Digitally Enhanced Humanities: Using Virtual Media to Create Real Worlds

Nancy Dunlop (The University at Albany, SUNY, US)
Thomas Mackey (SUNY Empire State College, US)
Session Information
November 10, 2011 - 3:50pm
Technology and Emerging Learning Environments
Areas of Special Interest: 
Innovative Blends; Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Asia 4
Session Duration: 
35 Minutes
Virtual Session

This interactive presentation demonstrates the use of virtual media to engage learners of all ages in the humanities. By immersing students in the digital worlds of YouTube, Twitter, blogs, and word clouds, we draw out their authentic voice and deepen their connection to the arts and to themselves.

Extended Abstract

In her latest book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Sherry Turkle discusses the concept of the tethered self as an always-connected, cyborgian self "living full-time on the Net"—a depersonalized self that depersonalizes others. Such a concept disrupts the very nature of the traditional humanities, which call on a student's critical and creative ability to reflect upon the nature of being human. As Turkle suggests, "the book is connected to daydreams and personal associations as readers look within themselves. Online reading . . . always invites you elsewhere." This presentation will take a different stance by demonstrating how the technologies that might otherwise "tether" students to a virtual "elsewhere" can actually be used in the service of advancing self-reflection, critical thinking and creativity, those modes of thinking and being that are critical to the study of the humanities. The speakers come from two fundamentally different teaching environments: one is a blended course for traditional-aged college freshmen, asked to work collaboratively in synchronous time; the other is a fully online course for an adult student population encouraged to work individually and collaboratively in asynchronous time. However, despite these different contexts, the speakers share a similar pedagogical goal: to personalize what could otherwise be de-personalized virtual spaces by infusing traditional narrative and poetic forms into emerging social media resources. In these synchronous and asynchronous contexts we embrace technology to challenge the digital distractions our "tethered" learners face on a daily basis (texting, social networking, mobility). Students read poetry and narratives in new ways through the design of their own memoirs, poems, artworks, artifact projects, and digital stories. This presentation will consist of the following: To start, attendees will participate in an actual blended-classroom exercise that utilizes YouTube videos and Wordle, as well as handouts, to reflect upon and compose real-time individual- and fully collaborative group-poetry composed by the audience. This engaging and fun exercise will be presented in such a way as to be easily replicated by interested instructors in their own humanities classrooms either in class or online, since it could be translated to a fully online environment. Then we will use this real world exploration of virtual worlds as a starting point to discuss the pedagogy of learner-centered social media development. This second half of the presentation will feature highlights of student media projects using Wordle, YouTube, and WordPress blogs and discuss the importance of creating participatory environments for writing and digital media production in the humanities and related fields. This presentation will be useful to college and university humanities instructors in both fully online and in blended courses, who wish to develop pedagogical strategies that use digital media to promote and reinforce student engagement in personal and poetic expression.

Lead Presenter

Nancy Dunlop has taught literature and writing at the State University of New York at Albany for fifteen years. She was a founding faculty member of SUNY's Project Renaissance, one of the country's first Freshman Year Experience programs, which combined interdisciplinarity, service learning, and instructional technologies. She currently teaches in SUNY's Educational Opportunities Program. Her areas of expertise are Creative Nonfiction and poetry. Dr. Dunlop has also worked as a grant writer for high technology start-up companies.