Making Connections: Interdisciplinary Learning with Lecture Capture and Blogs
Supporting interdisciplinary learning has long been a priority at liberal arts colleges–in fact, one could argue that interdisciplinary is central to the liberal arts mission itself. But for all their importance, interdisciplinary learning opportunities can be surprisingly difficult to create and sustain. It is often not enough simply to expose students to new ideas or methods of analysis; to understand a new way of thinking, students may need space for interaction, time to process new information and ask questions, and opportunities for applying new methods of analysis.
These are precisely the elements Dr. Rachel Simmons (Professor of Art and Art History, Rollins College) and Dr. Laura Hobgood-Oster (Professor of Religion, Southwestern University) attempted to create in bringing together their classes, Landscape Art (Simmons) and Animals and Environmental Justice (Hobgood-Oster). While both courses were already a part of the professors’ established teaching repertoire, the two educators felt a certain need for enrichment. Simmons, for instance, wanted to provide her students with a vocabulary of ethics they could use in examining how nature is portrayed in landscape art, whereas Hobgood-Oster felt her students could benefit from the ability to examine critically images associated with environmental justice. Their solution, facilitated through an ACS Blended Learning Grant, was to bring their May 2012 courses through captured video “guest lectures” and a shared class blog. Each created a specialized lecture which, together with selected readings, was shared with her partner’s students and further explored in class discussions. Simmons’s students also shared much of their artwork, as well as progress reports about how their perspective on landscape art was evolving, on the class blog Art and Nature.
Each of these elements, though used different by each faculty member, had a noticeable impact on the course. Hobgood-Oster recalled the excitement of watching Simmons’s lecture, “The Ideal and the Real,” with her students in class, slowly unpacking and exploring it as they might a printed text. Simmons, who assigned Hobgood-Oster’s lecture “Environmental Justice and Animals” as homework early in the course, noticed her students’ growing awareness of environmental justice issues within the landscapes they studied throughout the semester, reflected in both their progress reports and their course evaluations. The lectures, crafted by using Apple Keynote to add each instructor’s voice-over to a PowerPoint presentation, were both easy and challenging to create; while both found the technology itself relatively simple to use, transforming the face-to-face lecture into a compelling lesson meant to be viewed alone required much more preparation. As Hobgood-Oster noted, face-to-face lectures, with their potential for questions, interruptions, and changes in course, risk falling flat when “canned” and reproduced on the small screen. Instead, each partner worked to create a presentation that would be visually compelling and information-dense. One interesting advantage of captured lectures, though, is their reusability. Simmons has already assigned “Environmental Justice and Animals” in a second class, and, as she points out, students watching assigned lectures will often “pause and rewind” to go over more difficult points once again.
Both Simmons and Hobgood-Oster felt that an important part of this project lay in the idea of enrichment. Although their courses were not fully integrated with one another, the lectures and blog helped introduce students to a new way of thinking about and discussing environmental issues, adding a new dimension to each new topic approached in their courses. For faculty considering an interdisciplinary and/or insterinstitutional collaboration, but unsure of how to begin, Hobgood-Oster and Simmons felt their collaboration was a very satisfying starting point, introducing some important new concepts to each group of students and opening exciting new questions to pursue.