Action research. Informed teaching. Creative practice. New knowledge.
My pervasive teaching goals are Learn, Think, Build. Objectives include action research, critical thinking, creative practice, civic engagement, and reflection. I encourage students to learn a body of knowledge through reading and discussion, think critically about how to best use this knowledge to solve a real-world, needs-driven problem, build a solution designed to best address that problem, and then reflect on the outcome(s) and rapidly apply results to the next iteration.
Classroom activities are often focused on community / civic engagement. Creative endeavors are encouraged, as I believe a creative practitioner can uncover tacit knowledge that theoretical studies alone cannot reveal.
This approach requires application of best practices gleaned from previous courses to constantly update my teaching efforts. I include students in my disciplinary scholarship and creative endeavors. My student evaluations have been consistently high, often above the department/university mean.
Prior to my arrival at Washington State University Vancouver, in Fall 2006, I taught a variety of courses at the graduate and undergraduate level focused on expository writing, technical and professional writing, writing for online contexts, literature, and literary studies.
Since Fall 2006, I have taught the following courses, all within the The Creative Media & Digital Culture (CMDC) program at Washington State University Vancouver . . .
- DTC 101 Introduction to Digital Technology and Culture (2014, 2013)
Introduces various forms of digital media, their origins, theories behind their utilization, their creative and professional applications, and their impact on continually evolving digital technologies and culture. Students will develop skills understanding, authoring, and critiquing multimodal texts and other digital media objects.
- DTC 336 Composition and Design (2008, 2007)
Explores "design practices and process for composing for a multimedia environment including color, pattern and shape" (University Catalog). Students read and respond to major works and demonstrate knowledge by conceiving and constructing digital, multimedia information objects.
- DTC 338 Special Topics: Sound Installations (2017)
Explores the conceptualization, making, and exhibition of intermedia time based sound art. This is an expansion on the concept of art installation in that sound introduces the concept of time necessary for listening to the work(s) featured in the installation. The focus of this installation is civic engagement with what we have learned (regarding the power of sound to create and maintain imaginative sense of space and place), what we have created (our sound installation artifacts), and the context in which we have done both (our class / university program).
- DTC 338 Special Topics: Audio Performance (2015)
Experiments with the use of digital sound in radio and audio performance. Students produced audio performances based on scripts written in DTC 499 Writing for Audio Media and participated in the Re-Imagined Radio performance of The Case Files of Dr. Moreau in April 2015. Learn more.
- DTC 338 Special Topics: Digital Multimedia Graphic Novels (2012, 2011)
Focuses on the forms and affordances traditional graphic novels and their varied genres and literary forms might assume as they are remediated into evolving contexts associated with digital multimedia. Students read and respond to major works and demonstrate knowledge by conceiving and constructing digital graphic novels following the course focus.
- DTC 338 Special Topics: Visual Culture (2007)
- DTC 338 Special Topics: Digital Archiving and Curating (2008)
Provides opportunities to investigate, in both theory and practice, opportunities and concerns associated with the collection, preservation, and sharing of digital artifacts. Students read and respond to major works and demonstrate knowledge by conceiving and constructing digital, multimedia archival projects.
- DTC 338 Special Topics: Internet Radio: Theory and Practice (2013)
Explores opportunities and affordances for the radio medium when its transmission, reception, and contents are contextualized by digital technologies and cultures of the Internet. Students will investigate existing theory and evolving thought/practice, and demonstrate their knowledge by producing and broadcasting responses via Radio Nouspace, an Internet radio station developed for this course. At the end of this course, students should be able to conceptualize theoretical stances and implement practical applications associated with Internet radio.
- DTC 338 Special Topics: Digital Audio for the Web (2009)
- DTC 354 Digital Storytelling (2016, 2015, 2014, 2013)
Examines theory and practice of narrative creation and sharing using digital, multimedia. Research and creative questions include: How might the use of digital media enrich the storytelling experience? How do we make the form of digital storytelling communicate its content effectively? How do we build interactivity into a narrative? How might we apply affordances of multiple digital media to the production and experience of transmedia narrative? Can digital storytelling serve as a form of tinkering apparati for collaborative thinking/creating, as a mode of knowledge production? Students demonstrate knowledge by conceptualizing, creating, and critiquing digital storytelling projects. Learn more.
- DTC 355 Multimedia Authoring (2009, 2008, 2007, 2006)
Focuses on the theory and practice of combining interactive media (text, images, audio, video, animation) elements for the purpose of creativity or communication. Students read and respond to major works and demonstrate knowledge by conceiving and constructing digital, multimedia information objects and interfaces.
- DTC 356 Electronic Research and the Rhetoric of Information (2015, 2014, 2013)
Examines organization (information architecture) of digital information, and how this might influence interaction. Topics covered include organization theory, information architecture, search engine optimization, and search techniques for digital environments and interfaces. Students read and respond to major works and demonstrate knowledge through digital, multimedia projects.
- DTC 375 Language, Text, and Technology (2016, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006)
Explores how the conceptualization, development, distribution, and interpretation of texts are dependent upon the technologies through which they are created, distributed, and perceived. This is especially important considering the rapid proliferation and diversification of digital communication technologies.
- DTC 476 Digital Literacies (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009)
The capstone course where graduating seniors demonstrate their command of the 10 CMDC Program Goals and their knowledge of various digital multimedia literacies. Course outcomes seek to enhance student preparation for professional jobs in digital technology or graduate school programs in digital media and foster social consciousness and civic engagement through building digital media projects for public assistance oriented nonprofit organizations or government agencies.
- DTC 478 Usability and Interface Design (2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009)
Investigates design and accessibility as applied to the interfaces of media objects to promote ease of user interaction. Students read and respond to major works and demonstrate knowledge by testing or building various digital interfaces.
Since 2012, I have taught courses at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI). This is an invited, non-compensated effort, undertaken as service to the profession. DHSI participants are international digital humanities scholars—faculty and graduate students—aligned with research centers, libraries, and academic departments around the world. This unpaid teaching is one form of my service to the international profession of Digital Humanities. Learn more.
My teaching philosophy is informed by action research (Stefano M. Vannotti) and "transformative pedagogy" (belle hooks 36). Vannotti calls action research "systematic inquiry conducted though the medium of practical action, calculated to devise or test new, or newly imported, information, ideas, forms, or procedures and to generate communicable knowledge" (55). It is a way to unite "practical work in the field . . . with academic research" (51) and teaches students how to think critically and theoretically about their practice. Transformative pedagogy, says hooks, involves student-centered, holistic, and praxis-oriented approaches that allow students to create their own knowledge. Transformative pedagogy involves, as hooks suggests, a "revolution of values" (23) and embraces Martin Luther King's notion of the "shift from a 'thing'-oriented society to a 'person'-oriented society" (27).
More about action research
Action research is a systematic inquiry conducted via practical action, calculated to devise or test new information and communicate knowledge. Action research offers three different approaches: research into/about design, research for design, and research through design. Action research thus allows us to position design at the center of our research endeavors and suggests that digital media, for example, is not merely something that we study but rather the reason for our exploration.
This focus comes from the product of specific material, social, and historical circumstances that produced the practices, and by which they are regularly reproduced through social interaction in the particular setting. From such in situ situations, knowledge can be created. If open to construction, then the same efforts must be open to reconstruction and extend beyond the realm of traditional solutions, including the potential for borrowing and remixing. From this perspective, the action researcher is an insider, part of the fabric of the inquiry in which everything and everyone is interacting. Historically, researchers have tended to distance themselves from their work, as if to distinguish their results as more plausible, credible, scientific. But action researchers contend that the researcher stands at the center of his or her life space and that any understanding of that space can only come from understanding the perspective of the individual involved in the practice, the making of that space. The researcher must then attempt to do something, to make something, learning from the effects of this doing on the solving of real world problems.
My teaching is praxis-oriented, focused on facilitating transformative opportunities for students to learn via hands-on doing. Three goals inform my efforts.
Goal 1: Learn.
Facilitate collaborative inquiry and learning via activity-centered projects with students
Example: Students in my DTC 478 Usability and Interface Design class designed and developed The Collaboratory, a social media platform for communication and collaboration among their CMDC colleagues. This project extended over several semesters and involved multiple iterations, providing opportunities for students, past and present, to collaborate and create shared knowledge. See Instructional Innovation for details.
Goal 2: Think.
Encourage students to think critically and theoretically about their creative practice
Example: Students in my DTC 354 Digital Storytelling class create digital transmedia narratives to provide backstories for the re-enactment of analogue historic radio dramas for a live audience. Students examine their practices compared to desired results, questioning how digital media can be used most effectively to expand narrative and storytelling opportunities. Through systematic inquiry, students devise and test new procedures, solutions and applications for a developing body of knowledge. See Instructional Innovation for details.
Goal 3: Build.
Provide opportunities for students to create their own knowledge and develop problem-solving skills
Example: a student in my DTC 338 Special Topics: Internet Radio and DTC 478 Usability and Interface Design classes, developed an interactive, online interface through which users could interact with locally produced music on an international scale. I mentored this and arranged meetings with local web development and venture capital companies regarding the interface design of his project and getting it to market. He was able to shift his thinking about his project from a "thing" to something that someone would actually use.
90% of CMDC graduates, with a B.A. in Digital Technology and Culture, find gainful employment in Vancouver, and Clark County, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. Graduates buy homes and cars. They contribute to the economic development of our region. Other graduates elect to pursue graduate studies. Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon University, Simon Fraser University, University of California, Portland State University, and University of Washington have accepted program graduates, often with full scholarships. These results are, according to hooks, transformational, empowering students by their engagement in the process of their education and life.
Additionally, students often work on projects with community connections, engaged in hands-on learning by doing. As a result, students become engaged community members, program advocates, put learned knowledge and skills into practice via civic engagement, often directed toward social justice and diversity.
My student evaluations are consistently high, often above the department mean. In their evaluations, students comment positively on my availability and willingness to help them master material, the usefulness of my assignments and projects, and my constructive approach. Noteworthy is that students rank me highly as being respectful and fair, despite feeling my courses are demanding.
Digital Humanities Summer Institute
Since 2012, I have taught week-long courses at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI), University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. This is an invited, non-compensated effort, undertaken as service to the profession.
DHSI participants are international Digital Humanities scholars—faculty and graduate students—aligned with research centers, libraries, and academic departments around the world who participate in intensive, collaborative, multi-disciplinary classes and seminars ranging in subject matter from text encoding basics to strategies for large project management. DHSI is hosted by the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (ETCL) at the University of Victoria and The University Library and Archives. Its aim is to share ideas and methods and develop expertise in applying advanced technologies to activities that impact teaching, research, dissemination and preservation. Based on my DHSI teaching, I was invited to become an ETCL Research Associate.
My DHSI courses are:
- Digital Storytelling (2016)
Course focus includes literacy with approaches to digital storytelling, fluency with resources, and making individual or collaborative digital stories. Course topics include storytelling as a fundamental human activity, combining storytelling techniques and computational technologies, organizing and managing digital storytelling projects, and using digital storytelling for Digital Humanities scholarship and pedagogy.
- Sound and Digital Humanities (2015, 2014, 2016)
Course focuses on opportunities/approaches for sound in Digital Humanities scholarship and pedagogy. Emphasis is practice-based research and/or creative expression. Topics include sound utilization, forms, and associated intellectual rights in DH contexts.
- Mobile App Design and Development (2013, 2012)
Collaboratively taught with faculty of the Creative Media & Digital Culture program. Course goals . . .
1). Conceptualize the space and special features of mobile devices.
2). Develop the architecture, design, and multimedia content production for a mobile project.
3). Understand the coding and programming requirements for mobile devices.
As noted, above, my teaching goals include providing praxis-oriented, transformative opportunities for students to learn via hands-on doing. What does this look like in my classrooms?
One notable example is provided by students in my DTC 478 Usability and Interface Design course who desired a communication and collaboration context in which they could share resources and knowledge with colleagues. Seizing the "teachable moment," I recast the remaining course materials to focus on this project, and, by the end of the semester, students had designed the information architecture and persistent navigation structure for a proposed program called The Collaboratory.
These students stated their desire to see this program built and implemented within the CMDC program. So, every semester, for two years, I incorporated The Collaboratory in my class, providing each new class of students the opportunity to build the project forward. Each successive class knew of the project from colleagues in previous classes. Each successive class assumed more and more ownership of the project, until finally, in the spring of 2013, students insisted The Collaboratory become the central focus of the class. They completed the project as a social media platform designed to encourage social knowledge creation, sharing, and collaboration among their program colleagues.
In each class, students were engaged in rapid prototyping and other iterative practices, each designed to test new ideas, information, forms, or procedures, and communicate new knowledge. This combination of practical work and academic research teaches students to think critically and theoretically about their practice (Vannotti). Additionally, as hooks notes, this "engaged pedagogy" (21), empowered by process, promotes the union of body, mind, and spirit in a "holistic approach to learning" that seeks enlightenment along with acquisition of new knowledge (14).
I apply best practices, gleaned from this innovation exercise, in other classes. For example, each iteration of my DTC 354 Digital Storytelling class is grounded by the research question: "How can digital media promote transmedia narrative and storytelling?"
As action research, students assist the re-enactment of historic radio dramas before a live audience through a partnership between the CMDC program, Kiggins Theatre, and The Willamette Radio Workshop. Students produce digital sound effects, music, and visual backdrops. They develop and implement social media marketing campaigns to promote the performances. Sometimes they have roles in the performances. Additionally, they produce digital interpretations of the base narrative, digital artifacts that expand the narrative of the radio dramas and provide backstories. Their work is curated in a month-long gallery showing following the performance.
To date, we have offered performances of "The Golden Age of Superman," "The Island of Dr. Moreau," "Around the World in Eighty Days," "A Radio Christmas Carol," "The War of the Worlds," "R.U.R.," "The Fall of the City," and episodes from Gunsmoke and The Shadow. Average attendance was 280 people per performance. I have presented results in peer reviewed publications and international conference presentations. Further information and resources are available at my Radio Nouspace website.
Embedded in these examples, and other of my teaching practices, is encouraging students to formulate a research question, consider multiple answers, choose the one best aligned with the expected outcome, and then proceed with design and solution development. Students document their process and share it with others. In this sharing, and discussion of choices made, additional learning can occur. As Vannotti notes, all "theories, principles, and ideas reside in the artifacts we create" and "build the ground for further investigation" (56). This approach is also, according to hooks, transformational, empowering students by their engagement in the process of solution implementation.
Use of Disciplinary Research in Teaching
As noted, one of my research foci is investigating sound as the basis for narrative and storytelling. I archive and curate exemplary examples in my Radio Nouspace research project, and incorporate some in my teaching, most often as podcasts, or small, self-contained audio programs. For example, 99% Invisible is an excellent weekly podcast about design, part of Radiotopia from Public Radio Exchange. Design is closely associated with usability, and so I have incorporated a number of episodes of 99% Invisible into my course syllabus and ask students to listen. Beyond their focus on usability, I explain the connection between these podcasts and my research with sound, narrative, and storytelling. Students enjoy the connection and frequently tell me of their experiences listening to other programs and the connections they make to their learning.
hooks, belle. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge Press: NY, 2014.
Vannotti, Stefano M. "But How Can We Produce Knowledge by Designing Interfaces?" In Interface Cultures: Artistic Aspects of Interaction. Christa Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau, and Dorothée King, eds. Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick, NJ, 2008. 51-60.