This summer’s Innovation Institute led to a lot of breakthroughs for my project. I am working on a floor-to-ceiling redesign of the digital components in my course Middle Eastern Revolutions, a section of CULF 3331: Contemporary World Issues.
I originally proposed this course as a vehicle for experimenting with the use of digital learning tools, given that social media was perceived to have played a momentous role in the Arab revolutions starting in late 2010. Also, and really more importantly, it took a good year and a half for academic publishing to catch up to the events we planned to study, so I anticipated from the beginning using a combination of digital archives of primary sources and revolutionary ephemerata, complemented by news, analysis, and scholarship published in blogs and digital newspapers and journals.
The bigger pedagogical issue, in the end, has turned out to be the tools available to the students and their development of skill in using them, much more so than the raw materials available for their consideration.
Now that my students are working with a few solid print textbooks such as Battle for the Arab Spring and Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution, as well as a host of digital artifacts, I have spent the two weeks of the Institute planning out how to integrate readings from these texts with Google Maps, Diigo, and EduBlog.
This project generally falls under the rubric of digital projects, but it does draw significantly on many other approaches. Naturally the content of the course introduces global learning pretty heavily. Our discussions of the AAC&U’s Global Learning VALUE Rubric and the St. Edward’s Global Learning Rubric allowed me to articulate more specific goals for my students such as demonstrating their understanding of global systems and their abilities to empathize with and take the perspectives of others. The Institute also inspired me to graft elements of collaborative learning and inquiry-guided learning into this project, in both the mapping and blogging activities as well as the final research project. Given the fundamental connectedness and publicity of these digital tools, it makes good sense to give students every incentive to interact with each other’s collections of digital sources and reflections on them.
My top priority in planning this project (and what was really my greatest takeaway from the Institute) has been to articulate clear and specific learning objectives that will dictate how the tools will give my students the greatest benefit in terms of improving the effectiveness of their learning.
So, how will this project improve students’ learning in the class? The three skills these activities will call on most are summarization, analysis, and reflection. The mapping tools used along with readings from the textbooks already correlate with a more detailed recollection of facts and better skill at contextualizing and analyzing them. Throughout the semesters that I have taught this course, I have emphasized a chart that divides perspectives on globalization into five categories: political realist, political idealist, market liberalist, radical and cosmopolitan. I believe that students will gain greater fluency in understanding and applying these terms as conceptual hashtags that they can use either in summarizing and labeling their digital discoveries or in annotating the texts with Diigo’s highlighting and commenting features.
If I am right, I should be able to demonstrate these improvements in a number of ways. Using an AAC&U Value Rubric, I can compare previous student research essays to new, more reflective final projects without having to account too much for the differences in purpose and conception.
Managing three discrete digital platforms will likely be the biggest challenge of this project. Each piece of the puzzle carries a separate cognitive load and will have slightly different objectives. Each platform will also require a unique set of assessment standards. I am eager to try Jason Rosenblum and Bob Strong’s idea of awarding Credly badges on the students’ EduBlog pages to acknowledge accomplishments in the course’s learning goals. And, of course, designing parameters for a more reflective final project in lieu of a traditional research essay poses a host of challenges on its own.