Kenyon professors blend cutting-edge opportunities with traditional pedagogy

Picture this: It's the first day of classes. Your Shakespeare professor hands you a CD-ROM as one of your "required texts." In music composition, you sit at a workstation whose computer comes equipped with two keyboards, the one that you expect to find with the monitor and another that looks like a truncated piano. Your modern Chinese course meets in a "smart" classroom where the student across the room is actually located on a campus twenty-five miles away. In aquatic ecology, your professor sends you to the Kokosing River with a wireless laptop to download data on water quality that is continuously collected by an on-site computer.

Brave new world? Across the curriculum, from classics to environmental science, from art to modern languages, from music to anthropology, modes of teaching and learning that were not available twenty years ago are transforming many Kenyon classrooms. And while professors who use wired classrooms aver that some teaching is best done the old-fashioned way, they are also loud in their praise of what technology allows them, and their students, to do.

Classics, that venerable mainstay of the liberal-arts curriculum, would seem to be the discipline most resistant to technological innovation. That's not the case for Assistant Professor Carolin Hahnemann, who recently incorporated PowerPoint presentations into her mythology course.

"In the past, I have not been able to do justice to the fact that the 'story'-mythos is Greek for story-is handed down not only by poets but also by painters, sculptors, and other artists," Hahnemann explains. "Handouts were just too clumsy and often did not reproduce the images well enough. Slides are overwhelmingly work-intensive if you do not own a collection yourself, apart from the fact that the equipment was not always readily available."

On a mid-term course evaluation, many students made a point of expressing their appreciation for the visual materials. Now Hahnemann is in the process of digitizing about one hundred and fifty pages of materials for "Intensive Greek," including assignment sheets, quizzes, and handouts, in order to reduce demand for paper.

In the art department, easels, paint, and chisels happily coexist with scanners and computers. "Everything I do now is using technology," says Professor of Art Claudia Esslinger.

In Esslinger's "Digital Imaging" class, generating electronic collages with scanners and computers helps students cultivate an appreciation of compositional and conceptual concerns. "We also address a major issue in contemporary art, which is the appropriation of contemporary cultural images in order to comment on them," she says.

Esslinger is working with Assistant Professor of Drama Jonathan Tazewell '84, who teaches film-making as well as film studies, to design a much-needed digital classroom in Bexley Hall at the northern end of campus.

"Artists have historically helped to create and push the boundaries of new technologies," Esslinger points out. "From the invention of lithography to uses of photography, artists have been part of the creative fabric of our industrial and post-industrial age. Artists have influenced and reacted to the commercial developments of video, television, and film."

Not to mention music. Assistant Professor of Music Ted Buehrer '91 is making the most of the music department's computer-equipped classroom, which enables him to do more comparative study with students' work than was once possible. He can tune in to students' work on their computers, for example, change one or two notes on their assignments at his own computer, and instantly play back the aural result so the students can hear the difference.

Each student workstation contains a computer loaded with software for music notation, sequencing, editing, and ear training, in addition to a Korg synthesizer and headphones outfitted with microphones. Buehrer can listen in on individual students as they work at their stations, and can establish two-way communication with any student through the headphones. He can transmit students' work to classroom speakers and project their computer screens to a large overhead screen for the class to hear and view. The classroom makes it possible to offer courses such as "Introduction to Computer Music and MIDI" [Musical Instrument Digital Interface, which allows electronic musical instruments to interact with each other]. It also allows Buehrer a chance to give students "a glimpse of technology's potential in the music business, and show them what it's like in the real world."

Many English classes are still well taught with technology no more sophisticated than the book and the blackboard, but Associate Professor Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky sought something more advanced to improve his course on "Shakespeare and Film."

Mechanical and pedagogical challenges arose the first time he offered the course using videotape. "A tape might get stuck in the VCR in the first ten minutes of class," he recalls, "and there you were with forty minutes to go and nothing that could be viewed." Another kind of problem emerged at paper-writing time: students might review a videotape at the library, but they could not have the film in front of them while writing, limiting what they could achieve in their analyses.

Last year, Lobanov-Rostovsky and a colleague teaching a similar course at Denison University used a Mellon Collaborative Technology grant to explore new ways to present film in the classroom using digital technologies. They digitized selected segments from a host of films adapting the Bard's plays, then burned them onto CD-ROMs and distributed them to students. Students enrolled in the course will now work from two anthologies: the standard Riverside Shakespeare tipping the scales at six pounds, and a collection of film clips on compact disc weighing less than six ounces.

"We wanted to make it possible for students to analyze and write about film the same way they would write about a poem, story, or a play, by having the cinematic 'texts' in front of them as they wrote their papers," says Lobanov-Rostovsky. "Rather than trying to base their analysis on their recollection of one or two viewings of a film, they could look closely at a scene or a sequence multiple times and see more clearly how the filmmaker had constructed it."

The clips were also made available on a restricted website which students could access and Lobanov-Rostovsky could project on a large screen in the classroom in Rutherford B. Hayes Hall.

Besides bidding farewell to tangled videotape, Lobanov-Rostovsky discovered he could move more efficiently and spontaneously between films discussed over the course of the semester, responding to the rich vagaries of class discussion.

"If students raised examples from earlier films, I had the important clips readily accessible to me on the CD-ROM, or through the web site, so that I could pull up the clip to illustrate or question the student's assumptions by having them look closely at the sequence," Lobanov-Rostovsky explains. "In the old days with videocassettes, that was simply impossible, because you can't carry that many videotapes around. It became the cinematic equivalent of simply asking students to flip back in their Shakespeare books to a previous play."

In the future, it might be possible for a student writing about a film to submit a paper electronically and include a hotlink to a particular clip, the same way they might quote a passage from a play in order to analyze it.

Even the standard course syllabus is not immune to technological updating. Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Mary Suydam pulls up links from her electronic syllabi as aids during lecture or discussion. The syllabus for her "Introduction to the Study of Religion" course links to a site containing ten English versions of the Bible, as well as versions in Greek, Hebrew, and forty-two other languages; a site on Buddhist pilgrimage; and one on the Roman Arch of Titus (

When students download the electronic syllabus for Robert A. Oden Jr. Professor Rita Kipp's "Introduction to Cultural Anthropology" course, they find themselves just a mouse click away from a series of tutorials on how to complete term papers, or from an animated site designed to elucidate different forms of kinship and marriage (

Kipp's classroom is equipped with a projector that functions for both showing videos and projecting from the computer. Thanks to a web site at the University of Texas containing a comprehensive collection of world maps and a CD-ROM set of National Geographic maps published over the last hundred years, she says, "The old rolls of maps above the blackboards are almost obsolete."

The extent to which Kipp integrates high tech into her teaching becomes apparent when she describes a recent session of her seminar, "Theater and Performance Across Asia." She began with a National Public Radio clip about current trends in Indian cinema, which featured Mira Nair talking about her new film, Monsoon Wedding. The students had watched Nair's earlier film, Salaam Bombay!, in the previous class. Later, Kipp projected a color map of Japan while introducing a new text on puppetry in rural Awaji, Japan. Finally, she showed several short video clips illustrating different types of puppetry in three Asian countries.

Technology is not only helping students connect with distant lands, it's also allowing students off-campus to sit in on classes virtually. In the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Associate Professor of Chinese Jianhua Bai uses specialized distance-learning technologies to make language instruction available to students at small Ohio colleges lacking the resources to offer these courses. (You can view his PowerPoint presentation on the distance classroom at

These classes meet in Ascension 25, which was transformed into a "smart" classroom with the addition of advanced audio-visual technologies in 1999. While Bai convenes in person with his Kenyon students, class members from other colleges "join" the session from similarly equipped classrooms on their own campuses, enabling them to see and be seen, to hear and be heard. (See slides of the classroom at and or go to and click on the link to view a streaming video clip of a distance class in Chinese.)

In a reciprocal arrangement, two Kenyon students enrolled this year in a language course in Arabic offered at Denison University withoutever having to leave Gambier. Three times as many Kenyon students have pre-registered to take Arabic next fall, and that number is expected to double with the arrival of the first-year class.

Sometimes technology is used to help students get out of the classroom. Thanks to a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in recent weeks the new educational facility at the Brown Family Environmental Center has been equipped with a wireless network and eight laptops, making the preserve a high-tech "classroom without walls."

Wireless technology means laptops can be taken into the field, ranging as far as the Kokosing River and the pine plantation on the hill behind the old farmhouse (site of an infamous lab assignment for introductory biology students over the past ten years). Slated to have its maiden voyage this fall, the wireless network will allow students at these sites to enter data as they collect it (or as it is amassed by "data loggers," small computers that collect data for continuous monitoring of, say, water level or quality) and also to access data needed in the field. The availability of GIS (Geographic Information System) makes spatial analysis and landscape study possible.

Associate Professor of Biology Siobhan Fennessy, codirector of the environmental studies program, foresees great advancements for her aquatic ecology lab in data collection and analysis, fieldwork, and presentations. "This is how scientists really work now, and students will begin to experience that as early as their first year of study," she says.

One would expect high technology to find a welcoming home in science and math departments, and especially on the part of those who work at the interface of the two disciplines, such as Assistant Professor of Mathematics Judy Holdener. Surprisingly, she says, many math departments hesitate to incorporate technological breakthroughs into the undergraduate classroom. "Not us!" says Holdener, speaking for her departmental colleagues. In "Modeling Biological Growth and Form," a web-based course, Holdener shares her enthusiasm for simulating and quantifying forms found in nature, a field known as theoretical morphology. "We study population models, fractal models, plant models, and seashell models," she says. Holdener's "Models of Life" home page, with descriptions of student projects, can be viewed at

E-mail has become so pervasive on campus that, when queried about the ways technology has affected their teaching, faculty members did not even mention it. But in fact the use of e-mail-and the rate at which it is used-on Kenyon's campus has meant an enormous qualitative change in the lives of students and professors.

E-mail, for better and for worse, has the power to extend office hours, classroom hours, and student-teacher conferences indefinitely. Happily, e-mail permits a student who grows passionate about a topic to communicate with a professor at the moment of greatest enthusiasm. Ideas need not grow cold awaiting the moment of articulation. If an electronic "bulletin board" has been established for the course, that student can tell the whole class about his or her sudden insight, or raise questions to be addressed in class. On the other hand, the deluge of e-mail twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, makes it harder for some professors to retain a sense of privacy. Technology renders them theoretically available to their students at all hours, even when in practice e-mail is checked only at certain times of day. In addition, the daily hours spent checking and responding to student e-mail messages significantly increase the time that faculty members spend informally teaching, advising, and conferring with their students. For every student who shows up at scheduled office hours, five more may be sending electronic messages. While the gift may be double-edged, at its best it helps foster closer teacher-student relationships. And what more should one ask of a pedagogical tool?

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