Digital Storytelling on and for the Environment


Recently I met with Siri Colom, C3 Doctoral Fellow in Environmental Studies, to discuss an interesting project she incorporates into SOC/ES 329: Sociology of the Wild. Students are asked to critically think about what “nature” is, and how “our conception of it is socially and culturally based, and how it might preclude us from understanding the world around us.”

To demonstrate that they are engaging with these themes and to connect philosophical and theoretical reading to lived experience, Siri developed a series of digital story projects for students. Pedagogically, the goal is to get students interacting outside of the classroom using multiple senses and to think about audio literacy as they pull their pieces together. She employs podcasts as the medium for storytelling, an interesting juxtaposition of nature and technology.  

The three podcasts projects are scaffolded and build in complexity – both in content and technology – over the course of the semester. The first requires students to make a two minute recording that includes one sound and explains a personal connection to the environment. The second requires two sounds and students describe a historical example. The final podcast is 10 minutes or less, requires interviews with two experts, and includes sociological analysis. The podcasts are shared publicly through a website Siri created in WordPress for the class.

With several semesters of the class creating podcasts, Siri now asks students to record 30-second summaries of the class readings so that they are engaging with audio in all aspects of the class. In addition, one student enjoyed this medium so much that she is creating a series of podcasts for an independent study with Joyce Bennett. 

Asynchronous Collaborations: Using Google Docs to Facilitate Working in Community

This semester Ariella Rotramel and I are engaging in community-based teaching and research. In order to work efficiently in our collaborations with community partners, we have both turned to Google Docs as an important tool. This post describes how each of us use use Google Docs in this work.

Joyce

IASC LogoMy course, ANT/LAS 431 Globalization, Transborderism, and Migration, is partnered with an organization I have a longstanding relationship with, the Immigration Advocacy and Support Center (IASC) in New London. Students are working on two projects: creating bilingual Know Your Rights materials for our local community and  interviewing immigrants that IASC has supported through the legal system. Students will write synopses with selected quotes for IASC’s newsletter to highlight success stories. The interviews also provide data that IASC can use in grant applications. Finally, these interviews will provide me with research materials for my long-term research project on the local migrant community and the non-profits they interact with.  

Google Docs has been essential to creating and editing the materials that are at the core of these projects. First, IASC members logged into Docs and commented on the course syllabus as it was being designed. IASC’s direct input into the syllabus follows best practice guidelines for community learning courses. Google Docs allowed IASC collaborators to comment and co-design at times that were convenient for them, enabling us to make progress without meeting in person. While in-person collaboration is key, many of the challenges our partnership faces is finding times to work together given that we exist in two rather distinct work-cultures: academia and nonprofit service sector. This kind of collaboration and co-designing never would have been possible without Google Docs technology.

Most recently, students have used Google Docs to create Know Your Rights materials for our local migrant community. Google Docs has allowed us as a group to share materials already created (such as materials from the ACLU). We were then able to adapt pre-existing materials to the needs of IASC. Collaborating on Google Docs allowed students to share the responsibilities of formatting issues, and it allowed IASC to comment on our work as we went along. That kind of valuable feedback saved us time, as IASC was able to guide our work effectively and quickly.  

Finally, students will be using Google Docs to share their interview transcripts and field notes. Students are completing interviews in pairs, which means using Google Docs facilitates their collaboration. More importantly is that using Google Docs is a convenient way for me to archive the data produced by this class from year to year. A word of caution: be sure to own all of the documents, because if students own the documents and graduate, one could lose access. Barring this particular issue, using Google Docs to archive the data has been convenient  because I cannot misplace it and, more importantly, IASC always has access to the Drive. This means they can access all the data our partnership has produced whenever they need it, which again, is in line with best-practices for community partnerships.

Ariella

Fresh LogoI have been engaged with FRESH New London over the past year as a volunteer and board member. As FRESH began to explore the possibility of a youth participatory research project (YPAR) to tell New London food stories (related to questions of access, inequality, and culture), it became clear that I could help develop this idea into a collaborative research project that would address FRESH’s goals and draw on my experience with community-based research. Over last fall, I worked with FRESH staff to develop an IRB for the initial stage of the project, mapping New London’s food resources using Google Maps. This semester we are working together with youth as co-researchers, meeting weekly to design, collect, analyze, and map information related to New London and food.

I used Google Docs to share initial academic articles on YPAR and food stories, and FRESH reciprocated by sharing existing grants and other materials. Together, we were able to mix in-person meetings with Google Doc work to develop the IRB proposal and all of the related documents. As we received feedback from each other and then the Connecticut College IRB committee, we used Google Doc to make changes, give comments, and  track this work easily through the “see revision history” function. After the project was initiated, we continue to use Google Docs to share materials including brainstorming notes, research links and PDFS, as well as using Google Spreadsheets to track  research findings.

Final Thoughts

Overall, using Google Docs for our community collaborations allows us to follow best practices for community engaged learning because it facilitates input from community partners and community partner’s access to the data we produce. If planned, using Google Docs can also cut down on the amount of coordinating and administrative work the instructor has to do in community learning courses, which can be a barrier to engaging in this important and fulfilling work.  

Filling in the Gaps Together: International Women’s Day Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon

Rose Olivera introducing the edit-a-thon

By Lyndsay Bratton, Rose Oliveira, Becky Parmer, and Ariella Rotramel

On Wednesday, March 8, we hosted the first annual International Women’s Day Wiki-Edit-A-Thon in Shain Library’s Advanced Technology Lab (ATL). International Women’s Day is observed throughout the world on March 8 and in some countries it is a public holiday. While celebrations in some countries include bringing women flowers or celebrating with a women’s night out, the day has a political history that resulted in this year’s call for a women’s strike in the United States.  International Women’s Day provides an important opportunity to reflect on ongoing gender inequality and the ability of women and allies to act to make change. Editing Wikipedia collectively provides one platform for responding to issues of gender inequality.

According to the 2011 Editor Survey, 91% of Wikipedians are men. Not only does such a homogenous editor force yield a body of work that reflects a limited scope of perspectives, but the survey also found that the relatively few women editors each make far fewer edits than men editors. Wikipedia Edit-a-Thons are staged periodically around the world, and often focus on reversing such trends by bringing women editors on board to fill in gaps in content related to women’s issues and women in history. A great example of one such initiative is the Art + Feminism Edit-a-Thon.

To address these issues of gender bias, we held an International Women’s Day Wikipedia-Edit-A-Thon. Edit-a-thons are events where newcomers and experienced Wikipedians alike come together to learn and participate in editing. Everyone was welcome and no prior editing experience was needed to participate. We had 13 people attend the evening’s event to create or improve articles on women and related topics.

Faculty, staff, students, and community members at the edit-a-thon

Rose Oliveira, Becky Parmer, and Ariella Rotramel started the event by talking about the the gender issues that face Wikipedia and how Ariella has used Wikipedia in her feminist theory class. Becky and Rose then reviewed the Five Pillars of Wikipedia to ensure that editors understood how to carry out their work effectively. Rose demonstrated how to create content on Wikipedia and the basics of editing. Andrew Lopez and Ashley Hanson shared a set of library resources they curated to help participants get started in their work. We also linked many resources on our Wikipedia libguide to assist editors in moving into editing.

Articles edited or created during the edit-a-thon

For the remainder of the time, we dove into the work. People chose to either collaborate in teams or work by themselves to research, create or improve a variety of articles. They contributed citations; rephrased poorly written sections; added new content to existing entries; and began work on developing new entries. All of these actions help improve Wikipedia by creating or strengthening content that relates to women and other underrepresented groups. In the last 10 minutes, everyone added their entries that they worked on a whiteboard: Lois Gibbs; Mary Foulke Morrisson; 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence; Trans Day of Action; Caroline Black; Avtar Brah; Beatrice Cuming; and Marie Hoppe-Teinitzerová. We concluded the evening by taking turns sharing the woman, organization, or event that they worked on. It was rewarding to see what we were collectively able to do in a short amount of time.

As a result, on the third Wednesday of every month, we have decided to hold an informal Wiki Meetup or “Wiki Wednesday” at The Social at 5:15pm. We welcome new and experienced editors! To check in about the meetup, please contact Rose Oliveira (roliveir@conncoll.edu). For more information about working with Wikipedia in the classroom, please contact your instructional technologist or library liaison.

Building an Italian Virtual City

One of the main challenges that I face in my second semester of elementary Italian is to strike a balance between meeting the needs of the students who want to continue studying the language and the needs of those who are not interested in continuing any further. How do I keep the former motivated and challenged and the latter engaged? Can I use technology to  break up the tediousness of language learning with something that is fun and engaging, that ties all language skills together, and that teaches the students about Italian society and lifestyle?

In the past five years I have fully embraced the concept of blended learning and used a number of different digital tools to accomplish my pedagogical goals. However, every semester, I keep searching for new and fun ways to enrich my courses. This semester, I am experimenting with conversations with native speakers through TalkAbroad. Next spring semester  I want my students to build a virtual Italian city.  I was intrigued by prof. Kronenberg’s similar project at Rhodes College. I want my students to create, explore, and possibly interact in a virtual Italian city by completing a number of tasks that will include writing texts, recording audio and videos, creating cartoons and more, all embedded into an interactive website. For example, some students will be responsible for creating a virtual restaurant, in doing so, they will be responsible for a number of tasks where they can see their language in action. Here is just an example of what these tasks might involve:


Some of these tasks will use familiar technologies, whereas some others will be new to the students and to me, like for example using Powtoon to create animated videos and presentations, or Voki to create speaking characters. Ideas are still floating and open to new possibilities as I explore new tools and technologies. I look forward to sharing my progress in this blog.

Building a New Approach to Online Discussions

working-in-snow-620x826Earlier this semester, I experimented with a “virtual class” on a day when snow closed down the college. Had there been class, students would have discussed a reading in small groups. Typically during these sessions, students spend roughly 2/3 of the class period working through discussion questions. The final 1/3 is spent debriefing with the entire class, hearing from the groups directly and collectively filling in the blanks. On the snow day, I figured that students could use GChat and Google Docs to collaboratively answer these same discussion questions, allowing me to use this time productively and not have to push my course schedule back. Students connected with their groups over GChat and typed answers on a Google document that was shared with me.

Jumping ahead in time, I am currently putting together the first midterm in this course. As I debate the set of questions to put on the exam, I am reflecting on what was actually accomplished during this virtual class. It was a way to get something out of this brief period of time when I knew that students could get together, and it enabled me to keep the course on schedule. But what did the activity accomplish aside from these basic goals? Could I be confident that students understood the key components of the reading? Could I know who was driving the discussion, who contributed to the final answers, and who simply was passively along for the ride?

Upon reflection, I cannot answer any of these questions. While the activity was not a total waste, it did not successfully mimic the learning that would have occurred in a regular class; it did not allow me to assess the degree to which students understood and appreciated the reading. As a result, I do not feel comfortable including questions about this reading on the exam.

I know that I, with the help of technology, can do much better. I am seeking to substantially enhance my approach to online discussions, with the dual goals of “snow-day-proofing” my courses and creating modular discussion-based assignments that can take place in, or out of, class. In the initial stages, I am taking a content-free approach, thinking about general best practices, methods of instruction and tools of assessment that help me think through the various challenges and strategies for dealing with them. How can I assess relative contributions? How can I develop ground rules, and provide instructions to encourage full participation and successful collaboration? How can I use chat transcripts to help me answer these questions without being overly intrusive? What would a successful transcript look like, and how can I model successful collaboration for students at the start of a semester? What kind of rubric can I use to set expectations?

The sheer number of these important questions (all of which have to be answered if this approach is to reach its potential) tells me that this journey will not be an easy one. But the payoffs are potentially high enough to make an initial time commitment well worth it.

Image Credit: Susan Dickerson-Lange

Active Engagement and Group Work at the Visualization Wall

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The Visualization Wall can instantly and wirelessly display up to five smartphones, tablets, and laptops at once, or one device full-screen. Pictured above: dual display of a MacBook Air and an iPhone.

The Diane Y. Williams ’59 Visualization Wall in the Technology Commons of Shain Library offers new possibilities for group work and classroom engagement. With just a few clicks on one’s own smartphone, tablet, or laptop, the wall wirelessly displays up to five devices at once.

Biology Professor Martha Grossel used the Visualization Wall weekly for her Accelerated Cell Biology class, asking students to work on problems in groups. One member of each group then displayed their work simultaneously for discussion and comparison of all the groups’ results as a class. Theater Professor Sabrina Notarfrancisco takes part in the Instructional Technology team’s DELI program to provide her students in Costume History with iPads each semester and meets regularly at the wall with her class. Whenever relevant to the discussion, students can easily display and compare examples from the visual portfolios that they build on their iPads, encouraging active engagement in discussion.

The furniture in the Technology Commons is all flexible and can be arranged to be most conducive to your class activities.

Interested in how this feature can be used in your own class? Email Lyndsay Bratton to discuss ideas or to schedule class meetings at the wall!

Help Diversify the Largest Encyclopedia in the World through Wikipedia Assignments

Last week several librarians, instructional technologists, and faculty met virtually with a representative, Samantha Erickson, from the Wiki Education Foundation. This is the same organization that Ariella Rotramel and Andrea Lanoux worked with on their recent Wikipedia assignments. The meeting was inspirational!

Wikipedia is the 7th most visited site in the world with content from over 80,000 volunteer contributors. Of this number, Samantha told us, 85% of the contributors are white, male, and Western. When most content is created by a homogeneous group, you can see their interests and viewpoints reflected in the existing content and the many content gaps in the online encyclopedia. One goal of having students add content to is to help diversify the contributions.

One interesting example is the entry for Susan Band Horwitz (see below). You can see an early entry is cursory and lacking specifics. We learned this short entry is called a “stub” – there are currently over 1.9 million stubs in Wikipedia (view the current list of stubs – this is fascinating!).

"Stub" entry for Susan Band Horwitz
“Stub” entry for Susan Band Horwitz

If you saw this entry you might assume that this scientist did not contribute significantly to her field. Through the work of students in a course using Wiki Ed’s training and tools, and as part of their Year of Science, they expanded the entry significantly this past spring.

Longer entry for Susan Band Horwitz
Longer entry for Susan Band Horwitz

Contributing to Wikipedia can meet many learning goals, including conducting research, writing, and improving media and meta- literacies, communication, and technical skills. Students learn about authority (who has authority to create information, where does that authority come from), audience (who uses this information and for what purpose), debates in your field of study (highly controversial topics are often “locked,” editing wars break out), and the importance of citation practices.

Wikipedia assignments can take 5-15 weeks, depending on your goals and objectives. Wiki Ed Foundation, in addition to Connecticut College librarians and instructional technologists, are available to help you through every step. Wiki Ed creates a dashboard for you and your students to access training modules and track progress, librarians are here to help students find the best sources for their research, and instructional technologists can help with technical questions.

If you are interested in pursuing a Wikipedia editing assignment, contact your instructional technology or library liaison.

Bringing Theory to Practice through Kitchen Technologies

“Even a pencil is technology,” declared my colleague Anthony Graesch during one of my first Technology Fellows Program meetings. This little statement pushed me to broaden my concept of technology in the classroom. What kinds of technology was I already using?

“Food and the Senses” (ANT 353) is the title of a course I am teaching this semester. My class reads and discusses theoretical approaches to food and sensory experience on Tuesdays. Then on Thursdays, we go into the ‘lab’ (either a kitchen or the classroom transformed in to a sensory laboratory) to engage in a hands-on activity related to the theoretical point we explored the previous class. One Tuesday at the start of the semester, we read and discussed Marcel Mauss’s “Techniques of the Body”  and the concept of embodied knowledge. I wanted my students to think about the ways in which knowledge and culture shape our embodied practices in the kitchen and at the table.

Food and the Senses (ANT353) students getting ready to mix bread in a kesariya.
Food and the Senses (ANT353) students getting ready to mix bread in a kesariya.

Thursday, we baked bread as a way of exploring techniques of the body. Students were given basic instructions on how to bake bread. I broke the class up in to four groups. One of the groups was given a stand mixer, another was given a traditional Moroccan bread-making dish (kesariya) and the other two groups did all of the kneading on the counter top by hand. The students were left to literally feel their way through the recipe. I stopped them at key points and encouraged them to test the consistency of the dough and take notes. At the end of the lab when the dough was fully kneaded, the students were asked to reflect on their experiences through a lab sheet. I provided prompts to help students connect their bread-making experience with concepts of embodied knowledge.

Using a stand mixer to knead bread dough.
Using a stand mixer to knead bread dough.

Reading back through my students’ reflections, I was pleased to see that they had considered the ways technologies such as the mixer and the Moroccan dish had mediated their sensory experiences. One labor-conscious student wrote, “I have a new appreciation for technology. Kneading the dough was such hard work. I never realized how much time and effort I could save by using something as simple as a dish or a mixer.” Another student noted that she had to adjust her senses to work with the mixer: “We had to stop the mixer to check the consistency of the dough. Was the gluten developing? Did it feel bouncy? We could not tell this just by looking at the dough in the mixer.” Technology became an extension of the body, just as Marcel Mauss had suggested. Through this lab, students learned about techniques of the body using rather low-tech tools.

The class was then asked to share their hands-on, low-tech learning through a class WordPress blog. This brought them full circle from theory to practice and from low to high-tech.

Reflecting back on my course design, my expanded definition of technology helped me to understand the ways in which I was already engaging with different types of technology in the classroom. In the future, I can imagine other mindful applications of technology used to explore, reflect upon, and share learning about food and culture.

WordPress for Reflecting, Creating, Sharing, and Contributing

Karen Gonzalez Rice demonstrating her students' digital exhibition.
Karen Gonzalez Rice demonstrating her students’ digital exhibition at the visualization wall.

WordPress is an easy-to-use, yet robust, blogging and website development platform. The College now hosts WordPress, giving you and your students the ability to create professional-looking websites on the conncoll.edu domain that have the potential to reach well beyond the classroom.

Last week in our Teaching with Technology workshop we described WordPress’s many functions and provided examples of sites created by students as part of course assignments. We heard from two faculty members, Sufia Uddin and Karen Gonzalez Rice, about their very different pedagogical uses of the platform. Following are examples that demonstrate the wide variety of ways that WordPress has already been used on our campus.

  • Reflecting on and connecting course content.
    A natural fit for WordPress is as a blog, which is how Sufia Uddin used it with her students. Each student’s blog served as a repository of work, class notes, reflections, and ideas. Based on student feedback, she found that the blog pushed students to conduct research on their own outside of class, helped them make connections, and aided in their intellectual growth as they reflected on their work throughout the semester.
  • Creating digital exhibitions.
    Karen Gonzalez Rice uses WordPress as a platform for digital exhibitions, and shared examples of individual student work and a class exhibition. For the class exhibition, project goals were to have students interact with lesser-known works of art and to apply art historical knowledge to unfamiliar artists and works. In moving the exhibition online, she preserved the major goals of the original analog/physical project but the digital exhibit afforded her and her students more time to spend on research, writing (and much re-writing), and exploring the relationships between the works. The result is an online artifact available to the world that also promotes one of the very special and unique collections at Connecticut College.
  • Communicating an argument using multiple media.
    If you read this blog regularly, you’ll remember that Leo Garofalo used WordPress in a Sophomore Research Seminar. Student groups created sites that communicated the argument, using visual and textual evidence, that the Mashantucket-Pequot museum is a decolonized museum. The sites will be used in future seminars as jumping off points for students to continue this work, and to apply it to other museums. Students carefully selected templates in WordPress that allowed them to incorporate the many textual and multimedia components they needed to make their arguments.
  • Demonstrating expertise through digital portfolios.
    Students seeking a Connecticut Teacher Certification must complete digital teaching portfolios. For the third semester, our student teachers used WordPress to create their portfolios. WordPress is flexible enough for students to include the many required components and it also provides visibility options that protect the sites.

You may have also noticed that the Connections and the Mellon Initiative on Global Education sites are both created with WordPress. If you are interested in exploring WordPress as a pedagogical tool or otherwise, contact your instructional technology liaison.

Adding Voices to Scholarship: Wikipedia Editing

I developed my Fall 2015 Feminist Theory course with metaliteracy as a learning objective to assist students in studying theory in context.  Metaliteracy is a framework that promotes critical thinking and collaboration in a digital age (Mackey & Jacobson).  The focus on metaliteracy helped challenge students’ common understandings of theory as distanced from empirical research and everyday life, and reinforced an understanding of research and academic writing as an iterative process.

Wikipedia page

The Wikipedia assignment that I used for the first two months of class provided a means of working with students to translate theoretical insights into accessible knowledge.  Each student created a new entry for Wikipedia on a topic related to gender and women’s studies.  Students’ firsthand experience with creating knowledge for a general audience provided an opportunity to struggle with questions of representation that otherwise they would have engaged largely as spectators rather than participants.  The project developed out of my interest in connecting with ongoing projects that seek to address the problem of gender and racial inequality in Wikipedia as there continues to be a significant imbalance in participation and content (see Gender bias on Wikipedia).  Moreover, the 2015 National Women’s Studies Association Wikipedia Initiative that connects Gender and Women’s Studies classes with Wiki Education Foundation staff provided further materials and support to carry out this assignment.

I took a scaffolded approach to the assignment.  Students started reading about Wikipedia through a critical perspective, including issues such as trolling and bias.  We took a paced approach in completing the wiki training and beginning to add content (the class Wiki Dashboard shows how the training was scaffolded and organized). Next time, I plan to integrate the discussion of bias with an in-class editing session to break the ice more efficiently. We also connected with our Wiki Education Foundation content expert, Adam Hyland, via Google Hangouts midway through the assignment, and next time we will introduce collaborators earlier to help students put a face to the person and become more comfortable reaching out about specific questions they have around their Wikipedia work. Students appreciated having the scaffolded approach to the assignment that allowed them to pace themselves and revise their work.  Finally, they gained much from presenting their work in a poster session supported by the Academic Resource Center as they received direct feedback from visitors and saw firsthand interest in their work, adding an face-to-face interaction that is missing from online work itself.

“it is one thing to be looking at all this information for one’s own personal benefit and use… it is a completely different thing to be able to not only use this information for one’s own personal sake, but also share it with other individuals that are seeking information.” – student reflection


Students’ reflection essays included many claims that the project did indeed help them understand theory as part of feminist knowledge production.  One student reported that the project was “
a direct way to overcome the lack of connection between theory and praxis” as they created information for a general audience.  In addition, students appreciated and found a sense of empowerment by creating content that will be widely shared and used. Students sharpened their research skills, and in some cases contacted individuals involved in the topics they wrote about such as The Kilroys, a theater gender parity group and the activists behind the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag.  This shift from consumption to synthesis and distribution of information helped demystify one key source of information online for students.  

Statistics graph for Sister OutsiderSome entries have received quite a bit of traffic.  The entry for Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde’s well-cited essay collection, has received 2,293 visits (25/day) over the past 90 days (see graph to left).  Previously, there had not been an entry for the national Green Dot Bystander Intervention program that is a core component of Connecticut College’s violence prevention work.  A student created an entry and the site has received 285 visits (3/day) over the past 90 days, and basic information about the program is now accessible to Wikipedia users.  In conclusion, while there are always some glitches and complications in carrying out an assignment like this one, it is evident from the semester and teaching evaluations that it was worth the effort.  Across the board, students gained a deeper understanding of knowledge creation and representation through this hands on experience.