Community and Creativity Online: Student-Constructed Webfolios and Webtexts as Learning Spaces in Undergraduate Humanities Classes

Poster presentation by Donna Reiss, Tidewater Community College (Virginia) at the 1999 Conference of the Association for Computers and the Humanities and the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing, University of Virginia, Charlottesville,  June 9-12, 1999

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Sadie Cornell, Office Services Specialist and TCC student, helped me design and construct the poster at left, selected by the conference team for their photo gallery.

 In Engines of Inquiry: Teaching, Technology, and Learner-Centered Approaches to Culture and History, Randy Bass, director of the American Crossroads Project, identifies "six kinds of quality learning" that "information technologies can serve to enhance": distributive learning, authentic tasks and complex inquiry, dialogic learning, constructive learning, public accountability, and reflective and critical thinking.

Providing all six of these experiences is a challenge, even in a well-funded technology-rich institution, a greater challenge for a state community college like mine, Tidewater Community College, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Nonetheless, using the resources of the community as well as free and low-cost Internet applications (Netscape Composer and yahoo mail, for example), a class in a moderately funded and supported institution can incorporate quality computer-mediated learning, as this poster presentation will demonstrate with several undergraduate projects from an open-admissions online humanities elective, Technology and the Liberal Arts: Man, Woman, Machine.

Students typically are drawn to Technology and the Liberal Arts by the "technology" in the title, not by the "arts." By the end of the term, students have used technology as one approach to understanding some of the fine arts and have reflected on the technologies used in creating and maintaining works of art. Learning outcomes listed on the course outline are the following:

  • To write critically and reflectively about the relationship between technology and the arts
  • To articulate a personal definition and interpretation of technology and the arts
  • To engage in a dialogue on aesthetic and technological issues
  • To construct a Webfolio record of scholarship and activities at TCC
  • To construct works of verbal and visual art as ways to understand the creative process
  • To examine at least one technology closely and from more than one perspective

A series of field trips helps to satisfy these objectives, most of them virtual but two of them physical. For example, students visit online displays of the works of Muybridge and Duchamp to examine motion as depicted by the camera and the paintbrush. Online discussions reveal a preference for the familiarity of Muybridge's multi-framed nude but a willingness to consider the ways Duchamp's single-frame nude suggests motion. Here "dialogic learning" and "public accountability" are emphasized in electronic exchanges shared among all members of the class.

"Authentic tasks" and "constructive learning" are generated by the class webfolio, an online portfolio of projects throughout the term. Among these are at least two student-constructed art projects, a work of visual art and a poem related to technology. Many of these adults (average age 30) have never visited an art gallery or museum before but asked to view, reflect on, and recreate works of art, respond with enthusiasm and energy. Many of them are surprised at the treasures in our local galleries, surprised sometimes by their own enjoyment of the art as well as by their interest in representing what they have seen with the technologies at hand: imaginative collages, drawings, paintings, and computer-generated graphics. Not having been asked to draw for school for ten or more years, they overcome some inhibitions to rekindle their creative impulses and then to display them not only before their classmates but also before the world on the class web site. The accompanying report in the form of a letter to their classmates challenges them to examine their own preconceptions about the fine arts in general and their own artistic abilities in particular.

Because this class meets entirely over the Internet, the primary collaborations are text-based sharing of information and ideas through a listserv and Web forum discussions. Here the "reflective and critical thinking" and "dialogic learning" identified by Bass as elements of quality learning enhanced by technology are engaged. Students reflect on social and ethical as well as aesthetic issues related to technology with literary and cinematic arts that include Shelley's Frankenstein (and a film version), Hawthorne's The Birthmark, Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic (and the film version).

For the poster presentation, examples of student projects will be displayed as printouts of selected Web pages and descriptions of some of the activities that generated the student work, such as FORCES: Art for the End of the 20th Century-The Intersection of Art and Technology. In addition, a computer will permit display of a range of student work on line, either through an Internet connection or as files displayed through a browser. Handouts will describe the Webfolio Project and a work in progress that analyzes the webfolio for communication and creativity in undergraduate instruction.

developed April 1999 by D. Reiss and modified 23 June 1999 by D. Reiss