I’ve got one of my favorite subjects coming up next semester — comparative politics of Asia — and I’m going to experiment with MIT’s Visualizing Cultures (VC) curriculum. My goals are to introduce students to the scholarly interpretation of visual source material and to get them to learn course content by teaching it to their peers.
I’m going to divide the class into teams; each team will work on one of the topical units in the VC database. Each student will need to complete the following tasks:
- Write a 2-3 page essay that analyzes an image (or images) from his or her team’s unit, using the VC-provided guidelines.
- Read a teammate’s essay and write a 1-2 page critique.
Each team will then lead the class through an exercise on the team’s topic that uses images from the VC collection. Instructions for these exercises are conveniently available on the VC website.
The class will evaluate each team’s presentation and teaching, and students will evaluate their own performance and that of their teammates. I’ll factor the results into the participation component of each student’s course grade.
After a VC topic has been taught, students will take a online quiz. The quiz questions will focus on the essays contained in the VC website — written by top scholars in their respective fields — and the other assigned readings in the course.
The class meets twice per week; I’ve scheduled the “student teaching” for once each week so that it becomes expected and routine. I’m expecting that the whole process — analyzing images to answer questions posed by the scholars who have organized the VC curriculum, two individual writing assignments, collaboration and teaching, and a quiz — will help students learn content and skills more effectively than standard lectures.
One last note: the image collections hosted by the Visualizing Cultures project are currently focused on China and Japan in the contemporary period. I’m hoping that the project eventually expands to include India.