Well, this is a little late, but October is the crazy middle of any semester, with too much to do between grading two writing assignments and evaluating the first phase of student work on the mapping of modernist architects. And technology taketh away even as it giveth: an external hard drive with all of my teaching materials (7 years of syllabi, lectures, powerpoints, images, film files) died, kind of came back to life for a week to allow me to rescue material one file at a time, and then died again for good. In case you are immediately asking, what about the backup? I did have a backup, but it also failed (I got a message telling me “unspecified errors” were preventing me from accessing the backup, which was so. not. helpful.). But the data (literally) is in on the mapping project–what have I and the students learned?
1. Even with very specific written instructions (reiteration of what was also communicated in class during the technology day), students will ignore instructions and do their own thing. I had so much variety in the pins, labels, additional description/text/video materials from students. Some students just placed a pin on the map, without adding architect and date information, or images, article links and videos to supplement their pins as had been requested in the assignment. Some students, on the other hand, gave me an abundance of links, long descriptions, and some students even tried to take up the idiosyncratic challenge of finding a video to relate to each of their pins for a built work on the map. On the plus side, everyone did place pins for most of the built works in their assigned section of the textbook–no abstentions, and no students who missed pinning more than one or two built works (one student jumped over Switzerland in his textbook section and then showed me his used textbook with those pages missing–now, he could have torn them out himself, and he also could have looked at the actual page numbers to realize he was missing something, but it was an anomaly among his otherwise complete pins for the rest of his section). Using technology in pedagogy doesn’t substantially change the instructor’s ability to see clearly who is doing A+ work and who is doing C- work.
2. The students weren’t yet thinking of the project as a whole beyond the pins for their sections of the textbook. During the class discussion where we evaluated the whole map together, students did not seem to have any new insight into modern architecture when seeing it represented geographically in total. This was a disappointment for me because I thought that seeing the huge gaps in geographic representation (almost none of Africa south of the Mediterranean fringe, none of China–or Canada for that matter–with pins) would start discussion about possible textbook bias and/or the problematic first world origins of “modernism,” its definition and its global spread. My students don’t have a very good grasp of global history in general, and I am uncertain about how much of this I have to incorporate into an art history course just to give them the proper context in which to see modernism as a broader concept but also as a specific architectural and cultural agenda of the 20th century.
3. Based on a small sampling of individual student feedback (from students who actually talk to me outside of class), they liked doing the mapping itself. One student is using the new skill to create a map in an Islamic art class, where he will map Andalusian Caliphal architects, which his instructor is also enthusiastic about. This did make me realize that I need to ask for student feedback in general on the project as we go along, rather than wait for it to come out at the end of the semester in course evaluations.
Student teams of 3 have already started adding pins for the second phase of the mapping project, mapping built works by women architects. Using the Virginia Tech International Archive of Women in Architecture as a starting point for research, each team will be mapping at least 15 built works for a given date range and with the proviso to have at least 3 different women architects represented among those fifteen (especially didn’t want to see the last decade plus become the “Zaha Hadid” years, when there should be more female architects than ever to choose from). To increase the in-class assessment of the pinning exercise, each team will be giving a lightning presentation of their research results on this portion to their peers during the final exam period.