SECAC recap

Virginia Spivey, Georgetown University

It’s Saturday evening, and probably like most of you, my head is swimming from all the ideas presented, discussed, and expanded upon in conversations at SECAC over the past few days.  Tomorrow, I’ll have to start thinking about my Monday teaching schedule; so before my head explodes, I wanted to recap of some of the things that I gained during the conference.

The Session. . .

I proposed the Art History 2.0 session in order to learn how art historians are currently using digital technologies in the classroom.   A quick poll of the audience revealed that while many of us have made the shift to new technologies, most often they remain used in the service of the traditional slide-based lecture.

Two key questions. . . 

1)  how might new technologies facilitate a shift toward alternative pedagogical models that are more effective, especially for students today?

2) does the changing role of technology in our classrooms, and our culture, demand we reconsider our educational objectives and what skills we teach in art history classes today?

The second question will require much thought and discussion, but one issue became clear during yesterday’s sessions.  If we are going to employ technology in our classes, we must also recognize the importance of teaching information literacy and the effective use of technology.  Like writing, technology skills are not discipline specific; nevertheless, they are essential for students to perform art historical analysis and research in the 21st century.  We should acknowledge our role to help students achieve proficiency.

The first question above is easier to address, but will require time and on-going experimentation to answer.  Changing art historical pedagogy involves testing new practices, exchanging ideas, taking risks, and willing to learn from your (inevitable) failures.

A case in point . . .

So many questions were generated around the notion of flipping the classroom.  And although we attempted to model the “flipped class” in our SECAC session, it just didn’t work.  Panelists—justifiably—felt they needed to fully present their papers in case audience members had not read the website prior to the session.  Because we were experimenting with a new model, we couldn’t be sure everyone was on board; thus, the session evolved according to the typical conference format.

In the classroom, something similar can happen when an instructor first experiments with flipping.  All the elements are there—the podcast or outside material is assigned, but the instructor, doubtful that the students will fulfill their new roles–and a little unsure of her own–quickly falls back into the familiar performance of the lecture that art historians do so well.  It’s only with trial and error that the successful flipped classroom (or conference session) can develop.

As to other ideas and teaching strategies, so many were discussed at SECAC in both our session and in “The End of Art History as We Know It?  Digital Education and the Changing Classroom,” the session chaired by Stephanie Thornton-Grant, and sponsored by the Art Historians Interested in Pedagogy and Technology.

I want to thank everyone who attended and contributed to the conversation, and especially Parme, Sarah, Mary, and Patrick for their presentations and willingness to post their papers in advance.  This site will remain active for anyone who wants to read or comment on the papers, or to continue any of the discussions we began during the session.  Please feel free to contact me if you would like to share your projects involving digital technology in teaching art history in this forum.  Likewise, I hope you will consider following it to see how it might evolve into an on-going platform for the exchange of information, and share the link with your friends who have similar interests.

Wait there’s more . . .

The conference revealed the need for greater support and collaboration throughout our professional community for those of us interested in using technology in teaching.  Curriculum designers, instructional technologists, visual resource librarians, and museum professionals are valuable resources to faculty.  These fields are also undergoing radical changes due to the increased use of technology, and we should look more to their expertise and experiences as we renegotiate our role in the classroom.

Moreover, collaboration itself must become more accepted.  Why do we feel compelled to reinvent the wheel each time we develop a new course or assignment? As humanists, we have been taught to guard our ideas and retain individual authorship; as academics, we have been told that publishing this material is essential to our employment and our success.

Sharing resources and teaching strategies makes so much sense.  We can learn from the failures of others and build on their successes. A central compendium of web-based resources, rubrics, assignments, and syllabi that could be individually tailored to our needs would save us time, improve the quality of our teaching, and ultimately benefit our students.


Fantasy Collecting: A Game for Art Education and Market Simulation

Patrick Herron, Duke University

In 2010, an estimated 183 million Americans reported playing video or computer games for 13 hours a week on average. [1]  This is one of the many astounding testaments to the ubiquity of gaming revealed in Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal’s groundbreaking inquiry into the social and cultural revolution fueled by today’s $68 billion game industry. Thanks to scholars like McGonigal, game developers have begun to see games as vehicles not only for entertainment, but also as pro-active tools for teaching and research. “Gamification,” here defined as “the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems,” is one of the inspirations for Fantasy Collecting, a browser-based game currently under development at Duke University.[2] By offering its users the ability to play with art, Fantasy Collecting innovates traditional methods of teaching the history of art and generates rich data for researchers in the process.

Fantasy Collecting is a visually stimulating browser-based game that teaches its participants about art history as well as the theory and practice of the art market. Featuring a flexible platform that will allow professors and museum professionals to adapt the game to the pedagogical demands of their respective courses and exhibitions, Fantasy Collecting will engage students and museum visitors in an odyssey of connoisseurship and exchange that is propelled by educational challenges and rewarded by points and trophies. By “gamifying” the process of interacting with world art in a virtual setting, Fantasy Collecting allows participants with any level of expertise to learn more about art, its history and the market dynamics that it creates.

About a year ago, Katherine Jentleson, a PhD student in the Art, Art History and Visual Studies Department at Duke University and I presented the basic concept of Fantasy Collecting at the Duke, Art Law and Markets Initiative (DALMI) workshop in Durham, North Carolina. The consensus of the international group of scholars from art history, economics and sociology gathered at the DALMI workshop was quite straightforward: prior to digital elaboration, the game should be put into practice on a role-playing basis to test the validity of a basic assumption—that students would willingly engage in the game. In advance of the Spring 2012 semester, we designed an analog version of Fantasy Collecting for Art History 245S, an interdisciplinary art history-economics seminar on the history of art markets taught by Hans Van Miegroet, the chair of the art history department at Duke and Neil De Marchi, professor of economics. Over the course of the Spring 2012 semester, the 15 students enrolled in the course had the opportunity to play an analog version of Fantasy Collecting in class. In the first meeting, students were exposed to the game’s marketplace through a slideshow of 70 masterpieces of Western Art History chosen randomly from H.W. Janson’s History of Art. Each student then received a randomly generated “Fantasy Collection” in the form of a dossier containing images and information on the works from the marketplace that he/she owned. In subsequent classes, students shaped their collections by engaging in bartering sessions and buying new pieces during in-class auctions. Students generated the currency they used at these auctions by being active in the marketplace—primarily by fulfilling various challenges over Twitter. These challenges demanded that they educate their fellow students about works in their collections or express interest in works of art not yet included in the game through succinct tweets. At the end of the semester, the collectors with the most points had the opportunity to present their final collections to the class, emphasizing their collection highlights and collecting strategies. The end of the game reflected the model of stock portfolio competitions in M.B.A. programs, which often culminate with pitches.

In its Spring 2012 iteration, the educational game Fantasy Collecting was primarily paper-based and played through in-class bartering and trading sessions, while several preexisting online tools facilitated gameplay outside of class. Dropbox, a popular cloud storage service, allowed students to view each other’s collections, while Twitter provided a forum for communication under the hashtag #FCplays2012. Although the paper-based round of the game was conceived as a proof of concept rather than a precise model for future gameplay, it confirmed that paper play is not scalable, as it required an intense amount of overhead work from Jentleson, who had to manually track points through a complex Excel database and redistribute updated collections each week based on recent trades. This experience reinforced the team’s enthusiasm for developing a fully digital version of Fantasy Collecting, which would not only make the game scalable to multiple concurrent sessions for multiple classes across multiple institutions, but also would permit the creation of valuable automatic data archives and analytics that would efficiently capture and help in the evaluation of the important data generated in the game.

In January of 2012 William Shaw, then a new employee of the Duke Library, took a meeting with Jentleson, Van Miegroet and De Marchi and agreed to participate in game development. In subsequent months, Shaw made speedy progress with the digital prototype of the game, developing it on a parallel track that was responsive to Jentleson’s Spring 2012 analog gameplay. From the very first iteration of the prototype last March, Shaw has written Fantasy Collecting as a browser-based game backed by a MySQL database, written in PHP and JavaScript with a jQuery library. While Shaw worked on designing the game’s database and interface, I focused on approaches to the data generated by gameplay, developing several tools that would track the communication between players active in the game.

As a team, Jentleson, Shaw and I achieved further progress on the digital prototype during the summer of 2012, thanks in part, to support from Duke’s Humanities Writ Large Initiative, which is funded by an Andrew W. Mellon grant. Our most recent user experience tree demonstrates the basic flow of gameplay as it is conceived in our current digital prototype: Players enter the game as “Newbie Collectors” and move through the game by meeting challenges, making transactions, and generating Fantasy Collecting Gilders (‘FCG,’ symbolized with ‘∮,’ pronounced either ‘fees’ or ‘f-c-g’). The process of passing from one level to the next is affected by a player’s participation in challenge completion, trophy acquisition, and total ∮ acquired, basic game mechanisms that are also the central pedagogical engines of the game (see Fig. 6 for a list of current challenges and trophies). Fantasy Collecting also introduces the possibility for micro-scholarship through posts and pitches that advance players through various levels of the game. When a player puts her work up for sale in the Classifieds section, for instance, she writes a sales pitch. In addition to advertising her consignment to buyers, her pitch will generate ∮s when it exhibits the apt use of art historical keywords to describe her art work.

The game is also designed to provide players with a window into the fascinating study of art markets, a relatively new field of enquiry that operates at the interface of the humanities and social sciences through interdisciplinary Art & Markets courses already underway at Duke. As part of Fantasy Collecting, we create and imitate real market situations and events, predominantly for pedagogical purposes. For instance, a player might learn that one of his trusted dealers has been intercepted by Interpol and accused of illegal antiquities trade (this episode is based on the recent story of Subash Chandra Kapoor) or that a very wealthy American heiress has decided to patronize his arts education, sending him to Europe for a Grand Tour (this episode is based on the relationship between Isabella Stewart Gardner and Bernard Berenson). These “Curveballs” will come to players with hyperlinks that give them the opportunity to explore the real-life occurrence that inspired their unexpected gamified circumstances. In addition to these anecdotal history lessons, Fantasy Collecting strives to replicate many of the contemporary and historical conditions of the art world through its internal logic. By mapping the rules of play in Fantasy Collecting against real art market conditions (such as the existence of high transaction costs for selling at auction) the game has the potential to generate valuable data that will be a useful resource for scholars in such fields as art history, sociology, economics and museum studies. We plan to archive and make open the data generated within the game; back-end aggregate analytic tools that record and visualize transaction history, price levels, marketing strategies and so on will allow scholars from various disciplines to explore research questions related to interaction patterns, collector behavior, art preferences and taste formation.

This semester we are putting the current prototype to work in another undergraduate class. From November 1­st to 13th, the 35 students enrolled in Neil De Marchi’s Contemporary Art Markets course will play a stripped down version of Fantasy Collecting. Since these players have a background in economics, we are challenging them to critique the game economy that we have envisioned for Fantasy Collecting thus far. Their level of engagement will be a test of how “sticky” the basic market simulation is, without the added layer of pedagogical game mechanics such as challenges and trophies. This round of the game will also be a test of how well Fantasy Collecting can work in conjunction with museum exhibitions, as the game marketplace will consist of works from the contemporary art collection of Duke alumni Jason Rubell that are currently on view at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. We are especially excited to be pairing gameplay with this exhibition, because the show is about the collection that Rubell put together while he was a student at Duke. Fantasy Collecting allows Duke students to build on Jason’s example and experiment with collecting from a young age, albeit in a fantasy realm.

One our main takeaways from the analog, paper-based edition of Fantasy Collecting in the Spring of 2012, was that students with disciplinary backgrounds outside of the humanities become truly engaged in learning about art when they can claim a proprietary relation to it. The November round of gameplay will put this assumption to the test once more, as the students in De Marchi’s course are mostly economics majors. This is a good note to end on, because it allows me to emphasize that Fantasy Collecting not only has the potential to resituate traditional practices of looking and learning among individuals already engaged in the study of art, but that it also has the potential to plant the seed of humanist pursuits among individuals who may not have been otherwise inclined. I can’t resist but bring up another statistic from Jane McGonigal’s book here: A 2008 study showed that after a group of 7,000 subjects played games that simulated the playing of musical instruments, 67 percent of the non-musicians in the group “reported that they had been inspired to pick up a real instrument.”[3] Fantasy Collecting, similarly, aims to make art lovers out of individuals who may not have otherwise taken a substantive interest. It is a recurring challenge for humanists engaged in the study of visual culture to leverage new developments in digital media as meaningful platforms for innovative methods of research and teaching. Fantasy Collecting taps into the power of games to promote learning and everyday engagement with art in a digital context, thus creating unprecedented pathways for scholarship and pedagogy in the arts that will attract new constituencies and transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries.

[1] Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (New York, N.Y.: The Penguin Press, 2011), p. 3.

[2] Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham, Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps, 1st edn (O’Reilly Media, 2011), p. 7.

[3] McGonigal, p. 75.

The Teacher as Student: What my Students Teach me about Technology and Digital Media in the Classroom

Sarah Liberatore, Northern Virginia Community College

I remember well my first day as an adjunct at Northern Virginia Community College in 2007.  Although I had been teaching off and on for a number of years, teaching was my “fun” job, a change from my full-time position at Christie’s Auctioneers where I was a regional representative in the Washington, DC office.  I walked into the then slide library, as it was called, saw the light table, slide projectors, stacks of slides (many of which had gone red over time) and groaned – this was still how art history was taught?  Needless to say, those days are long behind me – the slide library is no more, and my “fun” job is now my full-time career.  I have learned a lot in the past five years about the benefits and challenges of technology and digital media in the classroom and am still learning more and more, whether from my students or my 10 year old son.

When I first began writing this paper, my initial intent was to focus on what students have taught me about what they have found useful on the internet, technological tools, etc.  and indeed that is my prime focus; however, I also want to share my concerns about what students don’t know.  While our goal as college and university instructors may be to increase technology use in the classroom, what happens to students who are at a technological disadvantage?  What about students who don’t have Internet access at home, who don’t know how to create a PowerPoint or other presentation tool?  What about students who don’t know how to do basic research and assume that all websites and YouTube videos offer good and legitimate information?  Technology and on-line tools bring great benefits and potential problems to the classroom.  Nonetheless, the pros far outweigh the cons.

I teach for the largest community college in Virginia.  I am the only full-time art historian at the Alexandria campus teaching five classes a semester to a total of about 150 students.  We also employ 4-5 adjuncts each semester.  At the community college level, the vast majority of students need a fine arts credit to transfer, so most of our classes are art history surveys.  Our campus is extremely diverse – in a typical class I have students from 10-12 different countries (primarily African, Hispanic and Asian), many on student VISAs or immigrant status; the majority of my students receive financial aid and work outside the home to support themselves, and often their families.  This is a very different demographic from our other four campuses in Northern Virginia.

I won’t lie – I am not the most technologically savvy person.  I have learned, through trial and error, many things on my own but still have a lot to learn. I learn what I need to know and try to keep up with the latest innovations for the classroom and Blackboard.   I still write notes down on a pad of paper and use a desk calendar (call me old fashioned) but realized long ago that to keep up with my students (and to keep them engaged in the classroom), I must embrace technology or fall behind.   In the process, the teacher has become the student.

I recall painfully my first semester as a full-time instructor – I would often rely on students to help me enlarge an image on the screen, figure out how to “un-freeze” the computer, and fix the overhead projector.  What must they think of me?  I quickly let my ego go and started to watch the students, and I learned from them and listened to them: I learned how to enlarge an image, I figured out how to fix my computer when frozen, and learned not only how to operate the overhead projector, and my beloved Smartboard, but learned how to embed videos, put external links, documents and assignments on my Blackboard site and eliminate paper hand-outs entirely; I learned about discussion boards, and blogs, Prezi and Panapto and the list goes on and is still growing……and now the teacher impresses her students (sometimes).

About two years ago, I began requiring my students in both Art 101 and Art 102 to teach on a work of art, architecture, method, medium, or historic period, etc. to their fellow students.  I wanted to create an assignment that allowed students some creative license and the ability to show their skills and knowledge apart from the typical classroom experience (the era of shutting off the lights and talking at students is long gone).  The assignment requires students to choose from a list of topics I provide them, with specific dates they will present that coincide with the classroom meetings.  The student may use notes and should plan a 3-5 minute presentation that must include visuals; they are allowed to use YouTube clips (or other web sources) but the clip may not teach for them.

From its inception, student teaching has brought me wonderful on-line sources that I would otherwise not have had the time to find.  Often, the students’ information becomes part of future lectures; the most useful information comes in the form of YouTube videos and websites that provide three-dimensional recreations of architectural structures or sites.

Student teaching has also allowed me to rethink the way I teach.  One former student was to teach on the Nike of Samothrace; he found a video of a tourist walking through the Louvre, approaching and going around the sculpture.  He turned down the audio and spoke about the sculpture as the video played.  Brilliant!  I now use similar videos that do the same thing – walking through the Temple of Amen-Re at Karnak, the Lion’s Gate at Mycenae, the interior of the Treasury of Atreus, the Sistine Chapel, Stanza della Segnatura, the Pantheon and the list goes on– how much more meaningful than stagnant viewing of slides!

Sometimes what I learn from my students comes after a class – something I talk about recalls something they have seen on the web or read in a blog.  After talking about the Bayeux tapestry, a student came up to me after class and mentioned that she had also learned about the tapestry in her Western Civ class; her professor had shown a video which they all loved.  Of course, I immediately viewed it, and now use it every semester.  Likewise, another student, after our in-class discussion of Lascaux’s cave paintings, did some of his own research and came across the Lascaux website which recreates the caves in a 3-D animation.  Now when I teach Prehistoric art, I go to the site, turn down the music, and lecture as the video walks us through the cave.

Integrating videos and websites into the classroom and having students teach one another has created largely positive (and fun) results – not only does it break up the monotony of a lecture but keeps the students awake, engaged, and off their laptops and phones!  Of course, I have also learned that there is a lot of junk in cyberspace and that some students don’t separate the wheat from the chaff but assume everything they read or view is the truth – It’s on the web right?  This has allowed some discussions in class, and clarification, regarding research off the web; ultimately, lousy and misleading websites and on-line information becomes an in-class lesson on how to critically view websites and videos and not accept information at the surface.  I’ll save my “but the aliens built everything” story for another time…

Although seemingly outside the realm of art history, one thing I find extremely helpful, particularly for my Art 101 classes, are videos that link the ancient world to the present day.  For example, I found a video which shows a group of Spanish men (Recortadores) who engage in bull-leaping – it has become a regular clip I show when I teach the Minoan bull-leaping fresco.  Likewise, before I begin teaching on Egyptian tomb art and the pyramids, I show small segments of a film that shows an Egyptologist and physician mummify a body donor – it is not gory but expertly explains to the students the importance of preservation of the body, the concept of the ka, and provides a logical link to discussions about why and how tombs were built to do this.

Is a virtual experience, the only effective one in the classroom?   One student, who was home schooled and not allowed to access the internet, got around this problem by doing a “show and tell.”  Since her choice of topics was limited by her family’s religious and personal beliefs, she wisely chose a topic related to icons, so as a Byzantine Catholic, brought in many examples from home. Some students want to show real-life examples vs. a virtual experience; I have had students share/show their skills making Japanese prints, engravings, painting techniques, and a 3-D model of a barrel vault.  Two of my favorite “show and tell lessons,” – one student built a model of Mt. Vesuvius (the presenter did show images of her trip to Pompeii while her volcano erupted); the other student recreated the Dionysiac mystery frieze on the wall outside the classroom via a huge printed image. While these might seem to some high school projects, these students showed initiative and creativity and in the process brought the virtual world to reality.

While the use of technology in the classroom has many benefits, what is the downside?  Surprising to me, I have noticed an increase in the number of students who do not know how to use PowerPoint, or other presentation tools, yet others can seamlessly and easily create presentations that provide links and impressive graphics. While small minorities, some of my students do not have regular access to computers at home; for others, they are recent immigrants and completely computer illiterate.  Will they be left behind due to their economic constraints?  Will they be able to succeed at a university if not technologically equipped?  Of course not.   Obviously, this is a concern at all levels of education as even grade schools and high schools increasingly use on-line books and technological tools, and although a much larger issue than I can tackle here, deserves careful consideration at all institutes of higher education.

While I fully embrace and welcome technology and digital media in the classroom, it is a careful balance to not become a “dog and pony show,” to seemingly dumb-down material in an effort to engage the students.  Fortunately, there are so many good choices out there – from Smarthistory, YouTube, evideos, publisher’s websites, and museum sites, there are a multitude of options to enliven your lectures, to bring you into the 21st century, to meet your students where they are.

Slides are long gone, projectors are relics of the past, and PowerPoint will be disappearing soon.  It is time to re-envision our classes, to recognize how students learn best, to re-think our roles as educators who no longer stand behind a podium but instead become educators who think more like students.

Out of the Cave and into Cyberspace or Lessons I learned While Rethinking Art History, Technology and Pedagogy in the Classroom

Parme Giuntini, Otis College of Art and Design

If you are teaching, you are using some kind of technology. That could be anything from dipping your toes in the water with PowerPoint to full submersion–working within a course management system, using electronic portfolios, blogging, lecture capture, YouTube videos, and making your own podcasts.  It could be using digital texts and image data bases, Smarthistory and other kinds of educational internet sites and giving electronic feedback for student work.  I fall into the second category although I don’t consider myself a techie.  Every scrap of technology I use, I’ve learned on the job.  I have seen technological innovations like digital projectors, online resources, and Smarthistory make dramatic changes and those were the ones I kept. I have also participated in beta tests that involved hours of work and ended up with ineffective results like lecture capture.  Those I had to walk away from, say “I tried, but it’s not going to work in my course.  I need to find something else to accomplish the same goal.”

I am what is called an “early adopter” although in my department the term most often used is guinea pig and I encourage this because it works to my benefit.  I need my faculty to know that before I ask them to do something new, I’ll work out the kinks, that I’ll not saddle them with something that is unwieldy.  When we adopt a new technology, they are getting something that is road-tested and I can be one of the “go to guys”.  I admire faculty who forge ahead on their own, learn new technology and incorporate it into their classes, but that’s a very idiosyncratic approach and it relies on individual initiative.  My experience has been more group oriented. I beta test everything for a year before I ask my faculty to adopt it.  When I roll out something new, it always initiates in a core freshman course with 12 sections, generally nine different instructors and about 250 students. Anything new starts from the bottom up and what my faculty learn in that course, they migrate to other courses and other faculty. They become peer instructors.

For the past five years, my scholarly focus has been the intersection of pedagogy and technology, two terms that I encourage you to think of as a package deal.   The ability of technology to deliver high quality content online is present and readily accessible, often for free.  This means that the art history professor…well, any professor really, is no longer the gatekeeper to information.  The traditional lecture based course with its 20 lbs. of textbooks probably never was the best way for most students to learn, but it was the standard  and most of us took those kinds of courses so that’s what we knew and what we continued.  Pedagogy today criticizes that model and the passive classroom it produces. So, while I used to be a “sage on the stage,” I’m a convert to “the guide on the side.”  It wasn’t an easy or graceful transition because it is a culture shift from what was familiar, from the way Art History was taught to a new model that is being developed weekly. But I did it.  Now I’m an advocate of the “flipped classroom,” the active classroom, collaboration, project based learning, peer to peer learning, and student group work.  In his book, The Learning Paradigm College, John Tagg identifies this as a shift from the Instruction Paradigm where faculty deliver content in the classroom to the Learning Paradigm where class time is spent actively engaging with the content that has already been made available.  It’s a shift from a classroom where you deliver the content to a classroom where you mentor student learning with content that has already been delivered.  This is eminently possible with technology, but it does present some pedagogical obstacles for many faculty.

I’m going to speak in three voices:  as an art historian, as an educator and as an administrator. I’m going to focus on our core freshman course, Introduction to Visual Culture because this is where we initiate new technological and pedagogical changes. It’s a fall course which gives my faculty the summer to become familiar with new technology and pedagogy; I would never ask them to try something new mid-semester.  What is successful is continued in the next core class, Modern which runs spring semester.  Many of the same faculty teach both courses so we have that advantage of faculty experience and continuity.

Just a few pertinent demographics…Otis is an art and design college, about 1200 students who are all studio majors.  Our classes are small, between 15 and 22 students and they meet once a week for about 3 hours.  My faculty is primarily part time and many of them have a long institutional history with the department…I went to grad school with some of them so I’m not working with junior faculty who quake in their boots when I speak; these are peers.  With the exception of new hires for whom I now make technology an employment mandate, these are digital immigrants, not digital natives.  We have a small but well equipped Teaching and Learning Center in the Library with two full time staff including an instructional designer.  They run workshops and are always available for individual help.  Most of my faculty was wedded to traditional technology like slide projectors.  Actually, I’m not going to say anything about digital imagery and projection except that we switched to digital projection en mass about eight years ago in one semester.  It’s a story unto itself but since digital projection is now the currency of the classroom, it’s past history and there are bigger technology issues facing us now.

As of fall 2011, the first year core art history courses all began using an electronic portfolio format which eliminated syllabi that were word docs or hard copies.  All assigned readings were online either from books or journal articles accessed through databases, educational websites, and the occasional PDF.  The electronic portfolios included links to sites like Smarthistory and YouTube because there is excellent material there. These core courses are taught through a common syllabus which I develop with faculty input so, with the exception of weekly writing prompts and the final exam, everyone uses the same syllabus. We agreed to a common syllabus several years ago, so that was not an issue…just how it was delivered.

Electronic portfolios or ePortfolios as we call them are a feature of the Digication course management system that we use and a key reason that we adopted this particular platform.  As an art and design college, it was advantageous for our students to have electronic portfolios.  Once enrolled, every student is set up with an ePortfolio and for every class they take, at a minimum, they post their best work from that class and do reflective writing on their coursework and education. We archive all of this electronically for departmental and institutional assessment.  An added advantage for faculty is that you can review the previous work of every student in your course.  You know what classes they’ve taken, what kind of critical thinking and writing they’ve demonstrated, what they thought about these courses and their education.  Technology makes this possible and it has been very helpful to faculty.

These ePortfolios function like mini-websites and they accommodate all kinds of images, media, text, fonts, colors, voice files; you can link to the internet and you can project them.   They had tremendous potential for faculty use so I was encouraged to beta test them as the vehicle for syllabi delivery and for teaching which I did for a year in both a core class and an elective.  I revised most of my lecture material for the Eportfolio which made it function like a very simplified version of an ibook but it took a lot more time than writing lecture notes because I had to write into a digital space and deal with images and text…it was much more work than a PowerPoint.  It was a great resource for the students and I became a pro in visual literacy doing that, but it took so long to redo lectures that I didn’t encourage faculty in that direction.  Additionally, projecting Eportfolio pages was fine for text, bullet points, and the occasional image, but it was not as image flexible as the Madison Image Digital System that we use or even PowerPoint.  I was used to projecting a much larger image, being able to split the screen, bring up different images at will, add new ones if I wanted to very quickly and the ePortfolios aren’t built for that.

However, they turned out to be far superior as vehicles for syllabi, much better than an electronic word doc. which is what I had been using.  On the basis of that, I wanted the art historians teaching the core courses to adopt the eportfolio for their syllabus. Most of them were using paper syllabi; a few had shifted to electronic work docs which they posted in the CMS.  So this was going to be a big jump for some of them but I felt justified.  First, the faculty had already agreed to a 0 cost book bill so all reading would be accessible online through electronic databases or .edu websites or the occasional PDF and the eportfolios easily accommodated this.  Plus, the eportfolios were far superior to a word doc—they were easier to navigate because you don’t scroll through endless text, you click from screen to screen.  We could add links to all kinds of explanatory material, everything from citation and grammar checking sites to educational sites and it would always be available to the students.  We could imbed videos and images, add our own information on writing, include rubrics…this takes up a lot of space in a word doc. and it would run to 30 pages or more in a paper syllabus.  Because eportfolios accommodated colors and different fonts and banners, they looked like websites and students liked navigating something like that rather than scrolling through pages of text.  That year I gave my students a paper syllabus, posted the syllabus as a word doc. and gave them the eportfolio.  Within two weeks, everyone used the eportfolio exclusively.  Plus, in a course that addresses visuality and visual literacy in both fine art and popular culture, using a platform in which images and text were integrated made more sense pedagogically.   In a department wanted to adopt visual literacy as one of the Learning Outcomes, it was critical that students practice what they were learning.

We accomplished the shift from word docs to eportfolios in the summer 2011.  To help the faculty get over the hurdle of using a new format and to avoid asking them to make the Eportfolio for their class from scratch, I made a template for the two core classes.  I included everything except the weekly homework assignment which they wrote, but I didn’t customize the template in any way (no images, no icons, no banners or colors).  All the faculty had to do was click and make a copy, add their contact information, homework question, and specific class meeting times.  That would have been sufficient.

What really happened?  Since they had the template, the hard work was done and they began experimenting and adding icons and images to their class ePortfolios.  They added colored borders and backgrounds, changed the fonts and, in a few instances, revised and refined the structure without changing any content.  Starting from scratch would have been too much for many of them but customizing was much easier and fun.  I think it was almost competitive.  A number of them teach sophomore and junior classes and …encouraged by their success with the template, all of them redesigned their other classes into eportfolios. In that one semester, faculty adoption of the eportfolios hit almost 50% and it just keeps growing.

Many colleges are adopting eportfolios for a wide range of assessment purposes but I’m not going to address that.  I’m interested in the pedagogical advantages that they offer.  The core courses used to have mandatory weekly quizzes.  We replaced those quizzes with weekly reading responses which the students posted in their eportfolios.  This turned out be very successful. Studies show that if students are held accountable for reading, they do it.  Rather than writing under pressure in class, the students had time to read, think, write, revise and then submit the work electronically.  Faculty found they could ask more critical questions; ask questions that involved a graduated measure of research.  No one missed reading the bad handwriting.  At my suggestion…remember I tested this for a year…faculty made the homework due at least 24 hours before class which meant they had time to read and critique it.  Since the eportfolios have a commenting function, the students had faculty feedback on their work before they came to class.  So the instructor could walk into class with a very good idea of how the students understood and responded to the reading.  This changes the kind of discussion you can have and opens up the possibilities for group work and questions.  Because the work is generated electronically, instructors could project student work and discuss it much like a peer review or studio critique.

Not everything worked as smoothly.  Because the students posted their work into a digital space that accommodated images, videos, and links, we had to stop thinking of them as conventional papers since the intended vehicle for viewing was a screen.  That changed everything.  Everyone expected the art historians to somehow instinctively understand visual literacy and guide the students.  Exactly the opposite happened.  What we discovered is that most of the faculty were unfamiliar with visual literacy in a digital space.  They liked the idea of students using images in their work…these were art history classes…but they had no experience working in digital spaces  and were giving wildly divergent instructions to the students.  Student work had images without context or explanation, all different colored fonts sometimes in the same paper, poorly designed use of space and the juxtaposition of image to text was often awkward.  Since I had that year of experience, I was the most conversant with visual literacy so I wrote a short essay about visual rhetoric and visual literacy that was added to the core courses eportfolio, then to the senior capstone course portfolios and now is available for any course eportfolio.   All I did was explain the main issues of visual literacy but I incorporated images and examples so they had information and a model for their own work.  It’s not definitive and faculty still have preferences, but it does establish basic guidelines and their rationale.

In retrospect, this is something that I should have anticipated because I had to learn it.  I had incorporated this instruction into my own class but we had never discussed visual literacy and digital space as a faculty.  The excitement and the focus was on the new technology and learning how to navigate it and put in colors and pictures…we needed to incorporate the pedagogy along with that.  Just as a follow up… last year the Association of College and Research Libraries adopted Visual Literacy as a core competency and we added visual literacy as one of our department goals; it will probably end up as a college learning outcome as well.  That compels the entire faculty, not just the art historians, to become fluent in visual literacy.

Using videos and podcasts has become an increasingly important part of these courses but it has raised some critical issues. First, how are faculty using videos and podcasts?  What kinds of preparation for watching are they requiring?  How are they incorporating that information into a larger body of material?  Listening to a podcast or a Smarthistory video without some kind of related activity is just as passive as listening to a lecture?  I loved Smarthistory from the beginning but most of my faculty didn’t.  They considered it lightweight without enough substance which really translated into “I’m not sure how to use this so I’ll just lecture instead.”  To get them invested in this, my department flew Beth and Steven out to Otis and we ran an art history faculty workshop around Smarthistory.  The morning was pedagogy which was really helpful because it gave my faculty an opportunity to ask questions and discuss their concerns.  In the afternoon, we all made recordings and then listened and critiqued them.  That made several of the faculty interested in making videos. They needed that kind of time with Beth and Steven to really understand how the pedagogy of conversation worked and not to dismiss it as lightweight art history. They walked into that meeting skeptical; they walked out willing to adopt Smarthistory.   What I learned as an administrator…sometimes you have to bring the experts in especially for faculty who are skeptical about new technologies and pedagogies.  Most of these art historians were fine with a digital image that they could project and talk about but at a loss working with a conversational pedagogy that did not discursively frame the image.   They needed background, context, and practice.

They weren’t the only ones.  Students need guidance with videos as well because they are very accustomed to viewing them as entertainment.  I spent a year beta testing Smarthistory videos before embedding them in the core modern class and my first experience was disastrous.  I assigned a Smarthistory video and wrote an accompanying prompt for the students as homework, but when I read their responses, I was really disappointed because they seemed to have missed the critical issues.  I realized that they had simply looked and listened; it was a video so they watched, but they didn’t critically engage.  We went over that video in class but this time with instructions:  write down every term or idea you don’t know, every idea or statement that is not clear, every disagreement between the two art historians.  I had two students do this on a white board and the rest on paper or their computers.  Big difference—and out of the questions that they generated, we had an incredible discussion that lasted the rest of the class. What I learned…students tend to watch passively so any video/podcast assignment should come with questions that involve another reading or a small amount of research.  Because of my experience which I think is pretty typical…I wrote a short essay “How to Critically Watch a Video.”  . It now lives in all the core syllabi and it’s also posted on Smarthistory.

The last issue that I’m going to raise is not exclusive to art historians, nor as easily fixed as writing video viewing instructions or walking nervous faculty through new technology, but I think it is just as critical. The amount of excellent art historical material available on line is increasing exponentially.  Everything from academic data bases, educational sites, and electronic journals to PDFs and lectures and podcasts and videos.  The internet has eroded the exclusive claim that professors used to have on content.  We are no longer the sole gateway to knowledge.  More and more of us are putting college level material on the internet for free use.  I know because I am one of them. I regularly make podcasts that are posted to YouTube and they now function as the lectures I used to give in class. They’re better actually…because they are uninterrupted, everything flows, I had lots of time to revise and refine.  My students can watch, stop, take notes, answer questions, list questions and when they walk into class, they are prepared to discuss. They aren’t hearing it for the first time.

Then there are the MOOCs, the Massive Open Online Courses that offer the same class content taught at Harvard and Stanford and UC Berkeley and Vanderbilt and Emory…the list is much longer.  Great lectures, great professors, great content.  While currently MOOCs only offer certificates, there are already colleges that are accepting those certificates as transferable credit and I suspect that this time next year, that may be the situation for many of our institutions. I want to mine the MOOCs for content; I just don’t want those courses to replace mine or my faculties.

I love technology; I don’t want to go back to paper syllabi and slide projectors but I think that we have focused on technology too long as an intrusion, something we could avoid, something that was too slick and not really academic.  We assumed that the real meat of the course was our lecture material and now technology is here to demonstrate that it’s not.   It makes no difference whether you champion a more conservative art history that focuses on the fine art object or some variation of Visual Culture which addresses representation in broader ways; whether you teach western or non-western, whether your class size numbers in the hundreds with a gaggle of TA’s or small classes where you do all the work and know every student’s name.  The slide/lecture format of the traditional art history classroom is rapidly becoming a museum artifact.  Even in conjunction with digital projection which literally means students do not sit in the dark, it is becoming increasingly harder to justify that the best learning takes place while listening and taking notes. There is nothing to support that model.

Technology does offer some challenges. This time we will have to reinvent the wheel and that means spending as much time addressing technology and pedagogy as content.  It will mean huge changes in how the typical art history classroom functions.  We have to be able to deliver more than content in the classroom because the internet and emerging technologies have made that content available, accessible, and free and often more interesting …last time I checked being a riveting speaker was not a requirement for a Ph.D.  Technology has given art historians much more material to work with, but what is going to be the function of art historians in undergraduate education in the 21st century?  How are we preparing ourselves to deal with a student population that is comfortable on line, which has grown up learning through videos and game theory?…a student population that walks into your classroom with a mobile device and surfs the net when there is even a moment’s lag in their interest

In my little art and design college, the studio faculty grapple with technology and many of them don’t like it but they never really worry about their classrooms being passive and while they may have to deal with the MOOC threat in the future, they are safe for now.  They may be divas in the gallery or in the industry but they are guides on the side in the classroom.  They lecture a little, they question, they model, they critique, they prod, they walk around and ask questions and the students work and learn.  No one nods off, no one surfs the net, no one walks out with a passive experience.  That is what I want for all my department’s courses, that kind of engaged experience that can never be replaced by free content regardless of how good it is.  That means using technology to deliver much of the content; it means faculty making podcasts of their lectures or posting their lectures as homework.  It means flipping every classroom where our students used to sit and listen into active learning spaces where we mentor, question, discuss, critique and lecture…a little.  We should be speaking, just not the whole time.  Currently, this is the sticking point for most of my faculty because they place a high value on content which they see as best delivered in a lecture. However, we teach in an art and design college where all the studio courses are active classrooms and where students associate authentic learning with doing, not just sitting and listening and, in the case of the art history classes, looking. This is where technology makes such a huge difference if we see it as an aid, if we make it work for us because we all need to be guides if we are going to stay in those classrooms.

Place: Is On-line the Right Place? Integrating Student Research into an On-line Resouces to Enhance the Study of Local Architectural History

Mary Prevo, Hampden-Sydney College

The Hampden-Sydney campus includes examples of 19th-century academic and domestic architecture that I have been using for teaching since 2000.  Over the years students have examined buildings, located historic photographs and documents, and developed reports based on standards set by the National Register of Historic Places.  Their work and sources reside in various places: formal and informal, publicly-available and unpublished.  The purpose of this project is to bring these resources together with interactive mapping and sorting software.  The resulting database will have two purposes:  to house information collected by students in the past and to be a resource for future research.  The beta version of this project includes six buildings and is based on a website for the study of modern architecture in Richmond developed by Jeannine Keefer, Visual Resource Librarian and Pre-Architecture Advisor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Richmond.  I will present the framework for the project which uses an html page and cloud-based spreadsheet and image server. The interactive mapping, sorting, and display capabilities in the home html page are provided by open-sources widgets developed by MIT’s SIMILE project.

In the future students will participate in expanding the resource with new buildings and source material. In the process they will gain an understanding of the importance of standardized data collection and see a public application of the skills they develop in class (architectural photography and data collection, including cataloging architectural drawings).  I anticipate that the knowledge that their work will be immediately part of a larger, public endeavor will encourage students to greater personal accountability and provide them with greater satisfaction.

The value of this project is that it builds on an existing web project, uses open source software, and brings previously unpublished student classwork to a more publically available platform.

Mary Prevo, Hampden-Sydney College Architecture, 2012

Website address:


  • Hypertext written and developed by Davis and Prevo and hosted on HSC server includes embedded widgets developed by MIT’s Simile project
  • Data and links to images held in a Google Docs spreadsheet (cloud)
  • Thumbnails for html page stored on Picasa (cloud)
  • Larger images stored on Flickr (cloud)


Exhibit: Publishing Framework for Data-Rich Interactive Web Pages.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006-2009.

Keefer, Jeannine. “Finding 20th Century Architecture in Richmond.” VRA Bulletin. Vol. 37, no.3. 2010, pp. 35-43.

Richmond Architecture. Developed by Jeannine Keefer for her architectural history classes.

SIMILE Widgets: Free, Open-Source Data Visulization Web Widgets, and More.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006-2009.


Jeannine Keefer, Visual Resources Librarian and Pre-Architecture Advisor, University of Richmond

Dr. Richard C. McClintock, Director of Publications, HSC

Robert R. Davis, III, Software Developer, HSC

Students in American Domestic Architecture classes even-numbered years since 2004

Students in the Hampden-Sydney Architectural Society

Hampden-Sydney College Bortz Award for Teaching with Technology, 2012

Art History 2.0 at SECAC

This site supplements the session Art History 2.0: New Technologies and Changes in Pedagogical Practice, scheduled at SECAC for Friday, October 19,  3:30-5:30 pm.  By providing information about the presenters, their presentations, and links to relevant websites in advance, we hope to “flip” our conference session.  The  goal is to allow for more time, and to encourage more productive conversation during the two hours we will have together in Durham.

Stay tuned.  Papers and links are soon to come!