Other outward looking connections

29 03 2012

Over the past few months I’ve been involved in planning and running a couple of other workshops that are relevant to the looking outwards theme.

First, back in the middle of February, I helped to organise a workshop – Teaching pre-modern history: e-learning challenges and opportunities – at the Institute of Historical Research in London. This was funded by the Higher Education Academy’s seminar series for History – so it’s part of the same set of initiatives as our workshop. While not framed explicitly in terms of ‘looking outwards’, the focus on the use of technology is relevant as several of the approaches presented here could easily be tailored to be more outward looking.

Given the chronological scope of the workshop, I think it is especially relevant for those of us teaching Biblical Studies, ancient, late antique, medieval and early modern religions. If you want to find out more, have a look at the Google website that we set up (a very easy-to-use service) here: https://sites.google.com/site/teachingpremodernhistory/home (or post on this blog and we can discuss it further!).

The second event I’m involved with is taking place at Media City in Salford on 19th April. It’s called I3 – Inquiry, Independence and Information (Computing) Using IBL to Encourage Independent Learning in IT Students and is also funded by the HEA, this time by the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) discipline group. It derives from some work I did a few years ago with Maria Kutar and Marie Griffiths, colleagues in the Business School at Salford (take a look here for a paper we wrote on the topic).

It’s interesting for ‘looking outwards’ because the IBL activities involve students going out into the community and conducting ‘live’ research rather than receiving information via lectures. For example, in order to learn about the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, student groups deliberately have themselves filmed on CCTV cameras, then go away and submit FoI requests from the bodies that own the CCTV cameras. This enables them to learn about the practical functioning of the Act at the same time as having to find out for themelves about its contents. It’s interesting for Philosophy and Religious Studies because the activities are all connected to ethical and legal issues. If you’re interested in signing up for the event, click here, there are still a few places left.

Workshop programme now available

16 03 2012

The programme for the day will shortly be available on the workshop website:


You can also register for the event from there and click a link to come back to this blog!

We’ll soon be adding details of the participants and the projects that they will be discussing on the day. There is still space for more participants, so if you’re interested in sharing your experiences of  ‘outward-looking’ teaching in TRS, please do let us know – the more the merrier.

wikis, Wikipedia and Google Maps

14 03 2012

John’s post on the use of wikis (and Wikipedia by James Evans) in teaching and learning reminded me of a short paper I read a couple of years ago by Neville Morley, an ancient historian at the University of Bristol, titled ‘Making Wikipedia Work For You…‘ The idea was to engage students with Wikipedia in constructive ways, rather than trying to warn them against its ‘dangers’ or simply telling them not to use it (which to my mind blatantly doesn’t work). So, students learned about how Wikipedia entries are created and edited (and therefore about their potential problems and benefits) and eventually went on to edit and construct entries of their own. Seems like a good idea to me and a way of getting students to make a contribution to knowledge about their subject outside of university.

Now to Google Maps. I was giving a seminar on the second year European Reformations module a couple of weeks ago on ‘The Spread of Lutheranism’. In preparation for the class (2 small classes really), the students each had to go away and do some research into the spread of Martin Luther‘s ideas to various cities and countries in northern and central Europe. Now, I didn’t have much of an idea where most of these places were so I was fairly certain that the students wouldn’t. Here’s where Google Maps came in – by doing a quick search I used the PC in the teaching room to show the students where each of the places we were discussing was located.

Once I’d done that, I realised that it would be possible to connect the place-markers on the map to the notes that the students had made about Lutheranism in the specific locations. So, at the end of the class I asked the students to email me their notes. I then uploaded their notes to Google Docs, made the resulting document public (i.e. visible to the entire web), copied the web address of the document, and created a link from the description of each individual place-marker on the map to the corresponding document (= public web address) in Google Docs. It was actually very easy to do, although this description might seem a bit convoluted! Anyway, here’s the map that we created. 

Thoughts about this. Like I said, it wasn’t very time consuming and very easy if you’ve got a Google account. It was all done on the spot so I wasn’t able to explain what we’d be doing in advance, which I think is a drawback. Not all of the students have sent me their notes so the map is incomplete (assessment and advance selling might help a bit here). The resource that we’ve created is useful because it gives the students a way to think about the spread of Lutheranism on the ground and possibly to see patterns that wouldn’t be visible without the spatial element of the map. The work the students have done is shared between my two groups so we have a more complete resource than if only one group had done it. 

Finally, there’s no way I’d claim that this activity is ‘looking outwards’ in any deep sense (although the resource is publicly available). However, I think that there is great potential here for getting students to collaboratively create maps (rather than the tutor doing it) of religious phenomena, in both historical and contemporary contexts. Such a resource could easily be made available more broadly or used as a resource for engaging with local communities.

Anyway, I’ll be trying this again and will be interested to find out what others think…

Low Caste Consciousness wiki

12 03 2012

Low Caste Consciousness wiki

Here is an example of our in course wikis (see my previous post: ‘wiki pages and the potential to look outwards’). This one includes a link to a video about Mayawati, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. The wiki does include a full bibliography and critical questions generated by the research done by students – I just couldn’t fit it on to the snapshot. On the right, you can see links to all the other ‘keyword wikis’ completed by groups of students.

Wiki pages and the potential to ‘look outwards’

9 03 2012

This is John Zavos’ first post to the looking outwards blog.  I am one of the organisers, along with Jamie and Katja, of the Looking Outwards workshop we will be holding in May (for details, see here). I thought I would blog about a Level 1 unit I am currently running, called Religion in Modern South Asian History.  Although I am not doing any actual ‘looking outward’ activities as part of this unit, I have introduced this year the use of wiki pages as part of the learning scheme.  These are available within the Blackboard 9 VLE platform, and although as a result they are accessible only by course members, they show interesting potential for ‘looking outwards’ work, because of course they are inspired by the ubiquitous Wikipedia site.

My interest in using wiki pages was sparked by a presentation I attended in January by James Evans, a lecturer in Environment and Development here at Manchester, entitled ‘Getting students to write Wikipedia entris for assessed coursework‘.  Find out more about James’ talk and view his slides here. James got his students to add to the wikipedia resource as part of assessed work in his unit.  I liked the idea because of the way it obviously focused minds, encouraged students to present complex material in a critical yet accessible fashion, and provided a nice twist on the normally slightly snooty academic attitude towards this virtual knowledge resource.  James deployed the idea in an MA unit, so there was always likely to be a different level of engagement and critical thinking to that in a level 1 ug course, but I nevertheless felt that the principle was one which could be usefully reproduced at this level.  As a week by week learning task, getting students to contribute to wiki pages is providing students with a focus for their engagement and a tool to help develop some very useful skills.  Not least is the act of translating ideas and knowledge gained from reading not just into notes, but from these into coherent and properly referenced passages focused on course themes.  In addition, as the wiki pages are constructed by groups of students in collaboration, there is a further stage of negotiation and interpretation, as students work together to produce a coherent whole page.  The wiki pages produced in this unit are based on a keyword theme inspired by Raymond Williams – each week a series of keywords are provided associated with the key theme. Students pick one keyword and work with others to produce the wiki page, looking for links across to other keywords and other topics covered in the unit.  The task has produced some interesting work, which I will endeavour to show an example of once I get onto a computer which enables me to take a decent snapshot!

There are certainly some issues with using this tool, and this week I have asked students for some interim feedback on its use so I will have some further things to say once I have looked at these.  At present, however, I can report that it is an interesting tool to use as a way of getting students to think seriously and progressively about how to process their reading, how to write concisely and collaboratively, and how to integrate core reading into a broader range of research, looking to deploy sources from the web, for example, in a critical and careful manner.  This anyway is the objective!  It has not always happened so far, but the fact that we are able to look at wikis each week has really enabled us to build on the work done and look for targeted improvements manifested in products discussed in seminar sessions.  It seems like a good start and does I think provide some clues as to how ‘looking outwards’ work might be deployed, at least in principle, throughout the various levels of the curriculum.

Local public events

5 03 2012

The Manchester Histories Festival caught my (Katja) eye while ‘looking outwards’: a public event over several days at a wide range of venues, supported by local museums, voluntary sector organisations and educational establishments in the widest sense including tour guides and of course the universities. The history of any place is touched and shaped by the religious traditions and practices of its inhabitants: is there a slot for us to fill at public events such as the Manchester Histories Festival? Many of these events come ’round every year and thus can be planned into curriculum and assessment. Students researching and delivering guided tours via iPod or displays? Co-curating special exhibitions? It seems to me that the employability agenda might be dovetailing here, too.

For my course on gender and religion the International Women’s Day might be an obvious time and place. In the past, I have seen ‘religion’ represented there by the Mothers’ Union and not much else. Incidentally, entering ‘religion’ in the search field of the Manchester Histories Festival only finds one event, a tour of Chinatown.

Jamie’s first post – Women in Middle Eastern Societies

1 03 2012

As part of my efforts to get my head around what ‘looking outwards’ entails I decided to get the students in a seminar I teach on Women In Middle Eastern Societies (a second year module in Religions and Theology here at Manchester) to help me to create a Google website on the topic.

The idea is that the students and I can work together to create a sort of resource bank on the topics that we’re covering on a weekly basis. It’s a subject that’s of great contemporary interest and there are lots of materials available on the Internet with which the students and I can engage. Potentially there’s a lot we can do with it.

Here’s a link to the website as it stands so you can see where we’ve got to so far: Women in the Middle East. Please look beyond the uninspiring front page (which I hope to jazz up over the next few weeks) and look at some of the materials we’ve collated/ and summarised so far.

Over the next few weeks I’ll hopefully post a few thoughts about what the students are getting out of it, whether what we’re doing does represent ‘looking outwards’ and how much of my time it’s taking up.

Important points to note so far:

  1. It’s dead easy to set up a website using Google Sites – and relatively easy to edit once you’ve spent a bit of time in there.
  2. It’s not that time-consuming to put items on there. I’ve encouraged the students to add their own materials and several of them have done so – although some have preferred to send me materials to upload. My eventual aim is for the students to take ownership of the site so that I can concentrate on thinking up interesting and useful activities for them to do with it… This may take a while to achieve.
  3. All posts and edits are anonymous so no-one can be identified from the material that they are posting.