Blog Post

Rewiring the Classroom

Rewiring the Classroom

On Saturday, I participated in a fabulous one-day conference organized by UIowa’s HASTAC Scholars called “Rewiring the Classrooom." 

The opening session included a welcome from Jon Winet, director of the UIowa Digital Studio for the Public Humanities, transcribed below:

We “fully subscribe to the notion of rewiring the classroom, and in the process, to building a community committed not only to that task, but zooming out, to rewiring education – and as we all share a deep commitment to civic engagement, to rewiring culture. We can do this. We have all day. In fact, we have the rest of our lives.”

And that was just the first ten minutes.

The conference included a series of hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions.  The first workshop I attended was called “Experiments with Web-Based Multimedia Projects: Student Work with Omeka and Google Sites,” which was led by David Tompkins from Carleton College.

Tompkins talked about student-generated website, based on multimedia research projects in history courses.  

First, he introduced a research project that uses Google Sites.

Tompkins said that students can get distracted by visuals, maps, videos and all the bells and whistles of technology that they forget about their writing and having a thesis-driven argument.  So, he has designed a two-part project: students write an essay first, THEN take their essay and modify it to a multimedia project, as an act of media translation.

One of the complicated elements of multimedia projects like this include permissions: Tompkins used to ask students to give credit to source sites by linking an image to that site, but now with more restrictions on copyright, his students’ sites are private unless they secure permissions from source sites.  Or, he encourages students to use internal archives in his library’s special collections, to make permissions easier.  Teresa Mangum talked about how these projects open conversations about intellectual property, and she noted that by doing a project like this, her students cared (for the first time) about citation and began to understand why it is important.  

We had an interesting conversation about evaluating multimedia projects.  What does it look like to make an effective multimedia argument?  How do you consider the content versus the presentation?  

One answer is to reframe the question: how effectively does the project integrate the content and presentation?  Because Thompkins’s project is two-part, he evaluates the content first and the presentation later.  But, for the second part, he emphasizes that multimedia components should be necessary to and integrated with the text--the form should reflect the content.

Another answer is to think about the similarities between written and multimedia arguments: how effectively does the website demonstrate audience awareness, logical organization, readability, concision, and relevance?  The same criteria apply to multimedia projects.

Or, you can just ask students directly to reflect on their strategy: how did you use visuals to support your argument? were your font choices or color schemes intentional?  

Thompkins’s second project is a digital curation assignment that uses Omeka

For this project, students chose one object from an existing physical exhibit, then found related objects for their own digital sub-exhibition.  

So, what can Omeka do that Google Sites can’t?  Omeka allows students to gather, classify, archive, and display objects to create a sophisticated online exhibition.  In addition, Omeka uses Dublin Core: a standardized way to categorize/describe objects, used in libraries and archives, which creates universalized metadata that improves searchability.  

Projects like Thompkins’s promote public history: what he described as a collaborative, community-based approach to history that attempts to make the history major something with and for “the people.”  One side note: Carleton is developing an innovative Public History Thread within their history major--check it out!



After this workshop, I had the privilege of talking with Jacki Thompson Rand and Jon Winet on a roundtable panel called “Engaging a Diverse Public through the Digital Classroom.”  It was one of those wonderful sessions where we talked for five minutes each and spent the bulk of our time together on the much-more-interesting Q&A.  

One of the first questions we discussed was, Why digital?  What can technology add to community-based research and teaching? Why use the web to connect locally?  Jacki has researched Native American communities and talked a bit about how photographs and voice recordings can be taboo in some cultures.  There are communities that aren’t “wired up,” she said, and they bring different and valuable perspectives to the idea of being “wired up.”  But, at the same time, this technology preserves languages and oral narratives, and allows these languages and stories to be shared.  

Our moderator Nikki Dudley also asked, How do we avoid assuming a generic idea of the “public” to speak to more specific public(s)?  Jon’s Passport Project offers one kind of answer to this question, by asking first-year students to attend 12 cultural events their first semester in various categories, including music, literature, technology, politics, and science. The project introduces students to local cultural events in Iowa City, but also expands students’ disciplinary perspectives, introducing them to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

Mark Isham’s great question about MOOCs helped me to think about the difference between MOOCs and the kind of “citizen scholarship” we invite with the City of Lit and Local Heroes apps, where we invite app users to upload their own pictures, post their own research, conduct their own interviews, and be co-authors of the app.  Both categories invite lifelong learning, build new communities, and change both who we’re serving and what our classroom looks like.  The important difference, though, is that a MOOC is largely one directional, while our definition of citizen scholarship models the reciprocity of civic engagement.

The most challenging question, but maybe also the most important, was from Teresa Mangum: You talk about the work you do, but when you say “this work,” what is “this”?  I have a story, with a clear narrative arc, about how I got here--and I have a clear sense of my values as a teacher and a researcher--but it’s still hard to say what “this” is that we’re doing.  Is being a digital humanist and a public scholar the content or methodology of my work? Or is writing in community and collaborative learning a better definition? If I value process over product, can the process itself be my object of inquiry?  These are maybe questions you’re mulling too... it’s an exciting time to be in the humanities!




Jen Shook (a former fellow UIowa English grad student!) led the afternoon workshop on “Teaching Through Public Writing and Social Media.”  She began by saying, “Anyone who claims to be an expert in social media is making it up as they go along, because it all changes so fast.”  

Jen asks her students to write “Where I’m From” madlib poems and “This I Believe” essays, freewrites and reflections, so they are writing continually in and out of class--but she uses social media so that this writing is in conversation with a community.

She began by talking about some basics of Twitter, and how she uses it as a platform for students to write short stories or have conversations in class.  She also pointed out a few historical figures who are “on Twitter” and students can learn about by following.

Jen created a Wordpress site for her Interpretation of Literature class, and asked students to create and edit videos interviewing visitors at their Frankenstein exhibit.  The paratext, she said, is the most important part: labels, keywords, tags and links can help categorize student videos and make them more accessible to interested audiences.

Jen talked briefly about Facebook and Vine, but talked about some of her reticence with both (student privacy with the first, filters with the second).  

Andrew Williams, one of the session participants (and another grad school buddy!), asked his students to create Facebook profiles to re-enact a play by role-playing characters.  (Twitter works for this, too).  Public conversations are wall posts, while more private conversations are sent as private messages, highlighting for students some of the communication gaps between characters and helping students to think about motivation, time, and relationships in more complicated ways.

She also had mixed feelings about Pinterest: for a project in the UIowa Special Collections, her students chose an object in the archive to photograph and post on the pinterest site and write about.  Students see an accrual of their work, but in order to pin, you have to sign up for pinterest, follow a board, and then be invited to pin--so it involved a lot of time-consuming set-up.  

Learnist is an educational version of Pinterest, where you can “follow” things (like educational technology), but where anyone can post.  

On Tumblr, Jen recommended following “Explore,” “PhD Stress,” and “When In Academia.”  You can use them to talk about intertextuality and zeitgeist, narrative and interpretation--or you can just enjoy the memes and gifs.

With most of these platforms, you can use these social media without requiring your students to sign up for accounts--you can look at Twitter posts together in class, for instance, without your students posting on Twitter.  

One of the benefits of using social media is that you can ask students to give feedback to one another, or even collaborate with other courses or institutions.  Jen pointed us to; Craig, one of the conference organizers (AND a UIowa English grad student AND a HASTAC Scholar! Wow!), has a site that compiles all his course websites in one place.  Brilliant!  Students can really easily see and comment on each other’s work, and all of his digital projects are accessible from one place.  What a great way to stay organized with all the feeds and posts from various projects and courses.

So, which social media to use?  Different communities coalesce around different forms of social media, so when choosing a platform for a project, think about the kind of conversation you want your students to join.

You can also ask students to create “Commonplace Books” in various media--how does a Twitter Commonplace Book differ from one on Pinterest, Facebook, or Tumblr?  Putting different social media in conversation with each other can help students to think critically about how the media filters and frames content in different ways.

I’ll end this post the way Jen ended her session, by inviting you to follow her at @PoeticsHeretic on Twitter.

The conference had several moments of technological failure: links didn’t work, dongles wouldn’t connect, recording devices couldn’t record, you name it.  But, the presenters all did a fabulous job of showing that Technology Failures = Teachable Moments.  Every hiccup is an opportunity to model for our students the patience, persistence and creativity to make technology work--or discover new ways of making it work. 



Thank you so much for taking part in the day, Bridget, and for doing so much to make it a success! I'm sorry that I only got to meet you briefly, but I've heard so many good things about your session--it seems to have given so many people such rich food for thought!


Thank you for all your hard work, Yvonne--planning a conference is a huge task, and you, Craig, and Audrey did it beautifully!  Every session was engaging, inspiring, and chock full of ideas I can take back to my classroom... thank you for a great day!


Thanks for sharing the experience! Come right on time as I was just seeking for ways to improve my class. 

I like the discussion about social media. The other day I was just thinking Pininterst could be a platfor for students learning out of the classroom. It is a "light" activity with a lot of fun and students can have the option to follow the learning style they feel comfortable with.




I'm so glad to hear that it's helpful!  What is your service-learning project?  I'd love to hear more about it.


Thank you so much for sharing this!  I especially appreciated your point, "The important difference, though, is that a MOOC is largely one directional, while our definition of citizen scholarship models the reciprocity of civic engagement."  I am right in the midst of deciding which platform to use for a service-learning project later this semester, and your post gives me much to think about!  Thanks again.