Welcome to the ISETL Teaching and Learning Blog! | ISETL
  • Welcome to the ISETL Teaching and Learning Blog!

    Author: Kisha Tracy

    This is a new initiative designed to highlight the innovative teaching and learning work of our members and especially those who present at our annual conference. At least once a month, there will be a post written by individuals or groups from a variety of institutions, disciplines, and perspectives. Some will be work from presenters at the conferences – including any insights gained from other presentations – but there will be additional topics as well.

    We welcome our readers to submit! If you are interested, please contact me, Kisha Tracy, at ktracy3@fitchburgstate.edu.


    To get us started, I would like to take the opportunity to discuss the work I presented at #ISETL17. To provide some background, I was awarded a 2017 Professional Development Award by the  Massachusetts Women in Public Higher Education to engage in a project called “Transforming Perceptions of Cultural Heritage through Image: Connecting the Pre-Modern to the Local.” One of the issues those of us teaching at regional universities face is that our students do not often have experiences outside of New England, often due to socio-economic factors. We attempt whenever possible to encourage our students to see themselves in a more global context. This project is a unique a way both to encourage students to make the connection between the history and experiences of their local culture with those outside of New England as well as to encourage this kind of appreciation and perception in local communities and hopefully beyond to non-local communities.

    The focus is to parallel through photography the ancient to medieval cultural heritage stories from other countries to the cultural heritage stories of local communities, particularly centered on New England and Fitchburg, MA. Cultural heritage is the manifestation of common human experiences, and, by drawing these parallels, we can emphasize those connections and the shared need for preservation and the study of the past. More important, however, is the development of projects based upon active/authentic pedagogical principles that ask students to become collaborators in the photography exhibit as curators and researchers. In this way, they are both learning to connect their local cultural heritage to global cultural heritage and communicating what they learn to local communities, empowering them in terms of their world context and in terms of their relevance to their own environments.

    In the Fall of 2017, I taught ENGL 2200 British Literature I: From Beowulf to Milton. Two of my learning outcomes for this course are: students will be able to recognize and articulate the value of studying early British literature and to identify and analyze the textual, historical, and cultural contexts of works of literature. I also taught ENGL 3030 The Middle Ages. One of my learning outcomes for that course is: students will be able to recognize and articulate the characteristics and transmission history of a variety of literary traditions in different time periods and locations. I will be developing a new course, ENGL 3620 The Classical Tradition in Western Literature, in Spring 2018, which will also have a relevant learning outcome.

    These courses have interconnected assignments in which students:

    1. suggest the local sites for parallels with the photos of ancient to medieval sites I have and will have taken;
    2. curate the photography exhibit (physical and digital) and prepare the exhibit guide using research skills developed in the class;
    3. and write the exhibition tags for the exhibit and exhibit guide.

    Over the course of a year, students in various classes will contribute to the preparation of the products of this project, which will include:

    1. both a physical and digital exhibition (my goal is to coordinate three physical exhibitions in surrounding areas, two of which are already scheduled at the Fitchburg Art Museum and on campus);
    2. both a physical and digital exhibition guide that can be disseminated locally and more widely (this will be supported by a grant from the Amelia V. Gallucci-Cirio Endowment);
    3. and presentations on the project, to academic and local community audiences.

    Students in ENGL 3300 first brainstormed types of cultural heritage that would connect to the text  on which their semester-long research project focused. I then provided them with a selection of photos from which they chose one for their project. While researching the cultural heritage they had selected, they then brainstormed local heritage that would connect with their medieval photos. At the same time, students in my ENGL 2200 course each selected a text and photo pairing from those of the ENGL 3030 course. They served as research assistants, creating dossiers of research and suggesting local sites to pair. Their dossiers were given to the appropriate ENGL 3030 students to aid them in their work. At that point, the list of local heritage sites were given to the Photography class on campus as one of their assignments. After sessions with our university archivist to discuss how to research cultural heritage and a local museum’s Director of Education and Public Programs to gain insight into how to write exhibition notes, students created their own researched notes for the digital exhibition. These notes will be included as the highlight of upcoming physical exhibitions. Photos from the Photography students will also be included in the exhibitions as well as others from community members.

    Student reactions to this project have been highly positive. Students in ENGL 2200 who acted as research assistants commented frequently during the process that they wanted to do well because someone else would be using their work. They demonstrated clear benefits of what is known as “the protégé effect,” the fact that we are often willing to do more to help someone else learn than we will do for ourselves.

    “I’ve been looking all weekend for local cultural heritage sites to connect with my topic, and I can only really think of cemeteries and graveyards. I don’t want to just have three different graveyards because that feels like I’m evading actually making the connections.​” Heather Ferguson, ENGL 2200, Fall 2017

    “This project highlighted what was for me specifically a text around 630 years old, which was supposedly fictionally based. I was then able to not only learn from this text and its cultural historic background of Glastonbury Abbey in England, but connect those ideas to local cultural monuments including the church that I attend in my own hometown.” – Noah Milliard, ENGL 2200, Fall 2017

    ENGL 3030 students, participating in the more in-depth project, demonstrated how it helped them change their viewpoints as well as engage with the course content and the concept of cultural heritage.

    “The project allowed me to dive into the life of a medieval Icelander, and in doing so opened my eyes to immediate connections and differences to modern-day literature that increased my interest in the time period. Although we are in a different time and place than the Middle Ages, literary tropes of heroes, rebels, romance, family are still important in today’s literature, just like there are still legendary landmarks and symbolic statues and churches today. The Giant’s Causeway image inspires me, giving an instant depiction of what I imagined Egil’s time to look like. That led me down a rabbit hole of connections between my text and the chosen landmarks.” – Jon Medlin, ENGL 3030, Fall 2017

    I would have never thought to use photography and two different places in the world and connect them or find ways in which they connect to make them relevant to today like we did by using medieval sites and connecting them to New England. I have always wondered about the history of a lot of local places, but never took the time to research them, so I’m glad I was given the chance to do that AND contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage of a much older time period. It may not always be obvious why and how, but in many ways both time periods share certain similarities with each other as do their respective cultural heritage sites. It may not always be possible to visit all these places, but through images you still get to see and become more submerged in the context behind them in a way you can’t if you have no idea what something/someplace looks like and you only read about it.” – Maria Pedroza-Acosta, ENGL 3030, Fall 2017

    “My understanding of women in the Middle Ages has changed. Judith and many other women were strong and powerful role models and more people should be aware of them. It made me realize that there are so many cultural heritage artifacts nearby. It’s one thing to see a statue; it’s a whole other thing to investigate and find out more about its importance. I love seeing all the different photos because it made me see how each image compares to other cultural heritage artifacts.” – Tatyana D’Agostino, ENGL 3030, Fall 2017

    “Unfortunately, before this class, I thought that the medieval times were the ‘dark ages.’ Now I know just how advanced the world was at this time. The interview I had with Asher Jackson (the university archivist) was amazing. He dropped so much knowledge on me that I had no clue was available to us. Due to this, I know that everything and every place has a significant story. To know (due to the photos) that those places are out there and as beautiful as they are made me want to travel.” – Aaron Canterbury, ENGL 3030, Fall 2017

Another aspect to this project is to bring it to the community beyond the university. This semester three of my students and I facilitated a series of workshops for the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster in Massachusetts. In these three workshops, several middle school/early secondary school students learned about cultural heritage, reflected on their own, helped my students research their text/photo pairings, and created their own medieval/local cultural heritage pairings. This was an amazing experience. Two of my student facilitators wrote about it here: http://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/boys-and-girls-club-of-fitchburg-and-leominster. To view some of the student artifacts, see: http://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/items/show/9.

Engaging in this project allows me to develop as a photographer, a teacher, and a scholar, combining three of my greatest passions. Bringing my photography into the classroom context allows me to speak to my students in different ways, demonstrating to them what I see as a trained expert when I visit cultural heritage sites and how essential I think cultural heritage and history of all kinds are to humanity. This communication with my students can then spread to the local communities and hopefully further afield, perhaps inspiring other teachers to bring their passions into the classroom, whether through photography or something else. In particular, I feel that photography has the ability to communicate in ways that other mediums do not, and I want to explore how it can teach and how it can bridge gaps in geography, time, and even perhaps cultural empathy.

For the digital exhibition, including the first set of exhibition notes, see: http://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/

Kisha Tracy
Associate Professor, English Studies
Co-Coordinator, Center for Teaching and Learning
Fitchburg State University

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