MLA Vancouver Session on Visionary Pedagogies

Visionary Pedagogies for the 21st Century: Teaching the Humanities with Digital Technology

As MOOC fever recedes yet the debate about online learning’s future chances and challenges becomes both more realistic and pressing, the humanities urgently need to get more creative and reflective about imagining their future in higher education. This session will discuss concrete ideas and best practices for embedding digital pedagogy assignments and tools into four different kinds of classrooms and courses (foreign language, literature, storytelling, and writing), not only to memorialize and simply transpose what we already do into a different medium, but in order to harness unique affordances of new tools and connected ways of learning that widen the scope of what and how we teach for the 21st century. If we want our students to become mindful global citizens with a sound mastery of digital skills appropriate for this day and age and connect these with the knowledge memories and critical thinking skills that a solid humanities education provides, we need to harness technology in pedagogically creative ways and bring the humanities back into the heart of an increasingly digitally connected society.

Gabriele Dillmann’s talk “Fostering Global and Digital Learning with Google+ Hangout as a Communication and Knowledge Sharing Tool” launches our session with the example of using Google Hangouts in the German language and culture classroom to connect with other students and teachers worldwide. With new cloud-based technologies and a sharp increase in hybrid teaching models, innovative, technology-enhanced teaching and learning projects within a global connections context have become more readily realizable. Specifically, in the language and culture classroom, Google+ Hangout with its multifunctional interaction tools (screen sharing, chatting, whiteboards, presentation software, etc.) has made online hybrid learning uniquely intuitive, inexpensive, inviting and “human” for both students and teachers. We need to teach students more than the technology itself, however: they need to learn digital and dialogue etiquette, how to be effective team players and members of a learning community, and develop group and leadership competencies within a digital context. Dillmann will present concrete examples and offer teaching and learning materials from her intermediate level internationally connected German language and culture course that show both how to use this tool to enhance linguistic and cultural proficiencies, as well as digital competencies that can be applied in any teaching and learning context.

Petra Dierkes-Thrun’s paper “How To Do Things with Books and Screens: Literature and Digital Pedagogy” offers three concrete examples of digital pedagogy in the literature classroom that newly engage students and bring traditional humanities contents and methods to a larger public. An assignment she pioneered in 2012, a popular literary Twitter role play for Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, playfully reimagines this classic novel and posits reading and interpreting literature as creative social functions. In her second example, an Image and Sound Interpretation (using only images, audio, video, but no words, to interpret a poem), students create a collaborative synesthetic digital space that expands traditional close reading methods and goals. Dierkes-Thrun’s third example is a final assignment that replaces the term paper with a teaching sequence, student-produced pedagogical rationale and teaching materials developed by students, for other students or community organizations, which illustrate a new pedagogical paradigm of “critical contribution” online (Cathy Davidson’s term for students’ productive contribution to society via knowledge sharing). The unique new affordances of digital media also increase motivation, Dierkes-Thrun argues: teaching and learning collaboratively and playfully, integrating critical contribution and public outreach into traditional literature course, and giving students (and teachers) a larger sense of purpose and audience for their work.

Alan Levine’s talk “Assignment Riffing: What Happens in DS106 Does Not Stay in DS106” expands our session’s conversation beyond the course, unit, or a particular institution. Unlike MOOCs (of c and x variety),  his open digital story course ds106 uniquely stands as more than one course, but as overlapping ones from multiple institutions with a cloud of open participants. Its Internet radio station and Daily Create challenges offer opportunities outside the course. An open assignment bank not only gives flexibility to choose assignments, but also invites participants to add new ones, a living example of the “adjacent possible” in a course. It may appear ludicrous to house assignments for editing images of famous paintings to include fat cats, creating poetry from titles of songs, or putting fast food in the hands of internet pioneers, but the media created are not the end goals in ds106. Participants open their apertures of creative interpretation, incorporate works of others in a constructive fashion, and narrate their creative process. A frequent spirit of spontaneous “riffing” occurs, not unlike that of improvisational jazz musicians, that ripples far beyond the confines of one course.

Finally, Amanda Starling Gould’s “Assignments, Assessments, and Makerspace Methods in the Literary Digital Humanities Writing Course” offers her Augmenting Realities Duke university undergraduate course as an example of how one might enact a literary digital humanities writing course, detailing the method, motive, and several tested modes for digital project assessment. Because syllabi and course assignments can be as instructive as methodological explanation, the main focus of this presentation will be a hands-on introduction to several digital humanities assignments in the course. Assignments as Digitally Annotating the Graphic Novel, the Final Transmedia Essay & Collaborative Web Journal, Creating Dynamic Digital ePortfolios, the Impossible One-Slide Presentation, and a grand Google Glass Literary App Challenge, invite audience attendees to explore the assignment specifics, tools used, and the students’ final products, and understand their integration within the narrative of the course. Gould’s case study, as well as our special session’s as a whole, aims at sparking critical innovation for integrating the digital into all humanities disciplines and to encourage experimentation that resists the traditional boundaries of contemporary pedagogy in order to facilitate rigorously creative digital learning environments.

These papers are likely to provoke a lively discussion ranging from exchanges of concrete pedagogical ideas and best practices of yesterday and today, to more conceptual, fundamental, and controversial reflections on the challenges and opportunities of teaching language, literature, writing and storytelling digitally today and tomorrow.


Gabriele Dillmann, Associate Professor of German at Denison University, teaches courses in German language, German, Swiss, and Austrian literature and culture, and seminars on psychoanalytic theory and neuropsychoanalysis. In her teaching she makes innovative use of newest digital technologies to foster language skills, intercultural competencies and global learning, for example in her globally networked German course with the American University in Bulgaria.  She is also very dedicated to Cultures and Languages across the Curriculum (CLAC) and team-teaching pedagogies. Her scholarly interests are increasingly vested in how digital technologies shape how we learn and teach now and in the near future. Her more traditional scholarship is in the area of German Romanticism and psychoanalytic theory, specifically suicide studies. For an updated account of her most recent projects, please visit Last year, she was awarded the Julian H. Robertson Jr. Endowed Chair at her institution for her work in teaching, service, and scholarship.

Petra Dierkes-Thrun is a Lecturer in the Comparative Literature Department at Stanford University with interests in Victorian, fin-de-siècle, and modernist studies, as well as feminist and LGBTQ studies. Her book Salome’s Modernity: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetics of Transgression was published by The University of Michigan Press in 2011. Petra serves as advisory editor for boundary2 (Duke University Press), founding editor of the international online journal The Latchkey: Journal of New Woman Studies, and board member for Rodopi’s Dialogue series. Petra actively incorporates digital pedagogy into her literature and gender studies seminars at Stanford, developing new kinds of student exercises and activities involving social media, learning collaborations with the public, and digital student projects aimed at thoughtful, creative engagement with traditional humanities contents and methods via the new media, as well as blogging about these topics at and most recently, consulting for other universities who want to learn more about her ideas. Two years ago at MLA, Petra already organized a session entitled “Literature and Digital Pedagogies” that was chosen as part of the presidential theme and drew a large crowd of interested MLA members.

Alan Levine is recognized for expertise in the application of new technologies to education. A pioneer on the web in the 1990s and an early proponent of blogs and RSS, he shares his ideas and discoveries at CogDogBlog. Among his recent interests are new forms of web-based storytelling and encouraging acts of creativity (including 50+ Web 2.0 Ways To Tell a Story, pechaflickr, and a thing called the StoryBox), and is an adjunct online teacher of the open digital storytelling class, ds106 for the University of Mary Washington and George Mason University. Levine has held leadership technology positions at the New Media Consortium and the Maricopa Community Colleges. Currently he is providing education consultancy services as His recent work revolves around application of syndication structures to create of project and course web sites with a distributed network structure for the Hague University of Applied Sciences, the Educational Technology MOOC, the Harvard School of Graduate Education, and Thompson Rivers University. Levine has authored several articles for EDCAUSE Review and most recently a chapter in Invasion of the MOOCs: The Promises and Perils of Massive Open Online Courses.

Amanda Starling Gould is a media-lit scholar at Duke University investigating digital cultures, network ecologies, digital humanities scholarship, and innovative modes of pedagogy. She teaches digital humanities and media studies courses at Duke and has recently been presenting and leading workshops on digital pedagogy and assessing digital scholarship. She is a James B Duke Fellow, a HASTAC Scholar, one of the inaugural PhD Lab Scholars at Duke’s PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge (a member of the Praxis Network), and a newly anointed Duke ‘Flipping the Classroom’ Faculty Fellow. For more information, please see her website,, where she posts updates about publications, research, digital projects, academic activities, and teaching.

4 North Park Place Newark, OH: Art and History in Unexpected Places

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The Denison Art Department had its BFA group show at 4 North Park Place in downtown Newark this April. Students displayed their art work throughout the three floors of the building after an intense clean-up of several days. The idea was to create a space that would show a symbiotic relationship between students’ artwork and the space itself.  If you had a chance to see the show, you were in for a surprise. The entire, huge building with its seemingly endless rooms is a work of art. Over the years, the slow decay of walls and ceilings has created patterns and shapes that are stunningly beautiful to a point where sometimes the intentionally created art struggles to compete with what nature has created by itself.

Walking through the vast space, from one dilapidated room to the next, I wonder how long these floors have been left to themselves to decay and wither away behind a perfectly well maintained facade of the historic downtown building. I find the answer in a room with Kristie King’s name tag by its entrance door: Tuesday, January 31, 1933 reads the date on one of the newspaper pages spread all over the floor in anticipation of a renovation project that was never completed. For 81 years this place has been abandoned at a time that would be the beginning of one of the greatest tragedies to befall Europe and with it the United States. “Hitler Faces Stormy Course in German Chancellorship – Nationalists Celebrate in Wild Fashion,” reads the headline of page 2 of The Ohio State Journal with a photograph of Adolf Hitler in typical grim and hostile pose. “Gets his chance – Adolf Hitler, leader of the German Nationalists, was made chancellor yesterday in a common effort to pull the fatherland out of the mire,” its caption elaborates on Hitler’s infamous Machtergreifung (seizure of power) adopting the nationalist rhetoric of the time. The day before, on January 30th, 1933, Hitler was appointed Reichskanzler by President Hindenburg. On the day after this newspaper page was printed, Hitler gave his first national radio address, “Appeal to the German People.” By the end of World War II, tens of millions of people had died or were missing in action, about 420,000 of those were American soldiers, 23,000 were men and women from Ohio.

The paper is holding up surprisingly well considering its age and its exposure to an unforgiving environment. With a little effort, even the smaller print is still legible. It is as if time had been arrested behind these historic walls. Fortunately, Kristie had the foresight to leave this room untouched and let the remnants of history speak for themselves.

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From the Downtown Newark Ohio Association website we learn a little bit about these semi-abandoned buildings:

Newark, Ohio was founded in 1802 by Maj. William C. Schenk, who came to Ohio from Newark, New Jersey. It was incorporated into a town in 1826 and became a city in 1860. Our beautiful Second Empire Courthouse was dedicated in 1876 as the 4th courthouse on this site. It is surrounded by the Downtown Newark National Register Historic District which contains more than 90 well-preserved late 19th early 20th century commercial structures, representing a wide variety of architectural styles. Many of the shops, restaurants, attractions and points of interest are housed in these structures.

What has happened to that building since that paper was spread to protect this small room’s floors from the messes of restoration 81 years ago?

Let’s see the show:


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Globally Connected German Courses Project

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All video links have been removed to respect the privacy of our students.

Find out more about the Student-Faculty Research Conference at AUBG here.

Modern Germany at AUBG

During my stay at AUBG I had the good fortune to participate in a class in Professor Stantcheva’s Modern Germany advanced language level course.  This particular unit was on the broader topic “money”, not just on the Euro as the predominant currency, but it also included discussions on the Swiss Frank, counterfeit money, virtual money, Old money (the Mark), and a critical piece on the “Euro as Teuro” (expensiveo!). Students had completed a homework fill- in- the- gap- assignment to prepare themselves for today’s topic by studying the relevant basic vocabulary. This exercise then also served as a nice warm-up for the class. In anticipation of the small texts to be read and their discussion, Prof. S. provided students with the respective text headings and had students brainstorm ideas about what these texts might be about specifically. This was a great way to engage students with the materials and vocabulary. Something was now at stake when Diana had her students read these short texts and then assess whether their assumptions were met or not. It turned out that students’ guesses were pretty right on in most cases, but there were a few surprises as well (Falsches Geld? Wrong money?). Students also expanded their Wortschatz, their word treasure, significantly during this exercise and refreshed some historic facts about European currencies nearly seamlessly on the side. The unit ended with an engaging discussion question: What do you believe our currency will look like in the future? to which students contributed with very interesting comments and ideas.

The class ended with a student presentation on the German Education system in preparation of the next class meeting. This PPT presentation by Economic and Business major senior Nataliya S. led to an interesting discussion on what makes Germany (as well as Austria and Switzerland) attractive to students from East-European countries.  Primarily students mentioned the high quality of education, the fact that it’s affordable and Germany as a premier economic power. Interesting to me was the impression that students understood themselves primarily as Europeans and less so as being of a specific nationality.All students in the class were multi-lingual with German being a third or forth language in their linguistic repertoire, a fact that was echoed not without a tinge of envy by our Denison students in their video conference assessment of our synchronously connected courses the previous Wednesday.

Students in this course are pursuing majors in Economics and Business Administration, Political Science, European Studies, and Computer Science, which also reflects the university’s main areas of study. Compared to Denison U, AUBG is much more of a professionally focused school than a liberal arts college in the classic sense. For example, despite the fact that AUBG is an American college in Eastern Europe where English is not necessarily the second but often the third language that students speak, the college does not offer an English major, not even a minor. Their American Studies major appears to be more of a complement to such areas of inquiry as Economics or Political Science than the study of American culture in a more humanistic sense. Similarly, despite the strong interest in all things German, the course offerings do not go beyond German language courses when it is clear that many students are keenly interested in at least a minor. Nor are there any other language courses offered that go beyond the basics.Perhaps one can say in summary that the humanities are certainly not as strongly represented as one would expect in a more typical liberal arts college.

Besides being multi-lingual and multi-cultural, students here are hard-working and dedicated to their studies. They are highly engaged, inquisitive, and very interested in learning about other cultures and  their practices. I very much enjoyed interacting with these very impressive young people.

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9th CLAC Conference @ Denison U

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Cultures and Languages across the Curriculum (CLAC) at


Conference Theme: Engaging a Wider Community through CLAC

Save the Date

April 16 and 17, 2015

on the beautiful Denison University Campus in Granville, Ohio!

For previous conference information visit the CLAC Consortium Website.

CLAC Conference Website will be up soon.


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Synchronous class AUBG and Denison was a success!










After a successful equipment test on the previous Monday, students in Professor Diana Stantcheva’s Modern Germany course and Denison students connected synchronously via Jabber on Wednesday evening (Bulgarian time: 17:45, EST: 10:45 am). Diana and I had planned a 30 minute class component to take place in my Denison colleague Gary Baker’s class, which asked students to introduce themselves and then discuss questions of interest to each group that had been prepared as a homework assignment. Since Diana’s class had been covering “advertisement” in class, students were also encouraged to practice their newly acquired vocabulary by asking Denison students questions on this topic.


Denison’s class was much larger in size (14 students compared to 5 at AUBG), which meant that each AUBG students was challenged to speak much more individually than their Denison counterparts. They did not seem to mind, however, and tried their best to answer and ask questions. This seems to be a general characteristic of the typical AUBG student, they make a real concerted effort to communicate thoughtfully and with much engagement. Being students in a school of s multi-lingual environment, of course, contributes significantly to their relative comfort and ease in switching linguistic and cultural codes.The difference in class size also meant, however, that not all Denison students got to ask questions in the short time allotted for this initial meeting, but the questions they did ask were engaging and interesting.

DSC_6490.JPG.client.x675 - Version 2One DU student, for example, wanted to know why students at AUBG are studying German. AUBG students first emphasized how important it is in a global world to speak several languages, and then explained specifically that attending university in Germany or Austria as European Studies and Business majors is especially attractive. Several students are contemplating getting their advanced degrees in either Germany or Austria. They further said that with Germany being a key player in the world’s economy with business locations in most countries attractive to them,  it is of great benefit to know German well. When AUBG student’s asked Denison students the same question, they received similar answers about the business world, but less so in regard to studying for an advanced degree in a German-speaking country. One student’s question about the Bulgarian’s opinions regarding Americans caused a little stir perhaps, but the AUBG students proved to be real troopers in trying to answer the question as honestly as they could in such a short time. The response was essentially a very positive one, stressing that they perceive Americans as hard-working and highly motivated towards professional success. In our debriefing session after the conference was concluded AUBG students expressed that they would have liked to hear what Americans thought of Europeans, perhaps East-Europeans, which again shows how “selbstverständlich” their identity as Europeans is to them. Of course, clearly, this aspect is also the product of studying at an internationally focused school that is comprised of a multitude of nationalities, languages, and cultures.

Diana and I prepared a questionnaire about the online meeting for students to reflect on different aspects such as expectations, surprises, challenges, the technology, and their opinions of the importance of intercultural communication. Both Denison and AUGB students have been asked to answer these questions candidly (in German) and email them to the three professors. An initial discussion at AUBG in regard to surprises generated a very interesting answer by an AUBG student: “I am surprises that such a technology exists!”

What was the student’s first reaction on both sides: let’s do this again – this was so much fun and we learned so much!! Diana and I were beaming with delight – such a response makes all the trials and tribulations associated with such a project worthwhile! Without a doubt.



A photographer from AUBG Today magazine was present to take pictures of the event. A reporter also came to our joint presentation during the (very impressive!!) annual Student-Faculty Research Conference to report on our project both in the printed and online magazine. It was very encouraging that students expressed so much interest in this connected courses project. I will post more once they make some pictures and their story available.

Whether our project is of interest to the institution as whole, however, is not immediately obvious. Several faculty members, on the other hand, across the disciplines expressed great interest and asked for the conversation to be continued.





Best Places in Blagoevgrad

This is now my 8th day in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. And while it’s been very interesting to spend time at AUBG and get to know many lovely students and faculty members, I have now also had the pleasure to meet some really great local people. The latter can be a bit tricky because outside of the university very few people speak English. I had always had a suspicion that the convenient claim that “everybody speaks English in this day and age” simply isn’t true across-the-board like that. Well, here certainly it isn’t! That has its challenges but also its rewards. You really learn a lot about people when they don’t speak your language(s). And you learn a lot about yourself, too. Just how creative can you be with hands and feet, eyes and facial expressions, or a simple pencil? And one good tip: Google translate for Bulgarian is definitely not recommended especially when you try to order food (and end up with “meet tasty bulgar” and the whole restaurant laughs at you. Could have been worse, could have ended up with the chef himself!) And Google maps also isn’t much help when all the street signs are in the cyrillic alphabet.

Some places have quickly become favorites.

Number 1: Chance Restaurant


Definitely, tops after a long day at the desk is this little restaurant by the river championing the big with fate name Chance. It’s situated right at the river by a pretty bridge with benches and tables under big umbrellas right next to the bubbling waters. The inside of the place is modest, but the bucolic view out of the row of windows along the length of the walls facing the river is majestic. Not only is the owner, George, very welcoming but he simply must be able to read minds. The menu is in Bulgarian only and we don’t speak each other’s language, but somehow I always get exactly the food that I have in mind. The food, too, is modest, but very tasty and the wine very drinkable (add a little ice to the white, Bulgarians seem to prefer room temperature drinks). And every restaurant is only as good as its guests are, too! Whenever I go, somebody joins me at the table for a hands and feet conversation. Sometimes George does so too.  Not to worry, though, the less socially inclined guest can comfortably sit at a table by herself undisturbed.


Test: Synchronous Connection AUBG and Denison University German Courses

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On Monday we tested the conference equipment in the room AUBG has set up for video conferencing. It is the only room with an installed camera, the individual computers in the classrooms and in the language lab do not have cameras installed. Katerina, one of two of AUBG’s ITs for the entire building that houses several university offices and departments, had established the connection via Jabber software on the large screen in the room. The camera sits on top of it and can easily be pointed to best capture the persons seated around a 12 seats conference table. The connection was beautiful and without any interferences. Cheryl reported that on the Denison side, the sound coming from us was good but somewhat metallic. She concluded that the room did have wooden floors, rather than carpet, which absorbs the sound just enough to give it a less hollow sounding quality. This first test was very encouraging to all of us. If I understood this correctly, this equipment was installed over a year ago and had never been used for anything. So this was a virgin run for the equipment as such as well.

Homeless Dogs in Bulgaria


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I usually try to sneak a bulb or clipping into the US from wherever it is that I am visiting. From Bulgaria, however, I am much more tempted to import a dog. Bulgaria has tons of homeless dogs everywhere in their cities and villages and if it had not been for Brigitte Bardot -yes, the actress – they wouldn’t even be alive. You might have heard about it in the news a while ago, several celebrities got all involved in saving post-socialist animals, especially dogs. Brigitte Bardot effected that the dogs be sterilized and not killed, but the running joke here is that since Bulgarians are not trying to have sex with the dogs but rather are trying to not be killed by them it would have been better to invest in pulling their teeth. The dogs I have seen – and met – certainly wouldn’t bite anybody though. They are very friendly, real survivors. Everyday I walk to the university, one of them meets me by the alley entrance and trots behind me until I get to the entrance area. I wish I could bring him home. But colleagues here tell me that tourists want to do so all the time and that it is almost impossible because of the red tape.

And then I realized that they also have a very vivid social life after 6 pm. They can get a little testy at that point. Peer pressure.

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Then.. I saw her.. but she’s a little different from the others..



Shared homelessness.