Design A Better Assignment – Workshop It!

Chopping onions

Where do I position the camera? Why do I have to do a voiceover? What is line 2 of the instructions asking me to do? Is time lapse video really the best choice here? These were a few of the practical and didactic questions I received from colleagues as they worked through the activity that I designed as part of Technology Fellows Program. The workshop experience is one of the invaluable opportunities that this program offers. Colleagues encouraged me to push my thinking about this specific assignment and my approach to course design more generally. The Technology Fellows Program focuses on the use of technology for teaching, but it is also a place to hone one’s teaching skills.

For my workshop, I proposed to try out an assignment that I am calling mise en place, after the culinary practice of preparing ingredients before cooking. This assignment will be part of my Food and the Senses course in the Spring semester. The objectives of the assignment are to have students explore concepts of embodied knowledge and apprenticeship through the activity of mise en place. The first step is to teach students to chop onions in a variety of ways (live demonstration, video and no instruction). Next, students chop onions in teams. They take turns chopping and recording. Initially, I believed that time lapse video would be the best technology for this job.  Outside of class time, students have time to view their videos and reflect on the experience through a voice over. Finally, students share their video documents in class or online.

Leading up to the big day of the workshop, I had a small group meeting with other Tech fellows and instructional designers. They read over the assignment, we discussed the objectives of the activity, they suggested a variety of technology options, and made concrete suggestions for how I could continue to develop the assignment to sharpen the connections between the activity and the learning objectives. Using these suggestions, I prepared the materials for the workshop, where the other Tech Fellows would have a chance to try out and critique my assignment.

The big day came, and, to my surprise, no one balked at the idea of using large knives and the possibility of crying over onions. My colleagues started setting up a variety of recording devices on all sorts of tripods. They immediately began asking important questions, “What part of the body should the recording capture? Just the hands?” This got me thinking about a series of theoretical issues connected with the disembodiment of knowledge and objectification of culinary skill. This is just one example of the sorts of feedback that led me sharpen my assignment and consider the utility of the data that my students would be collecting. Thanks to my colleagues, I began to see connections to visual anthropology and how I could use this assignment to engage with an additional set of methodological questions.

Although I had initially been concerned about finding the right technology for my assignment. The workshop experience helped me to think more deeply about learning objectives and how to bring more intention to the methods and technology I want to use. I like to try new techniques and activities in the classroom and, for the most part, I usually have to wing it. Being able to workshop an assignment that pushes into new pedagogical territory will certainly lead to a better thought out assignment and hopefully a better learning experience for my students.

Image credit: Cutting onions, https://www.flickr.com/photos/61508583@N02/13561876493

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