Rethinking the Thinkable

Welcome to entry #2. Having established a point of departure in the previous entry “A Digital Project for a Digital Generation”, I have decided to continue and rename it to “Rethinking the Thinkable”. Reason being due to the frequency of times my students and I reconsidered, rethought, and refashioned the phases of this project; together. The purpose of this entry is centered on debunking these pillars a bit more, more so descriptively – please feel free to generate dialogue and participate below. I have made the entries extension equally proportioned, for the sake of convenience in your daily frenzy. 

*If you haven’t read the first entry, I encourage the reader to so do for a better understanding of what follows.

The key for this project rests in recognizing that, from inception to culmination, flexibility and adjustments were common and expected. The project was my first exposure to a DH major activity in a classroom setting; thus, the finishing line was undetermined. I would like to point this out right away to demystify the notion that absolutely everything should be predetermined, and most importantly, to demonstrate that students should have a choice in their learning process by engaging in course decisions and accountability of their growth. This flexibility turned out to be a major triumph and students were highly motivated, and eventually exceedingly proud, of the way in which their commitment resulted in an easiness to have the project completed. 

The project was evaluated following five principal criteria (100 points), each with a respective rubric, including individual and collective tasks during a duration of one month. I can share the rubrics if need be.

  1. Thesis, research questions, and outline (12 points) Opening phase was research protocols. Via Blackboard and workshops in class, students defined their research questions and topics to come up with a thesis, followed a tentative outline of the project to serve as reference to move on. This is the advantageous factor of such project; it blends traditional and necessary tools for humanities and culture research with new pedagogical and digital tools. 
  • Annotated bibliography (20 points) A more critical understanding of the materials selected followed. Students navigated academic resources, a minimum of 4 (1 in English, 3 in Spanish) with two purposes: 1) language learning and exposure, and 2) narrow down/answer research questions to substantiate thesis. 
  • Collaboration in digital section (20 points) Having matured their individual research projects, students worked in pairs or groups of three to set up a historical contextualization that would serve as introduction. This collaboration included the development of a storyline using Storyline JS. Most of it was completed in class sessions.
  • Individual section in digital site (28 points) The ability to develop an argument with the bibliography consulted, critical thinking and analysis of cultural artifacts. A more regular research essay accompanied. Content, logic-transitions-structure, and sources were the valued factors. 
  • Final reflection of project (20 points) An exercise to assess students’ insights and feedback of their involvement, benefits, and opinion. This reflection was a good opportunity to see the design of the project from a closer and more objective perspective. 

Excluding steps 1-2 above due to the more conventional approach, I will focus now on the division of the structural logistics of steps 3-5. How were roles assigned? What about content decisions and distribution of responsibilities? Who decided the pace of the demands of the project? What was our organization?

It is important to mention that this course had a considerably manageable number of enrollments (9), which facilitated logistics. I divided students in groups of two-three following a simple reason: chronology*… 

[I forgot to mention that even before proposing research questions and thesis, students knew well in advance in what chronological section of the project they would land. It was easy as students were able to find their interests in the ample cultural spectrum of their designated periods. Delineating this first incursion was crucial as it permitted me to work on a one-to-one basis to formulate their research activities].

*…This allowed the project to be simply structured in 4 periods: Iberia pre-1492, Americas pre-1492, 16-19thcenturies, 20-21st centuries, in order here:

Titles and subtitles are students’ creativity. Each group collaborated to create a common framework via Storyline JS with a minimum of 5 major events within their chronological period. Thanks to our colleagues mentioned in the first entry, students were trained and taught on the functionality and necessary skills of the digital platform. Within a few days, they were on it.

The storyline was developed via an Excel document that Storyline JS provides and explains very accurately. Students collected data of these events and entered them into the Excel document. The parameters for each event:

  • Year: indicate the year of the event.
  • Headline: title of the event.
  • Text: text that goes along the event and describes it.
  • Media: each box/event allows for media inclusion (images, links, music, videos, etc.).
  • Media Credit: all media must be acknowledged for copyright purposes, include here the name/year and the hyperlink to original source.
  • Color: selection of background color for each event.

Next, each storyline included a general explanatory and introductory note as event #0, to precede the 5 events. This introduction included: a title to encompass all events (see above the screenshots), a brief description as synthesis of storyline, and a visual element as principal image (visualizing the site helps here).

With these instructions, students were autonomous, set the division of work between group members, and shared with me a unique link containing all requested information. I only set deadlines and was supportive. From what I could gather, they were having fun with the project so far, which was energizing. The flexibility of the tools also proved advantageous, allowing them to work as they pleased – I loved this self-accountability and management of time and tasks. Then, I only received the link to add to the site and… voilá

Before this final step to have the storylines terminated, I offered each group feedback to guide the overall process. I decided to share an example here; it is not edited to give the reader a feeling of the familiar tone and communication the students and I maintained. Students later edited their data in the Excel document to comply with instructions and finish the storyline. Timewise, it took around 10-14 days to begin and end this storyline.

*Names of students:

  • Find a catchier title – less direct, more elaborate (see for example _______).
  • Intro: Latin America. Media: see here: And add description to map.
  • Casta: media is Public Domain. 
  • Meninas: media is Public Domain. Add description to image. Careful at the end, Garcilaso de Vega is before Cervantes. 
  • Spanish Baroque: I really think Barroco de Indias is more important. Remember we are decentralizing the traditional view of history. Including Spanish Baroque but not the Indias fall into this larger perspective of Spain as center. Sorry!
  • Independence: Check media. Add better description to media.
  • Reconstruction: media is Youtube? Also, let’s talk about “kings and queens favored the rise of feminism”. I would eliminate prostitution from here, since it’s ______´s own research, which will go below in her section. Instead, elaborate more about nation building here – Realism, modernity, the city versus the rural, etc.

First milestone of collaboration of digital site achieved. I believe it is important to mention that while developing this project, class sessions were categorically devoted to project. Our regular content sessions were completed. Students had time to discuss, plan, and work in class (we met three times a week for 50 minutes), I supervised and advised their progress. It could not have been done with regular content classes being held simultaneously. Student’s workload was also well balanced here. Consider that final project was worth 30% of final grade, and it really replaced the traditional final exam of these culture courses. Students knew it and they behaved accordingly with motivation, enthusiasm, and care.

Second milestone consisted in writing a brief historical contextualization with their peers. This portion would expand a bit more on the storyline. Students had only one requirement: no external sources, rely on course learning. This is where I could innovate on my end. I wanted to assess students’ learning prior to development of project and these brief exercises of contextualization and clarification were effective. On top of that, students targeted a writing style that was informative and for a non-academic/expert audience to inform of the basics of their assigned period. It also allowed students to broaden their understanding and later be applied to individual research essays. Goals achieved!

As the reader imagines, the core of the collaborative endeavor was completed. Now, it was the time for individual essays, which students matured over a couple of weeks. The only requirement: due to nature of project, necessity of more audiovisual materials to be showcased in their sites. Language and argumentation should target a general public as well.  

Having concretized thesis, annotated bibliography, storyline and contextualization, and individual essays, I collected all the materials and began creating the site in Google Sites myself. I titled the project, drafted the “Home” and “People” sections, requested photos from students, took a group image (great moment!) and shared the outcomes with the class. They suggested subtle and accurate edits, comments, and observations, which I seriously implemented, of course, both in terms of language and theoretical/discipline wording – this was certainly an indicator of their intellectual growth through this activity.

So, reader: what are your thoughts so far?

It has come the time to conclude this entry. I hope to have laid out the basics of “Picturing Hispanismo” as briefly and accurately as I possibly could. It was my goal to provide the tools and in-and-outs for those of you with an interest in such projects. It is without saying that key toolkit for this adventure was human interaction and a healthy-supportive bond amongst participants, and instructor. 

My usual thanks. Last entry in about a week from a more post-project reflective viewpoint. 

2 responses to “Rethinking the Thinkable”