Using Open Educational Resources with Your Students

large__neonopensignOne of the key elements of planning a course is selecting the textbooks and other materials for your students. Books, journal articles, essays, videos, and other resources need to be collated and organized; in addition, class preparation typically involves pulling together slide presentations, in-class exercises, assignments, quizzes, and other materials for the course. Instructors create some of this content on their own, but, of course, also use content that is available, often in digital formats, in an ever expanding ecosystem of materials.

Within higher education, concerns about pedagogical effectiveness, affordability and accessibility have created a movement to promote “open educational resources” (OER). The Hewlitt Foundation has defined OER as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or that have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.” The high cost of textbooks is certainly one factor driving interest in openly licensed materials. We know that a significant number of students struggle to afford their textbooks, and some simply try to get through their courses without buying them.

Beyond the issues of cost, however, there is growing recognition that proprietary course materials, which are usually locked down to prevent revision, adaptation, and remixing, do not promote the degree of student participation and knowledge generation that is possible with open materials. OERs give educators the ability to adapt instructional resources to the individual needs of their students and to ensure that resources are up-to-date. Moreover, openly licensed materials give students the opportunity to modify and remix content and to construct their own explanations and presentations of particular topics, which can deeply enhance their learning. Imagine a scenario, for example, in which students revise and remix the core instructional materials of the class (which are OER) with other OER and with their own original work in order to create a small tutorial (in any medium) on a topic that students in the course generally struggle with. They can then use their tutorial to teach the topic to one of their peers. The best tutorials will be integrated into the official OER collection or open textbook for use by other students starting next semester.

You may be wondering, though…as a faculty member, how do I get started with the possibility of using OER in my courses? Our digital pedagogy workshop this week is intended to help you find out about the major repositories and sources of OER (such as OpenStax and OER Commons) and to learn about the process of sharing and using open content…not only textbooks, but other materials such as assignments, lesson plans, course modules, slide decks, assessments, and more. We’ll gather as usual on Tuesday at 4:30 and Friday at 1:30 in Abell 102.

The fundamental philosophy of OER and of open approaches to pedagogy is encapsulated in the notion of the “5 Rs” as developed by David Wiley, a pioneering advocate of open education.


Wiley’s articles, “What is Open Pedagogy?” and “Open Pedagogy: The Importance of Getting in the Air,” provide an accessible entry into the perspective of the 5 Rs. There are also several other points of references that I would recommend as useful places to get started learning about open education in general and open educational materials in particular. For example, the University of Mary Washington recently held a “OER Summit” and made videos of the sessions available for viewing. UMW economics professor Steve Greenlaw provides a reflection on his approach to open textbooks for his classes. Another example comes from Ohio State mathematics professor Jim Fowler, in a recent Educause article entitle “An Open Perspective on Interactive Textbooks“:

Because they’re low-cost or free, open-source textbooks address issues of affordability, accessibility, and equity. Moreover, because they are generally editable and reusable, open-source textbooks provide an opportunity to reinforce a constructivist understanding of learning. An open-source textbook is, after all, a textbook and thereby addresses the practical need for an expert, authoritative reference. And yet, it immediately calls that authority into question. Because it’s editable, it invites students to reflect on their learning and on how the exposition could be improved and, ideally, to propose some specific edits. Like many open-source software projects, an open-source textbook allows users to file “bug reports.” And because an open-source textbook is reusable, it permits other instructors to not only “adopt” the text but also “raise” the adopted text as if it were their own.

A third example is provide by literature professor Robin DeRosa of Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. In “My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice,” Robin describes how she and her students created The Open Anthology of American Literature to replace a commercially available anthology priced at $85. Among her many rich reflections on the experience of creating a textbook collaboratively with her students, Robin observes that

People often ask me how students can create textbooks when they are only just beginning to learn about the topics that the textbooks cover.  My answer to this is that unlike many other scholarly materials, textbooks are primarily designed to be accessible to students–to new scholars in a particular academic area or sub-specialty.  Students are the perfect people to help create textbooks, since they are the most keenly tuned in to what other students will need in order to engage with the material in meaningful ways.  By taking the foundational principles of a field–most of which are not “owned” by any prior textbook publisher–and refiguring them through their own lens, student textbook creators can easily tap their market.  They can access and learn about these principles in multiple ways (conventional or open textbooks, faculty lecture and guidance, reading current work in the field, conversations with related networks, videos and webinars, etc.), and they are quite capable, in my opinion, of designing engaging ways to reframe those principles in ways that will be more helpful to students than anything that has come before.

So if these ideas and examples have piqued your interest, let us know, and join us for conversation and demonstration in our sessions this week.

Open to the Public: Developing Scholarly Presence and Identity Online

© Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons license CC BY SA

Within the academic world, “publication” has long been the gold standard for validating scholarly activity and providing evidence of one’s original thinking and creativity. The term, of course, assumes a “publicness” to one’s work. But while that publicness has traditionally been associated with the “final product” of research and thought, today’s era of digital networked communication involves newly emerging possibilities and, increasingly, expectations for being a public thinker, learner, and creator. Or, to use the more prevalent term, to do one’s thinking, learning, and knowledge creation in a space that is “open.”

This week in our Digital Pedagogy workshop, we explore the practices and rationale for building a professional academic presence and identity in an open, public, online space. We follow up on last week’s theme of creating a “home on the web” with a program such as a Domain of One’s Own. Now, to be sure, you can develop a fairly robust web presence without your own personal domain, with free or low-cost solutions such as, Wix, Weebly, Tumblr, and other services that will host your content. But in terms of complete ownership of your data, the most control of your digital identity, and the fullest realization of the possibilities of the open web, a personal domain is the way to go. And it is also low-cost and technically accessible to boot.

There are many dimensions to the concept of “open,” both online in general and with respect to education in particular. There is a flourishing movement around “open educational resources,” or OER, learning materials that may be freely used, modified, remixed, and republished. Some of you may be familiar with open textbook initiatives such as OpenStax. “Open source” and “open access” content, materials, and journals are reshaping the scholarly landscape for both teaching and research. “Open notebooks” brings a public dimension to the process of research in both the sciences and the humanities. “Open courses,” whether massive or not, have proliferated to broaden access to learning opportunities. And “open pedagogy” represents an approach to teaching and learning that consciously embraces the values of working in visible spaces with open materials.

We’ll return to these themes in the weeks ahead, but this week we’ll focus on “open presence and identity,” both for faculty and for students. This is the foundation for all the other senses of open referred to above. One of the most ardent proponents of these principles is Chris Long, professor of philosophy and Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State University. In a recent post entitled, “Going Viral With Your Scholarship,” Chris explains the idea of a domain as a “digital CV,” not simply as a digitized version of a paper document, but as the hub of a vibrant online presence:

Your digital CV is the beating heart of your online presence. It is a repository for your work; it’s a place to think and write and research in public with others. It feeds your social media sites and offers others a place to comment and engage with you. It is an archive and a space to make your scholarship openly accessible to others.

Often when I talk to faculty and students about cultivating a public online scholarly presence, I am met with trepidation. They worry that going public with their work too early will put them at a disadvantage, will expose their work before it is ready for public consumption. While I do not deny the need for quiet, private time for thoughts and reflection, those who keep their work locked down in private even at the early stages miss opportunities for insights and collaborations that become open to them when they share their work more broadly even in its inchoate stages….

Young faculty and graduate students have long been advised to carefully guard how their work appears in public. Here I am not arguing for less care, but for the benefits of curated exposure at early stages so that by the time the work is ready for publication, a community of interested readers has already been cultivated.

And in this short video clip Chris makes the case at his own university for building an online scholarly presence:

The theme of “working out loud,” “observable work,” and “narrating your work” has been percolating for some time, now that the Web has made it possible for knowledge workers to communicate, write, and create in a public space. Internet pioneers such as Dave Winer and Jon Udell have been prominent champions of this practice.  In some ways, this goes against the ethos of what “school” and “academia” have long promoted, at least implicitly: that you don’t show your work until you think it’s your final, best product, that you only share rough drafts and tentative ideas with a few close colleagues, if at all. But as Chris Long and others point out, the very act of exposing our work at early stages can make possible the kind of constructive conversation and criticism that more quickly leads to refinements and improvements. The ultimate benefit of openness, even at the early stage of our projects, is to create a community of interest around our work, which often leads to unanticipated discoveries and spontaneous collaborations.

A growing number of colleges and university are providing resources and guidance to help faculty and students build their online presence in a thoughtful manner. Another example comes from Cal State University Channel Islands, which Maris Ballesteros-Sola references in “Digital or Die–Building Our Academic Digital Identity.” Maria provides some helpful reflections for a young scholar, not only about technical options for digital presence–domains, open course platforms, academic publishing sites, social media–but also about the prior questions for reflection:

  • Goals, Message & Audience: What are my ultimate goals? Career advancement? Get a first academic job? Engage in conversations with scholars in my discipline? Post-doc opportunities? Entice students to register for my classes? Support promotion and tenure reviews? Solidify my big grant/fellowship application? Attract a potential book publisher?
  • What are the top scholars in my field actually doing? What can I learn from their approach?
  • What other scholars’ approach to DI do I respect and I admire? What can I learn from them?
  • How much time can I honestly dedicate to build and maintain these efforts?
  • How can I find and communicate my inner-voice in a consistent and uniform way across such a multitude of platforms?

This week, we’ll continue to investigate about steps that you can take to move toward the kind of digital scholarly presence that Chris and Maria refer to. And really, it’s not just about you…it’s about modeling for our students how to craft their own professional academic presence and to begin building their own digital portfolios and personal learning networks.

Our sessions this week will take place as usual, at 4:30 pm Tuesday and 1:30 pm Friday, in Abell 102. We hope you can join us.

Home on the Web: Building a Domain of One’s Own


We all use the world wide web, to one degree or another, as a platform for learning and for connecting to information, resources, and fellow learners. The Web is arguably the most powerful space we’ve ever had for pursuing and augmenting our education. But do you really know how the web works? I don’t just mean the physical infrastructure (the servers and routers, the cables and wires, etc.). And I don’t specifically mean the software and code that runs the web (HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, etc.), though having some understanding of these things is very beneficial. When I say “how the web works,” I am primarily referring to the set of practices, ideas, and values that enable us to fully exploit the potential of the web as a open, connected, participatory network for publishing and learning. I am, for example, calling to mind Jon Udell’s idea of learning to “think like the web,” the call articulated by Gardner Campbell to build “a personal cyberinfrastructure,” and the challenge laid down by Audrey Watters in “The Web We Need to Give Students.”

Our October series of conversations  and workshops for digital pedagogy will begin to unpack some of these themes. For our first workshop of the month, we’ll talk and walk through the why and how of setting up your own web domain. Fortunately, the process has been facilitated by the awesome folks at Reclaim Hosting, who specialize in providing web hosting and web application management. Reclaim was founded by Tim Owens and Jim Groom, who with others developed the framework for Domain of One’s Own at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia. Please join us on Tuesday, October 4, at 4:30 pm, or Friday, October 7, at 1:30 pm, in Abell 102. If you can’t make it, but are interested in exploring these ideas, leave us a comment or get in touch with Mo. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out the keynote address, “Making and Breaking Domain of One’s Own: Rethinking the Web in Higher Ed,” given by Martha Burtis of UMW at the recent Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute (and beginning at 12:45 in the video below; really, though, watch the whole thing, with both Martha and Sean).

Briefly then, a “domain” is a home base on the web, with a unique URL, that you own, design, and manage. Dozens of colleges and universities are providing their faculty and students with an institutionally subsidized and themed version of a domain. We had hoped to do so at Austin College, but financial constraints have made that unfeasible at this point. Still, individual faculty and students can move forward on their own and, frankly, that may be a preferable approach after all. That way, people fully assume the agency of their professional online identity and portfolio and are not bound by institutional concerns of branding and control. When students graduate or if faculty leave the college, their domain goes with them without any friction. The monetary cost of individual domain registration and web hosting is minimal–$25.00 per year for 2GB of server storage, or $45.00 per year for 10GB. That’s a small sum for such a critical investment in your professional career.

Thus far, then, we’ve been trying to plant seeds by encouraging individual faculty members and students to consider creating their own domains. The idea is that, if just a few folks build domains, we’ll develop some compelling demonstrations and use cases, and colleagues and peers might be persuaded to move in a similar direction. In terms of faculty, our prime example so far here at Austin College is psychology professor Ian MacFarlane. You can check out his site, where he aggregates a growing articulation of content, teaching material, and professional associations. From his domain,  where he is running a WordPress installation, Ian is able to create a subdomain to function as a hub for student blogging in PSY 101. I think we have a few other folks considering their own domains, so hopefully we’ll have more of those to showcase soon.


Finally, for further background, consult “Assembling Resources on Domain of One’s Own” by UMW’s Lee Skallerup Bessette, including a comprehensive knowledge base of articles and resources on DoOO.

More Maps–Further Explorations with ArcGIS Online

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-1-02-15-pmSo far this month we’ve explored how to create digital pedagogy projects using both Google My Maps and Story Maps Journal. This week we’ll conclude our month of focusing on spatial literacy and digital mapping with a more in-depth introduction to GIS, or Geographical Information Systems. Specifically, we’ll discuss what you can do with a free public account at ArcGIS Online.

ArcGIS, the most widely used resource in digital mapping, is actually a suite of applications of varying degrees of accessibility and complexity. The desktop version of the program is installed in a number of the computer labs at Austin College. The web-based version, ArcGIS Online, is accessed through a browser. There are subscription-based organizational accounts, but also a free version that is referred to as a “public” account. Though some of the advanced analytic and visualization feature are only available via subscription, the free public account offers a quite robust set of features that is worth becoming familiar with. The Story Maps journal application is one such feature. However, there are many other ways that you can incorporate maps and spatially-referenced content into your teaching and research outside of the Story Maps platform. We’ll take some time in this week’s workshops for conversation and exploration of some possibilities.

Meanwhile, here’s a quick start guide on using ArcGIS Online with a free public account:

Creating Compelling Narratives with Story Maps

We continue September’s focus on spatial literacy and digital maps with an exploration this week of the “Story Maps” application from ArcGIS.

Story Mapsscreen-shot-2016-09-12-at-3-38-09-pm is a multimedia web mapping application that joins text, audio, video, photographs, and thematic and base map in a compelling environment that is perfect for communicating the results of any investigation from local to global in scale. It functions as both a content management system and a presentation platform for projects that incorporate maps and the layers of content that can be placed upon them. Story Maps can be used with any topic that references geographical coordinates or place-based information, which means that it has potential applications in practically every discipline of the academic curriculum.

Here at Austin College, English professor Tom Blake is incorporating the Story Maps platform into his ENG 331 course, “Global Middle Ages.” Tom is a Mellon grantee, and described the objectives for this project in his grant application:

My English 331: Global Middle Ages course in many ways will develop and expand DH assignments from previous courses. Serving as a global literature requirement for the English major, this course seeks to help students see medieval literature as less exclusively European and/or English and more global and cross-cultural. A core theoretical lens of this course is postcolonial theory, and a digital mapping project would imbue students with the tools to tell stories of international and cross-cultural transmission. Specifically, this course could benefit from a DH tool suited to highlighting through map and story the international journey of narrative.

In the past, I have used WordPress blogs effectively as a way for students to track medieval issues and themes to the modern day blending texts, images, and videos. However, Global Middle Ages presents unique challenges that would benefit from a more spatially and geographically oriented DH platform.

Tom’s students will be developing their projects according to the following guidelines (which he is still tweaking):

Tom’s students are just beginning to select their topics and to start the research process. We’ve introduced them to Story Maps Journal in an in-class presentation, and I’ll continue to work with the small groups as they build their projects. In the digital pedagogy workshops this week, I’ll highlight this application, and we’ll discuss the issues involved in developing this kind of assignment.

For now, to gain a sense of what Story Maps can do, browse this gallery of projects that have been created using its various templates. You can filter and search by topic to see projects across a range of subjects and scope. Story Maps has several different layouts; the one called “Story Maps Journal” is, to my mind, the most full-feature and is what I generally recommend for digital pedagogy projects. One example from the gallery that I like to point folks to for a demo is “The Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes.” As the project describes him,

Schultes – ethnobotanist, taxonomist, writer and photographer – is regarded as one of the most important plant explorers of the 20th century. In December 1941, Schultes entered the Amazon rainforest on a mission to study how indigenous peoples used plants for medicinal, ritual and practical purposes. He would follow in the tradition of great Victorian era explorers, spending over a decade immersed in near-continuous fieldwork. In total, Schultes would collect more than 24,000 species of plants including some 300 species new to science.

Story Map Journal projects are organized into distinct sections–you can think of them as slides, pages, modules, what have you–with each section composed of a “main stage” and a “side panel.” Each of these spaces can contain various forms of content. Typically, maps are presented on the main stage, and associated material–text, images, video, links, etc.–is presented in the side panel and associated with specific content on the map, such as a pinned location or a shaded region. The side panel can also contain links that trigger actions on the main stage; for example, zooming or panning the map, or opening a pop-up box with further information.

Here’s a screengrab from the Schultes project, showing a section of the story highlighting his initial forays into the northwest Amazon:


The map in the main stage is layered with markers showing the locations of Schultes’s important research expeditions and discoveries in the northwest Amazon. The side panel incorporates explanatory text and photos. I’ve clicked on one of the markers, which displays a pop-up panel with further information and links (which open in a new browser tab). At the far left you can see the basic navigation tool, allowing movement among the project sections; in addition, viewers can simply scroll down the side panel to advance the project.

Further in this same section of the project, the viewer can change the main stage view by clicking on, for example, “View Map of the Rio Negro Watershed.” The map zooms to the appropriate scale and region, and a shaded layer is turned on to indicate the desired area:


This project is a good example that uses maps created from contemporary cartographic renderings. In this case, the “National Geographic” layout was used as the base map to represent the regions in which Schultes carried out his explorations.

In other cases, projects may need to access maps from different historical eras, which obviously represent places according to the political and cultural realities of the times. For example, in the Story Maps Journal project, “Copernicus and His Universe,” an early 16th c. European map is used, quite appropriately, as the base map for visualizing important locations in the life and work of the Polish astronomer.


The then-current political situation is represented, along with stylized markers that open as pop-up boxes (clicking a link in the side panel text zooms the map and opens up a specific content box). Again, knowledge is constructed and presented in a visually rich way that helps students to consolidate their understanding of the geographic dimensions of the given topic.

In many cases, we may already have access to a map that might be useful in a project, but only in the form of an image file or a scan. That is likely to be the case especially with vintage and historical maps as well as other more unusual maps. Such images are limited in their applicability; they can be placed into a project, but cannot be dragged, panned, and zoomed like a true map file. In addition, they can’t be marked up with content layers, such as pins. Fortunately, there is a process called “georeferencing” that can be applied to these images to turn them into a map file. This would be analogous to using optical character recognition with a scanned text, which then makes that text editable, searchable, etc. There are online repositories (for example, Old Maps Online, The Dave Rumsey Map Collection, and The New York Public Library Map Collection) that contain both map images and georeferenced maps, many of which are open access, others of which may be licensed or purchased.

We envision that Tom’s students will be drawing on some of these resources for their historically-oriented projects. We look forward to presenting our own gallery of Story Map projects from the Global Middle Ages!

Using Google My Maps For Digital Stories

Google-Maps-Drop-PinTo start off digital mapping month at #ACDigPed, we’re learning about Google My Maps and thinking about how it can be used in digital pedagogy projects. Presumably, most all of you have used the basic Google Maps service with your mobile GPS or in your browser. However, you’re probably not familiar with My Maps and how it draws on, though is distinct from, the main Maps application. My Maps allows you to build a customized map with markers for points of interest and popups/side panels to let you add text and imagery connected to each site. So if you have a project in which you want students to become familiar with a set of locations and to build a knowledge base around those locations, My Maps is a user-friendly way to accomplish that. And the maps that you build connect back to the robust capability of Google Maps itself, with access to features such as street view, earth view, 3D perspective, geo-tagged image galleries, and more.

For an example of how My Maps is being used at Austin College, let’s take a look at a project that Terry Hoops is developing in his freshman seminar (C/I) class, Restless Wanderings. Musings on Travel and the Human Condition. The class is beginning the semester by reading Bruce Chatwin’s travelogue, In Patagonia. Terry and the class have identified some two dozen locations referenced by Chatwin for further investigation. The project description states that

Our aim, for this project, is to write as a class a travel guide to the geographical Patagonia that Chatwin wandered through and to the Patagonia in Chatwin’s narrative. We will do this using the Story Map program by ArcGIS. Here’s how we will do it: each group/partnership will select some of the places Chatwin visited and use Story Map to delve into Chatwin’s descriptions and stories. Your entries should give our readers some sense of the places Chatwin visited, and then, gleaning materials from Chatwin’s descriptions and stories, provide a sense of the significance the author gave to that place.

The class is using another mapping application, Story Maps Journal (about which more in the weeks to come) for the main project platform, but the base map is being developed in Google My Maps (and will then be embedded in Story Maps Journal).

The main view of the base map looks like this (you can check out the full interactive version here).

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 9.05.59 PM

Each site has a pop-up that zooms the map to the appropriate location and opens the corresponding side panel. So, for example, clicking on the second site, Viedma, takes us here:

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 9.17.28 PM

We’re in view mode here (not editing mode); you can see that the side panel has modules to add both textual description and photos/images. The map has basic zoom/pan controls and can be dragged and recentered. But notice also the “View in Google Maps” link in the panel; that allows us to easily access the full functionality of the main Google Maps application. Clicking on that link, and then choosing satellite view and opening the image gallery gives us this:

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 9.33.49 PM

Now we have access to resources such as geotagged images, street view, and 3D tilting, among others. Students can tap into this trove of assets to visually explore the location and to gain a better sense of its natural and human-made topography. These resources can then complement the further materials that students will construct based on their wider research of each location. Narratives and multimedia elements for this project will be combined with the My Maps base map in the Story Maps Journal platform, as noted above. As groups of students fill out detailed background for each location of Chatwin’s journey, the full story of his travels will come more richly into view. Follow along at the main Story Map project site.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 9.43.38 PM

So at this week’s workshop we’ll learn how to build a base map in My Maps and have some conversation about possible applications within our own disciplines.

Digital Pedagogy Fall Lineup

Autumn Leaves, by Luan Anh CC-BY-SA

This year AC Digital Pedagogy will once again offer regular (more or less weekly) workshops and sessions to provide opportunities for faculty, students, and staff to explore and experiment with digital resources. We’ve decided to try an approach in which we devote each month of the semester to a specific theme or topic around which our events will be organized. Here’s what is currently planned for the fall:

  • September:  “Geographical and Spatial Literacy–Using Digital Map Resources in Teaching and Learning”
  • October:  “3D Scanning, Modeling, and Printing–Introduction and Use Cases”
  • November:  “Digital Publishing Options and Opportunities”

We’re starting with digital mapping and geospatial literacy because there are already quite a number of faculty/student projects of that type. Terry Hoops’s C/I class has a strong digital story map component (about which see more below), Tom Blake and Randi Tanglen will be using digital maps in their literature courses, Lourdes Bueno is planning a map project in conjunction with an upcoming study abroad course in Spain, Don Rodgers continues to implement GIS in his community development courses, and the Psychology department  is interested in digital maps for a departmental project. And there are probably others that I’m leaving out here.

Our first workshop sessions will be Tuesday, September 6, at 4:30 pm, with a repeat on Friday, September 9, at 1:30 pm. Location is the Digital Pedagogy Studio (Abell 102). We’ll ease into the mapping theme with an introduction and exploration of Google My Maps. Then in succeeding weeks of September we’ll continue to critically examine and discuss the pedagogical opportunities of digital maps.

As always, we are flexible and welcome ideas and suggestions. If folks express interest in a topic, we’ll go there. Looking ahead to the spring, we’re thinking about monthly themes focused on topics such as games and learning, text mining and analysis, and a reading colloquium on critical digital pedagogy. Of course, any time you want to consult on any topic or issue related to digital pedagogy, Mo and Brett are available and ready to help.

As the new semester swings into full gear, the workshop series is just part of how the Digital Pedagogy initiative at Austin College continues to gather momentum. Thirty-three AC faculty are implementing digital pedagogy projects, practices, and applications in their courses, thanks to grants from the Mellon Foundation. Beyond this number, other faculty and students are exploring new ideas and activities that draw on digital resources. It’s particularly encouraging to have several of the freshman communication/inquiry courses incorporating practices such as student blogging and the creation of digital story maps. Introducing students to knowledge creation on the open web at the beginning of their college experience lays the groundwork for a deeper appreciation of what is coming to be known as the “digital liberal arts.” This is a term that a growing number of schools are using to describe their own initiatives in digital pedagogy and scholarship (see, among others, Whittier, Occidental, Middlebury, and Grinnell).

Among those C/I classes I would again note Terry Hoops’s course, “Restless Wanderings: Musings on Travel and the Human Condition.” Using a combination of Google My Maps and the ArcGIS Story Maps Journal platform, Terry’s students are building story mapping projects to more deeply interpret the travel writings of authors such as Bruce Chatwin (In Patagonia) and Che Guevara (The Motorcycle Diaries). For example, here is our initial map of key sites in Chatwin’s journey through Patagonia. This map will leverage the geo-tagged imagery and data associated with each site in Google Maps, and will then be embedded into a Story Maps Journal, where students will provide further narrative and visual content to enrich their understanding of Chatwin’s travels.

Another C/I using innovative digital pedagogy is Patrick Duffy’s Two Hundred Years of Solitude. Strange Tales from the Americas. All the students in the class have set up their own WordPress websites and are writing about texts such as Allende’s The House of the Spirits, Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Lispector’s The House of the Star. Having students make their work visible in a public networked space that they own, design, and manage enhances student agency and opens their work to connect and interact with authentic audiences. Furthermore, this course is using a WordPress feature that uses syndication to aggregate all the student blog posts back to the main course website. With each post tagged with appropriate categories, it thus becomes easy to pull together related content for reading, analysis, and comment.

Again, we hope your semester is off to a good start. Let us know how we can support your teaching and learning.


Mellon Digital Pedagogy Grantees, 2016-2017

Mellon-Logo-SquareWe’re happy to announce that ten Austin College faculty members have been awarded Mellon Digital Pedagogy grants beginning in the 2016-17 academic year. The awardees join twenty-three of their colleagues who received grants in the previous two years, with the result that one-third of AC faculty are now directly involved in the “Collaborative Pedagogies in the Digital Age” initiative. Of course, all faculty are involved to the extent that these projects serve as demonstrations and use cases for the entire college, and because the resources of the digital pedagogy designer (Mo Pelzel) and the digital pedagogy fellow (Brett Boessen) are always available to everyone in the AC community.

The new projects span a breadth of academic disciplines and ideas/practices for digital pedagogy. You can read the project proposals of the new grantees by following the links below:

To learn more about the projects of previous grantees, see these pages for the grant cohorts from 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Congratulations to our new awardees! We look forward to the innovative pedagogy and enriched learning that you will bring to the Austin College community.

Printing Protein Models

AC biochemistry professor Jim Hebda has been conducting research into alpha-B crystallin proteins. This week he and his summer research students are using the new 3D printer to create physical models of some of these protein structures. Here’s Jim with a brief description:

Alpha-B Crystallin is a protein that helps to prevent the formation of cataracts in the lens of the eye. Formation of dimers (chemical compounds with two structurally similar units–figure A) and higher order structures, or oligomers, containing 24 subunits or more (figure B), has been linked to the stability of the lens and its ability to keep other proteins there from aggregating and forming light scattering particles that lead to cataracts. This physical unit will allow students to better visualize the protein and the locations of the mutations we are engineering.

The 3D printed structure below was printed on the Ultimaker 2+ from the Protein Data Bank (PDB) file 3L1G for the dimer and the cryoelectron microscopy image EMD 1776. for the oligomer.The printed proteins in A and B are approximately 3x1x1 and 2x2x2 inches, respectively. The PDB file was converted to a biological dimer using ( Both protein structures were converted to a 3D .stl file using Chimera (UCSF), and then prepared for printing using the Ultimaker’s print slicing software, Cura.

In each of the following figures, a computer visualization of the protein structure is on the left, and the 3D printed physical model is on the right.

A. Alpha-B Crystallin Biological Dimer




B. Alpha-B Crystallin Large Oligomer

dimer1 dimer2










On the Make: 3D Printing Comes to #ACDigPed

A Roo keychain (hopping on a robot)

We’re happy to announce that our new 3D printer has arrived at Austin College. Thanks especially to the initiative and legwork of Tom Buttine, our institutional advancement colleague and entrepreneur-in-residence, and Brittany Derebery, also from institutional advancement, the Ultimaker 2+ has been purchased and set up in the Johnson Center Digital Pedagogy studio (Abell 102). Along with the Ultimaker, we’re also acquiring the EinScan Pro 3D handheld scanner, Rhino 5 2D and 3D modeling software, and other associated accessories. Next spring we plan to add the Glowforge laser cutter to our collection of fabrication resources. Funding is being jointly supplied by the Product Lab initiative and the Mellon Digital Pedagogies grant.

During the summer and into the fall we’ll be experimenting and learning more about what we can do with these tools and, more broadly, how we want to further develop makerspace and fabrication opportunities here at the college. One of the earliest posts on this blog, “Make Moody Hall a MakerSpace?,” broached the subject and included links to resources on campus fabrication ideas and facilities. There will be workshops and tutorials as we get up to speed and discover the possibilities for utilization across our curriculum. We have some preliminary use cases that interested faculty have described, and we welcome further input from faculty, staff and students for project ideas and suggestions. If you are a faculty member considering applying for our final round of Mellon Digital Pedagogy grants, you might want to think about projects that involve 3D printing and the resources and tools listed above. We’ll also be developing an operational guide to establish policies, procedures, and user guidelines. 3D printing is more expensive and time-consuming than regular printing, so we can’t just use that model to regulate things such as payment accounts and scheduling priorities.

You can see our first couple of “builds” above…the Ultimaker robot mascot, hopped on by a kangaroo keychain. ‘Roos over robots…