2008 Teaching and Learning Symposium

2:30-4:30 p.m., May 6, 2008
HUB Ballroom

Session Description



The Feedback Cycle: Assigning Empirical Research in Cultural Studies

Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges - English

My SOTL proposal represents work currently in progress. During Winter 2008, I crafted an assignment designed to bring empirical research and writing into an English cultural studies class. The course, which focused on cyberculture, enrolled students across the disciplines seeking VLPA credit as well as a small number of English majors. The curriculum not only introduced students to cyberculture studies but also allowed them to draw upon knowledge and methods from their own fields, which included anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, and biochemistry, among others.

The course final project required students to analyze how individuals construct online identities, engage with digital games, interact in Internet spaces, or connect and distinguish their virtual and physical existences. To do so, they examined online primary sources: personal web pages, blogs, games, web communities and political action sites. Moreover, they interviewed and surveyed bloggers, members of virtual groups, and individual web authors about their online practices. The final project involved multiple assignments: electronic postings, a proposal, a poster presentation of tentative conclusions, and an essay or web site; students received feedback on ideas-in-progress from me and their peers (see http://faculty.washington.edu/kgb/cyberculture/requirements.html for assignment details and grading criteria). I incorporated this four-stage process to discover whether a specific sequence of research, writing, and presentation tasks would allow students to successfully engage in empirical inquiry.

While students have yet to submit their final essays or web sites, I have already observed various effects of my teaching. As expected, students used their electronic postings to develop final project topics, and they drew upon my proposal feedback to refine their claims, integrate concepts from course readings, and examine a broader range of evidence. What I did not expect was the extent to which students privileged their peers’ feedback and collaborated on solutions to research challenges. During a discussion of students’ completed proposals, the class actively brainstormed approaches to common problems. An education student conducted an impromptu question-and-answer session on analyzing qualitative data. All class members also agreed to respond to their peers’ surveys. The final week of class operated as a poster conference, with half the class presenting each day and the other half responding to the presentations. I found that the poster sessions motivated students to make significant revisions to their work in progress. After seeing others’ posters, students narrowed the scope of their projects, investigated additional secondary sources and decided to collect additional empirical data.

To fully assess the impact of my teaching, I have developed a survey students will complete after submitting the final stage of the project. The short-answer survey asks them to comment upon the usefulness of each stage of the project, to analyze how extensively they incorporated feedback to revise their work-in-progress, and to discuss how observing people’s online behavior and surveying them about their practices provided answers to students’ research questions.




Index of Symposium Presenters