I have a faculty guest blog to post!
At the beginning of this past Fall, Professor Jill Rulfs incorporated a pilot media management system designed by Boston College into her freshman seminar class. The course is designed as an interdisciplinary study of the 1854 outbreak of cholera in London. Students in this course study a bit of history, science, engineering, politics, and economy and the role that each of these elements played in that epidemic, as well as in similar recent epidemics (such as in Haiti, in 2010).
Professor Rulf’s comments are below:
Using MediaKron in my freshman course in global health and allowing the students to design and post content to the site resulted in something very different than I had envisioned but also had benefits I had not predicted. The students had read Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map about the cholera epidemic in London in the 1850s. I envisioned their building a site with material about the political and governmental structure, the cultural and literary events of the day, the scientific advancements of the era. You get the idea. Perhaps it was my “fault” for not defining more closely what I had in mind to them. Also perhaps my off hand remark about developing a “marauder’s map” (a la JK Rowling) for Broad Street on the days around the outbreak lead them down alternate paths from the one I originally had in mind. They were much less historically and academically inclined but much more creative in their submissions. Among the projects, we have a claymation video of the path of cholera through the body and an electronic board game involving pump sites around London. However, the benefits of allowing this type of creativity were significant.
Students worked in teams of 4 or 5 and with rare exception (7 out of 60 students) all team members reported engagement of all of the members of the team in the brainstorming, design and development of their topic. The level of energy and enthusiasm grew from open skepticism when I announced the assignment to requests to continue into a second term by the end of the project. Their engagement was perhaps less academic, but much more imaginative than I had predicted and all of their topics deepened their understanding of some aspect of the epidemic- just not the ones I had originally listed under topics. Theirs was a level of engagement I could not have fostered using my original plan.
The pride most of them took in their final product was evident. Several asked me if it was ok to show it to their friends and family over break. And the quality of what they produced in a scant 7 week term (yes, at WPI our courses last seven weeks!) was astounding to me. That leads me to the next topic in this blog…
There was not, to my knowledge, more than one team who did not seek help from campus resource people outside of the classroom. Jim Monaco, our MediaKron liaison, is also a media wizard, and the students asked for Jim’s help and advice throughout, not only for MediaKron technical issues, but for media and presentation options as well. Jim is part of our Academic Technology Center and a member of the Technology for Teaching and Learning team. Having found the ATC and met Jim will facilitate work on many other class and university required projects as these students move through their 4 years at WPI.
Likewise, they talked to our “embedded” librarian, Rebecca Ziino. Rebecca did an in-class session on copyrights and the possibility of making their MediaKron site public drove them to really investigate copyright information for material they wanted to use. One team is still working on the right to use a plush “Giant Microbe” in their video production! In a role perhaps more traditionally assigned to a research librarian, they also went to Rebecca for help in identifying and finding sources for their research. One team, investigating the history of the miasma theory, found a libarary in Europe to be the only ILL source for a book they really wanted to read. Rebecca showed them how to find reviews of the book that might be helpful and did offer to initiate an inter-library loan request, although for reasons of time they all agreed it probably didn’t make sense. Again, these interactions are things we say we want to foster in the freshman seminars, but I have never had this level of success. Of course the people, Jim and Rebecca, are part of the reason but I think it also goes back to the engagement, ownership and personal pride issues described above.
Conclusions and Assessment
Students are putting the finishing touches on their projects and will move on to a very different kind of project next term. I will be interested to see if they use their newly acquired skills and resources in the next project without having to overcome the original skepticism barrier. I will use the survey BC has designed as well as some questions more tailored to my individual project to gather some data on how MediaKron contributed to the course goals.