Tag Archives: humanities


While I was teaching at NAU we developed an undergraduate videogame symposium to support undergraduate research in a topic they loved – videogames. During the second year we ran the event we used the idea of STEAM – Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math – as the guiding theory for the event, drawing the humanities into discussions of technology.

The push for STEAM education has continued to grow since our conference two years ago. I just saw a webinar hosted by Ozobots on using Ozoblockly (their programming app) to foster STEAM classrooms. What caught my eye about their webinar sign-up is the reduction of STEAM to “art and technology” as they relate to their programming color commands.

I personally love the Ozobots because of their color coding – these color codes do support easy learning of programming basics (I haven’t played around with the Ozoblockly app since I don’t have a tablet). I also love that the Ozobots light up with so many different colors – the programming of personality is really engaging.

What i’m not understanding is how this use of colors means Art. I also missed the webinar, so i’m sure it was more engaged than I’m discussing here, but honestly the Ozobot webinar description is just the starting point for my thought pattern here.

As a Humanities faculty member, when I discuss STEAM I see “Art” as the stand in for Humanities in general, more specifically Humanities based critical thinking, critical reading and critical writing. There is a ton of important criticism on the inclusion of just the A and the collapse of all Humanities fields into Art, there is also important criticism on reading the A as Art and not understanding the depth of opportunity available from a more nuanced understanding of Art. I am not going to include these discussions here, they are easily available to those interested.

What I want to focus on instead are the underlying questions:

  • Why did the advocates of shifting from STEM to STEAM (a lot of the research points to changes beginning at RISD) focus specifically on Art? Is the goal artistic creativity, tinkering, critical engagement, or something more specific to art? Since creativity and tinkering have existed in other humanities fields (remember Social Studies classes in Junior High with the student video assignments, debates – that’s one example of creativity and tinkering in the Humanities most of us experienced), why Art – basically was “Art” selected for a cool acronym, or is there something specific that has been left out of subsequent discussions?
  • Why should STEM education see a need to include Art? What is happening, maybe not well, that drives this need?
  • While STEAM is becoming more popular, why isn’t this acronym also addressed at the collegiate level? We required curricular general education requirements to support a broadly educated student (breath is the horizontal bar in a T diagram) and a major/minor for a deeply educated student (depth is the vertical bar in a T diagram). But when makerspaces and digital labs are created, discussed, funded, why aren’t humanities faculty included in those discussions?

I have a whole slew of reading to accomplish this summer to help me address these ideas. This is partly for a Graduate seminar this summer and a Graduate seminar in the Fall (which will include a publishing opportunity – former grad students let me know if you want to be involved because I know i’ll need more authors). This is also partly for a conference in October – Feminism and Rhetorics (I was accepted, YAY).

How can feminist pedagogy help STEAM? How can feminist pedagogy (i’m starting with bell hook’s Teaching to Transgress) help curriculum design that both supports student learning/engagement, and supports student critical learning/engagement with technology. I want students to develop critical reflection on their technology choices, by using technology to learn composition – to develop their own working ideas of writing (#teachingfortransfer).

As a first step, these are the questions I have at this point. I’ll continue to develop the underlying questions about STEAM which influence the approaches used by technology companies to aid teachers in integrating technology in the classroom – to find ways of disrupting the expectations for college classrooms.


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After attending CampIDEA I used the technology funds to purchase Ozobots. I included a conference workshop proposal a few posts ago – now I’m finalizing the Quest Day devoted to using these tiny robots.

As robots designed to help students learn to code, it’s not surprising there are limited discussions of how to use these in Humanities based classrooms. I found some really interesting ideas in STREAM education (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts, and math) about designing sets to accompany stories, and then coding the ozobots to ‘navigate’ the story. While interesting, what i’m hoping for is a version of transfer of threshold concepts with this activity – students will brainstorm key concepts (parts of an academic essay), then they’ll annotate an actual academic essay to refine the brainstorm list, then they’ll design a path for the ozobot that emphasizes key concepts (by coding dance moves, or turns, or lights at important points in their path). Side note: I need to work on my terminology before students begin this assignment on Wednesday.

What I’m considering right now is how I demonstrate the ozobots to students. I could write a code to have ozobots navigate a story – but is that demonstrative enough of what I want them to learn from this activity or distracting? I could create my own threshold concept map – but would that hinder creativity? I’m thinking I could design both – demonstrating the story navigation as an idea of how to apply the ozobot technology, then my concept map would be demonstrated when theirs are – then I’m not influencing or hindering their creativity. The ozobots also include general maps for the ozobots to navigate, while demonstrating my story navigation I can also put an ozobot on the standard-delivered path to show different application and increase creativity.

The struggle here is heavily tied to makerspace discussions – how do we create a space for usable projects that are tied to learning while also encouraging creative and critical thinking? Additionally, I’m adding a creative robot element to a traditional humanities class – how do I support the students exploration with new technology that isn’t traditionally tied to composition (robots)?

I’ll update as I continue to explore – if I design my own story navigations I’ll have to try to post a video (because it will be jane austen related….of course!).

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Gamification and PBL

Gamification is, most simply, the use of game elements and game-like learning in non game settings with the goal of improving learning and outcomes. Problem Based Learning (PBL) is a similar idea that engages learners in real-world problems to encourage deeper learning, with the goal of improving learning and outcomes. In both cases, the similar emphasis is clear, how can we help students learn better, learn more effectively. In both cases I also wonder how can we help students critically reflect on that learning so they know the type of learning they’ve accomplished.

Yesterday during our beginning of the year convocation the Dean of CAL mentioned that our goal in Humanities is not to help students write better so they can be industry leaders in X, Y, Z, devolving the humanities to a school room for future factory workers, but to continue to help students engage in critical thinking – critical thinking skills that are necessary for industry to continue, to innovate, to move forward, to make the world a better place. Our mission in engaging in discussions about professional development is not to tell students how to get jobs, necessarily, but to help make them aware of the thinking they’re comfortable with, and how that approach to learning and thinking makes them the best candidate for the job of their dreams. While I’m expanding on the Dean’s ideas here, his focus on critical thinking and critical engagement had me self-reflecting on my new course designs for Fall 2015.

I teach a Principles of Rhetoric class that i’ve gamified, I teach a Rhetoric Capstone that I’ve designed quests and gamification for, and I teach a Graduate level Participatory Culture and Social Media course that I’ve gamified and designed PBL for their final project. In each of these cases I’ve taken steps to incorporate the gamification in a way that integrates with the course and doesn’t seem forced. The next step in this thinking, especially for the upper division courses, is how to help students reflect on learning, so they can discuss their learning and problem-solving skills in resumes, cover letters and job interviews. The quests and problems become demonstrated examples and situations where students were tasked with solving problems, on student budgets which means with little to no money expended. This is the type of thinking almost all companies appreciate and want.

As I finalize my course syllabi, I’m building in final reflective papers, to ask students what they think they learned, and what they think they can do with this learning. My next step is to find a way to incorporate this question into the curriculum at various points to ensure students understand  and receive feedback on their discussion of learning and their demonstration of learning through discussion. I think a goal within humanities should be this reflective piece. How do we include reflective spaces within our curriculums to help students become aware of learning, and their own critical thinking? How do we make this meaningful to students? How do we then get industry jobs to take this idea seriously, to see the value in humanities students for their companies?

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undergraduate research

This past week I attended the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR15) in Washington state. This conference highlighting undergraduate research projects, and preparing undergrads to enter the workforce/grad school talking about their projects and hard work made me realize a few things.

1. I need to refine my capstone research project so students have more than just a presentation, but a professional development opportunity. Students at NCUR presenting posters were excellent at brief statements about their project and findings, oral presenters were not as good. Since interviews are often short, I want my students to present to an academic audience, and to present to a professional audience to assist them with many different avenues they can enter post-graduation.

2. Even at the undergrad level disciplinary identities are obvious. Most STEM researchers presented posters, determined if the viewer was STEM and spoke accordingly. In a few cases, removing the technical jargon (something composition instructors attempt to help students with) was difficult. Many Humanities and Computer science majors were excellent at powerpoint presentations and discussions. Literature students read papers. I don’t know that these disciplinary ethos displays are bad, i’m just now hyperaware of how my presentation requirements and grading schema influence ‘what it means to be a rhetorician.’ At the lower course levels I’m wondering how open I should leave my rubric to allow other disciplinary identities to show through – but if students don’t yet know will they struggle with too few restrictions? It’s really interesting to see students between Sophomore and Senior levels presenting their work like faculty/grad students in the field. It raises a lot of pedagogical questions that I just don’t have answers for.

3. Undergraduate research is amazing. My students produce amazing questions and studies, my independent study students work so hard for projects they love. NAU has an undergraduate research symposium to showcase this work, but I’m wondering if there are better ways to help students practice discussing their work. Traditionally, and evidenced at NCUR, research means STEM fields. How do we create space for Humanities students to showcase the work they do and the important contributions of that work to the world? Forcing them into the STEM mold didn’t work well, and with the high number of presenters at NCUR and the NAU Undergraduate Research Symposium no one is paying them any attention. Do we need to meet STEM majors in their familiar ground to show them the work of Humanities or can we garner attention with new approaches to research idea dissemination?

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Why humanities you ask……because we care about the human condition!

Last night the College of Arts and Letters at Northern Arizona University coordinated a “Humanities in Action” event to demonstrate and share the many different ways students, staff and faculty in humanities disciplines create amazing projects. I participated in presenting the VonStrausheimer Mystery game.

As part of this *presentation* I answered questions, and held discussion with many participants, students and faculty who attended to present their own projects, or to understand the humanities better (or, let’s face it were required to be there for various reasons). What I found very enjoyable about this question session was the informality allowed space for students (especially grad students) to feel comfortable asking good questions about game design, and the inclusion of games to inspire learning. I had a few undergrads who were clearly game players interested in entering the field of game design – but most questions came from interested educators who were arguably wary of inclusion of games just for the sake of games. I fielded questions about empirical evidence for the inclusion of games, the variety of clues/puzzles and learning outcomes associated with those clues/puzzles, the larger contexts ARGs could be used, the difficulty in integrating ARGs in those larger contexts, the use of ARGs in classroom……such fantastic questions. Ultimately, I hope instructors learned, or consider the many ways students are willing to engage with learning, and the way real-world problems can be and are regularly addressed by humanitarians.

Why humanities you ask……because we care about the human condition!

This was by far the most common phrase, and the most important phrase circulating at the event yesterday. I hope many take this idea to heart. To solve real-world problems humanities majors should be involved, consulted. We may not be able to code a website (although some of us can and many of us can figure it out), we can ask the questions that need to be asked to ensure possible approaches, outcomes, ideas fit the needs assessed for solving the problem!

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