Digital Learning Working Group Meeting – 30 October 2018

We gathered in WCC 245 again, slightly different group of folks in attendance, but certainly some familiar faces. We’re starting slowly to develop a group of usual suspects around digital learning. 🙂

The focus of our discussion was online textbooks, an issue Truett Cates brought to our attention but one that several Working Group participants had experience with and thoughts about. He discussed his concerns with online textbooks’ interfaces and how they are different in each case, publisher to publisher. They curate assignments within the textbook app, so that means another administration team to deal with if/when things go wrong. Mike Higgs seconded Truett’s sense that Cengage is particularly bad at this aspect of online textbook development.

I (Brett Boessen) steered the discussion toward open education since I had recently attended the conference. Drawing on the open education community and its practices for OER development can empower faculty by allowing us to directly shape the scale and scope of the resources we ask our students to use. The Working Group thought this might have enough legs among our colleagues to develop as a separate initiative, so we decided to look into that more.

The Group also revived an idea from a previous meeting about creating a digital networked space for discussion in between face to face meetings, and we decided Slack might be a good tool.  If you are an Austin College faculty member who would like to participate in the Slack, send Brett a request via email.

Johnson Center Session: Digital Tool Share

I’m here semi-live-blogging our latest Johnson Center session, “Digital Tool Share: Nailing Down and Ratcheting Up Your Digital Pedagogy” (slides will be available on the Johnson Center web page).

12:30 – Finished up with a reminder about this site and to talk to me if you’re interested in discussing more the possibility of Open Education at AC.

12:05 – Turning to group reporting.

  • Classroom Salon – online annotation tool. Can easily get away from you but useful for intraclass communication.
  • Scalar – digital publishing app that helps create pathways/linkages and visualizations.
  • RooFolio – a “blog kind of thing” which allows production of eportfolios. Frustrating interface.
  • Moodle (for commenting) – Did spark discussion, but requires manual checking of each entry.
    • Classroom Salon sorts for who posted what.
    • Moodle can do this too if you use the Discussion Forum tool.
  • Organization and logistics of graded discussion writing – Can be problems with front-loading/tail-loading, not posting enough in length and/or depth.
  • Tools that look good today can be gone tomorrow.
  • – web annotation tool. Had the unintended consequence of migrating the social structure of the students into their interactions online.
  • Kahoot – quizzing tool. Great for breaking down complex concepts step by step, but requires students to have their phones open and in use in class. Notably used frequently in the K-12 world, so students are likely to be familiar.
  • Socrative – quizzing tool. Can also be used for polling class preferences. Helpful for faculty to take temperature of the room and then potentially retool class organization.
  • Survey Monkey – polling software. Use it for pre- and post-tests to help students see how they developed during the semester.

12:00 pm – Listening in on a few groups, some have taken the group sharing shell I provided and run with it, turning more to a discussion model and letting the conversation range wherever it might want to go.  Love it. 🙂

11:55 – I’ve asked the attendees to break into small groups to discuss digital learning successes and/or failures in their own experience. Lots of good chatter happening right now.

11:50 am – I’ve just finished talking about some broad trends in Technology and Education, focused on Bryan Alexander’s excellent Future Trends in Technology and Education trends analysis, as well as providing a thumbnail sketch of a summary of my visit to the Open Education Conference last month.

Do you have a digital learning approach that works?

Next week we’re doing a Johnson Center session on successful (and unsuccessful?) digital learning approaches in Austin College classrooms.  A crowdsourced digital pedagogy dragnet that we’re hoping will help your colleagues identify potential new approaches to their teaching.

And we need your help! If you’re reading this blog, you probably are using the very kinds of approaches to implementation of digital tools and practices in the classroom that we’re looking for!

If this is you, please a) leave a comment below indicating what you do, why it works, and how others can find out more about it, and b) come to the session on Thursday the 8th at 11:30 am. 🙂

Digital Learning and Pedagogy Continues!

OK – we were gone for a while. But we’re back!

This time around, we’re focusing on small group interactions and collective problem solving, to wit: some notes from our first Digital Learning and Pedagogy working group meeting.

Past, Present, Future

I had asked the group to organize our thoughts about digital learning at Austin College loosely around chronology: what has already happened, what is happening now, and what do you anticipate happening in the future.

Past – What issues have you run into?

To start us off, Julia Shahid noted that she’d had some problems with Classroom Salon’s recent shift from a completely free model to a tiered pricing or “freemium” model; John Richardson had similar issues with software updates to Explain Everything (both have talked about these tools in their Mellon grant project proposals and updates elsewhere on the site).

This issue of software updates “breaking” pedagogical workflows is certainly not new(s), but it continues to impact how effective and efficient we can be in employing digital networked tools for our students’ learning. We discussed the way this creates student “dependencies” on one workflow that then makes it harder to extricate oneself from should an update require reworking procedures for access and/or use.

We also discussed, which Randi Tanglen indicated has a solid feedback tool built into it, but of course requires some level of buy-in to the entire system in order to be truly useful. This led us to wonder whether the process of building better feedback is one we could begin to take on, researching and testing what’s out there now and to what extent such tools could be useful in the small liberal arts context in which we work.

Present – What are you working on now?

The discussion then turned to opportunities and issues happening right now for the group. We discussed two projects in active development: timelines in Chinese history courses, and rich media production for oral history projects.

Larissa Pitts described how she has been working on ways to incorporate timeline software into her Chinese courses in order to help her students sort through their ideas. The visual arrangement of a timeline is helpful in this regard, but when handwritten or printed in a word processor document, can be limited by factors unrelated to the course (such as artistic and/or design skill limitations, or the lack of easy incorporation of visual media like images and maps). So a digital solution can make those issues much less onerous and consequently help students get to the good stuff – the learning – more effectively.

Felix Harcourt also talked about multiple versions of an oral history project in which he has students participate. Currently, the project is text only, but we talked about ways he might incorporate more rich media sources – images, audio recordings, video – as a means to help students develop more complex interpretations of their research.

Future – What opportunities and issues do you anticipate?

Toward the end of the meeting, we shifted again to longer-term questions. I offered the typology used in the Horizon Report – sorting problems into “solvable,” “difficult,” and “wicked” categories according to our ability to understand and/or solve them – and we discussed a few problems relevant to us at Austin College.

One issue that came up right away is wanting to try to identify what skills entering freshmen are bringing with them from high school. This impacts a number of facets of digital learning and pedagogy, including some we had already discussed like “student dependencies” on existing tools. If Texas schools are primarily built around the Google-verse (hint: they are), then perhaps our dependency on Microsoft tools just makes our collective job harder, as we spent large amounts of time helping them retool. The group felt this problem was solvable.

This discussion of tools the college has committed to quickly turned our attention to Moodle and the question, should we be committing our resources there? This question has come up in the past, both in conversations we’ve had on other occasions, and through the two faculty surveys on digital pedagogy conducted in 2012 and 2017. The group felt this problem was more difficult: we can see that Moodle is troubling for many users, faculty and students alike, but we also seem to need or want some form of learning management system (LMS), so perhaps Moodle is best worst option.

We ended our discussion with a question that is surely difficult if not wicked: What do we want our technologies at Austin College to do (be?) for our students? What functions ought it to serve, and in what ways might it help them to learn more deeply and effectively? We did not develop any answers, but we did commit to coming back to this question at future meetings to try to begin addressing it.

Quick Tip

In the course of our discussion, one kind of tool did come up that I told the group I would get back to them on, and that is “text expanders.” These are tools that

The next working group meeting will be on October 16th at 1130 am, again in WCC 245.

Digitizing Asia: Perspectives on the Paintings of Iwasaki Tsuneo

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.

Learning Outcomes:

  • 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


Preparing K-12 Teacher Candidates with Digital Pedagogies (Mellon Project Report)

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 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 StudioEasy, 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.

Transforming the Chinese Language Curriculum (Mellon Project Report)

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.

Narrative Mapping the Global Middle Ages (Mellon Grant Report)

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.

Restless Wanderings: Musings on Travel and the Human Condition (Mellon Project Report)

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.

Project One: Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia

The link to this map and the project is

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?  
  4. Many of Chatwin’s stories are about past events. What connections does Chatwin make between the past and the present in his descriptions? 
  5. 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.

Project 2:  Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries

The link to this project is

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


3D Printing in the Visual Arts (Mellon Project Report)

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 classroomsThe 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 productsBuilding 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.