Award Winning English Teacher Models Intrepid Use of Technology
In the College of Liberal Arts, dozens of professors have used the services of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) to create instructional multimedia content for coursework over the past 10 years. One of these professors is Dr. Elizabeth Richmond-Garza, the Director of the Program in Comparative Literature, who recently received the student-selected 2010 Texas Exes Teaching Award. She is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers and a recipient of a UT Board of Regents Outstanding Teaching Award.
Dr. Richmond-Garza uses two custom websites developed with LAITS for her Masterworks of Literature (English 316K/Comparative Literature 315) and Modernity, Anxiety, and the Art of the Uncanny (UGS 303) classes to deliver customized content to her students. "These websites eliminate all paper course handouts," she says. "In one course, it completely replaces a textbook; in the other, the students need only purchase 4 classic texts to read offline."
Dr. Richmond-Garza developed these sites by teaching similar courses in previous semesters. By placing the courses in a system that she can access and update anytime, she is able constantly to keep the material fresh by infusing historical content with contemporary relevance. "It may not be the way that all faculty want to teach, but I like to refer to the latest film or current event, things that might not have been available if I had posted everything at the beginning of a semester. To me, the multimedia is robustly integrated into my teaching. Without it, these courses would not be the same."
The multimedia includes lots of images, film clips, audio files of music, and texts relevant to her subjects. "It's hard for students to understand the diverse and international material that I teach, which come from times and places that are so very different from Texas today. I wish I could take them all to Vienna in 1900, Tokyo in 1600, or Moscow a hundred years ago, but I can't. To give them context, I need to show them these worlds. Online multimedia and high definition DVDs in the classroom allow me to do so."
In addition, Dr. Richmond-Garza has used Lecture Capture to allow students to post-class access her lectures online. "It is a myth that this practice reduces attendance. I have a strict attendance policy, and attendance hasn't changed it a bit. In fact, students report that they greatly appreciate the service as a back up if they are sick or need to miss a class. While they appreciate the service, they also comment that they prefer coming in person to class."
Perhaps that's because Dr. Richmond-Garza, whose scholarly interests involve comparative drama, values the aspect of live-performance in teaching. It might also be because she's intrepid about trying new ways to connect with her students. Most recently, she's been by inviting students to use Twitter, the popular social networking website, as an in-class discussion tool.
"In a smart classroom, I usually have one screen showing my multimedia materials, and the other showing my Twitter feed. We use a specific 'hashtag' for the course, and students post 140-character or fewer comments throughout the class, which everyone in the class—and in the world—can see. They ask questions of me that I answer verbally. Sometimes, small side-discussions are started." Some faculty members might worry that this secondary-level discussion might be detrimental to learning. To this, Richmond-Garza replies: "I want them to interact with the material and each other, and that's not always possible in such a large course. It's a different way of connecting and of paying attention."
While using Twitter in the classroom may not be for every faculty member, Richmond-Garza encourages other faculty members to try it. She specifically thinks Twitter helps in bringing out the opinions of shy and less outspoken members of large classes, like the 250-seat lecture courses she is so successful at teaching. "For many years, lecturers of large courses would look out into the audience and wonder, what is going on inside each of those heads? Now, with Twitter, a tool that many incoming students are already comfortable using, we have an instant way to know a lot more."
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by Emily Cicchini