Can COVID-19 Reinvigorate our Educating? Using Digital Instruments for Spatial Studying

By Tracy Chapman Hamilton, Virginia Commonwealth College, Affiliate Elizabeth Lastra, Vassar Faculty, Assistant Professor

Screenshot from Stephanie Yang’s Artsteps Islamic Chinoserie exhibit

Utilizing the time-tested mnemonic of the “Reminiscence Palace,” twenty-four-year-old Alex Mullen was the primary American to win the World Reminiscence Competitors in 2015 (he has since received twice more). 4-time champion of the USA Reminiscence Competitors, Nelson Dellis employs the identical method, explaining that one ought to place “photos for these phrases [you are memorizing] on a route round your own home,” to create one’s personal reminiscence palace. Mullen and Dellis’s strategies exemplify the ability of the mixture of place, motion, and picture within the functioning of our brains, which might be creatively leveraged within the (digital) classroom.

Using the visually mapped locus that Dellis describes has been an important component of pedagogy since antiquity, as Francis Yates spelled out for us in The Art of Memory (1966) and Mary Carruthers developed in The Book of Memory (1990). Pushed to motion by COVID-19 and the “digital flip” required of so lots of our colleagues, we are going to introduce a number of digital scholar tasks throughout a sequence of posts, starting on this publish with assignments involving spatial studying.

Relatively than aiming to construction memorization like Mullen and Dellis, the areas explored and constructed by our college students encourage the worldwide contextualization of the artwork and structure we research within the classroom, push analysis and visible evaluation to higher depths, and construct crucial pondering and compositional abilities. These are pedagogies we’ve got employed with success for years, lengthy earlier than the pandemic, and we hope that a number of the concepts we introduce right here invigorate your courses for the current second and in addition turn into a part of your repertoire as soon as again on campus throughout the years to return.

Screenshot from Tracy Hamilton’s Spatial Exploration Project User Guide

What Tracy calls the Spatial Exploration Challenge is an early- or mid-semester task to encourage consideration of the bigger “the place” of the objects and monuments being studied in school. The task asks college students to search out three-dimensional views utilizing Google Maps, Earth, and Avenue View and re-consider these monuments. Strolling the websites nearly, college students turn into extra conversant in their inventive particulars throughout the context of their bodily siting and surrounding geography and topography than they’re ready from pictures alone or by way of professor-directed media. The onus is on the scholar to discover and uncover. College students also can analyze the websites and surrounding landscapes by way of a VR (Digital Actuality) headset (reminiscent of a viewfinder, Google Cardboard, or any of the VR choices accessible at present). In brief written experiences on the method, college students share views that had been personally impactful and clarify the methods wherein these increase understanding of the monument/place/web site/object itself, past their readings or what has been mentioned in school. And by no means extra obvious than when educating at a big public college reminiscent of VCU, most frequently to a disciplinary combine of scholars, the chance of “free” journey helps to degree the sphere and supplies extra inclusive entry to those websites worldwide. With journey largely on maintain for the foreseeable future, digital entry to those websites now turns into everybody’s actuality.

Screenshot from Stephanie Yang’s Artsteps Islamic Chinoserie exhibit

As Liz has elaborated in a Tool Talk for the Medieval Academy of America, curating digital exhibitions as a semester venture promotes spatial pondering and group, and is facilitated by the free and user-friendly platform Artsteps. (The Instrument Discuss lives on the Middle Ages for Educators web site, together with quite a lot of others, together with an amazing discuss by David Wrisley on storymapping, one other digital software mentioned beneath.) In designing their exhibitions – a job which includes planning the form and configuration of an area, choosing works to incorporate and their positioning relative to different items, and writing research-based wall labels – college students inform a narrative by way of area and motion.

The aim in some ways isn’t so completely different from a analysis paper, however in constructing the paper in digital brick and mortar, its framing turns into seen. The usually sophisticated job of group, simply misplaced in a scholar’s pages of textual content, is uncovered for him or her to contemplate fastidiously in guiding a digital customer. Furthermore, instance choice, essential to the development of an argument, turns into the crux of the task in that it’s these punctuating works that activate the area and function proof for the angle of the present. See college students Stephanie Yang and Charlie Shen in Liz’s 2019 Islamic Artwork and Structure class discover interactions between premodern China and the Islamic world of their exhibitions Islamic Chinoserie and Islamic Art in China up to 1600.

Screenshot from Naomi Edmondson’s Cartographic Countering in “Historic Charleston” storymap

Two different extremely helpful (and free) instruments for visualizing a analysis exhibit or subject, Esri’s ArcGIS StoryMaps and Northwestern College’s Knight Lab StoryMapJS, allow the creation of a media-rich spatial narrative. In school we body assignments utilizing these instruments simply as we might a analysis paper, requiring the research of major and secondary sources and engagement in deep visible evaluation, whereas additionally contemplating how the supplies work together inside a geographical or visible area. The method of making a simple-to-build storymap forces college students to grapple with their analysis – after which permits them to visualise it – in a manner not potential within the conventional analysis paper.

As you’ll be able to see within the examples beneath, geographical mapping is only one possibility for taking part in out that narrative. Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is a gigapixel picture whose elements have been visually mapped utilizing Knight Lab’s StoryMap (see their many different instruments as effectively). Esri’s platform permits for the same selection as proven by Mildred Lane of the Kemper Art Museum, in addition to college students from Tracy’s Digital Artwork Historical past class within the spring of 2020: Naomi Edmondson, Cartographic Countering in “Historic Charleston”; Damon Reed, From Modernity to Degeneracy (utilizing picture evaluation and no geographical map); and Madelyn Shelbie on Edward S. Curtis.

Like premodern lecturers and college students earlier than us, in addition to reminiscence athletes at present, spatial studying supplies thrilling prospects, unhindered by distant studying (and maybe unbound by it?), combining the mind’s pure aptitude for spatial pondering with the contextualization potential by way of digital environments. Artwork historians have the perfect reminiscence palaces—from the Alhambra to the Forbidden Metropolis—let’s use them.