Project Management Certificates and the SIF Program

First off, isn’t it remarkable how fast time flies? Thanksgiving Break is right around the corner, and the SIF team is working hard to close a couple of projects by the end of the year.

Today I want to take a brief moment to muse about the SIF program, its project management component, and how all of this relates to me personally as a PhD student in the humanities. I take inspiration from Ashley’s latest post which begins an examination of the ways various institutions of higher learning are responding to the “crisis in the humanities” and the need to revamp doctoral programs in the future (and rightly so if I may add). You can find her excellent and insightful post right here.

In her post, one item in particular caught my attention: the need to expand professionalization opportunities for grad students in the humanities and that departments should provide students with opportunities to develop their skill sets in various, but mostly traditionally non-academic areas, including project management. I agree with her assessment that the SIF program provides a great platform for humanities students to acquire project management experience, especially since they are the ones who usually occupy leading roles in the SIF project universe.

Yet, our role at SIF can both be seen as a blessing and a curse: a blessing because, for lack of a better phrase, we can get our hands dirty. Rather than confining ourselves to working on our own research, teaching classes for our respective departments, and assisting department faculty with their research tasks, the SIF program allows us not only to look beyond our own back yard but to engage in, manage, and supervise cross-disciplinary, cross-sector project activities. For someone like me who wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of seeking a career outside the academia, the SIF experience has been very rewarding. Then again, our role is also burdened by the fact that as grad students in the humanities we’re leading interdisciplinary projects without having gone through proper project management training first. Naturally, I cannot speak for other members of my graduate cohort, but as far as I’m concerned, I freely admit that most of the work I’m doing is based on the experiences I’ve gained as an instructor at Georgia State University, and not on knowledge I’ve gained through formal training in project management. My experiences as an instructor, i.e. syllabus design, semester planning, session prep, classroom dynamics, have been my main resource so far in terms of making project management related decisions. I’ve often drawn upon these experiences for guidance. It’s as simple as that, and things have worked out well so far. The thing that gives me solace and confidence, however, is that the projects I am or have been leading consisted of clear, manageable, and straightforward goals. If they hadn’t been, I might have encountered a few road blocks that would have left me truly exasperated. After all, teaching skills and classroom management experiences can only get you so far. Fortunately, problems haven’t happened yet, and I take further solace in the fact that I’m working with a great bunch of students whose work continues to amaze me. In fact, I might want to add this as an additional blessing here, actually.

Knocking on wood, here, but what if it does pose a problem? What if in our roles as project leaders we encounter times when we can’t draw on our experiences as instructors to resolve a project-related issue? As Ashley’s post illustrates, the field of humanities has, indeed, recognized the need to reassess doctoral programs and graduate student success. What this also means is that my doctoral cohort is located on the cusp of a major development in graduate education. While many still pursue a PhD degree to seek a career in academia, others are not so opposed to exploring alternative areas of employment that are outside the academy. For the latter group, the issue then surrounds the acquisition of proper skills that are applicable outside the academy while in grad school. And these are the kinds of skills that many of us, including me, are currently seeking and trying out in a, shall we say, rather messy way.

When I arrived at GSU, the first thing I had to do in order to be eligible for teaching was to attend a pedagogy class. That was mandatory, the pre-requisite. The same thing could and, as I believe, should be sought for graduate students who are eager to develop professionalization related skill sets. But from where? I’ve done some digging and the Robinson School of Business offers a certificate in project management. The certificate is awarded after the successful completion of a 4-day intensive class that helps participants to develop proper and successful project management skills. I think that the SIF program would benefit greatly if students who occupy roles as project leaders receive a more formal training in this area. The only and quite common problem, of course, is cost. Without question, this particular class is quite costly. But I still believe it would be a good idea to get into a conversation with Robinson faculty. My hope is that we can establish a single day workshop for the SIF program at the beginning of a semester that allows us to further develop and refresh our project management skills, not only in view of our personal professional goals in the future, but also in light of the projects we want to work on in the future. The better we are prepared as project managers, the more productive we can be in our roles as SIF fellows and the better we can manage our own responsibilities of finishing our degrees. As a current doctoral student who not only recognizes the need for a more wide-ranging training in the humanities but who also very much subscribes to proposed directions and goals, I’m very eager to participate in an effort to explore possible options for the SIF program to give its fellows a more formal training regarding project management.


So much for now.

I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving next week!

Moving beyond the paper assignment – Facebook, Prezi, and…?

When I started teaching writing classes at Georgia State in 2011, I soon realized not merely the benefit of moving beyond the traditional paper assignments, but I also the importance of allowing students to practice writing in various contexts. To that end, I began looking around for suitable writing environments, and quickly settled on having students design Facebook profile pages as part of personal narrative assignments for example. I would also have students create Facebook pages on behalf of literary characters to foster their critical thinking skills. Alternatively, I suggested students to use Prezi for presentations because Prezi pretty feels like Powerpoint on steroids. One can really go crazy with movement. And students always have a blast using the tool’s features for in-class presentations.

Though I still see instructors using Facebook and Prezi, I now feel these writing environments to be somewhat obsolete. A lot has happened in the course of the last 5 years ever since I began teaching at Georgia State. So, this semester I’m assisting a professor in the English department with her editing class when it comes to assigning digital projects, an this has given me the opportunity to research more current / more innovative tools that can be used for assignments. So, I want to use today’s blog post to present a couple of exciting alternatives to Facebook and Prezi as far as multimodal writing assignments are concerned.

1. PowToon and Moovly

Animated content has become quite trendy in the last few years. Tutorials, product videos, advertisements, explainer videos, just to name a few. PowToon and Moovly both offer tools that make it really easy for students to create visually exciting videos, where motion and animation are used consciously and creatively to gain audience attention. Though both websites come with a dedicated subscription based pricing structure which unlocks additional pro-features, the basic options come free of charge, definitely sufficient for class projects. The nice thing about Powtoon is that the tool comes with various templates when creating a video, there is a gallery with example videos, and an entire tutorial section to get students started. Videos can have voice-overs as well. Overall, I find that Powtoon works beautifully especially when it comes to issue reports, historical overview, or as visual attention grabbers as part of projects that involve students to create websites. The video can be embedded on the main page of a project website. Moovly does everything that PowToon does, but what I really like about the former is that its interface reminds me a lot of more professional programs such as iMovie and Adobe Premiere Pro.

2. Weebly

While Weebly is a popular website creator which can be used as the basis of a blogging assignment, it can also be used as a wiki. What I find particularly interesting about Weebly is that the websites a user creates, are responsive, meaning that they translate from a computer screen to a tablet, to a mobile device. That way students not only engage in web design that is limited to the computer screen, but they also have to make design choices to ensure that the content remains visually appealing across various devices. Again, there is a pricing structure, but there is also a free version with limited features.

3. Wikispaces

Wikispaces is a popular wiki-creation tool. Oftentimes, I find that students are interested in engaging with projects where they can put together a resource for their peers, and wikis fulfill that purpose beautifully. Certainly, GoogleSites has a wiki-creator tools as part of its feature list, and students could also the wiki-took that comes with Sharepoint. But I find Wikispaces to be more intuitive and easier to use since it’s a dedicated wiki-creator and not just a side feature of a bigger website creation package. On top of that, students can created wikis that are password protected, which is a nice feature to ensure that content stays within the context of the classroom.

Students in the editing class this semester will be using these tools for group projects, and I’m excited about what they are going to come up with. In any event, this is an exciting time for instructor to allow students to work with all kinds of tools to develop and present content. Of course, this also poses the question of how to assess digital project assignments. After all, the tools used will, most of the time, not only be unfamiliar to students, but also to instructors. I suggest not only to be frank and open about this circumstance with students, but also to involve them with regards questions of assessment. After students have worked a bit with each tool, and they have created a rough draft of their project, instructors and students should have a conversation answering questions pertaining to what counts as a successful or failed project.

Alternative Assessment Criteria, but How?

There has been a tremendous amount of discussions concerning the goals and practices of Digital Humanities within the setting of undergraduate instruction, and I welcome not only the increased attention but also the marked shift that has taken place on how this discussions are framed. Interestingly, the question at hand has shifted from whether to embrace DH pedagogies or not, but how to best incorporate DH into the undergraduate curriculum.

Certainly, given SIF’s mission to consider course matter from new vantage points and to develop innovative pedagogical practices, the ‘how to’ premise is far more appealing to us than the ‘whether or not’ when it comes to a 21st century informed curriculum. But still, there is a lot of reservation, especially from faculty, on going digital with their undergraduate classes. One of the main reasons is that faculty members—while not opposed to the idea of creating course content and assignments that engage students with digital artifacts—find it difficult to develop suitable assessment criteria. After all, at the end of a semester, instructors need to assign grades based on the students’ performance.

Thus, one area where we might apply the lever is the assignment rubric as the ubiquitous and guiding paradigm of student assessment. The rubric seems to be the place where the prospect of assigning creative and organic digital projects clashes with the idea of assessing student work with standardized metrics. While we can certainly see rubric based assessment as a big innovation when it was invented in the 1960s, its pervasiveness in higher education today creates a dilemma for faculty members (me included) who would like to go digital with their classes but worry about assessment, and rightly so.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending this month’s Digital Pedagogy Meetup, which provides a setting for educators to share assignments, methods, theories, and/or resources that focus on student engagement and learning in the Digital Humanities. At the meeting, David Morgen, who is the coordinator of the writing program at Emory, discussed alternative assessment strategies in the context of DH course content. He calls for so-called ‘dynamic criteria mapping’ as a new, alternative assessment model to overcome the seeming gridlock (for lack of a better term) of the rubric as a set of decisions designed to standardize what’s valuable and what’s not.

‘Dynamic Criteria Mapping,’ or DCM in short, follows a grounds-up approach to assessment rather than the top down structure prescribed by the rubric. That means that assessment criteria for a project would only be developed after students have had time to create a working draft of their projects. Moreover, assessment criteria for a given project are discussed with the students. Of course, while such an approach may very well help students in thinking through questions of what counts as a successful project and what doesn’t, this requires not only a lot of confidence from the instructor to allow students to work on projects without knowing in advance on how to assess the finished product; it also requires the instructor to be relatively tech-savvy already to be able to anticipate potential projects that students might propose. David Morgen here suggests that instructors should meet regularly and share insights to stay current. He argues that rubrics not only make it more difficult for students to find their own paths of learning, but that they also don’t allow instructors to assess student development over time. DCM, by contrast, would provide a promising avenue to gather information on real practice.

While I’m very interested in the idea of active learning, and while I do not dismiss the inherent problems with rubric based assessment, I’m still not sure on how this might work in practice. For example, I often find myself lamenting about the limited time that I have with students in the class to discuss content and I’m worried that involving students more in the development of assessment criteria might take away too much time in-class. Maybe this would require decreasing the overall amount of assignments during the semester? Or maybe a balanced approach with rubric-based assignments at the beginning of the semester and a more organic development of assessment criteria for final projects? I’m really not sure, but what is clear to me is that class logistics also play a role. Assessment has to remain manageable.

So, if you’ve read this, I’d really like to use this blog space to start a conversation about this. Do you have experiences to share concerning the collaborative development of assessment criteria? How has this played out for you? How have your students responded? In more general terms, what’s your view on the rubric? What other ways have you found helpful in promoting active learning?

I look forward to your comments!


End of the year reflection: media competence vs. media literacy

Hi everyone,

So my first year as a student innovation fellow is reaching its end. It’s been so far a great experience. Not only have I learned a lot of new things, I have also enjoyed the opportunity to share my knowledge and ask new questions.

What could be better now to use the final blog post of this semester to reflect about current issues that have come to the fore as I was working on various projects? Specifically I want to talk about the important distinction between new media competence and new media literacy,

I define new media competence as the individual’s capacity to use new media communication technologies. However, in today’s media-saturated information environment, the mere appreciation of technical expertise does not seem to be enough anymore. Not only does the individual need to learn the necessary skills to use communication tools, he/she also needs to embrace the political, social, and communicational aspects of media utilization. Since we spend more and more of our time online, the use of media today has an holistic personality dimension, i.e. the development of a habitus, a personality-based attitude towards new media. Media competence does not include that aspect. Media literacy, I would argue, does.

Proper media education, thus, lies at the heart of what it means to engage with communication tools in the 21st century. With the implementation of a program such as the Student Innovation Fellowship, Georgia State University has laid the foundation for an educational environment that doesn’t merely teach students how to use new media, but how to live with new media. Media education facilitates critical reflection. Teaching media literacy, then, encompasses the individual holistically, i.e. it prepares him/her for a professional career, it nurtures a critical understanding of media in everyday life, and it confronts the individual with his/her own situatedness as a social and political subject in society. In that regard, the teaching of media literacy, which goes beyond media competence, takes into account a moral dimension of media use (media ethics), a socio-political dimension (media influence), and an affective dimension (living with media).

The Student Innovation Fellowship has served a vital function at Georgia State University in that regard. I have enjoyed my role as mediator and facilitator of a holistically informed media education. I believe that only if the entire student body can benefit from such a media education, then we as educators respect the central goal of higher eduction – equal opportunity – and we prevent creating an educational rift that treats students preferentially whose educational backgrounds already come laden with an appreciation and understanding of media literacy. At SIF, we are embracing a media-conscious pedagogy that moves beyond mere technical applications, i.e. the teaching of skill sets. At SIF, our mission has been to facilitate media use as a holistic, life-long practice.

And with that I am signing off. I wish all of you a pleasant and successful end of the semester!


Pedagogical Uses of Cell Phone Apps

For most of us, using apps has become second nature. Not only do those little programs allow us rapid access to information, they also enable us to connect, share, and collaborate. There are already various apps available for educational purposes; however, they still only find their way into the classroom inertly.

So, this blog post is designed as a means to share various offerings and to put them into, what I believe, are important pedagogical categories:
1. Increasing time-management skills
Even a simple app such as the one controlling the camera can help speed up the process of note-taking. For instance, students don’t have to write down the information on the board stoically anymore if they can simply take a quick snapshot with their cameras. As an instructor, it does take some time getting used to seeing students take photos of the board. But in an era in which efficient time management skills are crucial ingredients for success, it doesn’t hurt showing students that technology can, indeed, make our lives easier. Of course, other apps can also help students here such as the note-taking app Evernote to more dedicated education apps such as GeoGebra for studying math. What speaks in the apps’ favor is that students work within multimodal, interactive environments that are usually updated on a regular. All in all, there are various apps out there that instructors and students can and, I believe, should check out.
Yet, in my opinion the allure of cell phone apps for educational purposes becomes especially pronounced once we start treating apps as potential avenues for students to become (co-) producers of learning.
2. Developing active students
Beyond their affordance to offer almost instantaneous access to a wealth of information, apps can also empower students to become active contributors of learning content. Students can use their cell phones for multimodal, interactive assignments, for instance. The integrated camera and microphone allows them to conduct interviews wherever they go. Dedicated study group apps such as MyPocketProf allow students to teach one another when they study for major exams without having to be in the same place at the same time. Finally, programs such as the free Spreaker app can be used to create and share podcasts with ease. All of these apps allow students to become more exposed to technology, and instructors can help students to hone those skills for their later professional careers.
Many instructors, however, shy away from allowing students to use those tools because they already feel overwhelmed not only because of the sheer number of apps that are currently available, but also because instructors don’t want to allow their students to use tools that they don’t even know how to operate themselves. There is certainly sense in that. I would never recommend to a colleague to use a tool in the classroom because it’s supposed to be the latest and most trendy thing right now. So, never jump on the bandwagon. Still, I encourage instructors to take some time and familiarize themselves with these kinds of applications.
Our team at the Student Innovation Fellowship program is also here to advice instructors who are thinking about using these new tools in the classroom. So, feel free to message me if you have any questions. Also, if you know of other apps that would work well in an educational context, please leave a comment below.

Innovative ways for instructors to encourage students’ interest in politics

In today’s post, I want to share with you a smart idea that was presented by Dr. Steven Stuglin from Georgia Highlands College at this year’s conference of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association. His talk was on the potential uses of science fiction and fantasy stories to facilitate undergraduate students’  understanding of topics discussed in the Departments of Communications, Political Science, and History.

The major premise of his presentation was that today’s students have become more and more disaffected with politics due to a number of reasons such as political trust, political interest, and political understanding. Consequently, students might find it more difficult to comprehend political concepts and political history when these topics are discussed in classroom environments. However, most students today have either seen or read a number of science fiction and fantasy pieces such as Harry PotterThe Hunger GamesStar Wars, etc. Thus, Stuglin argues that science fiction and fantasy—as often underutilized tools—may provide suitable lenses through which to understand socio-political realities. In other words, while he emphasizes that science fiction and fantasy stories as well as the characters that live in these worlds need to be regarded as extreme examples, Stuglin promotes the use of plot and character to problematize political theories, systems, and communication practices as a means to bridge the gap between student’s disinterest in politics and the political system(s) they live in.

One example that I found most striking in his presentation was the way instructors might discuss pretty complex texts such as Plato’s The Republic, Machiavelli’s The Prince, or John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty through the prism of science fiction and fantasy. In this case, one could relate Plato’s ideal leader—powerful and strict but generally interested in the public good—to the mighty lion king Arslan in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones might work well as an example of Machiavelli’s claims regarding the attributes necessary for effective leadership: cold, calculating, evidencing fear as a form of control. Finally, Professor Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series seems to illustrate the limits of control, as discussed in Mill’s On Liberty.

As a way to engage students, Stuglin suggests activities where students categorize leader characters in science fiction and fantasy text according to discussed texts. As a next step, students would then do the sam with real contemporary politicians.

Overall, I really enjoyed the presentation, and I will certainly try his approach in future classes.




And I thought we’d moved on…?

I’m confused right now, so be prepared that this post is going to be half-informative and half-venting. I’ve recently come across a Youtube-sensation, for lack of a better word, and I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m talking about Salman Khan whose free learning website,, hosts more than 3000 lesson videos and his Youtube channel attracts millions of students and teachers alike. Apparently, it all started in 2004 when he just wanted to help his cousin with some private tutoring lessons in math. Fast forward ten years later, and Salman Khan is known across the world as the “global teacher”. Pretty impressive, yes, but what I find even more confusing is that he manages to attract such widespread attention with a teacher-centered, lecture style approach to teaching that many of us teaching have found to be an antiquated and, flat out obsolete method. Why? Well, the most common argument is that frontal teaching limits students in developing their own critical thinking skills. Rather than having students engage with content actively, they passively consume the lecture.

So, I’m wondering why Khan’s approach has been working so well. Usually his videos last between 8-15 minutes, are produced in a relatively simple fashion, i.e. he uses a screen capturing software where he solves math problems for instance, and his voice narrates the whole process. So, you only hear him but you never see him. Instead, you see a black canvas on which he scribbles the equations and explains the whole process. Aside from math, physics, chemistry, and economics, he also teaches history and biology (the last two not being his particular area of expertise), even admitting that he gets most of his information for those topics from Wikipedia entries.

I find that whole thing fascinating and scary at the same time. I wholeheartedly reject the teacher-centered approach to pedagogy, always trying to empower my students so that they can develop their critical thinking skills. And then I see Khan and his success with an antiquated teaching method, and it seems to work. Khan has been receiving wide-spread media attention now for years, and many students have said that before they take high school level or college-level tests, they would watch a couple of Khan’s videos to prepare rather than going over their class-notes (check this link).

What do you think / how do you feel about this? I’m really interested to read your comments, and have a lively discussion about the potential merits of such an approach to teaching.