A Look Back, A Look Forward

looking backWriting by Mike Goudzwaard | Image by Graham Holiday (Flickr) CC-BY-NC 2.0

It’s Wednesday at 11:10 AM and I’m walking down from my office to join the second to last class meeting of Film 7 for a student-led discussion. These student-led sessions usually happen weekly on Fridays, but in this last week of the term, Friday has been reserved for looking back at the course and looking back at Dartmouth history through the Rauner Library’s special collection.

I park myself at the Orange group station and listen in as the discussion leaders challenge teams to design their own digital protest as they are unpacking Zapatismo in Cyberspace: an interview with Ricardo Dominguez. I roll my chair over to the Green team and join their design jam. I won’t get into specifics of what we discussed since the content of class discussion should stay in class discussion.

I will tell you that in this conversation, as in other times I’ve joined discussion groups in this course, I play the historian, someone who has been alive since the ‘70s, but usually brings up events from the 2000s (when the students were 6 or so), or even a year ago. I mention the Yale students who built a better course catalog, complete with course evaluation information, much to the disapproval of the institution. The protest, if you will, was to reformat data created by students (course evaluations) for students data-driven decisions (course registration). This “protest” happened in 2014, beyond the horizon of historical knowledge for first-year college students. We take a moment to get up to speed on the facts of this example.

Two days later, the final day of the class and Film 7, we meet in a classroom in the Rauner Special Collections Library. Digital Collections & Oral History Archivist Caitlin Birch asks if anyone has ever been to Rauner before. One student says she has been there with her father who was looking for an article he wrote 40 years ago while a he was a student at Dartmouth. They found the article.

Rauner regularly host classes for sessions where librarians and archivists teach through the collection. One question that has been present in Film 7 is, “How do we preserve and archive our own writing and work in a digital age?” Software changes, hard drives fail, and laptops are upgraded. Chances are you won’t graduate with the same laptop you used your first year in college. Where does all your stuff live? This was exemplified earlier in the term when students were asked to bring in their best work from their previous writing courses, just a term or two earlier.

Beyond one’s own personal writing, how do we preserve the work of social movements, maybe those things that didn’t make it into the official media? The special collection is an archive of Dartmouth’s history, including social protests and activism from previous decades.

“Who has heard about the Divest Dartmouth movement?”

A few hands go up.

“This wasn’t the first divestment movement at Dartmouth, in the 60’s students wanted Dartmouth to divest from Kodak.”

Materials are distributed on the tables.

I join a group and we read the minutes from a meeting of students and faculty in 1967. The issue at hand in that meeting was whether Dartmouth should divest from Kodak due to its practice of not hiring African American workers. The group I’m sitting with passes the pages around, taking mental notes of who was present at the meeting, what the issues were, what students requested, and how the college representatives responded. If you would like to know more, I suggest you visit Rauner and request the Kodak papers from 1967.

In the feedback on the course, one student said this session at Rauner was the highlight of the course.

After the discussion, there is final work to turn in, including political broadside political posters and final paper revisions. If you’re on campus look for these broadside posters, particularly around Novak Cafe.

Stop Fox & CNN Refugees Are People Too!

Stop Fox & CNN Refugees Are People Too!

Photo by Mike Goudzwaard

In the final minutes of the class, Michael handed back the 3×5 cards that each student had filled out with their learning goals on the first day of class. Then, in Canvas, students were asked to:

1) Write 1 paragraph on how your writing has developed in FILM7. Did you improve what you wanted to improve? Why or why not? What would you like to improve about your writing in future classes?

2) Write 1 paragraph on how your learning has developed in FILM7. Do you know more about your own learning process than when we started? Why or why not? What would you like to improve about your own learning in future classes?

With that final look back, the class is over.

We ask students to reflect on their learning, to reach beyond what happened to how and why it happened. This metacognitive practice is important for us educators too. Looking back on a class, how goals were met or not, how plans evolved, and where would we start next time.

In my next post I’ll take up versions of these two questions students were asked, looking back and looking forward.

Seeing What Others See

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(Photos by Michael Evans and Erin DeSilva.)

I recently presented at Learning IgnitED! That’s the name of the regular faculty workshop series offered by Dartmouth’s Educational Technologies Group. In each session three or four faculty members get about 5 minutes each to present a problem that they had in their teaching and how they solved it. After everyone presents, the host moderates Q&A with faculty, staff, and interested observers. It’s informal, fast-paced, often funny, and informative.

When I presented at the first Learning IgnitED! session in Spring 2015, we held the sessions in the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning. That’s a great place for workshops and events. But now we have the Berry Innovation Classroom. It’s our flagship learning space on campus. So now that’s where we hold Learning IgnitED!

I teach in BIC, so I was glad to accept the invitation to present. Few presenters ever take advantage of Berry Innovation Classroom’s special features for a Learning IgnitED! presentation. So I determined to jam as much active learning fun into one session as possible. Here what I presented (along with my observations) after a kind introduction from Mike Goudzwaard:

TITLE: Seeing What Others See

I teach FILM7: Mass Media & Democracy, right in this room. FILM7’s a first-year seminar, so we emphasize writing, especially the writing process. How many of you have ever written anything? (all hands go up, some kind souls laugh) So you know! It’s messy, nonlinear, incomplete, ugly, even embarrassing.

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In our class we make that messiness visible, so everyone sees that it’s normal. Students see and touch my work in process. Students see and touch each other’s work in process. They even see my reflections on how the class itself is working or not, which Mike and I are publicly blogging this quarter. (I point to the address of this blog on the whiteboard)

Slide3A lot of classes do things like that, of course: trading drafts, working in small groups, etc. Honestly, we know that students learn more from each other than they ever learn from us.

But what works in small groups can be hard to scale up. It’s hard to see what a lot of others are seeing, as they see it, especially when you have 15 or 30 students working on something at the same time. But in this classroom, you can do things to make it easier.

Let’s do some active learning. Ready? (Out of about 30 attendees, half look excited, half look nervous)

Before we start, note that all the furniture in the room moves around. Everything. Like this!

(At this point I jump on a table and roll across the room. Yes, for real. The number of nervous-looking people does not decrease.)

Here are your instructions.

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(For one minute everyone moves around, rearranges furniture, positions themselves in front of boards with markers poised, etc)

Everybody set? Now, I’m going to project some text from Dartmouth’s website about our core values. Using your markers to write directly on the whiteboard over the projected text, you’ll circle two core values that you think deserve the most investment right now, then write your initials next to the text where you marked it up. Mark the text, sign your work. You’ll have two minutes. Questions?

(I hit the button and 7 projectors display the text on whiteboard walls spaced evenly around the room perimeter.)

Do it now. 2 minutes. (Everyone starts marking up the text projected onto the whiteboards, passing around markers, signing their work, etc. I use a stopwatch to track elapsed time.)

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(2 minutes pass, I clap my hands) Okay, stop writing. All attention to center of room, please. First thing I want you to do is silently look around at what your colleagues have written. Give yourself a few seconds to spot any patterns. Similarities? Differences? Just silently look around.

(People are staying in place, more or less, so I urge them to circulate around the room. I comment that it looks like a cocktail party with no actual cocktails.)

(1 minute passes, I clap my hands) Okay, let’s report back. What did you see? Were there any surprises?

(Several responses! One person notes differences in what was selected, e.g. words vs. entire phrases. Another person notes similarities in which core values people highlighted. Someone else notes that different groups of colleagues who sat together did similar things. While we talk, everyone stands around with markers in their hands and furniture scattered all around them.)

That’s great! I think you can see how this would start useful discussions in class. And even in this brief session you’ve learned something interesting about your colleagues: what they look for, how they make choices, what they think is important.

Obviously in the classroom you could do this exercise with almost any text or image. In my class we’ve done this exercise with active/passive rewriting, reverse outlining, identifying arguments and evidence, rewriting thesis statements, etc etc etc.

But the key is visibility. Students see each other’s work, but also how they’ve done it, how far along they are while they’re doing it, and how they might do their own work differently. They see what others see. That’s huge.

And now you have to clean up, just like my students do.

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Take my advice: if you teach in this room, put that slide at the end of every presentation.

(Everyone restores the room to pre-presentation conditions in one minute flat.)

Thanks for being good sports and participating in active learning!

(some applause)

How Active Learning Can Fail

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A memorable montage in the 80s movie Real Genius opens with a math professor lecturing to a roomful of students. As the term progresses, more and more students skip class. Each departing student leaves behind their own tape machine to record the lecture. After a while only tape machines remain. Finally, the instructor gives up. He leaves behind his own tape machine to play the lecture. His instructions?

“Math on tape is hard to follow, so: Please Listen Carefully.”

As a comedy fan, I find this scene funny. But as an active learning advocate, I find it horrifying. Why use boring, passive learning techniques? Why turn students and teachers into machines? Let’s make learning active!

I’m all in on active learning. Think-Pair-Share? Check. Creative projects? You bet. Small group discussions? All the time! True story: in just one class session this week, my students engaged in at least five distinct active learning exercises. They defined their learning goals on 3×5 cards. They drafted essay conclusions on whiteboards. They applied a grading rubric to each other’s whiteboard work. They wrote one-minute reflection essays on the grading experience. And they responded to online polls to set up questions for the next class session.

So I see active learning working every day. I also see how it doesn’t work. It’s great to talk about active learning. But we also need to talk about how it can fail. I’ll start by offering three observations from my own teaching.

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First, active learning expectations can reduce the effectiveness of other techniques.

In active learning classrooms, learners constantly engage with each other and with technology. They take polls, discuss ideas, and find examples online. So what happens when they’re not engaged in a class activity, but their laptops and phones are right there? What happens, for example, when you have to lecture?

Wait, lecture? Yes. I don’t like lecturing. But sometimes we need more information and I just have to talk to the whole class for a few minutes. When students are constantly engaged in active learning, especially using technology, shifting to listening and note-taking for these few minutes can be challenging.

When this shift occurs in our active learning classroom, students sometimes disregard the lecture. Not always, not even often, but sometimes. What do they do instead? They stay engaged with the technology until it’s time to use it for class again. So, maybe instead of listening to three minutes of lecture on how Facebook’s news algorithm works, they check Facebook until the lecture part is over.

That makes perfect sense. It’s not their problem. It’s my problem. But it’s still a problem. Without careful preparation, pacing, and transition in the class period, active learning expectations can reduce the effectiveness of lecture, however brief, in an active learning classroom.

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Second, active learning can raise the stakes for technology failure.

I teach in the Berry Innovation Classroom. It’s packed with technology, and it’s mostly easy to use. I know you don’t need seven projectors and whiteboard walls to engage in active learning. But if you could use them, wouldn’t you?

I sure do! Yes, we do a lot of work with 3×5 cards and Post-It notes. But we also project text and images onto whiteboards and mark them up. Students submit weekly video and text examples of concepts from our readings, then present each other’s favorite examples using their projector stations. We’re always throwing a poll, or the LMS, or some online example, onto screens. Technology isn’t something separate. It’s central to what we do.

So when it fails, we fail. For example, last week the main projector started cutting out during a video. I switched to a secondary projector and used its control panel to take over the room system. Then, during another activity, that control panel timed out and didn’t come back up. A student noticed that one control panel at one station was still active, so I switched to that one. As class ended, the whole room system crashed. We effectively lost about 20% of class time, and we had to skip an important planned activity. (The tech issue’s fixed now.)

It might not seem like much. But downtime in an active learning setting is especially bad. You need that time to transition between activities. And downtime is as low engagement as it gets. Of course I can plan ahead, or have backup markers and 3×5 cards ready at all times. But when there’s no low-tech alternative, the stakes for technology failure are much higher in an active learning classroom.

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Third, active learning can increase consequences for student absences.

Active learning depends on participation to be successful. Student attendance is important. In my current class, I allow a few no-questions-asked absences, and then apply penalties for non-attendance thereafter. Students are busy! They have lives, events, families, games, tours, interviews, and many other commitments. Sometimes they miss class, and for good reasons.

In some learning settings, missing class is not a big deal. Students can take home assignments, get the lecture notes from a classmate, or make up that quiz. But in an active learning classroom, missing class means missing the activity. You can’t engage in group discussion with your classmates if you’re at a game. You can’t write on the board. You can’t write a reflection piece on the class session, or give your classmates real-time feedback on their work.

With active learning, learners have the “aha!” moment while they’re engaged in classroom activity. And if they miss class, they miss it. You can’t assign the “aha!” moment for later.

These consequences don’t just fall on slackers. They fall on students who want to participate and do well. For example, student-athletes sometimes have to travel. Religious students observe holidays. That shouldn’t be a problem. But in an active learning classroom, not showing up can result in serious learning consequences.

So, what is to be done? How can we prevent active learning from failing our students?

I wish I had a great answer. I don’t. I know the easy answer is to leave a tape machine at the front of the room. It’s almost always easier to disregard what’s best for learners. But active learning isn’t about the easy answer, especially for teachers. It’s about finding ways to make learners participate in their own learning.

So maybe we could use active learning to solve active learning’s problems. Let’s ask our students: what would you do to solve this problem? How would you apply what you know to make this situation better? How would you make active learning fair, robust, and engaging, even when we have to lecture for a few minutes, or have a tech failure, or miss class?

In our class, students solve learning problems all the time. They design and run entire class sessions. They figure out how to create active learning that gets everyone involved. When things aren’t working, they suggest alternatives. They make their own learning happen, especially when I’m not doing a great job at it. So if anyone can figure out how to make active learning work better, they can.

But it’s not entirely their problem to solve. It’s ours, too. We have more work to do, and we can all learn a lot from doing that work.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

1280px-Citation_needed_stickers(Photo by Tomasz Fink, CC-BY-SA.)

Are you taking credit for someone else’s work?

“Of course not!” you might say. “That goes against everything I teach students about respect, honor, and good scholarship!”

“How dare you!” you might even add.

Everyone in higher education knows you have to give proper credit. If we had Ten Commandments, “give proper credit” would be at least the third one. So, not long ago, I would have responded the same way. Of course not! How dare you!

But then I had an epiphany. In the middle of a PowerPoint presentation, no less.

Let me give some context. Dartmouth has a great teaching community. Our teaching and learning center organizes several workshops every quarter. Faculty presenters share their successes and failures. It’s a great opportunity to see how other people solve interesting problems and take on big challenges in the classroom.

In one of the recent sessions I noticed that every speaker thanked an instructional designer for their help. I kept nodding. Our instructional designers are so good! I was right in the middle of thinking “it’s nice when they credit the instructional designer, so people know who does good work….”

And then something went “click” in my head.

In front of our peers, we give credit to our collaborators. But do we do that in class? Was I doing that in class? Or was I taking all the credit?

Uh oh.

I realized that I hadn’t been telling my students about all the help I get. I wasn’t giving credit where credit was due.

The thing is, I get a lot of help! Take Mike Goudzwaard, for example. I’ve collaborated with Mike for years. We’ve worked on digital scholarship projects, developed open badging for learning, and created unique active learning experiences. We’ve written articles together and traveled halfway around the world to deliver workshops together. He’s made everything about my teaching, and my students’ learning, better.

And yet, in the classroom, I hadn’t been telling the students why their learning experiences were so great. When something worked especially well, I would just stand there and be happy, soaking up the admiration.

I was teaching my students to credit their sources. But I wasn’t doing it. In that moment, during that presentation, it clicked. I had to do better.

So this quarter I did three things differently. Here’s what I did:

First, I introduced Mike as the instructional designer on the first day of the course. I explained what an instructional designer does, how we’ve worked together on past projects, and how much better the course is because he is involved.

Second, I made sure students knew that Mike is as much a part of the course as I am. He can (and does) come to class anytime. That’s normal. The students know him. When he visits, he participates alongside them. And if he tries to stay off to the side, they pull him back in!

Third, I encouraged my students to ask questions about collaboration in their other courses. Does the instructor collaborate with an instructional designer? Who? Who makes their learning better? Which instructional designers help make the classes they enjoy?

These might seem like small changes. Or, if you’re one of the professors getting questioned by students, these changes might seem a little subversive! But they’re important changes. I’m glad I made them. Mike deserves the credit.

And yet, now that I’ve started thinking about giving credit, I’m finding it hard to stop thinking about how to do more. How we can show students all of the work that goes into good learning experiences? How can we provide better information about learning quality, and help students make better decisions?

So here are some ideas. Why not build course catalogs that promote courses based on the quality of learning experiences? Why not create course descriptions that show learning objectives, not just the topic or reading list? Why not replace “instructor” with “subject expert?”  Why not empower students to make learning decisions based on information about all learning collaborators, not just the faculty member whose name is in bold letters?

I know, I know, it’s a slippery slope to ratemyinstructionaldesigner.com. And frankly, not all faculty are ready to give up their privileged positions in the course catalog. These ideas aren’t going to turn into policy just yet.

But in the meantime, let’s at least give credit where credit is due.

Learning from Experience (Part 4)

Sarah and Amos

(Text by Sarah Smith and Mike Goudzwaard. Photos by Mike Goudzwaard. This post is the 4th part in a series on experiential learning. Also see Part 1Part 2, and Part 3)

In this post Sarah Smith, Book Arts Workshop Coordinator reflects on printing with Amos Kennedy and the Film 7: Mass Media and Democracy class in a conversation with Mike Goudzwaard, Instructional Designer. 

MIKE: Visiting artist Amos Kennedy came to Dartmouth a few weeks ago to work with students in Film 7: Mass Media and Democracy. You originally suggested Amos for this Experiential Learning Initiative project. What did you think students would learn from him in particular?

SARAH: There’s a number of reasons why bringing Amos was a good idea. One is that he puts on a great show and so he is very engaging. He’s also one of the few letter press printers really doing a lot of political messages in his work. Some people will have little bits and pieces, but a lot of his work is about politics or about the human condition. He would show students how to work with wood type and get a message out. That’s something Amos says frequently, “Get the message to the people and move on.”

Additionally, I think just to get them engaged in the process using language in this way, rather than just setting type or worrying too much about the result is empowering. Obviously we have rules on how to use type, but it’s great to be able to just jump in and print.

MIKE: How did you prepare for the learning experience with this class?

SARAH: Well, Michael [Evans] and I talked a lot about what we wanted students to get out of the class, and the experience with Amos in particular. We have a project later in the term in which students will print political broadsides. It made sense for students to spend time with someone who actually does that, and to see how much fun Amos has with his work. He also takes printing seriously, and prints every day that he can.

MIKE: I spent some time in Book Arts while Amos was here and noticed that he likes to offer his life’s wisdom while he is working with students.

SARAH: Well, and that was a big part of it, too. Aside from working with type and the specifics of the project, our students learned from someone who loves what they do, and perhaps it makes them think about what they want to do with their lives. That’s really great. That’s one of the things that I hope people get out of the workshop anyway, that there’s a creative outlet outside the busyness of regular life. Students find they might be interested in book arts as a hobby, or maybe it becomes more than that. It is so inspiring to be around someone who loves what they do.

life isn't hard

MIKE: What are some of the things that changed between your plan and when Amos was here?

SARAH: Partly what changed was based on learning from hosting a visiting artist for a week. Aside from the work with Film 7 students, we had plans for all these public dinner conversations, however people were either too busy or Amos wasn’t really interested in big dinners. Instead we ended up going to Bob Metzler’s studio. He also teaches in Book Arts, and that was really a great experience for Amos and for me.

In the workshop itself, I expected Amos to start with more instruction for students, but his style is to first let students play around with type. This was more free form than I was anticipating.

Amos loves printing backgrounds and students shared this interest in learning about layers and textures. Students came back and wanted to do more and get involved in printing in multiple layers, demonstrating that they were really interested in printing more posters. Next time I would order even more paper.

MIKE: How did Amos’s visit fit into the Film 7 course overall, and how does it relate to what students are working on now?

SARAH: Amos’s visit gave students a lot of ideas of what they might want to do when they come to Book Arts to work on their political broadside projects. They also had a lot more questions, more focused questions, for me than they probably would have otherwise. Printing with Amos allowed students to have some experience with the presses before planning their own projects. There was a lot that they already knew, so I didn’t have to repeat the basics. We could talk a little bit more about the pressure you use, because they could really feel the difference. With Amos, they were using a lot of pressure, because it was that big wood type. Today we were using little metal type, and they didn’t feel it at all, really, and so that was surprising to them.

We talked a lot about how the backgrounds were made for the posters and what was involved with that, and what else they could do with it. So I think it just gave them lots of ideas.

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MIKE: Amos has come to Dartmouth before, and I’m wondering if you’ve had other printers come in as visiting artists, and if so, what’s able to happen for students with a visiting artist that can’t happen with Book Arts alone?

SARAH: I wasn’t here when he came before, but what Amos brings that probably would be different than most other visiting artists is that he is so open to having just these crazy open printing days, where anybody can come in and make stuff.

It generates interest and excitement in what can happen here. I think it’s healthy to have more voices than just me or just Bob telling people how to do things, and to see how somebody really uses this material or this method to do their work.

I also like having visiting artists, because we used to joke that we should have a visiting artist mask if we were trying to get a point across to students, because they’re not listening to us anymore. As soon as someone new comes in they say, “Oh, I get it now.” So it just brings in a different point of view. I guess. Two weeks after Amos visited, we had a stone carver come in and he brought a whole new perspective. Hopefully we can do more of that.

MIKE: What’s the most important thing you learned from this experience?

SARAH: How to plan. There were many, many moving parts to Amos’s visit. We were not only making this work for the Film 7 class, but also for other classes and the public during the week. I wanted to make sure Amos had a positive experience, which is not difficult, but required planning many print sessions, meals, and public talks.

During the week, many nights we were in the shop until nine at night preparing everything for the next day, and talking a lot about the planned activities and life. All the snippets of wisdom that the students were getting, I was getting tenfold.

this is your democracy blocks

I talked with Amos about how he manages his presses, and what he’s trying to do in Detroit. I feel like maybe I got the most out of Amos’s visit, but the good thing about that is that I can pass it along after he’s left.

MIKE: I think that happens when you are teaching, you often learn as much or more than your students.

SARAH: Right. There’s a trick on the press that I learned from a student early in my career. When this student demonstrated, I thought it was way better than the way you’re supposed to “officially” do it. And so I’ve been teaching that way ever since, and it’s awesome. So yeah, definitely you learn from the students.

MIKE: I see there is a stack of posters over here.

SARAH: Students got really excited working with Amos. I didn’t expect that level of excitement, or that it would continue after Amos left. All of a sudden I had all these people wanting to come in and make posters. The students were so into it that they went into production mode and printed a ton of these posters, so I’m still trying to figure out what to do with them

MIKE: Readers, if you want a poster, they’re still in the hallway of Book Arts in the basement of Baker Library. Come on down and pick one up.

To learn more about the Dartmouth Library Book Arts Workshop visit their webpage or sign up for the Book Arts listserv

show up on purpose

Learning from Experience (Part 3)

posters(Text by Michael Evans. Photos by Mike Goudzwaard. This post is the 3rd part in a series on experiential learning. See also Part 1Part 2, and Part 4.)

In my last post I talked about turning experience into learning. We designed assignments to make that happen for Amos Kennedy’s visit to Dartmouth. Students prepared themselves to treat the visit as a learning experience. They reflected on their learning goals along the way. They connected their experience to a larger learning trajectory. And they did great!

I say “they.” But students weren’t the only ones doing the assignments. As part of our Experiential Learning Initiative grant proposal, I promised to do those assignments too. Now it’s time to report what I learned from the experience.

I learned a lot!

But let’s begin with a confession. I didn’t know much about Amos Kennedy at the start of this adventure. When Sarah Smith in Dartmouth’s Book Arts Workshop suggested bringing Amos Kennedy in, I saw his work for the first time. It’s stunning. Somehow he goes from simple chipboard and a few ink colors to complex and colorful political posters in almost no time at all.

Questions immediately leaped into my head. How does he go from constraint to creativity so quickly? Does that process apply to other kinds of writing and formats? How could we draw connections between constraints on letterpress printing and constraints on, say, Twitter or Snapchat?

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At a more practical level, I wondered if I could learn to print like that. I’ve done basic letterpress typesetting and printing, but never multi-layered poster printing. Seeing his work made me eager to try out backgrounds, staggered text, and really anything I could get away with.

Not long before the visit, I watched the documentary Proceed and Be Bold! It surprised me. Sure, I expected his dedication to craft. I already appreciated his commitment to making art that’s accessible to everyone. And I had already learned about his resistance to labels like “artist” or “fine art.”

What I didn’t know was that Amos Kennedy changed his entire life to do something he loved to do. He had a great job at a large multinational corporation. Most people would probably see his corporate success as a great achievement. But he walked away. Seeing someone do that inspired me to think hard about what I love to do, and about how my life is organized.

So when our first class rolled around (that’s a printing press joke), I expected to learn more about printing. But I also expected to learn about setting goals, identifying what you want, and pursuing dreams. Such great expectations!

What did I actually learn from our first session?

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Well, I learned a few things about printing. For example, I learned not to accidentally nudge the lever that lifts the print rollers. It turns out that you can’t print if the ink rollers don’t touch the type. I did this after students invited me to take a turn. Embarrassing! But it’s good for students to know that the prof can mess up. I tell them, but now they’ve experienced it.

I also learned about some great examples of letterpress propaganda broadsides from 1968 Paris activism. Amos Kennedy knows an immense amount about printing history, from machines to type to people to designs. After class, we chatted about my students’ upcoming assignments, and he gave some great leads on inspirational examples.

But mostly I learned to think of “errors” as opportunities. More than anyone I’ve met, Amos Kennedy creates through experiment. Will it work? Who knows? Let’s try it! I messed up! No you didn’t, you made something you didn’t expect. Is this the wrong way? Only if you didn’t make something!

Ever since that first session, I keep asking myself: What happens when we treat learning as a creative process? Not trial and error, but trying, and trying again?

The second session continued many lessons from the first session. Like the students, I set some new goals. I worried that some students hadn’t seen the setup across the crowded workshop space, or that they hadn’t turned the crank on a Vandercook press yet. So I worked with Sarah and Amos ahead of time to make sure we were prepared for the students to meet their own learning goals.

It went great! Amos picked two phrases to print onto posters. One actually came from a student exercise earlier in the course. Another came from a TV show. One was already locked in, the other he set up live so that students who missed it last time could see the process. We gave ourselves plenty of time to run the presses against a variety of backgrounds. Everyone got to print and experiment. We printed so many posters!

(Seriously, so many. Want one?)

After sending the students on their way, posters in hand, I reflected on the second session, and on the overall experience.

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From the second session I learned that even small differences in backgrounds can make a huge difference to the final product, even with the same type and words. Every poster we printed turned out different. But every one had something beautiful about it.

That’s an important printing lesson. It’s also a great reminder about how we learn.

We all bring different backgrounds to the learning experience. Those differences don’t seem very big sometimes. But they can make a huge difference in what we end up learning, even when we’re reading the same books, doing the same assignments, and hearing the same words.

That seems kind of deep and profound, I know. I didn’t expect letterpress printing to get me thinking about things that way. But that’s what happened.

I’m grateful for what I learned about creativity. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay not to do as much, or even what you thought you would do when you started. Give yourself time. Make something good. Try something new.

But if I had to pick one thing I’ll carry forward in my teaching, it’s that we’re always creating, always making, always doing. Whether we succeed or fail by someone else’s measure isn’t important. What matters is how we learn from that experience.

Learning from Experience (Part 2)

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(Text by Michael Evans. Photos by Mike Goudzwaard. This post is the 2nd part in a series on experiential learning. See also Part 1Part 3, and Part 4.)

In my previous post I talked about bringing Amos Kennedy to campus. What an exciting experience! But we wanted to turn that experience into learning. It’s a common challenge. Many educators want to get involved in experiential learning, but it’s sometimes hard to turn that desire into concrete steps.

So how did we do it?

First, we created an assignment before the visit to help students think of Amos Kennedy’s visit as a learning experience. Each student streamed the documentary Proceed and Be Bold! at their own pace. They then responded to three questions in our course’s Canvas discussion board, where all students in the class could see their answers. (I’ll put the questions in italics, followed by our rationale for each question.)

  1. Which course learning objectives do you think that printmaking will help us achieve (and why)? This question helps students connect the unusual experience of the print shop to learning in the rest of the course.
  2. In the documentary, how does Amos Kennedy relate his work to democracy? This question helps students connect the content of Kennedy’s work to the themes of our course.
  3. Based on what you’ve seen in Proceed and Be Bold!, what do you think that you’ll learn from the experience of working with Amos Kennedy in the Book Arts Workshop? This question, sometimes called a “preflection” question, helps students anticipate learning from the experience, rather than just having the experience.

Second, we checked in with students within a few hours of the first session. We created another Canvas assignment, this time with two prompts. Students “replied” to their own prior post in the same Canvas discussion.

  1. You prepared for today’s workshop session by watching a documentary about Amos Kennedy, then writing about your expectations for the workshop. Given those expectations, what did you learn today that surprised you? This question encourages focused reflection not only about the results from the experience, but also about the value of prior expectations.
  2. It’s not over! We have one more workshop session with Amos Kennedy in Book Arts on Wednesday. What are your learning goals for the Wednesday workshop session? What would you still like to learn? This question acknowledges that students have thought about their experience so far, and explicitly puts each student in charge of their learning goals for the next session.

Third, we checked in with students again after their final workshop session. We created a third Canvas assignment. Again, students “replied” to their earlier Canvas discussion posts, creating a reply chain showing how they learned throughout the experience.

  1. After Monday’s session you identified your learning goals for today’s session. Did you achieve those goals? Why or why not? This question holds students accountable for their own learning goals, and encourages reflection on goal-setting.
  2. If Amos Kennedy was coming back to campus for a visit next year, and your friend asked you whether they should go, what would you tell them? What’s the most important thing, in your opinion, that they should know about the experience? This question helps students reflect on the experience from a different perspective, and encourages them to think about what others might find beneficial, whatever their own experience might have been.
  3. One of your main projects for this course requires you to design, create, and print a letterpress propaganda broadside. How has this experience with Amos Kennedy affected your thinking about that project? This question connects this particular experience to a future course project, and encourages them to think about this experience as being part of a larger learning trajectory rather than a single, unusual event.

Sounds simple, right?

Of course it wasn’t that simple. It took a lot of planning and collaboration. Instructional designer Mike Goudzwaard, instructor Michael Evans (me!), Ashley Kehoe, DCAL’s Associate Director of Experiential Learning, and Sarah Smith in Book Arts all bounced ideas back and forth to arrive at the final assignment structure and assessment design.

Even with all that planning, we still faced some challenges. To take a small example, Canvas “replies” are just confusing. Similar “reply” links can do different things. It’s not obvious what they will do. So students sometimes posted new entries in the same thread rather than replying to a previous message. This seems minor, but it made tracking the learning paths more difficult for students and for me.

A bigger challenge involved assessing student reflection beyond our course. Several other classes visited the Book Arts Workshop for as little as 15 minutes or as much as an hour. And for two full days Amos Kennedy held open printing hours where anyone in the community could come in and print. How could we capture some of their thoughts about the experience?

After some discussion, we settled on index cards that asked the “What would you tell your friend?” question. Sarah printed these up and distributed them to any visiting students, faculty, and community members, who then turned in the cards as they left the workshop. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t as thorough as the Canvas assignments. And frankly, we’re still not sure what some of the feedback means. At least we got people thinking about what they learned, if only briefly.

Okay, fine, you might be saying, but tell me the answers!

I won’t share my students’ information. But Sarah and I did many of the same reflection exercises that the students did. In my next post I’ll talk about my answers to these questions, and share what I learned, good and bad, from the experiential learning experience.

Learning from Experience (Part 1)

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(Text by Michael Evans. Photos by Mike Goudzwaard. This post is the 1st part in a series on experiential learning. See also Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.)

Posters fill my office today. Everywhere I look, bright messages compete for my attention. This is your democracy, make them listen! The press is a political tool! Love yourself and do whatever the hell you want!

My Mass Media & Democracy students created these posters in Dartmouth’s Book Arts Workshop. Before this week, they’d never printed before. Three days later, they’re printing amazing posters. It’s been a whirlwind. It’s also been a learning experience my students won’t soon forget.

But let me back up.

Several months ago I brainstormed student project ideas with Sarah Smith, the Book Arts Special Instructor at the Dartmouth Book Arts Workshop. Our main course learning objective is to show how different forms of media make different forms of politics possible. So it made sense for students to create their own letterpress propaganda posters in the Book Arts Workshop.

At first we thought we would do it all in-house. Students would spend a few lab hours in the Book Arts Workshop learning basic skills, then work on their own to complete a finished product. We started reserving time in our schedules.

Then along came the Experiential Learning Initiative.

“Experiential learning” sounds like it might mean “learning through doing.” And it is! Building robots, climbing rock walls, and hiking through the woods can all be valuable learning experiences. But successful experiential learning isn’t just about having experiences. It’s about, well, learning.

Successful experiential learning requires reflection. For example, let’s say you just built a robot. Probably the experience taught you something about building robots. But more important, you probably also learned something about yourself: how you set and met expectations, how you worked with others, or how you solved problems. By taking time to reflect, you connect what you learned about yourself to other experiences, past and future.

Reflection puts students in the position of thinking about themselves as learners. They may never build another robot or climb another wall. But they’ll always be learning. There’s no more important skill to develop.

Through the competitive Experiential Learning Initiative, the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) reviews and funds proposals for experiential learning at Dartmouth. The call for proposals came out just as Sarah and I brainstormed student projects for spring quarter. So we stopped and said, wait, can we go bigger? What if we could do anything? What would we do?

Sarah had a great suggestion. We should bring in someone who already creates world-class letterpress printing with political messages. We should show students exactly how someone does this work in real life, every day. We should have them experience the process, and the work, alongside one of the greats.

We should invite Amos Kennedy.

Amos Kennedy is a world-renowned letterpress artist and self-identified “humble negro printer” whose work raises important questions about race, equality, and democracy in the United States. At age 40 he left his corporate job at AT&T to pursue his dream of letterpress printing. He’s been printing ever since.

Sarah put out the call to Amos Kennedy. If we could swing the funding, would he come? The answer came back: Yes!

So we wrote an Experiential Learning Initiative proposal to bring Amos Kennedy to Dartmouth. Amos Kennedy would work with my Mass Media & Democracy students over several class periods. The Dartmouth Library would set up an Amos Kennedy exhibit in Berry Main Street, our library’s main traffic corridor. We’d have open printing days so anyone in the community could come in and print a poster. And we’d make time for other courses to come in and experience letterpress printing with Amos Kennedy. Most important, we would track how people learned from the experience.

Spoiler alert: We got the grant! Amos Kennedy came to Dartmouth!

In my next post, I’ll talk about how we turned the Amos Kennedy visit into experiential learning. If you want to prepare for that experience, watch the Amos Kennedy documentary Proceed and Be Bold! here:

Live Blogging Mass Media and Democracy

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by Mike Goudzwaard, Instructional Designer

I’m live blogging the fourth meeting of Mass Media and Democracy (FILM 7) from the Berry Innovation Classroom. I walked in a couple of minutes late to find ten students sitting in a semicircle of tables and six joining me in the “second row” behind them at the team stations.

My position in “the back” with several other students might be a commentary on the democracy on playing out in this classroom. The moment I walked in, students were voting on which posters they want to print with Amos Kennedy in the Book Arts workshop next week. Yes, even people in “the back” including me were given a vote.

There is some administrative business such as “giving credit for work when you build or borrow” and preparing to lead Friday discussion sessions. The pep talk was something like this – “Go get em tiger. You will do fine. Even if you bomb, you’ll do fine. You’ll work through it together and you’ll do fine.” We should all get that pep talk from our teachers.

Most students have a laptop open, yet most are not taking notes. Should they be? Is it because a discussion happened already in Canvas and can be retrieved at any time? Is it because there are no slides on the screen? Actually, all screens are lit up with the wireless login screen. What do these communicate? Potential for video display at any moment or the slides are missing?

Students are not distracted by their screens, most browsers are resting on the Canvas page or a reading. I’m arguably the most distracting person in the room with my blog typing.

The class is discussing “History and Theory of Democracy” by Andrew Perrin. Terms enter the lecture and I can’t help but bring a learning design meta narrative to my unpacking.

Epistemic democracy, the idea that as long as we include the most people with the most diverse ideas, we’ll have the best outcome. Is that true for learning design? Should we have the most people with the most diverse ideas involved with designing learning spaces, curriculum, and courses?

Modernity, one thing is moving, all others are fixed and post-modernity, all things are moving. My mind flashes to our learning spaces on campus, lecture hall with bolted down seats and this room with wheels on everything.

Unified media to fragmented media. This is an easy one, one projector or seven projectors. More on that when we get to the Great Game.

Students are asked to read Do College Admissions by Lottery and asked “Would switching to a lottery system be a more democratic system for Dartmouth?” This is timely considering that the class of 2020 just received their offer letters from Dartmouth yesterday. Students dig in, challenge the claims that this would free high schoolers to pursue their dreams rather than admissions check boxes. One student points out that it already is a lottery, but the tickets are issued at birth.

The final activity for class is the Great Game and goes like this. Students divide into four groups of four and each group takes a group station equipped with a projector. Students receive a brief introduction to the tech in the room including the capability of sharing their screen with other screens or pulling other screens to their projector. Key information is how to retake control of your own station. Then the game begins.

Each team is given a sheet of paper with their challenge for the game. I’m sitting on the edge observing, but the Yellow team invites me over to join them. I wondered if my knowledge of the tech in the room would be an advantage for our team and would I share special knowledge if it meant we could win. As it turns out my knowledge made no difference.

Our challenge was to pull up a webpage and display it on two screens – at all times. Another team was challenged with pulling up a webpage and displaying it on four screens. Here was the conflict, we battled control of our screens for the entirety of the game. One of my teammates wondered if this was all a test and we were supposed to work collaboratively to all win, but the obsession to keep control of our screens pulled our entire attention.

After five minutes or so we debriefed the game. What sort of democracy was this? Agonistic democracy or conflict sabotage? Was deliberative democracy at work? How would you grade this exercise? Participation where everyone wins? Or outcome – percentage of goals achieved – 2 pts if you show up, 2 pts to achieve each goal, if you had a lot of points on a system, how would you explain your higher score.

What advantages did some teams have? Did a better knowledge of how the system worked make you better at the game?

Thanks to the Film 7 students who allowed me to stop in on their live action democracy Great Game and especially to team yellow who invited me to join in the battle to control the screens. This is experiential learning design.

Why Wikity

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Writing by Mike Goudzwaard | Image by Bit Rot Saudade (Flickr) CC BY 2.0

This spring I’m working with Michael Evans on his Film 7: Mass Media and Democracy course. The “sevens” (i.e. Film 7) are the last in a series of required writing courses at Dartmouth. Each “seven” lives within a specific department and explores writing from a particularly disciplinary lens. As part of the writing in Film 7 students will be producing F7, an online journal exploring mass media and democracy. Students will also enage with learning experiences from printing with moveable type in the Book Arts Workshop, printing posters with activist Amos Paul Kennedy Jr (funded through the Dartmouth Experiential Learning Initiative), and of course drafting, editing, and revising each others’ work on Wikity.

What is Wikity you ask? So you’ve probably heard of the most famous wiki, Wikipedia, the massive collection of user created articles. The problem with Wikipedia for a writing course is that there are masked strangers (editors) constantly changing your work. We don’t need to play Wikipedia politics while trying to develop an idea for a writing course. Wikity is a small private instance available only to students in the class and their collaborating educators (faculty, instructional designers, and library educators). Wikity is a composition space with revision history and the ability to pass off writing to other users while retaining the original version.

For you techies (others look away for a moment), here are a few specs. Wikity was developed by Michael Caulfield at Washington State University, Vancouver (see wikity.cc) and is essentially a WordPress multi-site running a custom theme and a suite of plugins. Each author has their own site (subdomain name.site.come or subfolder site.com/name). Okay, enough of the techie stuff.

Students will be doing a lot of writing of various forms. They will be drafting articles, passing those off (called forking in wiki-speak) to their peers for edits and revision, and then taking them back. They will also be doing all sorts of metacognitive exercises such as preflection – What and how do you think you will learn? – and reflection  – What and how did you learn? They will also bringing in examples from the web to contribute to the course wikity.

Not only is Film 7 a chance to explore using Wikity for class writing, it is also a chance to invite our students to consider the benefits and risks of any technology. Through this course students will be asked to consider:

How are you backing up your work? No, I didn’t ask how someone else backs up your work, how do you back up your work. Yes, it’s your job as a digital citizen.

Who has access to your work and when? Here we hit a snag. Wikity carries the CC-NC-BY license which is not appropriate for a course. This is private work and all rights belong to the author. This was easily fixed with a footer edit. Wikity also lives behind a password and students decided if posts are draft or published.

Should you work be preserved beyond this course? If so, how? Rauner Special Collections Library Digital Archivist, Caitlin Birch will be visiting Film 7 in week nine to explore this topic.

I’ll let you know how this all goes. Down with bit rot!