Report on “Project Makeover”

This morning, Beth Marhanka (Gelardin New Media Center) and Susan Pennestri (CNDLS) co-hosted a lively session called “Project Makeover: Redesigning Student Assignments.” This was the second time we had held a “Project Makeover” session, where faculty members bring assignments that they feel need reworking and staff members (from Gelardin and CNDLS) as well as other faculty members brainstorm ideas for improving the assignments.

In today’s session, Josiah Osgood (Classics) and Tommaso Astarita (History) asked for suggestions on the final project they will assign to students at the end of an intensive study-abroad program in Rome this summer. They want to make the most of the students’ time and energy not only during the program, but also before and after the two weeks the students will spend in Rome.  This course presents some particular challenges, such as the short time frame, the off-campus setting, and the range of student backgrounds.

The group brainstormed about ways to incorporate visual data, such as photographs and video clips, into the students’ final projects. For example, Omeka, a tool for creating online exhibits, could help students to organize and present their research. Students might also use Omeka or another online collection to share some of their artifacts with one another during the process of creating their final projects. Although the final project was conceived as a written paper, the possibility of also accepting a digital story or documentary video was explored. A suggestion was made to give students specific guidelines about how to incorporate images into their written papers.

Josiah and Tommaso were excited about the group’s many suggestions but were understandably wary of making too many changes at once. A team from CNDLS and Gelardin will follow up with Josiah to decide what kind of incremental changes can be realistically implemented by this summer’s course. Stay tuned for updates on this project!

The second “guinea pig” for today’s workshop was Charles Yonkers, who wanted feedback on a new graduate course he will be teaching in the Liberal Studies program this fall called A Sense of Place: Values and Identity. The course will explore different ways to perceive places – for example, through cultural, historical, or geographical lenses. Due to the wide-ranging, elastic, and personal nature of the course topic, he plans to offer an option to students to submit a creative writing piece, photo montage, or other type of final project instead of a traditional scholarly paper.

The group offered some suggestions on how to focus the course structure – for example, by assigning students to particular blogging roles or by integrating student presentations into the second half of the class. Some of the librarians in attendance advised giving students guidance on research methods and specific databases early in the semester.  The suggestion was also made to consider using a wiki to capture the students’ process of refining their conceptions of the particular places they have chosen to focus on for their final projects.

While this course is still a work-in-progress, Charles plans to explore some of these suggestions further (once he wraps up his current course on the Federalist Papers!) as he continues to refine his course syllabus.

Thanks to everyone who attended today’s session. We plan to make “Project Makeover” a regular offering in our CNDLS/Gelardin workshop series. If you’re interested in participating in a future session, please let us know!