Repurposing Enhanced Learning

Blog post #3 underway. This is the last entry, hoping to come to an end as conclusive as it can possibly be – although I anticipate it will not suffice and many questions might still be unanswered towards the end. Feel free to get in touch! Comment or email. As I mentioned earlier, I encourage readers to skim prior entries (“A Digital Project for a Digital Generation”, and “Rethinking the Thinkable”) for a more rigorous and judicious comprehension of “Repurposing Enhanced Learning”. In the lines that continue here, I will disclose a reflective view after project completion, combining my own insight and also including thoughts and opinions of the students.

This project was designed with a bigger goal than just learning Hispanic Transatlantic Cultures. Considering students’ background and career goals (most were Spanish minors, some majors in humanities and social sciences, but others in STEM), I conceived the project as an incursion into the role, value and application of humanities and public humanities in life, generally speaking. Somehow this project repurposed learning, enhancing a set of skills and intellectual awareness that students positively and wittingly embraced.

We began the exploration with the following questions in mind: Can humanities engage with a general public beyond an academic setting? How can humanities be established as a field in the non-expert and non-conventional spheres once outside academic institutions?

The project evidently answered with a YES. Especially at this moment when humanities are at stake nationally (actually in acute crisis worldly), students completed the semester more equipped not only in Spanish and Hispanic cultures, but also they expressed their thankfulness for having been educated in the importance of understanding who we are, what it means to be human, and how we relate to others. Now it is my hope that wherever these students end as they develop their careers, they remember the lessons of this project and can better apply humanities into their daily lives. 

Indeed, our digital collective site also aimed at developing skills and providing tools highly demanded in nearly every career. Participants were able to further cultivate the ability to work well, interpersonal communication, flexibility, time management, sharing responsibilities, mutual respect, open-minded discussions, organizational practices, and shared learning. Just read below some words from the students regarding the praxis of how we structured the project, their learning growth and instructional goals. *Find more in “Sneak Peek”.

  • “Projects like this foment a supportive group environment without constraining my creative license. Having the ability to troubleshoot technical and substantive problems before receiving a grade and learning from others during the composition process creates a distinct avenue of growth unavailable in individual projects”.
  • “A crucial approach to education that prepares us for professional post-graduate life. Collaborative critical thinking and problem solving is an evitable part of nearly every career path, and through this method of learning in the classroom, we are better able to foster communication skills, identify our weaknesses while using our strengths to our advantage, and solidify core concepts”.

Very related, the aforementioned factors informed the language of the project, English. This was perhaps the most delicate decision on my end. Ideally, Spanish would have made more sense (since it is a course in the Spanish curriculum). However, I emphasized this other set of skills beyond Spanish towards the end of the semester – I would have decided likewise if can go back in time. English allowed the class to collaborate more effectively given that time was not abundant. Meanwhile, Spanish was used in class discussions, and all-related assignments of the project leading to final steps.

As the reader may observe, repurposing course learning meant repurposing completely standard evaluation methodologies. It also forced me to be open-minded and on top of things to adjust or tweak whatever it was necessary for the common good. For this purpose, I accepted and gladly welcomed students’ suggestions as part of the collective learning philosophy. Actually, all credit goes to them, I was just a simple mediator, which can be a point of reflection: would have been possible to create this project with a higher number of enrollments? If a few students are not 100% involved, what would occur? I am unsure. How would be the distribution of workload assigned in each group if these were to happen? At least in my case, there were no complaints or any sort of indication of the unfairness of the project/group workload, which tells me how committed they were. This is an indicator as well, I believe, of the capacity of such activities to engage students’ interest and sense of positiveness and enthusiasm in their academic growth. Hats off. 

It would be to lie if the evolution of the project didn’t cause any trouble or headache. The following are some factors that I wish I had known before, yet I know now for a future iteration. See here the wishful thinking:

  1. Visual materials: As copyright is common, the participants of the project had to dedicate considerable time to locate rightful materials for the site, which was decidedly tangential to actual goals of the activity. I wish I had introduced them ahead the several websites available to the public to quickly surpass this issue.
  2. Lack of stability: If you enter the site, you might notice some materials are missing. This is because I can’t access the Excel documents of the students where they created the storylines. The instability of videos, images or other materials in the net is common. This added to the fact of Excel permission. I wish I had collected the storylines and their access having asked students to grant me editor permissions to update and anticipate these issues. 
  3. Publication venue: Google Sites was convenient, easy to navigate and intuitive as it provides templates. However, now that time has passed, I wish I had encountered a more specialized database, pedagogical repository or something of the sort, to effectively storage the project online. This would also elicit more traffic and exposure, and thus visibility, both in terms of content and as an example of an innovative teaching/learning tool.

With this, it is my hope to have covered the project from a broader perspective, specifying the ins and outs. I have highlighted the decisions, progress and results, provided concrete examples, and detailed some relevant descriptive and reflective factors to better guide the reader. Now, let’s rewind and finalize the entry with a little treasure – at least it is so for me…

The following was the last assignment after completion of project, an entry to assess students’ insights and feedback of their involvement, benefits, and opinion. Students articulated their views: (I have translated their answers to English and vaguely reduced the extension – any error remains my own).

Let´s pause and think over our semester and our project. Answer the following questions as thoroughly as possible:

  • What has been for you to work and create a project like ours?
    “I have obtained new knowledge of Digital Humanities that I came to respect now. I believe I will be able to come back to this project in the future; opposite to a traditional exam that happens once and later one forgets… I can now even create my own website, or transfer the skills of the project to the social organizations outside campus that I am involved with.”

    “Yes. I really love my topic and the research that led to me to write my individual portion. The time we dedicated in class was drastically necessary and productive. I can now present this project in my job interviews.”
  • What has been the major problem? What has been the major benefit?
    “The major obstacle were the limitations I experienced with the digital software, for example the visibility and management of Google Sheets (Storyline). Luckily, we solved the problems with time and innovation (getting used to the software). The major benefit, the learning of the digital tools and productivity of this new discipline. It was a formative and informative journey.”
  • Are you proud/content with the final product?
    “I am. The site is professional and looks great! I have learnt quite a lot. The visual effects and materials are effective for a general audience that knows nothing about the cultures under examination. It is engaging and very interactive, and we are the authors!”
  • Is there any recommendation you would like to say to improve the project?
    “Perhaps next time you can make the site bilingual, Spanish and English. This would make our information more inclusive and accessible in the United States. It would take more time but I believe it’s a plus.”

    “I would only make one modification: the format of the timelines. Sometimes, it was not very intuitive (to work with Storyline JS) but I am unsure what could be the alternative as it is part of the software.”
  • Do you agree that the project has utility beyond the classroom?
    “I can now transfer academic information to a non-academic audience, and vice versa, and present it more enthusiastically. This taught me how flexible all is, just a matter of willingness and tactics.”

    “It is exciting to see that the Spencer Museum at the University of Kansas will make use of the project (and particularly my section) to show how their collection is educative for students and community in Lawrence. Working on this project allowed me to practice my communicative and collaborative skills with the museum, and it is an example I can add to my CV.”

For the HASTAC community, and beyond, I hope you enjoyed as much as I have. I have intentionally concluded my blog-series with the voices of the protagonists, the students. Just as a deserved celebration to their commitment and delight – in case it has not been sufficiently elaborated yet.

One word to define this trip: solidarity.

Dr. Ángel M. Rañales
Assistant Professor of Spanish
University of South Carolina Aiken