Tagged new media


Wandering Volunteer Park


This short 360-degree documentary traces the history of Seattle’s Olmsted-designed Volunteer Park through the eyes of one of its regular users.

For scholars of architectural and urban history, 360-degree video offers an innovative and immersive means of sharing research about physical spaces with global audiences. Created using a camera with two or more lenses that essentially record in every direction at once, this new format displays as a visual sphere that users can rotate spontaneously in order to take in different views while the video plays. The viewer’s vantage point is from the center of this sphere, so that rotating the view feels like turning one’s head or body to look in different directions. Because of this quality, physical space—and human beings’ relationship to it—is not simply a feature, but a generative principle of the visual experience of 360-degree video, making it especially promising for art and architectural historians who work on issues of space and place. Immersive representations of far-flung locales have long been a part of the practice of art history, especially as a means of presenting research to the public—even if such representations have often been more “popular” than “scholarly.” In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for instance, painted panoramas allowed middle-class viewers to experience the archaeological and art-historical documentation of faraway places. The invention of film added the possibility of witnessing such distant places in motion, but the medium did not become truly “immersive” until the mid-twentieth century, when the Cinerama, IMAX, and OMNIMAX film technologies began to use enormous, curved screens and high resolution to give viewers the sense of being physically surrounded by the film. More recently, urban documentarians like Jonas Bendiksen (The Places We Live, 2008), Katerina Cizek (The Highrise Project, 2009-present), and Kolja Mensing and Florian Thalhofer (13ter Stock, 2005, and 13ter Shop, 2007) have adeptly combined audio, video, and 3D photography within proprietary, web-based interfaces to provide viewers with intimate experiences of particular spaces and their inhabitants. And over the last couple of years, the Google Cultural Institute and Google Street View have incorporated many 180- and 360-degree videos and images into their repositories.

360-degree video operates not only visually and aurally but also kinesthetically, offering the viewer an “embodied” experience in which the sensorium has the potential to become more keenly engaged than it might be with more traditional media (Millar 2016). While it is tempting to argue that this dimension makes the medium more impactful, we should also remain critical of such messianic claims (see, for instance, Hansen 2006 and Hillis 1999). 360-degree video is still essentially a linear, cinematic format that utilizes established storytelling methods, and after the initial novelty wears off for a given viewer, it may ultimately be consumed just as passively as other traditional media. Like earlier immersive experiences such as panoramas, it also risks becoming a spectacle whose appeal lies more in its technical achievements than its intellectual content.

More positively, the technical characteristics of 360-degree video force us, as producers and scholars, to reconsider our traditional relationships to authorship critically. Since the camera shoots everything within its spherical range of vision—including the cameraperson—it is much more difficult to remain aloof and hidden behind the camera, as we easily do when shooting traditional video or still photography. Academics typically shy away from the media spotlight: many of us prefer to remain comfortably masked as names attached to text. It is possible to shoot 360-degree videos without being seen by the camera, but it necessitates leaving the camera by itself for the duration of the shot—a risky undertaking in public spaces. The medium therefore seems to require us to be physically present within our work, which forces us to take on the role of public intellectual, and has the added benefit of lending the videos a sense of human presence and scale.

Today, thanks to the availability of affordable software and accessible platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, individual scholars have the opportunity to create and share high-quality videos without the financial and technical hurdles that used to accompany technologies like IMAX.[1] However, it is still a challenge to do so. Good video and audio take time and practice to produce, and technical problem-solving takes patience. Even if the technologies themselves are somewhat simple, conceptual approaches to storytelling with video involve a steep learning curve. As exemplified by this special issue of The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy on digital art history, the academy and art institutions are starting to recognize the value of these formats, and hopefully this shift will encourage scholars to invest the same amount of time in mastering these skills as they do in their other writing and research.

This video about Seattle’s Volunteer Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (1822–1903), is an attempt to harness some of the possibilities of 360-degree video for public scholarship. Using an intimate, personal storytelling voice-over format adapted from radio, I use my own bodily experience of the park (which, as discussed above, is hard to exclude during filming) to frame a discussion of its design history. 360-degree video provides a sense of physical space that traditional video simply cannot capture and I hope more scholars of space and place will experiment, innovate, and share work in this format.


In order to view the 360 video, you must be using the Chrome, Firefox, MS Edge, or Opera browser. To navigate around the 360-degree sphere, on a desktop computer, use your mouse to either drag the video itself, or use the controls on the upper left of the frame. On a tablet or phone, simply move your device around as if it were a camera.


[1] Beth Harris and Steven Zucker at Smarthistory, for instance, have developed a groundbreaking format for short, conversational YouTube videos about art and architecture that reach millions of learners around the world. The successful podcast series “99% Invisible” has also been a pioneer, using the intimate storytelling format developed by “This American Life” to make rigorous research on urban and architectural themes accessible and engaging. Although wildly popular, both of these projects are produced by tiny teams working on shoestring budgets.


Hansen, Mark B.N. 2006. Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media. New York: Routledge.

Hillis, Ken. 1999. Digital Sensations: Space, Identity, and Embodiment in Virtual Reality. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Millar, Heather. 2016. “Can Virtual Reality Emerge as a Tool for Conservation?” JSTOR Daily (blog), August 11, 2016. https://daily.jstor.org/can-virtual-reality-emerge-as-a-tool-for-conservation/. Previously published in Yale Environment 360, June 27, 2016.

About the Author

Dr. Naraelle Hohensee holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and an M.A. in Media, Culture, and Communication from New York University. Her research, undertaken in tandem with digital media production, has to do with the many ways that our visual surroundings in the everyday urban landscape shape our perception of ourselves as individuals and as members of communities. Her dissertation research was on the rebuilding of central Berlin after 1990. She is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Smarthistory.org.

It's Turtles all the way down. Image courtesy of Flickr user William Warby.

This Week: It’s Hyperlinks All the Way Down

Each week, a member of the JITP Editorial Collective assembles and shares the news items, ongoing discussions, and upcoming events of interest to us (and hopefully you). This week’s installment is edited by Benjamin Miller.

Turning to the trusty Twitter feed for this week’s roundup, I found a lot of recommendations for other people’s recommendations: a rabbit hole of suggested tools. Here, then, are a few other aggregations going on across my social network, and a few of what I see as this week’s highlights.

Over at ProfHacker, Adeline Koh extols the virtues of Reclaim Hosting as a space for launching customizable versions of interactive-pedagogy-friendly tools like WordPress, Scalar, and Omeka. If, like me a few months ago, you’ve heard good things about Reclaim and meant to try it but haven’t, you’ll want to read through to the bottom for an extra incentive.

Deanna Mascle maintains a collection of links at scoop.it related to Education and Learning, filled with click-bait for ed-tech enthusiasts: think “5 Fun Alternatives to Think-Pair-Share” and “What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?” She’s added a bunch of new posts this week, of which my favorite is Justin Pot’s “5 Easy Ways to Make Awesome Videos and Images Quickly”. It begins like this:

Stop making memes: they haven’t been funny for years, and using them makes you seem out of touch at this point. Besides, there are way more creative tools out there for creating pure doses of Internet-related delight.

Whether delight is the end-goal of education or not, there’s definitely fodder here for teachers and students who want to engage audiences visually instead of only through words — or to explore the effects of shifting among media.

Here’s one that isn’t a reference to a reference, but rather a foreign-language teacher reflecting on the increased role of writing in students’ daily lives, and how that has affected his pedagogy. As Gianfranco Conti puts it, in a post on his site, The Language Gym:


On a daily basis I find myself chatting on social media in four different languages and I find the linguistic challenges this poses quite taxing as it requires faster language processing ability and sociolinguistic competences that I do not always possess.

Whether we like it or not, the vast majority of our students communicate via social media or other forms of instant messaging. Hence, if we are to prepare them for communication in the real world this phenomenon cannot be ignored. Teaching interactional writing skills is therefore a must, in my opinion.

Conti includes seven interactive learning activities for his class, including a live Edmodo chat session with students assigned alternating roles of initiator and responder, all in the target language.

(Hat tip to Jim Ridolfo for retweeting the link. Okay, so maybe it was a reference to a reference, after all.)

Finally, the New York Times reported over the weekend about an app-enabled marketplace for lesson plans, TeachersPayTeachers, which they repeatedly billed as “an Etsy for educators.” Among the more striking pieces of information shared here? “By selling tens of thousands of items, [CEO Adam Freed] says, 12 teachers on the site have become millionaires and nearly 300 teachers have earned more than $100,000. On any given day, the site has about 1.7 million lesson plans, quizzes, work sheets, classroom activities and other items available, typically for less than $5.” It’s a useful reminder that the benefits of interactivity are not limited to students… and that capital incentives for teachers are more likely to come from other teachers spending out of their own pockets than from a more systematic realignment of salary structures.

What do you think, JITP readers: would you sell your lesson plans for a dollar each, if people were willing to pay for them?


“It’s Turtles all the way down.” Image courtesy of Flickr user William Warby.

Wiki Wars: Conversation, Negotiation, and Collaboration in Online Spaces

Jennifer Marlow, The College of Saint Rose


This article is a teaching “failure narrative” that describes a first foray into wiki (mis)use in a topics-based writing class. This pedagogical story is informed by theories of collaborative writing developed within the field of composition paired with concepts of “collective intelligence” and “knowledge communities” used by new media scholars. Ultimately, the article questions the idea of consensus as a necessary ingredient in a successful writing collaboration, asserting instead that the struggles over composing within a wiki space are actually assets to the practices of teaching and writing and have the potential to inform our collective thinking about intellectual property.


“The Internet was built for love, not profit.”

— Douglas Rushkoff, “The People’s Net”


Collaborative pedagogies in the composition classroom are often influenced (whether consciously or not) by Kenneth Bruffee’s landmark article, “Collaborative Learning and the ‘Conversation of Mankind,’ ” in which he urges those of us who teach writing to “create and maintain a demanding academic environment that makes collaboration—social engagement in intellectual pursuits—a genuine part of students’ educational development” (Bruffee 1984, 652). Since then, many scholars in the field of composition have taken up Bruffee’s call for a socially engaged and collaborative classroom space. In a 1996 article, Susan West and Andrea Lunsford echo Bruffee’s call for collaboration in the writing classroom and describe the problem with most writing instruction as “perpetuating traditional concepts of authorship, authority, and ownership of intellectual property” (West and Lunsford 1996, 397).

The role of Web 2.0 in providing spaces for writing that break from these hallmarks of traditional writing instruction has been widely addressed and frequently (though not always) celebrated in composition scholarship and new media studies. Web 2.0 is described as the participatory web that we all read and to which we also write and contribute. Various portmanteaus have emerged to describe the “new” hybrid-users of the web: Don Tapscott’s (reintroduction of the) term “prosumer” and Axel Bruns’s concept of “produser” are two examples. In particular, the use of wikis, which were designed as web pages meant to combine the roles of reader, writer, and editor, can be described as emblematic of Web 2.0’s collaborative ethos. Wikis were originally designed for groups to easily share work and ideas, making them ideal for the collaborative learning and writing that frequently takes place in a writing classroom.

Despite the large amounts of time most of our students spend occupying networked spaces, they aren’t necessarily prepared for nor open to the kinds of participation, interactivity, collaboration, and negotiation that many scholars see as the great potential of Web 2.0. I make this claim based on my experiences watching students struggle with the act of collaborative writing within the digital space of a wiki. Experiencing this struggle—what I’ve come to call a kind of “wiki war”—initially made me feel as though I were falling short of achieving my goals for the use of the wiki within the course. However, this seeming “failure” taught me something about how my students view language, ideas, and text creation. The experience gave me insight into the kinds of values that have shaped my students, and it inspired ideas for future ways of framing wiki writing in the classroom.

Failure and The Hi-Tech Gift Economy

In a recent edition of College English, editor John Schilb describes the need for more pedagogical failure narratives: “[H]ardly ever can pedagogy be smoothly ritualistic; in any classroom, the unexpected can loom. Better to acknowledge that surprise events can alter the scheme for the day” (Schilb 2012, 515). And failure seems an appropriate place to start when talking about collaboration and technology. First of all, failure is inevitable when it comes to navigating new and emerging media. Henry Jenkins reminds us that “we are still learning what it is like to operate within a knowledge culture. We are still debating and resolving the core principles that will define our interactions with each other” (Jenkins 2006, 238). The interactivity and participation that comprise the essence of Web 2.0 require strong negotiating skills, and negotiation is not easy. Given this level of difficulty, the chances for “failure” are high. My students’ struggles over text production are certainly reflective of the kinds of difficult negotiations that other scholars have identified as part of the process of wiki writing. Finally, there is the tension that resides in the notion of consensus and collaboration. For Bruffee, the idea of consensus is crucial to his work on collaborative learning and the way(s) in which he defines knowledge. The need for consensus is also a commonly accepted trait of wikis: “Because wikis allow all readers to write . . . , but write the same document, they provide a unique Web space where differing opinions are expressed, explored, and yes, sometimes eviscerated, but gradually moved toward consensus” (Barton and Cummings 2011, vii). The emphasis on the importance of consensus as essential to collaboration can contribute to the perception that a lack of consensus is equivalent to failure.

In recent years much composition scholarship has sought to incorporate Bruffee’s work on collaboration by shifting the emphasis in the classroom from grades and a competitive desire for praise and recognition to “the pleasures of companionship, community, and mutual support” (Heller 2003, 308). These types of “pleasures” are central to new media theories developed by scholars such as Henry Jenkins, Howard Rheingold, Pierre Lévy, Clay Shirky, Axel Bruns, and Richard Barbrook. They see these contemporary online collaborations as a fundamental part of the “the hi-tech gift economy,” a term that Barbrook adapted from Lewis Hyde’s concept of “gift economy” to describe the anti-capitalist, anti-copyright aspects of Web 2.0. In this version of the Web, users “[u]nconcerned about copyright . . . give and receive information without thought of payment.”  Barbrook continues: “Within the hi-tech gift economy, people successfully work together through ‘ . . . an open social process involving evaluation, comparison and collaboration’” (Barbrook 1998). Similarly, Lévy describes what happens in this participatory version of cyberspace as “collective intelligence,” which “is a form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills . . . . The basis and goal of collective intelligence is the mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals rather than the cult of fetishized or hypostatized communities” (Lévy 1997, 13).

The benefits of both contributing to and gaining from (these are both obligations cited by Hyde for participation in a gift economy) this “hi-tech gift economy” might seem apparent to many educators (as they did to me) who see the power and depth of collective knowledge formation. Our students, however, might not so easily subscribe to these modes of learning that are far afield from the meritocratic education system they are accustomed to. A question that remains to be answered is posed by Rafael Heller: “Are we really to believe that our students might so completely internalize a collaborative ideology, as if they could inhale a new set of motives and exhale the old?” (Heller 2003, 312). The follow-up questions to Heller’s seem to me to be: What are the “old motives” exactly?  How do they affect, and sometimes derail, our desire to create a more collaborative classroom space?  And more specifically related to the idea of wikis: How do “old motives” mesh with or compete against the increasingly collaborative ethos of networked digital writing spaces?

In the classroom narrative that follows, my students appear to be motivated by a sense of ownership over their words and ideas. They do not appear to be interested in moving away from the cognitive/Cartesian belief in the self as “the matrix of all thought” (Bruffee 1986, 777). These motives are dichotomous with the kinds of values that drive the “hi-tech gift economy.”  The “old motives” are attached to the idea of Author with a capital “A” and the perceived benefits that come from ownership over one’s labor (whether in the form of good grades or financial gain). The “hi-tech gift economy,” on the other hand, implies a more altruistic motivation: namely, the circulation of “gifts” (most often in the form of information/knowledge) in a social rather than an economic manner.

Negotiation and Dissensus

I have used wikis in my classes in various ways—always with the goal of supporting and improving student writing and often in ways that have traditionally been accomplished in the form of face-to-face group work. These include “workshopping” student writing, having students contribute to grading criteria and the development of rubrics, creating a space to conduct group work, and writing collaborative texts that become frameworks for concepts we’re working through in class. It was for this latter purpose that I initially implemented a class wiki in my topics-based writing course called “Writing about Society and Culture.”  The wiki served as a collaborative writing and thinking space throughout the semester and was eventually used for the joint writing of the students’ final projects. Our first foray into wiki-use (and potential misuse) involved collaboratively writing a definition for the term “culture” as used in the title of the course. My goal was to create a definition (knowledge) based on a community of peers contributing to and eventually (hopefully) reaching consensus, or, at the very least, agreeing upon a workable definition or framework. I began by posting a loose, one sentence introduction to the idea of culture as it pertained to the course:

Definitions of culture are constantly changing, but this class will be informed by the belief that culture is representative of the way(s) in which language, art, media, politics and lived experience are in constant flux and sometimes conflict as they shape our consciousness and daily lives.

The class then had the opportunity to add and make changes to my starter sentence.

I had a number of goals here: 1) simply to get them comfortable using the wiki—understanding how to edit, use the page history, etc.; 2) to come to a brief definition—a hearty paragraph about culture that we could refer to and through which we could begin framing our class discussions—a definition that we could all feel comfortable with, remember, and relate to; 3) to give them a chance to experience firsthand the temporal nature of writing, especially in digital form; and 4) to incorporate the long-line of scholarship since Bruffee that argues for the importance of collaborative learning and conversation in the writing classroom.

In “Social Construction, Language, and Knowledge” Bruffee references an article by Greg Myers that traces the publication of an article written by two biologists through its various rejections and ultimate approval. “Myers demonstrates the extent to which what these scientists actually knew gradually changed as the community of knowledgeable peers they belonged to demanded change in the language of the articles they were writing” (Bruffee 1986, 785). A similar observation can certainly be applied to the use of wikis in (or outside) of a writing classroom. The demand for changes in language can be a catalyst for learning, as the wiki’s contributors are made to think more deeply and carefully about what it is they want to say and how they want to say it in a venue shared by others. One could question whether my students constitute a group of “knowledgeable peers,” asking what it is that they know about defining culture. But, as I illustrate to these students on the first day of class, they know culture. I show them just how much they know implicitly, as I lead them through a kind of “pop culture” pop quiz. I ask them first to identify the colors used in Microsoft’s logo without looking at their computers or anything else in the room. The majority of them can name all four colors correctly. I hum the tune of Jeopardy and ask them to “name that tune”; all of them recognize it. I ask them if they know what a Swiffer is, and I describe a popular commercial to see if they know what it is used for. As these examples illustrate, these students have been defining culture long before they came to my class and, I’m hoping, continue to (re)define it during the course of the semester. This places importance on the wiki as a means of maintaining an immediate yet evolving reference to the central concept of the course.

“Intellectual negotiation,” argues Harvey S. Wiener, is what distinguishes group work that might only serve to “subdivide the traditional hierarchical classroom into several smaller versions of the same model” from true collaborative learning. In order “to assure that the teacher in a collaborative learning classroom is guiding students to collective judgments in groups,” Wiener suggests, “evaluators are right to insist that the task be written down. A written task provides the language that helps to shape students’ conversations” (Wiener 1986, 55). I agree with the necessity of writing when it comes to successful collaboration; however in the case of most face-to-face collaborative learning groups, frequently only one student is doing the actual writing. This distinction is important because, as Peter Hawkes reminds us in a response to Wiener, the differences between collaboration and group work “inhere in the nature of the task” (quoted in Wiener 1986, 56).

I am guessing that many of us have experienced or led the kind of hierarchical group work that Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford describe in Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing, where they identify two modes of collaboration. One they describe as hierarchical and admit that in their research it tends to be the most common means of collaboratively producing text. They write that the hierarchical mode of collaboration is “rigidly structured, driven by highly specified goals, and carried out by people playing clearly defined and delimited roles.” They describe the goals as “designated by someone outside of and hierarchically superior to the immediate group” (Ede and Lunsford 1990, 133). While Ede and Lunsford don’t directly name these “defined and delimited roles,” it calls to mind for me collaborative endeavors that involve a “scribe” or recorder who jots down notes from the group’s conversation. All too often this same recorder is the one assigned to read from those notes to the class during the subsequent discussion. Word choice, struggles with language, and figuring out the best means to express what it is the students want to say suddenly become secondary to merely getting the work done, as the group relies on “the scribe” to take care of all of that. Subsequently, the “Burkean parlor conversation” that may have taken place becomes lost in the speech act, most of which remains unrecorded. Wrestling with the text is not always an accessible activity to the group as a whole when it comes to this traditional form of collaborative writing; whereas, with collaborative wiki writing, all students can get their hands on the text, intervene, wrestle, and negotiate. This is important, because as John Trimbur stresses, when the “process of intellectual negotiation that underwrites consensus . . . works . . . the pressure leads students to take their ideas seriously, to fight for them, and to modify or revise them in light of others’ ideas. It can also cause students to agree to disagree.” (Trimbur 1989, 54).

My Writing about Society and Culture students were eventually forced to “agree to disagree,” but not all of them were happy about it. In fact, Trimbur’s word choice of students “fighting” for their ideas is illustrated in the outcome of our collaborative composing of the definition of “culture.”  The issues arose, in part, because we were learning to use the wiki during class time and therefore were all simultaneously logged on and making changes. A student’s text might only last a second or two before it was intervened upon and transformed by another student. While this logistical fact seemed to exacerbate tensions, it is still representative of what can happen when writers contribute to a large-scale wiki. Students struggled for control over the text, and some were fairly vocal about their annoyance when “their” text was changed. Students would repeatedly return to the text and attempt to revert back or override the changes that a peer had made in an attempt to “fight” for their writing. Some even made changes to the text in defense of a friend whose words had been altered by someone else in the class. There were many rumblings of complaint, even some under-the-breath name calling.

A student with the username “smallfrii” wanted to express the “learned” or “practiced” aspects of culture. Over a series of twelve edits, smallfrii contributed to the wiki five times, adding some version of this definition of culture: “Culture can be learned or practiced through habits. For example, something that has been done or said in your family, could be automatically transferred [sic] to you.”  Four of the twelve edits were by another student who deleted smallfrii’s references to culture as “learned” or “practiced.”  Another edit that was revised was the idea of culture as “inherited.”  At 8:11 on a Thursday morning, smallfrii added this description of culture: “Culture is a learned and inherited behavior and uniting force among specific people in a society.” This was deleted by murphyt088 at 8:12, added again by smallfrii at 8:13 and promptly removed by lynchm496 at 8:13. It was the specific term “inherited” that appeared to be the source of contention; however, despite the implied dispute, there was not enough time for the disagreement to actually play out. The students did not have time to think through the word choice, learning from and making changes based on the specific meaning of language. Instead, they were concerned with getting their own idea to stick as the “permanently” recorded definition of culture.

The rapid-fire changes continued, moving from struggles over word choice to a disagreement over more universal conceptions of what culture is (or isn’t). At 8:13, “lynchm496” added: “Culture is known throughout different societies as a way of life.”  Another student who had the opposite idea in mind supplanted this almost immediately: “The idea that culture can not impact people is also a possibility.” Lynchm496 reinserted her original sentence by 8:15. Meanwhile, Kellyb816 (who was friends with Lynchm496) came to Lynchm496’s defense by deleting the other student’s statement about the possibility of culture not impacting people. Additionally, in less than a minute the text, “No matter what background you come from you’re [sic] culture will always be changing and growing based upon society and the changing times,” was added, deleted by another student, and finally reinstated by the original writer. The speed with which these deletions and additions took place seems to illustrate the fact that the students were more interested in asserting and inserting their own words and ideas into the text than considering what they might learn from and add to the work of their peers.

One of the benefits of using wikis for group work is the record they keep of the collaborative writing process: “Wikis help enable the student-centered classroom by recording the messiness of negotiation within an electronic document that can be accessed in its newest form at all times” (Vie and DeWinter 2008, 115). This record of the “messiness of negotiation” comes in the form of a wiki’s “history.”  The fact that I could access this “history” of edits made by each individual writer was one that I reminded the students of on more than one occasion; however, it did little to alleviate their collective anxiety over ownership of “their” work and ideas.

Although I had led into the assignment by describing it as a collective definition, a collaboration for the good of the class as a whole, students were not yet comfortable with viewing this “new” (to them) writing space in a celebratory manner. While my early pedagogical goal might have been similar to Bruffee’s idea about collaborative learning that calls for “negotiat[ing] a common language in the classroom, to draw students into a wider consensus, and to initiate them into the conversation as it is currently organized in the academy” (Trimbur 1989, 612-13), I was basing this goal on the assumption that students would inevitably see and automatically be invested in the creation of a “commons” available for the collective good; however, their resulting resistance to this notion is not unusual.

Whenever we set group goals we run the risk of “ ‘Tragedy of the Commons,’ biologist Garrett Hardin’s phrase for situations wherein individuals have incentive to damage the collective good” (Shirky 2008, 51). Online defacement of wiki sites, including Wikipedia and the Los Angeles Times, has been widely publicized. It is important, I think, to note that my students didn’t wreak actual havoc upon the wiki itself. In fact, in some ways, the assertive stance that my students took in defense of their own material could be indicative of their commitment to the final product. Their intense involvement in its composition can be read as interest and investment in the outcome. Instead of actual defacement, they chose to express their dissatisfaction through speech acts outside of the wiki and pointed edits within it. It is, therefore, difficult to say whether my students actually had “incentive to damage the collective good.”  Perhaps they simply felt that if they didn’t assert their voices over the voices of other students, they would miss out on some valuable participation points. Or maybe they were simply culturally constructed, as Lynn Z. Bloom, Bruffee, and others have argued, in the mode of “self reliance.” While it is difficult to ascertain to what degree these students were invested in the collective good, it is still clear to me that they were focused more on the individual and less on the collective.

Most of these students have been educated in an environment where the authority of knowledge is given to the person who ostensibly generated that knowledge originally, and they have been (mis)led into believing that they themselves were the “original” generators of the knowledge and text that they posted to the wiki. And who can blame them?  They have been raised in a culture that has seen the shift from an economy reliant on material goods and services to one that values knowledge as a product. In the introduction to his remarks on “Public Policy for a Knowledge Economy” at the Department for Trade and Industry and Center for Economic Policy Research in 1999, Joseph Stiglitz of the World Bank describes the shift from industry to ideas: “Knowledge and information is [sic] being produced today like cars and steel were produced a hundred years ago. Those, like Bill Gates, who know how to produce knowledge and information better than others reap the rewards, just as those who knew how to produce cars and steel a hundred years ago became the magnates of that era” (quoted in Hall 2008, 4). So my students’ apparent attachment to Lockean notions of ownership and labor aren’t surprising, given the cultural importance placed on the economic value of ideas.

Rethinking and Reframing the Assignment

As educators, we have undoubtedly played a role in helping form these beliefs. Lynn Z. Bloom argues that “middle class composition teachers, ever Emersonian in spirit, stress the importance of self-reliance (‘Your work must be your own’), even in nominally collaborative classrooms” (Bloom 1996, 659). Likewise, as Bruffee puts it, speaking to those of us who teach in the humanities, “If we look at what we do instead of what we say, we discover that we think of knowledge as something we acquire and wield as individuals relative to each other, not something we generate and maintain in company with and in dependency upon each other” (Bruffee 1984, 645). The reactions of these students to the online and collaborative form of writing produced in the wiki are reflective of this humanities tradition that Bruffee describes. In class I saw them asserting their will to power over the text and over each other.

A 1999 collaboratively-written essay on “textuality, collaboration, and the new essay,” by Myka Vielstimmig (the combined “pen” name for Michael Spooner and Kathleen Blake Yancey) stresses that even those of us who frequently engage in collaborative work ourselves find it to be “like taking on a new identity; issues you hadn’t foreseen arise. It’s easier not to sail to the new land” (Vielstimmig 1999, 95). These scholars attribute these difficulties with collaboration to our cultural “reverence” for the individual, especially the work/labor of the individual. Reliance on each other is often conflated with reliance on the system, which is looked at with disdain.

But regardless of whether it’s “easier not to sail the new land,” it is nothing short of irresponsible not to do so. Lunsford and West write:

The ubiquitous media coverage of the complex issues swirling around the question of who owns language-for that is what this debate is finally about-demands a response from our profession, as those most concerned with shaping and perpetuating notions about what it means to read, write, and speak. In particular, compositionists have a compelling interest in how laws governing ownership of language should be adjusted (if at all) to accommodate both new technologies and postmodern challenges to established ideas about ‘authorship.’ (Lunsford and West 1996, 383)

Lunsford and West proceed to give an example of that “ubiquitous media coverage” in the form of a Cathy comic strip circa 1995: In it, a mother gives her child a homemade Halloween costume, labeled “hand-stitched by Mama.”  The child immediately looks for a Disney label and upon not seeing one utters, “’Copyright infringement! Trademark violation! Illegal facsimile!’”  (385). Lunsford and West argue that children of the 1990s (and the same might be said for the generations of the twenty-first century, if cultural change does not take place) “will increasingly be led to accept possessive ownership as normal” (386). Our responses to debates about intellectual property and ownership of  language need to account for students’ attitudes and beliefs that have been shaped by a copyright-happy culture.

Despite this “norm” of “possessive ownership,” there is much scholarship being done on a participatory and collaborative revolution that is taking place in online spaces and with the help of technological tools. Clay Shirky’s 2008 book, Here Comes Everybody describes this as the “power of organizing without organizations.”  Shirky describes the “old way” of working within organizations, companies, and institutions as being governed by “institutional costs” and “managerial organization.”  Employees agreed to be managed based on pay and were so managed “by making continued receipt of their pay contingent on their responsiveness to manager’s requests” (Shirky 2008, 43). Employees advanced in the company through their contributions and ability to climb the ladder of the imposed hierarchy. This generally resulted in higher pay, and so the incentive to exceed other employees is in place. Similarly we see this kind of “climbing” in the classroom scenarios described above where grades can (supposedly) be exchanged for a future, paying job. Students care about the perceived exchange value of grades, and they buy into the notion that the producers of knowledge will “reap the rewards.”  But in contrast to the individualized mode of work traditionally encouraged by writing instructors, as described by Bloom, Shirky asserts that “people have always desired to share, and the obstacles that prevented sharing on a global scale are now gone” because of social networking in the form of web tools such as Flickr, Wikipedia, Facebook, and del.icio.us (45). “Social tools provide . . . action by loosely structured groups, operating without managerial direction and outside the profit motive” (47). The types of personal motivation to do group work in a collaborative spirit, which Shirky has claimed are ever-present desires, were clearly not present for my students.

Despite Shirky’s claims about the strong interest in sharing that most people have, he is well aware of the challenges of negotiation. He describes the increasingly difficult levels of involvement a group must undertake in order to truly work collaboratively. In order of difficulty they are sharing, cooperation, and collective action. Cooperation requires a group identity, as well as “changing your behavior to synchronize with people who are changing their behavior to synchronize with you” (Shirky 2008, 50). My students, holding steadfastly to “old ways” of working, did not modify their behavior in any form of synchronization, thereby leaving us unable to move forward (at that time) to more complex forms of collaborative knowledge making. From cooperation, Shirky describes a more involved form of group activity, which he calls “collaborative production.”  “The litmus test for collaborative production is simple: no one person can take credit for what gets created, and the project could not come about without the participation of many” (50). This was my goal for using a wiki in Writing about Society and Culture—a class that I based on pedagogical theories that seek to decentralize authority and focus on collaborative writing and shared responsibility for knowledge making.

Shirky’s “litmus test” for collaborative production—that no one person can take credit for what has been created—takes Roland Barthes concept of the “death of the author” to an interesting digital realm. Rafael Heller points out that it is Michel Foucault’s 1979 “What is an Author?” that has influenced much of the work on collaborative writing done in composition. In “What is an Author?” Foucault draws on Barthes’ 1967 “Death of the Author” and borrows from Samuel Beckett in order to pose the question: “What does it matter who is speaking?”  Heller subsequently asks the question that seems necessary to the collaborative model of writing: “How do we speak together?” (Heller 2003, 309). While I consider the differences between these questions to be important, I find both of them applicable to the kind of writing that happens within a wiki where it truly doesn’t matter who is speaking. By creating a space where no one person owns the co-created text, wikis have provided a technology that determines “how” we speak in ways that can possibly transcend the modern author function as defined by the idea of the solitary writer and original genius.

In fact, a wiki actually seems constructed to work towards the kind of equality in dialogue that Habermas discusses. A wiki’s unique ability to track all voices gives it a power not often available to us in other forms of group work and collaborative writing. Habermas’s “ideal speech situation” is “a utopian discursive space that distributes symmetrically the opportunity to speak, to initiate discourse, to question, to give reasons, to do all those other things necessary to justify knowledge socially” (Trimbur 1989, 612). A wiki, unlike other online writing spaces, doesn’t create discussion threads (though it also has this capability), and it doesn’t privilege one writer as the creator of ideas and text. Instead, it “distributes symmetrically” the opportunity for students to compose a singular text, and, additionally, through the use of “discussion” tabs, it makes a separate space for questions, ideas, and comments to be raised about the text at hand. Therefore, a wiki has the potential to break from the hierarchical mode of collaboration described earlier by Ede and Lunsford.

However, the symmetrically created form of “collective intelligence,” particularly as it takes place through the act of writing, creates a complex authorial situation, because “it reflects the dynamic exchange between individual knowledge and shared knowledge” (Vielstimmig 1999, 99). In this way, attempting to assign a “creator” to particular passages, words, or ideas is always going to be arbitrary and not necessarily representative of the actual composing process. This fact sits uneasily with students educated to own ideas and products (and the product of their ideas) within an educational system imbued with capitalist values. I think that the conflicts these students had with collaborative writing and the process of collectively formulating knowledge were not only valuable struggles but also inevitable ones. Ede and Lunsford remind us of this: “Like gender roles, discourse situations are, Burke reminds us, inherently mixed and paradoxical . . . . Surely it seems reasonable to find inscribed in any piece of collaboration . . . the same kind of risks and tensions that are generally inscribed in our culture” (Ede and Lunsford 1990, 134). My students’ struggles over text production are certainly reflective of culturally inscribed tensions around ownership of intellectual property that play out frequently in our own debates about open source versus propriety software and open access versus proprietary journal publications.

I now see that it is my responsibility to bring these cultural tensions to the attention of my students. Certainly, it seems necessary to help students become knowledgeable about and invested in the idea of the “collective good” instead of assuming they have a “natural desire” to share and act collaboratively. In the future I could open this activity with a discussion around community, collective intelligence, and knowledge as collaborative artifact and socially justified belief. Maybe I should have explained that from Bruffee’s perspective, knowledge results from “intellectual negotiations” and depends on social relations, not on attempting to have the last word in print, untouchable and eternal. For future wiki implementation, I can explain to students that the goal is empowerment in the form of a “smart mob.”  I can inform them that according to Howard Rheingold, “Groups of people using these tools will gain new forms of social power” (Rheingold 2002, xii). Henry Jenkins also writes about “social power,” using the example of the citizens in Manila and Madrid and their ability to create “transformations of power” based on technology. While group solidarity may continue to be looked on with great skepticism in a society on the lookout for “freeloaders,” in a world of social networking and digital tools, the economic arrangement tends to be looked at differently—characterized by labels like a “digital economy,” Barbrook’s notion of a “gift economy,” and Maurizio Lazzarato’s description of “immaterial labor.”

For future versions of this wiki activity, I will certainly frame differently the collaborative work that I am assigning students; however, this first try was not a complete failure. For one thing, like Jenkins I am particularly interested in how groups react when a shift occurs in how they typically process and evaluate knowledge. By putting my students into a composing situation quite unfamiliar to them, they struggled to negotiate both on and off the screen how to manage their collective knowledge making. This created a level of discomfort and anxiety within the classroom community; however, as Jenkins asserts, “It is at moments of crisis, conflict, and controversy that communities are forced to articulate the principles that guide them” (Jenkins 2006, 26). This assertion harkens back to a central argument of Thomas Kuhn’s about the revolutionary nature of scientific knowledge: “In both political and scientific development the sense of malfunction that can lead to crisis is prerequisite to revolution” (Kuhn 1996, 92). This experience with wikis in my Writing about Society and Culture class can certainly be described as a “teachable moment” not in spite of but because of the apparent “malfunction.” This “crisis” was more precisely an act of negotiation that served to keep the students returning again and again to the act of writing and thinking about the key term they were asked to define. Rethinking and discussing the ideas of classroom and community would be the logical next step in our “wiki war crisis.”  As Andrew Feenberg argues, technology is “not a destiny but a scene of struggle. It is a social battlefield.” (Feenberg 1991, 14) Technology is not neutral and it should not be a seamless space in which group interactions take place with unprecedented ease. Instead, it is a place where “civilizational alternatives are debated and decided” (Feenberg 1991, 14).

I approached this assignment, as I think we often do in composition, grounding it in pedagogical theories that seem sound and beneficial to students. My particular area of research interest focuses on how longstanding pedagogical approaches can be integrated into but also looked at anew in digital writing spaces. However, whenever theory hits practice in the classroom, we end up needing to meet the students where they are. In this case, it turned out that my students did not share the same values regarding the open, collaborative ethos of the Web that I did/do. As Heller reminds us, I also can’t make my students “breathe in” a new set of motives and classroom practices. I can’t expect their investment in collective knowledge to be as natural as taking a breath. I can, however, introduce them to these alternative motivations and help tune them in to the ways in which the digital spaces that many of them inhabit on a daily basis are a valuable tool for a different kind of knowledge production that gets its value in the processes of negotiation and struggle over ideas and language. The temporary nature of the written word and the questionable status of the author are brought to the fore in digital writing spaces, and these aspects of digital composing can make our students nervous, uncomfortable, and quick to act and to assert control over the text at hand. Gregory Ulmer argues that our discipline has “a primary responsibility for inventing the practices of reasoning and communicating in ways native to new media” (Ulmer 2007, xi). These practices will need to attend to the fact students think differently than many of us about the “ownership” they believe they have over their ideas and over language—something that, as Bruffee has shown, has always been at the center of collaboration of any kind, even if he could not have envisioned the added challenges that these technological sites of struggle present.


Barbrook, Richard. 1998. “The Hi-Tech Gift Economy.” Subsol. Accessed March 24, 2011. http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors3/barbrooktext2.html

Bloom, Lynn Z. 1996. “Freshman Composition as Middle-Class Enterprise.” College English 58: 654-75. OCLC 477416930.

Bruffee, Kenneth. 1984. “Collaborative Learning and the ‘Conversation of Mankind.’”  College English 46: 635-52. OCLC 486755706.

———. 1986. “Social Construction, Language, and the Authority of Knowledge: A Biliographical Essay.” College English 48: 773-90. OCLC 486757661.

Cummings, Robert E. and Matt Barton, eds. 2008. Wiki Writing: Collaborative Learning in the College Classroom. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. OCLC 228372295.

DiNucci, Darcy. 1999. “Fragmented Future.”  Print 53: 32, 221-2. OCLC 93592608.

Ede, Lisa and Andrea Lunsford. 1990. Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. OCLC 45732382.

Feenberg, Andrew. 1991. Critical Theory of Technology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. OCLC 22860236.

Haefner, Joel. 1992. “Democracy, Pedagogy, and the Personal Essay.” College English. 54: 127-37. OCLC 486762937.

Hall, Gary. 2008. Digitize this Book: The Politics of New Media or Why We Need Open Access Now. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press. OCLC 222249169.

Heller, Rafael. 2003. “Questionable Categories and the Case for Collaborative Writing.” Rhetoric Review 22.3: 300-18. OCLC 438062920.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture. New York: New York University Press. OCLC 64594290.

Kuhn, Thomas. 1996. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. OCLC 34548541.

Levy, Pierre. 1997. Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books. OCLC 37195391.

Lunsford, Andrea and Susan West. 1996. “Intellectual Property and Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication 47.3: 383-411. OCLC 486675736.

Reid, Alex. 2008. “Changing Economics of Classroom Management.” digital digs. Accessed March 19, 2012. http://www.alex-reid.net/2008/03/changing-econom.html

Rheingold, Howard. 2002. Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books. OCLC 464363327.

Rushkoff, Douglas. 2008. “The People’s Net.” Accessed August 18, 2012. http://www.rushkoff.com/articles-individual/2008/5/13/the-peoples-net.html.

Schilb, John. 2012 “From the Editor.” College English. 74: 513-19. OCLC 802369104.

Shirky, Clay. 2008. Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin Press. OCLC 168716646.

Trimbur, John. 1989. “Consensus and Difference in Collaborative Learning.” College English 51: 602-16. OCLC 486760586.

Ulmer, Gregory. 2007. Foreword to The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media, by Jeff Rice, ix-xv. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. OCLC 71946546.

Vie, Stephanie and Jennifer deWinter. 2008. “Disrupting Intellectual Property: Collaboration and Resistance in Wikis,” In Wiki Writing: Collaborative Learning in the College Classroom, edited by Robert E. Cummings and Matt Barton,109-22. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. OCLC 228372295.

Vielstimmig, Myka. 1999. “Petals on a Wet, Black Bough: Textuality, Collaboration, and the New Essay” in Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century Technologies, edited by Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe, 89-114. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press. OCLC 42330336.

Wiener, Harvey S. 1986. “Collaborative Learning in the Classroom: A Guide to Evaluation.” College English 48: 52-61. OCLC 486756851.


About the Author

Jennifer Marlow is an assistant professor of English at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, where she teaches courses in composition and new media. Her work focuses on educational technology software and its uses and abuses in the writing classroom. When she is not busy experimenting with innovative digital technologies that bring learning “outside the box,” she and colleague, Megan Fulwiler, utilize documentary filmmaking to show how the labor conditions of higher education affect everything from academic freedom to student learning to how we implement and think about technology.

“City of Lit”: Collaborative Research in Literature and New Media

Bridget Draxler, Monmouth College
Haowei Hsieh, The University of Iowa
Nikki Dudley, The University of Iowa
Jon Winet, The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa UNESCO City of Literature (UCOL) Mobile Application Development Team1


The University of Iowa UNESCO City of Literature (UCOL) project brings together community partners, faculty, and students at The University of Iowa to research, gather, record, and produce multimedia texts about local writers. The team launched its first-phase product in Fall 2010, “City of Lit,” an app for Apple mobile devices. This article describes an experimental course in the university’s general education literature program that involved undergraduate students in the app’s content creation. In addition, it presents initial data for the project’s pedagogical impact based on student surveys, which suggests that the team-based learning project positively impacted students’ perceived learning and motivation.



Home of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and designated in 2008 as the only United Nations (UNESCO) “City of Literature” in the Americas, Iowa City has a long and proud history as a community of writers. The University of Iowa’s writing programs have graduated thousands of writers and attracted literary luminaries to Iowa City for seventy years. The city itself contains a wealth of information, both published and archival, on many of its writers.

The University of Iowa UNESCO City of Literature mobile application development team (UCOL) project brings together faculty and students at The University of Iowa to research, gather, record, and produce multimedia texts about local writers. Our research team includes faculty and students from the Intermedia Program in the School of Art and Art History, the School of Library and Information Science, the Computer Science and English departments, and the Virtual Writing University staff.2 In Fall 2010 the team launched its first-phase product, “City of Lit,” an app for Apple mobile devices (figure 1).3 The project creates a new media archive of Iowa City’s literary history and includes undergraduate students in the research process alongside experienced scholars.

Figure 1: The “City of Lit” mobile app running on the Apple iPad.

This paper reports our experience from a pilot study in which undergraduate students learned to conduct scholarly research and create content for the digital collection. Students worked collectively to produce multimedia hypertext documents for the app that include text, photos, annotated maps, audio and video. The project encourages interdisciplinary, collaborative undergraduate research, while recognizing the unique potential of mobile devices to make interactive scholarship accessible to the public.

Our paper is organized in three parts. First, we will discuss the UCOL project as a whole, contextualizing student contributions within a larger community-based research project at The University of Iowa by providing information about the app’s background, development, and features. Second, we will describe undergraduate involvement in content creation within an experimental course in the university’s general education literature program. We will outline the assignment and discuss pedagogical changes between the first, second, and third iterations of the course. Finally, we will present initial data for the project’s pedagogical impact based on student surveys.

The UCOL project provides an opportunity for undergraduate students to publish new media research on a mobile app, and our research suggests that the project positively impacts students’ perceived learning and motivation. In addition, our use of mobile technologies promotes engagement by a wider public and capitalizes on the interactive capability of location-aware technologies.

The “City of Lit” Mobile App

The “City of Lit” system framework consists of a web-based content editing interface, a development database containing in-progress content, a collection of websites that host full-length original content for a selection of authors, and a production database of public content which serves the mobile app. Authorized scholars and researchers can contribute to the collection from remote locations, using the web interface (figure 2) to enter data into the development database. Within the interface, students can view each other’s work-in-progress alongside the content of contributing scholars. Students and scholars, then, operate on equal and open terms within the project. Once material is approved by the editorial staff, data is reviewed and copied to the production database.

Figure 2: Web-based interface for data-entry and update.

When the app is started, the user is presented with a “quote of the day,” immediately following the UNESCO City of Literature splash screen. A tap on the screen takes users to a list of available authors and other options for navigating the app. Using the device’s location service, the app identifies Iowa City area locations of interest (figure 3).

Figure 3: A map of Iowa City with locations marked with pins.

Examples of geo-tagged events include locations of local readings, former dwellings of resident writers, and real or fictional Iowa City locations referenced in literature. This information can be used to take a literary stroll through Iowa City or to visit sites relevant to a specific author. Multi-media elements are central to the app (figure 4).

Figure 4: “City of Lit” can stream video and audio.

Users can access a constantly growing collection of audio and video recordings of readings and interviews, along with photography and graphics related to the authors. Other constantly updated features of the app include News and Events, information dynamically fed from the Virtual Writing University website.

We have developed the mobile application for the iOS platform, including iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. The projected audience for our app will increase as we expand support for additional platforms through the launch of a dedicated Android version of the app4 and a web application designed for both mobile and full-screen devices.5 In the next phase of app and programming development, users will be able to contribute personal text, photo, video and audio commentaries through a file uploader function (figure 5).

Figure 5: A screen shot of user file uploader.

Dubbed “Citizen Scholarship,” this feature adds a new layer of interactivity to the app as users become content contributors. Our goal is to make the app itself (like the student contribution) as interactive and participatory as possible.

Related Works

The UCOL project builds on the work of a wider community of innovators in technology and pedagogy. Scholars have shown that new media affords new possibilities for interactive pedagogy and cultural citizenship.6 In recent years, the dynamic nature of Web 2.0 has encouraged a more participatory engagement with technology. Blogs, podcasts, wikis, interactive learning exhibits, and other forms of web-based student-publishing media have transformed the student learning process, making it more interactive, more authentic, and more impactful.7 And unlike clickers, games, or smart boards, student-publishing media engage students in the production of new knowledge, by inviting students to create multimedia representations of their learning. In their best form, these digital systems create a role-reversal between teachers and students, helping students to become writers, editors, and commentators8 and to experience increased agency within a democratic learning space.9

By focusing on problem-based networked learning, interactive technology can be integrated into the political science classroom10 as easily as the dance studio.11 Scholarship suggests that using social networking media in the classroom not only facilitates interactive pedagogy but also more effectively fits the learning styles of students today.12 Gary Beauchamp and Steve Kennewell explore the role of interactive technology within interactive learning, pointing to ways that such pedagogy places more responsibility on the learner.13 For many practitioners of technology-based pedagogy, one goal of such projects is to promote more creative and collaborative student-driven learning.

Recently, scholars have begun to explore specific ways that mobile technology can serve as a platform for this participatory, problem-based pedagogy. David J. Radosevich and Patricia Kahn have showed the impact of using tablet technology and recording software to increase student engagement in their learning process.14 Thomas Cochrane and Roger Bateman have published a model and rubric for “m-learning” (mobile learning projects), which emphasizes the use of interactive technology projects for students in online courses who do not identify themselves as tech-savvy.15 In a study of mobile-based games, James M. Mathews discusses a Neighborhood Game Design Project that creates a virtual reality simulation.16 However, scholarship on mobile technology has not yet considered student-publication on mobile devices, in which students create rather than simply use mobile apps. In addition to multimedia features including text, images, audio, and video, mobile apps can also employ GPS technology to create geo-centric media.  The UCOL team uses mobile technology to create an interactive and local collection.17

Building on research surrounding Web 2.0 practices, social networks, and the ascendancy of mobile technology, our project provides a model for mobile-based student publishing. In addition, we have conducted survey-based research on the impact of mobile app creation on students’ perceived learning. Our research suggests that the structure of the UCOL project motivated students to work harder and learn more than in a traditional literature course.

Undergraduate Content Creation for “City of Lit”

During Fall 2010, English doctoral candidate Bridget Draxler incorporated “City of Lit” research into her undergraduate “Interpretation of Literature” course.  Her students conducted research and created multimedia content on local authors. UCOL team members worked closely with undergraduate students in the class, providing technical support and training in multimedia authoring.

For the project, each student chose one Iowa City author to research. The six-week assignment directed students to: interview their author or a resident expert;18 conduct research in the University Archives of the University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections; identify key locations for their author around town; annotate a series of primary and secondary resources; and write a comprehensive biography that emphasizes their author’s time in Iowa City (figure 6). Students uploaded their research to an online interface (figure 7); their research was vetted by a professional editor, who provided revision before its final publication.19 By focusing on the author’s time in Iowa City, students helped to create a unique and locally-relevant collection.

Figure 6: Summary of undergraduate research project

Figure 7: Content is translated from an online interface (left) to the mobile app (right).

Based on the success of this initial undergraduate class project, Draxler and UCOL expanded the project into a semester-long course offering.20 The new course included a number of changes:

  • We redesigned the project for a full 16-week class, up from the original 6 weeks. This change allowed students more time to learn archival research methods, new media tools, interviewing strategies, etc;
  • Students completed the assignment in groups of two or three, working collaboratively, improving the quality of student research and writing and the students’ learning experience.
  • We offered two sections of the course during Spring 2011, doubling the number of participating students from 20 to 38, and creating a wider pool for assessment;
  • Students shared their work in a public forum through Prezi and pecha-kucha21 presentations at the City of Lit Iowa Authors Event.22  Local writers participated in the event by giving readings of their work.23

In Fall 2011, the course underwent further change, offered for the first time as an upper-level elective, cross-listed in the departments of English and Art. As an elective rather than a general education course, the class attracted students who already had an interest in new media research. Team-taught by Professor Jon Winet and graduate student Raquel Baker, the course also took advantage of the University of Iowa’s new TILE classrooms (figure 8), which facilitate technology-based, peer-to-peer learning through round tables, wall-to-wall white boards, and networked monitors and screens (figure 9). We anticipate that this cross-listed course will be offered annually in the future, and as some project leaders have taken positions in new institutions, we hope that it will provide a template for similar courses in other college communities.

Figure 8: TILE classroom. Photograph from The University of Iowa website.

Figure 9: Students with instructor Raquel Baker in TILE classroom, Fall 2011

Impact of “City of Lit” on Student Learning

Student reflections and evaluations during Fall 2010 and Spring 2011, along with a formal survey designed by the UCOL team in Spring 2011, identified strengths and weaknesses of our project. Student feedback suggests that the integration of literary research and analysis, new media and technology, and local community engagement provided valuable learning outcomes. As one student in the initial pilot course commented,

By starting this project, I found new ways of conducting research. These include things such as interviews with people who had a direct tie to the author, and also going to the University of Iowa archives to obtain new research. The project is very interesting because it focuses on a broad range of writing, such as the biography and the bibliography, and it showed me how to conduct a formal interview, along with using new types of technology.

In Spring 2011, we conducted a formal survey with the 38 participating students. The survey collected information concerning their multimedia skills before and after the class, their opinions toward the new class style and public scholarship, their self-evaluation of personal improvement in variety of areas, and their overall impression of the class. We also conducted a targeted evaluation on certain interface and usability issues.24 Data from the formal survey notes a high perceived impact on student learning.
According to our survey, the structure of the research assignment provided students enough room for flexibility and creativity (73.6% agreement), gave students ideas in directing and presenting their research (76.3% agreement), and taught students skills that they think are useful (71.0% agreement).
Students overwhelmingly agreed that they learned more by doing this type of assignment than by writing a traditional research paper (figure 10).

Figure 10: On questions “I learned more by doing this type of assignment than a traditional research paper” and “I prefer this kind of assignment to a traditional research paper”

Student surveys recommended that we provide future students with online video tutorials for in-class demonstrations, to make the rather technical process of creating multimedia content easier.

In addition to identifying development in digital literacies, the students also noted perceived improvement in personal growth, academic growth, civic engagement, research methods, writing skills, and speaking skills.

Students showed the most personal development in the following areas: persistence, personal responsibility in learning, problem solving, and understanding of local culture. Many of these qualities support student-driven learning, suggesting that interactive technology and student publication increases students’ personal responsibility and ownership in their education.

In addition, students self-identified as improving most in the following skills: archival research methods, primary research methods, bibliographic skills, clarity of writing, and abilities to communicate with peers. In addition to learning skills in new media, the students felt that they made significant improvements in more traditional skills (like literary research and citation) required for the general education course.

Students showed improvements but to a lesser degree in the following areas: online research methods, patience, and interest in literature.

Figure 11: On questions “I enjoyed knowing my work will be published, read by the public, and used in the real world”, and “Did presenting your work to a public audience improve the quality of your project?”

Students found the public presentation to be a useful capstone, and they enjoyed meeting a real audience of their virtual publication. One student wrote, “It gave me confidence and pride in the work we’ve done.” Another student commented, “I thought the public presentation made the whole project feel more official.” Another student noted, “I’ve never presented to a group other than my class so it made it seem more professional.” To another, “It was exciting because it solidified the idea that we’re making something for the public.”

The public component of students’ research successfully created a sense of authenticity for their work, and students “enjoyed knowing their work would be published, read by the public, and used in the real world.” Students also agreed that presenting their work to a public audience, at the Iowa Authors Event, improved the quality of their project (figure 11).25

Students said that they produced a higher-quality project than they would have done in a traditional literature classroom, and they tried harder on this project than they would have in a traditional literature classroom. And finally, students felt that they learned more in this class than they would have in a traditional literature classroom (figure 12).

Figure 12: On questions “I produced a higher-quality project than I would have in a traditional literature classroom”, “I tried harder on this project than I would have in a traditional literature classroom”, and “I learned more in this class than I would have in traditional literature classroom”

Overall, our research shows that this project positively impacted students’ perceived learning and motivation. Their reflections also suggest that, in addition to improved skills and motivation, the project was also a transformative experience for many students. “[I am] very glad I took this class,” said one student, “because I can use stuff I learned in the real world.”  Through their collaborative multimedia research and publication, students felt more engaged and invested in their community, but also in their own learning.The UCOL project serves as an exemplar at The University of Iowa and in the field of digital humanities and new media, illustrating how traditional scholars can participate in engaged digital humanities research, facilitating intercollegiate collaboration at the highest levels of creative research and practice.


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Damron, Danny, and Jonathan Mott. “Creating an Interactive Classroom: Enhancing Student Engagement and Learning in Political Science Courses.” Journal of Political Science Education 1, no. 3 (2005): 367-383. doi:10.1080/15512160500261228.

Davidson, Cathy N, and David Theo Goldberg. The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. The MIT Press, 2010. ISBN 9780262513746.

Doughty, Sally, Kerry Francksen, Michael Huxley, and Martin Leach. “Technological Enhancements in the Teaching and Learning of Reflective and Creative Practice in Dance.” Research in Dance Education 9, no. 2 (2008): 129-146. doi:10.1080/14647890802088041.

Joe Fassler at Iowa Author’s Event, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvJMW-0wxYA&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

Mannion, Lance. “Interview with Lance Mannion1.” Interview by Jessica McCarthy and Wei Ren. Online posting, March 31, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5A-uwcJk04.

———. “Interview with Lance Mannion2.” Interview by Jessica McCarthy and Wei Ren. Online posting, April 1, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ki8pZtzwDzg&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

Marquis Childs by Ryan & Heather, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xo3QpCvhh4&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

Mathews, James M. “Using a Studio-based Pedagogy to Engage Students in the Design of Mobile-based Media.” English Teaching: Practice and Critique 9, no. 1 (2010): 87–102. ISSN 1175-8708.

Radosevich, David J., and Patricia Kahn. “Using Tablet Technology and Recording Software to Enhance Pedagogy.” Innovate Journal of Online Education 2, no. 6 (2006): 7. ISSN 1552-3233.

Schaffhauser, Dian. “Which Came First–The Technology or the Pedagogy?” THE Journal 36, no. 8 (2009): 6. ISSN 0192-592X.

Yeh, Hui-Chin, and Yu-Fen Yang. “Prospective Teachers’ Insights Towards Scaffolding Students’ Writing Processes Through Teacher–student Role Reversal in an Online System.” Educational Technology Research and Development 59, no. 3 (October 7, 2010): 351-368. doi:10.1007/s11423-010-9170-5.

Zhao, Ruijie. “Weaving Web 2.0 and the Writing Process with Feminist Pedagogy”. Thesis, Bowling Green State University, 2010. http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgi?acc_num=bgsu1276676479.


About the Authors

Bridget Draxler is a first-year assistant professor and director of an interdisciplinary writing program at Monmouth College, a liberal arts college in Monmouth, IL. Her current role at the college allows her to support student speaking and writing skills by developing public digital humanities initiatives within the college’s core curriculum. As a graduate student at the University of Iowa, she developed a course in Iowa literature as part of The University of Iowa UCOL Mobile Application Development Team.

Haowei Hsieh is Assistant Professor in the School of Library and Information Science at The University of Iowa. He leads the database design group for The University of Iowa UNESCO City of Literature Mobile Application Development Team. He works closely with the Graduate Informatics program at the University of Iowa for his interdisciplinary work that studies the interaction between people, information, and machines.

Nikki Dudley is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa School of Library and Information Sciences and current researcher in the Digital Studio for Public Humanities. Her recent work has included database development for The University of Iowa UNESCO City of Literature Mobile Application Development Team. Among her research interests are data visualization and designing web interfaces for digital collection content creation.

Jon Winet is a New Media artist and researcher. In August 2011 he was appointed director of The University of Iowa Digital Studio for the Public Humanities (DSPH). He also directs the University of Iowa UNESCO City of Literature Mobile Application Development Team and the Experimental Wing of the University of Iowa Virtual Writing University. He is an Associate Professor of Intermedia in the University of Iowa’s School of Art and Art History, as well as a member of the faculty of International Programs.

Additional UCOL members include James Cremer, Lauren Haldeman, Dat Nguyen, Peter Likarish, and Raquel Baker.


  1. Additional UCOL members include James Cremer, Lauren Haldeman, Dat Nguyen, Peter Likarish, and Raquel Baker.
  2. The Virtual Writing University (http://www.writinguniversity.org/) is an initiative that brings together The University of Iowa’s many writing programs. In addition to campus partners, the UCOL team also works closely with the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization (http://cityofliteratureusa.org/).
  3. At the time of our original launch, iOS was the market leader for mobile apps. With the growth of the Android market, we are developing an Android version of the app. The iOS app can be downloaded from http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-iowa-city-unesco-city/id396516495?mt=8.
  4. Projected launch: spring 2012
  5. Currently in beta: http://dsph.uiowa.edu/vwu/ucol/mobile/
  6. In “Everyday Creativity as Civic Engagement: A Cultural Citizenship View of New Media,” Burgess, Foth, and Klaebe argue that new media opens possibilities for “community-building potential.” 2006, 1, http://eprints.qut.edu.au/5056/. They cite Joke Hermes’ definition of cultural citizenship: “the process of bonding and community building, and reflection on that bonding, that is implied in partaking of the text-related practices of reading, consuming, celebrating and criticizing offered in the realm of (popular) culture” (quoted in Burgess, Foth & Klaebe, 4). Although Hermes’ definition does not explicitly consider digital technology, the authors suggest that new media will be a critical tool in the future of cultural citizenship both inside and outside the classroom.
  7. Derek E. Baird and Mercedes Fisher, “Neomillennial User Experience Design Strategies: Utilizing Social Networking Media to Support‘ Always on’ Learning Styles,” Journal of Educational Technology Systems 34, no. 1 (2005): 5–32.
  8. Hui-Chin Yeh and Yu-Fen Yang, “Prospective Teachers’ Insights Towards Scaffolding Students’ Writing Processes Through Teacher–student Role Reversal in an Online System,” Educational Technology Research and Development 59, no. 3 (October 7, 2010): 351-368.
  9. Ruijie Zhao, “Weaving Web 2.0 and the Writing Process with Feminist Pedagogy” (thesis, Bowling Green State University, 2010), http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgi?acc_num=bgsu1276676479. Even technophiles acknowledge skepticism that technology is valuable in the classroom for its own sake; critics emphasize the necessity of demonstrating student learning beyond new digital literacies. See Dian Schaffhauser, “Which Came First–The Technology or the Pedagogy?,” THE Journal 36, no. 8 (2009): 6; Shawn Michael Bullock, “Teaching 2.0: (re)learning to Teach Online,” Interactive Technology and Smart Education 8, no. 2 (June 14, 2011): 94-105; Hayat Al-Khatib, “How Has Pedagogy Changed in a Digital Age? ICT Supported Learning: Dialogic Forums in Project Work,” European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, no. 2 (2009), http://www.eurodl.org/?p=current&rticle=374&article=382.
  10. Danny Damron and Jonathan Mott, “Creating an Interactive Classroom: Enhancing Student Engagement and Learning in Political Science Courses,” Journal of Political Science Education 1, no. 3 (2005): 367-383.
  11. Sally Doughty et al., “Technological Enhancements in the Teaching and Learning of Reflective and Creative Practice in Dance,” Research in Dance Education 9, no. 2 (2008): 129-146.
  12. Baird and Fisher, “Neomillennial User Experience Design Strategies.”
  13. Gary Beauchamp and Steve Kennewell, “Interactivity in the Classroom and Its Impact on Learning,” Computers & Education 54, no. 3 (April 2010): 759-766.
  14. David J. Radosevich and Patricia Kahn, “Using Tablet Technology and Recording Software to Enhance Pedagogy,” Innovate Journal of Online Education 2, no. 6 (2006): 7.
  15. Thomas Cochrane and Roger Bateman, “Smartphones Give You Wings: Pedagogical Affordances of Mobile Web 2.0,” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 26, no. 1 (2010): 1-14.
  16. James M. Mathews, “Using a Studio-based Pedagogy to Engage Students in the Design of Mobile-based Media,” English Teaching: Practice and Critique 9, no. 1 (2010): 87–102.
  17. The distinctive features of the mobile app, then, inform not only the structure but also the content of the collection.
  18. For an example of a student interview, see Lance Mannion, “Interview with Lance Mannion1,” interview by Jessica McCarthy and Wei Ren, online posting, March 31, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5A-uwcJk04; Lance Mannion, “Interview with Lance Mannion2,” interview by Jessica McCarthy and Wei Ren, online posting, April 1, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ki8pZtzwDzg&feature=youtube_gdata_player.
  19. Student content is still currently being edited, but much of this content is already included in the current version of the “City of Lit” app.
  20. You can view the course syllabus for Spring 2011, the first iteration of “City of Lit” as a semester-length project, at the following link https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uxtXjgB4OiSlogb7Px_zVu6jASpfA9HRsA6OHnyQPEQ/edit.
  21. Pecha-kucha is an experimental PowerPoint presentation form. Pecha-kuchas, six minutes and forty seconds in length, consist of twenty slides, each shown for twenty seconds.
  22. http://cityofliteratureusa.org/node/131. For an example of a student presentation at the Iowa Authors Event, see Marquis Childs by Ryan & Heather, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xo3QpCvhh4&feature=youtube_gdata_player.
  23. For an example of an local author reading at the Iowa Authors Event, see Joe Fassler at Iowa Author’s Event, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvJMW-0wxYA&feature=youtube_gdata_player.
  24. The survey was conducted by the research team and not by the instructor, with IRB approval. The instructor received results after all information was collected and grades were finalized.
  25. These presentations allowed students an opportunity to describe the process, rather than the product, of their research, reflecting on what they learned and how they learned it.

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