Making Invisible Learning Visible

Welcome to the HASTAC Scholars Discussion Forum on

Making Invisible Learning Visible

Featuring Randy Bass and Bret Eynon, co-Project Directors of the Visible

hosted by HASTAC scholars Daniel Chamberlain (University of Michigan and University of Southern California)
and Chalet Seidel (Case Western Reserve University)

How do students learn? What types of learning take place in the classroom? How do pedagogical and technological tools impact learning?

This forum explores key questions related to the impact of technology
on learning. Framing our discussion will be the findings of the
Visible Knowledge Project, a collaborative effort by more than 70
faculty from 22 institutions who not only experimented with
incorporating new media technologies into their classrooms, but also
drew on the scholarship of teaching and learning in order to document
and reflect on their experiences. Randy Bass and Bret Eynon will be
prompting forum members to consider such concepts as invisible modes
of learning, the importance of embodied learning, and approximations
of expertise. And of course you are welcome to raise broader questions
regarding your experiences with and hopes for digital media and

Please join us in welcoming Randy Bass and Bret Eynon to the HASTAC Scholars Forum!

Daniel Chamberlain
is a lecturer in the department of Screen Arts and
Cultures at the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. Candidate in the Critical
Studies Division of the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. His interests include the
of emergent media technologies and new urban spaces, media interfaces,
theory, and digital media and learning. He has published as a columnist for, an online
journal of
television and media studies, and has essays forthcoming in the edited
FlowTV: Television in the Age of Media
Convergence (Routledge, 2009) and Television
as Digital Media (Duke, 2009).

Chalet Seidel is
completing a Ph.D in Writing History and Theory at Case Western Reserve University. Her work explores the
professionalization of American journalism amid
the rapidly changing technological and information environment of the
late 19th
century. Her work has been published
in the journal Linguistics and the Human Sciences. In Fall 2009, Chalet
join the faculty at Westfield State College as an Assistant Professor

Randy Bass is the Assistant
for Teaching and Learning
Initiatives at Georgetown University, where he is also Executive Director of Georgetown's Center for New Designs in Learning and
Scholarship. Bret Eynon is the Assistant Dean for Teaching and
Learning at
LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) and the executive director of the LaGuardia Center for Teaching & Learning. Bass and
Eynon were Co-Principal
Investigators & Co-Project Directors of the Visible
Knowledge Project
recently co-edited a volume of Academic
titled "New Media
Technologies and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning."


Thanks for your comments Chalet ? they?re not off topic at all.  I appreciate the way you dug down into the Academic Commons site and examined the details of Ed Gallagher?s case study.    There is so much good information in those articles.  Ed?s smart article is an example of not only teaching using new media, but actually using the media to get a better handle on what students were doing and how they were learning.  Then, he turned around and employed his new insights into students? learning process to the task of refining his pedagogy.

That?s one of the things that we found most interesting in VKP ? the way that new media can actually helped to surface the dynamics of student learning, allowing us to track the complex ways that students grapple with challenging content and educational processes.

Often, it?s easiest for us to talk about what WE have done or could do, as teachers.  The more challenging task is to focus on what STUDENTS do ? not what we want them to do, but what they actually do.  Examining that, with a patient, fine-grained and analytical lens, can be challenging.  But it?s almost always revealing.

You talked about a little, as well, Chalet, in terms of the tension between your hopes and expectations and what you have actually observed.  I wonder if you -- or others -- can say more about what you see when you use new media to observe student learning.   What surprises you?  What excites you?  What puzzles you?


From Randy Bass & Bret Eynon


What do you see when your students work in new media environments? What usually hidden processes become visible? What questions can you ask about student learning when they?re working in flexible spaces, rich with media and cultural materials, that you can?t ask when they?re doing traditional research papers or classroom discussions?


Those were the kinds of questions we had in mind when we convened a group of about 70 colleagues from around the country and started the Visible Knowledge Project in the first couple of months of the 21st century. Having been working for ten years or so on new pedagogies made possible by digitized cultural and historical materials we were all interested in what we then called the ?novice in the archive,? the unique capacities of electronic spaces to give novice learners access to the kind of archival resources that only experts used to have.

Collectively, we quickly realized that the salient quality of these archives wasn?t just the content, it was the flexible and relational quality of the digital environments: they were spaces where students could wander, explore, be moved, be confused and challenged, start with one question or interest and end up somewhere totally different. They were environments that triggered emotional as well as cognitive responses. Digital media is intimate and sensory in many ways; and we found that this affective impact of new media was present at all levels of intellectual development, sometimes far more than in traditional face to face classrooms. This seemed to be the case whether students were doing inquiry projects in digital archives, arguing in online discussion boards, creating ePortfolios, or spending nine weeks developing a multimedia digital storytelling project.

What became visible were the intermediate intellectual moves that students make in trying to work with difficult cultural materials or ideas, illuminating how novice learners progress toward expertise or expert-like thinking in these contexts. What fascinated us was not just students understanding, but the process of coming to understanding?

We also realized that the kinds of learning and thinking we were seeing in these intermediate processes were the kinds of things that are generally invisible in higher education: the role of emotion, the value of uncertainty, the productive quality of risk-taking or confidence or fear in intellectual development, etc.

The picture of new learning that emerged for us clustered around three key areas, laid out in greater detail in our synthesis of VKP findings, ?Capturing the Visible Evidence of Invisible Learning? . Here is our language for it:

  • Learning for adaptive expertise: the role of new media in making visible the thinking processes intrinsic to the development of expert-like abilities and dispositions in novice learners;
  • Embodied learning: the impact of new media technologies on the expansion of learning strategies that engage affective as well as cognitive dimensions, renewed forms of creativity and the sensory experience of new media, and the importance of identity and experience as the foundation of intellectual engagement; and
  • Socially situated learning: the role of social dimensions of new media in creating conditions for authentic engagement and high impact learning.

You can see more of the ways we address these topics in our essay, and in the broader collections published in Academic Commons and the VKP website. We?ll share more as we move forward this week. But we?d like to start by hearing from you.

So, we?ll turn our opening questions out to you:

What do you see when students are working in new media environments ?whether blogs, wikis, video, authoring in hypermedia, etc?that you can?t see in traditional papers or assessments? What kinds of learning do you see Web-based environments making possible for your students?

How do you gather and make sense of the evidence of their learning? What kinds of artifacts of student learning do you capture? Are there ways that these new artifacts enable or disrupt or challenge your ability to guide student development?


Well, with head spinning from all the great comments, I fastened on to this comment from Cathy: "Does Web 2.0 imply a different model of human nature? I'm very interested in that question because I believe any paradigm-shifting technology changes the model of human nature. Is "here comes everybody" participatory culture based on a more altruistic model of human nature? If so, what does that mean for society over the next decade, in the wake of the collapse of the world-markets which were based on bubbles and get-away-with-what-you-can models of human interaction. Deep. Complex."The last most disruptive technology before information technology was mobility technology, primarily the automobile. Automobility was the dream of the last century and led to great new opportunities and **social** mobility, some for good, but mostly for bad: families not only got split up, but races were divided, the city abandoned. Atlanta had an explicit plan to build a big road (now I-75) to divide whites from blacks. In the capsule of the car, we become anti-social. But, could we live without our cars? And what new model of human nature arose from the automobility technologies? Did we dream bigger? Did we begin to see humanity as one community? Could be. If in my mind it was a one hour walk to town, instead of 5 minutes, my world view would shrink.What I like to think is that information technology makes us AWARE of human nature more than before. What I like to think is that the book and the car and the train and the airplane (and the bomb) had dissociating tendencies for humans but that IT is in many ways bringing us back to the humans that we were and are. We have recovered our orality; the author and her text are now closer together. We have cultural conversations. And, yes, Chale (?), we need to teach conversation skills. Is evolution a return to a previous state? CheersTrent


Randy and Bret: thanks for this event. In the Visible Knowledge Project reports, we see faculty members discovering as much about their own teaching as about the learning processes fo their students; or maybe that's the same thing. Either way, in the midst of a syllabus unit or assignment or project, the instructor will most likely discover that the assignment or project should be modified (formative assessment). As changes are made, as they should be, how does the instructor frame this change? We are still at that odd moment when we are learning more about the whole human transaction called teaching and learning but many students still strongly want the simplistic 2-dimensional model they are used to: you tell me, I remember what you tell me, and then I write it down.Don't teachers who change an assignment mid-course seem to be disorganized and unaware of what they are doing?--trent


I really like your idea that we learn from our teaching, especially when we introduce new technologies. This morning I posted another update on my own HASTAC blog on my course "This Is Your Brain on the Internet." I'll reblog it here because it is so relevant to this topic.



If I have been blogging less frequently on the Cat in the Stack HASTAC site, it is because "This Is Your Brain on the Internet" has a blogging requirement and the comments there are so interesting and the conversations so rich that I've been spending much of my blogging time reading and posting to the class. I've also found these HASTAC Scholars Forums irresistible and often find myself posting here instead of on my own blog. It's been an incredibly rich year for this blogger, in other words.


In my undergraduate class, I had them vote on whether they wanted their blogs private for the class or public to the world and they asked for private and, for some, even that has been hard. At least one very smart student in the class really doesn't like public internet documentation of his ideas at all. And I empathize with that, even though, as a lifelong writer, I've long ago given up on that issue.


In any case, I've been blogging every few weeks, giving readers on the HASTAC network a taste of how this amazing class is going.
I agree completely with your comment, Trent, that teaching is learning. It certainly is. I'm going to reblog here my post to my own HASTAC blog about my course, "This Is Your Brain on the Internet" where every class session is a marvelous learning experience:
Here's this week's tidbit.


The rest of the course is determined by students working collaboratively. They set us assignments and create experiences for us in class.This is the first collaborative assignment and it follows fast on the heels of an inspiring virtual visit from Howard Rheingold and in anticipation of today's visit by Tony O'Driscoll who will be talking about collaboration and managing teams in virtual environments.


The assignment below also follows on the heels of really remarkable, deep conversations inspired by both Rheingold and Shirky, including a question that Will and Steffi asked: Does Web 2.0 imply a different model of human nature? I'm very interested in that question because I believe any paradigm-shifting technology changes the model of human nature. Is "here comes everybody" participatory culture based on a more altruistic model of human nature? If so, what does that mean for society over the next decade, in the wake of the collapse of the world-markets which were based on bubbles and get-away-with-what-you-can models of human interaction. Deep. Complex.


The topic of the collaborative project by Esi, Ashleigh, and Matt is Democracy Through Web 2.0. They have posted our assignment prior to their collaborative presentation and I have to say it is just about perfect. A required reading (to give us intellectual heft and substance), a new tool to master before we get into the class, a practical assignment using that tool, and the requirement that we come to class with laptops. Building on this foundation, it will be great to see what happens on Wednesday. I'll report back!


The first topic for the group presentations is Democracy through Web 2.0. We aim to discuss how the expanded, interactive internet functions as news, as information, and as organization in its own democratic way.
For our class on Wednesday, we ask that you please complete the following four bullets. We promise that these are fun and interactive and won?t be a chore.

Read: McPherson, Tara. ?A Rule Set for the Future.? Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected. Edited by Tara McPherson. 1-26. Download from MIT Press,

* Go to If you?ve never used digg before, take a little bit of time becoming familiar with how the site works and what its purpose is or isn?t. Then, vote for or against one article.

* Imagine that your child has diarrhea. Using the internet, come to class with a recommendation as to what you should be feeding him.

* Bring your computer, as it will be needed during our presentation.

We look forward to leading class on Wednesday!


That is a great question, Trent.  I think that one strategy that helps to alleviate this tension is to tell students up front that you will be working to create a learning environment that will develop as the class proceeds.  To some extent it is a matter of signaling that change is part of the plan.  A performative way of doing this is to emphasize that electronic syllabus is the "of record" document and that it will likely change as the course goes on.  If the situation allows, one might even make the syllabus available as a wiki, especially if students are expected to program any readings, screenings, or other exemplary material.  

There will still be some students who miss the 2-dimensional model you refer to, but the upfront signaling of a flexible syllabus goes a long way toward aligning expectations. 


I'm hoping to bring together Trent and Cathy's comments, but I may be spinning off topic. Cathy's class sounds exciting--exactly the kind of class I would have relished as an undergrad (or even a grad for that matter). But I'd like to draw out some lessons from Cathy's experience that can help inform the ways we use technology in classes that aren't *about* communication technology.
For example, on Academic Commons Academic Commons Ed Gallagher wrote about developing a culture of conversation in his courses using discussion boards. However, he devotes significant time and energy to helping students learn what it means to converse in a digital environment. There's a meta-conversation about "conversation" that has to happen in addition to the f-2-f conversations about course "content." (I realize I'm drawing an uncomfortable distinction between course "content" and discussion). Cathy's exciting course strikes me as a best-case-scenario of what can happen when "content" and media are fused. The conversation generates course content (I really need to get away from that word).

One of the concerns I have is integrating technology in a meaningful way into courses that aren't explicitly about technology. I've used message boards and blog posts in my first-year composition and professional writing courses, but I'm sorry to admit that without the kind of meta-conversations that Ed Gallagher describes, these sites can become an extension of the 2-dimensional model Trent Batson mentioned: a site where they re-tell me what I told them in class.


Hi, Trent, I love this example back to the automobile. There were so many supposedly scientific sociological studies of how the automobile contributed to the isolated, alienated human being. That's what I mean by "models of human nature," not "human nature" but the "models" that categorize, frame, and help us understand the far-too-unwieldy phenomenon of "human nature" that is too vast and vague without explanatory modelling.
By the way, in addition to my undergrad course on "This Is Your Brain on the Internet," I am also teaching "Early American Novels and Other Fictions," a course on printing, literacy, democracy and the rise of the novel in the New Republic. The requirement in that class is everyone has to contribute to public knowledge in some way. Several are taking the bland, brief early American Wikipedia essays and turning them into real, meaty, scholarly pieces. The conversations about that process--the responsibility of assuming curatorship of a body of knowledge--have been fascinating. I joke that some days I'm not sure if I'm teaching your brain on the Internet or your brain on the 18th century American novel! Both courses return to this modeling of human nature, though, because in composing a Wikipedia entry,my grad students are taking public charge of information, are sorting through data and creating a compelling and concise narrative, and they are making choices about which entries deserve their attention and which do not. Those are big issues about, in the end, public interest, public responsibility, altruism, collectivity, credibility, accuracy, community values, disciplinarity, and on and on. Models of human nature, in ways large and small. Thanks for this great conversation.


Randy Bass

Georgetown University


Kathy, that's a great example of what we would call a socially situated pedagogy. It would be great to capture somehow what process students go through when making those edits and additions. How is their thinking about presentation, distillation, audience, etc. different doing that kind of writing? I'm really interested in how well that kind of pedagogy works with students who may not be highly prepared and highly motivated. 



Randy Bass

I wanted to build on several comments and turn the conversation slightly. Trent and Cathy have been talking about changes in human nature. And Chalet raised the question about how you make use of technology to teach subjects other than about media (Cathy's post about wikipedia is a great example of that).

What about fundamental changes in the nature of knowledge (and learning) in an image-driven information environment? Greg Ulmer's notion of electracy is that the image is now our dominant language apparatus. He argues that changes how we engage with all cultural discourse. We believe it changes how we think about student intellectual development. In our work we came to call this embodied learning to refer to the shaping role of emotion, identity, and the sensory played in intellectual development.

Here is one vivid example of this (among many different kinds I could choose). This is a digital story by a master's student in a course on cultural theory. Their assignment was to make a digital story (short multimedia narrative) on a theoretical issue. She chose gender construction and make-up. What I think is particularly interesting is the way she embeds theory into her own sense of identity; and similarly, embeds herself--as body, subject, sign--in her exploration of theory.

"All Made Up," by Kathy Bayer.


I don't think this is anomalous because it is a cultural theory course; we saw this all over the Visible Knowledge Project. Learning in new media spaces--for all kinds of reasons--was, as Ulmer puts it, 'inverting the literate hierarchy.' Once upon a time we taught as if students worked through cognition to self-knowledge. In electracy he says, that is flipped on its head: "the first communication of an electrate person is reflexive, self-directed."

Is this a fundamental change in the nature of human learning? Does it change the way we teach, particularly in the humanities, where in so many ways, except as a matter of theory, we have exiled the body from the classroom?


Hi Folks,

I want to quickly piggyback on Cathy and Randy?s exchange about asking students to review and edit Wikipedia. In our recent Wired Campus blog at the Chronicle of Higher Ed, we were told about a similar project, this one in science.

Emilio Bruna has his grad students at the University of Florida review entries related to topics in environmental science. And he then asked them to consider why the field has not taken a more active role in shaping this incredibly powerful educational tool. He wrote:

?It was a really positive experience in that it hit all of the teaching goals ? students read critically, practiced their writing, learned about the focal topics, worked in groups ? while also improving the quality of information available to the public. Obviously many academics don?t edit entries because there are no incentives, so we put forward a number of ways in which revision could be included into teaching, research and extension programs, as well as the activities of academic societies.?

You can see Emilio?s original posting at

He also mentioned two sites that would provide additional information:

Emilio and Cathy's examples provide us with creative responses to the new media/learning environment.   And it's great that Emilio gave us some sense of what he thought students learned from the experience, and ways to examine the students' work.

It is interesting that in both cases, the students are graduate students. Randy?s questions about comparable work with less prepared students are highly interesting. What would be comparable and appropriate for those students?
How could this approach be adapted?  How could we tell what students were learning from the process?

Best to all,



Hi all, and thanks to Bret for mentioning our class project in which we edited Wikipedia entries.

We had a great time with the project - the biggest problem I had was making sure the entries were written at a level that was both accessible to a general audience (e.g., limiting jargon) but still useful for someone in our field.

I think this approach could be adapted to my undergrad courses, but that it will take more careful selection of entries to write or edit. Rather than entries on more conceptual topics, I think I will have students write/revise entries that are either biographical in nature or describe the biology of particular species/ecosystems. I will also take a much more active role by requiring more regular progress reports.
Frankly, my biggest concern with asking undergrads to write/revise entries is the greater potential for plagiarism and the implications for students, the instructors, and universities of globally distributed and visible violations of copyright.


Interesting discussion and site! Thanks for including me in the conversation.


Emilio Bruna

University of Florida


This semester, my students have written or substantially edited entries ranging from THE COQUETTE to differential geometry and unduloids. In English, Spanish, and Korean Wikipedia. :)


Hello everyone. What a great discussion, and what a wonderful video, Randy! Please pass on my compliments to Ms. Bayer. Do you think she would mind if I used it in my class?

As a teacher of writing, Emilio?s concerns about potential issues with his undergraduate students fascinated me, mostly because phrases like ?progress report? and ?plagiarism? imply that somehow the entries would be some kind of finished product?which is obviously the opposite of what a Wikipedia entry is.

Of course, Emilio is right: what professor wants to throw caution (and copyright) to the wind, but sometimes I wonder how much we view new media with old eyeglasses and so we do not focus, as Bret put it, on how ?the way that new media can actually help to surface the dynamics of student learning, allowing us to track the complex ways that students grapple with challenging content and educational processes,? and thereby create new opportunities for learning.

I know it is really, really hard to say, ?so what if one of my students posts a semi-plagiarized Wikipedia entry for a few days?? but think of the learning opportunities: for example, we could ask the plagiarizer to work with other students in the class to edit the plagiarized entry (they could get extra credit for helping), thus shifting the issue from one of wrong-doing (you are plagiarizing) to one of collective problem-solving and responsibility that also underscores what Wikipedia is all about (endless correction and editing).


Hi all, I mangaed to find the right place to get feedback!

Just to clarify- Progress reports are to make sure the assignment is being completed, not to have a "final" Wikipedia entry.   Although I hope these entires will be templates for future revisions, they should still meet a minimum standard (as would any other writing assignment), and the fact is that progress reports help ensure this quality.  Progress reports don't have to be writing either - they include things like outlines of shortcomings in the entries they are revising, lists of citations to include, and the collection of potential images to upload. 


And I agree completely - plagiarism is a "teaching moment (irrespective of whether its new media or not).  But the problem I have as an instructor is that while the Wikipedia revision process goes on ad infinitum, the semester has a definitive end date.  I think the solution is to include discussions of copyright, attribution, etc. in the project itself so that entries are well-written and attributed, rather than have to deal with the issue post facto.

I am curious as to liability issues when writing biographical entires about living people  Any University Counsel out there?



Hello Emilio.

Just in case: I never meant to imply your assignment was trying to find the final (!) Wikipedia entry. I was just fascinated as to how the way we all speak and think of these assignments is still so rooted in the old "production"-driven ways of yore (heh). :-)

I think concerns about liabilty are paramount in a world with (perhaps) too many lawyers. I'm sure everyone's read Anita Ramasastry's view (it's a link in Wikipedia!), but I include it here anyway:

I'll see if I can get our lawyers to comment.



Hi Dr. X, I understood - no worries.  I also think you hit on an key point.  My original conception of the assignment was that students would write a term paper that was suitable for posting as a WP entry.  It wasn't until half-way through the term that I realized what we really needed to do: make sure the structure of our entry was well thought out, comprehensive in terms of topic headings, and amenable to subsequent editing others.  Our level of detail on each section ended up being a little thinner than I originally hoped, but future editors have a great structure with which to work.


Hi All.  Great forum, interesting discussion, and what a video!  Thanks, Randy, for sharing that with us.  Like you, I was so struck by how personal this was.  We really got an insight into who Ms. Bayer is, as she grappled with the assignment.  

Increasingly, I am convinced that this ability to peek inside our students' heads is the most compelling of the many advantages afforded us by these new technologies.  Yes they're clever, yes they're cool, yes they allow us to meet students were they are and maybe motivate them to learn.  But far more impactful than all of those oft-touted reasons is the insight we gain into their learning process, as you all are discussing here.

I just returned from a biology teaching conference where the scientists really struggled to imagine these new methods applied to the science courses they teach. What they need are examples and projects from other scienctists who've used new media spaces succesfully with students. If anyone in this forum has suggestions, please point me to them. I am convinced (but need to do a better job of convincing) that this is the path to help us grok what students know, how they feel about what they know, and where the gaps are.


Hi DoctorX--

 Kathy's digital story is from my class in popular culture at Georgetown.  You are welcome to use it with your students, as she made it a part of our Digital Storytelling Multimedia Archive, which came out of the Visible Knowledge Project.

It's the third story on the home page of the site:

 Throughout the archive, you can also find video interview clips with Kathy under the various findings; to see just Kathy's interview clips, click on 'archive' and then you'll find her clips listed by first name.  This project is in phase one--we're working on the interface there and we have more material--so right now it's just a boring list.

In those clips, she has some interesting things to say about the role of theory in her story and the relationship of writing about theory in two modes (traditional and multimedia).  She also very interestingly describes an 'aha moment' when in production of the digital story, she saw a new theoretical connection she wanted to make in the story.  Of particular interests is clip 15, although also see for instance clips 1, 3, 11.  The list of clips is at: 

 Michael Coventry  







Hi Folks,

I?ve enjoyed this conversation so far, including the interesting discussion of activities that engage students in editing Wikipedia and better understanding the constructed quality of knowledge.

This morning I?d like to pick up on Randy?s posting about digital stories.  Digital storytelling became one of the most lively topics for work in the Visible Knowledge Project.  As Randy?s posting suggests, our faculty found that digital storytelling engaged students in a powerful process that linked cognition and emotion, self and subject.  

Our faculty at LaGuardia Community College (including Liz Iannotti, Ellen Quish, Nya Naikyemi Odedefaa, Janet Michello and Erika Heppner) have helped their students create a host of digital storytelling projects, covering a wide range of topics.  As you might know, LaGuardia serves a rich, dynamic student body that is roughly 70% immigrant, coming from 160 different countries and speaking roughly 120 different native languages.  For our students, one of the benefits of digital storytelling is helping them build their English language skills ? focusing on word choice and fluidity and doing narrations has proven to be a valuable learning experience.  At the same time, students are engaged in telling important stories about themselves and their explorations of American culture and history.  Here are two examples:

My Story  by Maria Merlos, Beginning ESL Student, Center for Immigrant Education and Training  ( )

My Mother-in-law's Birthday by Eun Ok, Intermediate ESL Student, The English Language Center  ( )

You can see more LaGuardia stories and some of the lessons that faculty used to help students at Story Circles, a site created by our faculty and the staff of our Center for Teaching & Learning.  And you can read an article by Liz Iannotti at ?How to Make Crab Soup: Digital Storytelling Projects for ESL Students,? published in In Transit , our campus scholarship of teaching and learning journal

Meanwhile, for a broader view, you will want to consult Michael Coventry and Mattias Opperman?s impressive Academic Commons article on digital storytelling, ?From Narrative to Database: Multimedia Inquiry in a Cross-Classroom Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Study? .  In this article, Coventry and Opperman ask:

  1. What is distinctive about the kinds of immersion we witness in research, production, and presentation that is specific to digital storytelling?
  2. What are the advantages of digital storytelling in the area of student engagement?
  3. How do digital stories speak to the relationship between emotional and epistemological dimensions of learning and cultural critique?

Coventry and Opperman examined a range of storytelling projects connected to VKP.  They examined the stories and then filmed interviews with students.  In these interviews, they asking students about their process in creating the digital story (?what was the hardest part of the creative process??); its relationship to other academic work (?in what ways do you think your writing in other courses has changed through your experience working with a digital story??); and questions of audience (?did you share your digital story with someone outside the classroom? what feedback did you receive??)

Their article develops a fascinating argument around the impact of this multimedia social pedagogy.  In the process of creating the article, Coventry and Opperman created a rich data base of that includes the stories and the interviews, a powerful way of using the web to develop and present a scholarly argument focused on student work. This data base is available at

Other articles in the Academic Commons site related to digital storytelling include

Multimedia as Composition: Research, Writing, and Creativity,  by Viet Thanh Nguyen, from USC,  

Video Killed the Term Paper Star? Two Views, by Peter Burkholder and Anne Cross, Wisconsin,  

Theorizing Through Digital Stories: The Art of "Writing Back" and "Writing For" Rina Benmayor, California State University, Monterey Bay

I hoe that you have a chance to explore these resources, and that they prove valuable to you.  As we move to a YouTube world, digital storytelling can become an even more powerful way for students to learn and shape our culture.  And they provide us, as faculty, with a rich tool for better understanding our students and their learning process.

Best to all,


ps.  Sorry for the code mess at the top of this posting -- I can't seem to make it go away!


As I read these posts about digital storytelling (thanks, Bret, for all these terrific links) and the output of the VKP, I am struck, once again, by the social values implied in this teaching/learning equation shift. Many of us made the change to more constructivist teaching strategies and, as a result, are already comfortable with student-centered teaaching. But this new media world involves some other intriguing social shifts that are important to understand if we're going to involve more than just early adopters.  

Social value-implications that occur to me....thinking more about contribution than test scores, students choosing projects rather than being assigned, the strength of self-organizing groups, the notion that it's more powerful to share information than to hoarde it, devising projects that provide intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards, consistently looking to resources and people outside the walls of the classroom for input and comment, and the power/impact of the network effect. What others do you all see?


For the final class projects, a few students (grad students looking to publish, undergrads looking to become grad students) will write papers, a few will do individual projects resulting in web videos or multimedia websites, and a number of students are teaming up to work on projects together.  As an instructor this means that instead of just handing out a prompt and grading the results I need to meet with each student/group to make sure their project ideas meet the goals of critically and creatively engaging the course material.  The upside is that all of the students are motivated because they are working on topics and in formats that work for them.  I suppose this is an attempt to address a series of the implications raised above - self-organizing groups, student-selected projects, sharing work with the class - but I think that it gets at the slightly larger implication that differentiated assignments have benefits both for the individuals that get away from one-size-fits-all learning and for the rest of the class that gets exposure to multiple topics and creative/critical modes.


kristin wolff (portland, or)
I am not a professor, instructor, etc. (nor do I play one on TV), but I was in the middle of typing the phrase "making learning visible" when I was struck with a bout of ADD, clicked into my email and found the title of this conversation in a subject line.

Oddly serendipitous.

I wish I could contribute more meaningfully to the classroom/school-based threads above, but I'm wondering about informal (and increasingly self-organized) learning. Does any of you have insight to share about how we might document the impact (effect?) of informal, self-organized learning events (like barcamp) in a way that makes them (or their impact) visible? Generally there is a shared wiki, and we can follow blog and twitter entries, but how do you get at what was learned and not just what was done? Surveys? Any examples to share? I know these events are not solely about learning (neither is the classroom, but the degree/certificate gives it a legitimately different standing).

Thanks so much...I feel better just knowing others are asking these questions even if in another context.

And the videos are fantastic...thanks for placing them here.



First, thanks to all the posters above for getting the ball rolling (as always people raise an abundance of interesting points, leading to a slightly schizophrenic reply from yours truly)!


I think the anxiety raised by Trent early in this discussion about appearing disorganized by changing an assignment mid-semester and Dan's response regarding a stability in instability from the outset are both key points, as I frequently find that many opportunities to update teaching strategies are bogged down by the lingering concept of syllabus as contract, and as TAs I/we rely on to this idea to create structure and reinforce the Professor's/course expectations.


I think the idea of a collaborative wiki assignment is fantastic, in large part because it rehabilitates a concept/construct that is the bane of many academics' existence and encourages students to interrogate an information flow they frequently take for granted.  I've been in a number of wiki-plagiarism meetings where students make it clear that: 1. they don't see knowledge-sharing as plagiarism (this is a growing study tactic for exams, I've noticed, where students will divvy up the work and collaboratively study and collate data), 2. they assume everything on wikipedia is "common knowledge," and 3. that incorrect information is immediately deleted or edited/corrected by the wiki-gods.  We all use wikipedia, and while I'll always make a point of explaining why it isn't a reliable source for traditional research assignments, I think locating an assignment on a wiki (or using a wiki format) would speak to students' contemporary research habits.  

Instead of beating our heads against the wall fighting the fact that we live in a wiki world, integrating wiki assignments alongside traditional research papers would (ideally) not only reinforce the idea that the information they cull from wikis involves labor (in this case, theirs), but would also be helpful in broaching conversations about scholarly tone and accessibility, and perhaps even convey the limitations of the form.

Ironically, I bet they'd be much more inclined to cite their sources in the creation of their wiki page than actually cite something they pulled off wikipedia, so it's a win win!   




Randy Bass (Georgetown University)

Many thanks to all those who are contributing so richly here. First, to Kristin's question above about making non-classroom learning visible. A key driver for the development of ePortfolios is to enable students to bring work together from inside and outside formal curricular experiences--through reflection and other forms of intellectual work. (There are some good essays on ePortfolios at Academic Commons in the issue Bret and I just edited).

The broader point though is that I think one of the most important pedagogical challenges ahead of us in higher education is rethinking the relationship between classroom and non-classroom learning.

We have a modest project at Georgetown where we ask some students to keep public blogs while studying abroad. Here are two very interesting examples:

Although not ePortoflios in the typical sense (though they could be), these blogs make visible many invisible dimensions of non-classroom learning--especially around intercultural consciousness and integrative learning.

Of course the "public nature" of these blogs--they were writing to a community of people they knew who were reading them and some larger public they didn't--accounts for a lot of their power as a forum for eliciting reflection on experience.

And that brings me to my larger point. Many of you in this discussion have raised the issue of engaging students in some kind of authentic work, whether collaborative knowledge negotiation (wikipedia), differentiated team media projects (as Daniel is talking about above) or social engagements of various kinds (raised by Robin and others).

Our work with faculty and students in VKP certainly showed that there was a clear connection between the creation of a sense of intellectual community within the class and pedagogies that engaged students with communities outside the class.

Is this one of those emergent practices that we should just acknowledge is not fringe or peripheral or anomalous, but a core reality of learning 2009 and beyond? Should we be actively trying to design for an inside/outside dynamic as a fundamental way to build intellectual community in the classroom? Or at least, should we actively be trying to document core pedagogies that comprehend this inside / outside engagement as foundational to an undergraduate education?

I am so struck by the evidence we have seen over the past several years in classroom inquiry projects that generally shows that students not only regularly lack a sense of intellectual community, audience, or agency in their learning, but they also think too often that success in school has little or nothing to do with those values.

If you look at some of the rich interviews at the Digital Stories multimedia archive that has been mentioned a couple of times here--'ll find students responding to the question: "how was multimedia authoring different from writing a traditional paper." In answering that question many of them say the worst things about "writing." For example (I'm paraphrasing but not exaggerating): "When I write a paper it is totally depersonalized. I'm not in the paper at all. But when I'm doing a digital story, I AM the argument." Or, "When I write a traditional paper I just find anything--a fact or a quotation--that can fit. But when I'm authoring in multimedia, I have to think hard about how every element contributes to the impact."

Heidi Elmendorf, a biology professor at Georgetown (along with her colleague Anne Rosenwald) just finished an assignment where their students in "Introduction to the Biology of Global Health" did public service announcements on vaccination programs in DC and mounted them on YouTube [see for example ones on Asthma/Flu and Measles/MMR. (Robin--a science example!)].

In one of the reflections, her student writes of authoring in multimedia: "I found myself spending a half an hour on a five-word statement, an amount of time no English paper has ever merited." Ouch. It is as much a testimony to the success of the assignment as it is to the grim reality of the mixed messages that have been sent to students around practices (like writing) we see as intrinsic to intellectual work.

Are we at a critical juncture? We are clearly at a point where folks are prototyping multimodal writing, experimenting with outside engagements, discovering new ways to build intellectual community in the classroom: what's the next step? Is it time to move the periphery to the center? Do we have enough knowledge to do that yet?


Excellent discussion, though I've purposely avoided pedagogy in my research as the field is so deep that I feel like I'd get lost in it. We just had a roundtable discussion on Visualizing the Past at UC Merced where I touched on the issue of animation as a medium for representing process. It's my thought that diagrams, cartoons and animations hold a certain informative power directed at process versus individual objects or people, so that animations and abstracted cartoons allow us to define and better abstract the verb elements of learning over the nouns. You can see a more full discussion of animation in my blog post on the subject. I've tried to represent the concept in a couple prototype animations (one in flash and the other a frame-by-frame animation). This was all based on a commercial and music video that I'd seen some years ago, coupled with my belief that the accessibility both of animation and the tools to create animations has grown to the point where the general public can begin to make quite detailed "scholarly cartoons".


Interesting ideas, Elijah.  While not specifically scholarly cartoons, the use of animation to represent concepts, products, and services has become something of a web 2.0 aesthetic, and is likely quite familiar and accessible to students.  I have shared all of the following with students in recent courses, where they served as jumping-off points for discussions that then bring in the complexities masked by this form of representation.  This mode of argument often commands attention and give students a sense of how they might be able to create media that is both critical and creative.  

Creative Commons

History of the Internet



Thanks for sharing the links, I think there's something, and I can't quite put my finger on it, that animation, cartoons and diagrams all lend to representing and isolating hard-to-represent humanities information.  I'm particularly interested in socio-environmental processes and so while I see a wealth of environmental science represented in animated models, abstracted cartoons and diagrams the same can't be said for integrating societial systems into the conversation.  I'm particularly intrigued by the rise of vector graphics, in both the commercial Flash applications and open-source products like Inkscape.  The ease of use in making vector graphics presents a lowered bar to entry for content creators (and modifiers) so that the lay public can get into the process of animating processes.  I really think Inkscape, for instance, provides an amazing tool for teachers because the students aren't just creating graphics, they're actually writing code using a true visual programming language.  We're still a ways off from creating interactive animations that anyone can edit, but I believe it's on the horizon, hence my concept of Velocipedia, or an animated encyclopedia of verbs and processes (I have to thank Ruth Mostern for that expression).


Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and comments. I'm enjoying the conversation and learning a lot.

I enjoyed seeing the animations that Daniel and Elijah posted. I could see how they could be useful tools for explaining concepts to audiences. Plus they add an element of play, fun. Which is always great.

I'd be particularly excited about these animations if they were something that students could author. Elijah, if I understand your post, it seems like things are moving in that direction, but we aren't there yet. Am I understanding correctly?

I ask because the aspect of digital media that has long interested me the most is the media that our students can use to help author the culture. That takes me back to the question of social values that Rheyden raised. She suggested that

...this new media world involves some other intriguing social shifts that are important to understand if we're going to involve more than just early adopters. Social value-implications that occur to me....thinking more about contribution than test scores, students choosing projects rather than being assigned, the strength of self-organizing groups, the notion that it's more powerful to share information than to hoarde it, devising projects that provide intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards, consistently looking to resources and people outside the walls of the classroom for input and comment, and the power/impact of the network effect. What others do you all see?

I'm intrigued by and drawn to the values Rheyden listed, the possibility for enhancing collaboration, critical thinking, and engagement. Do others see this similarly? Are these social values inherent to Web 2.0 tools? Or are the tools value neutral, mere reflections of the values we bring to their use?  What do you find?

The social values that interest me most are those connected to students' ability to author powerful and accessible representations of their knowledge, experiences, and perspectives. That's particularly important to me, in part because of the poor and working class students I work with, whose voices are often muted or even silenced in our culture. Helping them find their voices -- voices that can speak with power, and voices that can be heard -- seems critical to the possibilities of a more just and democratic society.

The digital storytelling and Wikipedia editing projects we've been discussing reflect or embody these values. The animation project might -- now or in the future. Another approach that can embody these values is ePortfolios. We've not yet touched on ePortfolios, but perhaps we'll do that in a future post.

Moreover, these approaches focused on student authoring have an added benefit -- they create opportunities for us to better understand our students. And, if we examine them carefully, they offer us insight into the dynamics of student learning.

It seems to me that we all have a substantial stake in better understanding the dynamics of learning.  Yet, I think its fair to say that, as faculty, we have lots of assumptions about how learning happens, but our assumptions are rarely based on careful, systematic examination of the evidence of student learning.

To me, Web 2.0 tools will be particularly exciting if we can (and do) use them in such a way as to address these values.

Thanks again to everyone. More soon. Bret


While something like Inkscape isn't on everyone's radar, and Flash
appears primarily in its end product and not its creation process, I
think we're actually much closer to animation literacy than we realize.  I think the visibility of animation tools and vector graphics is quite low right now.  In reality, we're all using vector graphics and coding simple animations whenever we make an image appear or fade in Powerpoint.  The circles and highlighted regions we create in Powerpoint are vector graphics.  What's missing is a peer collaboration environment that allows for production and interplay between animations, diagrams and cartoons.  But I would recommend downloading Inkscape, which is open-source, stable and free, and consider using it in your courses.  While it still lacks animation functionality, the svg graphics that it manipulates are animation-capable and exposing users to the concept of vector graphics as an easy-to-use tool for creating diagrams preps them for their eventual growth into animating these processes and, I hope, interacting in a peer collaborative manner.

What I'm more interested in, though, is how creating diagrams and abstractions (cartoons) forces scholars to better understand and describe the processes that we have, until recently, only written about in a qualitative manner.  This is similar to the rigor and restriction imposed upon us when we attempt to use databases and GIS in our study of humanities knowledge--it forces us to be explicit in defining our processual claims and reveals to us critical aspects of a subject that we may have taken for granted.  The pitfall, of course, is in restricting our sense of a process to only what we can define in a rules-based structure required by code, but I think there's a natural dialectic that occurs when one attempts to define the qualitative, only to find the definition too restrictive, forcing us to come to a new, synthetic understanding that incorporates a deeper appreciation for the process itself.


This is the clearest presentation of what net neutrality means to "all of us" that I've come across. Thank you! I'm going to reblog it.


I think Elijah has hit on an important point here: the experimentation with new technologies ?forces us to be explicit in defining our processual claims and reveals to us critical aspects of a subject that we may have taken for granted.? Long time ago, I wrote a little reflection on how teaching online changed my behavior in the f2f classroom forever (even when I am only ?armed? with a piece of chalk). Understanding how our (old/new) processes define the classroom experience must be the first step to building ?authoring pedagogies,? no?


Robert B. Carey, Ph.D

Empire State College

New York, N.Y.

I have found all of this very heady and encouraging, as something that I hope awaits me and my students as we begin to explore new ways of moving through course work, using eportfolios and other applications. At this point, I am still pondering how to move out from the confines of the 2 step model into something more fluid, conversational, engaging. Most of my students--returning adult students or students with little college--use computers to txt, game and that is about it. They are also "schooled" in being "students" in the 2 step way. It has clearly worked for them in some fashion, with the result that being a student has innoculated them against the possibility of inquiry, of being curious, of being a bit relaxed about ambiguity or of sharing their own misgivings, fears or deep questions about what this study is about. I guess what I really am after is forging a connection, in a variety of ways, between reading and writing, so that they are not simply assignments but ways of beginning to "see." Somewhere Barzun and Graff write to the effect that the successful writer begins by being the discerning reader, the questioner of texts who seeks to wring the meaning out of what has been half said and explore the meaning of what has been well said. That means that print is not simply a assignment, but a form of conversation, of banter, of learning to say--as we do when we are talking over coffee--Is this what you are getting at? So, writing can be more than description with a post script of opinion, but the occasion of a student's finding a new sense of speaking, of making him/herself understood.  


Randy Bass (Georgetown University)

I'd like to push the direction we're heading and pose a broad question. I agree with Elijah that radical transformations in knowledge-making media should lead us to rethinking our "processual claims" and "critical aspects of a subject that we may have taken for granted." Presumably they should be doing the same for education.

Michael Wesch, in his recent piece in the Academic Commons issue Bret and I edited, says, "We have had our why's, how's, and what's upside-down, focusing too much on what should be learned, then how, and often forgetting the why altogether. In a world of nearly infinite information, we must first address why, facilitate how, and let the what generate naturally from there. As infinite information shifts us away from a narrow focus on information, we begin to recognize the importance of the form of learning over the content of learning. It isn't that content is not important; it is simply that it must not take precedence over form."

What do the digital humanities have to say about the downside-upping of our why's, how's, and what's in the context of learning? (We've been having the conversation about what to teach at least since the 1960's.) 

The questions that Cathy Davidson invokes in the context of the origins of HASTAC are applicable here: "We were trying to say, ?Wait, it?s the information age! This is our
era! This is what we?ve been waiting for! The humanities finally are
central. We should be the voice of the information age! We have
historical knowledge, we have critical tools, we know what information
is, we have whole fields dedicated to understanding what knowledge and
information are in this age, why isn?t this our moment??

Shouldn't we be saying the same about the role that the digital humanities should be playing in the transformation of teaching and learning in the humanities? 

Obviously there is great fluidity between scholarly and educational practices, but I'm not so sure about the idea that once we figure this out as scholars we'll work it out as teachers. The history in my field (English) betwen reading and writing doesn't bode well for that approach.  

So, I would love to hear from folks: where are the "collaboratories" around key learning questions in the humanities? What kinds of questions are being taken up, especially around the re-thinking of the what, how's, and why's?  How are questions of evidence of learning being taken up? 

Are there ways we could be expanding such collaborations that would advance the impact that critical epistemologies particular to the humanities could have on advancing our applied knoweldge about learning in transformative ways? 


Two excellent essays, especially the one by Wesch, where I was struck by his comment regarding the design of classrooms and the unspoken (I believe in hermenuetics it would be referred to as perlocutionary) argument that the classroom makes before the professor even begins lecturing or playing slides.  What I have noticed so far is that the students most intrigued or cognizent of the complexities of digital humanities media are, unfortunately, those that take my courses as an elective but who are studying environmental or computer science, biology or physics, or any non-humanities topic.  Now, I don't have a long track record like most of you with teaching courses, but I think we're seeing the same thing with the large-scale collaborative works like Wikipedia.

I've noticed the same issue in the field of socio-environmental studies, where environmental history works are being written not by historians but by soil scientists, evolutionary biologists and hydrologists.  There are thousand digital humanities projects in bloom, which seem mostly to be run by humanities scholars but staffed by a cadre of non-humanities scholars building the software, databases and images.  I'm all in favor of interdisciplinary projects, but unless undergraduate students in the humanities acquire some level of data literacy, their digital products will constantly be mediated through the technical process run by external experts (Expert, mind you, in data structures and coding, and not in literature or history).

This leads me to what I think is the critical point in Wesch's essay, where he claims we're confronted by a crisis of significance in our presentation of knowledge.  The "knowledge market" is stocked with goods from the academy, but also with goods from Wikipedia, blogs, even YouTube and Facebook, and the academy has been suffering in this marketplace of ideas.  The best electronic cultural atlases and national GIS doesn't compare to the visual quality of games like Empire: Total War and Civilization IV in the presentation of map-based historical knowledge.  While the latter is far outstripped by the former in its historical veracity, the compelling manner in which historical processes and actors are presented in these large-scale games is more accessible and more comprehensible not because they are entertainment, but because the interfaces and underlying systems have been more elegantly designed.  The game designers generally aren't coders, but they understand how code works, and so when they interface with their team of software engineers, they're better able to produce a piece of digital media that resembles their vision.  I think that until digital humanities scholars catch up in their understanding of software, then their products will always be second-rate in comparison to competing products from the private sector, and so our students, with unlimited access to all the products of the digital revolution, will naturally choose the higher quality ones.

If, however, we can begin to critically engage the students about the digital media they watch and interact with, and point out the limited worldviews portrayed in a game like Civilization or a YouTube video on the Trojan War, and present them with a compelling piece of digital media that represents a more complex understanding of the subject, then we can move to restore significance to academic discourse.  Professors should be signifiers, who can grapple with arguments put forth in digital media as readily as we do with arguments put forth in text.  But we can only do this with credibility if we're as literate with the digital media as we are with textual media.




This has been a marvelously productive conversation. Thank you! And I realized my blog post today fits here so I'm reblogging as it fits the larger parameters of this conversation.  I also recommend the interview with Negar Mottahedeh on her twitter film festival.  The deep structure of invisbile thinking made visible!  Thank you again.


REblog, "This Is Your Brain on the Early American Novel: 


I've blogged several times this semester about my undergraduate class, "This Is Your Brain on the Internet." Not so much on my wonderful grad class, "Early American Novels and Other Fictions." But it is as inventive and imaginative and field-changing as the course on cognition and digitality since both come from the premise that digital learning is not about throwing a lot of technology at students--it is reconceptualizing how we think and should be thinking given a changed set of learning tools already part of the repertoire of everyday life.


That is, the "IT" model of instructional technology emphasizes putting new hardwares and softwares at the disposal of students but not necessarily changing the structure of pedagogy, not addressing the new ways we think about learning when we work collaboratively or have a globally-edited volunteer resource such as Wikipedia, not addressing a massive consumer switch away from authority-based models of knowledge delivery (such as the NY Times) to consumer-produced authorities (blogs, YouTube, twitter feeds).


What do these enormous trends do to how students process the world and what can we teach them about their own participation in that world?
Similarly, some models of digital humanities are about building complex tools to represent humanities materials or explore them in new ways. That is a fantastic contribution to knowledge. But yet another form of the new humanities comprehends that we are in an age of information and it should be the centrality of the humanist that makes this age not only comprehensible but beneficial. Here, the model of the humanities is not enhanced by new tools of representation, discovery and analysis (a fine goal in and of itself) but rather the critical skills of the humanities--the ability to evaluate sources, to credit sources, to interpret sources, to combine complex data streams into a logical and sound theoretical argument--become essentials of a prosumer age.


So in the one graduate English course I teach a year, we are talking about every word in the title "Early American Novels" and asking what those teams really mean if we divorce them from professional disciplinary histories that support their conventional meanings. If we know early America is dominated by immigrants (coming of their own accord or forced), what do we mean by "American." Why do English Departments even continue to make the "British" and "American" divide when it is not constitutive? But the students are also required to contribute to public knowledge in the course, as their duty as humanists in the world, and most are not only editing or creating Wikipedia entries but are actually now thinking deeply about their role in the world, what they have to offer in terms of a world that needs to understand far more about credibility, communication, collaboration, language, analysis, authority, and on and on.


Thrilling for me today was reading an abstract by one of the MAT students who is proposing a panel on what kinds of humanistic epistemological skills can be used in the secondary classroom to teach students how to understand their own thinking by contributing to Wikipedia pages and studying the pattern of editing, how an edit is made, why, with what process and justification, and so forth. It was a beautifully reasoned abstract that includes Piagetian developmental theory along with work on credibility and Internet culture.


"This Is Your Brain on the Early American Novel." It is ALL "humanities" and all "digital" all the time . . .


Anonymous (not verified)

very nice to read all of this that solve the most of the problems of students and teachers as well who can get information and methods of teaching and material to, I have found all of this very heady and encouraging, as something that I hope awaits me and my students as we begin to explore new ways of moving through course .