Project:  Alice Widens the Looking Glass: Multicultural Reflections in Philosophy and Literature
Project web site:
Team members:  Elizabeth Shadish, Suzanne Gates and Gloria Miranda

This project is a collaborative philosophy/literature website designed to be used by students in two classes: English 1A (freshman composition) and Philosophy 2 (Introduction to Philosophy). The website itself uses Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass texts as a metaphor through which to enter the site. Students actually engage the metaphor as they are navigating the site, which is designed as a resource center (listing appropriate websites students that may be used for research in our courses). Both the English and the philosophy classes use the Lewis Carroll texts in class, as well as metaphorically, on the website.

We have accomplished most of what we set out to accomplish within the time frame we originally established. We have, in the following order:

Produced a design for our website (unified by the theme of the "curious Alice" re-exploring her/the world) that is simple, navigationally clear and easy to use. We hope it is also somewhat appealing in appearance and style.

Loaded appropriate, academically sound and pedagogically useful resources onto the website, and made significant changes in the schedule and readings of one of our fall 2000 classes (Philosophy 2 for Shadish and English 1A for Gates) to incorporate use of this material in our teaching.

Designed specific learning activities that involve our students in learning through use of this website. We each designed two distinct activities/projects in which students were required to conduct both guided and free searches of the web, collaborate with other students in developing and/or critiquing their search results/analysis and explain the value and relevance of the web resources they eventually incorporated into their final submissions.

Began using our model campus-wide as a basis for using technology to promote/teach the humanities. We felt that we could best promote the humanities and the use of technology by organizing a group of on-campus faculty and facilitating a "rolling discussion" and critique of websites and web activities that faculty are currently employing or developing for use in their teaching activities. The peer discussion group met twice a month; the first monthly meeting was devoted to a special topic and presentation, and the second monthly meeting was an informal faculty workshop held in a computer lab. As facilitators of ECC's first technology peer review group, we also began a discussion listserv, posting the monthly meeting notes and other relevant information.

We were supported in our endeavors by our faculty mentor from Northern Virginia Community College, Dr. Diane Thompson. Our frequent conference calls with Dr. Thompson became sources of continued solace and inspiration. When we had designed the structure of the website, Dr. Thompson's insights were crucial in planning how best to use that structure to teach our courses. The spring visit that Dr. Thompson made to our campus was beneficial in several ways. First, Dr. Thompson was able to point out various sources of technological support on our own campus that we had not even considered. Second, her presence on campus (and the large turnout at her luncheon presentation) provided the foundation for our newly-formed faculty peer discussion group.

We also were assisted in our project by a campus administration that wholly believed in advancing the humanities through the use of new technologies and that encouraged us to experiment in new and innovative ways. This support was not only in word but also in deed. We were given course release time to provide us with the time necessary to work on the project, and financial support to provide us with the materials, such as zip drives, DVD drives and software, necessary to the project's success. ECC President Thomas Fallo, Vice President Nadine Hata and Director of Development Donna Manno were integral to the success of our project.

Perhaps our main avenue of information dissemination was through the faculty peer review group we organized during the final semester of the project. While the focus of our website was on our students; the focus of the faculty peer review group was on our colleagues. We directed our attention to, in essence, faculty development, as mediated by both our website and a general concern/readiness for field-specific uses of technology. Utilizing both our experience in developing our own website, and Shadish's experience in coordinating faculty online developmental activities through the California Virtual College, we organized interested on-campus faculty to discuss their own integration of technology into the humanities curriculum. We sought to incorporate the following activities into meetings of the peer review group:

  • Initiation of a "rolling discussion" of websites and web activities that faculty are currently employing, or developing for use, in their teaching activities. This discussion was conducted as collaborative and constructive criticism of faculty work, using a peer review model.
  • Periodic reviews of technology use (with respect to both content and pedagogy) in the humanities across the nation. We located and discussed in-use websites that give a concrete, and field-relevant, sense of what can be done with and through the web.
  • Development of teaching strategies and methods to utilize the full and unique potentials of the web with respect to learning styles, collaborative learning, active learning and the like.
  • Focus on content over technological sophistication. The "low-tech, high content" focus makes the notion of creating/using other humanities-oriented websites feasible and inviting to our colleagues (and, of course, their students). "High-tech" is wonderful, but our experience suggests that, if the web is to become a regular part of instruction in the humanities, most faculty would be interested to know how much can be done by people who do not intend to become experts in technology, and who might not have, or want to work extensively with, the technology people on their campus.
  • Website design. Faculty-produced websites are clearly not produced by design professionals, yet they should be clear and inviting in their look and structure. As such, it demonstrates what can be done with a minimum of technological sophistication.

Our semester agenda was organized around the following monthly topics:

  • February: Organization of peer group; what makes a great teaching website?
  • March: How can technologies be used for hybrid courses?
  • April: Resources and materials: An off-campus "expert" guest speaker will discuss emphasizing content over technological sophistication.
  • May: What teaching strategies or student strategies employing technology are successful? According to summative evaluations, participating faculty would like to continue the peer review group during ECC's next academic year. We look forward to growing collaboration between humanities faculty and disciplines, and further investigation of technological approaches.
In addition, our team presented once during an annual faculty development day, once when our mentor visited the ECC campus, once during a regional conference, and once at CCHA's western conference in San Diego. Each of these presentations highlighted the construction and content-driven website created as the result of the larger CCHA/NEH project. These four professional presentations both gave us the opportunity to share our experiences with our colleagues and solidified our belief that our home campus must technologically support incorporating technology into the humanities.

Lessons Learned
Most of our time initially was spent learning the web-authoring software Dreamweaver. We spent more time than we had expected on the creation of the website, in part because we had a very difficult time finding the technical help we needed to learn to use the necessary software. We did, eventually, discover that ECC has many helpful people who could provide the technological expertise that we needed; but finding them was made difficult by a lack of visibility and the organization of these "human resources." We discovered that these support personnel were overwhelmed with their own tasks, and had little time to spend helping faculty in the creation of a learning website. As a result, we became convinced that a campus must not only support faculty use of technology but provide instructional technology specialists to work with faculty on specific projects.

The use of a single text as the basis for thematic development on our project did, we found, turn out to limit our choices of materials a bit more than we had anticipated. That was not a problem for a single class or semester, but it might need to be addressed should we continue to build on the site for more regular and/or extensive future use.

However, overall the content of our project really did accomplish much of what the CCHA/NEH grant was designed to do most, encourage and support. Our idea was to create a website that would model creative and academically sound uses of the web, not simply showcase the amount of online links/resources "out there" in cyberspace. This modeling, thus, was to be done through the building of activities and suggestions into the very organization of the website. While there is much more that could be done along these lines, we feel that we have included activities that do the sort of modeling that was envisioned by the grant.

Elizabeth Shadish,
El Camino College

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