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Category: LOC4 Content & Learning Activities

A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words (which means less writing I have to do for the class!)

  October 24th, 2011

Working in East Hampton Studio, Jackson Pollock, 1951, An ARTstor image, copyright protected.

Like others have mentioned in the last several posts, I was thrilled and surprised with the outcome of the webquest activity. I went through all the links shared in the assignment directions and took notes whenever I found something I thought could be useful to students in my course (Writing Art Criticism). Students in my classes cover a broad range: seniors majoring in art and students from other departments that haven’t a clue; those who have a proclivity towards writing and those who (as Sara pointed out) haven’t even had the college’s basic writing course. One thing I can say though, is I how surprised I’ve been by everyone’s enthusiasm to learn about art, either to add to what they’re already familiar with or to brave what seems completely foreign to them.

Basic writing skills and art history aren’t part of the teaching goals in this course but the broad range of students required that I be ready to offer help to those who are struggling. The easiest way to do that was to begin collecting links to online sources, both about art and writing. Some are from the sites mentioned in our assignment. This assignment gave me even more sources from which to gather content materials.

So far, the most common problem with their writing is passive sentences, descriptive details, and confidence. Here are some of the links I found:

Names of colors – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_colors

Names of  emotions -  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emotions

Descriptive Vocabulary Help – http://www.enhancemyvocabulary.com/word-pairs.html

Action Verbs (and some explain passive vs. active) – http://www.cvisual.com/film-techniques/writer-action-verb-list.asp http://www.examples-help.org.uk/parts-of-speech/action-verbs.htm

In an effort to level the playing field for students, I keep a collection of online resources in addition to course work to help those who aren’t as familiar with art as others. As things come up in a discussion or while going over their papers, I suggest they check out specific links in the folder. Non-art students are sometimes intimidated by art, so I spend the first 3 weeks doing quick short assignments for the reason (among others) that it gives me opportunities to calm their fears.  Here are some of the links I found, both from this assignment and some I already had before. If anyone is interested in a full list, let me know and I’ll send.

Note: I’m trying to embed the videos, but, in case I fail, I’m giving you the links too.

TED: I came up with some excellent treasures! I consider these exceptionally good for several reasons: it’s the artist themselves talking about their work in a relaxed friendly way, they all have a quirky story, and they only last 15 minutes each!

[ted id=1222]  http://www.ted.com/talks/kate_hartman_the_art_of_wearable_communication.html

This is also from TED. At times, when a student is from another field I send them a link to an artist who is working in that field. People still only see art in the traditional mediums (painting, sculpting, architecture…) I am very excited to find this gem tonight.

[ted id=1252]  http://www.ted.com/talks/nathalie_miebach.html

[ted id=32]  http://www.ted.com/talks/vik_muniz_makes_art_with_wire_sugar.html


These were links from surfing Merlot.org. I have access to ARTstor, but my students don’t. I was happy to find out that Valley Library has amazing art image resources for both me and students, then I found a couple more.

World Images Kiosk  http://worldart.sjsu.edu/

Web Gallery: http://www.wga.hu/index.html When you go to many of the images on this site, there is often music playing from the same time period. Besides that (as if that weren’t enough), it has the option “dual mode” for viewing two works side-by-side. This was the grandest and most useful discovery I made from this assignment!

Kahn Academy has an extensive collection of Art History videos, but the quality is amateur from the ones I saw. I could see potential for using it to create my own, or as an assignment for students. While I’m on the subject of creating my own: it was useful to see the various ways other educators are using Flickr.

Youtube Edu: I’ve searched through it before and, like before, didn’t find anything that I liked.

I’m interested in Almagest but couldn’t figure out how to get to the non-member material. Later will try some more.

I have found a lot of great material on Youtube by typing in an artist’s name or title. Here’s some I use a lot:

Ways of Seeing, John Berger, the entire documentary in  several parts: http://youtu.be/LnfB-pUm3eI (I warn students that this is an older film and Berger looks like the hippie Marxist that he still his. The content is valuable and worth helping them look past this.

Artists John Cage, Nam June Paik, and Joseph Beuys. http://youtu.be/Pbgr74yNM7M

New York art critic, Jerry Saltz (he also has a facebook page where he converses with anyone about art regularly and I share that also with students). http://youtu.be/cxmMxi-lelg

Art Fag City is an online journal http://www.artfagcity.com/ and also produces short films about artists for Youtube  http://youtu.be/lhMdl0vEczo. A student shared this with the class a couple terms ago. It was a great find! I like that the style of filming is up with the times and the artists tell their own stories, and they’re all less than 4 minutes long but packed with interesting useful information. Students are writing about contemporary artists so this is a great source for them to choose one they find interesting.

I think I inadvertently saved the best till last: the incomparable Ubu Web, created by Kenneth Goldsmith, houses the largest collection of avant garde sound, film, video, and writing on the web.

Vito Acconci, performance artist, Centers http://www.ubuweb.com/film/acconci_centers.html

Lovely film by William Kentridge blending film, performance art, visual art, and opera. http://www.ubu.com/film/kentridge_repeat.html

Ubu also has a list of unique links. This is an art site for Middle Eastern Bedoun culture. http://www.bidoun.org/

As I return to this now, I realize that the narration makes it a great discussion group item. Until now, I haven’t considered using media as prompters for discourse.  Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece http://youtu.be/Zfe2qhI5Ix4

Art21 is a series made for educational purposes, organized by themes and names,  completely accessible on Youtube. They also have teaching aids that accompany the videos. I don’t use it much because after awhile they all look generic, a bit too composed, over worked, or something along those lines. But I give the link to the students to peruse. http://youtu.be/s1bBJsOOvTI

Guerilla Girls    http://youtu.be/33DXdBHaokw

Their book mentions a lot of artists and works but for many there’s no image provided. I am putting together a folder that will have at least one work by all the artists mentioned to give them a visual of what the book is talking about.

I’ll skip telling you how much I get out of NPR, all the online museums links I use. But here’s one more just for fun that I found at “clipsforclass.com” while doing the assignment. (you have to scroll down to the M. C. Escher film. Enjoy!)  http://clipsforclass.com/sandp












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Hunting for whales (in multimedia)

  October 22nd, 2011

I thought this webquest was a great way to start finding materials for the migration and foraging ecology aspects of  ‘The natural history of whales and whaling’ course. I focused on TED, Merlot, Youtube.edu, Wolfram Alpha, NPR, MoOM and Itunes U. The three least useful search engines  (for me – they work fine in other subject areas!) were TED (no content), Wolfram Alpha (which tends to interpret the search query much too narrowly for biology-related questions) and itunes U (full of movie trailers). I got a LOT of hits at youtube.edu and NPR using the search terms “whales OR whaling”. This is excellent, because I was hoping that multimedia would be available.

MoOM looks as though it may have had a few useful resources, but I found it hard to work out how to search this site. In the end, I went to the archives and used my web browser to search for the word “whale”. When I clicked on the links, nothing happened so I had to right click to open a new window which might not be as intuitive for less web-savvy people. I did find this:http://www.wdcs.co.uk/media/flash/whalebanner/content_pub_en.html which might be useful for highlighting some of the adaptations in the cetacean evolutionary lineage, such as really large sizes. Merlot also had a resource on whalers which I’ll be looking into more detail in after looking at all the other links I’ve turned up!

I’m beginning to have an idea that perhaps for the week where I was going to provide the students with multimedia of cetacean feeding strategies, that instead I could set up a webquest for them. This would allow the students to focus in on the species/feeding strategies of greatest interest to them (I’ll be giving an overview of the strategies in the “canned” lecture, so different kinds of strategies won’t be completely overlooked just because they aren’t the student’s favorite). Because I know that there is a fair bit of material out there from the searches I have just done, I feel like I wouldn’t be leading them down a complete dead-end, and I wonder if they might feel a little more engaged if they have to go out and search for examples themselves. This would also make the activity a little more accessible to students with disabilities, because they could select samples which were not necessarily multimedia.

This exercise also highlighted to me the importance of ongoing efforts to keep “an eye out” for resources e.g. I knew Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, had an excellent exhibit on whales, and searching this I found several multimedia items that should be really useful for my class, including this one: http://blog.tepapa.govt.nz/category/pygmy-right-whale/page/3/ . If you start at page 3 (the link given here), and work your way backwards, you can see the blog and photos associated with a pygmy right whale necropsy!

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Scoring with online content

  October 20th, 2011

Right away I was skeptical about finding online content that is really relevant to my Environmental Law class. Of course, there are so many things about the environment out there, but it sounded like a bit of a long shot to find really targeted and effective content that speaks to the narrow topics in class, specifically about law or policy (not just cool science) that is at a level appropriate for undergrads. Or would take a long time to sift out, and heaven knows that I just don’t have the time.

I am familiar with TED content from personal use, so my first step was to browse the “Environment” tagged videos. Most were too science and application oriented for my Environmental Law class, but I came across a TED debate on nuclear energy right pretty quickly (http://www.ted.com/talks/debate_does_the_world_need_nuclear_energy.html).

Using outside content is helpful because (a) Some people (much smarter than me) have thought very hard about these issues and can say it faster and better than I can, and (b) I can’t provide a debate in my class when it’s just me! Giving them a different perspective of both content AND process is incredibly valuable. Especially when we are dealing with highly controversial issues, such as whether we should be encouraging expanded use of nuclear power.

The web is an amazing resource, but as I get older I notice that I am now teaching people who have only known on-demand media and I realize how much it has actually narrowed our world in some senses. We all have the ability to search out the material that confirms our own perspective, and we don’t have the patience to sit through the material that challenges our perspectives. I think that dynamic is reflected in our highly polarized society, and it is only going to get worse. With a resource like a 20-minute TED debate, we MUST listen to both sides, and if I can get my students to even look at the other side of a debate, I consider that a hit. If they took the steps to seek out more information about the other side, that is a home-run. So maybe I should do a little before and after essay with this—a paragraph about your opinion on the use of nuclear energy before watching the debate, then a paragraph arguing the other side after watching the debate!

One question that I am thinking about as I continue to seek out media: Is it credible to pull media primarily from 1 resource, like TED or another site? Or should I make a concerted effort to bring in resources from different places? And how much?

Christy Anderson Brekken

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Adventures in Zunal Land

  October 18th, 2011

Ok, I’ll admit up front that I did not devote what one could call ‘quality’ time to the webquest assignment involving zunal.com. That is, unless keeping one eye on the monitor and one eye on my son’s homework can be called ‘quality’. But hey, such is life. Something tells me many others out there deal with these same quality issues.

In a way, restricting the activity to simple searches on a handful of search engines was beneficial. It revealed how restrictive it is to use only general words or terms. In my case, I used the word wilderness, or term wilderness management. In future searches, I would be a bit more specific about the topic I’m seeking help with. Rather than simply using wilderness, I’ll try wilderness recreation, wilderness and fire management, or something similar.

I used four search engines: Ted.com, Merlot.org, YouTube Edu, and Science Daily. When entering the term wilderness management, only one of the four came up empty:

merlot.org result for ‘wilderness management’

Success with the other engines varied. The best result was with Science Daily:

sciencedaily.com result for 'wilderness management'

I was reminded of how liberally the word ‘wilderness’ is used in science and natural resource circles. It is seemingly used to refer to a variety of lands containing some type of wild character. Even in the Science Daily reference, I am not convinced that this technology would actually be used in wilderness areas. The Wilderness Act of 1964 mandates that no mechanized use be allowed in wilderness areas. There are caveats of course, but I don’t believe this is the case with the technology referenced by Science Daily.

Overall, though my search results this time around were less than stellar, I the exercise opened my eyes to some new sources of information. I imagine that I will use zunal.com again, or simply utilize one of the engines contained within. Of course, it pays to enter the activity with a specific, focused topic in mind. Otherwise, time slips away (and leaves you with nothing mister, but…)

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On the Advantages of Following the Links

  October 17th, 2011

In today’s technological societies the Internet prevails.  Almost every email, website, or file contains links to the world wide web that may supply some extra information, clarify an issue, suggest an interesting sidebar on a topic you’re studying… or contaminate your computer with a virus. So one has to follow the links carefully.

I have been greatly pleased with following the links of the webquest activity assigned for our online development class.  Having done my grading for today, I decided that I could have a little fun checking out the potential help for creating my class content.  I dismissed many of the videos from Ted as a bit too socially conventional for my courses, lost patience with sociology.org, but was pleased beyond belief with what following the links allowed me to discover.

One of the websites, Merlot (I feel compelled to explain that the acronym stands for Media Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching), sported clear discipline categories, so I clicked on Sociology and dug in.  I looked at the couple of quizzes, and then a tutorial called Science and Race: Concept and Category peaked my interest since I was looking for a good presentation on racism for my Social Problems class.  I clicked…

…I have to admit, I did not finish this activity in one sitting. As I went through the tutorial, I was clicking on the signs on the slides – letter I for information that appeared on a slide, a little globe for a link outside the tutorial – and I clicked – and made it to this activity.

If you are interested in what I have found, try it out for yourself, and prepare for a challenge – this is an activity that is impossible to get right! At least, I think so.  I bet it could be pretty fun for the students to start from trying to assign a face to a census category and end up finding out about the social construction of race and the realities of racism.  I could not believe I found an activity that is so perfectly aligned with the content of my course – I even have a reading on the history of the census that my students read already. With this activity, I am sure, I will get responses for the topic that are much more alive. I can’t wait.

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Brain Freeze

  October 10th, 2011

I’m supposed to write about “learning outcomes”. My brain is frozen. I have no reference for these words—and I am a person who likes to have answers. I am a person with an MFA in Writing from a famous art school in Chicago. I am a person who has dedicated her life to the keyboard and the page.Writing is my strong point in life, it might be my only point! A week ago I was confident, but tonight I’m stretched out like Wiley Coyote squashed flat under the Road Runner’s boulder. Add to that: a growing obsession to check the time as it measures a building storm of anxiety in me.

I look up “learn” in the dictionary, I google it, search for it in Wikipedia, I read up on theories. These are sources I can usually depend on to spark some original thought, but tonight I find nothing. Nothing that inspires thoughts of my own. I need a story, an elaboration, a picture even! I pace the room, eat a bag of Dorritos, have a glass of wine…Where are my finely honed skills? Where’s familiar ground? Where is my faithful muse!!

Sigh. Let it go. Go do something else. Work on the Planning Chart. But there I am surrounded by the auxiliary troops: “Outcomes” “Assessment” “Final Assessment” “Resources Needed.” Someone pushed me out of a plane! I grabbed a book on my way down:

“You cannot fold a flood
and put it in a drawer”
Emily Dickinson

The parachute opens. Emily, in these two brief lines, demonstrates the success of a failure. She writes “cannot” while simultaneously doing the “cannot”; she demonstrates that the flood of her passions can fit into a “drawer”, a container, of a poem. I am on the road to recovery. Another book clarifies it further for me: “…the act of writing is a process of improvisation within a framework (form) of intention.” Lyn Hejinian. Improvisation, the unplanned, paradoxically functions within a framework of intention.

The dilemma for teaching art in a system made up of a web of intentions and outcomes is that creativity happens in the accidental, in the “failures”, in the unplanned moments. Art thrives on chaos. Artists learn to hope for a fortuitous failure of their own planned outcome in hopes that the failure will act as a rupture, opening up the work to a much larger idea than what they could have planned on. How to encourage a Jackson Pollock or Gertrude Stein in an educational system that requires measurable outcomes?

I don’t know, but I’ll throw out some ideas. Feel free to add to this in the comments. I will surely appreciate any help.

Learning Outcomes ask us to state our intentions, not our demands. I think this might be a beginning. This keeps the door open and allows us the means to measure information while leaving the door open for improvisation, spontaneity, and playfulness. It allows us to invite students to design aspects of an assignment that aren’t pertinent to our specific outcomes. For writing it could be word count, style, format, medium, subject…(as some of you have mentioned in the discussion).

My goal: To write the learning outcomes so they function as a support for an open doorway and not a wall.

Thanks for listening. I think I can do the homework now.


Beverly Nelson, Art Department faculty, Classes: Art 199-Writing Art History, Art 400-Writing Art Criticism.
Artist: William Wegman. Title: Untitled. Date: 2000. Genre: color photograph. This image is copyright protected by law.





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Mind the learning gap

  October 9th, 2011

I have my teaching gig by way of my law degree. My career goal was always to pursue farm, food and environmental policy issues, so I feel right at home in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Policy choices and legal problems are inextricably intertwined, so I love thinking about the material. My ultimate goal is to teach my students the process of policy and legal analysis and problem solving.

The traditional law school teaching method is the “Socratic Method,” where professors question students on the cases that we read for homework, but rarely ever make a statement of fact or law in class. As law students, we were most frustrated with our Constitutional Law professor, who would only make non-committal whines and squeaks in response to student answers, so we couldn’t even tell if a fellow student was correctly answering the question!

But by the end of the class, I found that I learned a tremendous amount from that professor because I was challenged to evaluate the answers for myself and check it against my own understanding of the material. We students then wrestled with the “right” answers in our own small groups by articulating the material for ourselves.

Moving from that unique educational environment, I keep in mind that I am teaching an undergraduate course, not a law school course. There is a learning gap here, both in the material, the readiness of the students, and the course environment. I try to use a “modified” Socratic Method of my own invention in my class, and use the same approach on the Discussion Board. I ask students to explain a case and respond to each other. I jump in with clarification or congratulations on a job well done, but I try to let them sort out the issues. My goal is NOT to teach them how things ARE, or SHOULD be, but to give them tools to evaluate these problems and make the arguments themselves.

Ok, so my goal is partially to teach them how things are currently done, how things ARE. We review the current status of environmental law, what the courts have said about different statutes, what it means for polluters and for people affected by pollution. But the law is ever evolving, so it means (almost) nothing to know what the law says right now. Thinking about this helps me to break down my class objectives. We have to start with recollection and comprehension. That will take a more traditional content delivery. But then we need to quickly move to the process tools of analysis, problem solving, and synthesis. Maybe even on to creation of new ideas and tools to solve legal environmental problems. I am realizing that I have been using the “objectives” already without the labels attached. I hope I can do them in a more conscious and methodological way. Now, on to the tools! How to convey this information in the online environment is my challenge.

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Why is this so scary?

  October 6th, 2011

Now, normally I’m a “fools jump in” type of person, but I have to confess this blog post idea took me back a bit: I felt a bit vulnerable just going for it and posting without complete crystal guidelines as to what I meant to be doing, so I was glad when Olga (thanks Olga!) asked for some more guidelines on what we should be posting about. And this comes from me, one of the “Gen-Y kids” who should be totally all over “new” (I guess blogging has been around for a while now) technology!

It turns out being given too much freedom of scope for an assignment can be a scary proposition for a student! This was an important lesson for me: if I find not having an explicit set of guidelines for an “assignment” difficult, than how would undergrads feel if I did the same to them?



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Not a Sage on the Stage, Not a Guide on the Side: Who Am I?

  October 5th, 2011

A Guide on the Side, that’s one of the best things to be when you teach.

At least, that’s what I heard.  As a guide on the side, you never ignore the ways students learn from each other (and do not fall under a #5 pitfall of designing an online class!).  You center your perception around student learning rather than your own teaching.  I like this idea, but perhaps it’s the “on the side” part of the metaphor that throws me off; perhaps the “guide” part is more important.  I would like to guide students on their own path of learning toward the class learning outcomes. But what exactly does it mean to be “on the side”?

Sure, there was a Sage on the Stage, who, probably, was one of your favorite professors ever.

Wasn’t there? Well, mine was, because there were no other kinds. My schooling happened in traditional dimly lit classroom environments in Eastern Europe (former USSR) where classroom activities were not encouraged.  Even the chairs and desks wouldn’t move. However, the professors were passionate for teaching and learning, and they were inspired, inspiring, enthusiastic, and came across as a “students’ revered and primary access point to the desired knowledge”.  Many students held them as role models and wanted to become as bright and knowledgeable.

In graduate school I took classes from the US professors who came to teach to the former USSR countries. They were no less impressive in terms of how much they knew in their chosen discipline, yet a different breed altogether. They structured classes between lecture and discussion; they let students bring in what was important for them, but they always made sure that some topics got developed and some died out. Perhaps, the concept of a “content curator” describes this approach which shaped my learning in graduate school.

In the context where the word curator is used most often, that is, in museums, the curator is the one who has a lot of power and authority over visitors. The curator is the one who has the last word on what gets included in an exhibit and what gets taught in a program.

I have rejected being a sage on the stage, so I won’t want to fall for a curator.

I do like the way Elizabeth St. Germain continues talking about it, “the one who prunes and trains the branches that extend from your expertise out into the world”.  I like the idea of students growing the thoughts and ideas and me suggesting, “Feed this one with the works of C. Wright Mills, and it will flourish.”  “This idea needs some time in a dryer environment.”  “If you want to grow this, it might now grow here.”  Can I be a master gardener in an online classroom?

Being a master gardener in an online classroom means supporting the branches that lead us toward the learning outcomes. Perhaps, sometimes branches that lead away in a way that is putting the entire plant off balance can be snipped.  We all do it, and it seems to me that it is easier to do in the classroom face to face than online. What is said in the classroom disappears in the air if it is not supported by the instructor and the rest of the students. Online, it is written down on the discussion board.

How do you train and prune the branches on the discussion boards?

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