Sharing stories, building community

Workshop presenters Ashley Hanson, Caroline Park, Laura Little, Ariella Rotramel, Joyce Bennett, and Hisae Kobayashi at SCSU.

Last Friday and Saturday Southern Connecticut State University held its 22nd Women’s Studies Conference, and a delegation from Connecticut College was there to represent! The conference theme – #FeministIn(ter)ventions: Women, Community, Technology – provided a perfect opportunity to share some of the technology-rich courses and projects that have been undertaken at the College, and to hear from colleagues about the successes and challenges of such ventures. At our roundtable workshop/discussion, we described the practices we collectively endorse and the activities we’ve been a part of, highlighting the collaborative spirit that developed among this mixed group of faculty, librarians, and instructional technologists as we prepared for the conference itself. Some of the projects we talked about have been the subject of Engage blog posts, including Hisae Kobayashi’s Twitter project, Ariella Rotramel’s Wikipedia project, and the various tele- and web conferencing activities we support, including Joyce Benett’s organization of a personalized Yucatec Maya course for a student. Caroline Park spoke about feminist music technology, bringing up gendered and racialized technical jargon in the context of creative art and sound projects, and the ongoing process of critically navigating that dynamic in the classroom and outside of it. Guided by Ashley Hanson, participants and presenters alike had a chance to role up their sleeves to do some mind mapping, which provided rich material for our discussion, and exciting ideas for the future. Feel free to check out our slides if you have time.

Endorsing as we do collaborative projects and approaches, we were somewhat disheartened to learn from one of our workshop participants that they are not so easily implemented in the K-12 environment as they are in higher education. Library Media Specialist Jill Woychowski enlightened us about filtering practices in federally funded schools that limit not just access to potentially harmful web sites, but also to ones that enable collaborative projects or contain content related to many common Gender and Women’s Studies topics. This conversation led us to wonder, as a group, about the impact on students as they transition to college and their development of critical metaliteracy skills. What do you think? Should students be sheltered from the “real world” of the Internet? How does a lack of access to collaborative platforms and to the contested territories of the public sphere affect our students’ ability to do research and to co-construct knowledge at the college level?

Virtual Classroom Connections

Students videoconferencing with alumni
Slavic studies students connect with alumni via Zoom.

This post was written by Laura Little and Jessica McCullough.

More and more CC faculty are using web conferencing or teleconferencing tools to bring experts into their classes, to connect students to a different culture or language, and to broaden course offerings. To facilitate these connections, the instructional technology team has worked with many technologies: Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and a host of others. You can see how these tools stack up against each other in this chart.

We really like Zoom. It is easy to use, for both organizers and participants, only requiring a small software download. You don’t have to establish reciprocal relationships with Zoom; “hosts” send invitations to “guests” via email instead of linking accounts, as you have to with Skype. The audio and video quality of Zoom, in our experience, is much higher than other programs we tried, and it easily accommodates multiple participants. It includes a number of useful features, such as screen and file sharing, on-screen annotation, instant messaging. You can also easily record sessions. If you attended our virtual workshop in January you saw some of these features in action. You also may have read Hisae Kobayashi’s post about using it with Japanese students. 


Though you can easily get set up with Zoom on your own, there is a 40-minute limit to meetings with a free account. Instructional Technology has purchased 20 educational licenses, allowing you to host longer meetings. To request one of these licenses, contact Laura Little.

Although we favor Zoom and are happy to get you started with it, there may be good reasons to stick with what you or your virtual guest already knows. If either side is doing a “virtual visit” for the first time, but feels comfortable using, say, Skype, you can reduce the number of unknowns (and associated anxiety) by using that as your connection platform.

As we work with faculty to connect to other people and places, the Instructional Technology team is gradually developing best practices. We’d be glad to share these with you to make sure that your visit is a success. If you’re not sure who to contact, start with your Instructional Technology liaison.

The Return of the “Digital Natives” – r u ready? ;)

Children with TechnologyThe relative quiet of summer gives faculty time to think deeply and ambitiously about course structure and assignments. Whether you’re developing a new course or tweaking a familiar one, the syllabus likely includes technology-dependent activities – maybe the familiar Moodle discussion board or a novel hashtag project. As you put on the finishing touches and plan your “Welcome to this course” talk, it may be worth pausing to consider what assumptions you’ve made about your students’ experience with and access to technology. What digital tools will they need to be successful in your course?

We often assume that our students  are “digital natives” – that they intuitively navigate websites and apps, readily adopt and easily adapt to new platforms, and possess an enviable, seemingly inborn ability to solve nonchalantly the kinds of technology challenges that inspire fear and loathing in their pre-millennial “digital immigrant” forbears.

For technology-rich courses and assignments, this would be a most convenient state of affairs. Students would dive into Google Drive, iMovie, WordPress, Skritter, and all the other resources we offer at Conn with little need of guidance or the waste of precious class time. Unfortunately, our experience working with students on technology assignments does not support this version of reality. Fortunately, we have some research to support our anecdotal data.

The notion that technology competence is a function of one’s year of birth was the subject of an excellent study in the British Educational Research Journal in 2009. Authors E. Helsper and R. Enyon ask, simply, in their title: “Digital Natives: where is the evidence?” By distinguishing the “being” from the “doing,” as they put it, they are able to conclude that while young people do use the internet more, differences in experience, education, and self-efficacy make for a wide range of digital literacy among them. Their call for a research-based approach to the matter is echoed and amplified in Deconstructing Digital Natives (2011), the authors of which analyze the products, processes, and perceptions of young people in various digital contexts around the world. They urge us to adopt a more pluralistic view of the term itself and demonstrate how discipline-specific investigations can enhance our understanding of what and how students are learning online.

While it’s indisputable that students are surrounded by technology, they may be adept at using it in ways that have little to do with the kind of work they need to do for your class. Or they may not be adept, having had limited access to mobile devices, scholarly databases, and other resources. We know from the 2014 MISO survey that not all Conn students own smartphones, for example, so if you were to require an app for your course, you’d want to think about options for those without.

In any case, Information Services offers resources that can help! You can invite an instructional technologist to your class to show students how Moodle or Google Drive works, or propose a DELI course that will provide all students in a course with the particular technology they need. Finally, if you would like to run your technology-infused assignments by a colleague, plan to join us on September 10 at the “Workshop your Technology Assignments” event or contact your Instructional Technology liaison.

Image credit: “digial natives” Juan Cristóbal Cobo on Flickr, used under CC BY 2.0 license

Animate messages with Tellagami

To continue our series on easy-to-use illustration resources, we’d like to let you know about Tellagami. This free app lets you create short animated messages (called “gamis”) that you can send in an email, tweet, status update, or text message. Choose a character, an emotion and a background, record an audio message, and your “gami” is ready to send. What a lively way to send information or assignments to your students! For more ideas, check out this sample: