My digital pedagogy projects have been a wonderful opportunity for me to learn about and integrate digital technology into my courses. For the past four years, with the support of the Mellon Foundation, I have consistently incorporated digital platforms in my courses to enhance learning for my students, who need direction on how to constructively use digital tools for learning in the liberal arts. This funding has also contributed considerably to faculty development. In 2013, I used the web publishing platform Omeka as part of a digital humanities project entitled Mapping Cultures, which explored Tibetan cultural traditions and attempts to preserve those traditions. The project involved a collaborative venture with the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas, including the exhibit, “Taking Shape: Perspectives on Asian Bronzes.”
More recently, I am engaged in another project with my students, to study and analyze contemporary brushwork paintings by Japanese research biologist Iwasaki Tsuneo, who created images with the Chinese characters of the Buddhist text, the Heart Sutra. Once again, the project involves collaboration between Austin College and the Crow Collection. The exhibition, “Wisdom of Compassion: The Art and Science of Iwasaki Tsuneo (1917-2002)” is currently on display at the Crow, until June 11. I was able to bring these paintings to Dallas with the help of my co-curator, Dr. Paula Arai, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Louisiana State University. As part of this project, students in my classes on Buddhism (REL 110) and East Asian religions (REL 222) are analyzing Iwasaki’s paintings and using the web-authoring application Scalar to create digital-native presentations about these works that integrate various forms of textual and visual media. Scalar has allowed my students to experiment with inquiry-based and team learning activities and to create informative and persuasive presentations.
Although I have had to make adjustments to my original goals with the Heart Sutra paintings project (due to budget constraints from our collaborators in Dallas), it is still proving to be a very fruitful and rich experience. Although there was a learning curve to become familiar with the Scalar platform, the end result was never disappointing. In team-based projects in REL 110, students had to appoint fellow classmates to be in charge of a particular element of a project, to engage in peer evaluation, and to find ways to make projects cohesive. In the end, students also had to present their projects to their classmates and this generated very fruitful discussions and peer evaluations rather than isolated discussion of individual works. For their final exercise in the REL 222 course, students are connecting other works used in the course along with media materials to respond to the Iwasaki works.
Alongside work on a digital level, this semester I was able to organize exhibition-related events at both Austin College and the Crow Museum. This included a lecture by Professor Arai, who spoke about the works of Iwasaki Tsuneo; an inkbrush workshop where students learned about ink brush painting and the tradition of copying the Heart Sutra in the Buddhist tradition; and, finally, an enlightening panel by science faculty (Drs. Kelly Reed, David Whelan, Mari Ewing, and Don Salisbury) and humanities faculty (Drs. Scott Langton, Mindy Landeck), who responded to the Iwasaki works from their respective disciplines.
In addition to utilizing Scalar, this project has also involved the creation of three videos of the Iwasaki works and related events with the assistance of the media team at Austin College (Lynn Womble and AC student Nate Essin), as well as DHD films in Dallas. We produced an educational video (an exhibition at the CCAA Museum), a promotional video for Austin College (included interviews by AC students), and a taping of the science-humanities panel. The educational video will be used on a Scalar website that will be modeled on a recent project involving the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth entitled “Exhibitions Close Up—Bernini: Sculpting in Clay.” The site will include student projects from REL 222, and will also be used for future courses at Austin College. The promotional video will also be posted at the CCAA museum website. The panel video will be used for future courses and a copy will be kept in the AC Abell Library archival collection.
Mellon Foundation funding has led to rich learning experiences on the digital level for students, faculty, staff, and the public. Dr. Mo Pelzel, our digital pedagogy specialist, has been an invaluable resource during my project using Scalar and I hope that we can as an institution continue with his assistance and with funding for digital pedagogy in the near future.
Students engage in learning the digital program Scalar
Students apply traditional learning materials with multi-media in a digital platform
Students compare textual and visual materials
Students engage in collaborative, team-based learning
Dr. Shahid and I originally proposed to use SMART notebook software to create interactive lessons and to support students in creating interactive lessons in the proposed teaching areas in our Education 475 class. We also proposed to integrate iPads to make lessons more interactive as well. Our goal was to model pedagogies and tools being used in K-12 classrooms.
Since our update from last year, we have acquired all the hardware and software needed for the project. In the fall of 2016, Dr. Weems, Dr. Shahid, and I consulted with Dr. Pelzel and used Lynda.com to get more proficient with the SMART notebook software and interactive white board use. The learning curve for the software turned out to be steeper than anticipated so we are still in the process of learning how to create effective SMART lessons. In 2017-2018, I hope to implement our original goal of creating/using three interactive lessons.
Since attending digital pedagogies professional development opportunities and last year’s colloquium, my thinking on how and when to integrate digital pedagogies has evolved beyond one particular platform and course to thinking about the SAMR model associated with the work of Dr. Ruben Puentedura shown below and our ATP program as a whole.
In looking at our project through this lens, I realized that while the SMART notebook software will allow us to augment instruction by building interactivity into the PowerPoint slides we already use, there are educational apps that can reach the higher levels of the model and help us to “transform” rather than “enhance” teaching and learning. In trying to learn ways to reach these higher levels, I included attending an ed tech conference as part of my sabbatical plan. This provided me with funding to attend the Texas Computer Education Association Convention and Exposition in February of 2017.
The conference was one of the best educational conferences I’ve attended in my 17 years in education. As many of the attendees and presenters were associated with school districts, I was introduced to digital tools/apps that classroom teachers are using to transform their lessons. As our goal in using digital pedagogies in the teacher education classroom is to prepare our teacher education candidates for K-12 schools, this conference helped me see what our teacher candidates need to be prepared for managing a classroom of their own.
Short term goals
Some of the apps I hope to introduce my own teacher education students to in the near future include:
Nearpod. Allows for a presentation to include interactive, real-time questions.
Touchcast Studio. Easy, quick app for creating teacher or student videos; has a teleprompter function.
Longer Term goals
One of the main learnings from the conference was that a large number of districts are using Google Classroom as their information management system (similar to Moodle). It is important that we prepare our teachers for districts that will expect them to manage their courses through an online platform such as this. Moodle allows them to learn how to use such a system but we might want to give our candidates opportunities to design online assessments that can be administered and graded through Google Forms and to communicate and collaborate using tools such as Google Drive, Google Slides etc.
Our graduates will also be expected by the state teacher evaluation tool to teach with digital tools (i.e. educational apps) that engage learners in creating, not just consuming, digital content. I am thinking through how to best introduce our students to the skills and tools they will need without overwhelming them. After the conference I have been wondering how useful it might be to create opportunities for our ATP students to work on completing self-paced modules such as Google or Apple certifications together as preparation for their career and/or as a professional development opportunity once they are in the field. I am also thinking about what formats best foster learning about and using digital pedagogies. The AC Digital Pedagogies initiative has been helpful in thinking through the importance of choice/interest and scope in inspiring and sustaining continued learning and innovation.
I look forward to talking more with the department about how we can implement digital pedagogies in a way that will inspire and sustain K-12 teacher candidates in the ways the AC Digital Pedagogies Initiative has done for us.
When I received my digital pedagogies stipend three years ago, I intended to flip some content modules across the Chinese language instructional sequence. I created presentations explaining vocabulary and grammar patterns in Keynote, narrated them, and converted them to videos made available via Moodle for students to view before attending class. In class, instead of lecturing on vocabulary and grammar, we set about putting them to use in the task of communicating. It’s no secret that Chinese is a difficult language that lacks approachability for American college students: the flipped classroom was an attractive pedagogical intervention for giving students the gift of time to process the material. The videos I produced can be paused and replayed in ways that are impossible with live lecture. Here’s one example, “Telling Time in Chinese”:
Repurposing classroom time to supervised practice with the language boosted confidence in oral and aural skills and fostered greater creativity with usage. While the uninitiated might assume that learning to read and write Chinese characters is the greatest challenge to Chinese language learning, as an uninflected, tonal language, the oral and aural skills are unique from western languages and take the longest to cultivate. Chinese is hard—we’ve never going to get away from that. But the flipped classroom shifts much of the struggle to outside the classroom, leaving class sessions to the joy of learning to communicate in new ways.
The flipped classroom was paired with reduction of handwriting characters in favor of computer input. When you type in Chinese, you use pinyin, the Romanization of the sounds represented by the characters: typing “ni hao” yields 你好 (hello). As Chinese is a language of homophones (“shi” yields 是，市，事， 时，十, and the list goes on), computer input also promotes character recognition. I shifted written homework and quizzes to Moodle, which enabled immediate feedback:
Not only does this feedback prevent students from making the same mistake over and over, it develops their confidence with the language. Sometimes I don’t input every possible variant of a correct answer for grading. Students have the option within Moodle quizzing to flag answers they believe were erroneously marked incorrect. This has led to many productive conversations about the complexity of the language and greater depth to students’ understanding of usage.
Moodle also makes resubmission and retesting easy, and since I’m much more interested in where students end up than where they are at a given point in time during the semester, I have been able to develop a generous resubmission policy without adding much to my workload. Homework and quizzes have thus shifted from punitive exercises to facilitators of progress and ways of assessing that progress. I wouldn’t say my students like homework, but they sure complain a lot less about it.
Prior to this experiment, Chinese experienced a 15-20% drop rate, on par with national trends (it’s not me!). After implementation three years ago, that drop rate has reduced to 0-5%. I interpret this as a demonstration that these changes are indeed making the language more approachable. Since my belief that America is woefully unaware of China is a significant reason why I became a professor, this is perhaps the outcome of the experiment that I hold most dear.
Emboldened by the success of this experiment, I have begun a more thorough overhaul of the Chinese language instructional sequence. I have two major goals for this transformation: (1) immediately introduce authentic materials, and (2) instill students with greater confidence in approaching the language.
I have assigned to my advanced students the task of locating and annotating authentic materials for my introductory students as part of their coursework in CHIN 464: Teaching/Learning Practicum. In addition to building a repository of material, this arrangement also enables me as a one-person language program to provide opportunity for my advanced students to continue in the language.
To instill students with greater confidence in approaching the language, I have shifted to a project-based learning model, where students use their language skills to solve tasks. These assignments take on various forms, but what is relevant to my participation in the digital pedagogies grant are the assignments that require students to produce and subtitle videos. For example, the spring 2016 Chinese 102 class produced the video, “Chinese 102 Campus Tour”:
Enrollment is up and the drop-rate is down, which suggests that students are responding favorably to these changes. My students who have studied abroad after completing some or all of this curriculum report being much more confident interacting with the world outside their study-abroad campus than peers from other institutions, which is perhaps the most satisfying outcome of all.
In sum, what started as a simple flip has snowballed into an ambitious curriculum project that I will continue to pursue during my recently approved sabbatical in Spring 2018.
My English 331: Global Middle Ages course incorporated a DH project to help students understand medieval literature as less exclusively European and English and more global and cross-cultural. Story Maps is a DH platform that deploys maps as the nuclei of narratives. Junior and senior English majors selected, researched and mapped out cross-cultural topics like Victorian Medievalism, Monstrous Births, Medieval Folklore, and Medieval Literature and the U.S. Antebellum South. These projects helped highlight visually and narratively for students the international and cross-cultural scope of medieval literature through the interplay of text, image, video, map, and hyperlink.
For the project, students formed groups based on similar interests, set a research schedule, and met several scaffolding deadlines designed to encourage reading and research, familiarization with the Story Maps platform, and collaboration as a group. Groups used ARC-GIS mapping tools to trace out routes that varied between the dissemination of clusters of medieval narratives to slave routes to the paths travelled by authors of medieval travel narratives. At the end of the course, groups presented their findings to the class and talked about how these projects expanded the scope of medieval literature for them.
Part of my proposal involved my wish to frankly express both the successes and failures of this project. As a more ambitious digital project, this first iteration of Story Maps taught me several important things. Maps can certainly aid in students’ understanding of the scope of medieval literature, but many of the students reported most of their learning in the project came from student-directed research and writing rather than the technical aspects of creating the ARC-GIS maps. The largest impediment to the success of the project was creating the interactive map component of the Story Maps platform, and teaching groups how to implement the tools provided by Story Maps was essential. One notable setback was the discovery that progress could not be “saved” on Story Maps if more than one person was editing the map at the same time.
Nonetheless, students completed compelling assignments that helped broaden the scope of medieval literature. Many students re-assessed what they came into the course thinking about the Middle Ages. These projects helped broaden the impact and scope of medieval literature for the English majors who took the course. Diachronic cross-cultural projects like Victorian Medievalism and the impact of medieval literature on U.S. slavery helped students see how and why the Middle Ages have continued to matter, while global projects on monstrous women in medieval literature and medieval travel narratives helped students see the interplay between Christian Europe and the Near East while complicating Orientalist divisions of Christian West from Muslim East (indeed, no clean lines can be drawn between any kind of West or East in the Middle Ages).
Finally, the research conducted in Eng 331 led to the first Humanities poster in the ACSC this year incorporating the Story Maps project. The three participating students were able to situate their project on the impact of medieval literature on American practices of slavery in the fields of postcolonial studies, medieval studies, and digital humanities scholarship (no easy feat!). When I teach this course again, I may offer a curtailed mapping option and a purely narrative option.
My use of Story Maps Journal responds to my disciplinary training in socio-cultural anthropology, from which one learns that the lack of information about the world’s cultures is endemic among undergraduate students, but also to larger concerns about reading carefully and about writing in the more general liberal arts tradition. I designed my first use of this digital tool for my freshman seminar in the Fall of 2016, which focused on the role of travel as a human experience. I used Story Maps in two different projects in the class, each focusing on a different text and designed for a different purpose.
As I learned to use the program (and this took some time), I discovered a rich tool for a number of my anthropology courses, and expect to use it in several. Story Maps’s design facilitates the relating of geographical/cultural knowledge, textual analysis, writing and research. I find that space and place are often abstract concepts for students who are involved in the process of studying cultural diversity; this program forces them to examine place in a new way.
This program also serves as a canvas for examining narrative and text, doing research, and placing it in the context of a “cultural product” (a concept developed by Emily Clark, a graduate of AC and a professor of comparative religion at Gonzaga) rather than simply a “project.” The product is public, providing an audience beyond the confines of the classroom. This quality, its use of different types of digital resources, its authorship, make it very appealing to students. I found them to be enthusiastic about the writing and research using this resource. In this course I was able to use the program to work on two particular sets of academic skills students need: textual analysis/reading skills, and writing skills.
The first project focused on Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, a travel account of Chatwin’s journeys through the Argentine and Chilean Patagonia during the mid-1970s. Chatwin begins his travels by acknowledging that Patagonia is the land at the end of the earth, perhaps the safest place to be were there to be a nuclear holocaust. His interest in the place stems partly from its distance, its isolation, and the unfamiliarity of its landscape to the rest of the world, so part of our project was to give the students in the class some familiarity with this unknown terrain.
But Chatwin’s book is also a kind of anti-travelogue; he makes few references to the actual landscape he travels through, often on foot or begging rides from passersby. Instead, the habitats he passes through are infused with stories, and it is these stories that he tries to capture. It is, in fact, a particular form of literature focused on storytelling and characters that come out of the landscape. The aim of the project, then was twofold. First, to allow students to become familiar with the landscape Chatwin describes, by tracing his route and doing some research on the towns, sites, and settings he encounters, and to see how those places might have influenced his writing and his stories. Second, to encourage students to read the text with greater scrutiny, carefully paying attention to the writing itself.
Travel writing is particularly fraught with the treacheries of translation. Written in part to lead readers into unknown terrains and unique experiences, the author of travel texts must also find a way to allow readers to find the familiar in the unfamiliar, to locate themselves in relation to the writer’s experiences. A travelogue that provides no context, that doesn’t connect with the experiences of the readers, risks losing their attention. Chatwin is accomplished in this delicate dance, knowing that most of his readers have never visited the Patagonia, and yet captivating them with stories that they can connect to. Thus, Chatwin dances between references to historical figures and current conditions (like Eva Peron, the guerrilla warfare Argentina was experiencing at the time of the writing, the historical figure Juan Manuel de Rosas, etc.), all part of the landscape he was traveling through and about which his readers might or might not have been familiar, and the stories of people in this isolated strange place that have some universal core to the human experience. It is his language, ultimately, that connects the reader with the place.
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 Maps program by ArcGIS.
Here’s how we will do it: each group/partnership will select some of the places Chatwin visited and use Story Maps to delve into Chatwin’s descriptions and stories. Your entries should give our readers some sense of the place Chatwin visited, and then, gleaning materials from Chatwin’s descriptions and stories, provide a sense of the significance the author gave to that place. As you create your entries you might think of some of the following questions:
What have you learned about the place Chatwin has visited (I want you to explore this a bit), what are some of the impressions you have about this place (whether or not it conforms to Chatwin’s descriptions), and what characteristics of that place does he highlight or describe and fold into his narrative? What motivates him to select this place? By the way, how did he get there, and from where?
Who are the characters he meets along the way? How does he describe them, and how are they connected to the place? In what ways are they “wanderers” themselves?
What knowledge does Chatwin bring with him to give him insight into the locations or places he visits (he often visits a place to fill in stories that he already knew about)? On the other hand, what does learn when he visits the place and encounters the characters of the place?
Many of Chatwin’s stories are about past events. What connections does Chatwin make between the past and the present in his descriptions?
What techniques does Chatwin use both to engage you in his travels to that place and to engage you in his story?
Your entries should be one or two page thoughtfully written essays that may incorporate other materials like photos, links to videos and maps. Remember, the aim is to provide the reader of our guide a sense of what Chatwin is up to. You will be evaluated on the how well you capture both the characteristics of the place and more importantly, how well you capture a sense of what Chatwin is attempting to convey.
The second Story Maps project focused on Ernesto Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries, a travel diary written during the young Che Guevara’s travel up the spine of Latin America as a medical student. This project examined the entries in the text critically, asking students to see what in the natural and social landscape had helped radicalize the diarist. A map was drawn of all the locations Che and his companion Alberto Granados had experienced during their 6 month journey. Students were to select one of those sites and examine Che’s entry against the past and current reality of the site.
Travel is often described by its practitioners as a transformative experience. Long-term travelers point to the gradual letting go of long held expectations and habits, learning new perspectives, developing new values; travel experiences often combine the processes of “letting go” and allowing new orientations to take root. Some travel with this purpose in mind (it’s a favorite theme of travel writers); in other cases the “conversion” comes unintentionally and without warning. Certainly this was the case of Che Guevara, who as a young medical student, embarked on continental motorcycle trip. Who could have foreseen that this traveler, a member of Cordoba’s landed gentry, a kind of serious young careerist, would become a world renowned revolutionary fighter and theoretician?
In later life, Che recognized this journey as a transformative experience, the beginning of his investiture in revolutionary causes; as he edits his diaries he states: “The person who reorganizes and polishes [these notes], me, is no longer, at least I’m not the person I once was.” Patrick Symmes (Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend), who retraced Che’s trip, noted in his book: “Every long journey overturns the established order of one’s own life, and all revolutionaries must begin by transforming themselves.”
In this project we are going to look at landscapes that Che traveled through and examine what about his experiences in those places might have contributed to his transformation. Each member of the class will select a leg of the trip and write an “interpretive essay” examining two things that about that part of the trip:
First, drawing on the diaries themselves, think about how Che might have experienced and seen what he saw on that leg of the trip. In other words, drawing on his own reflections, think about how he might have experienced that stage of the journey. You might think as well about how Che reacts in his diary to these experiences, and what that might tell you about “who he was” at that moment.
Second, what about this leg of Che’s trip might have stirred his rising consciousness about social conditions in Latin America. What do you see in this landscape that might have nudged him in that direction?
Your interpretive essay should be no more than a page in length, and placed on our Story Map program. I’d like you to be creative and convincing in writing your Story Map entries. Each entry will be evaluated on the quality of its writing, on the quality of explorations both into Che’s account and into the landscapes he passes through, and on its creativity.
For the Digital Mellon initiative I proposed the addition of a 3-D design and printing component to all of my presently listed course offerings. Implementation of the project has been slow. In June of 2016 I attended a workshop that was an introduction to 3D digital scanning and printing technologies at “Creating in Cahoots” maker’s lab in McKinney, TX. In this workshop we received an abbreviated tutorial covering scanning printing and shaping software as well as open source options. Additionally we had tutorials in using Sculptris and Tinkercad, and introductions to Netfabb, Meshlab, and Skanect. We then proceeded to hands on training in 3D scanning using the Skanect system and the iSense scanner. Inspired by this workshop I decided to use these techniques in my classroom this spring as the first step in the introduction of digital technologies.
In fall of 2016 I began with some select students to produce small projects in order to familiarize myself with the technologies as well as to get programs loaded on our classroom computers. Working with a selected student, we used Tinkercad to produce a “chop” or signature stamp for ceramics class. We couldn’t get his design to print because the foundation architecture was not developed in a way that the printer could understand. We then simplified the process and drew the design for the chop as a vector file, then saved it as a .svg and opened it in Blender. We converted the .svg file to a mesh file and extruded it into a three-dimensional shape. This process was pretty accessible for all students and I had plans to use this as my first 3D assignment. Unfortunately because of our department staffing I didn’t teach the spring ceramics course and instead taught an introductory art course where this assignment didn’t fit.
For my sculpture class in spring 2017 we decided to conduct a digital version of the surrealist artist and writers exercise, “The Exquisite Corpse.” The Exquisite Corpse is a game where multiple participants, each without knowledge of the previous composition, compose either a drawing or poem; these works are then collectively assembled as a new unique composition. Our sculpture class divided into groups of three, and each group scanned one member’s head, another member’s torso, and a third member’s legs. The idea behind Exquisite Corpse is to move beyond conscious bias and inhibitions in order to create something new by letting the subconscious and serendipity take over the creative process.
This assignment seemed to be an ideal introduction to digital technologies for my non-technical students. The project is designed to be fun and the students enjoyed the scanning and planning process. The compositional part was a bit more taxing. Student groups were able to learn basic 3-D scanning and manipulating processes that culminated in a finished work that was printed with the Ultimaker 2+. Students worked to learn scanning with 3-D imaging and then manipulated body regions with the open source program Blender. These models were then printed and processed. These PLA products will be used as forms in the lost wax casting method, with plans to form them in bronze with a centrifugal casting process. I will also develop a file to be sent to a commercial fabricator, Shapeways, to better understand and to price prints made in more durable and aesthetic media.
In the future, digital design and printing will be a tool for prototype in advanced studio and an introductory feature in my fundamentals assignments. In Art 255, Ceramics, I plan to have students use Sculptris, an introductory modeling program that allows users to manipulate a 3-D model. These models can then be printed as a maquette. Students will critique work before continuing on to produce a full-scale version in clay. In Art 252, Sculpture, I will have students design using Tinkercad and Blender. Students will then be able to print maquette and proceed to fabricate the sculpture with steel or even direct cast in bronze.
Projected Student Outcomes
Introducing new technology into the classrooms. The art world is abundant with media forms; there is literally nothing off limits. Introducing digital media to our students as a critical component of art making will expand their understanding of the 21st centuryvisual vocabulary. With the pending addition of new faculty in our department, these beginning steps toward becoming digital versant will represent a foundation to build new initiatives.
Foster collaborative learning. Many tired project scenarios feature collaborative work. Updating our classroom to include 3-D printing will bring a new energy and excitement to the collaborative artistic practice.
Artists creating better products. Building maquettes or drawing initial designs are often given short shrift by student artists. Product prototyping will result in a more deliberate and aesthetically rich final product.
Bridge the divide. The myth of emotive creativity is pervasive in young artists; planning and structure are not universally valued. Students will better understand that drafts and revisions are a key factor in art making.
Considerations and Concerns
I was surprised by the considerable print time of 6-8 hours that even our small prototypes required to finish. For a class of 22 students, printing similar files would take two weeks of consistent print time and monitoring. If multiple classes were attempting to print, wait times would be significant. This could be resolved if students were given responsibility for printing files from a commercial shop, though to many students the extra cost might dissuade them from getting a project completed.
The scanners that we currently use don’t render much detail and are not sufficient for close up work. In addition to better scanners, we need more of them. Currently we use an iSense scanner that is on loan from the digital pedagogy design office. The art department also purchased a X-Box camera that is able to interface with the Skanect software. While this camera produces really interesting textural files, is very bad at details.
Our digital pedagogy project integrated AutoCAD, 3D printing, and Arduino technologies in courses for both physics pre-engineering majors and non-science majors. The central pedagogical approach was project-based learning using creative technology. Students were actively engaged in the design, construction, and testing of innovative products and solutions: Smartphone Sound Amplifier (RooBoost), a comfortable handle for cold 12-ounce aluminum cans (Can-dle), and an Infrared Touch Surface. This initial use of 3D Printing and Arduinos in our curriculum may serve as a precursor for a broader maker space at Austin College.
Digital Design for Engineering Students
PHY 281, Statics and Engineering Design, was offered for the first time in Fall 2016. In this course, pre-engineering students designed a small bridge using AutoCAD software, built the bridge with popsicle sticks, and tested the prototype under physical stress and strain. This introductory design process prepared them for the main event: designing their own product to solve a real-world problem. Using an iterative design process, students modeled their product in AutoCAD and produced prototypes using the Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer.
This course helps fill a void in our pre-engineering program: a need for authentic, meaningful engineering design applications. Roughly one third of our physics majors pursue a career in engineering. Although many of our physics courses have an applied focus, Statics and Engineering Design is the first course at Austin College to be designed specifically for engineers.
Inventions with Arduino for Non-Science Majors
In the Jan Term course Arduino Microcontrollers, non-science major students used the C++ computer language to program Arduino microcontrollers. An Arduino consists of a programmable circuit board (called a microcontroller) and software that runs on an external computer that is used to control the microcontroller. The circuit board can interact with other electronic circuits and make LEDs light up, motors turn, piezo motors buzz, LCDs display text, and so on.
No prior experience was necessary. The January term students built eight projects involving Arduinos and demonstrated them to visitors outside the Austin College cafeteria in late January. The projects were highlighted in our recent blog post, “Physics and Fun in JanTerm.”
By teaching Arduino Microcontrollers this Jan Term, we were able to see where a similar regular-semester course may fit into our future offerings. The students had a variety of backgrounds: computer science majors who had programming experience, physics majors who were familiar with electrical circuits, and students with a general interest in Arduinos. Working in teams, they were able to take advantage of their complementary skills. We plan to incorporate Arduino activities in our PHY 230 Electronics course (an elective for majors and minors). Some computer science students showed an interest in taking Electronics in the future. A separate course for non-science majors will still need to be made available, perhaps in Jan Term.
Long Term Plans—Maker Space
Implementation of these technologies in the classroom—along with an inquiry-based pedagogical approach in which students can pursue their own interests—has reinforced for us the need for a maker space at Austin College. Maker spaces at other universities often include CAD software, 3D printers, and Arduino labs. Our pilot study here could serve as the springboard for a future maker space on campus.
For example, two of the three students that invented the RooBoost have continued their product design in an Austin College course called Product Lab. In this entrepreneurial course, students are learning how to pitch their idea, raise money through crowdfunding, and launch their product rapidly. Our engineering students would not have taken advantage of the Product Lab opportunity without the Statics andEngineering Design experience. The availability of AutoCAD and 3D Printing opened new doors for them.
A campus-wide maker space would provide exciting opportunities for even more of our students. We envision a space in which students, regardless of major, could design and innovate. Perhaps they have already taken a course in a specific area such as engineering, art, or computer science. Or perhaps students have developed an idea on their own, completely outside of the normal curriculum. Recently, computer science students have expressed an interest in developing a robotics club. The maker space would allow them to tap into their inventive spirit.
The digital project in my Spanish 236 course bridges two main components of the class: literary analysis and advanced Spanish grammar. Classroom Salon (CS) provides a digital space where these two elements are combined in a cohesive and engaging way. It also allows students the opportunity to engage in course material beyond the usual mechanical grammar practice and the traditional literary analysis assignments.
For the project, students spent the first part of the semester working on their own creative works (a story or a poem), employing similar styles, techniques, and literary tropes of the authors we studied in class. Then students uploaded their works to our Span 236 account in Classroom Salon. Students were assigned the task of analyzing their classmates’ works by 1) giving examples and explaining the uses of specific grammar points in each work—por/para, preterite/imperfect, subjunctive, and ser/estar; and 2) writing a fifty word analysis of their peers’ works, including discussion of literary tropes, language, tone, imagery, etc., as we had done in analyzing the works of Hispanic authors in class.
With this digital project I learned that students are more receptive to course assignments and more focused on the work at hand in the CS platform than in analog formats. The use of a collaborative digital space, where students review each other’s work, seems to creates an environment of accountability and an eagerness to do a better job with the assignment. The greater audience in the digital space is a good motivator, and students seem to put more effort into the digital project than in the more traditional assignments collected in class. The space for commentary and annotation also allows students the freedom to express and share their ideas in an interactive environment. This approach has proven to be especially effective for the quieter students in the class who may feel embarrassed to speak during oral discussions (especially since the class is conducted entirely in Spanish).
In addition, I’ve also found that students were very comfortable with the digital environment and that interacting in CS was natural and enjoyable for them. They are a product of the digital era and their ease in navigating through some of the more cumbersome aspects of CS was impressive. CS is also a good tool for managing assignments and tracking student activity. Assignments are easy to upload, store, and find. The user analytics component of CS provides charts and graphs of class activity, student commentaries, and my responses. I’m able to keep track of when and how long students are active, the length of their responses, and if any questions were asked or answered in each task.
Using CS as a digital platform makes course content, assignments, documents, and videos more engaging and exciting. It provides a space for real-time, interactive assignments that result in more deliberate student involvement, an enriched class environment, and successful student learning outcomes.
There is a new version of Classroom Salon that was launched recently. While the old version is still in use, there will no longer be technical support for it. I hope to explore this updated platform in the future.
The objectives of the digital project in this course are to engage in listening, comprehending, transcribing, and translating language in a very familiar online platform: Youtube video. The first stage of the project involved recording interviews with Chinese and Japanese immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, in México and Perú. I completed this task during a faculty sabbatical in the spring of 2016. Then in the Spring of 2017, the digital recordings of these interviews were divided into four segments and distributed to four corresponding student groups in the Spanish 481 Senior Seminar course on Asian Immigration in Latin America.
Each group then worked with their interview to select a five minute segment from which to create a digital story. Each story required the integration of images and graphics to help convey meaning, as well as the transcription of the audio in Spanish and its translation into English. Students used iMovie or other video production applications to match the audio timeline with a sequence of visual images and photos. The video was then uploaded it to YouTube, and students used the captioning tool in YouTube to create the transcription in Spanish and the translated English subtitles. The videos shown here are a first draft and will be edited to correct some errors in visual material and Spanish and English texts.
This project gives students the opportunity to engage with exclusive authentic material in the target language. In addition, it encourages them to see the real world relevance of these contemporary voices and to present their own interpretation and visualization of excerpts of these immigrant stories on an easily accessible media outlet. Thus, it adds hands-on experience to the readings and video materials in the course, bringing to life stories from these communities. Moreover, the work of transcription and translation helps students to further hone their skills in listening, comprehension, writing, and interpretation in the target language.
Throughout the process of integrating this digital project into my course, I have learned that the students are quite adept at working with these materials and require little guidance outside the initial explanation and demonstration provided in one class period. They engaged readily with the target language material and accomplished the arduous work of transcription and translation, adding their own visual interpretation of the audio text. The knowledge that they were the only ones with access to these stories, and that they were tasked with making them understandable and compelling for a wider audience, seems to have motivated the student groups to be creative in their visualization while remaining faithful to the audio story.
In practical terms, I have learned that an additional class period for them to work on the words they are not sure they are hearing correctly would diminish the amount of time required for editing later. Also, a review of the images may help to lessen the amount of editing of visual material.
The creativity involved in the process of conveying an audio recording in a visual and textual format has proven especially motivating for the students. Each group expressed a different visual style and included distinct elements in their storytelling. Yet, the direct human presence in these voices brings them to life and conveys a responsibility to represent them faithfully, encouraging the student groups to work together and pay attention to detail. Both of these elements (creativity and responsibility) guided the collaboration and yielded a better intellectual product.
In sum, the immediate relevance of the end product, presented in a digital format with which the students are quite familiar (YouTube video), heightened the motivation for collaboration, creativity, and faithful representation in a way that I believe would be hard to replicate in a more traditional written format. Indeed, I found the students to be more enthusiastic and willing to work in groups in this digital project than with other written and discussion assignments. This in itself is a result that illustrates the value of digital projects in the Austin College classroom.
My project has been to redesign the BA 495 Strategic Management capstone course into a simulation-based management training program that integrates and reinforces knowledge and skills learned in courses of the core business curriculum. I have successfully implement the first iteration of the project in Fall 2016, providing students with an enhanced business strategy simulation experience enriched with a series of value-added activities and assessment. I am now implementing an improved version of the simulation in Spring 2017 based on feedback from students who participated in the first version.
The simulation software used in my course is called Marketplace Live Simulation (MLS). This is a web-based, large-scale, full-enterprise simulation interface offered by Innovative Learning Solutions, Inc. MLS has been used for corporate executive training programs in a variety of businesses around the world, such as Coca Cola, FedEx, Delta Airlines, Walmart, and IBM. The Mellon Foundation digital pedagogy award allowed me to work on the customization and adoption of MLS for business majors at Austin College. Our students are now learning with a management training tool that is widely used in real-life corporate management training.
The simulation employs a competitive market environment in which students build a business from the ground up to enter the microcomputer industry. The teams are tasked with introducing a new line of microcomputers into several international markets. MLS offers different difficulty levels for the simulated market environment. In Fall 2016, I used a market environment involving six decision rounds, three customer segments, and four geographic regions. This was my first semester at Austin College and I had little idea about the caliber of business students at the college. I started with a standard difficulty level in and planned to lower it, if necessary, in future iterations. However, observing how well students handled the decision making process in the simulation, I upgraded the difficulty to a very high level in Spring 2017. Students now interact in a market environment that involves eight decision rounds, five customer segments, and twenty geographic markets. A fifteen-minute overview of the simulation’s decision content is accessible at the MLS website.
The simulation requires students to form executive teams consisting of four or five members. Within each team, students work as the Vice Presidents of specific functional areas. Throughout the decision rounds, they conduct market analyses, evaluate the strategic position of the firm, and make tactical decisions with regards to product design, R&D, manufacturing capacity, production processes, inventory management, human resource management, sales channel planning, advertising, and financial accounting. They are required to adjust strategies and tactics in response to uncertainties arising from the market environment, the consequences of their own decisions, and the actions of competing teams. The goal is to achieve strategic dominance in the marketplace that is measured by a balanced scorecard within the simulation.
I conducted executive briefings on a weekly basis. Each team meets with me for about fifteen minutes to discuss and justify the decisions that they are planning to make for the decision round. These sessions trains students in professional meeting preparation and management and allow me to monitor the critical thinking process of each student. I challenge the students’ thinking by looking for inconsistencies in their analyses and decisions. I do not indicate the correct decision to make, but try ensure that students have considered the relevant issues related to their strategic and tactical decisions. In Fall 2016, executive briefing sessions were conducted orally, and I used a rubric to evaluate whether students can think on their feet and respond to questions and challenges in a thoughtful, confident manner.
To emphasize the development of business writing skills, I have implemented a executive memo requirement for Spring 2017. Students are now required to justify their decisions both orally and with a two-page executive memo. I have now also developed a rubric for the written memos, assessing the student’s ability to thoughtfully present his/her tactical decisions based on a concise analysis of the market environment as well as a consideration of how these decisions will impact the firm’s overall strategy. Both the oral and written rubrics measure student performance along the dimensions of Depth of Understanding, Breadth of Understanding, and Management by the Numbers.
At the middle of the simulation exercise, students are required to prepare a business plan and present it to independent judge(s) who serve as venture capitalist(s). I am currently working with one independent judge for the business plan presentation. However, I have plans to involve two judges in future. With his extensive business experience, Mr. Charles Curtis, Executive Director of Information Technology at Austin College, has been a great resource person to play the role of the venture capitalist. I am thankful to Mr. Curtis for his willingness to take part in this exercise. Business plan presentation is a comprehensive and complex assignment. Students develop a formal strategy involving detailed tactical plans and pro-forma financial projections for the next four decision rounds. In Fall 2016, the PowerPoint presentation, tactical plan, and pro-forma financial statements served as the business plan. To emphasize writing, I have added a five-page written business plan component in Spring 2017. To maintain tactical confidentiality, each team presents their business plan in a closed-door meeting with the venture capitalist. Teams answer questions and try to persuade the investor that they are worthy of a full investment. After listening to all presentation, the investor then decide how much to invest in each company.
For Spring 2017, I have added a follow-up negotiation meeting with the investor. In these meetings, the investor (i.e., Mr. Curtis) met with each team separately to discuss the plan in more detail and negotiate an investment amount. The business plan preparation serves as an important tool for the development of the students’ ability to think broadly and deeply about their business. The purpose of the follow negotiation meetings is to give students a hands-on experience with business negotiation process. Students faces the challenge of learning how to ask for money, justify its use with a credible plan, and convince a critical investor. I have developed rubric for assessing students’ performance in presenting their business plan. The rubric cover thirteen performance dimensions. Students receive a copy of the rubric and we discuss it in class to make sure that expectations are fully understood.
At the end of the simulation, the venture capitalist is invited back to class. Teams present a final report to the investor about their business performance. They must look in the eye of the person from whom they took money and be accountable for their actions and performance. It is often uncomfortable in real life to report performance outcomes that fall short of promises. Student go through similar experience as part of the simulation. I have also developed grading rubrics to evaluate final presentation performance. The final report rubrics covers thirteen performance dimensions and also focusses on the assessment of lessons learned from the simulation.
I used a sports-like draft process to form teams in Fall 2016. The simulation business environment is highly competitive and students are required to keep corporate information confidential. Since the size of the student population is relatively small at Austin College and most students personally know each other, maintaining business confidentiality proved to be challenging. I even had students who were roommates, but placed on competing teams. They reported that it took conscious effort to refrain from discussing the simulation due to a fear of unintentional disclosure of corporate secrets. As a result, there was some effect on the openness of the conversations that they had previously enjoyed. Based on feedback, I changed the team formation process to a peer interview-based model in Spring 2017 to allow students more flexibility in choosing teams.
The peer interviewing process was an engaging experience for students. Most students reported that it was their first experience of sitting on the employer’s side of the table in a job interview, and it gave them an opportunity to reflect and evaluate their own job interview skills as candidates. However, some students used this opportunity to recruit friends or relationship partners in simulation teams. Teams that formed based on personal relationship are currently struggling to perform well. Since friends within a team tend not to challenge each other’s thoughts, peer scrutiny is relatively weaker in these teams, and as a result the quality of the decision making is poorer. I now realize that it is necessary to teach students the importance of keeping personal life and work life separate.
To integrate knowledge gained in other courses is one of the top learning objectives of this course. Evaluation of oral executive briefings and written executive memos show that students struggle to demonstrate cross-functional knowledge in early stages of the simulation. The average score on the breadth of understanding for the first four decision rounds in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 combined was 1.94 on. a 4-points scale, where 2 is the benchmark for satisfactory rating. Students generally lack the understanding of how decisions made in a specific functional area are tied into the overall strategy of the firm. In the later part of the simulation, the breadth of understanding score increases to an average 3.2, where 3 is the benchmark of effective rating. This indicates that the simulation promotes better decision making by helping students see how their decisions can affect the performance of others and the organization as a whole.
A strong group dynamic is at the core of the simulation exercise. Students are provided with an opportunity to work within a group context where group performance is a major determinant of final grades. I allow teams, under my careful supervision, to fire non-performing team members. If a student is fired from a team, he/she receives significant grade penalty and is required to complete the whole simulation on his/her own. In Fall 2016, one student was fired from their team and eventually had to drop the course due to increased workload. This challenging conditions tends to remove the barriers between the individual students and motivate them to become colleagues by creating a shared space that emphasizes care, trust, and commitment.
Instructors interested in developing simulation-based course should keep in mind that the changing market environment makes each iteration of the simulation unique. As a result, course preparation takes a significant amount of time as instructors will need to evaluate market condition faced by each team to be able to contribute during the executive briefings.
Simulation-based pedagogy offers an experiential learning process that emphasizes repeated action, reflection, accommodation, and testing. This process allow students to refine their knowledge and developed business skills. As such, simulation based-pedagogy can be implemented in any business courses. In the future, I am planning to extend simulation-based pedagogy at Austin College with a Jan Term course targeted to non-business majors. This will create hands-on experiential learning opportunity for non-business majors to develop an understanding of business with a fun, intro-level business simulation.