Media Scholarship in the Liberal Arts: Summary Observations

Course assignments are corroboratively developed with technologists, librarians, oral communication, and writing center experts (10 of the 15 case studies). Faculty met with instructional technologists, librarians and other academic support before or very early in the semester to develop the assignments, determine resources needed, and structure learning experiences. The resource needs in terms of both instruction and equipment for these types of projects require advance planning and scheduling. Professor Haberkorn states that her Peace and Conflict course podcast "...assignment was only possible through collaboration between four actors: Clarence Maybee (the information literacy librarian), Ray Nardelli and Rich Grant (the media studio mavens) and Tyrell Haberkorn." See also the "Planning and Design Questions" in the Resources section of this document.

Students do not already "know" the technology. Although students are increasingly engaged with technology, they are not savvy with technology when it is incorporated into a learning experience and so need to develop technology and communication skills. Vincent Odamtten reported having to "make students comfortable" with using technology to communicate their ideas. Professors Petrescu and Hauber reinforced the need to have students think carefully about choices in communicating with technology and reflect upon how those choices might be perceived by an audience. Patricia O'Neill had her students learn aspects of the language of film by "remaking" the work of expert directors. Students learn "how complicated the process is" (of filmmaking) but also learn "tools that they can master". Professor Nieves designed the e-Black studies course "to give students the critical and analytical tools with which to examine, discuss, and understand the ways in which the internet both informs and reflects culture."

Many assignments are structured 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 development. Examples of this approach and how it might vary are evident in the assignment structures of Vincent Odamtten's Marrow of African American Literature course, Sharon Rivera's Comparative Politics, Mihaela Petrescu's 1920's Berlin and New York, and Margaret Wehrer's Anthropology course. Odamtten's students read and discuss the literature they are to form themes from and to base their own written narrative upon. They then "layer" image and sound into their narrative script and through multiple drafts understand the interplay between these layers. Rivera;s comparative politics course is a semester long simulation in which students form fictitious campaign parties based upon the structure of European political parties. Research and development of party platforms is followed by advertising those platforms by constructing graphic identities and campaign commercials. The simulation culminates in a public debate by the party leaders in which the audience "votes" and chooses the campaign winner. Petrescu's course was based on a series of six media assignments "focused on increasing students visual and analytical skills in incremental steps". In Wehrer's anthropology course, the culminating poster assignment was broken into a series of steps across the course of the semester that included a proposal, annotated bibliography, focus essay, a poster draft (students were required to meet individually for design development with academic support and the draft was reviewed with feedback by the professor), final poster and public presentation.

Professors work through the assignments and develop models of outcomes for their students. Though not possible or perhaps even desirable for all projects, see the needs for collaborative development of ideas and projects in Professor Watts course on Collaboration Across the Arts, many of our case studies include model outcome development by faculty well in advance of students working on projects. Developing models for assignments not only gives students more concrete ideas of expectations but also increases the depth of collaboration between faculty and academic support. Faculty who have experienced the process and technology work flows their students will encounter, are in a better position to work with academic support in tailoring resources to meet their learning goals. Professors Crespi, Odamtten, and Spring participated in the Digital Storytelling workshop funded by this grant and used these experiences in developing their courses. Faculty also mentioned that the importance of keeping examples of student projects from the first iteration of the course as instructional models in future courses.

Professors develop a rubric for evaluation of student outcomes and/or evaluate learning during multimodal construction placing emphasis on the learning process. Some faculty based their rubrics on their own experience creating models, others borrowed and tailored existing rubrics, and/or collaboratively developed evaluation criteria over the course of the semester. See Margaret Wehrer's "A Good Poster Demonstrates" and Sharon Rivera's Small Group Dynamics and Simulation Rubrics and the comments of Professors Hauber, Odamtten, Nieves, and Watts to obtain a sense of the range of evaluation of process and product.

Deliverables from students go through draft stages with opportunities for revision after feedback from professor, peers, and academic support (Drafts with feedback were components reported in 13 of the 15 case studies). The importance of feedback and the opportunity to rethink, rework, multimodal projects was brought up repeatedly by faculty. These drafts varied from being a series of checkpoints (theme proposal, script, storyboard, first draft of project) to multiple iterations after the first draft. Professors Odamtten, O'Neill, Spring and Nieves observed the need for "lab" like class sessions where students worked on their projects with input from the professor, the other students, and academic support. Peer review and critique were components of most courses through informal (classmates asking each others opinion) and formal methods (structured discussion/critique). In our May 15, 2009 all campus discussion, Suzanne Spring and Amy Hauber pointed out that feedback and peer review helped students work through how their projects might be perceived by an audience. This feedback on the influence of audience perception is analogous to the role of an editor in writing but the addition of visual/aural information with its naturally associated cultural, political, and historical connotations (intended or not) increases the need for draft review to create meaning as close as possible to the students intention. Even in Professor Odamtten's course where students were given a collection from which to select most of the images they would use, he reported opportunities to discuss appropriate image selection based on meaning inherent in the image and the context of the student's narrative.

Public presentation of students outcomes, whether to the class or the world, raises the bar for quality in student work. Public presentation was a component in nine of the courses who contributed case studies. The observation that public presentation may increase the quality of student work is not unique to this study or to multimodal projects. Publication and/or Oral presentation change the nature of evaluation from interaction between professor and student to evaluation by a community of potential practioners. Public presentations open to a campus or through the internet illustrate both the range and depth of multimodal communication. Faculty attending campus presentations learn about approaches in other courses and gauge adapting similar projects into their course designs. Additional unanticipated benefits to public presentation were observed in Professor Haberkorn's course in that students reported a sense of empowerment resulting from their ability to communicate what they had learned about marginalized conflicts in podcasts accessible to anyone with iTunes.

Multimodal media assignments require extensive time investment by all involved, students, faculty, academic support. Faculty reports of time investment were evenly distributed with estimates at low, middle, and high levels. How time was estimated varied across the responses with some including class time (especially in courses with the lab type class sessions) while others considered only the additional time they spent with students outside of class. Answers to this question also appeared to vary with the number of times the course had been taught and the professors comfort level with technology. Ten of the fifteen courses estimated that student time investment was high for their media assignments. Numerical estimates of the amount of time students worked on their multimodal projects ranged from 15 - 84 hours. Student time investment seemed to vary by type of project but most reported students spending more time working on multimodal projects than on the average paper in part because manipulating multimodal forms required revision and reflection in addition to learning the technology. Time investment by academic support was estimated as high in 11 of the 15 courses. In addition to instruction sessions in research and technology, academic support interactions included repeated course activities as individual or group appointments, series of in-class working sessions throughout the semester and review/feedback on both process and product.

Professors evaluate both process and product in gauging learning outcomes. Nine faculty reported emphasizing both process and outcome. In four cases the evaluation was weighted toward the final product and in two toward process. Evaluation of process versus product was a topic of much discussion over the past two years with the take home point being that both are important because faculty are really evaluating learning. Learning as a function of the process within which it is taking place and externalized demonstration of knowledge is not reducible. More information on how faculty are gauging learning follows.

For more in-depth analysis, please download the final report.