Students use liberal arts to explore Centre’s history

Posted by Centre News in Academics, Art History, News 02 Jun 2017

art historyDuring the 2017 spring semester, Associate Professor of Art History Jay Bloom taught a course titled Visualizing Centre’s History that allowed students to combine and utilize various aspects of the liberal arts education through art, history, research and technology.

“I wanted to see if I could design a course that forged a closer correspondence between the kinds of experiences offered in typical liberal arts classes and those that our students might be likely to encounter in work environments post-graduation,” Bloom explained.

Completely project-based, Bloom created the course to allow students to pick one of three topics that they would pursue as part of a multi-disciplinary, collaborative team.

“I picked the topics in advance, with an eye toward developing projects that could contribute to the College’s Bicentennial celebrations in 2019: The Civil Rights era at Centre and its legacy, the development of Centre as a co-educational institution and the impact of Title IX, and the history of Centre’s campus,” he said.

The three teams had to dig deep into their topics and publish their results using an innovative open-source software platform called Scalar, which allows rich multi-modal content.

“What that means is that the students could not only publish their textual research,” Bloom said, “but also upload scanned images of archival documents and photographs, embed audio and video files and link to related content on the web.”

“In turn, this allows the users to explore the whole host of materials that the students examined throughout their research campaign, and what a Centre education can be in the 21st century, combining traditional research with innovative digital expression and making the fruits of their labors accessible to a diverse audience,” he continued.

Throughout the entire semester, the students conducted primary research; learned a variety of software programs for digital publishing; 3D virtual reconstruction and data visualization; conducted interviews with faculty, staff, students and alumni; and conceived the visual expression for a historical narrative.

“My overall experience in the class revolved around group interactions and teamwork,” Mathias Braboy ’17 said. “It was a new experience for me, because I have never been in a group project-centered class. It challenged me to use skills I developed at Centre, like critical thinking, public speaking, writing and research.”

Not only did the students learn about the history of Centre, they also developed a variety of skills that can be transferred to other experiences in their academic and professional careers.

“They learned a lot about focused, archival research, about group collaboration, project management and individual accountability and a wide array of technical skills and software programs,” Bloom said. “Perhaps most importantly, I think many of the students learned how to learn those skills. Meaning, I did not serve as the expert in the room—I was learning many of the necessary technical skills alongside the students.”

The projects were entirely in the hands of the students, while Bloom would simply give direction and feedback.

“Each team developed a distinctive group dynamic, which resulted in different leadership structures and working methods,” he said. “And of course, the results of each project are quite different, but I think they speak for themselves.”

In order for other classes like this to be offered, a multi-year collaboration between faculty and staff in the library and Center for Teaching and Learning classrooms, called the Digital Initiative Studio, will serve to consolidate and publicize the increasing number of digital projects completed in Centre classrooms.

The Digital Initiative Studio website will be launched this summer, granting access to the variety of technology-based projects completed over the last few years and providing information about how to develop future projects.

View the projects from the course:
Old Sayre Library
Juxtapose of women’s diving
Kentucky College for Women’s History: Revealing the Story of Women at Centre College

by Kerry Steinhofer
May 30, 2017