Professors in the Faculty of Arts see flexible learning as a way to explore the potential of digital communications
For Janice Stewart, chair of Critical Studies in Sexuality and an instructor at the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice within UBC’s Faculty of Arts, part of the potential of flexible learning – and social media in particular – lies in its ability to shake up traditional power structures, starting in the lecture hall.
“By incorporating digital technologies in the classroom, I sit down beside my students and work collaboratively with them rather than stand in front of the classroom and lecture,” says Stewart. “Digital technologies and social media platforms have changed how knowledge is shared. We are using this change to make knowledge more accessible and relevant to both students and communities beyond academia.”
Digital technologies have also prompted her to do away with a stalwart of undergraduate coursework: the essay. In redesigning her second-year course, Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, Stewart replaced written coursework with a stop-motion animation assignment using open-source software.
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“Sharing and mobilizing knowledge is at the core of the curriculum and using digital storytelling instead of essays encourages students to be a part of conversations taking place outside the university gates. Students are not going to post an essay online and even if they did, it’s unlikely an essay would have much reach. But they will share videos they have created.”
Her students not only participate in online communities and discussions dealing with challenging issues such as transgender social identity, they become adept digital storytellers, and learn to think critically about the potential of digital communications as citizens – skills that will help them well beyond completion of a bachelor’s degree.
“The goal is to integrate networked media authoring tools in the undergraduate curriculum in meaningful and innovative ways,” Stewart says.
Director and assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Film, Rachel Talalay has also been able to change the focus of her teaching thanks to her students’ comfort with digital technologies.
“It used to be all about the equipment and when I taught introductory directing courses, it had to be theoretical,” Talalay says, whose directing credits include directing Tank Girl, Freddy’s Dead (Nightmare on Elm Street 6), and more than 50 episodes of television in the US, UK, and Canada. “Students didn’t have access to the equipment needed to put theory into practice. It was just too expensive.”
Now her students make their first forays into directing using their mobile phones.
“By using mobile phones for class directing assignments, my class has become about the process, not about the facts behind the process,” she says. “Students have the chance to show their work to the class, who is their audience, and find out if the audience is seeing what they, as directors, intended.”
The progress in digital technology goes beyond the availability of handheld video recorders. Students also have easy access to digital editing software and even in introductory courses, Talalay’s students display a familiarity with editing processes that would have been unthinkable even five years ago.
“I had expected that I would have to give at least some of my students help in using editing software last year when I introduced the hands-on component but not one of them came to me,” she says. “Their proficiency with and access to digital film-making technologies means that I can use classroom time to focus on the creative side and go deeper into how they can use film – even a film taken on a mobile phone – to create an emotional connection.”