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…


April Digital Pedagogy “Unworkshop”

OK folks, it’s time for our April Final Friday Faculty Unworkshop. As I noted in an earlier post, we’re trying an “unworkshop” model once a month this semester. The idea is to provide a time and place where faculty and staff can propose projects, issues, and topics to discuss and work on in a collaborative setting, without a pre-planned agenda. Is there something related to digital pedagogy (which we interpret very broadly) that you would like to explore, hack, tinker with, and talk about? Perhaps we haven’t piqued your interest with any of our regular workshop topics, or maybe the time hasn’t been right. Think of this as an opportunity to share ideas and learn from one another in a relaxed and convivial space.

Brett and Mo will be on hand to facilitate and coordinate during the afternoon. If you have something in mind that you’d like to pursue, we encourage you to comment on this post and let us and your colleagues know what you’re interested in. That would give us a bit of a heads-up for our brainstorming. Then on Friday, in the Johnson Center studio space (Abell Library 102), we’ll take the first few minutes to solicit further ideas and then sketch out a plan for the afternoon. Everyone can teach and learn from each other. We’ll start at 1:30 and be available until about 4:30 or so …. feel free to come and go as you wish or drop in for a while, whatever your schedule permits.

So drop some ideas in the comment section below, and join us this Friday afternoon.

Better Reading Through Annotating: An Anthropology Example

“This class would be a lot less fun without”
—–student comment about “A History of Anthropological Thought”

At the recent conference for Mellon Digital Pedagogy grantees at Austin College, Brian Watkins, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, presented his project on digital annotation in the anthropology classroom. In his update posted prior to the conference, Brian briefly described the project and reported a largely positive experience to date:

My project has been to implement digital annotation software ( into my upper level course in anthropological theory. Though the semester is far from over, I can say that it’s going better than expected. For every day in class, I have assigned short and challenging texts by significant figures in the history of the discipline and which are relevant for my plan for that day. Using, each student must make three annotations to those texts prior to class. After a few days of mostly linking certain concepts to wikipedia articles, the students have started to engage the texts and each other, and happily, it spills over into class.

I have been bringing some of those comments into class to provoke the same kind of discussion. I’ll say that I have never had a group of ten students go so deeply into discussion about Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society or Malinowski’s Kula text. The challenge in class so far has been to reign in the discussion and re-orient it toward the theoretical content. In the past, such discussions have generated only an unfocused smattering of commentary. Some early indicators:

  • Every student in the class is so far meeting the standard set by the assignment.
  • Within the last month, students have begun to debate points between themselves on, even if it takes them beyond the three annotation requirement.
  • Student performance on the first exam has been better than in previous years, though these exams do not test the same close reading practices exactly. Rather, the close reading practices may be enriching student understandings of the theoretical content of the various authors.

Here are a couple of screenshots from Brian’s class that demonstrate annotation in action. The side panel toggles open and closed, while the annotated sections passages of the main text are highlighted (student names are redacted to preserve privacy):


Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 6.10.31 PM


As the semester began, Brian provided students with a set of guidelines and instructions, explaining why students would be using social reading and annotation, and how to use the platform. He did not provide specific prompts to which students should respond, but rather described in general terms the kind of substantive and constructive annotations–questions, commentary, responses, close reading, contextual references–that would be required. This gave students the latitude to develop various forms of engagement with the texts.

The annotations provided Brian with diagnostic information about student reading practices and modes of textual engagement. Students are making important connections among different authors and texts, and even among different disciplines. Questionable interpretations become opportunities for deeper analysis and discussion. Sometimes, the difficulty and challenge of a passage leads students to share their frustrations with one another. At other times, students adopt a playful attitude to the text, riffing on a passage with creative improvisation. Most importantly for this class, Brian is seeing evidence that students are making new insights into the world of anthropological theories.

Colleagues at the conference were intrigued by the project and proposed several interesting observations and questions. There is extra class prep work involved in reading the annotations, but it’s a relatively small class and the benefits seem well worth it. Brian does not grade the annotations as such, but does a weekly audit to check if the work has been done and sends reminders to those who still need to complete the requirements. There are in all twenty-two texts to be read and annotated, so there was some concern about the repetitiveness of the annotation task, although one person observed that this could be an advantage for the students as they gain practice and skill over the course of an entire semester. Another question was whether the next iteration of the class will read the annotations of this current group of students. The benefits of such a cross-semester collaboration would have to be weighed against the value of having the new group of students approach the texts in a fresh form without being influenced by previous comments and markups.

If you are interested in exploring how digital annotation with could enhance your course, you can chat with Brian or me about the details of implementation.


Call for Proposals: Mellon Digital Pedagogy Grants, Round 3

Mellon-Logo-SquareWe are now inviting proposals from Austin College faculty for the next round of the Mellon Digital Pedagogy grant program. These grants provide faculty with the funding, consultation, and support to augment their courses with digital applications, tools, content, and connections.

Here is the application form with further details. Stipends are $5,000 for the development of a digitally enhanced course that will be offered three times between 2016 and 2023.

At present, there are 23 faculty grantees. You can peruse their applications and project updates at the Mellon Foundation Grant section of the Digital Pedagogy@Austin College website. I am sure that any and all current grantees would be happy to discuss their experience with potential applicants. Of course, you can also contact Mo Pelzel, Brett Boessen, and Patrick Duffey for questions and guidance in preparing your application. Let us know how we can help you become a part of this innovative program.

Applications will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • does the narrative make a persuasive case that student learning will be enhanced by the proposed project?
  • does the project involve strategies, practices, applications, and tools that lend themselves to being more widely shared among AC faculty?
  • is there clear potential for the project to build over time, incorporating feedback and further development from one iteration to the next?
  • does the project invite collaboration with colleagues in the department, in the division, across campus, and/or beyond campus?
  • does the project promote active student learning and student knowledge production and creation, preferably in an open networked learning environment?
  • is the project feasible and realistic?

The deadline to apply is Friday, June 10, 2016. Applicants will be notified of their status no later than June 30.

Now Hear This: Podcasting for Teaching and Learning

PodcastsScreenshot_2016-04-15-12-07-52 are having a moment. The Economist magazine declared 2016 “The Year the Podcast Came of Age.” New York magazine recently asked, “What’s Behind the Great Podcast Renaissance?” And the New York Times just announced a couple of weeks ago that they are launching a new digital audio/podcast endeavor. Why, with the dominance of video and social media in the last decade, are podcasts enjoying a resurgence? Are there implications and opportunities here for teaching and learning?

Digital audio is hardly a recent phenomenon, and podcasting itself has been around for a good fifteen years. It make seem like the distant past to some, but there was a time when the iPod, after its 2001 debut, was the device of choice on college campuses and beyond. The first wave of podcast enthusiasm was driven by the relative ease of creating spoken word audio files coupled with the distribution and subscription system of iTunes and other applications. By 2005, thousands of podcasts were being created, and colleges and universities started handing out iPods to freshmen and exploring the pedagogical potential of podcasts. In his 2005 article, “There’s Something in the Air: Podcasting in Education,” Gardner Campbell pondered how and why a liberal arts community could make use of the new medium:

There is magic in the human voice, the magic of shared awareness. Consciousness is most persuasively and intimately communicated via voice. The voice is literally inspired language, language full of breath, breath as language ….. A voice that creates a theater of the mind–radio’s time-honored heritage–can connect with the listener on a profound level …. At it’s best, podcasting can serve as training in rich interiority and its shared message.

There’s also considerable value in what I call “the explaining voice,” the voice that performs understanding. The explaining voice conveys microcues of hesitation, pacing, and inflection that demonstrate both cognition and metacognition. When we hear someone read with understanding, we participate in that understanding, almost as if the voice is enacting our own comprehension. In other words, the explaining voice trains the ear to listen not just for meaning but for evidence of the thought that generates meaning.

After this initial burst of activity in the mid-oughts, interest in podcasting seemed to decline, and podcasts became a more marginal feature of the media ecosystem. But digital spoken word audio has persisted and is finding new and growing audiences today. So it seems appropriate to revisit the possibilities of podcasts for teaching and learning.

I see three broad categories for thinking about pedagogy and podcasts: (1) utilizing already existing podcasts in your particular discipline; (2) instructor-created podcasts, which could be used as part of a flipped-classroom design; and (3) student-created podcasts. In the first case, you might see if there are existing podcasts that might supplement your other course materials, or that might provide presentations on a topic that your students could critically analyze. For example, economics and business students could examine episodes of Freakonomics Radio or Planet Money to dissect how financial topics are being explained to a general audience. Political science students could dissect the Five Thirty Eight Elections podcast to study political commentary. Philosophy students might do something similar with Philosophy Bites or History of Philosophy Without any Gaps. No matter what your discipline, there are probably experts in the field who are podcasting about it on a regular basis.

Secondly, instructors can create podcasts for class use. Just as Andy Carr is creating videos for students to watch as he flips his organic chemistry classes, so podcasts could also be used in situations that don’t require a significant use of visuals to convey the subject matter. You might think that it is always better to produce videos as forms of digital media since, as it is said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But that’s not necessarily true. Audio-only content stimulates the listener to actively construct mental imagery that corresponds to the spoken words. Podcasts could thus promote more generative learning on the part of students if they are required to create their own visualizations rather than simply looking at pre-made images. Sometimes, though, it’s simply the case that a podcast can extend the teaching opportunities for the instructor. Philosopher Peter Adamson, producer of History of Philosophy without any Gaps, observes in “To Podcast, or Not to Podcast” that

You can get into more detail in a podcast than you can in classroom teaching. When I first began the project, I wondered whether I could be accused of “dumbing down” the subject for a broad audience. But in fact, I find that I have to tell my students to go listen to my podcasts if they want the full story behind the texts and issues I have time to present during actual class time.

Thirdly, there are student-created podcasts. Here again, you would want to think through possible use cases that might fit your course design and pedagogy. What could students do with a spoken word digital audio assignment? Storytelling and narrative come to mind. Digital stories are usually assumed to involve a video or at least a visual component, but of course they could also be purely aural. Other possibilities might include interviews, documentaries, and exposition/explanation. Such projects would not dispense with writing, since the creation of a script is an essential element of producing a podcast. But it would be a form of writing that prompts the student to consider elements of oral presentation and proclamation as intrinsic aspects of composition. We want liberal arts students to be competent in a range of discourse forms, in order to effectively communicate to a general audience the value of their education in general and of their subject matter specializations in particular. Podcast assignments could help students hone important skills for presenting their learning through the spoken word.

Although podcasts are primarily designed for listening, they are in the best cases situated in a broader context that facilitates interaction between the speaker(s) and the audience. Ideally, podcasts are posted in a blog space that may contain transcripts, links, and opportunities for discussion, commentary, annotation, and social media recirculation. In fact, podcasts have sometimes been referred to as “audio blogs.” Placement in a blog also enables a core feature of podcasting, namely, distribution via and RSS feed so that new episodes are automatically sent to subscribers. You can also subscribe to many podcasts via the iTunes Store podcast section, but while that’s a great place (though not the only place) to discover podcasts, it is not an interface that promotes podcasts within the space of the open web, as Bryan Alexander argues in “What Happened to Podcasting, and What Didn’t.”

What tools do you need to get into the podcast game? On the listening and subscribing side, you probably want to look at mobile apps first. One of the selling points of podcasts is listening while otherwise occupied with relatively thought-free activities…in the car, at the gym, doing household chores, etc. Do a search for something like “best podcast app for android (or iPhone),” read some reviews, and see what you think. My current choice with an Android device is Pocket Casts, which I like for its smooth navigational layout and its syncing across platforms. Sometimes I listen to podcasts via my MacBook Pro laptop, and I have Pocket Cast there as well. Try a few apps out, and see what you like in terms of design and feature sets. Your podcatcher app will be your primary interface for discovering, subscribing to, and listening to podcasts.

audacityOn the production side, your basic needs are a microphone and recording/editing software. Will you need to record in the field or away from your laptop? Then your choice might be for a voice recorder app on your smartphone (I use one called Smart Voice Recorder for Android, but there are many out there). For higher quality on the go, a dedicated digital audio recorder device might be called for; check out this review of voice recorders at the Wirecutter. If you can record in your office or other such place, you can use the built-in mic on your laptop, but this is not recommended for good quality audio. Most guides recommend an external microphone, something like the Blue Yeti, that connects via USB. That’s what I have in my office, if you’d like to check it out or borrow it. For something a little less pricey, a decent headset mic would also work well. The most widely recommend application for recording/editing is Audacity, which is free and cross-platform. Audacity is a full-feature audio platform that will allow you to fine tune your audio file with noise reduction, normalization, equalization, and compression to create a professional sound. It’s not difficult to use, and there are plenty of guides and tutorials available, some of which I’ve listed below.

So, if you think podcasting might have a place in your pedagogy, let us know here at Digital Pedagogy@Austin College, and we’ll be happy to explore possibilities with you and support your project in whatever way we can.



2016 Mellon Digital Pedagogy Grantee Workshop–Saturday, April 2

We’ll be a day late for April Fools, so there’ll be no fooling around this Saturday as Austin College Digital Pedagogy grantees gather for their annual workshop at Abell Library. So far, twenty-three faculty members have been awarded stipends of $5,000 to support the implementation of innovative digital pedagogy practices in their courses. (In the coming year, an additional seven stipends will be awarded…details on how to apply will be coming soon). Here on our website you can learn more about the original grant from the Mellon Foundation and find links to the project proposals from the 2014-15 cohort and the 2015-16 cohort.

Last year’s workshop featured showcase demonstrations of projects by Andy Carr (chemistry), Jennifer Johnson-Cooper (Chinese), Dan Dominick (music) and Jim Hebda and John Richardson (biochemistry), as well as several breakout discussion sessions  on topics suggested by the grantee reports. We published blog posts to further highlight the projects of Carr (“Flipping Out Over Organic Chemistry“) and Hebda/Richardson (“Using Tablets for Presentations and Grading: A Biochemistry Case Study“) as well as breakout sessions on student-created video projects and open collaborative web spaces.

This year we anticipate another stimulating day of presentations and conversation. We asked all the grantees to prepare updates on the status of their projects and post them on the 2016 Mellon workshop forum page, where you can read them. For this year’s showcase round, seven grantees will make brief presentations about their project to the group as a whole. Each of these will be about 15 minutes or so, including time for questions, comments, and discussion. We’ll be hearing from Don Rodgers (political science) Randi Tanglen (English), Kirk Everist (theater), Brian Watkins (anthropology), David Griffith (business), Nate Bigelow (political science), and Ian MacFarlane (psychology). Follow the links to see their project updates. These projects involve a wide range of pedagogies and digital resources, including geographical information systems (GIS), digital publishing and annotation platforms, student blogging and social media practices, multimedia content creation, and faculty web domains.

Ultimately, of course, what we really want to highlight in these digitally enhanced classes is the learning, knowledge creation, and reflection of students. So we encourage the grantees to share evidence and examples of student work and articulation of learning. For instance, in a recent blog post Brooke Reiche, a student in Ivette Vargas-O’Bryan’s “Introduction to Buddhist Traditions” class, describes creating her own depictions of Buddhist art in a project using the Scalar digital platform. And in his project report, Don Rodgers includes an account from one of his students, Tabatha Keton, on her work with GIS projects:

My journey started with an internship that allowed me to see GIS, or Geographical Information Systems, used in an interesting way: documenting the location of indigenous ancestral sites. I conducted research in books, on the web, and in old, never-before-seen transcripts to locate sites then watched as a specialist put all the information I had gathering in the GIS program. Through the help of Don Rodgers, I was able to obtain an internship that allowed me to learn this program. With my newly acquired knowledge, I documented zoning changes for local governments, created visualizations for research I had conducted in childhood poverty, food scarcity, lack of community resources, and used the system to view how different demographics related to voting practices. I not only was able to gain the knowledge of an up and coming new technology that is also highly sought after in the job market, I was able to visualize my research in a novel way involving spatial elements. This enabled me to view information in a tangible way with real world applications and created a visual that added to my understanding of each of the topics.

We look forward to sharing more of the outstanding work in digital pedagogy and scholarship that our faculty and students are creating here at Austin College.

Buddha Nature in a Geode: Student Digital Scholarship

[The following post is by Brooke Reiche, a student in Ivette Vargas-O’Bryan’s Fall 2015 class, “Introduction to Buddhist Traditions.”]

During my Introduction to Buddhist Traditions class, we were introduced to Scalar as a platform for creating polished and unique group projects. One main focus of these projects was the work of the Japanese artist Iwasaki Tsuneo. He painted visually stunning representations of Buddhist teachings, often integrating script from the Heart Sutra into his pieces in interesting and creative ways. The images he used, which were often nature based, were chosen to illustrate certain characteristics of Buddhist concepts, such as lightning bolts in reference to sudden enlightenment.

Lightning, by Iwasaki Tsuneo
Lightning, by Iwasaki Tsuneo

While working on this project I found myself inspired by Tsuneo’s work, and I was curious to see if I could create my own image using his method of representation. I also wanted this image to relate to the project that I was working on, which focused on Buddha nature. After some thought, I arrived at the idea of a geode. My intention was for the geode to display the hidden nature of Buddha nature in every being through the crystals inside of the formation. I also added an English translation of the heart sutra in gold along the rim, in an attempt to represent how the power of Buddhist teachings could break through the plain rock of relative reality to reveal the crystals of ultimate reality.

"Geode" by Brooke Reiche
“Geode” by Brooke Reiche

Scalar was a great platform for this, as it allowed for stunning image quality and freedom of design that let me see my piece in beautiful detail on the same scale as that used by Iwasaki. It was a very enjoyable process that was rewarding to complete.

Webinar on Web Annotation this Wednesday

Looking for a spring break opportunity for professional development? Of course you are! So you didn’t make it down to Austin for, but…this Wednesday, you can participate in a webinar on digital annotation with Dr. Jeremy Dean of Brian Watkins is using this semester in his course on the history of anthropological thought, and reports that student reading comprehension and engagement with assigned texts has improved dramatically. We’ll have more details from Brian in an upcoming post, but this is a good opportunity to learn more.

Texas Digital Humanities Consortium invites you to participate in an online workshop with Dr. Jeremy Dean, Director of Education at

Web Annotation: Updating an Age-Old Humanities Practice for the 21st Century
Dr. Jeremy Dean

Wednesday, March 9
1-2 p.m

This workshop explores web annotation as an digital humanities practice for the 21st century classroom. This emergent technology allows Internet users to privately comment on or publicly discuss any web page. It can be leveraged to teach students traditional literacy skills like close reading but also newer forms of digital and media literacy. Workshop participants will be introduced to the pedagogical value of web annotation and gain hands-on experience with an open-source, standards-based annotation client. Participants will leave with a solid orientation in the basic functionality of web annotation as well as specific collaborative annotation exercises that can be used in the classroom.

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android:


Jeremy Dean is the Director of Education at, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving online discourse through annotation. He was previously the Director of Education at Genius where he facilitated educational applications of their interactive archive of literary and historical texts. Jeremy is a scholar-educator with fifteen years of experience teaching at both the college and high school levels. He received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Austin where he worked as a Project Leader in the Digital Writing and Research Lab for four years developing units and lesson plans around a variety of digital tools.