up,’ while 40% were ‘affirmative’ and 7% were ‘own opinion.’ In addition, 27% of her comments resulted in a ‘back and forth’ (student responds to her comment at least once).
We believe our mentorship system is one of the most vital aspects of the EdGE program. It provides the personal touch that keeps students honest and involved. In the post-course evaluation mentioned earlier, all 23 respondents agreed that their mentor “makes himself/herself available to answer my questions”; 21 (91%) agreed that their mentor was “helpful” (two were neutral), and 20 (87%) agreed that their mentor “provided good comments on my weekly responses.” Nineteen (83%) Global Scholars agreed that mentorship was a “very valuable” aspect of EdGE and “plan to maintain communication with my mentor during and after my field position” (the remaining four were neutral to both questions).
V. Using Interactive Technology to Raise Critical Consciousness?
Interactive technology and service-learning are both on the rise within higher education, but there is little reason to assume that either will be a driver of social change rather than social reproduction. Despite the hype about egalitarianism and democratization that surrounds emergent digital learning platforms, we worry that the implementation and evaluation of such technologies are sometimes directed towards the goals of increasing efficiency and profit margins at the expense of student learning and transformation. Likewise, despite the buzzwords of global citizenship and collaborative partnerships that surround the proliferation of service-learning programs, we worry that many such programs lack substantive pedagogical vision and are oriented around placement models and paternalistic narratives that are intrinsically disempowering to those they purport to serve (Baillie Smith and Laurie 2011). The authors of this paper have sought to integrate the two trends of interactive technology and service-learning with the explicit aim of going beyond the buzzwords to cultivate critical inquiry and authentic collaboration in pursuit of social change. Our pedagogical vision derives from Freire’s notion of ‘raising critical consciousness’: a conviction that ‘knowing the world’ through dialogue and reflection is the first step towards creating change. The question, then, is whether or not such a vision can be actualized through an interactive digital platform—or at all.
It is surely too early to attempt any conclusive answer to this question, but the case study offered in this paper suggests that interactive technology might indeed be a useful tool for facilitating the sort of learning and collaboration that “critical service-learning” would seem to require. Further research should investigate not just what students are learning via the digital platform, but also how they translate this learning into their work on the ground while volunteering abroad and into the rest of their lives upon returning home.
Willy and Steve would like to thank the Omprakash EdGE Mentorship team, without which this article would not exist: Alex Frye, Eric Dietrich, Kalie Lasiter, Emily Hedin, Mayme Lefurgey, Miyuki Baker, Kit Dobyns, Shelby Rogala, Anabel Sanchez, Laura Stahnke, Matt Smith, Barclay Martin, Nathan Kennedy, Meredith Smith, Devi Lockwood, Nina Hall and Mary Jean Chan. W&S would also like to thank Lacey Worel for making sure the Omprakash trains run on time and Sonu Mahan and Adarsh Kumar for being brilliant web developers who can turn stale mockups into truly interactive technology. Finally, W&S would like to thank the other half of this great collaboration: Joe, Latika Young and Kim Reid. Joe would also like to thank Latika and Kim for making sure the FSU Global Scholars program runs so well.
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 The neologism “voluntourism,” though lacking a precise definition, is generally used in a pejorative manner to describe programs that combine volunteering with tourism. Throughout this essay, we use the terms “service-learning,” “volunteering,” and “voluntourism” somewhat interchangeably—not because we are unaware that many commentators have attempted to delineate between them, but rather because we believe that such delineations often obscure more than they illuminate, and that our criticisms and suggestions are applicable to programs that fall into all of these categories as well as the grey area between them.
 To offer one example of the sort of high-cost “voluntourism” program against which we work to offer an alternative: an organization branding itself as “the gold standard of global engagement” sells ten-day trips to Uganda under the slogan of “short term trips; long term impact.” Customers pay a program fee of $1,990 plus airfare, and travel in groups of at least eight. In contrast, a student participating in Omprakash EdGE and working with an Omprakash partner in Uganda for sixty days would pay a total of roughly $1,350 plus airfare ($750 for the EdGE program fee, and $10 per day in country), and would receive pre-departure training and mentorship that is unavailable in the typical “voluntourism” model.
About the Authors
Willy Oppenheim is the founder and Executive Director of Omprakash, a web-based nonprofit that connects volunteers, interns and donors directly with social impact organizations in over 40 countries. Willy received a BA from Bowdoin College, where he completed a self-designed major in religion, education and anthropology. In 2009, he received a Rhodes Scholarship and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in education from the University of Oxford. As an educator and educational researcher, Willy has worked in classrooms in the United States, India, Pakistan and China, and in the wilderness as an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School. For over 10 years, Willy has been working through Omprakash to transform the field of international service-learning to make it more affordable, more ethical, and more educational for everyone involved.
Joe O’Shea serves as the Director of Florida State University’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement and is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Philosophy. He received a BA in philosophy and social science from Florida State University, where he served as the student body president and a university trustee. A Truman and Rhodes Scholar, he has a master’s degree in comparative social policy and a Ph.D. in education from the University of Oxford. Joe has been involved with developing education and health-care initiatives in communities in the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa. His research and publications are primarily focused on the civic and moral development of people, and his recent book, Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Joe serves on the board of the American Gap Association and as an elected Councilor for the Council on Undergraduate Research, the leading national organization for the promotion of undergraduate research and scholarship.
Steve Sclar is the co-founder and Program Director for Omprakash EdGE (Education through Global Engagement). Steve received a BBA from the College of William & Mary, where he majored in Marketing and Environmental Science. He is finishing up an MPH in the Global Environmental Health department at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. Previous volunteer or work experience in Tibet, Ghana and Iceland led Steve to his current role for Omprakash.
Leila Walker edited the blog post Transforming the Site and Object Reports for a Digital Age: Mentoring Students to Use Digital Technologies in Archaeology and Art History in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis, CUNY Graduate Center
This article considers two digital assignments for courses at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. In one, students developed digital site reports in the form of individual websites about archaeological sites in the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt (Art and Archaeology of the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt, Spring 2013), and in the other (Islamic Art and Architecture, Spring, 2014), students published digital essays about works of Islamic Art for the course website on the CUNY Academic Commons, some of which are in the process of being published on Smarthistory at Khan Academy, which is one of the most popular art history websites in the world. By assigning these projects I sought to support and mentor MA and PhD students to develop a range of digital skills including basic website building and using images in publications and online. I also wanted the students to develop a writing style that enables them to convey their academic findings to the larger public and to value public engagement and scholarship. The possession of strong digital skills is proving vital for young scholars to win grants and jobs in a highly competitive academic environment. This article focuses on the challenges, successes, and failures of integrating digital technology in the teaching of archaeology and art history in order to prepare graduate students to be active and successful contributors in these fields. Appendixes A – G include links to the syllabi, digital project overviews, digital portfolio guide, and grading rubrics that were used in the courses.
Art history and archaeology are closely linked disciplines. Both focus on the study of visual and material culture. Much of art history has traditionally focused the close, detailed visual analysis of objects in order to understand them. Likewise, archaeologists have considered the context of objects and developed typologies for objects in order to classify, organize, compare, and analyze objects. Undoubtedly, these are gross simplifications of these fields’ intellectual goals, and this observation only aims to highlight one of the many links between archaeology and art history. This connection is of interest in this article. As an archaeologist and architectural historian, I believe that in order to understand a building or object fully, one needs to both visually analyze it in detail and also contextualize it fully. This approach is interdisciplinary and although many art historians have long been interested in context, and archaeologists in visual analysis, it is key that this intersection is imparted to graduate students if they are to become competent archaeologists or art historians.
Therefore, my teaching of art history and archaeology aims to teach visual analysis and context as intertwined, so that students can learn to think about these two things as inseparable. There are two types of reports that I assign to students in order to help them understand how visual analysis and context are linked: the archaeological site report and the museum object report, both of which are traditional assignments in their respective fields. In this article, I will explain the site report and the object report, as well as reflect upon my attempts to have students create digital versions of these two reports in two different graduate-level courses at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (henceforth, The Graduate Center, CUNY), in order to prepare them to conduct art historical and archaeological research in the twenty-first century. I wanted students to learn how to engage the public and conduct public scholarship. I will also comment upon the successes and failures of these assignments.
The site report and the object report
The site report is a detailed research paper on an archaeological site. It is a fundamental assignment in many archaeology degree programs and is assigned to students in the required courses for the track in the Archaeology of the Classical, Late Antique and Islamic Worlds in the M.A. in Liberal Studies at The Graduate Center, CUNY. When conducting an excavation or survey, archaeologists are expected to publish their findings in an excavation report. During an excavation, a series of interim or preliminary reports are published, typically in peer-reviewed journals. The FastiOnline is a good example of an open-access, peer-reviewed journal where many preliminary reports for Roman-era excavations in Italy are published. These reports, generally published over several years, present an overview of the methodology of the excavation, technologies used, the areas explored, chronology of the site, phasing (the relationship between the different levels or contexts discovered during the excavation), and the finds (the objects discovered during the excavation). For a typical site, a final excavation report, often a multi-volume publication, would compile and update these earlier reports, as well provide interpretation for the whole site and the finds. If an archaeological unit or company excavated a site, as is often the case in England, or if contract archaeologists working for a Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firm in the United States, short reports are typically published. For a complicated site, such as the excavation of a city, individual volumes might be dedicated to pottery, metal work, glass, sculpture, or other specific classes of evidence. For example, the New York University excavations at Aphrodisias (Turkey), directed by Prof. R.R.R. Smith at the University of Oxford, publishes preliminary and ongoing reports for the site. The project also has its own series, the Aphrodisias Papers. Such reports are often heavily dependent on images, such as plans and photographs, to present and interpret the site.
An archaeology student must understand archaeological evidence, the arguments made on the basis of such evidence, and how to write about an excavation. Thus, I assign students a site report, which is modeled on the excavation report, discussed above. In this assignment, students are expected to research a site (perhaps a building, small town, settlement, or survey area). Since site visits are not normally possible students review the original excavation reports, preliminary publications, archives, and other documentation that provide first-hand accounts of the site. Students are then expected to discuss the site (its chronology and phasing), to identify key types of evidence, and to master interpretive and theoretical issues at the site, as would be done in an excavation report. By successfully completing this assignment, students should be able to read and interpret site reports published by professional archaeologists. Students should also start to develop an academic voice suitable to scholarly writing about archaeology. In the past, I have assigned the site report as a traditional research paper.
The object report, which I also assign, has similar aims. In this report, a single object is the focus of detailed formal visual analysis, interpretation, and contextualization. By studying an object closely, students learn how to evaluate its key characteristics, such as form, material, decoration, and iconography, and to evaluate the scholarly arguments about the object. Such reports are often adapted and used as catalog entries for objects in a museum. Therefore, learning how to write concisely and clearly about an object is a useful skill because many students want to be professional art historians or work in a museum.
These assignments aimed to support the development of critical thinking and writing skills for graduate students in archaeology and art history. I wanted to explore how these traditional assignments could be re-conceptualized through the integration of digital components. My goal was to have students develop digital skills that they need in their fields in the twenty-first century. After teaching graduate students for several semesters, it was evident that few graduate courses in archaeology and art history included the teaching of digital skills. While archaeologists can often gain technical archaeological skills, such as the use of GIS, in the field or in specialized workshops, basic web design skills or writing for the web were not considered a fundamental part of art historical or archaeological training. Furthermore, it was also clear that many students, especially those from certain disciplines in the humanities or social sciences, might not voluntarily develop their digital skills, even if workshops on WordPress, Omeka, and other digital platforms were free and available, as they are at The Graduate Center, CUNY. This may be due to concern over how they might perform academically on such an assignment, a perceived or actual lack of time to master new skills, or a need to take other required courses or learn other languages. Likewise it may be that students who do not consider themselves to be good at “digital work” may elect not to take advantage of these workshops, while other students, who are inclined towards digital work, enroll in these workshops. However, students would enroll in a class in whose topic they were interested or which they were required to take. Therefore, because the digital assignments were integrated into a normal archaeology or art history course, which also had traditional assignments, students were willing to take the course despite their concerns about having to do a digital assignment. In the course descriptions available to students before enrollment, the inclusion of a digital project was noted. Several students emailed in advance of each class to ask about the digital project or met with me to discuss it. To allay these concerns, which were also raised in the first meeting of each course by students, I specifically discussed the projects, the digital seminars, and the support that students would receive for their digital projects.
I wanted to do these digital projects in my classes because I wanted to improve my own digital skills. I also wanted to help students develop digital skills that would be useable within and outside the fields of archaeology and art history. Many graduate students will have to look outside academia for employment due to the shrinking size of higher education. By having digital skills and the ability to translate specialized ideas or findings to a non-specialist audience, a student will be far more competitive not only for an academic or a museum position, but also for non-academic positions. Perhaps more fundamentally I wanted students to understand the need to engage with the public. The humanities are often described as being under threat from all sides (Schmidt 2014). Therefore to argue for the centrality of the humanities to education and more generally to civilization, humanists must learn how to translate their results, as well as their significance, to the broader population. Graduate students must understand this is important early on in their careers.
Creating these assignments was possible due to the presence of the CUNY Academic Commons, where faculty members and graduate students can use technology in research and teaching. The course and student webpages, built using WordPress, were hosted here. The successful execution of the assignments was due to the support and guidance given to the instructor by Andrew McKinney, a PhD candidate in Sociology and a Digital Fellow at The Graduate Center. The Digital Fellows are graduate students who advise faculty members using new technologies in their research or teaching. In this capacity Andrew supports faculty members like me during the semester. In my case, he gave feedback on the assignments, the grading rubrics, and the digital portfolio before I assigned them, giving me the perspective of a graduate student on the clarity of my instructions and the reasonableness of my expectations. He also helped run two digital seminars on WordPress, which were specifically designed for the classes during each course, meaning that students could ask him questions directly. Lastly, the plans and results of these assignments were presented in several of the lunch meetings of the New Media Lab at The Graduate Center, CUNY in 2012 – 2014. The feedback from the faculty and students on the assignments was also helpful as they suggested changes from the first assignment to the second.
The students in each class
To complicate the aims of each assignment was the considerable diversity of the students in each class. In the Art and Archaeology of the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt, Spring 2013, there were nine students. Of these, four had a background in art history and, to a lesser extent, archaeology. One student had an archaeological background. One had a background in Classical philology. Two had backgrounds in Middle Eastern Studies. One had no background in any of these fields. In the Arts of the Islamic World, Spring 2014, there were seventeen students enrolled for credit. Two students also audited the class, but they did not complete any of the assignments for the class. Of these, five had backgrounds in Middle Eastern Studies, six in art history, four in archaeology, and two had no related background. In both classes, there was a range of students in terms of age, from twenty-two to sixty-five. Students also had wide ranges of comfort with using technology—from the self-professed Luddite to the tech-savvy librarian. So there was the additional challenge of teaching across the disciplines while also helping students gain confidence in their ability to use and master technology.
The Digital Site Report
While I traditionally assigned the site report as a research paper, I wondered if this was the best format. The linear structure of a research paper requires that one privilege certain evidence or theoretical approaches, and it does not allow for the integration of other media into the paper. By contrast, a website allows the author to explore an archaeological site in multiple ways. Creating a website required students to integrate images with text and therefore to consider the size, arrangement, and impact of images in order to make their websites visually attractive. Websites also allow students to incorporate video and to link their site to other websites.
Students had to learn how to write for the web by making their language more concise and by maximizing readability on a screen. They also had to master writing for the general public. For archaeology to be successful, there must be public engagement.
Being able to write for a broader public is important because archaeological sites are under constant threat due to illegal excavation, war, and development. For non-archaeologists to appreciate why archaeological sites should not be looted, destroyed, or razed to make way for a new shopping mall or car park, archaeologists must communicate the value of their findings and sites to the public, not just to their peers. Likewise, art historians and archaeologists must explain that the looting and selling of objects is not merely legally and morally wrong to the larger population, but they also must convey that the looting of an object means that information associated with the object , such as context, is lost permanently.
Reflection on the Digital Site Report (See Appendix A)
The first project was successful for most of the students—although there were some problems. Several factors contributed to the success of the assignment: first, students were well supported through two WordPress-focused seminars and other activities in the course; second, a clear model for the sites and an overview on the digital project was given to them; and third, the students received an outline of my grading rubric so that the expectations for the assignment were clear.
WordPress seminars and activities
Students were introduced to WordPress through the course webpage on the CUNY Academic Commons and through weekly blogging on the readings. Two seminars were dedicated to working on the digital project. The first seminar reviewed the WordPress interface, tools, and plug-ins. The second seminar focused on critiquing each student’s webpage, allowing them to discuss any issues that they were having, raise their concerns, and receive feedback on their sites before they were due. This second seminar was useful because students received input from Andrew McKinney and me. They also had an opportunity to share their experiences and comment about each other’s websites.
In website development, WordPress is still relatively new. Before WordPress and other platforms, one needed a knowledge of programming languages to build a website from ground up. Even with the proliferation of simple, relatively easy platforms like the blogging platform WordPress, which allow one to construct websites quickly, there remains a learning curve for young and old. Although learning to use WordPress is much easier than learning how to program, I also spent a semester (Fall 2012) learning how to use WordPress before I assigned the digital site report. In the end, teaching WordPress to students still required two seminars.
The two WordPress seminars did not detract from the development of more traditional skills, but rather they gave students additional skills such as writing for the web and knowledge such as manipulating images for web and print publication, which are necessary in archaeology today. It also required students to organize their thoughts and the structure of their websites, which has importance differences and similarities to constructing a linear argument of a more traditional paper. The research required for the website was as great as for an extended research paper. Thus, these assignments taught digital skills as well as research, critical thinking, and writing skills.
From the middle of the semester onwards, students were also expected to blog weekly. The blogging focused on the discussion of an image of a statue, object, building, or monument that was relevant to that week’s readings. The aim of the blog was to facilitate students becoming comfortable using the WordPress interface and with communicating online in a semi-public forum. It allowed certain students who were not talkative in class make meaningful contributions. It also helped me to see what aspects of the readings students had not focused on or grasped, and therefore it allowed me to direct our discussions in class more effectively. Due to the small size of the class, the blog seemed to work well, and students seemed comfortable posting to the site.
Model website and project overview (see Appendix B)
In order to help the students build successful websites that met my expectations, I constructed a model website on the Column of Jerash in Queens as an example. I have been researching the column with Jared Simard, a PhD candidate in Classics at The Graduate Center, CUNY, who also assisted in building the website. The website was designed to show students how to share archaeological findings with the public in a clear and accessible format. The website was also intended to present to the public our research on this Column from Jerash, now in Queens, the second oldest monument in New York City. When building this website, we purposefully included the plug-ins that I wanted students to use including the google maps plug-in, a photo gallery plug-in such as NextGen, and a footnote plug-in such as FD Footnotes (see Appendix B). Building the website also allowed me to foresee some of the pitfalls that students might face, and this allowed me to guide them around such problems. The Project Overview summary that students received helped break down the assignment so students understood what the assignment entailed and how to structure their time when working on the project.
Grading rubrics (see Appendix C)
I also outlined my expectations by giving the students clear grading rubrics for the assignments. Students were told how many and what kind of plug-ins they were expected to use (i.e., the google maps plug-in), as well as what writing and aesthetic aspects that they should consider. This meant that the students had a clear understanding of what was required of their websites and how the sites would be assessed.
Limits on the assignment
I did not require students to learn how to get permissions to use images online, although all of the students were given access to the Manar al-Athar Photographic Archive, an open-access, multi-media, online resource for the study of the Middle East of which I serve as deputy-director, which hosts over 12,000 free, labeled photographs.. The websites were not google-indexed and were only visible to the students, Andrew, and myself. As this was the first time I had assigned a digital project, I was not certain that students would be able to make the website and find the images that they need in a timely fashion, so I decided not to tackle the issue of image permissions.
Successes and failures
Broadly, the assignment was a success, as the email testimonies of two students affirm (see Appendix G). One of the sites, which only used images from the Manar al-Athar Photograph Archive, gives a sense of what students did. This site has not been updated since late May 2013. The greatest success, in my opinion, was that students began to realize that they could build websites regardless of their technical background. One of the students was a mature student who had graduated in the early 1990s from an Italian university. For this student, who had an excellent background in Classical languages, building a website was a great challenge since she was relatively new to email. However, she took an incomplete in the class and completed the project over the summer. She was very good about asking for support and extra time, which I was happy to grant because the assignment was more challenging for her and because she was determined to complete it. This indicated to me that anyone could build a website with proper support. The only disappointment in the class occurred when another student who did not communicate with me about the problems that he was facing with the assignment was not able to master the plug-ins and did not do as well in the course.
The Object Report
On the basis of the success of this digital site report, I decided to assign students in my spring 2014 course on the Arts of the Islamic World a digital object report as their final project. A fundamental aim of the course was to teach students to work with objects, to look at them closely, to develop skills of visual analysis, and to situate the objects in their larger historical context. In this course, students selected an object from a list of approximately twenty-five historically significant or representative objects in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum. Students studied these objects, which were not on display due to the reinstallation of the galleries, through a visit to the storerooms of the museum with Caitlin McKenna, the Research Associate for the Islamic Collection in the Brooklyn Museum. This visit allowed the students enhanced access to the collection and also enabled them to experience some of the hands-on work that art historians and archaeologists do. The students were able to examine their objects in a way that would not have been possible that had the object been in a case behind glass.
Students first wrote a 12- to 15-page research paper to demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the object and its historical and artistic context. This was intended to help students establish a solid academic foundation to create their websites. Students were given detailed feedback and comments on this paper, and they were allowed to revise their papers. Students were then asked write the digital object report, which was a Smarthistory-style essay that included images, bibliography, and links. The aim of a Smarthistory essay is to convey the essential aspects of a work of art (date, material, iconography, significance, context, etc.) in a concise article of 800 – 1200 words. These essays should be able to explain a work of art or building to an intelligent person with no background knowledge of the object or field. Before writing their essay, students submitted a digital portfolio. If the essays were of publishable quality, they would be published on Smarthistory at Khan Academy and made available to a broad interested public. Smarthistory is highly original in its presentation of art history because it goes beyond simply providing illustrated articles. Rather it takes an unscripted conversational approach to teaching art history through videos where two academics, typically art historians, discuss a work of art or a building, its major features, material, iconography, and their significance among other characteristics. Smarthistory at Khan Academy is one of most popular art history websites in the world with seven million visits in 2014. I serve as the Contributing Editor for Art of the Islamic World for Smarthistory at Khan Academy, where I contribute essays and videos as well as edit essays from other contributors. Contributing to Smarthistory at Khan Academy allows me to engage with audiences across the world and to demonstrate how rich and diverse the material culture of the Islamic World is. I wanted my students to realize that they could and should share their academic work with the wider public around the world. Therefore, I discussed the possibility of publishing some of the student essays with Drs. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker, Deans of Art and History at Khan Academy. Another professor had successfully had their students write essays in a Smarthistory style, some of which had then been published on Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Therefore, they were willing to work with me to publish the students’ essays if they were of a high standard.
Reflection on the Object Report
As in the first assignment, I supported the digital assignment with weekly blogging and two seminars devoted to digital publishing. I outlined my expectations for the website by assigning the digital portfolio and by providing a clear grading rubric. The inclusion of the digital portfolio again meant that students’ work was critiqued before it was graded. Also students were encouraged to visit Smarthistory’s website to read published essays as models for their work.
The digital portfolio, the grading rubric, and learning how to use images (see Appendixes E and F)
Students were required to submit a digital portfolio to the instructor, which could be reviewed before students constructed their webpages. The digital portfolio consisted of images, a bibliography, and three-to-five links of vetted, relevant websites to include on the webpage. Students in art history and archaeology receive little or no formal training or mentoring when it comes to obtaining, formatting, and sizing images for publication or online. This is a fundamental skill that all scholars who work with visual and material culture need, and one that I also wanted students to have. Although I had not asked students in the previous course to work on this, I now felt comfortable that the students could build their webpages and master this skill using a small number of images from the web. I now wanted to make sure that students understood the challenges that scholars have when they want to reproduce images in their publications or on their websites, because the underlying issues are the same between these different media.
This lack of knowledge was addressed in the digital portfolio. The digital portfolio required students to learn how to deal with using images online (and by extension traditional publications). Students had to learn how resize the images to be suitable for web use (150 KB and 72 DPI) using Photoshop, Preview, or another photo editing software, and they also had to provide proof that the selected images could legally be used online. Students learned about how to use Creative Commons licenses and how museums, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Brooklyn Museum of Art, allow their images to be used for scholarly purposes. By the end of creating the digital portfolio, the students also learned about reproducing images for traditional publications since the same issues of legal usage and re-sizing images apply to print publications.
Students also included links for websites in their portfolios. This required students to assess which academic or quasi-academic websites to include and how to build a suite of complimentary and diverse online resources. Lastly, students were also given a clear grading rubric so that they understood my expectations and how their webpage would be graded.
Writing a Smarhistory-style essay for a general public or students new to art history was a challenge for most students. They needed to learn how to engage their reader by developing an authorial voice suitable to writing about art history for the general public. They had to learn how to translate academic work into a more accessible prose. Simultaneously, the essay had to describe and explain the significance of an object in no more than 1,200 words. It was hard for students to write concisely. Students found that it was easier to write a new essay rather than cut down a 3,000-word essay. They also learned how to balance the text with images and that good design made a site more interesting and more valuable for the reader.
The opportunity to publish
The chance to publish their revised essays as articles on Smarthistory at Khan Academy, I believe, made the assignment and the learning that it supported more appealing to students. The assignment was not a hypothetical exercise in training to become an academic. Rather than writing a paper that only their professor was likely to read, the students were actually contributing to the field as nascent scholars. I think this motivated students to push themselves and produce high-quality work. Because I contribute to Smarthistory at Khan Academy, I was able to connect students who wanted to write more essays with Drs. Harris and Zucker so that they could collaborate by contributing other essays or content related to their research interests to the site.
This opportunity to publish on Smarthistory, an open-access website, also aimed to make students think about what publishing means in the twenty-first century and how academics should value digital contributions and open-access publications. Because these articles are reviewed, although they are not subjected to a rigorous peer-review process, they offer a low-stakes opportunity for students to engage with the public. It also enabled students to explore an alternative way of presenting their research, as opposed to the peer-reviewed, proprietary journal model. As a result of this exercise, I hope that students started to think about non-traditional and/or digital ways of presenting their research, which may enable students to develop new ways of publishing in the future.
Successes and failures
Overall the assignment was very successful. Because students had multiple opportunities for feedback on their research and digital portfolio, most of the students were able to produce well-written, engaging text, which was well integrated with images that could be used legally. However, the class blog was not successful from the students’ perspective or mine. In the course evaluation, students commented that they did not enjoy blogging and that they found the interaction on the blog to be forced.
As in the previous course, I wanted to use the blog for students to become more familiar and comfortable with the WordPress interface. Therefore, the course blog counted for a very small part of the overall grade and was considered a part of class participation. The course blog was modeled on Mark Sample’s Better Blogging Assignment, where students in a class were divided into three groups whose responsibilities rotated. The first group of students posted initial responses to the readings, a second group then responded to the responses, and a third group of students posted links. This did not work well. Many students would post just right before class, and they did not read each other’s postings, meaning that there were not online discussions (unlike the previous class) and that they posted out of order. Likewise, the students often did not post in groups, but as individuals, so it was chaotic. When the students posted links, they often did not pay attention to what they were posting and whether the links posted were useful, suggesting that they were trying to get the assignment done rather than engaging with the exercise.
The blog was partially intended to help me understand what students needed to focus on and discuss in the seminar. The role of the third group to post links was designed to help students learn how to assess websites for their final digital project. So different aspects of this blogging assignment were conceived of as being connected to the course discussions and final assignments. On the basis of this experience, I would not assign a group blogging exercise again, but I would instead try to find a different way for students to contribute online, probably by having them post and annotate websites to the course website.
Reflections on both assignments and future plans
These assignments made it clear that the integration of digital tools in the teaching of archaeology and art history is essential. Faculty members need to encourage students to become more digitally savvy by integrating well-supported digital assignments into their courses so that students can develop more digital skills and understand the value of technology in the production of scholarship and its dissemination. As an educator, I came away with several important observations. First, the melding of traditional assignments with new digital ones did not sacrifice any fundamental outcomes and skills, but rather digital work enhanced students’ ability to think and write. Both assignments gave the students confidence that they could do digital work, even if they lacked confidence in their digital skills when the semester started. Students without a digital background could learn to do digital work in a well-supported environment. These digital assignments also taught them about images and in particular about the difficulties that image licensing poses to scholars who work with visual and material culture.
Second, students also learned that speaking to general public is important. As scholars in training, they will need to learn how to translate their discipline and research to non-academics in order to demonstrate the relevancy of their field and importance of their research. As funding is cut to museums, non-profits, schools, and universities, scholars in the humanities have to make the case for why the humanities are relevant and meaningful. Therefore, being able to communicate clearly means that one’s message—that the past and the physical traces of the past are important—can be shared with people to whom art history and archaeology are not familiar topics.
Third, I realized that my assumption that students who are of the so-called “digital native” generation, born to email and Facebook, would be well prepared to do online research is false. In fact, these students are as poorly trained as other students when it comes to conducting research online. For example, they do not know how to use search terms effectively, the difference between searching with Google and Google Scholar, how to use online databases, or how to assess information that they find on the web. Students need much more training in this area whether they are writing traditional research papers or conducting new online or digital projects.
The success of these endeavors and the students’ willingness to embrace digital work (after overcoming their initial concerns) has encouraged me to continue to integrate digital work into my future classes. In the future, students could be asked to do a traditional object report and then make a video about the object rather than write an essay. These assignments, which were completed by individual students, could be more collaborative. A platform like Omeka could be used to create a resource around a type of art or theme, where students would have to work together to build the site. In sum, there are numerous possibilities that I hope to explore in my teaching in order to prepare students to be art historians and archaeologists of the twenty-first century.
The author would like to thank the students in her classes, who were willing to experiment and learn. The author would also like to thank Beth Harris and Steven Zucker for reading this article, as well as for being wonderful collaborators and colleagues. She would also like to thank Steven Brier for his encouragement to write this article as well as his feedback on the initial draft of the article. Thanks also to Jared Simard, who reviewed this article, and to Andrew McKinney, who read versions of this article and whose support and input during the last two years while I have integrated digital technology into my teaching has been invaluable. The comments of faculty and students who attend the New Media Lab lunches were also helpful in writing this article.
Ben Schmidt. “Crisis in the Humanities?,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 10, 2013, accessed August 20, 2014. http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/edgeofthewest/2013/06/10/the-humanities-crisis/.
Appendix A: The Syllabus for The art and archaeology of the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt
Appendix G: Email Testimonies from Students in Art and Archaeology of the Greco-Roman Near East and Egypt Seminar, Spring 2013.
From one student:
For technological luddites such as me the idea of creating a website was daunting at first; however, the step-by-step introduction and guidance in the media lab provided a much needed comfort. As the project took shape, I was especially grateful to have the template website (Column of Jerash) as a reference point. For the most part, every aspect of the WordPress format is straight forward and user friendly. The abundance of instructional tips available on the internet also helped — particularly with regard to adding plug-ins. The periodic check-ins over the duration of the semester (i.e. practice in lab, annotated bibliography with hyperlinks) really helped those of us who tend to procrastinate to stay on task. Finally, as we already discussed, I appreciate the idea of encouraging students to create projects outside the realm of a traditional research paper. As WordPress is such a popular platform, the skills gained are indeed applicable to a variety of situations and will only serve to make students more marketable down the line.
Overall the project was an enjoyable experience, one I hope to use again in the future and one I wish there was more time to really dig in and work on. This last point is my own fault for not spending more time playing around with plug-ins etc. which would enhance the final site. Particularly, I had issues with the footnote plug-ins again, I’m sure if I spent more time testing other versions, eventually it would have worked as I wanted. In the end, I opted for internal citations, which aren’t as aesthetically pleasing in my mind… Additional issues I had with WordPress revolved predominately around aesthetic concerns, specifically text and image integration. There were instances where the images refused to orient themselves on the published page in the same fashion as the editing window, causing some irritation. Finally, in creating a webpage research project, I felt a bit uncertain how best to organize and present text per page without overwhelming the viewer. Ultimately, my page erred on the side of minimal text per page and in retrospect should have included more information as a standalone mini lesson of sorts for each menu tab.
The manar al-athar database was wonderfully easy to navigate and for purposes of my site, Palmyra, it was absolutely essential. Having access to various high quality images not only broken down by location, but also by typology made cross-referencing a breeze. Additionally, I was very pleased to have the option what image size I could download. Hopefully, the manar al-athar database will continue to expand and offer an even wider range of images for students and professionals to access.
From another student:
Now that this assignment is completed and graded, I feel okay about saying that it was definitely a challenge. Actually one of the more difficult assignments I’ve had here. Everyone knows (mostly I assume) how to write a paper, but balancing creating content while also thinking about an end user experience was certainly a trick. And now that the class is completed and graded, I feel okay about saying that I really enjoyed this class.
About the Author
Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in Classical Archaeology from the University of Oxford. She is a Visiting Assistant Professor and the Deputy Executive Officer in the M.A. in Liberal Studies at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. Her research interests are on Roman and Islamic material culture, specifically on architecture and gardens. She is also interested in the use of digital tools in the study and teaching of archaeology. She is the contributing editor for Art of the Islamic World for Smarthistory at Khan Academy and the Chair of the Digital Technology Committee of the Archaeological Institute of America.
Leila Walker edited the blog post Simulating Utopia: Critical Simulation and the Teaching of Utopia in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Francesco Crocco, Borough of Manhattan Community College
A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.
This essay describes an experiment with critical simulation—the pedagogical application of simulation to foster critical thinking. I theorize this technique in comparison to standard simulation pedagogies and point out some examples of existing simulations and games that achieve similar results. In order to model critical simulation pedagogy for post-secondary education, I describe one instance of this technique that occurred in an elective course on utopian literature I taught at the Borough of Manhattan Community College of The City University of New York, a bustling community college in downtown Manhattan with a majority African-American and Hispanic working-class student population. In the course, I assigned students to work in groups to design a multimedia brochure for an intentional community (i.e., a planned residential community that is a social experiment in utopian living).
During the semester, students worked in groups to draft pieces of the project in response to in-class “challenge” assignments that asked them to devise solutions to social, political, economic, and environmental problems. They then used this material to assemble brochures, which they presented to the class at the end of the semester. Throughout this process, students engaged course texts both as resources for invention and as artifacts for critical evaluation.
My hypothesis was that by turning students into active producers of utopia via a critical simulation they would be in a better position to meet course objectives, namely to learn the conventions of utopian discourse and to adopt a critical utopian frame for evaluating utopian texts and real-world phenomena. I evaluated my hypothesis by interrogating the finished products and analyzing debriefing surveys conducted at the end of the semester. The results suggest critical simulation is a promising technique that complements traditional forms of instruction and has much to offer instructors interested in promoting critical thinking, regardless of discipline. They also raise some interesting questions about the relationship between pedagogy, critical thinking, and social change.
Simulations and Learning
Simulations are simplified models of reality intended to teach specific learning objectives (Hertel and Millis 2002, 17). Advocates for simulation pedagogies tout their potential to motivate students, foster deep learning, achieve learning objectives, enable student-centered learning, and bridge disciplinary gaps (Hertel and Millis 2002, 1-14). As a pedagogical technique, simulations have the advantage of providing what James Gee calls situated meaning—the association of verbal instruction with “images, actions, experiences, or dialogue in a real or imagined world” that enrich learning (Gee 2007, 105). Gee observes that situated meaning provides an ideal environment for learning because
People learn (academic or non-academic) specialist languages and their concomitant ways of thinking best when they can tie the words and structures of those languages to experiences they have had—experiences with which they can build simulations to prepare themselves for action in the domains in which the specialist language is used (e.g. biology or video games). (Gee 2004, 4)
By modeling reality, simulations offer learners the ability to “tie the words and structures” of the new domains they are learning to “experiences they have had,” thereby consolidating and deepening their understanding of the new domain by embodying the new knowledge in lived experience.
Simulations have a long history of pedagogical application. The earliest educational uses of simulations focused on military training. These include the Chinese war game “Weihai” developed around 3000 BCE (which later became the Japanese game “Go”) and the sixth-century CE Indian war game “Chaturanga” (a precursor to Chess) (Gilliom 1974, 265). Modern military simulations emerged in 1798 with the introduction of large-scale battle simulations conducted by the Prussian army (Gilliom 1974, 265-66). In the twentieth-century, the U.S. military became a trendsetter in the field, and its wide-scale adoption of simulation and gaming technologies for training and recruitment facilitated the entry of these techniques into the corporate and educational sectors (Mead 2013).
Simulations began to garner significant support outside of the U.S. military in the 1950s. In 1956, members of the American Management Association traveled to the Naval War College and were so impressed by the Navy’s use of training simulations that they were inspired to produce the first widely used management game for corporate training. Boeing and several other companies responded by launching their own training simulations (Gilliom 1974, 266). By the 1960s, growing research and speculation on the benefits of educational simulations drew the attention of elementary and secondary school educators and administrators, who subsequently began to embrace the technique, first by adopting commercial simulations, later by designing their own (Gilliom 1974, 266-67). Then, by the early 1970s, post-secondary education began to follow suit with the adoption of simulations in business, political science, international relations, sociology, psychology, foreign language, and education programs (Gilliom 1974, 270-71).
Simulations and games also gained traction among writing and literature instructors in post-secondary education. Since at least the early 1970s, post-secondary teachers of English composition and literature have experimented with the use of simulations and games to optimize literacy skills and deepen understanding of course texts (Brewbaker 1972, 105). Lynn Q. Troyka produced the first full-length study of the topic with her doctoral dissertation, “A Study of the Effect of Simulation-Gaming on Expository Prose Competence of College Remedial English Composition Students” (New York University 1973), later published with co-author Jerold Nudelman as Taking Action: Writing, Reading, Speaking, and Listening through Simulation-Games (1975). The volume documents six simulations for the English classroom and provides materials to reproduce them. Troyka and Nudelman’s book has been followed by a significant number of studies that focus on the documentation, theorization, or evaluation of simulation- and game-based approaches to the teaching of writing and literature (Sloan 1978; Kroll 1986; McCann 1996; Saliés 2002, 2007; Nash 2007; Kovalik and Kovalik 2007; Colby and Colby 2008; Alexander 2009; Krause 2010; Colby, Johnson, and Colby 2013). These studies demonstrate the rich history and potential of simulations for the teaching of writing and literature specifically, and signal their value for post-secondary education generally.
Standard Simulation Versus Critical Simulation
In each instance discussed above—the military, corporate America, and (higher) education—simulations have been embraced for their uncanny ability to engage learners and situate meaning in ways that optimize the acquisition of a particular domain, be it military tactics, business practices, or discursive fields. These cases share a standard mode of simulation that I call simulation for social reproduction, in which the goal is to impart a certain specialized body of knowledge, methods, or terminology in order to assimilate the learner to an existing domain and thereby reproduce that domain. By participating in domain-based simulations, the learner comes to adopt what David Shaffer calls the epistemic frame of that domain—“the conventions of participation that individuals internalize when they become acculturated [to a domain]” (Shaffer 2005, n.p.). Simulation for social reproduction achieves its learning objectives when the learner has assimilated to the ways of thinking (i.e., the epistemic frame) intrinsic to the domain that is being modeled.
In the standard simulation for social reproduction, then, simulation is used to bridge the classroom “sandbox” and the real-world domain (see Figure 1). By situating meaning in the classroom, the simulation facilitates transition from domain “outsider” to “insider,” thereby assimilating the learner to an existing domain and the social order to which it belongs.
Simulation for social reproduction can be highly desirable, especially in cases where mastering a domain carries life and death consequences, such as in the use of flight simulators to safely and effectively train the next generation of pilots. Yet, while the engaging and immersive meaning-making environments at the heart of standard simulations may excel at drawing in and assimilating learners to a new domain, by the same token they make it difficult for learners to think critically about those domains, a process that requires distance and defamiliarization. Ira Shor defines critical thinking as:
habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse. (Shor 1992, 129)
Because critical thinking seeks not only to understand but to evaluate domains, a new method of simulation must be devised that poses the subject matter of the new domain not as a body of knowledge to be assimilated and mastered, but as a problem to be analyzed and solved. In this way, the learner can adopt “habits of thought” that make it possible for one to “understand the deep meaning” of the new domain and make critical evaluations.
This new kind of simulation, what I call critical simulation, is one approach to practicing critical gaming pedagogy, a model I theorized elsewhere as a technique for using simulation and gaming “to promote critical thinking about hegemonic ideas or institutions rather than to propagate them” (Crocco 2011, 29). Essentially, conventional uses of simulation and gaming for education, which are often promoted as alternatives to the traditional factory model of education, in fact, upgrade this model for a twenty-first century high-tech economy—effectively delivering the factory model 2.0 (Crocco 2011, 29). This complicity with the traditional aims of schooling is evident in the distinction between standard and critical simulation. Whereas the goal of standard simulation is to use simplified models of reality to assimilate the learner as efficiently and effectively as possible into the domain being simulated, critical simulation resists the ideological closure of assimilation by presenting models of reality that defamiliarize the domain in question and pose it as a problem to be investigated and resolved. If successful, the critical simulation will produce cognitive dissonance between one’s pre-conceived notions about a domain and the new experiences generated by the simulation; this opens up a space for critical reflection and analysis. Consequently, instead of moving the learner from a domain outsider to an insider, the critical simulation moves the learner from an uncritical point-of-view to a critical point-of-view about that domain (see Figure 2).
While this theorization of critical simulation is new, there are many instances of simulations and games in secondary and post-secondary education that operate like critical simulations. The list of applicable simulations and games includes those designed to challenge economic policies by raising awareness about the effects of social inequality (Schulzke 2013; Norris 2013; Ansoms and Greenen 2012; Fisher 2012; Crocco 2011; Dundes and Harlow 2005; Thatcher and Robinson 1990), address the lack of civic engagement (Bernstein and Meizlish 2003; Raphael et al. 2010) and empathy (Bachen, Hernández-Ramos, and Raphael 2012; Barak et al. 1987), explore the problem of climate change (Sterman et al. 2014; Lee et al. 2013), question urban planning models in light of sustainability concerns (Gaber 2007; Torres and Macedo 2000), re-enact and problematize history (McCall 2011; see also the Barnard College Reacting to the Past series), and teach critical methods for approaching the social sciences (Simpson and Elias 2011; Martin 1979). In seeking to design so-called “games for change,” activists, NGOs, and state agencies have also developed critical simulations. These games and simulations situate the player in contexts where adversity or moral quandaries lead to a re-examination of held beliefs or prevailing logics, thereby moving the player toward a new, more critical understanding of the subject matter. For instance, in the video game 3rd World Farmer, players simulate the experience of a farmer in a developing nation in order to unsettle preconceptions about the etiology of third-world poverty and make explicit its relation to centers of power in the first world. The McDonald’s Video Game puts players at the helm of this transnational corporation and requires them to resolve moral quandaries in which they must weigh profit margins against workers rights, consumer health, and environmental protection. By factoring in these externalized costs of doing business, players can challenge the conventional business ethics and decisions that typical management simulations tend to normalize. These examples demonstrate how critical simulations situate learning within models of reality in ways that problematize rather than preserve established domains or hegemonic beliefs.
Why Use Critical Simulation for Teaching Utopia?
I decided to employ the methods of critical simulation in my course on utopian literature for several reasons. For one thing, both share an emphasis on critical thinking. In Lectures on Ideology and Utopia (1986), the philosopher Paul Ricoeur observes that utopias are vital for the critique of ideology:
This is my conviction: the only way to get out of the circularity in which ideologies engulf us is to assume a utopia, declare it, and judge an ideology on this basis. Because the absolute onlooker is impossible, then it is someone within the process itself who takes the responsibility for judgment. (Ricoeur 1986, 172-73)
If utopia can be described as a “space of hope” that inspires “social dreaming” (Sargent 2010, 5) and nourishes “the desire for a better way of being” (Levitas 1990, 198), Ricoeur adds that it is also, and as importantly, a “space of criticism” that provides a critical vantage on ideology. This parallelism between critical thinking and utopia raises two important conclusions about teaching utopia with simulation. For one thing, since utopia is fundamentally concerned with teaching critical habits of mind—both about other domains and its own—it cannot be paired with standard simulations, which mainly achieve the goal of training and assimilation rather than critical reflection and analysis. Secondly, because the utopian frame—the knowledge, methods, and terminology that comprise utopian discourse—is consonant with critical habits of mind, the experience of deploying critical simulation in a utopian classroom will, paradoxically, have the added effect of achieving the rather orthodox goal of the standard simulation, i.e., specialized training in an epistemic frame, in this case the utopian frame.
In addition to posing critiques of what is, critical simulations and utopias also share in common the desire to imagine alternative configurations for what could be. Ernst Bloch captures this dialectic between critique and creativity by describing utopian thought as “anticipatory consciousness,” the “Not-Yet-Conscious” that “wants to look far into the distance … in order to penetrate the darkness so near” (Bloch 1986, 1:11-12). Scholars have attempted to articulate a “utopian pedagogy” to promote this critical/creative consciousness, noting that whereas the purpose of education is typically “to produce social subjects for the perpetuation of the neoliberal order,” the goal of utopian pedagogy should be “to foster experiments in thinking and action that lead us away from that order” and “point us towards…‘the coming communities’” (Coté, Day, and De Peuter 2007, 14-15, italics in the original). Different strategies have been proposed to achieve the goals of utopian pedagogy. In the tradition of critical pedagogy, for instance, a high value is placed on the relations of power in the classroom. By replacing the one-way “banking model” of education (in which information is “deposited” into students’ heads and “withdrawn” for tests) with a democratic classroom in which power is decentered, authority is shared, and decisions about curriculum are negotiated (Freire 2002; Shor 1996), critical pedagogy models utopia in the present. On the other hand, even if such a democratic space could be constructed within an otherwise hierarchical educational institution the result may be what Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis call a miniutopia—an ephemeral classroom utopia that leaves students “lacking a political understanding of their predicament” (Bowles and Gintis 1976, 255). Consequently, Nichole Stanford suggests that, by neglecting to teach students how to apply the democratic processes of the classroom to real-life circumstances, miniutopian pedagogies “can wind up reifying existing social conditions in the same way that traditional pedagogy does,” either by promoting escapism or leaving students to blame themselves for their inability to assimilate successfully (Stanford 2012, 7-8). What is missing from most utopian models, including critical pedagogy, is the simulation of change or transition from the old social structure to the new. Alternatively, Stanford proposes using the classroom as a “safe house” in which students get to practice how to critique, negotiate, and change society by problem-posing real-world conflicts, beginning with organizing to negotiate changes with the representative authority, the teacher (Stanford 2012, 10). Critical simulation combines elements from both of these approaches: it imagines utopia in the present by decentering the classroom with interactive experiences in which students learn by making decisions and evaluating outcomes, and these experiences involve practicing how to negotiate real-world problems and devise alternatives to the status quo. The difference between problem-posing in social reproduction simulation and critical simulation lies in what is allowed to be a problem: like the safe house model that invites students to change their real circumstances, critical simulation poses current power structures as the problem.
Finally, critical simulations and utopia resemble each other because utopia is itself a kind of critical simulation. In “How to Play Utopia,” Michael Holquist compares chess to utopia, suggesting that “the comparison of chess to battle is roughly parallel to the relationship which obtains between utopia and society” (Holquist 1968, 107). Both, he argues, are simulations that present simplified models of reality—the battlefield and the polis—in which players have the opportunity to replay history and speculate different outcomes. Where the chess player may re-enact historical battles using specialized chess sets carved to resemble particular armies and eras, the player of utopia replays social evolution to produce different kinds of civilizations. In this process, “The irreversibility of history is stemmed, and outcomes determined by the contingency of actual experience, can, in utopia, be reversed in the freedom of the utopist’s imagination… Utopia is play with ideas” (Holquist 1968, 119). Viewed in this manner as a kind of grand simulation, an elaborate “what if” in which authors “play with ideas” in order to imagine different social outcomes, utopias operate like critical simulations: both involve critical thinking, decision-making, and speculation about possible futures.
Designing a Critical Simulation for Teaching Utopia
If utopia is itself an exercise in critical simulation, one in which authors design alternative futures that critique and inspire, what better way for students to learn about utopia than by imitating this process? Students in my course would become designers of utopia, and in doing so they would practice the critical habits of mind intrinsic to the utopian frame and situate their understanding of utopian texts within an embodied experience of utopian design. While a design-based approach to teaching language and literature is not new—it was famously promulgated by the New London Group (of which James Gee was a member) as a pedagogy for multiliteracy (Cazden et al. 1996), this application in a utopian literature course provides a case study for how such a method might work to situate meaning using the techniques of critical simulation.
The critical simulation I designed took the form of a semester-long cooperative / competitive game in which five teams of students designed intentional communities—actually existing social experiments in utopian living. Students developed the designs for their communities through a semester-long iterative process that involved engaging with course texts to prepare solutions to a list of contemporary social problems. They assembled this work into a multimedia digital brochure for an intentional community that each team presented to the class at the end of the semester, which provided a gratifying sense of closure to the course. The classroom thus became a sandbox for utopia: students simulated the experience of designing utopia, and this experience helped them move from using an uncritical initial frame to a critical utopian frame while simultaneously moving them away from being outsiders to becoming insiders in the discourse by providing opportunities to engage course texts and concepts (see Figure 3).
This semester-long process of utopian design was stoked by periodic “challenges”—in-class assignments that followed discussions of course texts in which the class collectively problem-posed some aspect of society criticized in that week’s reading material, and then worked in teams to develop innovative solutions. The challenge themes isolated different components of the conceptual work required to produce an intentional community: (1) the distribution of work and resources; (2) gender roles; (3) education and healthcare; (4) spirituality and well being; (5) government, freedom, and international relations; (6) consumption and waste management; (7) energy and environment; and (8) urban and suburban planning. In the spirit of Ernst Bloch’s conception of the “not yet,” each challenge began with a critique of what is and followed with a discussion of what could or should be. The course texts provided useful resources for this process by modeling utopian critiques and alternatives, but also by furnishing raw material for the students’ designs. The texts included selections from Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Harlan Ellison’s “‘Repent Harlequin,’ Said the Ticktockman,” Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. I also assigned students to read about intentional communities past and present. They read about Charles Fourier’s phalanxes, Robert Owen’s cooperatives, Icarian communes, Brook Farm, the Oneida Community, Shaker villages, and contemporary intentional communities. To round out the course material, students examined urban and suburban planning blueprints, such as Ebenezer Howard’s “Garden City of Tomorrow,” and viewed clips from several documentary films that addressed social and environmental concerns.
While the design process constituted a single, semester-long critical simulation, each individual challenge was the equivalent of a mini-critical simulation that targeted a specific issue in order to provoke awareness and inspire creative alternatives. Through this process, the domains under consideration—e.g., economics, ecology, urban and suburban planning, etc.—were reframed as problems to be solved rather than as normative discourses to be learned and internalized. While the course texts initially served as touchstones for utopian critique and storehouses of fresh ideas, as students became empowered utopian producers in their own right they began to question the texts and treat them as much as codifications of ideology as the domains they scrutinized. At the conclusion of each challenge round, the teams would present their work, provide constructive feedback for revision, and select the most innovative design, after which I would award nominal prizes. They recorded their work on a group blog, which simultaneously functioned as a drafting site for the final digital brochure, a forum for instructor feedback, and a communication hub for the team. This multi-stage, design-based critical simulation enhanced rather than displaced the more traditional pedagogical methods used in the course, such as reading, writing, and discussion. It also integrated the major learning outcomes for the course—reading comprehension, critical analysis, and intellectual production—into a single, unified process.
The digital brochures assembled from the raw material of the challenge assignments were required to have four parts: (a) a common mission statement outlining the history, goals and purpose of the community; (b) a description of a typical day in the life of the community; (c) a visual blueprint for a town, village, or city in the community; and, since it was a brochure after all, (d) information about how to join the community. The final products took the form of colorful slideshows, PDFs, and websites. The components for these brochures were copied in part from the Fellowship for Intentional Community website, a promotional catalog of ongoing experiments in “practical” utopias that students were asked to peruse at one point in the semester. Since the website included mission statements, photographs, and contact information for each listing, we used it as a model for the students’ digital brochures.
While the intentional communities website provided a handy model for the students’ projects, it was not my only or even primary motivation for having students design their final projects as digital brochures. This decision hinged on other factors, as well. I chose mass media and marketing genres for this assignment because the goal of “selling” utopia to an audience and recruiting utopians resonates with the persuasive thrust of utopian literature. From Plato’s Republic to More’s Utopia to Callenbach’s Ecotopia and beyond, one finds a common pattern in which the author, through the intermediation of critical or skeptical narrators and interlocutors, attempts to persuade the reader that a better world is possible. This does not necessarily imply that the author has (or even wants) a blueprint for utopia, but it does make persuasion an explicit part of the bargain. Thus, in the same way that a brochure is rhetorically intentioned to sell a product, utopian literature is often rhetorically intentioned to sell an idea—about how one should live or not live. Of course, adopting the format of the brochure—a product so keyed to capitalist commodification and consumerism—for utopian discourse—which is decidedly anti-capitalist—may seem paradoxical. But a crucial part of critical simulation is challenging students to imagine ways to transition from one social system to another; in this scenario, they appropriate existing capitalist tools to launch anti-capitalist structures. Finally, I decided to use a digital format for the brochures because it offered the most versatile tools for taking the different media the students had drafted in the challenge assignments and assembling them into a single document. This material included text, images from the web, sound bites, video clips, photographs, and even hand drawings (one challenge required students to draw a resource map for their community). The final product was a virtual bricolage of a semester’s worth of crafting in the service of utopian social dreaming.
Welcome to Utopias!
The students presented five brochures for intentional communities at the end of the semester: Halo, a tourism and export-based island resort; Vacileeco Palati, a high-tech new-Atlantean commune; Northern Green, a secessionist eco-commune; Guavaland, an agrarian autarky with sprinkles of futuristic technology; and Phoenix, a back-to-nature libertarian community of individual producers. These unique designs display a wealth of critical engagement with contemporary issues and course texts, as well as a keen sense of adaptation and invention. While there is some interesting overlap between the designs, there are also many key differences. In the paragraphs that follow, I provide an overview of each intentional community using snippets of text and images from the brochures. I also highlight where and how the projects engage with course material and problem-pose aspects of contemporary society, thereby meeting my objectives for this application of critical simulation.
Halo is a tropical island paradise catering to the promises and pleasures of the resort industry (see Figure 4). The brochure flaunts, “Everyday feels like you’re on vacation.” Halo’s geography evokes More’s island of Utopus with its familiar crescent shape (see Figure 5 below), but here the similarities end. High-rise resort buildings, private bungalows, and cruise ships dot the coasts, providing a major source of revenue for the island. This revenue is distributed equitably among all citizens and ensures an ever-increasing quality of life for the entire community. In return, citizens are required to work eight hours a day and participate in town hall meetings where decisions are made by consensus. Haloans value diversity, yet discourage religion because “such ideologies … promote sexism, racism, and other common inequalities.” They also value a stress-free lifestyle and “strive to eliminate the factor of anomie that is often found within your typical western societies.”
Halo’s design is clearly influenced by the meme of an island utopia first established by More’s seminal text. But its emphasis on leisure—both in terms of its clever marketing scheme and its economy—draws upon different sources. In this respect, Halo finds inspiration in Thoreau’s Walden and Ellison’s “‘Repent Harlequin’,” texts that challenge the self-destructive effects of undue busyness and mindless consumerism. In this regard, Halo’s rejection of the stressful, multi-tasking, productivity-obsessed, and acquisitive lifestyle of Western consumer society constitutes its most poignant social critique. Yet, it achieves this critical distance not by copying the escapist or subversive logics of Thoreau and Ellison’s texts, respectively, but by embracing and transmogrifying the commodity logic of the globalized leisure economy. Halo is only tenable because it complies with the circuit of work and leisure that sustains the dizzying rhythm of life in modern society. Yet, it tempers its participation in this status-quo macro-economy with a micro-economy that stresses communal forms of decision-making and equitable resource distribution. Its scheme is based on the socialization of that which already exists—namely the tourist-based export economies shaped by trans-national capital and International Monetary Fund policies to service weary laborers from the more affluent nations.
Part Baconian new Atlantis, part Jules Verne science fiction, Vacileeco Palati (Greek for “underwater kingdom”) is an underwater, self-propelled domed city consisting of a central forum ringed by dormitories, utilities, and farms, and navigable by trains and walking paths (see Figure 6). The city was designed to solve the twin problems of overpopulation and resource depletion by taking to the oceans in search of new resources. The inventive Palatians place a premium on discovering and circulating knowledge, and thus prefer to recruit scientists and artists. They are a communal society where all citizens are guaranteed employment, education, and healthcare, while private property and money are banned. The work week alternates between urban and agricultural labor. The political system rewards hard work with leadership roles, and the highest governing body is the “Board of the Wise.”
Vacileeco Palati is an interesting hybrid of concepts from several course texts, and also draws from Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, which was not a course text. As a floating island, Vacileeco Palati is an interesting spin on More’s Utopus and Bacon’s Bensalem. It shares with More’s Utopia, Bacon’s New Atlantis, and Plato’s Republic a preference for knowledge and learning. The moneyless, communist economy constitutes a sharp break from modern capitalist societies and coheres with the rejection of money and private property in More, Plato, and Bellamy. In terms of the political system, the practice of rewarding hard work with leadership roles resembles Bellamy’s plan for an “industrial army” in Looking Backward, while the idea of the “Board of the Wise” recalls Plato’s “guardians” and Bacon’s “Salomon’s House.” The rotation of the workweek between urban and agricultural labor is an interesting adaptation of More’s seasonal work rotations. Meanwhile, the ringed layout of the city bears more than a passing resemblance to Howard’s “Garden City of Tomorrow.” Finally, the threatening backdrop of overpopulation and resource depletion recalls the warnings of Callenbach’s Ecotopia and Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Overall, this resourceful, hybrid design demonstrates a critical rejection of the individualism, acquisitiveness, and resource-depleting tendencies of capitalist society. Its alternative, though inspired by course texts, borrows and innovates what is desirable, rejects what is not.
Northern Californian Coastal Community, Northern Green for short, is a sovereign country founded in the year 2025 in a part of California that seceded from the United States. The mission of this eco-commune is to achieve an “ecologically sustainable, off-grid powered existence.” This central pre-occupation with sustainability is thematically expressed in the layout and imagery of its brochure (see Figure 7). To realize its mission, the Greens limit their population to 200,000, rely on renewable energy, and grow everything they need. The Greens are communitarian and democratic. Everyone is expected to work, resources are owned in common, and wealth is equally distributed using a credit card system.
The line of influence from a single course text is perhaps most pronounced with Northern Green. The placement, history, “green” ethos, and marketing aesthetic suggest a community that is clearly inspired by Callenbach’s Ecotopia and its critique of an ecologically and psychologically unsustainable industrial society. Ecotopia is similarly located on the western coast of the former United States, having seceded from the Union over various environmental and political concerns, and professing an equally “green” sensibility. Both utopias reject industrialism, consumerism, alienating urban metropolises, and the concept of infinite growth that propels capitalist societies. And yet, there are also significant differences between them. Northern Green rejects key elements of Ecotopia, such as its emphasis on decentralized, small crafts production, and the continuation of racial segregation. Rather than slavishly imitate Ecotopia, Northern Green turns to other course texts for inspiration. The equal credit system recalls the credit system from Looking Backward, while the idea of garden cities references Howard’s early designs for suburbia.
The tropical island utopia, Guavaland, is as hip as its Myspace page. This inventive team of utopian engineers decided to advertise their community on Myspace, where visitors are greeted by automated steel pan music and lush, tropical images (see Figure 8). Guavaland blends natural beauty with technological sophistication, boasting a futuristic steel-and-glass metropolis bursting out of a pristine jungle. Guavaland is a commonwealth comprised of five villages and a central city, Guava City, which form a pentagram design (see Figure 9). Wind turbines ring the coastline and trolley lines connect each village. The Guavalanders value cooperation over individualism and enjoy free education and healthcare. Their major industry is agriculture and they believe in “natural living.” They seek “hardworking men and women” who “are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the community” and who “are ready and willing to leave the fast-paced life behind and enjoy the splendor of the easy-going life.”
Guavaland is similar to Halo in its rejection of the “fast-paced life” that plagues many modern industrial and post-industrial societies. However, it rejects becoming inscribed within the globalized economics of the commodified leisure industry that Halo occupies. It embraces, instead, an agrarian economy that emphasizes self-sufficiency, natural living, and renewable resources. In these respects, Guavaland bears more than a passing resemblance to Ecotopia. But it also borrows from other sources. For instance, the commonwealth system and communitarian values evoke More’s Utopia, while the pentagram layout of its suburban villages is a novel interpretation of Howard’s garden city design. The science-fiction feel and look of Guava City seems misplaced in this communitarian eco-village. But it also promises that nature and technology can successfully co-exist.
Phoenix’s fiery phoenix imagery says it all (see Figure 10). It is a community of survivors intent on rebuilding human civilization after the predations of modern industrial society unleashed a tsunami of global climate change, famine, pandemic, and war. The brochure features a quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile (1762) that neatly sums up Phoenix’s philosophy: “It is in man’s heart that the life of nature’s spectacle exists; to see it one must feel it.” The quote encapsulates Phoenix’s rejection of modern industrial society in favor of a back-to-nature approach to life that favors sustainability and personal freedom. The Phoenixans are a libertarian society with communal traditions and a commitment to lo-tech (there is no electricity), environmentally friendly technologies. Each citizen is an individual freeholder who pursues a trade and barters for other goods and services. The society is governed by a council of elders and all citizens are expected to obey a central constitution called the “Code of Conduct,” which includes laws prohibiting violence and intolerance, regulations for “green roofs” (see Figure 11), protections for the right to free education and healthcare, and the requirement that each citizen donate 20 percent of their labor to the community.
[caption id="attachment_2846" align="alignnone" width="432"] Figure 11. Green roofs are mandatory for all Phoenixian domiciles. This design is intended to provide several benefits: it extends the lifespan of the roof, provides food, purifies the air, and increases biodiversity.[/caption]
Phoenix differs from the other intentional communities in the depth of its origin narrative. After the collapse of civilization into bloodthirsty bands of nomads and scavengers, an oracle-like woman named Themis brought together a rag-tag group of survivors and resettled what is now North Manitou Island in Lake Michigan (now transformed by global warming into a temperate environment), renaming it “Avani” (Sanskrit for “Earth”). In 2059, they founded the community of Phoenix to symbolize the fact that they were “rising from the ashes of their predecessors.” Three generations later, Phoenix numbers 500 members and growing.
Phoenix’s design incorporates elements from several course texts. The emphasis on green technologies and barter economies suggests a clear line of influence from Callenbach’s Ecotopia, while the council of elders is reminiscent of the respect accorded to elders in Gilman’s Herland. Yet, the most striking similarity is with Butler’s Parable of the Sower. The Parable is similarly a post-apocalyptic tale about the trials and tribulations of a rag-tag bunch of survivors who must brave a “Mad Max”-like landscape to arrive at a safe haven where they can start over. The oracular Themis, whose name is taken from the Greek goddess of law and order valued above all for her good counsel, is an allusion to Butler’s spunky prophet-like protagonist, Lauren Olamina, who leads these survivors and inspires them with her new religion, Earthseed. In the end, they found a community, Acorn, in the Parable of the Sower, which promises to be the seed of a new society. Similarly, the back-to-nature vision of the oracle Themis attracts followers who eventually come together to plant the seed of a new society, Phoenix. Both narratives are examples of what Lyman Tower Sargent has called critical dystopia, a vision that “holds out hope that the dystopia can be overcome and replaced with a eutopia” (Sargent 2001, 222). Phoenix thus combines an apocalyptic vision that critiques what is wrong with contemporary society—from our overreliance on fossil fuels to our exploitative relationships with the Earth and each other—while pointing the way to a compassionate alternative.
I decided to follow up the students’ final presentations with an exit survey to have them debrief about their experience with the critical simulation. I asked the students: Did it help you to improve your understanding of course material? Did your idea of utopia change after taking this course? Not everyone completed the survey, but the responses I did receive suggest the critical simulation was a successful “fourth leg” to the more traditional pedagogical elements of literature courses, namely reading, writing, and discussion, which were also utilized by this course.
The responses to the first question—whether the critical simulation improved one’s understanding of the course material—were positive and fairly uniform in nature. One student responded:
By putting ourselves as planners of our utopia and facing the challenges posed by the professor, I was able to change my mindset into actually thinking about how I would change the world and then this was contrasted by the authors’ ideas on how to change the world. It is definitely a key part of the class, and the discussions within my group allowed me to better understand everything and to get different views.
The group project was very effective for helping to understand what we were supposed to get out of this course. The reason why it was so effective was due to the fact that we had to put ourselves in the realm that these authors were to attain our understanding of how complicated and visionary it is to have to design a utopia.
The comments highlight the benefits of situated learning that all simulations provide. By putting themselves “in the realm” of the authors they were reading, the critical simulation afforded them a better understanding of the conventions and complexities of utopian thought and production.
The second question—whether the course altered students’ visions of utopia—really got to the core of what I hoped to accomplish with the critical simulation. If one goal of utopia is “the education of desire” (Thompson 1977, 791), then by measuring how much a student’s thinking about utopia had changed from his or her initial conception of it at the beginning of the semester, I would be able to appraise how well the critical simulation had provoked a critical re-examination of the domains (e.g., government, economy, ecology, etc.) and themes (e.g., justice, equality, harmony, etc.) that are the central pre-occupation of utopian desire.
Unfortunately, the responses to this question were varied and inconclusive. One student reported a high degree of change: “I came to understand that it is through individual mindfulness that a utopian society is found. That differs from my initial idea of just communality. Utopia is only possible if every member of the society is actively involved in changing it or creating it.” On the other hand, another student reported little or no change: “I seem to be very consistent when it comes to what my initial thoughts of my utopia were and what [it] came out to be.” A third student had a mixed reaction: “[My view of utopia] didn’t change that much, it more so evolved into something much richer and more specific.”
Nevertheless, when these responses are viewed holistically in conjunction with the overall enthusiasm with which the students participated in the semester-long critical simulation and the depth of thinking in the final brochures they produced, I think this experiment with critical simulation speaks in favor of its incorporation within the set of go-to pedagogical techniques available to those of us interested in promoting critical thinking in our classes. I don’t think this addition will fundamentally change how we teach. Rather, if I may paraphrase my student, I think it will help us to evolve our practice into something “much richer and more specific.”
That said, in reflecting critically on my own praxis and how I might revise it the next time around, I think an interesting and necessary turn-of-the-screw would be to have students conclude the semester by writing critical reflections on their own utopias in which they interrogate, as I did above, their engagement with social themes and course material. This would involve asking them to speculate on the possible dystopian tendencies and outcomes intrinsic to their utopian designs and to the practice of utopia generally. Is utopia an inflexible blueprint for an ideal state that ultimately leads to totalitarianism as some critics have asserted (Popper 1994), or is it fundamentally a “principle of hope” without which humanity is lost (Bloch 1986)? This reflective assignment may help to prod those students who registered little or no change from their initial frame to critically re-examine their held beliefs and venture new ones.
Yet, my most pressing concern has less to do with the shortcomings of this experiment with critical simulation than with its successes. What happens to those students who succeed in critically re-examining the real-world domains they are ostensibly being prepared to occupy once they leave the university? How does a student actualize his or her new utopian desires once the semester is over and the classroom is exited? This paradox was keenly felt by one student, who responded in the survey, “Maybe one day I can change the world with my ideas and arguments. Until then, I’ll just continue on with my education and continue to dream of the future.”
The student’s comment points to the problem of agency that arises when simulation inside the classroom does not lead to comfortable assimilation outside the classroom, but instead provokes utopian “social dreaming” that arouses the sweet yet unsettling “desire for a better way of being.” The perceived disconnect between what is desired and what is possible risks producing the “miniutopia” that Bowles and Gintis and Stanford warn against. Yet, if my critical simulation created a miniutopia, the problem, in this case, is not so much that it left students “lacking a political understanding of their predicament” as Bowles and Gintis fear, but that the students lack a ready-made outlet for transformative practice with which to apply the political understanding actually garnered from the experience of simulating utopia. As a result, the risk of critical simulation is that the newfound utopian desire it produces may remain confined to the utopian no-place of learning, where it is subject to indefinite deferral and deformation.
This experiment with critical simulation raises a number of important discoveries and questions for educators interested in teaching critical thinking in any discipline. It demonstrates that critical simulations are engaging activities with the potential to situate meaning in ways that foster students’ critical thinking while enhancing comprehension of course material. As such, they provide a valuable supplement to standard teaching practices, such as reading, writing, and discussion. Though they require significant forethought, iteration, and time to develop, and sometimes result in minor setbacks as evidenced by my failure to incorporate specialized roles, these requirements and difficulties are true for effective teaching strategies in general and should not deter one from investigating this option. Furthermore, the replay factor alone may more than account for the initial investment of time and effort. Although the problem of where to channel the unsettling utopian desire for change unleashed by this technique remains open, it also highlights a challenge facing all educators interested in teaching critical thinking: how to bridge the divide between the space of practice and social dreaming carefully cultivated in the classroom, and the space of praxis and social change that awaits outside. In the end, I am content to have raised the utopian itch. For if, as Oscar Wilde famously proclaimed, “Progress is the realisation of Utopias,” then by simulating utopia with my students I have at least prepared them to decide what should come next.
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About the Author
Dr. Francesco Crocco is an Associate Professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) of The City University of New York (CUNY). He received his Ph.D. in English from the CUNY Graduate Center and has published several articles and a book on British Romantic poetry and nationalism. His recent scholarship focuses on game-based learning, gamification, and utopian studies. With funding from a Title V grant, he co-designed Levelfly, a gamified learning management system and social network that was piloted at BMCC. He is currently a PI on an NSF-funded project to develop a video-game-based curriculum to improve math remediation for STEM majors. His forthcoming publications include an edited volume on the broad cultural impact of role-playing games and articles theorizing representations of work and play in utopian and dystopian literature and films. Dr. Crocco is also the co-founder of the CUNY Games Network and coordinator of the CUNY Games Festival, an annual national conference on game-based learning in higher education.
Leila Walker edited the blog post The Place(s) of Mentorship and Collaboration in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Katie Zabrowski, Saint Louis University
Nathaniel Rivers, Saint Louis University
This video production reflects on the place(s) where mentorship and collaboration occur between doctoral student Katie and her advisor Nathaniel. Featuring both of their voices, the video moves through the spaces in which they work and collaborate, seeking to understand how those spaces’ materiality and organization affect the mentoring that emerges within them. The video takes up this inquiry through a collaborative analysis of a shared working place—a local coffee roaster specializing in pour over brewing—as a material blueprint for a particular kind of mentorship marked first and foremost by collaboration.
Featured throughout the video are reflections upon materiality from scholars working within various fields, but who all impact studies in rhetoric and composition—Katie and Nathaniel’s disciplinary home. Many of these thinkers and the lines of thought within which they work treat materiality as having rhetorical efficacy, and so too does this project credit material spaces and their aggregate parts as rhetorically impacting and shaping the human interactions that occur within and among them.
[youtube width=”560″ height=”315″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpLGuxKUeUg[/youtube]
Music featured in this video:
Music “I Need to Start Writing Things Down” by Chris Zabriskie
Available on the Free Music Archive
Under CC BY license
Music “Readers! Do You Read?” by Chris Zabriskie
Available on the Free Music Archive
Under CC BY license
Katie: In the early days of writing my dissertation I established a standing date with a 12 oz. coffee and a croissant. Every Friday morning I and the materials of my dissertation made our way to a local spot, Blueprint Coffee, to spend the morning drafting – word by word, sentence by sentence, section by section, and, eventually, chapter by chapter – the tallest project of my graduate career.
Nathaniel: Writers are nomads in search of a place, and a coffee shop is an oasis for such weary travelers: the right mix of hustle and bustle, sound and silence, caffeine and calorie. A place to be wired and wireless. A medium for a medium.
Katie: It was the ambience of this architecturally-themed spot that invited me to return week after week. With its drafting tables and stools, crisp white subway tiles, and smooth stainless steel counter tops, the space is a cluttered mind’s sweet retreat into organization of the most satisfying kind. What’s more, the space and its curators exude a palpable hospitality, a concept which is, coincidentally, the support beam upon which my dissertation project rests.
Nathaniel: Blueprint speaks to and through Katie’s work. It speaks to me too as Katie’s mentor, and models what I have come to recognize as my approach to mentoring. The performance of coffee resonates with the arrangement of the location. There is casual fastidiousness to the place. There is an earnestness in the effort to make coffee visible as an activity – like a building once built that still celebrates it blueprints. The operation of making coffee – cupping, roasting, brewing, and experiments across all three–is performed in public. And so my mentoring amounts to discussing blueprints, my own as well as Katie’s. My own struggles with research and writing. What I’m working on, how I am responding to reviews and other feedback. Whatever advice I brew, it’s brewing is a part of its delivery.
Katie: There is always, first, the offer of a glass of water upon placing your coffee order. Then there is the request of your name which will in turn not be written on a paper cup and exclaimed into the crowd, but spoke with a caring tone as you’re served tableside, as if in the home of a friend. As unique to this place as its address, is its hospitable treatment of the coffee beans – ground finely with a special grinder, brewed by hand with water heated to a precise and bean-friendly temperature.
At a certain point it occurred to me: this space and its materials are more than places listed in my weekly calendar but co-collaborators in the project planning and writing that emerges there. I began documenting my work in this space with Instagram pictures; pictures to which my advisor would often respond with words of encouragement. And eventually it began to happen that this space became a blueprint for our mentoring relationship, which always had been but was slowly seeing refinement as one marked first and foremost by collaboration.
Nathaniel: Writers are nomads in search of a medium. Place is a medium, and a medium can be a place. A medium makes a place by pulling together disparate elements together. Place is a mediated aggregate of actors and forces. Place is a collaborator. Blueprint opens itself up to those working with/in it. It is friendly, forthcoming. Place is a mentor. Blueprint is a place for unique forms of engagement and exchange.
Places can work with us. They can also, of course, work against us. Because a place is not some inert container it can resist as much as rewards. Place, like any collaborator, can be unreliable. Colleagues must be chosen wisely. Sometimes an oasis is a mirage.
Katie: With our explicit attention to the places in time that we chose to share, we begin to notice not only all the places in which we formally met, but also where informal collaboration occurred all the time – in the margins of what we were reading, in Instagram photos and comments, in the line-by-line notes made upon chapters under review, and in written and verbal responses to those remarks when we met to review chapters, and in our respective working spaces. Blueprint periodically stabilized this complex collection of collaborations, drawing us in with its unique, ambient qualities. With those qualities, we continually built and maintained a place for mentoring as collaborative.
The many and diverse occasions upon which our thinking became merged eventually became habitual. The spaces of our collaboration built also the shape of our mentoring relationship outside of those spaces.
About the Authors
Katie Zabrowski is a doctoral candidate with an emphasis in rhetoric and composition in the English department at Saint Louis University. Her current research articulates hospitality as the ethic upon which rhetoric operates. Engaging hospitality as both material and discursive, she works through new materialism’s implications for rhetoric and writing to propose ways in which pedagogies might be mobilized hospitably in rhetoric and composition classrooms. Her work has appeared in Kairos andenculturation. She tweets at@katethegrater.
Nathaniel A. Rivers is an Associate Professor of English at Saint Louis University. His current research addresses new materialism’s impact on public rhetorics such as environmentalism and urban design. Together with Paul Lynch, he edited Thinking with Bruno Latour in Rhetoric and Composition (SIUP 2015), which explores the impact of Bruno Latour on rhetorical theory, composition pedagogy, and research methodologies across both. His work has appeared in journals such as College Composition and Communication, Kairos,Technical Communication Quarterly, enculturation,Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, and Rhetoric Review. He tweets at@sophist_monster.
Leila Walker edited the blog post This Week in Digital Humanities and Pedagogy in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Each week, a member of the JITP Editorial Collective assembles and shares the news items, ongoing discussions, and upcoming events of interest to us (and hopefully you). This week’s installment is edited by Laura Kane.
Greetings! This is my first Weekly Roundup, and I suppose that it symbolically marks the beginning of my time as the Managing Editor of JITP! I am thrilled to be joining the JITP collective and feel very fortunate to follow Leila Walker in taking on this new role. Leila has been a fantastic Managing Editor and a driving force behind the journal’s identity. She has been a terrific guide these past few months, and I cannot thank her enough for all that she has done to help me prepare.
A little bit about me: I am a Doctoral Candidate in Philosophy at The Graduate Center, CUNY. My research interests include social and political philosophy, social ontology, and philosophy of education. For the past three years I have been a GC Digital Fellow, working in collaboration with other Fellows to bring more digital initiatives to the Graduate Center. My most noteworthy project as a Digital Fellow involved initiating, curating, and managing five semester-long workshop series over five semesters.
I have also developed and designed websites for various initiatives and departments at the Graduate Center, including the Fashion Studies website, the Advanced Research Collaborative Commons, the Provost’s Digital Innovation Grants website, and many others. Additionally, I have developed and designed a website for the Social & Political Philosophy Working Group, a workshop group that I have co-chaired for the past two years. Currently, I am in the process of collaboratively developing a syllabus repository-of-sorts called CUNY Syllabus Project. The CUNY Syllabus Project aims to be a robust resource that provides ways to search, compare, and visualize syllabi across institutions, disciplines, and departments, with a long-term goal of facilitating interdisciplinarity in teaching materials. I’m sure that I will have more to say about this project as it develops (for now we are in the early stages), but please do visit our site and submit a syllabus (or two)!
That brings me to my other current project: for the past few months, I have been re-designing the JITP website to make it more mobile-friendly. The new JITP website will be responsive and ADA compliant – an exciting and important improvement over the current design. It will also feature a new section called “Blueprints” that Leila had discussed in her last post. We hope to unveil the new website within the next two months.
I look forward to all of the wonderful things in store for the journal this coming year, and am extremely grateful for the opportunity to join the Collective as Managing Editor!
Leila Walker edited the blog post This Week in Digital Humanities and Pedagogy in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago and Commons Testing Group
Each week, a member of the JITP Editorial Collective assembles and shares the news items, ongoing discussions, and upcoming events of interest to us (and hopefully you). This week’s installment is edited by Tyler Fox.
Last week I had the good fortune to attend DH2015, the annual digital humanities conference, in Sydney, Australia. It was a week full of information and inspiration.
I was also fortunate to participate in the New Scholars Symposium, a two-day “unconference” for PhD candidates and recently awarded PhDs. Twenty scholars from institutions in the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, New Zealand, and Australia came together to share ideas around teaching, researching, and practicing the Digital Humanities. Key scholars in the Digital Humanities also joined us, including Melissa Terras, Jeffrey Schnap, Charles van den Heuvel, and Willard McCarty. Our conversations ranged from how to get started in Digital Humanities, what are the methods of digital humanities, and what models seem best for engaging in digital practices. For myself, these conversations were very much starting points with no definitive end point or answer. That said, one resounding theme that emerged from our discussions was the emphasis on the laboratory model.
The lab, and I think also the studio, is an interesting model for work in DH. It promotes collaboration, openness to experimentation and failure, and a practice-based model of research. Perhaps this resonated with me because these are values that I hold dear. I also find them to be important pedagogically, and I wonder how entire curricula in the humanities may be shaped around the lab experience. I am still working out the implications of such ideas. Labs and studios require different kinds of infrastructure and support than many humanities departments have at their disposal. Furthermore, I see the potential for disciplinary friction; which methods, tools, and approaches does a lab adopt? Who is in, and who is out? Clearly, I am still thinking through this idea. I take that as a sign of a successful conference.
As such, my roundup focuses on some of my experiences at DH2015, which of course is not representative of the whole conference .
Deb Verhoeven addressed the lack of women on the stage on the first day of the conference. Here is a 5-minute excerpt from her introduction to Genevieve Bell’s keynote (unfortunately missing some of her great jokes). It is worth listening to. For context, here is a link to some of the Twitter conversation.
Ben Schmidt’s talk, “Data Revisualization as Critical Humanities Practice,” is an excellent example of how we might interrogate past data and the narratives they contain, or don’t, as the case may be.
A number of presentations approached cultural heritage through archives. Mitchell Whitelaw’s project Succession applies a generative approach to cultural heritage and digital images. Sarah Barns uses moving image archives to activate urban spaces, often showing historical images over contemporary spaces.
Pedagogy Toolkit offers a range of teaching resources and tools for composition, rhetoric, and literature courses.
 My thanks to CHCI, centerNet, the Simpson Center for the Humanities, and UW-IT Academic Services for supporting my travel to DH2015.
Did we miss something? Send hot tips, cool CFPs, and warmly worded rants to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leila Walker edited the blog post Inspiring Student Engagement with Technology in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Tracy Bartel, Chatham University
As a Technology Fellow at Chatham University, I am charged with solving pedagogical problems through the use of technology tools. Selecting the right tool to solve a pedagogical problem can often be overwhelming with the unlimited choices available (both free and paid). With a limited amount of department funding available and in order to save students additional technology fees, I focused on finding a free tool to increase online student engagement. As an online instructor, I struggle with student engagement in the virtual world. Specifically, how do I engage the students in learning if they only compose papers and respond to forum discussions in writing? I was particularly interested in replicating the educational benefits of in-class discussions and lectures. With in-class discussions and lectures students not only gain knowledge and strengthen their communication skills, but they can also gain an appreciation for a perspective that may be different from their own. After trying several different tools to simulate these educational benefits, I chose VoiceThread to simulate in-class discussions and Panopto to simulate in-class lectures.
In order to try to replicate the experiences of in-class discussions in my online teaching, I selected VoiceThread, a web-based application that facilitates asynchronous collaboration. As a Technology Fellow, I explored many different tools that would potentially address this pedagogical need, but VoiceThread seemed the most user-friendly for students of varying technological abilities. Using VoiceThread, students can engage in online forum discussions using different response methods such as by microphone, webcam, text, phone, and audio-file upload. Also, instructors have the option of presenting the topic for discussion to the students in several different formats, including documents, images, audio files, and videos.
This tool was piloted in my introductory education course with undergraduate students. I used a rubric (see below) to grade their VoiceThread responses in five categories: respect for classmate’s opinion, information, use of facts/statistics, understanding of the topic, and peer response discussion. It should be noted that this rubric was created using another free technology tool, Rubistar. The combination of the VoiceThread tool and the grading rubric assisted in refining the students’ skills in giving and receiving constructive feedback, which is an essential skill for future teachers. This was apparent when I saw an increase in the students’ rubric scores in all five categories, implying that there was also an increase in their abilities to give and receive constructive feedback. In comparison with my prior use of “text only” forum discussions in Moodle, I found student scores were higher using VoiceThread. I now use this as a tool in all my online, hybrid, and “on the ground” courses. Below is a sample assignment using VoiceThread.
The VoiceThread Forum Discussions are based on a pre-determined topic from the chapter(s) read for that week. Students provide their opinion on the issue using VoiceThread and respond to at least one peer’s post. For example, one of the topics that we have discussed in my introductory education course with undergraduate students is whether a teacher centered instructional approach is more effective over a student centered one. Below is an image of a student’s initial written response to the topic using VoiceThread. While I gave each student the option of how they respond (microphone, webcam, text, phone, and audio-file upload) this particular student was more comfortable making her initial response and her response to a peer using text only. The reason why I gave students the option of which way to respond was that I wanted them to feel comfortable using the technology tool and feel that they have some level of control.
By using the rubric (see above), I graded the student’s initial response based on if they were clear in presenting the information, use of facts/statistics and understanding of the topic. To further guide the format of student responses, they were given a list of “tips to post.” For example, avoid postings that are limited to ‘I agree’ or ‘great idea’, etc. If they agree (or disagree) with a posting then then they need to say why they agree by supporting their statement with concepts from the readings or by bringing in a related example or experience. If they do use statements from the readings, then I encourage them to use page numbers so that both their peers and I can reference the context in which the statement was taken from more easily.
The image below is the same student responding to a peer’s post. In the “tips to post” I encourage students use proper etiquette in responding to a peer’s post. In the image below the student directly names the student they are responding to and respectfully states why they agree or disagree with what has been said. Often students will create long threads of discussion just based upon the post of one student.
To replicate the experience of in-class lectures, I chose the video platform Panopto. Instructors can use a webcam to record their image in sync with PowerPoint lectures or use audio files to discuss a document that is displayed on the desktop.
I use Panopto primarily in my online courses to record lectures and review the course syllabus at the beginning of the semester. For my hybrid and “on the ground” courses, I have found this tool to be beneficial when I cannot make it to class due to an illness, inclement weather, or attendance at a conference. It can also help my students present their work. In one particular instance, a group of students was unable to present on the assigned day because one of their members needed to participate in a rescheduled athletic event. The solution we came up with was that the group members would come to my office a few days beforehand, record their presentation using my Panopto account, and upload the presentation to the Moodle course shell. On their assigned presentation day, the class was able to view the group’s presentation and give feedback by viewing the recorded presentation. For this assignment, all students gave and received feedback on their presentations through a “text only” forum discussion on our collaborative learning platform (Moodle).
One of the challenges of this tool is the ability level required to use it. I found that both undergraduate and graduate students in my courses experienced great frustration in recording, editing, and uploading with Panopto. After offering written and video tutorial on how to use Panopto and even the assistance from the Informational Technology staff over the course of several semesters, I decided I would no longer require students to use this tool to submit online presentations. However, as indicated in the example above, I still use it with students in similar circumstances. I am in the process of exploring other tools that students of varying degrees of technological ability can use for online presentations.
A pedagogical challenge that I have discovered in recording lectures for online use is that even when I record the lectures it does not guarantee that the students will watch them. In an attempt to remedy this pedagogical challenge, I now require students to view all of the Panopto lectures before taking online quizzes on Moodle. Depending upon which version of Moodle is being used, Moodle can be programmed to automatically prevent students from taking the quiz unless they have viewed the specified lectures.
An additional incentive to view all of the recorded lectures is to embed a weekly assignment within the video. This weekly assignment would require each student to discuss a topic from the video lecture with their “assignment buddy” via email, in person or over the phone. To ensure that this assignment is being done, I randomly follow up with the “assignment buddy” pairs to see how their discussion has gone that week. These “assignment buddy” pairs are randomly selected. Since this is an online course, this is another technique to stimulate discussion in addition to using VoiceThread. The teaching technique of “assignment buddies” paired with Panopto has increased student engagement and the application of course material in an entirely online course.
Overall, I think that VoiceThread and Panopto have inspired more student engagement in my online, hybrid, and “on the ground” courses. However, these technology tools have their benefits and drawbacks. VoiceThread has the benefit of giving students the time to think about their responses with the asynchronous format. However, it lacks the synchronous nature of “on the ground” courses. This skill is essential is for pre-service teachers who need to think on their feet as students in their “on the ground” classrooms are often unpredictable. Panopto has the benefit to students who need to rewatch, pause, or rewind the video for whatever reason. In the “on the ground” version of a lecture, they do not have the option to pause the lecture. In a student’s haste to take down everything that a faculty member has said, written or is contained on a the slides, they may miss vital concepts and theories. However, a drawback to Panopto tool is that students cannot ask questions about the chapter in “real time,” but would have to contact the instructor for clarification. At this point I do not think that my online courses entirely replicate the educational benefits of in-class discussions and lectures, so I am always on the lookout to bring my online courses closer to the “on the ground” experiences.
Voice Thread https://voicethread.com/
About the Author
Dr. Tracy Bartel, Assistant Professor and Technology Fellow in the Department of Education at Chatham University, teaches a variety of courses online, on-the-ground and hybrid classroom formats. She has recently co-designed a fully online undergraduate degree (Infant Toddler Development) at Chatham for early childhood professionals who have a desire to complete their degrees while still working full time.
Leila Walker edited the blog post On Crafting an Assignment Sequence for a Collaborative, Web-Based Final Project in a Composition Course in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Danica Savonick, CUNY Graduate Center
Generative collaborative experiences require strong infrastructural support—both material and immaterial. This post details the sequence of assignments leading up to a collaborative website project at the end of a basic composition course.
This past semester, I taught a composition course at Queens College on the topic of “Creativity.” The course, primarily comprised of first-year students, met twice a week (at 8 am!) for an hour and fifty minutes. This semester, I challenged students to take their research papers a step further by creating a collaborative website based on their theories of creativity:
Logistically, this assignment took up about four full class periods, though our conversations about websites spanned the last three weeks of the semester. I booked a computer lab for two of these classes, during which students used the entire class period to work on their group websites.
Throughout the semester, students familiarized themselves with the blogging and commenting functions of Wordpress (more specifically, the version hosted by Queens College, “Qwriting”). This final website project, however, challenged them to transition from adding content to our course blog to setting up their own site.
Students were placed into groups before we transitioned from their research papers to website projects so that they could become familiar with what their group members were working on.
For example, the group “Creativity and Oppression” contained students researching children’s art in ghettos and concentrations camps during the Holocaust, creativity and privilege in education, and the appropriation and theft of creative works produced by people of color. The other groups—Dreams and Creativity, Creativity and Writing, Creativity and Business—reflected themes that emerged through course readings and conversations. The groups helped students mentor one another through the writing process and encouraged them to identify points of intersection and divergence among their projects. Some groups shared valuable sources they found through the library’s catalogues and databases. On the day that the final drafts of their research essays were due, they brought in copies for everyone in their group. As we transitioned from research papers to website projects, their homework was to read each other’s final drafts and come prepared with ideas for presenting them on a website.
In addition to strengthening their collaborative skills, I wanted students to think about the social and public impact of research. We brainstormed who their possible audiences might be, why they might come to a website about creativity, and what they might hope to get out of it.
Since their final research papers provided the majority of the content for these websites, much of the website work involved translating between “rhetorical situations” (see Purdue OWL): from an academic essay to a collaborative website. And they were no strangers to the difficulties of translation. One blog prompt designed to initiate a conversation about websites as rhetorical situations asked students to “translate” Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay” in the context of the internet. Students rose to the occasion of this admittedly experimental assignment with aplomb.
Their responses to this assignment and the more general question, “What makes a good website?” became the fodder for the rubric we designed.
Before crafting a rubric we looked at these slides that demonstrate the basics of creating a site using Wordpress. Much of the content is drawn from helpful blogs about Wordpress and the Qwriting help site. They reflect my own limited knowledge of the platform’s capabilities, though learning so much more about Wordpress from my students was one of the great unforeseen benefits of this assignment. The website project also allowed us to continue our conversations about the importance of proper citations through a discussion of fair use policies.
After going through the process of setting up a site as a class, I handed out blank rubrics and posted the following in-class assignment:
This activity allowed us to talk not merely about meeting an assignment’s requirements, but about the pedagogy that animates them. I encouraged students to consult the rubrics I used to grade their close reading and comparative essays for examples of the kind of language they might want to include. After they had filled out rubrics based on their understanding of what makes a good website and what a platform like Qwriting allows, we tallied their results and combined some of the categories to produce a rubric that we all agreed upon.
Once the rubrics were ready, we spent two class periods in the computer lab working on their sites. During these classes, we discussed how each group was dividing up work (was one person in charge of images or was each person designing their own page? how were citations being handled?). Often, students would share what they were learning and help one another solve technical issues.
Prior to our final class, students sent everyone the URLs for their websites. They were given a copy of the rubric for each group they’d be evaluating and told to look at the websites beforehand and come prepared with questions. Here are the instructions for the presentations:
After each presentation, students handed in a rubric with scores and explanations, which I later tallied to assign a final, overall grade. Although they were tough on each other, they provided specific examples in the “explanation” category of the rubric to support the scores they awarded.
This project worked well as an extended application of a final research paper. Students who hadn’t participated much during the semester became some of the most vocal and outspoken contributors to our conversations about websites as rhetorical situations. During these weeks the class became even more student centered, as those with advanced knowledge of web design were able to instruct the rest of the class, myself included.
Sincere thanks also to my awesome students for allowing me to share their hard work.
About the Author
Danica Savonick is a doctoral student in English and a research fellow with the Futures Initiative at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her dissertation explores how aesthetic pedagogies can address conditions of neo/liberal racial capitalism and materialize social justice. She is a graduate teaching fellow in the English department at Queens College, where she teaches courses on U.S. literary and cultural studies. Her article entitled “The Problem of Locomotion”: Infrastructure and Automobility in Three Postcolonial Urban Nigerian Novels” will be published in Modern Fiction Studies’ special issue on “Infrastructuralism” in Winter 2015.
Leila Walker edited the blog post Mobile Apps and Online Learning Take Center Stage at City University of New York Accessibility Conference in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Andrew Lucchesi, CUNY Graduate Center
Every year, as a wrap-up to the City University of New York’s Disability Awareness month, the CUNY Assistive Technology Services network (CATS) hosts its annual conference. Hailed by Frank D. Sanchez, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, as the “preeminent disability access conference on the east coast,” this event features presentations on what’s new in disability services and assistive technology work with a heavy focus on public higher education. This year’s conference, hosted in midtown Manhattan at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on May 1st, 2015, drew a range of disability service providers, assistive technology specialists, and faculty from around the New York metropolitan area.
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), this year’s conference took time to acknowledge the struggles and achievements of disability service providers, assistive technologists, and student activists throughout CUNY’s long history. At the same time, the conference theme of “Student Success in the Digital Age” drew attention to how the rapid digitization of higher education, as well as the proliferation of new mobile technologies, are changing the landscape of disability access in the 21st century.
Mobile apps offer new alternatives to legacy assistive technology tools
Many sessions at the conference explored the benefits of new mobile apps to help students with disabilities be more successful in their course work. In the past, students who could benefit from technological support would often be wholly dependent on disability services offices for access to specialized hardware and software designed to serve their needs. However, with the proliferation of smartphones and a recent flood of accessibility apps, students are now better able to cheaply and effectively find tools that help them keep up with the demands of college life.
Take, for example, Kurzweil 3000, a highly sophisticated assistive technology program designed for students with text-based disabilities such as dyslexia. This program combines a range of tools to enhance the reading experience, including Optical Character Recognition scanning, interactive highlighting and text annotation, and customizable text-to-voice and visual tracking read-along tools. Combined in one powerful program, Kurzweil 3000 provides an interactive and immersive reading experience to help students with text-based disabilities move more quickly through and get more meaning from what they read.
While Kurzweil 3000 offers many concrete benefits for students with text-based disabilities, it has some serious drawbacks for both disability offices and for students. One factor is price, since an individual license for the program retails for $1,395. Another factor is the complexity of the program itself. Like many legacy assistive technology tools (including the screen-reader program JAWS, used by many blind and vision impaired students), Kurzweil 3000 has a steep learning curve for new users. Both the price and the obligation to provide students with adequate training for these programs end up putting substantial strains on the resources of disability services offices.
Now, however, for a small fraction of the cost, students can download a range of less sophisticated but much more user-friendly apps that can provide many of the benefits of the legacy assistive technology programs. One standout app mentioned in multiple sessions for its assistive-technology possibilities was Voice Dream, a mobile text-to-speech reading program available in its most basic form for $9.99 (iOS only). While the basic version does not have the wide range of voices or note-taking options Kurzweil offers, it can read aloud a wide range of scanned texts and web content, even allowing users to link the app with cloud storage sites like Dropbox, potentially allowing students to organize their readings for a whole semester’s worth of classes in a single location. Like Kurzweil 3000, Voice Dream reads texts aloud at an adjustable speed while simultaneously highlighting the spoken text, both very useful functionalities for readers with text-processing disabilities. Voice Dream does not have an OCR scanning function, however, so students will need to combine it with other tools (with their own separate price tags) in order to approach the full utility of Kurzweil 3000.
The mobile assistive technology boom allows students (who often have more comfort with new mobile apps than campus assistive technology experts) to achieve new levels of independence in meeting their learning needs. Now, students themselves can own the hardware they need for assistive technology in the form of their personal mobile devices. However, while students have more options in the mobile marketplace, mobile apps still have a long way to go before they will be able to replace the specialized hardware that disability offices continue to provide, including braille embossers and closed circuit amplification systems.
Online learning poses new challenges for legally mandated access
While most of the sessions at the conference took a tool-focused approach, highlighting specific user needs and hardware/software options, there was also an important focus throughout the conference on universal design in all aspects of online teaching and learning. The phrase universal design emerges from a movement for architects and designers to plan their products, from the beginning, for the widest possible range of users. When designing physical buildings, this means using floor plans that minimize the use of stairs or other architectural features that exclude people with disabilities. As many presenters at the conference emphasized, given the rapid expansion of online teaching in higher education, it is pivotally important that faculty and administrators keep this universal-design mentality in mind when developing or purchasing online learning tools.
Andrew Cioffi of Suffolk University observed in his keynote presentation that there are serious legal implications for colleges and universities that develop new online extensions of their institutions without adequately considering whether they can be used by disabled students and faculty. While the Americans with Disabilities Act does not directly mention online spaces, a slew of court cases have seen prominent institutions charged with civil rights violations for creating online learning platforms that can’t be navigated by blind users or web video lectures that lack captions for Deaf and hearing-impaired users. For example, according to Cioffi, both MIT and Harvard have come under legal scrutiny for ADA compliance after releasing public webcast material without functional captioning. In this context, Cioffi argued that all institutions need thoughtful and consistent policies for testing the accessibility of new online platforms.
Institutions must also make sure that faculty who use technology in the classroom fully understand how to design accessible course sites and accessible content for their classes. In most cases, access issues arise when instructors do not adequately consider how blind or deaf students can access their course content. Without clearly laid-out online learning environments, blind students who use the JAWS screenreader may not be able to navigate course websites, interact with discussion forums, or otherwise engage in the work on an online or hybrid class.
Likewise, while instructors certainly mean well, few think about how including multimodal texts in their course materials, including video, audio, or static images, might exclude students with sensory impairments. Instructors must learn to caption their videos, transcribe their audio, and give meaningful textual descriptions for images, or else the new affordances of multimodal texts easily become discriminatory barriers to the full engagement of disabled students in the class. As time goes by, disability services offices will be more and more able to provide this kind of training in course accessibility to instructors.
While this conference explored a range of specific digital tools, its greatest value was in providing a snapshot of the current shifting landscape of disability access in the digitizing world of academia. Students have access to new resources for sure, but they are also facing new barriers as institutions rush forward without considering the needs of all users.
For more perspectives on disability, access, and technology, stay tuned for the upcoming special issue of JITP, “Disability as Insight, Access as the Function of Design,” edited by Sushil K. Oswal and Andrew Lucchesi, coming Fall 2015.
About the Author
Andrew Lucchesi is a doctoral candidate in the English PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center. His dissertation explores the history of disability-access programming in public higher education and argues for writing programs to be designed with better attention to access and inclusion.
Leila Walker edited the blog post Increasing Student Engagement and Assessing the Value of an Online Collaboration Tool: The Case of VoiceThread in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Solomon Negash, Kennesaw State University
Tamara Powell, Kennesaw State University
Engaging students in an online course is a challenge. Students often report that online courses are “death by discussion board,” which leads to the conclusion that at the lower levels, at least, university students do not find discussion boards all that engaging. Students indicate it is hard to have discussions on topics they are just now learning, and they really don’t care to read and respond to their peers’ uninformed opinions regarding discussion topics. Given the enormous amount of time it takes to respond to, supervise, and grade discussion boards, one wonders why instructors are working so hard on something that doesn’t seem to be very effective at engaging students in learning.
The lack of student engagement in online discussion board assignments has a multiplicity of causes. Any meaningful question with regard to an assignment usually has a handful of correct answers. For example, in an introductory American literature course, students might be asked to explicate a story with regard to a particular theme. In a real-time, face-to-face discussion, at least half the class could actively engage in dialogue as the instructor facilitated. But on an asynchronous discussion board, on which every student needs an equal opportunity to participate for an individual grade, such a question means that a handful of students get prime territory to answer, and the rest must either scrape up an answer out of what they can find that is left in the story to discuss, or somehow graft their responses onto another student’s while still trying to get points for being original. The authors find that this condition fails to provide an equal playing field for every student where a graded assignment is concerned. As a result, the authors have experimented with open-ended discussion questions on discussion boards, such as “If you had to pick the most important author in American literature, who would you choose and why?” To the authors’ chagrin but not their surprise, student evaluations complained about these types of questions as “busy work.”
After further experimentation and student feedback regarding the online discussion board in a literature course, the VoiceThread tool was utilized to assist in leveling the playing field for online student discussion. The authors first heard of VoiceThread from former students who became teachers and used the tool themselves. The tool was recommended as one that could provide a platform for meaningful interaction with more robust features than a discussion board. On a VoiceThread, for example, students can type comments as on a discussion board. However, unlike most discussion boards, they can also create audio and video comments and doodle with some basic tools. VoiceThread is also different from a discussion board because it places students’ comments around an image. Students can see a visual representation of themselves and their classmates discussing a topic (see Figure 1).
In the first attempt in this study to use VoiceThread successfully as an online discussion tool in an American literature classroom, a giant PowerPoint was created with every reading assignment getting its own slide. The PowerPoint was then loaded onto the VoiceThread platform. Students were provided with the following instruction:
Throughout the semester, please comment extensively (five well-developed sentences each) regarding your insights and intellectual thoughts on at least five readings. Your contributions must be WHOLLY your own. If you know something, share it, but do not cruise the internet to craft a contribution. Finally, respond in two sentences or more to at least ten of your colleagues’ comments.
At the end of the semester, it might seem like the result was a great success judging by the number of responses, student ideas generated, student engagement, and depth of participation. The sad truth is that most of these postings were added the last day of class. And evaluations reflected that students felt this assignment was meaningless. A meaningful, intellectual discussion among 40 people on five or more topics doesn’t happen in 24 hours of frantic, last-minute posting. One might ask, “Why bother?” From the student evaluations, it seems that students don’t care whether they are engaged in their online course. However, the researchers care, and from this concern flows the current effort to understand how to increase student engagement and to evaluate whether students find value in online collaboration tools.
The big difference between face-to-face and online discussion is that face to face discussion is ephemeral and, usually, ungraded. It generally starts with a broad topic and moves quickly. Also, not everyone has to participate for a discussion to be deemed successful. Online, students cannot hide. Each student needs an equal opportunity to participate and earn points. In an online course with 40 students, how does that happen? And how does an instructor make it engaging? In a face-to-face class the instructor may ask a variety of questions and may even have each student get a question and provide an answer as a sort of concept “check-up.” That activity can be replicated in an online course. But simply posting 40 questions for 40 students to answer isn’t necessarily student-student interaction. Students will likely answer a question and move on to other items in their hectic lives. In addition, it is often challenging to produce discussion responses that are real or meaningful. In fact, the authors find that more often than not, students veer off into hazy, uncharted, and often off-topic territory that often costs rather than earns points. The authors use VoiceThread as the online tool for this research and conduct a qualitative and quantitative study to address the research questions.
In the subsequent sections we present a literature review, methodology, two discussion sections on qualitative and quantitative research methods, and a conclusion. Our qualitative and quantitative research on the use of VoiceThread in the college-level, online classroom helps to bridge the literature gap in the evaluation of web 2.0 tools for college-level online teaching.
VoiceThread is very popular in elementary and high school classrooms. Research has been reported on the use of VoiceThread in various disciplines including math, reading, history, and nursing. Brunvand and Byrd praise VoiceThread for engaging students and holding the attention of students who are easily distracted or who have other learning challenges.[i] Bomar notes the more engaging advantages VoiceThread has over other presentation tools.[ii] According to Bomar, VoiceThread gives students multiple ways to use media in crafting their literature presentations and offers students a sense of audience that they don’t have in other presentation formats. Further, Bomar posits that with VoiceThread, students’ success in completing the assignment increases. Siegle praises the versatility of the tool: “The beauty of VoiceThread is the variety of formats comments can take. Some students may prefer to type their comments; others might be more comfortable recording video responses.”[iii]
For the most part, the research on VoiceThread comes from elementary and high school applications. However, Harris finds that in the nursing program at Bronx Community College, kinesthetic learners are drawn to VoiceThread because the technology “can be connected to reality and allow for application of theory. The experience is what stimulates the learning for the kinesthetic learner.”[iv] Harris also uses the tool to perform group diagnostic exercises. Ng finds that VoiceThread is one of several tools that can help to “teach [university students who are] digital natives” how to evaluate and apply digital tools meaningfully.[v] Bran investigates VoiceThread for collaborating with universities on other continents and finds it to be a successful tool that contributes to more meaningful learning experiences in the college language classroom.[vi] As can be seen, there is much anecdotal evidence on the successful use of VoiceThread, but there is very little evidence-based research. Hew and Cheung point out that “actual evidence regarding the impact of Web 2.0 technologies on students learning is as yet fairly weak,” and actual evidence from university teaching is even harder to find.[vii] The current research contributes to our understanding and bridges the literature gap by providing qualitative and quantitative support for the use of VoiceThread in the college-level, online classroom.
Kim, Chan, and Gupta developed a theoretical model for assessing the value of a technology,[viii] depicted in Figure 2. This model uses the benefits and sacrifices of users to understand a user’s perception of the technology and his/her adoption intention. Compared to the traditional Technology Adoption Model[ix] the value-based adoption model shows significant improvement in determining intention.
In the current model the researchers adopt the value-based adoption model of technology. The researchers use the validated instruments from the Kim, Chan, and Gupta model and make only contextual changes to assess the student value of the online collaboration tool, VoiceThread. The study setup and results are discussed in the Quantitative Analysis and Discussion section below.
The authors applied both qualitative and quantitative methods. The study was done at a large university with over twenty-five thousand students in the southeastern region of the United States of America. After initial, introductory research in an American literature course, the current research was performed with two courses: an English course and an Information Systems course. The English course is an introductory technical writing class; the authors used structured questions, focus groups, and student feedback to understand student engagement and how students use the collaborative tool. The Information Systems course is an introductory programing logic course; the authors used survey questions after the students used VoiceThread in their classroom to understand if students found the collaborative tool valuable. The authors discuss the results of the two approaches (qualitative and quantitative) in the following two sections.
Qualitative Analysis and Discussion
In the technical writing class students are given a series of assignments called the “Correct or Scooped” game. From student feedback the authors knew that students often view online courses as walls of text that they don’t always take time to read carefully. To help facilitate student success, the game is kicked-off with very clear directions. (A sample scene from the directions appears in Figure 3.) In addition, to make the directions stand out, the instructor uses Make Beliefs Comix (http://www.makebeliefscomix.com/) to create directions in a comic strip so that the content will be more enticing for students to read carefully.
The “Correct or Scooped” game has seven rounds throughout the semester. There is one round for each of seven key lessons that we cover in an introductory technical writing course: logical argument, definition and descriptions, audience analysis, paragraph organization, ethical dilemmas, correct writing, and effective graphs and graphics. For each element, a VoiceThread is created with enough slides so that each student can pick an example and show what he or she knows. That means that if there are 35 students in a class, then 40 “game pieces” or slides are created for each game. The assignments are delivered during appropriate and limited time frames throughout the semester and graded immediately afterward. Students are not allowed to wait until the last week of class to complete the assignments.
At different times during the semester, students are given a weeklong period to play the game. For example, when correct use of graphs and graphics is discussed, students will be assigned the Graphs and Graphics Correct or Scooped game. At any point during the week of play, a student may enter the Graphs and Graphics Correct or Scooped VoiceThread and pick one of the available game pieces: that is, slides on the VoiceThread not already used by another student. During the graphs and graphics round, for example, a class of 35 students receives 40 slides with different problematic graphics. Two examples of slides/game pieces can be seen in Figure 4.
[caption id="attachment_2930" align="alignnone" width="440"] Figure 4. Two slides from the Graphs and Graphics Correct or Scooped Game: June Flower Sales (above) and Gertie Lou’s Weight History (below).[/caption]
As illustrated in Figure 3 the “Scooped” part deals with assessment. Suppose JoAnn sees that no one has yet “played” the June Flower Sales slide. JoAnn then chooses to address the problems in the June Flower Sales slide. If JoAnn provides the correct answer, she receives 10 points. However, if JoAnn provides a wrong answer on her slide, then she receives no points. In addition, when Lisa enters the game, she is motivated to peruse everyone’s answers in case someone got something wrong, and she can correct them and get credit. Lisa sees JoAnn’s mistake and provides the correction. Lisa gets the 10 points for JoAnn’s slide. But Lisa also gets to play a slide herself. She chooses the slide “Gertie Lou’s Weight History” and provides the correct answer. Lisa gains 10 points for the correct answer plus 10 bonus points for “scooping” JoAnn. Therefore, an element of competition is introduced. But JoAnn will get a chance to earn her points back because there are seven “Correct or Scooped” games during the semester. Lost points can be made up in a later round. Finally, since each student can choose which example to respond to—there are 35 students and 40 examples in each round—there is little ground for a student to complain that he or she does not have a fair chance.
Also, the Correct or Scooped Game allows the instructor to give each individual student the opportunity to demonstrate his or her skills in front of the class. This opportunity is an improvement over how the various correlating activities would proceed in a face-to-face classroom. In the face-to-face classroom, a few examples could be presented on the board for students to solve in front of the class, or students could be put in groups to practice identifying paragraph organizational patterns, for example. Time constraints prohibit allowing every student an individual chance to take a turn at the board.
In the online technical writing class, paragraph organization assignments are also often challenging. With the current online course research using VoiceThread, the authors face the problem using the Correct or Scooped Game. As a result, each student is presented with a turn at identifying organizational patterns. In the Correct or Scooped Game for Organizational Patterns, 40 different “game pieces” displaying 40 paragraphs with the sentences in the wrong order are presented to the students for their activity. Students choose one of the paragraphs that has not yet been attempted or “played” and use the doodling function in VoiceThread to show what order the sentences should be in and what strategy (cause and effect, chronological, spatial, etc.) is being used to organize the paragraph. In addition, a key element of identifying a paragraph’s organization pattern involves identifying the transitions among sentences. In effect, one gets a better grasp of organizational patterns when one is called upon to identify the strategies in the paragraph itself that are used to create the organizational pattern. The doodling function of VoiceThread allows each student to demonstrate his or her ability to organize a paragraph and identify the organizational strategy. Students can use the doodling function to number each sentence in the paragraph in the order that it should appear. For example, the student doodling on the image in Figure 5 has identified the sixth sentence as the one that should go fourth in the paragraph. Please note that this sample paragraph comes from an out-of-print edition of the Scott Foresman Handbook.
As can be seen, each game is a little different, but all involve the opportunity to scoop points. The opportunity to scoop points keeps students attentive to the assignments and aware of peers’ postings, which leads to a high level of interaction during these assignments. The clear goals of each assignment and each one’s direct tie to concepts under discussion mitigate complaints of busy work. And in evaluations, students referenced this activity as meaningful, and one student pronounced it “brilliant.” In a summer 2014 survey, 17 students responded to several questions about their experiences with VoiceThread in the online classroom. Sixteen out of seventeen said the exercise helped them to practices skills they learned in class. Only five of the seventeen respondents said they had used the game to study for an upcoming exam. However, all but two said they preferred the VoiceThread activity over a standard discussion board activity.
The results are illustrated below.
The qualitative analysis results in few general goals for online courses that will increase student engagement:
Give students more options to comment and share the assignment.
Give students an opportunity to “show off” their multimedia skills as they think about the assignment.
Make the discussion more engaging by giving the students more freedom in how and what they share.
Elevate the online discussion to the level of intellectual exchange.
Foster “concept checkup” opportunities using collaborative interaction.
Set clear goals and directions for each assignment.
Create assessment and grading for each assignment.
Give students something to gain by interacting with others in this assignment.
Quantitative Analysis and Discussion
The second course that was used to analyze the use of VoiceThread was an introductory programming logic course from Information Systems Department. The programming logic course is designed to teach students concepts and development of software applications. Students learn concepts of how to logically structure programs and develop actual applications. Quizzes are among the assessment tools in this course. There are seven quizzes; three of the quizzes are administered via VoiceThread using the “Correct or Scooped” structure discussed in the previous section. The remaining four quizzes are also administered online but in a traditional question/answer format.
As part of the model analysis some indicators were dropped and the operational model with the final list of indicators is depicted in Figure 6. As shown in Figure 6, the final indicators for the constructs are five for usefulness, four for enjoyment, four for non-monetary sacrifice, three for monetary sacrifice, three for perceived value, and three for adoption intention. Indicators are questionnaire items asked in the survey. All indicators used in this study were defined and validated in prior studies.
All indicators loaded on their own distinct factor; i.e. the questions used to ask about each construct were distinct to that construct and did not cross-load on a different construct, confirming prior research validation that the survey questions were appropriate for each construct. A second level of confirmation that the survey questions were appropriate is performed using convergent validity. Convergent validity indicates the level to which the survey questions (indicators) are measuring a given construct. The statistical measure for convergent validity is meeting a factor loading minimum threshold of 0.6 for each indicator. As shown in Figure 6, all indicators show convergent validity with factor loading above the 0.6 level.
There are two conclusions that can be drawn from the operational model:
1. Adoption intention and perceived value of VoiceThread. The variance explained in adoption intention is 0.697, as shown inside the “adoption intention” construct; this means 69.7% of the variance of adoption intention for VoiceThread can be explained by the constructs used in the model. Similarly, the variance explained in perceived value is 0.879, as shown inside the “perceived” construct; this means 87.9% of the variance for perceived value of VoiceThread can be explained by the constructs used in the model. Variance explained above 50% is a strong indication for confirming a model, i.e. VoiceThread adoption intention and perceived value can be predicted by studying the technology usefulness, enjoyment, non-monetary and monetary sacrifice—the four independent constructs in the model.
2. Predictive ability of the constructs used in the model. The predictive strength of the constructs is shown by the path coefficients, i.e. the magnitude of the relationship between the constructs is reflected by the relative magnitude of the numerical number indicated on the path. Typically path coefficients above 0.2 are statistically significant. All path coefficients except for monetary sacrifice are above 0.2. This indicates monetary sacrifice did not contribute to this model, but all other constructs were strong predictors of the perceived value and adoption intention of VoiceThread. The significance of these relationships is further confirmed by the T-statistic. The T-statistic for all constructs, except the non-monetary sacrifice, were significantly high indicating a significance level of 0.001, i.e. 99.9% confidence level that the hypothesized relationships in the model are supported.
This research provides a structure for creating an engaging online classroom and provides empirical support showing the value of a collaborative tool: VoiceThread. The two research questions: (1) How does the instructor increase student engagement in an online course? and (2) How does the instructor evaluate the value of a collaborative online tool? are discussed using qualitative and quantitative methods, respectively.
Our qualitative research shows successful student engagement when the online course structure includes giving students options to comment and share the assignment, giving students opportunities to “show off” their multimedia skills as they think about the assignment, making the discussion more engaging by giving the students more freedom in how and what they share, elevating the online discussion to the level of intellectual exchange, fostering “concept checkup” opportunities using collaborative interaction, setting clear goals and directions for each assignment, creating assessment and grading for each assignment, and giving students something to gain by interacting with others in this assignment (gamifying the assignment).
We further confirm empirically that the online collaborative tool, VoiceThread, has value for students and increases their intention to adopt VoiceThread. Through this study, the researchers found that in both qualitative and quantitative research, VoiceThread adds value to the online classroom discussion, provided it is paired with a gaming aspect such as the Correct or Scooped game.
Bomar, Shannon. “A Pre-Reading VoiceThread.” Knowledge Quest 37, no. 4 (2009): 26–27.
Bran, Ramona. “Do the Math: ESP+ Web 2.0= ESP 2.0!” Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 1, no. 1 (2009): 2519–23.
Brunvand, Stein, and Sara Byrd. “Using VoiceThread to Promote Learning Engagement and Success for All Students.” Teaching Exceptional Children 43, no. 4 (2011): 28–37.
Davis, Fred D. “Perceived Usefulness, Perceived Ease of Use, and User Acceptance of Information Technology.” MIS Quarterly, 1989, 319–40.
Davis, Fred D., Richard P. Bagozzi, and Paul R. Warshaw. “User Acceptance of Computer Technology: A Comparison of Two Theoretical Models.” Management Science 35, no. 8 (1989): 982–1003.
Harris, Kenya. “Multifarious Instructional Design: A Design Grounded in Evidence-Based Practice.” Teaching and Learning in Nursing 6, no. 1 (2011): 22–26.
Hew, Khe Foon, and Wing Sum Cheung. “Use of Web 2.0 Technologies in K-12 and Higher Education: The Search for Evidence-Based Practice.” Educational Research Review 9 (2013): 47–64.
Kim, Hee-Woong, Hock Chuan Chan, and Sumeet Gupta. “Value-Based Adoption of Mobile Internet: An Empirical Investigation.” Decision Support Systems 43, no. 1 (2007): 111–26.
Ng, Wan. “Can We Teach Digital Natives Digital Literacy?” Computers & Education 59, no. 3 (2012): 1065–78.
Siegle, Del. “Technology: Presentations in the Cloud with a Twist.” Gifted Child Today 34, no. 4 (2011): 54–58.
[i] Stein Brunvand and Sara Byrd, “Using VoiceThread to Promote Learning Engagement and Success for All Students,” Teaching Exceptional Children 43, no. 4 (2011): 28–37.
[ii] Shannon Bomar, “A Pre-Reading VoiceThread,” Knowledge Quest 37, no. 4 (2009): 26–27.
[iii] Del Siegle, “Technology: Presentations in the Cloud with a Twist.,” Gifted Child Today 34, no. 4 (2011): 57.
[iv] Kenya Harris, “Multifarious Instructional Design: A Design Grounded in Evidence-Based Practice,” Teaching and Learning in Nursing 6, no. 1 (2011): 22–26.
[v] Wan Ng, “Can We Teach Digital Natives Digital Literacy?,” Computers & Education 59, no. 3 (2012): 1065–78.
[vi] Ramona Bran, “Do the Math: ESP+ Web 2.0= ESP 2.0!,” Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 1, no. 1 (2009): 2519–23.
[vii] Khe Foon Hew and Wing Sum Cheung, “Use of Web 2.0 Technologies in K-12 and Higher Education: The Search for Evidence-Based Practice,” Educational Research Review 9 (2013): 47–64.
[viii] Hee-Woong Kim, Hock Chuan Chan, and Sumeet Gupta, “Value-Based Adoption of Mobile Internet: An Empirical Investigation,” Decision Support Systems 43, no. 1 (2007): 111–26.
[ix] Fred D. Davis, “Perceived Usefulness, Perceived Ease of Use, and User Acceptance of Information Technology,” MIS Quarterly, 1989, 319–40; Fred D. Davis, Richard P. Bagozzi, and Paul R. Warshaw, “User Acceptance of Computer Technology: A Comparison of Two Theoretical Models,” Management Science 35, no. 8 (1989): 982–1003.
About the Authors
Dr. Solomon Negash is Professor of Information Systems and Executive Director of the MADLab Center (Mobile Application Development—MAD) in the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. His research focuses on mobile applications, classroom technology, technology adoption, technology transfer, and outsourcing. He has published over a dozen journal papers, two edited books, several book chapters, and over three dozen conference proceedings. Dr. Negash has over 20 years of industry experience working as a manager, consultant, and systems analyst and 12 years as professor teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels. He has served in several capacities including editor-in-chief of the African Journal of Information Systems; plant manager at a US manufacturing facility; strategic thinking and planning committee member at Kennesaw State University; coordinator of an international PhD program at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia; founder and first chairman of the Ethiopian Information and Communication Technology advisory body; and founder of the Bethany Negash Memorial Foundation, a charitable organization which has delivered over 400,000 books and 3,000 computers to Ethiopian colleges and libraries. Dr. Negash is the recipient of the 2007 distinguished intellectual contribution award, the 2005 and 2007 distinguished e-Learning award, the 2007 distinguished graduate teacher award, and the 2010 Distinguished Service award from Kennesaw State University. Additionally, he received the International Goodwill and Understanding award from Soroptimist International.
Dr. Tamara Powell is the Director of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Office of Distance Education at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA. She is an Associate Professor of English and affiliated with the African and African Diaspora Studies program at KSU. Her PhD work at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio focused on multiethnic American literature. A recent publication is “The Ubiquitous Basketball as Essence of Genius: Narrative Structure in Sherman Alexie’s ‘Saint Junior,’ ” published in the Journal of Ethnic American Literature in 2013. Dr. Powell created the “Build a Web Course Workshop,” a faculty development workshop that won the 2010 Sloan-C Award for Excellence in Faculty Development for Online Teaching. She is always interested in instructional technology, and she worked with colleagues to write “ ‘Which Technology Do I Use to Teach Online?’ Online Technology and Communication Course Instruction,” published in JOLT: Journal of Online Teaching and Learning 8.4 (2013).
Leila Walker edited the blog post How (Not) to Plan Your Entire Course in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Chris Friend, Saint Leo University
How can we involve our students in syllabus planning?
My students are often smarter than I realize at first, and I love when they find novel opportunities to demonstrate what they know. I want to be surprised by their insightfulness as often as possible. But I never expected to get that kind of surprise regarding course planning. The design and preparation of a course is typically something done with an absolute absence of student intervention—the process is completed before the instructor ever meets the students who will be expected to adhere to the plan. How, then, can we create courses that are appropriate to the students’ abilities, sensitive to the students’ needs, and responsive to the students’ learning styles?
I worked as a composition-teaching Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) at a very large research institution, where we had adopted a very specific curriculum for the content we wanted our students to learn. The content was challenging, and the department worked hard to adequately train its instructors and graduate students to sufficiently master the content before they taught it. All GTAs took a course that was essentially Composition 101, condensed, with Teaching 101 layered on top. By the end of the course, grad students created a syllabus and collection of assignments, ready for use in their upcoming courses.
It turns out that instructors at this university took one of two approaches to the content of Composition 101. That content was essentially divided into three major units, namely, the writing process, discourse communities, and the rhetorical situation. Roughly half of the instructors taught their Composition 101 courses in that order (process, discourse, rhetoric), and they often said this was in order of increasing complexity. The other half of the instructors used the opposite order (rhetoric, discourse, process), saying that understanding rhetorical situations allowed students to better understand the discourse and process units. When I asked for a bit of history, I usually found that whichever order an instructor used was the same order in which they had learned the material. In other words, the way an instructor/GTA was trained in the content was the method that made inherent sense to that person as a model for instruction.
I happen to be a process-discourse-rhetoric person, generally believing that welcoming an eighteen-year-old to my institution and my discipline with a hearty “hello” in the form of Keith Grant-Davie’s “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents” might cause more than a few minds to explode. I opt for the progressive approach, and I plan my courses appropriately. We start with easier material, ask students to write about themselves, and then work to build context and have them re-evaluate what they thought they understood as the course began. It made sense to me, and I had a solid, trusted approach to the material.
But that’s the problem: It made sense to me. What if I had students in class who would make more sense of the material if it were presented in the opposite order? The entire semester followed myplan, rather than the one that my students needed.
This problem came to my attention last spring, when a class settled in to discuss the Grant-Davie article. Students shared their thoughts on how well they could have handled the material early in the semester, and they agreed that it would have been a bit much for them. A couple of students said they would have liked to have the overall picture of the material in their minds as they went through the rest. They wanted to see the picture on the box of the Composition 101 jigsaw puzzle that we spent 16 weeks assembling. After a bit of discussion, I took a show-of-hands survey, asking which order students thought made more sense for the course. With a bit of dissent, the large majority indicated that the approach we took was the right one. I was relieved, but still curious, given the number of students who said it would have helped to go backward.
That class left the room, and the next one entered. This class discussed the same article and had similar observations about its difficulty. So I posed the same question about the order of units. Students who preferred the reverse order from my plan provided more reasons with more determination. I called for the same show-of-hands survey. This time, the large majority fell in favor of reversing the order of the units. I was stuck. I told them that my first class said one thing, and they said the other. “How can I know how to arrange the units of the course if each class is different?”
A student: “Well, you could ask us.”
I blinked, trying to understand how to ask students about a course before I plan it.
The student continued. “I mean, we know how we learn by now, so we could tell you which way makes the most sense for us.”
We decided that the course content was set, and the units of study were pretty much set, too. The students understood that the school wanted them to learn certain things, and that the teacher helped arrange, explain, and connect that information in ways that made sense. But they also saw the flexibility of the unit arrangement and saw no reason why that should be dictated by anyone other than students. They suggested that I bring a plan to class on Day One, complete with the details of the three units, but without specifying the order in which they’d be studied. I pitch the units to them, explain the detail-to-big-picture versus overview-to-detail approaches, and entrust them with the decision.
That discussion surprised me with how insightful and practical my students were. They understood the course-planning process, and they showed me where they could have more authority to direct their own learning. I committed myself to empowering students more to shape their semesters. I had, in effect, been committing teaching fails every semester before I even met my students. I was robbing them of an opportunity to take ownership of a process that was inherently theirs, and I was imposing an order of instruction on them simply because it was the order that I thought made sense. In the end, though, it needs to be the order that makes sense to my students. Day One for me is now a day to build my course calendar with my students and to rely on how smart and insightful they are to ensure we do it right.
About the Author
Chris Friend is Assistant Professor of English at Saint Leo University. His research work explores the interactions among teaching, learning, and course delivery in first-year writing courses, and he is particularly interested in how technologies of connection and communication influence pedagogy. Chris is also Managing Editor of Hybrid Pedagogy, a digital journal of learning, teaching, and technology. He earned his Ph.D. in Texts & Technology from the University of Central Florida.
Leila Walker edited the blog post Introduction in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Peter M. Gray, Queensborough Community College
Renee McGarry, Sotheby’s Institute of Art
1. There are articles here on collaboration and mentoring. We like them. We think you’ll like them, too.
2. We began our own years-long series of collaborations in the early 2000s, first in a graduate seminar focused on pedagogy for interdisciplinary graduate students, and then later extending our work together to professional presentations. We have seen our professional relationship shift and grow through our various kinds of collaborations, have weathered it when it has become fraught and complicated and messy. We have celebrated it when it has felt rewarding (and produced welcome results), when it has provoked us. And we continue to value collaboration and mentorship as fundamental to how we work within our different areas of academia. This special section has allowed us to cultivate writers who take up ideas around mentorship and collaboration in interesting ways, and we’ve welcomed the opportunity to work with them.
3. With much of our lives woven through shared Google Docs, around Twitter feeds, and with visits to LinkedIn, the spaces where personal and professional collaboration happen have become ubiquitous — once there were the Yellow Pages, now there is Yelp. Facebook, for example, has for some become useful “for professional conversations and [as] a social network that enables users to create and maintain social capital” (Briggs). This special section, as you will read, helps us think more slowly, with more clarity, about how and why we might use and revise our uses of interactive technology a writers, as teachers, as colleagues.
4. The writers collected here for this special section think large, pushing our uses of interactive technologies toward serving and enhancing international service-learning projects (Oppenheim, O’Shea, and Sclar). They also consider the pedagogical implications and complexities of mentoring in graduate and undergraduate course work: Macaulay-Lewis articulates a project for graduate students to develop digital skills that will serve them professionally, while Crocco challenges undergraduate writers through critical simulation pedagogy to collaborate on joint projects. Others, like Kuhn, Wipfli, Lipshin and Ruiz, place their seemingly disparate courses together pedagogically in order to enhance the intellectual experience of both courses. Skallerup Bessette tests our assumptions about how we represent collaboration (and how we recognize collaborative academic work: variously, inconsistently) through narrating her experience in a Twitter community around #FYCchat (take a look and jump into the fray). Zabrowski and Rivers formally enact their inquiry into their own mentorship and collaborative relationship, reflecting on rhetorical and material “space” in intriguing ways.
5. In this time of (relatively) easy heightened interaction through technologies, we holler encouragement to friends around the globe in comment sections, we make suggestions, we offer critique. We hope you consider this section as an invitation to do the same.
Peter M. Gray and Renee McGarry, Issue Co-Editors
Briggs, Timothy J. 2012. “Writing a Professional Life on Facebook.” Kairos 17 (2). n.p. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/17.2/disputatio/briggs/index.html
Leila Walker edited the blog post Table of Contents: Issue 7 in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Peter M. Gray and Renee McGarry
Collaborative Curricula Linking Digital Studies and Global Health
Virginia Kuhn and Heather Wipfli, with Jason Lipshin and Susana Ruiz
The Place(s) of Mentorship and Collaboration
Katie Zabrowski and Nathaniel Rivers
Simulating Utopia: Critical Simulation and the Teaching of Utopia
#FYCchat – A Case-Study of Connected Learning and Educators
Lee Skallerup Bessette
Interactive Technology for More Critical Service-Learning?: Possibilities for Mentorship and Collaboration within an Online Platform for International Volunteering
Willy Oppenheim, Joe O’Shea, and Steve Sclar
Issue Seven Masthead
Sava Saheli Singh
Matthew K. Gold
Sarah Ruth Jacobs
Teaching Fails Editor
Sarah Ruth Jacobs
Tool Tips Editor
Matthew K. Gold
Amanda Starling Gould
Sava Saheli Singh
Style & Structure Editors
Publicity & Communications
Amanda Starling Gould
Sava Saheli Singh
Governance & Oversight
Leila Walker (ex officio)
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): 1 month, 1 week 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.
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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/).
About the Author
Dr. Sheila T. Cavanagh, founding director of the World Shakespeare Project (www.worldshakespeareproject.org), is Professor of English and Distinguished Teaching Scholar at Emory. She also held the Masse-Martin/NEH Distinguished Teaching Professorship. Author of Wanton Eyes and Chaste Desires: Female Sexuality in the Faerie Queene and Cherished Torment: the Emotional Geography of Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania, she has also published widely in the fields of pedagogy and of Renaissance literature. She is also active in the electronic realm, having directed the Emory Women Writers Resource Project (womenwriters.library.emory.edu) since 1994 and serving for many years as editor of the online Spenser Review.
Leila Walker edited the blog post Transcultural Dialogue Mashup in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week 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 email@example.com
 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).
About the Authors
Karen Keifer-Boyd, Ph.D., is professor of art education and women’s studies at the Pennsylvania State University. She is past president of the National Art Education Association (NAEA) Women’s Caucus (2012-2014), NAEA Distinguished Fellow Class of 2013, and 2012 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Gender Studies at Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt, Austria. She serves on the NAEA Higher Education Research Steering Committee; on the Council for Policy Studies; and as past coordinator of the Caucus on Social Theory. She is co-founder and co-editor of Visual Culture & Gender, and has served on 15 editorial and review boards. She has been honored with leadership and teaching awards, including two Fulbright Awards (2006 in Finland and 2012 in Austria) and the 2013 Edwin Ziegfeld Award. Her writings on feminist pedagogy, visual culture, inclusion, cyberart activism, transcultural dialogues, action research, social justice arts-based research, and identity are in more than 50 peer-reviewed research publications, and translated into several languages. She co-authored Including Difference: A Communitarian Approach to Art Education in the Least Restrictive Environment (NAEA, 2013); InCITE, InSIGHT, InSITE (NAEA, 2008); Engaging Visual Culture (Davis, 2007); co-edited Real-World Readings in Art Education: Things Your Professors Never Told You (Falmer, 2000); and served as editor of the Journal of Social Theory in Art Education and guest editor for Visual Arts Research. She is coordinator of the Judy Chicago Art Education Collection.
Christine Liao, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She received her Ph.D. in Art Education with a minor in Science, Technology, and Society from The Pennsylvania State University. After receiving her Bachelors and Masters degrees from National Hsinchu University of Education she was an elementary school art teacher in Taiwan, where she originates. She taught Visual Culture and Educational Technologies from 2008-2011 at Penn State. Currently, she is teaching arts integration to elementary undergraduates and graduates at UNCW. Her research interest focuses on avatar creation, embodiment, identity, and new media in art education. She has published in journals and book anthologies including Journal of Art Education, Visual Culture and Gender, Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, and Visual Arts Research. She is also the Chair of Art Education Technology Issues Group (2014-2016) in the National Art Education Association.
Jennifer Motter, Ph.D. graduated from The Pennsylvania State University in May 2012. Her doctoral research “Feminist Art Curriculum: Politicizing the Personal via Cyberpost Activism” involves socially-responsible and culturally-responsive art education. Through Motter’s research and praxis, she aims to encourage meaningful experience-based artmaking and strategic social media interventions in order to promote and facilitate social justice. Motter is particularly interested in the empowerment potentials of new media for marginalized groups, such as girls and women. She is co-president of the National Art Education Association Women’s Caucus. Motter is a new media art program developer and teacher at a middle school in Western Pennsylvania.
Leila Walker edited the blog post Table of Contents: Issue 6 in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Kiersten Greene and Stephen Brier, Issue Co-Editors
Africa is a Country? Digital Diasporas, ICTs, and Heritage Development Strategies for Social Justice
Marla L. Jaksch and Angel David Nieves, Guest Co-Editors
How the San of Southern Africa Used Digital Media as Educational and Political Tools
Philip Kreniske, Photography by Jesse Kipp
Transcultural Dialogue Mashup
Richard Kabiito, Christine Liao, Jennifer Motter, and Karen Keifer-Boyd
Issue Six Masthead
Kiersten A. Greene
Marla L. Jaksch
Angel David Nieves
Sava Saheli Singh
Matthew K. Gold
Sarah Ruth Jacobs
Teaching Fails Editor
Sarah Ruth Jacobs
Tool Tips Editor
Matthew K. Gold
Style & Structure Editors
Publicity & Communications
Amanda Starling Gould
Sava Saheli Singh
Leila Walker edited the blog post This Week in Digital Humanities and Pedagogy in the group Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (Public Group): 1 month, 1 week ago
Each week, a member of the JITP Editorial Collective assembles and shares the news items, ongoing discussions, and upcoming events of interest to us (and hopefully you). This week’s installment is edited by Dominique Zino.
Last week, I joined a group of 29 participants at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, for a summer institute for community college digital humanists, “Beyonds Pockets of Innovation, Toward a Community of Practice,” the first NEH-sponsored Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities Institute specifically designed for community college faculty. The week’s events were organized by Dr. Anne McGrail, Professor of English at Lane Community College, who led the NEH Office of Digital Humanities (ODH) Start-Up Grant that made the institute possible. Presenting before the NEH ODH in 2014, McGrail noted that survey data confirmed that “community college faculty have teaching and service loads that limit their engagement with DH. These faculty need dedicated time to situate DH theory, methods, and practice in their institutional settings,” she urged. (For broader data on engagement with DH tools and methods at two-year colleges, see these data snapshots from the Fall 2013 NEH-sponsored survey of Digital Humanities at Community Colleges.)
At a moment when research on community colleges is encouraging two-year institutions to move away from “cafeteria-style” course offerings and toward structured pathways to degrees, coupling thoughtful, interactive pedagogy with the use of more public, visible, hackable digital tools may help faculty to make strong arguments for the types of learning that will most benefit their students. The schedule for the week included presentations by scholars who have made the digital humanities a centerpiece of their pedagogy, including Jesse Stommel, Matt Gold, Marta Effinger-Crichlow, and Roopika Risam. Discussions of readings about the aims, shape, and outcomes of DH methods were complemented by plenty of hands-on testing of tools and platforms and–perhaps most valuably–informal conversations between participants about how they were already implementing such tools and methods in their classrooms.
The questions that emerged from the week’s discussions certainly could not be addressed in just one five-day institute: What counts as “digital humanities” work? What is specific about digital humanities methods in community colleges? Why might digital humanities as a field need participation from community college faculty and students? How might learning through digital humanities theory and methods be presented to various audiences (e.g. colleagues, administrators, students, and the public at large)? How might DH at the community college disrupt the rhetorical and lived relationship between the community college and the university? We hope that others will keep the conversation going, online and in person, and consider creating a “DH at the CC” institute at their home campus to build on the work that began in Eugene (see the CFP for the NEH Initiatives at Community Colleges grants at the bottom of this post).
Locating a sense of purpose: local knowledge, global tools
Jesse Stommel started the week by urging us to let course learning objectives and student needs dictate our adoption of digital tools. He encouraged faculty to place value on engagement, discovery, and community building rather than assessment and management of content. We discussed the importance of foregrounding assignment design with reflective questions and reminded one another that the goal of assessment should be better learning rather than better assessment practices. (You can see Jesse’s full presentation slides on Critical Digital Pedagogy via Slide Share.) Talking at our respective tables during Stommel’s session led to participants creating easy “plug and play” ideas for their writing classes:
putting the day’s assigned reading into Wordle to start a conversation with your students, then using it to introduce textual analysis, asking students to think critically about which words might qualify as keywords (as well as what themes aren’t named but might be present).
tweeting to practice paraphrasing in 140 characters or less.
using a thesis generator (there are many examples of thesis creators–here’s just one), asking students to write a faux essay based on it. By exchanging and critiquing the essays, individually or in small groups, students can draw conclusions about the types of writing and thinking such formulas produce.
practicing annotation through tools such as Hypothes.is and Lit Genius, which bring together communities of readers and provide students with models of annotation they can mimic and critique.
when we think about the types of data sets we can have students gather (at least initially), we might aim for pattern recognition in smaller data (mapping or graphing a single short story, novel, or poem) over huge data sets.
On day two, Matt Gold stressed the value of project-based learning. Building on their previous day’s focus on the classroom, Gold urged participants to think about how particular tools and programs could be used across an entire community. He also stressed the importance of applying for grants and knowing the lingo of grant writing. His advice in short:
scale up and think big
build on your college’s mission
use less sexy blocks (e.g. the creation of a lab space) to build up to larger DH work
build community-oriented spaces and resources into the grant, aligning the grant project with well-known cultural institutions when possible
plan a thorough budget (including release time, tool/platform creation, meetings/institutes, staff, and materials/equipment)
explore various funding sources (local, institutional, regional, NEH, NSF, NIH, IMLS, DOE)
Equity, access, and (in)visibility
On day three, Marta Effinger-Crichlow asked the group to consider the possibilities of digital cultural mapping: What do students think are the boundaries in their communities? Why have they visited some places and not others? What spaces do they encounter on a daily basis? How does a digital cultural mapping project acknowledge the uniqueness of a space, or a visitor? What kind of skills, knowledge, and values do we, as teachers, want students to acquire from exercises in digital cultural mapping? That evening, Effinger-Crichlow delivered an engaging keynote address, “Mapping Black New York: An Interdisciplinary Home,” showcasing the way she investigates with her students at the New York City College of Technology the visible and invisible histories of slavery in New York City.
On day four, Roopika Risam introduced us to a range of social justice projects:
Confederated Tribe of Siletz Indians
Chicana Por Mi Raza
Education in Our Barrios
Redshift and Portalmetal
Mapping Police Violence
Transatlantic Slave Trade Database
South Asian American Digital Archive
Engaging with issues of participation and social justice reminded us that if DH is about social change in traditional hierarchies, community colleges are at once the most pressing and complicated sites to attempt to upend such hierarchies. In fact, Risam admitted in our small group discussion that she had not known what to expect when she agreed to be one of a group of workshop leaders; she was unsure of the levels of expertise with digital tools that would be represented across the group, as well as they way participants’ home institutional cultures would inform their expectations and goals. Her uncertainty pointed to a defining feature of teaching in/with the digital humanities at a community college: one can never predict the range of academic ability of the students who walk into our classrooms, the range of familiarity with tools, devices, or platforms, or the range of comfort and creativity students might display when using digital tools to learn how to learn.
The Importance of Storytelling
The institute ended on Friday with a day of sharing the digital stories each participant created, guided by tips from Lane Community College faculty member Sandy Jensen. In fact, there were many ways in which the activities of the week were catalogued and captured. Check out the Storified tweets from the institute, compiled by George Washington PhD candidate and community college faculty member Tawnya Ravy. Tawnya has also started a weekly “capture” of ideas, links, and tools, the first “issue” of which you can see here. Institute members (and others, we hope!) will continue to use the handle #DHattheCC to crowdsource information about experiences with DH tools, methods, and theory in the community college classroom. Finally, coming this fall, look out for a segment on the DH at the CC Institute in Eugene by Courtney Danforth on KairosCast (@KairosRTP).
Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching (HILT): July 27-30
The Association for Authentic, Experiential, Evidence-based Learning (AAEEBL): July 27-30
Apply for an NEH Humanities Initiatives at Community Colleges grant (receipt deadline is August 24, 2015 for projects beginning April 2016). Watch an introduction to the Humanities Initiatives grants by NEH Humanities Senior Program Officer Julia Nguyen here.
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