Global Theater Site
By Jeff Nugent and Christine Moskell
Engaging undergraduate students in coursework that involves research, generating new insights, and sharing this work with a wider audience beyond the classroom is an incredibly valuable learning experience. For the past several years, students in theater professor Christian DuComb’s Global Theater course have been creating an openly available resource site on the web.
Initially, DuComb was inspired to create a website as part of his Global Theater course because it provided students with an opportunity to contribute to a learning resource that would grow and evolve with the course. “The inspiration for the Global Theater site was threefold. Firstly, there are a lot of performing artists and performance traditions that aren’t accurately or adequately represented on the web. Secondly, I liked the idea of students being able to contribute cumulatively to a dynamic body of knowledge that grows and changes over time. Finally, students these days need to know how to make a webpage. This isn’t only a matter of learning how to use an application like WordPress, but also of evaluating sources and integrating research in an interactive, multimedia space.” said DuComb.
A common feature of many courses at Colgate is the creation of spaces where students contribute to a growing body of knowledge. An emerging practice is the creation of web-based spaces, where student work is openly published and archived. Each year, students in the Global Theater course undertake an assignment, where they are asked to add a new resource to the site, such as an original web page or a digital video, or to substantively revise an existing page on the site. Over time, the student-generated content on the site has grown, and serves as valuable and highly relevant reading material for other students in the course.
During the spring 2018 semester, DuComb partnered with instructional design staff in the Learning & Applied Innovation group to explore ways the site might be reconsidered to better align with his instructional goals and vision. The site was redesigned using WordPress (a web publishing platform) to enhance functionality, and visual layout and to better showcase student research. DuComb shared that he’s “so glad the instructional designers suggested that I switch to WordPress. It’s easy for the students to use, which helps them focus on their research without the distraction and frustration of technical hiccups. From a design perspective, it’s easy to create a clean and consistent look for the entire website in WordPress … I’m not particularly web savvy, so being able to explain what I want in layperson’s terms and have it delivered by the ITS staff has made this project possible.”
The instructional design colleagues worked to ensure that their course support complemented the design of DuComb’s existing assignment. For example, students were required to write a short synopsis of their research. This element of the assignment was reflected in a “magazine-grid” layout for the site that displayed these synopses beneath featured images that students chose to represent their research.
DuComb also required students to select a few key words to summarize their research. These key words then became “tags” that were displayed as word splash on the front page of the site. The taxonomy of student-generated “tags” serves to show topical connections among the various theater resources on the site. The “tags” are one of several different ways to navigate and learn about theater locations throughout the world. The site also takes advantage of Google Maps and uses pins to identify specific theater locations — reproducing a “globetrotting” experience for those exploring the resources. These multiple means of representing information on the site allow for a variety of ways to explore the rich set of resources that continue to grow in the space, and to discover how different cultures enact theater.
When it came time for students to share their research on the site, the instructional designers facilitated WordPress workshops and office hours to support students in adding their written content and embedding media to the course site. DuComb observed that “the instructional designers are also adept at training students, which has been a huge help.” Lesley Chapman, visual resources curator, also assisted students in researching visual and digital media and properly citing their sources on the site.
The Global Theater site currently displays the research of 35 students from the course, which is now openly available for a global audience to view. The public aspect of the Global Theater site is an important element of the assignment. DuComb, says “I think the idea that the students’ work will be public rather than only for the eyes of the professor helps to instill high standards and an ethos of accountability. Students aren’t just working for a grade; they’re working to make something that they can show their parents, or potential employers, or that might come up on a Google search.” The site provides a platform for students to document and share their learning, but also serves as a way for students to develop the technical skills they’ll need for the digital world. This secondary learning outcome is important to DuComb. “I think the potential of digital technology as a hands-on teaching tool in the humanities classroom has been underappreciated. I still teach largely through traditional assignments like essays, exams, and class presentations, which have great pedagogical value. But we live in an increasingly digital world, and I’m interested in helping students learn by asking them to be active creators rather than passive consumers in the digital sphere.”