Western Civilization Webography

by John Ottenhoff, Associated Colleges of the Midwest

westciv.gifProfessor T. Mills Kelly, Associate Director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, and several colleagues have created an impressive Webography with student reviews of resources for western civilization courses.

Description from the site at http://chnm.gmu.edu/webography/index.php:

Each website in the Project database has been reviewed by one or more students, and has a rating attached to it, based upon a series of criteria, including the site’s accuracy, currency, and objectivity. In addition, each record includes a brief word annotation, describing the contents of the site and its strengths and weaknesses. All records are fully searchable, either by keyword or according to a pre-determined scheme.

The project addresses several of the issues raised by the increasing use by undergraduate students of web-based sources for their research and writing. Too often students use web-based sources uncritically or at least without sufficient regard for the quality of the sources they find on the web. When they use sources of dubious value, instructors and students end up dissatisfied–the instructors with the quality of their students’ work, and the students with their grades.

But what if both students and instructors embraced the sources available on the web, making the analysis of these sources a central problem in a course? The Webography Project provides a vehicle for just that sort of approach to teaching and learning.

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

by Rachel Smith, NMC: The New Media Consortium


The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection includes over 11,000 maps, all available online. The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th century North and South American maps and other cartographic materials. Historic maps of the world, Europe, Asia and Africa are also represented. The collection includes antique atlases; globes; school geography maps; maritime charts; state, county, and city, maps; manuscript maps; and others. The maps can be used to study history, genealogy and family history. Materials in the collection may be reproduced or transmitted, but not for commercial use.

Robert Bechtle Retrospective & the Pachyderm Project

by Michael Roy, Middlebury College


The San Francisco Museum of Modern’s Art (http://www.sfmoma.org/ ) retrospective on the work of Robert Bechtle explores Bechtle’s life and work through videos of the artist working in his studio, as well as photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, and other primary source materials from his personal archive. A gallery of artworks zoom-enabled for closer inspection shows highlights from the artist’s 40-year career. Accompanying the show is a nifty web application that provides access to a wide range of multimedia materials. This application serves as a preview of some of the new features that will be available in the 2.0 version of Pachyderm Project (http://www.nmc.org/pachyderm/index.shtml) which is a project being managed by the NMC (http://www.nmc.org) which brings together software development teams and digital library experts from six NMC universities together with counterparts from five major museums to create a new, open source authoring environment for creators of web-based and multimedia learning experiences. Pachyderm should be of particular interest to small schools that do not have professional multimedia development shops.

Teaching & Learning Interchange: Pedagogy in Practice Case Studies

by Rachel Smith, NMC: The New Media Consortium


These case studies, crafted for new teachers, are designed to provide a view into classroom practices that effectively integrate both subject matter and teaching standards.

The case studies feature an array of resources presented in several formats – PDF, video clips, text, and animation – packaged in an easy-to-use module that allows for plenty of exploration on the part of the student. Content focuses on teaching strategies, curriculum development, and best practices.

The site is intended for new teachers and students in teacher education programs. Registration is required for access, but a login is provided immediately upon registration.

Educause Learning Initiatives (ELI)

by John Ottenhoff, Associated Colleges of the Midwest

Our friends at Educause continue to try to provide some content about teaching and learning with technology. The latest ELI (Educause Learning Initiative) resources are a mixed bag. A two-page pdf “7 Things You Should Know About Wikis” might work as a quick cheat-sheet for the harrassed academic executive wanting to appear knowledgable when talking with techies about the Latest Thing. But it’s not going to help many faculty members looking for real-world ideas about teaching with wikis. A sample nugget: “The possibilities for using wikis as the platform for collaborative projects are limited only by one’s imagination and time.”

On the other hand, an “Overview of E-portfolios” by George Lorenzo and John Ittelson is a thorough and well-illustrated report about student, faculty, and institutional electronic portfolios. This “white paper” addresses a full range of issues and could well provide a foundation for institutional discussions about implementing some form of e-portfolio; looking at student e-portfolios, for instance, the authors ask good basic questions:

  • should an e-portfolio be an official record of a student’s work?
  • how long should an e-portfolio remain at an institution after the student graduates?
  • who owns the e-portfolio?
  • how are e-portfoilios evaluated in a manner that is both valid and reliable?
  • how can an institution encourage critical reflection in the design and use of e-portfolios?

These, of course, are just good questions. Whether or not Educause, the authors, or Academic Commons can prompt some good discussion about such questions is the real question.

The paper also includes links to some exemplary sites, including the Carnegie Foundation’s KEEP Toolkit for building portfolios, St. Olaf College’s Center for Integrative Study portfolios, and Portland State’s instutional site built with the open-source Zope. The white paper briefly considers “tool sets” for e-portfolios and mentions the Open Source Portfolio Initiative (OSPI). For faculty and administrators looking for more information about exemplary portfolios, the KEEP/OSP Case Studies Gallery is definitely worth checking out.

Discussion Boards in the Seminar Classroom

by John Ottenhoff, Associated Colleges of the Midwest

Instructor Name:

John Ottenhoff

Course Title:

Eng 354: Shakespeare


Alma College

What is the overall aim of the course?:
This is an upper-level Shakespeare seminar that aims to help students “become better readers, thinkers, and writers” as they shape their “own interpretations and encounter a range of critical opinions about Shakespeare’s plays.” I explicity use online discussion boards to emphasize building genuine discussion and understanding that is responsive to Shakespeare’s authorship yet open ended and constructivist.
Course design and scope of the project:
I had 8 students in this semester-long course, most of whom were English majors or minors. We met twice a week (80 minutes per session) for 14 weeks, reading one play per week. All students had taken at least two courses in literature; a few had taken my department’s required course in theory.
Incorporation of Technology:

Before our first Tuesday discussion about the play, students were expected to post to our Blackboard discussion board an initial exploratory comment, “one that poses questions and first reactions.” By the end of the week, students were expected to contribute a “follow-up posting” that commented or reflected on classroom discussion. “Use this posting to continue our in-class discussions, write what you didn’t get to say in class, react to the views of your classmates and professors, offer links to helpful articles and websites.” I periodically reviewed the online discussion and assigned general grades (check, check plus); the online discussion, as outlined in the course syllabus, constituted roughly 15% of the final grade.

Lessons Learned:

Discussion Boards have become ubiquitous and are in some respects a “low-tech” application these days. The scholarly literature has begun to accumulate, but I don’t think we understand very well how they can function in seminar classes, particularly in the ways they shape students’ sense of authority. I have made these conclusions:

  1. My students’ discussion shows a rich pattern of interaction that encompasses a wide variety of interpretive and authoritative modes. At the very least, we should be skeptical about any blanket generalizations about what online discussions cannot do or what kind of writing they make possible.
  2. Excellent postings for the online discussion—at least in terms of the values I created for my class—most of all show a rich variety of discourse modes and patterns of interaction.  The students who showed most flexibility with these forms of discussion were the most successful students in the class in terms of final grades and the degree to which they established strong, authoritative voices in the classroom.
  3. The online discussion helped considerably in changing patterns of authority and developing multiple kinds of authority. Students found a variety of methods for sharing knowledge and shaping discussion; my lack of presence in the online discussion cleared space for their voices and enabled a form of “intellectual play” that is difficult to create in even the most egalitarian classroom. That strength of student voices was, in turn, brought into the classroom through citation and carryover of the online discussion.

Work with colleagues from the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning has revealed some consistency of these findings in other disciplines and contexts.

References, links:
You can find a “snapshot” of this work on the CASTL website.
Measured Results:

My work on the CASTL website documents my efforts to code the online discussion threads, and I have followed up on this work elsewhere. In addition, I conducted some focus groups with my class and had them fill out a brief questionnaire. Students also contributed discussion about the course goals and effectiveness through a “meta” thread on the discussion board.

My results at this stage mostly focus on documenting what happens in student discussions online, especially when part of a strong discussion-focused seminar class. I’m interested in further discussion and exploration of such settings.

Ancient Cities in Cyberspace

by Robert M. Royalty, Jr., Wabash College

Instructor Name:

Bob Royalty

Course Title:

The Second Century: Archaeological Remants and Virtual Realities


Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana, www.wabash.edu

What is the overall aim of the course?:
The study of the ancient world and early Christianity has undergone a revolution in one generation.  Scholars who grew up on the Loeb Classics and the Ante-Nicene Fathers now have the Perseus Project and can access the entire biblical and patristic corpus on-line. Digital images are the glosses of a new generation of scholastic commentators. This course was conceived as one way of highlighting these new technologies and social-historical methodologies. The traditional humanities seminar focuses on the “major research paper,” which in the college setting is based on the scholarly article.  What if we changed the model?  After using digital images via PowerPoint in lectures and building course websites for my students, I started to think more about students creating rather than just using these resources. I focused on developing original student research while testing the uses of digital technologies in a travel course.
Course design and scope of the project:
This course was taught in the Spring Semester 2003 at Wabash Collge, an all-male liberal arts college of about 800. There were 16 students; one additional faculty and two staff members traveled with us to Turkey. Cross-listed in Religion and Classics, it included a digital media lab held weekly during a scheduled fourth hour and a ten-day trip to Turkey from March 7th -16th (yes the week before the US attacked Iraq and travel to Turkey was kind of tense!). I had developed the media lab in two previous courses, but we had never traveled beyond the library. The digital photographs and video on these sites were taken onsite. I organized the students into four groups for the trip and the sites: Roman culture, society, imperial power, and religion. I chose this particular organization because it allowed the four groups to study the same object (e.g. a temple) from different perspectives. My concerns were both pedagogical and practical. I wanted students to think about different methodologies in the study of ancient religion and society and I wanted the students to be engaged the entire trip in Turkey rather than having an “off” day when their city or site was not on our schedule. As a result there is overlap in topics between the four subsites, but that is intentional. All travel and lodging costs were covered by Wabash College.  In the second half of the semester, back on campus, the four groups worked on designing and building their websites.
Incorporation of Technology:
The technology covered in the lab was standard applications: Photoshop, Dreamweaver, iMovie, and Flash. We trained in all these technologies in the media lab in the first half of the semester. For the trip, each group of four students had two digital cameras, one digital video camera, and one PC laptop for archiving and editing on the bus or in the hotel. All equipment was provided by the college.
Lessons Learned:

Three features of this experience stand out. First  was the interaction with the students and their interactions with each other. The hands-on instruction in the media labs had already opened up a new dimension in faculty/student interaction. The discourse was more relaxed and engaged on different levels as students and professors found new ways to communicate. This type of informal interaction was greatly magnified on the road.

Second  was the nature of the project itself. As any scholar knows, a week is a limited time for field research. This varies by discipline of course but an immersion learning experience needs to be built around a specific project that is feasible in a week and also integral to the class. In terms of learning and research, library work would  have been  highly beneficial but hardly attractive to students during their Spring Break. The digital media focus of this trip gave the students a very specific task for the visit. Students became more comfortable in their role and more attuned to the features of the sites as they honed their research skills. Many students remarked on the engagement and focus they felt on this trip.

Third was the experience of the culture of modern Turkey itself. Our field work focused on Roman ruins and the archaeology of the cities where early Christianity grew in the Pax Romana of the second century. To do this we negotiated one of the richest and most ancient cultures of the Mediterranean world. The country presents an incredible juxtaposition of ancient Greek and Roman sites with a rich Ottoman context that bridged late antiquity, the middle ages, and the early modern world. We experienced this in a modern secular nation of Muslims on the eve of U.S. aggression against an Arab neighbor of Turkey. The experience of travel to Turkey in March 2003 will, for many of us, be the most lasting and significant learning of the course.

References, links:

This is the final product of the four student groups published in May 2003.

Trekking Through Turkey
This is a link to a series of articles written on the road in Turkey in March 2003 by Justin Lyons, Public Affairs at Wabash, with photographs by Todd Vogel.

“Ancient Cities in Cyberspace: Exploring the Uses of Digital Media in Teaching Early Christianity,” Teaching Theology and Religion 5:1 (2002) 42-48
This article evaluates a prior version of the class in which students contstructed websites on campus without any travel component.

Measured Results:
The websites themselves attest to the value of the experience.  The Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College interviewed the students before and after the trip as part of their ongoing inquiry into off-campus experiences in the liberal arts context.

The Dangers of Just-In-Time Education

by Michelle Glaros, Centenary College of Louisiana


Liberal arts education faces a challenge: the proliferation of digital technologies throughout the disciplines threatens to transform liberal arts education into technical training. Both students and administrators pressure faculty to devote more and more instruction time to teaching the latest software applications so that graduates will immediately be able to respond to the demands of a just-in-time digital labor market, a labor market continually focused on whatever is next. As the value of higher education is increasingly measured by consumers looking at post-graduation work-placement rates, many of us face pressure to demonstrate the success of our programs through these placement rates. Such measures, however, assess only short-term achievement. The pressure to train students for immediate “success” often threatens to overshadow intellectual values such as critical thinking, problem solving, and the development of broad academic interests. The inherently interdisciplinary nature of the liberal arts, its refusal to focus myopically on teaching students one type of thinking or one set of skills, remains its key asset. The true value of a liberal arts education lies in the flexibility and adaptability that cross-disciplinary study affords students, especially those facing a just-in-time labor market. It is somewhat ironic that we find ourselves confronting such challenges in this place at this time, because digital technologies can provide excellent tools for furthering the goals of liberal education if used properly.

The general concerns addressed in this short essay are not new; I have been bothered by the growing tendency to teach software in lieu of critical thinking since my time in graduate school in the mid-’90s. Networked computing was just being introduced to liberal arts disciplines and I was studying and teaching in an English department that began experimenting with teaching writing in computer labs. Since that time, I have been on faculty at small liberal arts schools as well as state universities and have worked as a consultant for programs hoping to integrate digital technology into their liberal arts curricula; I draw my observations from the combination of these experiences. I have found that some institutions focus more intently on short-term successes while others are more concerned with long-term goals for their students.  Recently, I taught a course focused on teaching research and public discourse skills to first-year students. My section chose contemporary labor issues as the focus of their class project, and their investigation of the ways outsourcing and offshoring are transforming the global economy as well as local labor markets heightened my concerns about the relationship between liberal arts education and technical training. Their study clarified for me the important difference between short-term and long-term placement goals and made me acutely aware of the importance of using digital technologies to further the goals of liberal education rather than to produce short-term job placements.1

The just-in-time digital labor market emerged in the 1990s in tandem with dot.com fever. As Terri Kelly suggests in her essay “A Brief History of Outsourcing,” American businesses began outsourcing some divisions in an attempt to offer more efficient services while simultaneously increasing their profits (Kelly). Accounting and communication divisions were easily outsourced because the digital revolution had transformed their media so thoroughly. Bookkeeping, payroll, and promotional campaigns that had once required physical inscription (ledgers, paychecks, card stock, video and audio tape) now required only ephemeral bytes.

The rise of outsourcing in the 1970s was of little concern to liberal arts educators, as manufacturing was the target. In the 1980s we saw the target of outsourcing shift from manufacturing to data processing. And, while such outsourcing did not directly affect our graduates’ abilities to find and keep work, the shift in outsourcing from manufacturing jobs to technology jobs, albeit low-end technology jobs, did not go unnoticed. Critics such as Donna Haraway, Stanley Aronowitz, and Andrew Ross questioned the effects of such temporary, unorganized, low-paid work on the working conditions of digital workers as a whole.

Today’s digital labor market, however, has been almost wholly transformed by outsourcing. The bursting of the “dot com bubble” in the late 1990s only hastened companies’ desires to outsource much of their technical work.2 Why keep a stable of highly-trained, highly-paid workers on staff when just-in-time outsourcing centers can be opened and closed rapidly offshore?  Today, we see white-collar programming and design jobs being outsourced offshore to highly-trained workers who may or may not work in poor working conditions for substandard wages. Vivek Agrawal and Diana Farrell report that software developers who cost $60 an hour in the U.S. cost only $6 an hour in India (Agrawal).

Our students are entering a labor market in which the concept of “career” has changed radically from that of previous generations. Whereas the primary definition of career used to be a job or occupation regarded as a lifelong activity it is now the general path taken by someone, a path that will change course from time to time. This situation leads to the popular notion that today’s workers will have several careers between college and retirement. At present, we know that the early 21st century U.S. labor market rewards workers who are flexible and able to reinvent themselves; we must teach our students how to do so. Researchers like Eric Chabrow note that currently information technology outsourcing does not affect younger workers who possess the latest skills but rather aging workers whose technical skills have become obsolete. By 2003, nearly 6.9% of IT workers in their 50s were unemployed, compared to the industry average of 5.8% (Chabrow). At the same time, while entry-level jobs are not presently targeted for outsourcing, jobs that in the past represented the next rungs on the promotion ladder at many companies have been outsourced, making career advancement out of entry-level positions increasingly hard to negotiate in the traditional manner. Researchers are divided when it comes to predicting the total effect of offshoring on the U.S. economy. Some predict massive job losses; others predict job losses while also predicting that new jobs will be generated so that there may be a net gain of jobs (McKinsey).

As educators, we need to be mindful of such trends and predictions and think carefully about them. Jobs that are presently worked by former students will very likely one day no longer exist and advancement out of such jobs will likely require former students to creatively reinvent themselves.  Responsible educators must account for such changes in labor markets as they arise. We must account for them in our degree, program, and course designs and we must account for them in our pedagogies. If our former students are not flexible enough to redesign themselves to be competitive for whatever these new jobs may be, we will have failed them.

This is a cautionary tale. The core characteristics of liberal arts education — critical thinking, broad academic interests, and creative, interdisciplinary knowledge — provide students with the intellectual flexibility to successfully negotiate shifting career paths. Training students in the latest software applications at the expense of teaching them critical, creative problem-solving skills ill prepares them for long-term success in the just-in-time labor market. While their newly-minted technical skills may be in immediate demand, they will wither in a work world characterized by rapid transformation. Such students will be just-in-time just once. And while they may produce high placement rates immediately after graduation, they will likely struggle to maintain their livelihoods and to develop successful careers beyond those initial entry-level positions.

Digital technology is not the problem; it is neither a bogeyman nor a panacea. We must be mindful how we teach our students technology and we must think carefully about the technical relationships we establish for them. They need the creative and flexible thinking to know how to solve technical problems on their own when they occur, to learn how to use technology in novel ways, to know how to use technology to accomplish things it was not originally designed to do; they need to know how to learn independently so that they can negotiate a labor market we cannot yet envision. Our students also need to be knowledgeable about vagaries of labor markets; they need to be workers who are savvy, critical thinkers able to transform labor markets so that working conditions remain humane, respectful, and fair; and they need to be able to transform themselves so that they can repeatedly be just-in-time. We cannot wholly predict what work-world transformations will take place next, but we can predict the value of a flexible, interdisciplinary liberal arts education to meeting the demands, whatever they may be, of labor markets that continue to morph into new permutations.

  1. I am indebted to Centenary College of Louisiana’s FYE 102 C (2005) for their research on this subject. This class’s investigation of outsourcing and offshoring illuminated for me the dangers of using technology unwisely in the classroom.2. Eric Chabrow of Wall Street & Technology reports that unemployment in the information technology sector hovered around 2% during the dotcom heyday; by 2003, the IT unemployment rate had risen to 5.8%. Chabrow predicts that offshoring and technical obsolescence will continue to make that unemployment rate rise.


Works Cited

Agrawal, Vivek and Farrell, Diana. “Who Wins in Offshoring?” The McKinsey Quarterly , 2003 Special Edition: Global Directions, 2003.
http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/article_page.aspx?ar=1363&L2=7&L3=10&srid=6&gp=1 accessed June 2. 2005.


Aronowitz, Stanley, Cutler, Jonathan. Post-Work: The Wages of Cybernation. New York: Routledge, 1997.


Chabrow, Eric. “Is Offshoring the Major Reason for IT Unemployment?” Wall Street and Technology, October 23, 2003. http://www.wallstreetandtech.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=15600090 accessed June 2, 2005.


Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.


Kelly, Terri. “A Brief History of Outsourcing,” Global Envision. http://www.globalenvision.org/library/3/702/ accessed June 2, 2005.


McKinsey Global Institute. “Offshoring: Is It a Win-Win Game?” McKinsey Quarterly August 2003.  http://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/publications/win_win_game.asp accessed June 24, 2005.


Ross, Andrew. Real Love: In Pursuit of Cultural Justice. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

Using Technology in Learning to Speak the Language of Film

by Patricia ONeill and Janet Simons, Hamilton College


As faculty, we often assume that our students have a facility with and understanding of technology because they seem at home with their headphones, cell phones and instant messaging systems.1 In general, students do not perceive technology as being a novel mechanism in their daily lives, and, indeed, it is not. Since early childhood, their everyday routine has included making themselves available as receivers and transmitters for technologically-reproduced information. As familiar or accessible as technology may be to the Net Generation, however, few students exhibit a conscious understanding of technology as a tool for structuring knowledge. We have been slow to realize that achieving proficiency or, even more so, fluency in the focused use of technology is a form of language acquisition that can best be learned in combination with other language structures, (what the structuralists in linguistics, semantics and anthropology have famously termed “codesâ€?). As educators, we are bound to recognize that the arena in which our students will need to operate post-graduation will require of them the abilities to critically analyze multimodal information and to communicate in such formats. Clearly then students must understand why they choose to use particular technical modes and how their choices shape the meanings they convey.

It is our responsibility to create learning environments that make gaining an understanding of the inevitable connections between technological form and ideational content as explicit and extensive as is possible. To do so we must ask ourselves a number of crucial questions about what features of the technology or technologies students are working with intersect with their conceptual objectives:

  • How do different technologies or features within them lend themselves to extending, organizing, or expressing human potential?
  • What types and forms of information are best manipulated by which particular technological tools?
  • What analogies can be constructed between the languages of technology and the vocabularies of various disciplines, whether those disciplines are visual, verbal, kinetic or ideational in emphasis?
  • How can students manipulate content and construct their ideas using technology?

Answering these questions is quite a challenge, but students can grasp these issues if the appropriate technology is integrated with the content of the course.  Understanding how to integrate the appropriate technology into a course is only part of the solution. Students also need to understand the complexity of the relations between the array of technological tools and the particular questions or concepts raised by the discipline or subject to which the tools are being applied. In other words, they need to be trained to think about the content/tool interface critically and creatively if they expect to contribute effectively to the technology-based structures of knowledge and power in the 21st century.

Providing a Context for Discussion: The Specifics of One Course Design

The preceding general discussion does offer a theoretical approach to an area that needs explicit and extensive consideration. The authors would not claim to be able to suggest a sweeping, all-encompassing resolution to the issues raised, but they would like to discuss the way in which such issues were explored and addressed within the format of one experimental course: Art of Cinema, taught at Hamilton College from 2002-05. Patricia O’Neill has been teaching Art of Cinema since 2000. She approached Janet Simons in 2002 for guidance in incorporating a more conscious approach to technological aspects of film into the curriculum. While it is common practice in such courses to require students to either keep a journal or write short analyses of the films they watch, we wanted to develop additional activities that would address students’ different learning abilities and styles, test their presumed familiarity with visual culture and develop their expertise with digital technology.

Unlike programs in large universities or colleges with established film or communications majors, this course has no pre-requisites, does not count toward any other major, and draws students from across the curriculum. Most of the students have no prior experience of film study or video production. In this context, asking students to complete two filmmaking assignments means that they must learn to use digital cameras and iMovie editing software as well as grapple conceptually with how to represent their ideas visually. Technology is thus an integral part of the content of the course as well as an alternative means for students to demonstrate their knowledge of a film’s technique and meaning.

By working through the process of integrating technology with the course content, we have used a series of assignments to help students apply what they have learned in the classroom, deepen their understanding of the course material, and develop confidence in their ability to use technology effectively in presenting their own ideas and understanding. In the following analysis, we discuss the importance of planning in the development of technology-based assignments, of collaboration between faculty and instructional technologists, and of the role of public presentations for enhancing students’ learning. We conclude that by incorporating appropriate technology in the process of learning, students not only engage the materials of the course more enthusiastically, they also feel empowered by the course to use and understand technology more critically and creatively outside the classroom.2

The Workshops: Learning to Put Theory into Practice

To enhance the study of film and to make students critical viewers in the future, the course includes two film assignments: a 50-second silent film that replicates the ideas and experience of early cinematographers such as the Lumière Brothers; and a 3-minute sound film, using original footage to remake or adapt a sequence from a film we have watched in class. Both assignments require that students learn to capture, save, store, compress, and present their films on CDs or DVDs to an audience of their peers and other members of the campus community. Students work alone on the first assignment and in self-selected teams of 2-4 students on the second assignment.

Although the assignments seem simple enough, they require a substantial amount of planning on the part of the faculty. Students must collaborate and coordinate with the audio/visual department staff, who lend students digital cameras, and with instructional technologists, who offer workshops on basic videography (video camera settings, camera angles, audio, lighting), video editing (using iMovie), and various compression methods to deliver their edited footage for exhibition. Working out this schedule of workshops and due dates for each part of each assignment is complicated but necessary to insure that there will be enough cameras for shooting, and so that students can bring their own footage to the video editing workshop.

Since other courses on campus often require equipment and professional support, planning these assignments in advance has allowed us to provide timely support in the computer labs before the projects are due. In our first year of experimentation with developing the technological component of the course, we modeled these assignments ourselves at a conference sponsored by MITC (Midwest Instructional Technology Center of the Mellon Foundation) in the summer of 2003. Since then we have found that having the faculty member attend the workshops offered by ITS staff not only encourages students to be more attentive but also gives them the opportunity to ask questions about the assignment. Our understanding of the difficulties some of them face in learning to use technology encourages the less adept students and makes it less likely that they will simply get their friends to do the assignments for them. In addition, students note the collaborative efforts of the faculty and instructional technologists and are able to see how their questions about the technology are related to the requirements of the assignment. For example, students typically forget that less is more. Technical novices will show all of the footage of a sequence to tell a story and thus exceed the time constraints for the project. Or, they will hand the mouse to a more ambitious student who is eager to add bells and whistles at the expense of the story. In collaboratively taught authoring sessions, the faculty member guides the students by keeping them focused on the goals of the assignment while the instructional technologist helps them to attain their goals in the most efficient manner possible.

The structure and the timing of the workshops in the semester allow students to learn the technology well enough to understand how it functions as a tool for expressing their ideas and also how the special features of digital cameras and editing software can enhance and shape those ideas. While organizing workshops so that students can learn to use technology is time-consuming for faculty, technologists, and students, the results have been consistently positive. At the end of the semester, Simons asks students to fill out a questionnaire about their experience in the workshops and with the assignments. Students say that what they learned in shooting and editing their own work helped them understand better the elements and structure of filmmaking in general. Ninety-eight percent of the students who responded over the past three years have said that the process of making a film added to their understanding of the films surveyed and the concepts discussed in the course (n=45). Many of the students commented that the process of making their own film gave them greater ability to recognize and deconstruct meaning intended by the directors of major films (73%, n=45). They mention a new level of appreciation for both the creative and technical aspects of films (88%, n=45). There are also many references in these comments many references to the “challengesâ€? and “difficultiesâ€? of communicating through this medium while in the same sentence emphasizing how much they enjoyed making their own film.

Student comments have progressed over the three years from almost unanimous agreement that the workshops were useful to increasing requests for more advanced workshops. This past semester students were already asking for an advanced videography workshop (dollies, cranes, additional microphones) and permission to use Final Cut Pro instead of iMovie at the beginning of the course. This request in itself needs careful critical evaluation for, although students believe that Final Cut Pro is the latest in “coolâ€? technology, and that the increasing ubiquity of user-friendly video editing software will make them instantly more “expert,â€? what we have observed is that very few of these students actually use the options that make this software more advanced than iMovie. Here we may have an illustration of the way in which apparent technological sophistication on the part of the students is rather a symptom of advanced, but unreflecting, consumerism; many of them have not yet gained mastery over the technology since the more complex programs take longer to learn, and they often fail as a result of the time expended to create or express effectively the ideas of the course. Meanwhile they often miss the crucial instruction in file management, storage, and multimedia formatting considerations that would allow them to experiment and complete the assignment in time.

On the other hand, students can in one semester easily master iMovie and the associated video technology. As they become proficient with this program, they are able to push the program to its limits in order to express their ideas. Their ideas drive their engagement of the technology rather than allow the technology to drive their engagement of the assignment. This is evident from their paragraph-long survey responses to the question, “Did you encounter any difficulties while creating your film?â€? The students were able to describe audio editing and graphic/video composition problems they encountered and their creative solutions.3

These students are focusing on how they were able to manipulate or construct information, and not on how the technology provided a special effect. As masters of the tool, their creativity and knowledge become a greater part of the process and they were highly invested in the outcome. Because they were able to see the technology as giving form to their ideas through their own self-conscious manipulations, they were able to conceive of the manner and meaning of form in works by their peers and, more importantly, in works by professional filmmakers.

Putting It All Together:  Assignments in Technology

(1) Working alone—The fifty-second silent film: By imitating the techniques of past filmmakers, students not only learn new skills, they see all films differently. In completing this assignment each student is in a sense “insideâ€? the process rather than simply theorizing from his/her reception of the finished work.4From our perspective, this assignment enhances the student’s understanding of the course content. For example, when a student watches the Lumière Brothers’ first film, a shot of people leaving a factory, it looks easy. The student sets a camera on a tripod at a street crossing during a change of class hour. But problems arise when the student realizes that she has to decide which side of the street will give her the widest view and which angle will create the best perspective for lighting and which moment is best for starting and stopping her film. In manipulating the camera and tripod, she is in effect involved in the film in a much deeper way than when she had studied the Lumières’ film or even imagined her project in the abstract. Moreover, once she sees her film juxtaposed to those of other students, new ideas come into play about how light and composition tell the story or allow for multiple interpretations. These lessons are then incorporated into her next assignment and certainly provide a new context for her viewing of subsequent films in class and in the theater. Early cinema no longer appears simplistic, and films in general are no longer judged merely for their entertainment value. The experience of working with technology brings the grammar of visual language to consciousness and allows the student to understand not only the conventions of film genres, but also the multiple possibilities that the discourse of film’s techniques allows.

(2) The cooperative effort—Groups of 2-4 students producing a 3-minute sound film: In the second assignment, intensive viewing of the original work and decisions about how to remake or adapt a 3-minute segment of it reinforce the practice of “close readingâ€? films for their technique and style, and extend students’ understanding of film as a means of communicating with and persuading an audience. In addition, the fundamentally collaborative effort involved in creating a film gets some exercise as students seek to arrive at and execute decisions. This rhetorical dimension of film and digital media is underscored by having students present their films in a public showing. Some examples of students’ projects can be viewed here:http://academics.hamilton.edu/english/poneill/artofcin05/CommonsArtCin.htm

The public presentation of their films creates anticipation and motivation in the students to perform to the best of their abilities. Since their adaptation is shown along with the clip from the original film, the audience can see how the students overcame technical problems and non-professional actors and equipment to capture the essential elements of the original film’s style. Faculty and members of the audio/visual department, the library, and technical services are invited to attend as judges. They are given an evaluation form, which asks them to rate the students’ work for its technical and creative achievement. By inviting members of the community from different departments, O’Neill draws upon their various expertise and sensitivity to the difficulties and potential of the students’ efforts. After the event, we talk with the judges and review their comments. O’Neill then gives each student-team a brief summary of what has been said about the strengths and weaknesses of their work and informs them of their grade.


The increased number of courses in film currently being offered suggests that educators are already acknowledging the fact that film is part of the culture’s discourse and that students need to think, read and write critically about films with the same rigor that they do when they respond to texts. We need to carry that recognition still further by articulating a more systematic theoretical and pedagogical framework for such offerings and make the use of technologies like digitalization a more critically integrated element in that framework. Bruce Douglas Ingraham notes in his article “Scholarly Rhetoric in Digital Mediaâ€? that while educators have developed well-defined strategies for teaching students to analyze data and construct logical arguments within our text-based disciplines, “at this early stage of multimedia scholarship there are as yet no well-developed scholarly models.”5

Our experience with The Art of Cinema suggests that a more conscious and conscientious approach to curriculum enhancement through the use of technology requires careful preliminary planning and scheduling. Connections between the course content and the supporting technology being applied to it also need to be made explicit, discussed fully and physically demonstrated. The use of workshops for such demonstrations—taught as authoring sessions and with faculty participation—is invaluable. In our experimenting with the syllabus for Art of Cinema, we have tried to address the issue of learning about media through film assignments, and we have structured student presentations of these assignments in ways that attempt to give them and us the same sense of context that informs literary study.

From their evaluations of the experience of the course, it would appear that students appreciate the workshops and are thrilled to have their work taken seriously. More important, perhaps, their own feeling of authority to make judgments about films, to articulate why and how a film works for them, indicates that they have managed to demystify, if not master, the technology of film, and have discovered another means of communicating and expressing their ideas as well as reflecting on the ideas of others. This sense of empowerment is similar to that which students experience in any course where they have truly learned the material. The difference here is that students begin to incorporate new methods of communication or expression that seemed unattainable to them before and that the learning process therefore becomes substantially more active.

As an understandable result, students are often inspired to use the active skills developed for the course in other contexts. Simons frequently assists former Art of Cinema students on multimedia projects they have chosen to develop instead of or in addition to their written assignments for other courses. Female students in particular have reported that the course has given them confidence to seek internships and graduate training in film and media. Integrating technology into the process of learning about film becomes more than another tool for teaching and learning the course content; it also emerges as a lens for knowledge, a powerful lens that helps students engage conceptually with the structures that constitute the visual and multimedia dimensions of our contemporary culture.




1. Claus Tully emphasizes this point in his article “Growing Up in Technological Worlds: How Modern Technologies Shape the Everyday Lives of Young Peopleâ€? in Bulletin of Science, Technology, and society. Vol. 23, Issue 6, (2003), 444-456.


  1. Edward Tufte offers valuable insights into the problems that arise when a technology like PowerPoint is inappropriately applied. While we agree with his general concerns, we think our students are learning to apply technology in self-consciously creative ways to construct and externalize their ideas. See Tufte’s “The Cognitive Style of PowerPointâ€? in Journal of the American Statistical Association. Vol. 99, No.466, (June 2004), 569.
  2. For example, in “Whits of the Afternoonâ€? students imitated an iris shot by shooting through a rolled poster board that was illuminated by a high side angle.

Here are some of the other responses to the question “Did you encounter difficulties?”:

1) “There were several difficulties in creating this film. A specific shot with a camera going around a risen hand was difficult but fun. Also synching the music with the scenes was difficult but we managed.â€?

2) “There were some physical limitations in the effects that could be used in the film, e.g. not having a tall enough tripod. Still the difficulties were compromised into creative alternatives.â€?

3)  “Yes – we did not have certain props (a dagger and sheath), we could not position the actors exactly as they appeared in the film, and it was hard to get the exact lighting. On the computer, one problem is that we could not obtain the “star irisâ€? transition to use in the shot where the actress is waking up, so we had to use the “burstâ€? transition which does not create the same effect.â€?

  1. These outcomes were predicted by Jonassen in the analysis, Jonassen, D. H., (1994). “Thinking Technology: Toward a constructivist design model.” Educational Technology, 34(3), 34-37.5. http://www-jime.open.ac.uk/00/ingraham/