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. 

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.

Digital Portfolios: Showcasing Both Process and Product

On the last day of class during the final exam period, students enrolled in my Costume Design and Construction course are allotted thirty minutes to get into costume, hair and makeup before formally presenting their looks to the class and posing for a photoshoot. Each student’s best photo is posted, with permission, in an album on the CC Theater Department’s Facebook page, which typically garners between 800 to 1300 views, making it one of the department’s most popular annual postings. These photos, however, only convey a fraction of each students’ journey through the design and construction process, and fail to adequately shed light on the weeks each student spends researching, designing, and constructing their fabulous, conceptually-driven looks.

Enter digital portfolio applications.

My goal this semester is to find an affordable and user-friendly digital portfolio application that will allow students to showcase their visual research, sketches, process shots, and final photos in a visually sleek way. After investigating several options, I plan on sharing my top three choices with students so they can weigh in on which portfolio application(s) they think will work best for them. To keep the class on track, it will be crucial for me to regularly set aside class time for students to photograph and upload images onto their DELI iPads, walk them through the portfolio curating process, and help them with general troubleshooting issues as needed. I’m looking forward to this challenge and am currently investigating the following applications:

Before the break, I revealed to my students that I wanted to add a portfolio component to the final project and they responded very favorably. Many even expressed an interest in including their previously completed costume renderings for Sarah Ruhl’s, Eurydice in their portfolios as well. I am very open to this idea, but will not include it as a requirement. Instead, I will heed the advice given to me by the leaders of the Technology Fellows program and take it slow, especially during the introductory phase of this experiment – wish me luck!

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.

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

Beyond Pencil and Paper: Audio Assignments Via Moodle

Image of microphone

My choir students expressed that they wanted to be assessed more often so that they would be more motivated to practice. At that time, I was having students sign up in small groups for “check in” meetings. While this was valuable, it was difficult to give individual feedback to all 40 students and could not logistically happen very week.

With the help of Jessica McCullough, we devised a way for my students to record short audio assignments and upload them to Moodle. One such assignment was an assessment of the pronunciation of Zulu song text. Jessica came into my class and demonstrated how to record and upload the files with their smartphones. (iPads are available to check out in the library if students do not have a phone or computer with audio recording capabilities.) The students could record the audio as many times as they liked before submitting their assignment, which encouraged deeper engagement in class and individual practicing. To help those who were struggling, choir tutors through the Academic Resource Center could help them prepare for the assignments.

With the Moodle interface, I was able to monitor which students turned in their assignments (as opposed to scrolling through emails with attachments), listen to the files without opening another audio application, and respond with typed comments (see Karen Gonzalez Rice’s post for making audio comments).

As a result of this “new” method, I could assess more often, get a clearer picture of how individual students were faring in my class,  and further refine my teaching to meet the diverse needs of the students. A variation of this assignment is having the students digitally videotape themselves individually or in groups. A video assignment provides a more complete picture of how my students are performing and it also gives visual confirmation of who is taking the test when it is a group assignment. While this post is regard to an assignment that I give in my choral classroom, it has potential applications in other academic settings in which students need to demonstrate their knowledge in ways beyond  traditional “paper and pencil” assignments.

Image credit: flickr photo by lincolnblues https://flickr.com/photos/lincolnblues/6262298600 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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.

Don’t Miss March Workshops

We have two great workshops scheduled in March, the first takes place on Wednesday.  We hope to see you there!

Wordpress LogoThe first, WordPress for Reflecting, Creating, Sharing and Contributing, will take place this Wednesday, March 2nd, from 1:15-2:15 PM at the Visualization Wall in Shain Library. 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 that reach well beyond the classroom. If you have ever wondered  how your students could create blogs or websites, or how you might do these things yourself, join us at the Visualization Wall where we will see examples of student and faculty work using WordPress. Karen Gonzalez Rice and Sufia Uddin will share their experiences integrating WordPress into assignments. Register to attend, refreshments will be provided.

Students in Professor Andrea Baldwin's Gender/Sexuality/Race in Caribbean Culture class participated in a discussion-based presentation with Dr. Tonya Haynes at the Institute for Gender & Development Studies at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill in Barbados.

Later in the month we will hold a workshop on the topic of video conferencing, Virtual Classroom Connections. The workshop takes place on Thursday, March 31, 9:00 – 10:00 AM in the Dilley Room in Shain Library, but register now! Video conferencing technology can allow you to team teach with a colleague outside our campus or to offer a course to students at different campuses. It also supports institutional partnerships and global connections. 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. At this workshop, faculty practitioners will discuss the benefits and challenges of mediated presence and inter-campus collaborations; instructional technologists will describe the technologies currently available on our campus to facilitate consortial course-sharing and to further global engagement. Refreshments are provided.

Technology Assignments When You Are Not the Expert: Part II

Fuente-Oveja student work
Cover of final student work

Perhaps because InDesign was as new to me as it was to my students, changing a course project by incorporating new software felt like a bold move. With the support of faculty and staff peers, however, I began the project confident and prepared with what I offer to you as recommended practices:

  • Make sure the assignment itself is as clear as possible before adding any kind of new technology. The software you introduce using lynda.com should facilitate the learning objectives of the project (and the course) without becoming the dominant focus.
  • With the importance of effective imagery established, enlist the help of your library or technology liaison to share visual research methods and resources. Lyndsay Bratton conducted an excellent workshop with my students and created an invaluable online research resource that also included proper citation guidelines for images.
  • Before working with your class, test out a number of introductory Lynda.com videos. Lynda sometimes offers several different videos that serve the same introductory purpose. Find the one that strikes the right tone and goes at the right pace for you. Also, sometimes “introductory” can actually mean “novice” in the world of Lynda; make sure the videos you choose are well-suited to the experience level of your class.
  • Once you’ve selected the Lynda video that’s right for your class, try a practice run with some trusted colleagues to anticipate where challenges might arise. The Advanced Technology Lab in Shain Library is a great place to do this with a small group.
  • Preparing the way for InDesign, share with your students examples that demonstrate the difference between information communicated without much attention to layout and imagery versus those that do. It can be a great opportunity to discuss the power of iconography.
  • Work through the first video as a class, stopping and starting as needed. Allow for plenty of time as it may take much longer than you think it will (this is where that earlier practice session will pay off).
  • As helpful as Lynda is, it can’t beat one-on-one instruction. This, of course, is a challenge if you’re new to the software yourself. Thankfully, the Academic Resource Center may be able to help. Student tutors with experience in InDesign and other programs from the Adobe design suite were available to help, even during the busy final weeks of classes. A tutor came to my class and scheduled meetings with students to help them to stretch the basics far enough so that they could realize their vision for the project.
  • Sometimes nothing beats a clear handout. Whether you make your own or find one online, like this tutorial from Marquette University, it might offer the extra needed perspective that can help students to navigate unfamiliar software early on.

The results were tremendous. Not only were the projects professional-looking, but two students independently commented that they were proud to add InDesign to their resume. View one example in the slideshow below. Work is shared with permission of student creators.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Technology Assignments When You Are Not the Expert: Part I

As covered previously on Engage, lynda.com can be a treasure trove for faculty looking to brush up skills in various applications (i.e. Photoshop) and even strengthen habits in life skills such as time management.

Lynda logo

For me, Lynda is like one of those old friends you don’t get to see very often but when you do, it’s like no time has passed. There’s that instant connection. You love catching up but you’re never quite able to make the time for the kinds of meaningful interactions that make the friendship so great. I tend to go to lynda.com only when I feel like I have time to explore (which isn’t very often).

When using technology in the classroom, I want to be an expert on whatever tool I’m using. This semester, I tried something new.

Through the Technology Fellows Program, I used Lynda.com to incorporate InDesign into a long-established project in a theater history course. I had no experience with the program and only one of my students had used it before, and in a limited capacity.

“Congratulations!” the assignment begins, “Gordon Edelstein, the Artistic Director of the Tony Award-winning Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, has hired you and a partner to serve as interim dramaturgs for a production in their upcoming season. [The play is not one assigned to the class as a whole; each team of dramaturgs will draw the title of their designated play at random from a selection of important works emerging from each of the historical periods covered in the course.]

For this project, sometimes spanning an entire semester or, in this experimental semester, concentrated in three weeks, students synthesize historical research in order to provide insight into a play; they illuminate the text by considering the playwright’s biography as well as the social, political, and economic contexts that would have resonated with the play’s first audiences.

Their chief responsibility was the creation of 4-5 pages of content for the production’s in-depth performance guide to enrich the audience experience. The assignment overview concludes, “the guide is intended to be entertaining as well as informative – exercise your creative freedom as you consider the most effective way to communicate your research and reflection on the play. If done well, your work will entice readers to make the trip to New Haven to see the production at the Long Wharf and your career in professional theatre will be launched!”

This kind of creative communication, modeled on examples from professional theaters, is essential to the assignment. In the past, it was often achieved with Microsoft Word or by literally cutting & pasting images before scanning a final product. During my first year at Conn, a team of students produced something so professional looking I had to ask them about their methods; they had taught themselves InDesign.

With some basic research, I found that InDesign and similar Adobe software skills are increasingly in demand, no matter the long-term career goals (and no matter the major of our students). I had a mission for the next time I taught the course.

To find out how InDesign was incorporated into the course, stay tuned to Engage!

Image credit:flickr photo shared by liberalmind1012 under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license