Blogging Vacation!

Eugène Boudin (French, 1824 - 1898 ), On the Beach, 1894, oil on wood, Chester Dale Collection
Eugène Boudin (French, 1824 – 1898 ), On the Beach, 1894, oil on wood, Chester Dale Collection, Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

We are taking the month of July off! While we will still be in the office, our time will be focused on projects and planning for the upcoming academic year.

We had a great year, thank you for keeping up with us. Since we started the blog in July 2013, we’ve published 129 posts in 35 categories which were viewed over 4,400 times. This past year we began to reach a global audience – including multiple visits from India, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Ukraine, Philippines, Spain, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, Turkey, Argentina and more.

We will be back at it in August. Best wishes for a wonderful summer!

“Eye Want Change”: Video for learning, immersion and transformation

Recently faculty have been clamoring to effectively incorporate video and other multimedia assignments into their courses. This, in addition to the huge number of classes that require video for content delivery, has made video a hot topic on campus. Ariella Rotramel, Visiting Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, sent me this NPR story about a group of students in Zanzibar who created a video reflecting on the use of Swahili and English in their educational system. The video (see above) was eventually submitted to the Eye Want Change video competition for students. For consideration, videos must be shot on a smartphone or tablet, be under 10 minutes long, and relate to a social matter.

Why am I including this story on a blog about instructional technology?

  • The video was created by the students living the tension between native and colonial languages and could be very powerful to use in your classroom for topics like colonialism, globalization, educational policy, language death or assimilation, economics of tourism, and so many others. Wondering what other topics students in the competition have covered? See all the 2014 finalists here.
  • One goal of the video was to improve student fluency in English (as a second language). If you are teaching a foreign language you can probably see the benefits of immersing students in the foreign language through video creation: writing a script, correcting it for grammar and vocabulary, and speaking in the target language.
  • The students used smartphones or tablets to record and edit the video – tools that all our students have access to either through the DELI program or by checking out an iPad mini at the library’s circulation desk. Instructional technologists are also available to help students use the devices.

If you are interested in exploring video projects, contact your Instructional Technology liaison, read our blog posts on the topic, or feel free to explore the handout we used at Tempel Summer Institute.

How to Best Access and Work with Documentary Footage & Testimonials

One of the advantages of teaching at a small liberal arts college is that you enjoy more freedom to offer a wide range of courses on topics outside your area of research expertise. Over the years, I have been able to develop and offer courses on Mexico and Cuba, environmental history and social movements, the Cuban Revolution, and race and ethnicity in the US and beyond.

As a specialist in the 16th and 17th centuries, most of my research is with documents, [now rare] books and religious tracts, and occasionally maps, paintings, and examples of material culture. How to bring those items into the classroom and feature them in undergraduate learning has been one of the major challenges that I strive to meet in my teaching at the College and in my publications. I am always searching for websites, museum collections, feature films and documentaries that deal with this early period in colonial Latin America.

Teaching classes that cover the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries offer many more opportunities to aid student learning with access to photographic collections, sound recordings, film, video, and recorded testimonials. Over the years, my classes have benefited tremendously from the Latin American collection assembled by my predecessor—Jeffrey Lesser—and the careful building of our holdings by Lorraine McKinney. As the physical items in the collection age, many of the videos and a few of the DVDs do not work, and staff have made great efforts to track down new copies, or, more often than not with materials no longer available, have made copies or digitized the materials. It is an ongoing job to make sure that what’s in the teaching collection actually works and can be used in the ways I planned when carefully embedding it in class and sending students to use it to extend or complement an assignment. With my cassette tape collection and slides, I also face the same challenges, compounded by the fact that I often need to find and carry around something to play them on. The digitization process is slow, and advances sporadically when staff are able to carve out a few hours here or there for student workers to process some part of the materials that I have collected to teach with.

My dilemmas:

  • As we increasing turn to using streaming video through products like Kanopy video collections, for example, and the in-house replacements of older material is offered in digitized form, I worry how stable and enduring are those platforms and formats? Once great material is found and incorporated, students and teachers want to keep using it and accessing it. So the question of access and how best to ensure it is key for me this year as a Technology Fellow.
  • Increasingly some of this old material as well as lots of testimonials, testimonial collections databases, and activist work is being posted or released online (with or without permission). How to navigate and access on a more permanent basis that online material is part of this broader question.
  • What to make of this material is an important issue for my students, too, because they try to access and interpret material of widely varying quality. Too often they not only do not know how to cite these sources, but also fail to be able to find who made the material, when, where, and for what audience.


  • On my Moodle site for FYS on Cuba I not only placed video materials and links to materials, but I also included links on how to evaluate media sources.

An example:

  • I particularly like what Anthropologist Lynne Stephens has done with both publishing selections from and archiving online all of the testimonies she was given access to by activists, artists, and protestors in Oaxaca, Mexico.
  • This is a part of Mexico that the College sends SATA and TRIPS to, and maintains other exchanges with. And even this summer, we are sending a delegation to Chiapas just to the south to build on the partnership there. Among them are connections with the folks involved in community and indigenous radio (similar to what is featured in this video available through Kanopy.
  • Over the years, we have hosted at the College representatives of the Chiapas Media Project who came to talk about their work (and the College library owns copies of two of the videos produced in this Project).

Easing the Time Demand of P­Card Accounting

p-card post image

Higher education is rapidly transitioning to purchasing card programs as a means of streamlining the process by which services and goods are procured by employees.  With recent growth of the credit payment industry, colleges and universities are embracing purchasing cards, or “p­cards”.  P­cards are meant to reduce transaction costs, allow access to supplier discounts, eliminate delay in a reimbursement cycle, improve cash flow, and improve tracking of expenses.  All good things, except that their use may create more accounting work for faculty and staff.

In the old days, when I used my personal credit card for College-related expenses, I taped my receipts to an 8.5 x 11” sheet of paper, tapped out a few words about the nature of the charges, and sent them along to the next level of approval via campus snail mail.  Such work typically laid claim to 10­-15 minutes of my time.  The new process entails scanning individual receipts as PDF files and then uploading each to the pcard web interface.  There are also database fields to fill and comments to render for each expenditure, but it’s the process of scanning and uploading receipts that really taxes my time, especially when I  have a goodly number of receipts.  Using a campus copier/scanner, I found that pcard receipt processing now entails many more repeated steps: selecting settings on copier; sending file (more settings); retrieving file via email; saving and renaming file to appropriate file directory; uploading file to accounting interface.  Recently, I spent 30­-40 minutes processing 24 receipts.  Not good.  And my inner pessimist fears that faculty frustrations with pcard accounting will result in even more of this work getting passed along to academic and administrative assistants.  Also not good.

So, accepting that p­cards are our future (and not an excuse to slide even more work to academic assistants), I began experimenting with other PDF­ rendering technology.  Here’s what I found:

Using my iPhone and an app called CamScanner, I can shave an appreciable amount of time off the accounting process .  Specifically, time is recouped in (1) the scanning process and (2) the uploading of scanned receipts to the p­card web interface.  First, CamScanner uses the smartphone camera; I “scan” simply by taking a picture of the receipt.  Some nice little built-­in app features allow me to define the boundaries of the receipt as well as auto­-enhance the text to improve legibility.  This all takes about 8 seconds.  Second, a PDF version of the image can then be uploaded to the cloud, a nice alternative to shuttling files from my email to a desirable file directory.  I use Dropbox, but other cloud storage options are available, including Google Drive, Evernote, Box, and One Drive.  Pointing the app and uploading to your preferred file directory takes about 10 seconds.  You might add an additional 15­-20 seconds if you want to rename the file for purposes of digitally archiving the receipts.  Regardless, the smartphone approach is significantly  faster than scanning at the copy machine.

There are other smartphone apps available (e.g., GeniusScan, TinyScan), but among the handful with which I’ve experimented, CamScanner is the only free app that allows me to capture and send a PDF file to the cloud without having to pay for a “pro” version of the app.  (This said, the pro version of CamScanner affords even more possibilities and just may be your cup of tea if you seek even more complex functionality in your scanning app.)

Furthermore, I can scan from the comfort of my desk or, even better, at the point of purchase, thus shaving a little more time off the accounting process when I return home. CamScanner is available for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Windows 8 phones. If you know of other PDF scanning apps or even other digital workflow practices that ease the pain of emergent digital bureaucracies, please share in the comments below.

Collaborating with Students & Shared Google Folders

This semester, students in my course ARC 231: Interiors of Connecticut College, were tasked with working collaboratively and to find ways to effectively and efficiently share their progress with one another. From my initial course planning and development, I knew that this would be a challenge, especially considering that for the first two projects in the course, the class would be working with students in Andrea Wollensak’s course ART 208: Object and Environment.

Andrea and I applied for and received a DELI grant for iPads for every student in the two courses. While the iPads would help them create content, we envisioned them as a tool for collaboration. We decided early on that we would use Google Drive on the iPads to enable the students to share their work during the course of each project.

For each project, I set up shared folders for the project with subfolders for each group. As someone who uses a detailed file structure on my personal computer and also on Google Drive, I came to this course thinking that students would be able to develop ways to organize their files without instruction. A few weeks into the first project, I began to realize that many students were struggling to use Google Drive and were having trouble keeping track of different iterations of a given document or file. In talking with the students, it became clear that many of the students hadn’t really thought in-depth about how they organized their files. Even those students in my class who used an organizational system, used ones that were quite simple.

The shared Google Drive folder for my class
The shared Google Drive folder for my class

Once these challenges became apparent, I spent time in class for a discussion on how to use Google Drive and about best practices for naming and organizing files.  This was an extremely productive conversation and got the students to begin thinking about how they organize their work. By the time we began our third project in the course (in which my students were working collaboratively as a class with three sub-groups) they were all effectively using Google Drive and sharing their work.

The shared “Project 2” folder for my class with individual folders for each document
The shared “Project 2” folder for my class with individual folders for each document.

I have put together some Tips and Recommendations based on my experience this semester.

Tips and Recommendations

  • Don’t assume that students know how to use Google Drive. When we discussed using Google Drive before the project was underway, I asked if they knew how to use it and if they needed help, and the response I got, was “Yes, it’s easy. We’re good.”
  • Use a Shared Class Folder in Google Drive. Once you create a shared folder for you class, every document placed in the folder can be viewed by those that you have given access to.
  • Plan time in-class to discuss file naming and file structure. This is probably the biggest challenge, since students need this information in order to work effectively, but are also reluctant to let you know that they need help.  In a group project, it’s important to come up with a system for naming files and especially for naming files that have been edited and updated.  While Google Drive allows you to easily search for a file, you need to know the name of the file you are looking for. When working in a group with newly created content, it’s really challenging to find something if you don’t know what exactly you are looking for – having a folder as a repository can work much more effectively.
  • Keeping Everyone Accountable with a Google Document Log. Accountability is a common concern (and issue) for collaborative student projects. By the time the third project began, I created a “Project Log” and the students were required to make individual to do lists and update them at least once a week. I monitored this site consistently and it worked very well to make sure that each member of the sub-groups were pulling their weight.
  • Monitor the Shared Project Folders. I found it particularly important to monitor the shared project folders. While this didn’t occur on a daily basis, I consistently checked in to see who was doing what and when. If students weren’t keeping up with sharing their work, I would often send an email to encourage them to get more engaged.

There were some common problems that students had when we initially began using Google Drive and Shared Folders. I would recommend going over the following at the outset of a project with the entire class:

  • Signing into Google Drive. In order to track who edited a document, it’s important that everyone is signed into their Google account (and not listed as “Anonymous”).
  • Finding the Shared Folders and Locating Shared Files. Providing an overview of the folder structure can avoid confusion later.
  • Adding the Shared Folder to their own Google Drive. By right-clicking on a folder and choosing “Add to My Drive,” students were able to easily find the shared folder in their own Google Drive (this is much easier than searching the “Shared With Me” folder.)
  • Keeping Newly Added Files Organized. This was an ongoing concern and I would “clean-up” file names and organization on a weekly basis. (You could certainly assign a student to do this task).

What happened at Tempel Summer Institute?

We hosted the 16th annual Tempel Summer Institute last week. It was a great week devoted to solving pedagogical problems through technology and exploring new technologies to improve student engagement and learning. We had some great discussions, experienced many ah-ha moments, ate lots of dessert, experimented with new technologies, revised existing courses and worked on new ones, laughed and worked a lot.


We live-tweeted for much of the week – check out the Storify I created from the #Tempel2015 hashtag to get an insider’s perspective of the immersive Institute!


On the Road! What we learned at the Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts conference

Faculty and Staff going to Bryn Mawr
Ann Marie Davis, Karen Gonzalez Rice, Diane Creede, Jessica McCullough, Suzuko Knott, Lyndsay Bratton, Anthony Graesch on their way to Bryn Mawr.

Last week 7 faculty and staff from Connecticut College took a road trip to Bryn Mawr for the Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts conference to present the Technology Fellows Program (TFP). During the two day conference, we learned a lot listening to the presentations, talking to each other and to colleagues at other institutions. Here are a few things we learned.

Anthony Graesch: I collected a handful of inspiring ideas across the various sessions, including some new ways of framing knowledge building in my curriculum.  But I was most struck by the realization that it might take 10 Blended Learning Conferences to be the equivalent of one full cycle of the TFP.  Only in its second year of operation, our TFP combination of workshops and seminars is resulting in a sustained conversation about the role(s) of digital technology in teaching and learning at Connecticut College.  Over the last academic year, we’ve seen considerable growth in collaborations across the campus, with teaching-focused innovations being co-authored and implemented by faculty fellows, digital technologists, and librarians.  One of our emergent goals (realized during our long drive to and from Philadelphia) is to make even more evident the products of these collaborations.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, we aim to use digital technology to better achieve this goal!

Suzuko Knott: I was particularly excited to see so many panels dedicated to world language learning and the blended classroom. It was interesting to hear how other institutions are implementing technology in consortia to address issues of low course enrollments and student access to world language learning at schools with limited course offerings and resources. But more importantly, I was struck by how the conversations we have been having in the TFP are rooted in pedagogical best practices that will no doubt help us steer clear of many of the challenges we heard voiced at the conference. Synchronous online distance learning certainly has many great things to offer, but only when the pedagogical benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks – bad audio connections (a real problem for foreign language learning), stationary teachers, limited sense of community – that the technologically mediated classroom often has.

Jessica McCullough, Karen Gonzalez Rice & Lyndsay Bratton: We were all excited about the same presentation! Danny Jauregui, Associate Professor of Art at Whittier College creates digital worksheets in Moodle to accompany readings in his sophomore-level art theory course. He found that many students had difficulty critically engaging with the reading and that too much class time was given to explaining or summarizing readings. To solve this problem, he created “Critical Reading Worksheets” in Moodle that required students to answer a series of guiding questions for each reading. One question asked students to summarize the reading using 5-6 hashtags – requiring them to distill each reading into its main points – then order the hashtags in order of importance. This, along with word clouds he generated from their responses to this and other questions, formed the basis of a conversation about the readings. He discovered that students were better prepared to discuss readings, the tools helped place students at the center of the discussion instead of the professor, and that students appreciated using the worksheets.

Ann Marie Davis: This was my second time attending the conference. A year ago when I attended I was inspired to learn about the growing movement where faculty, staff, and administrators are exploring best practices for blended learning within the context of the liberal arts. As a Tech Fellow, I was especially inspired to learn from the examples and case studies that were presented by fellow colleagues at institutions similar to Connecticut College.

The conference also allowed me to better appreciate the TFP, which is supported by the College’s Dean of Faculty and VP of Information Services, and is one of the most innovative programs among the liberal arts colleges. The TFP is already ahead of the curve, offering an institutional model in terms of its support for faculty innovation in teaching. With this knowledge, I was eager to return to the conference this year to share information about TFP with other peer institutions. It was a great opportunity to showcase the program as well as discuss  case studies in which technology-infused assignments have pushed teaching and learning to new levels.

Diane Creede: Faculty at Smith College presented on their use of a software program called Knowledge Forum and how it enabled asynchronous online discussion and knowledge building. Their use of this tool got me to thinking about use of the online discussion forums in Moodle and how they might be used differently (better?). Students were instructed in specific practices for online (and offline) discussion that more effectively increased their knowledge. For instance, responding to other students posts by beginning with the phrase “Building on your comments,….”; or using direct quotes from course readings; or avoiding opinion-based posts, such as those that start with “I think…”.

Social Media in Academia: Connecting with Local and Global Communities

For better or worse, social media is entrenched in the routine lives of our students, our colleagues, and the communities in which we participate. With over 70% of American Internet users engaging its pages, Facebook still dominates as the most popular social media site. Close behind, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest fall somewhere in the top 5-10 of the most trafficked social media platforms.

IMG_2073I’ve long been convinced that social media can help academic departments and centers further their various objectives through the semester. In anthropology, my home department, such objectives include forging and sustaining meaningful connections with current students and alumni as well as community partners, project collaborators, and other stakeholders. These connections ultimately depend on visibility or transparency in the various activities, curricula, and ideas constituting our department. Given our hyper-busy everyday lives, in-person connections are limited, and social media provides a solution to reaching wide audiences in a timely and effective manner.

Facebook and Twitter are our primary social media channels, each of which is used to make visible our efforts and investments in the following areas:

  • Student Research – highlighting the research accomplishments of our talented majors IMG_2175and minors, including conference presentations and publications with faculty.
  • Programming – maximizing awareness of lectures, workshops, and other programming, in our department, other departments with whom we collaborate, and in our surrounding communities;
  • Curricula – showcasing anthropology courses that push pedagogical boundaries and are part of reciprocal and collaborative partnerships in local communities;
  • Study Abroad – featuring the reflections and experiences of our majors and minors who are currently studying abroad;
  • Faculty Research – presenting the research accomplishments of our faculty, especially when such research involves students and has relevance to communities beyond our own.

All said, we’re not “power” users of social media, but we think it important to regularly photo-document our events and departmental antics. And we’re working toward a craftier use of social media to bring the experiences of our numerous majors and minors currently studying abroad back into our campus community.



Social Media in Academia: Instagram for Engaging with Students Outside Class

During an in-class discussion early in the semester, I made an offhand comment suggesting that the course should have its own hashtag.  I was surprised to notice several students nodding vigorously in agreement.  Sparked by this unexpected response, I decided to create an academic Instagram account.

KGRInsta1Since my pedagogy invites students to work directly with actual artworks in what I call “art history labs,” I decided that my Instagram feed would feature photographs of artworks from the Connecticut College campus art collection and my department’s Wetmore Print Collection.  Several times a week, I post images of artworks we will be studying in class, images of campus sculptures, or photographs I have taken while setting up labs.  I also regularly post photos of campus spaces (Shain Library, for example, or other professors’ offices or research spaces), shots of field trips, and images related to my research and to current events on campus.   One student observed, “Instagram is contributing immensely to my learning in art history by making the material present outside of the classroom context. Seeing images that we are studying in class pop up on my phone has incorporated art history into my daily life, making it more approachable and keeping it on my mind throughout the day.”

While I don’t require my students to follow my Instagram account, participating does have some benefits.  Some of the posted artworks appear on exams, and I sometimes refer to an Instagram post in class.  During the semester, I created several hashtags:  #conncollcampusart and #wetmoreprintcollection for Connecticut College’s artwork collections, and hashtags for this semester’s courses:  #ahi261, #ahi246.  Over time, students have begun to use these hashtags and contribute their own images to this fledgling community.  


In addition, I think of following feeds and liking images as teaching tools.  I intentionally make connections relevant to course content and to my research as one way to help students engage with the contemporary art world in a curated way.  As one student noted, “Instagram provides a new platform for sharing and engaging in thoughtful conversations about art outside of the classroom. With a simple click of a ‘like’ the interest surrounding a piece of art becomes visible to all participating.”  My feed currently has a small but active following of students and staff at Connecticut College, as well as a few global artists, gallery owners, arts foundations, and museum staff who extend my feed well beyond the college.

While Instagram appears to be a natural fit for contemporary art history, I think this platform could be productive for faculty across the disciplines.  Faculty might share images from fieldwork, labs, or even photographs of a chalkboard with a complex data or problem set.  If you are considering Instagram, here are some guidelines I have developed for my own feed:

  • To assuage any student concerns about sharing their own images with me, I clearly state in class that I do not follow or even look at student Instagram accounts unless expressly invited to do so.
  • In response to the Connecticut College social media policy, I avoid posting photos of students.
  • To respect photographic rights, I limit my posting of artworks to those owned by the College or those publically displayed at museums.  When posting anything that might be construed as someone’s property or private space, I ask for permission and tag the photo with the person’s Instagram username.
  • Finally, using social media for pedagogical purposes does create yet another task on my to-do list.  However, I maintain this Instagram feed because I enjoy taking photographs, creating visual dialogues, and communicating through images.  If you are considering incorporating Instagram or other social media into your classes, you might start by identifying a platform that you are already using and finding fulfilling in other areas of your life.


Social Media in Academia: Facebook in First Year Seminars

Last semester I used Facebook in my First Year Seminar (FYS) on a modern history of stereotypes about Asia and “the West.” Generally speaking, the class Facebook page became a community discussion board about campus events that related to the FYS’s broader themes of History, Asia, globalization, cultural studies, Orientalism, race, ethnicity, and social justice. Using the course Facebook page, students and I posted announcements about upcoming events, and then in turn, a good many of the students who attended the events posted their reactions along with a visual image or artifact from their experience.


Why did they use the page? For one, as a requirement in my FYS, each student was expected to attend at least one campus event before the end of the semester. To get credit for attending the event, they had to either a) send me an essay privately by e-mail of 200-300 words in which they reacted to the event, or b) write a short Facebook post in which they briefly described the event and posted a visual artifact. About 2/3 of the students opted to fulfill this requirement by posting on Facebook

How did it work? At the beginning of the semester, all students joined the course “Group Page” that I made. All of my students, except one, already had Facebook accounts, used them regularly, and knew how it worked. I chose to create a Group Facebook page instead of a personal or community page because this format is private; in order to view the page, one has to be invited and then added as a “member.” As the page administrator, I was able to control who joined the “group” and if necessary, edit the posts. Other advantages this format held were that members could not easily see the private posts of other group members (unless they were to “friend” each other on their private personal Facebook pages) and it indicates how many people view the posts (see image above). Based on this format, I learned that the vast majority of students had “seen” each others pictures and comments within no more than a week of their posting. Generally speaking there was a new post roughly once a week from a different student in the class.

Student Facebook post

Even though I was clear that our class group page was private, I had discussions with the students about digital footprints at the beginning of the semester. I encouraged students to create separate Facebook aliases from the ones they had used in high school (using their new ConnColl e-mail addresses) if they were concerned about protecting their privacy further. None of the students opted to do this.

The success of the page was in its low start-up costs, and in its ability to transmit important news about our first year and college communities.  It also allowed me to model that I care about and embrace campus engagement and dialogue. In contrast to Moodle, where students found formal assignments, uploaded homework, and downloaded readings, the Facebook page was used in a more informal way. It usually focused on social and co-curricular events organized outside of class and sometimes operated as a last minute message board if students had questions. Above all, the page became a medium through which students felt more connected with their classmates as well as the rest college community.