Media Scholarship in the Liberal Arts: Executive Summary

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In 2007, Hamilton College, Colgate University, Juniata College1 and St. Lawrence University received an Instructional Innovation Fund grant from NITLE to explore the potential of moving images to form interdisciplinary connections on liberal arts campuses. This report contains a summary of grant-related activities, case studies of a variety of multimodal assignments, reflections and recommendations from faculty, and a wealth of online resources developed to support media scholarship across the liberal arts curriculum. The collective experiences of faculty, students, instructional technologists, and librarians are synthesized to develop a framework used to analyze critically the value of media-intensive assignments to pedagogy. We explored the impacts on faculty time, student engagement, and institutional resources (personnel and equipment). The relevance of these issues to our peers at other liberal arts colleges, and across higher education in general, is discussed.

Project Goals

The goals of our project as stated in the grant proposal were to:

  1. Explore methods of connecting disciplines through pedagogical approaches that enhance or sustain instruction through multimodal assignments.
  2. Research and share current expertise in teaching and learning with multimodal assignments
  3. Develop models that connect critical and creative learning through interdisciplinary multimodal assignments
  4. Develop methods to evaluate a variety of multimodal assignments with standards similar to those for written and oral communication
  5. Identify resources to sustain diversity of multimodal assignment models on liberal arts campuses. Based on the needs identified from interactions during this collaborative project, this may take the form of digital asset management strategies for assignment files; a feasibility study for (not actual development of) a consortially shared film clip database, programming database, or student project showcase

Case Studies: Findings, Reflections and Recommendations

The ubiquity of media in society necessitates that we educate our students to be both effective communicators with media and critical consumers of media. To that end, we have been gathering examples of best practices in the use of multi-modal assignments across the curriculum (see Case Studies). These are shared here to assist faculty at peer institutions in their integration of media assignments into their courses and to provide strategies for assessment. Despite the variety of academic disciplines, assignment types, and experience levels represented, the following observations and/or recommendations apply to most of the 15 case studies presented:

  1. Multimodal assignments will require extensive time investment by all involved - students, faculty, and academic support staff.
  2. Faculty should find or create examples or models of expected outcomes.
    • Preferably, the faculty would create the model outcome using course-based content and the technology work-flows and resources that are available to students at their institution.
    • Academic support staff should assist with the creation of a model and get feedback from the professor on what aspects of the learning experience might be emphasized when working with the students.
    • Develop a rubric for evaluation of student outcomes based on the professor's own experience creating a model project.
  3. Assignments should be developed collaboratively with academic support - technologists, librarians, oral communication and writing center experts. Begin this work early, as planning is key to success. Develop media literacy, information literacy, and digital literacy exercises/discussions using course content and examples. Although students are inundated with media messages and with technology, they are generally not savvy about using media and technology to express their knowledge.
  4. Structure media assignments as a sequence of learning experiences building upon each other over the course of the semester so that content can be assimilated simultaneously with critical literacies skill development. Structure media assignments across the semester as a series of drafts/versions that students receive feedback on as they develop an understanding of the content and the skills to communicate in various media formats. At a curricular level, attention should be paid to building critical literacies within programs over the course of a student's undergraduate career.
  5. Build into the assignment multiple methods and opportunities for evaluating student progress in the stages of a media project (ex: storyboard/script review, original footage or audio evaluation, edited version draft one, etc.). This enables the professor to gauge and guide student understanding and progress. This is particularly important as the emphasis in learning is on the process as much or more than the outcome/product.
  6. Consider public presentations of final projects, whether to the class or to the world. This tends to increase the quality of the student work and may also have additional benefits (students perceive their media messages as having greater impact/effect on larger population - e.g. marginalized conflict podcasts empowered student voices in social activism).

At the institutional and inter-institutional levels, what is needed most right now is simply more communication. Faculty, staff, and administrators must be open and frank about what works and what doesn't; how resources can be garnered and used more efficiently; what is practical and what isn't in the near term; and how to plan strategically for a future in which media-rich assignments will surely continue to evolve and will likely continue to become more and more central to pedagogy and scholarship in the liberal arts. We are grateful to NITLE for its support of this project over the last two years, and hope that it has been only one small part of a long-running and broad conversation among colleagues across many institutions.

1. Personnel changes at Juniata College caused them to withdraw from the collaboration in 2008. ^

The Moving Images Collaborative on NITLE
NITLE Moving Images Grant Proposal
NITLE Award Letter