In this section, I will explore the relationship between creative and artistic activities and the courses I teach as an educator in the Department of Modern Languages. My approach is informed as an educator-practitioner, to draw exploration and experimentation into the design and delivery of the curriculum.
In my first two years, I have created two new courses, Multicultural Pittsburgh: A creative media exploration of community, language and identity, and Podcasting: Language and Culture through Storytelling, and re-built and redesigned an existing course, Language Acquisition, and Technology. I am an instructor on a Grand Challenges Course, Cultures in/and Conflict in Sports: Virtual Reality and Cultural Exploration due for Spring 2021. I have also taught two mini-courses Multicultural Immersion – Relating your world in VR and a short course based on Multicultural Pittsburgh: VR Storytelling. To date, these courses have been well-received, with a second section opened for Podcasting: Language & Culture through Storytelling and the opportunity to co-teach with my colleague Professor Felipe Gomez.
These courses attract students from across the different disciplines, who often combine their majors in Modern Languages with others in Global Studies, English, Engineering, Computer Science, Design and Architecture, Drama, and Business. I feel blessed by the range of skills these students come with, to work together, collaborate, and create new work.
This is not to say that it has not been challenging, especially for the students who may not be used to learning through media creation. Students often expect these courses to be technical, skills, and tool-based. It is surprising to many who enroll in these classes that they may have to supplement some of the technical skills themselves through tutorial videos elsewhere. Instead, the emphasis is on editorial, ethical, and storytelling considerations. Rather than how to film and edit, the class may discuss the editorial implications of why we cut when we do, or how to analyze the relationship between a creator and their chosen subject, especially in terms of power, status and perspective-taking. Students learn to value cultural considerations as much as technical know-how.
Indeed this may speak to the root of many of the assumptions that are made of my work, that I am a technical person when my work is actually rooted in theory and practice. I have developed skills in programming, media production, and audio recording throughout my career, but my work is in exploring the frameworks, concepts, and philosophies that underpin these areas. This was apparent in the Language Technology course, where the emphasis was on the challenge of adopting technology, and frameworks to support TEL and CALL, referencing work by Diane Laurillard, Stephen Downes, or Stephen Heppell (who also joined us as a guest speaker). The assumption that you’re either technical or academic but not both, has to a certain extent followed me throughout my career, and perhaps more so working in the humanities.
The dominant pedagogies for the learning activities in all my courses are rooted in theories of constructivism, which are manifest through project-based learning. The Global Languages & Cultures Room was conceived as a place where active learning would flourish. These courses are project-based and students are asked to complete a series of short tasks that serve to scaffold learning towards a final major piece with a significant digital outcome – film, podcast, digital storytelling, or online learning project.
In the Language Acquisition & Technology class, students created online portfolios, reflecting on key concepts and theories as they explored their use of technology and reflected on their own challenges as teachers. One assignment asked students to create an HTML 5 learning object using H5P, which you are invited to try below.
Class time is often workshop-based with discussion, collaboration, and student to student interaction. Often, students will use large sheets of newsprint and pots of felt-tip pens to write, visualize, sketch, plan, illustrate their ideas. For many students the boardroom layout or design-table affords connection, meaning, reassuring glances, smiles or other cues, and an understanding of knowing when to speak and listen. In all these courses I foster a multidisciplinary approach, that is to say, that we ask that the student develop skills that would more traditionally be described as key to a particular specialism, say design-thinking, rapid prototyping, development, creative and artistic skills.
Students in both courses created digital outcomes, including 360-degree videos published online that could be viewed using VR headsets, and audio podcasts available to stream via Apple iTunes. In the spring 2020 semester, having pivoted to include a wider range of digital outcomes, students held an online digital festival where they were able to showcase short documentaries, animation, photo stories, VR and 360 films, and illustration. Students discussed issues around language & culture, exploring subjects such as multilingualism, belonging, identity, xenophobia, and racism.
This maker approach is highly valued at CMU, where creative projects help students work in an interdisciplinary way with live briefs that often interface with community organizations. These aims are embodied within areas such as the ETC or IDeATe and I am keen to adopt a similar emphasis on learning through making, in language and cultural study. These projects are designed to put students into new situations and ask them to view their progress through reflective practice. This is no more so than when students are asked to draw on their own cultural contexts to make films, podcasts, VR experiences, and games that comment on others’ cultures, issues in language, and global citizenship.
We have even been able to run sessions in VR, co-ordinating the distribution of headsets to students in Pittsburgh and those that students have access to across the world. We ran a series of sessions where we met in a virtual world using the platform ALTspace VR, providing the students with an opportunity to reflect on the experience of meeting and working in an immersive space. The project was highlighted in CMU’s Across the Cut series of articles and videos.
A Blended Approach
I would also like to acknowledge the substantial work to support delivery in a Blended way, by supporting students in synchronous and asynchronous learning, using my expertise in online learning design to create canvas courses that are very much more than lists of resources or uploads of documents. Each week I provide a series of Learning Steps for students to complete as part of their learning. In class, we may revisit concepts, engage in discussion, or test out some of the theories or questions in each step.
My creative research and teaching activities at CMU are intertwined and complement each other with the goal of contributing to the institutional aims of supporting students to become socially conscious global citizens. I want to encourage my students to become curious, independent life-long learners, develop critical thinking skills, and gain an understanding of the world around us.
This teaching philosophy has proven successful, and my University FCEs and Departmental supplemental FCEs reflect this through the high evaluations I get from my students in the several courses I have developed and taught since I joined CMU. I know that there are many areas where I can make improvements, for instance tackling assumptions about technical vs academic course content, or better-aligning curriculum content to traditional modes of language and cultural learning. I am starting to know my students, understand the conditions of their learning, their expectations, and their areas of interest. I invite feedback throughout my courses, formally through mid-course surveys and informally in 1:1’s (which I insist on for all students) and through the use of forums, emails, and video conferences.
Providing support to other courses.
Together with these new courses, I have run a series of professional development workshops for faculty, students, and colleagues not only at Carnegie Mellon but also at the University of Pittsburgh. These workshops range in subject matter, they include digital storytelling, teaching with VR, creating games and playful activities, and technology enhanced-learning. In some cases, they have served to introduce the Global Languages & Cultures Room to new audiences who have returned to join events or contribute in some way to the artistic content in the room.
This Fall I am delivering a new course Multicultural Immersion: Relating your world in VR a 6-week mini which will be taught with cohorts in Pittsburgh and Doha, CMU-Qatar. In this course, we will again explore concepts of immersive storytelling to reflect on the differences and similarities of being a student in each location. I will be using telecollaboration techniques, virtual learning through VR, and student media production projects. This will be the first time that I have embarked on such a teaching project, and my hope is that I can develop my practice and that it may lead to potential courses with our other remote campuses.
In the past two years, I have provided support to a variety of courses within Modern Languages and Dietrich College. In March 2019 I accompanied students on the French in its Social Contexts course to Nantes, Brittany to capture and create media outcomes. During this trip I worked with Professor Sebastien Dubreil to co-ordinate student work, setting up film shoots and interviews and gathering digital material, including audio interviews, photographs, and video. On our return to CMU, we edited this material, crafting interactive webpages and short films.
I would also like to mention the support that I have provided to many other courses, including the German – Zero Hour course, with a plan to head to Berlin this year that was unfortunately postponed. In my role as Director for the Global Languages & Cultures Room, I have provided workshops for a variety of classes. In Modern Languages, this has included Chinese Calligraphy, the final year Modern Languages Major’s Capstone course, and Arabic, which included the setup of a telecollaboration with a group of Egyptian students in Cairo. To this end, I have also filmed an edited series of clips for use in the Arabic Online Course.
In Dietrich College, I have run sessions for Professor Stephen Wittek’s Shakespeare and VR course, and for the School of Design, I have provided hands-on workshops and seminars working with Professor Peter Scupelli with students in Sustainable Design and the Graduate Design mini, providing expertise in immersive technologies.
I have also supported study abroad programs and the university’s SLICE – Student Leadership, Involvement, and Civic Engagement scheme, by providing workshops and talks on digital storytelling and capturing effective media. Working with the Office on International Education and colleagues in Hispanic Studies, we have sought to tackle the difficulties that students encounter in recording and capturing their experiences. As an example of this support, I ran a workshop for students traveling to the Dominican Republic, talking to them about the best way to photograph, capture audio, interview, and ensure the integrity of their storytelling, as guests in a host community working on projects to benefit education, sanitation, and housing.
As I continue to publicize the room and invite colleagues to work in this space, so the opportunity to provide expertise, collaborate, and create across disciplines increases. I will need to prioritize and negotiate the time that I am able to commit to these projects and weigh them against the aims of the room and my own scholarly and creative work.