Febru-wary: Cupertino, Syracuse, Boston

This month is out of control. Last spring Beth and I decided to submit a paper to a panel on online teaching, largely based upon our then upcoming conference, to the College Art Association’s annual extravaganza. CAA is, after all, the single most important annual conference for studio art professors and art historians. Our paper on the digital repository as active learning environment was accepted and all was well. I could, in good conscience certainly leave my graduate contemporary art students and my architecture students to undertake an appropriate assignment for the one class I would miss and I was grateful that my third class, a survey of modern art, is taught entirely online.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that two additional February Wednesdays and Thursdays would also pull me from the classroom. As mentioned in a previous post, our presentation on podcasting was especially well received last December at the SUNY TLT (Teaching and Learning with Technology) conference. Alexandra Pickett, who was in attendance, asked that we deliver that same paper at the MID/AC Summit that she was organizing for mid-February. Since this was scheduled to take place on a day I wasn’t teaching, I agreed. Little did I then know that my spring schedule would be changed. Finally, David Porush Director of Learning Environments and all things related to DL at SUNY announced that he wanted Beth and me to join him and several SUNY colleagues including Michael Feldstein at Apple Computer in Cupertino to meet with their senior VP for education and discuss possible projects. I like to think that our podcasting efforts have finally been recognized by the anointed inhabitants of Silicon Valley, but, in fact, I have no such evidence. Needless to say I said yes even before the date was set. That was a mistake.

The date for the trip to Apple was set without my input and it finally dawned on me that I would be missing three consecutive classes. I have never done that before and take the interests of my students far to seriously to let such a thing happen. I was on the verge of bowing out of at least one of these February jaunts when I finally recognized that the problem was also at least part of the solution.

I will emphatically NOT podcast my lectures. Course-casting seems to me to be by far the least desirable use of podcasting. To simply record an audio or even a video file of a professor chatting away and then foist this upon innocent students seems to me a kind of torture. Lectures may well have some real value in the classroom but to deprive students of the ability to interact is to kill that value. Perhaps there are emergency situations where a course-cast makes sense, Tulane might make a persuasive argument, but being taken out to dinner by Apple doesn’t quaify.

So here is what I’m doing for my History of New York Architecture class. The first week that I am away Dr, Celia Bergoffen, a leading urban archeologist, will teach in my stead. But in the second week, I will have my students download, via Itunes or my website, a series of podcasts that I have already recorded of a multi-part architectural walking tour in the West Village, though I still have to edit the files and upload them. Next week I will be adding an additional segment with Dr. Mathew Postal, a leading architectural historian of New York who works for the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Together we will explore the cast iron district in SoHo. So what will happen, I hope, is that each student will listen to our discussion in front of the building we are discussing thus taking advantage of the ipod’s mobility while giving the students the greater flexibility than a group walking tour affords. To overcome the unidirectional limitation of the podcast, that is, I speak, they listen, I have required that each student take four digital photos while on their private walking tour and that these photos then be uploaded to Flickr where the students are to add indepth annotations and can ask questions. The following week, each is to roam the city and populate our flickr page with buildings and architectural details that they find compelling. I find this a very powerful teaching tool. I get to actually discover not just what, but how the students see. I will thus have a semester’s worth of student-generated material to work with. My fingers are crossed. I’ll let you know how all this goes.

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