One of the challenges for faculty members and students on study abroad research and service learning trips is capturing their research in meaningful, engaging ways that can be captured and showcased for others at the College, and beyond, to benefit from. One current W&M solution to this problem is to create a course website using WordPress and then having students post their research on the website. While publishing research papers is a good first step, these text-based essays don’t take advantage of the great opportunity that a study abroad research trip affords for great photographic supplemental materials. Indeed, a good photo journal to go along with a student’s research can not only keep the reader of the website engaged, but it can help tell the story in fundamental ways that mere text alone can’t do.
So Pablo and I are working on an exciting new project — devoted to student research abroad–which is heavily dependent on being able to include an embedded interactive multimedia Web map. (You can look at the project here: W&M Global Mapping, but it isn’t ready for prime time as of this writing, so depending on when you visit the site, you may get crazy results. We’re hoping to have the site fully armed and operational by summer 2013.)
Since I have been at W&M, we have gone from the relative freedom of the Web left over from the 1990s to the more managed reality of the content management system. Content management systems (CMSs), like WordPress, provide easy ways to build websites and have your students present their work on the Web, but the CMS does have its drawbacks. In order for it to allow for the easy creation of polished-looking sites and let your students focus on writing, the CMS makes many of the other decisions about the website for them. Thinking through what a CMS-based student project often accomplishes may help you better refine your web-based student projects.
There’s a commonly held belief that people under 30 have a natural tech-savviness. This isn’t actually the case when it comes to many instructional technologies, and assuming that it’s true can lead to problems when assigning a project that requires technology skills. To help give you an idea of what you might think about when assessing students’ technology skills and assigning a media-rich project, I have several suggestions for how to think through the planning, communication, and training/support when considering such a project.