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Teaching at the Cantor

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When you bring your students out of the classroom into a campus space like the Cantor Arts Center, you’re helping students in several specific, valuable ways at once.

Help with the College Transition

As instructors of first- and second-year students, you’re working with students who are in a state of transition. Rory O’Brien McElwee points out in The Association for Psychological Science’s Observer, instructors of first-year students students are “one of the few faculty… with whom your students speak on a regular basis,” and are thus “uniquely positioned” to support their transition. “Part of helping your students adjust to college is to help them get to know the campus and its resources,” McElwee argues. Integrating a space like the Cantor or other campus resources into your teaching can be a low-stakes introduction to students of a campus resource which they might not otherwise discover during their first year or two. The Cantor offers student jobs, prizes, and social events, so an IntroSem visit could have far-ranging benefits to students in their Stanford careers.

Even if your class isn’t a good fit for the Cantor, it might be worth considering if there are other resources that it might be valuable to share with your IntroSems students. (Stanford maintains a list of Research Centers that might provide some inspiration.)

Build Student Visual Intelligence and More

In an Atlantic piece on art museums and teaching, Jacoba Urist notes: “Overall, the mission of college art may have evolved from strictly a teaching tool to something much more exploratory. But when students perceive their world differently, they become more imaginative and inventive thinkers.” This is especially important, according to Urist, because information has become more visual. Studies have shown that studying the visual arts builds visual observation skills across the disciplines; one recent study in the Journal of Nursing Education, for example, suggests that fine arts instruction leads to better physical observation skills among nurses. The rich visual landscape of the Cantor Arts Center provides ample opportunities for students to hone their visual observation and analysis skills.

Beyond the visual, another study shows student gains in recall, empathy, critical thinking, and tolerance following time spent in art museums, a trend that appears intensified for low-income and minority students. While this study is for younger students, it does suggests that having students spend a class period in the Cantor may be good for their emotional intelligence as well.

Expand Learning Beyond the Classroom

Cantor offers various types of opportunities for individual students and for courses. Faculty can take advantage of research and curricular consultations with the Cantor’s Academic Program Team. The Cantor also has two classrooms dedicated to the study of works not on display. Faculty are able to book teaching sessions in these classrooms, and can even propose courses to be held in the space, in collaboration with the museum’s art historians.

Exploring these opportunities and rethinking some class sessions to be held outside of the traditional classroom space can expand your teaching toolkit and offer you new perspectives on your syllabus and assignments. One study in Museum Management and Curatorship examines patterns in faculty assignments in an academic museum, concluding that these assignments are designed to build student skills in four main areas: observation and interpretation, analysis and synthesis, research, and organization. In other words, assigning museum work can be an integral part of many of the most important aspects of an early-college student’s skillset, and can prepare them for work across the disciplines.

Tech Corner: Digital Exhibition Tools

In honor of this teaching session’s “Teaching with the Cantor” theme, the Introductory Studies Academic Technology Specialist Beth Seltzer curated the following set of tools for instructors interested in having students work with visual materials and exhibits.

For students, the process of curating a digital exhibition can be both a rich expression of creativity and a rigorous academic exercise. "For every student who asked, 'Can’t we just write a paper,' I have had many more who thanked me for challenging them and for giving them a real say in the content of their own work," writes one professor of his experience using digital exhibits as a course assignment. There are a range of popular tools out there--here are some of the ones I might recommend to you if you come to me for a consultation about digital exhibitions!

Digital exhibit tool, "Spotlight at Stanford"

Spotlight at Stanford: This tool is supported by the Stanford Libraries and is specifically designed to be used with the Stanford Digital Repository. The nature of the sites (available by faculty member request) may make it slightly less flexible for group and student projects, though it's possible that there are workarounds in specific situations. This tool does have a huge advantage in that it's already tied to Stanford's digital resources.

Omeka tool for digital exhibits

Omeka: For many years now, Omeka has been the most popular tool for digital exhibits, in use by college classrooms and museums alike. Its biggest strength is in projects requiring large media files and/or detailed metadata. When you use Omeka, you’ll essentially be creating a database of items, which can then be organized into different collections and exhibits. The interface is not especially intuitive, and some users find its design capabilities limiting, but there are many projects where Omeka makes the most sense.

Scalar tool screen shot

Scalar: Scalar is a tool that has been growing in popularity, particularly in the digital scholarship community; it allows users to make extremely flexible collections of media files and pages which can be interwoven in any way you want. It can handle large media files, and even offers built-in tools for annotating images and videos. The sheer range of possibilities can be overwhelming at first, but the flexibility is a big advantage. One popular Scalar use case is for digital books--the interface lets you create interactive branching pathways through content.

Wordpress screen

WordPress: If you want to have students blogging, or just want a traditional webpage collecting student work, a WordPress site is a great way to go. Most of the web is built on WordPress, and it offers a great deal of flexibility and fine-grained collaborative permissions for classroom use.

Omeka, Scalar, and WordPress are all free, open-source tools, and they all have options to let you go online, sign up, and experiment with the tool, with varying degrees of control. For more long-term or elaborate uses, or uses requiring significant student labor, Stanford also offers webhosting through Stanford Domains.

You can contact your Academic Technology Specialist, Beth Seltzer, to discuss digital exhibitions!