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Reflections: From Staff & Faculty

While our project did not include attempts to conduct a large survey and subject the results to any statistical analysis, the in-depth conversations that took place among a small group of faculty and staff lead us to recognize some trends that will be discussed below.

Reflections on Discussions among Faculty and Staff

Faculty who have integrated media projects into their courses report that their students often engage more deeply with the material as they consider how to integrate text, sound, and images to synthesize and communicate ideas. Faculty and students report longer retention of knowledge through creation of media projects, which can be attributed to the combined effect of both affective and cognitive learning by students as they create media-based projects.1 As students create multimedia projects, they intertwine creative expression and critical interpretation, and ultimately own and retain the ideas they communicate. Yet this deeper engagement isn't free: there is a significant learning curve for both students and faculty as they learn multiple technologies and the crafts of visual communication, storytelling, media analysis, and more. Both faculty and students report that media projects require significantly more time than writing a research paper. Successful integration of media projects requires collaboration between faculty and instructional technologists to structure effective use of technology with the learning goals. After assignment design, instructional technologists teach technology skills and are heavily utilized for one-on-one assistance throughout the project. Resource and presentation needs naturally bring in other academic support staff.

We see a similar situation with the application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) across the curriculum. Once the purview of geographers only, GIS has migrated to history, sociology and anthropology, political science, and other departments and interdisciplinary programs. This is due to the real academic merit of using this technology and emerging visualization tools to conduct spatial analysis of data, revealing trends and correlations that are simply not discernible by other means. Again, we conclude that just as media literacy becomes a critical skill for our students to possess in order to be effective communicators, so too does spatial literacy hold the same potential. We have observed a crossover of these skills, as visuals resulting from such spatial analyses are used as critical communication points in interdisciplinary media projects. Moreover, the parallels extend to the issues of faculty and student time, and increased support requirements for instructional technology staff. How do these issues affect institutional planning for support of these enhanced curricula?

Students constantly interact with technology through cell phones, iPods, Facebook, etc. - often choosing to incorporate images, audio, and video as components of their assignments. One might assume from this that they are gradually acquiring an ability to evaluate content critically in all media forms, but students' first attempts at multimodal assignments have proven otherwise. We teach them how to critically evaluate, analyze, and produce high-quality written work, yet we lack a parallel system for providing them the critical tools to successfully evaluate, analyze, and produce high-quality multimodal projects for publication. As with developing writing skills over time, developing visual/aural literacy skills over time makes a marked difference in improving both the level of critical analysis and the level of sophisticated production. Each institution must carefully consider the means it will employ to accomplish this.

In addition, faculty typically require increased flexibility in order to teach media-intensive and GIS-intensive courses, often taking the form of smaller class sizes or lighter teaching loads. Incorporating media-intensive requirements into courses requires a learning curve for faculty, and they need time to develop both their own critical understandings of this type of engagement, and how it will dovetail with their pedagogical approaches. Academic support staff need time to collaborate with students and faculty to develop these deeper learning opportunities. This is difficult; most instructional technology departments are understaffed, and institutional evaluation systems do not reward faculty for investing time in such work.2 This must change.

1. "The use of the computer as a model, metaphor, and modeling tool has tended to privilege the 'cognitive' over the 'affective' by engendering theories in which thinking and learning are viewed as information processing and affect is ignored or marginalised. In the last decade there has been an accelerated flow of findings in multiple disciplines supporting a view of affect as complexly intertwined with cognition in guiding rational behaviour, memory retrieval, decision-making, creativity, and more. It is time to redress the imbalance by developing theories and technologies in which affect and cognition are appropriately integrated with one another." MIT BT Technology Journal, Vol 22 No 4, October 2004 http://pubs.media.mit.edu/bttj/Paper26Pages253-269.pdf. ^
2. Issues surrounding tenure and promotion of faculty who devote great time and energy to this interdisciplinary and relatively new area are complex, and the academy has been slow to address them - often to its detriment. For more on this topic, see the following resources:
Cheryl E. Ball, 2009. "On A Digital Tenure Portfolio." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJJER7diM6c
Jon Ippolito, Joline Blais, Owen F. Smith, Steve Evans, and Nathan Stormer, 2009. "New Criteria for New Media." In Leonardo 42(1): 71-75. http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/leon.2009.42.1.71
Modern Languages Association, 2006. "Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion." http://www.mla.org/tenure_promotion. ^