Category Archives: Teaching

Rotating the classroom

The “flipped” or “inverted” classroom is a hot trend in higher-ed (peruse the Chronicle‘s archives to get an idea.) In brief, the instructor in a flipped classroom channels most of their content delivery (lectures, readings) outisde the classroom, often through screencasts students can watch on their own time. This frees up time in the classroom for critical discussion, questions, and student collaboration, thus taking advantage of the best part of a traditional classroom: having bodies in the room! (Or seated on ends of a log, if, like me, you prefer a Williams College analogy.)

The Michelle Smith Collaboratory has been developing resources to help our faculty and teaching assistants transition to this new format. We like to say we’re “rotating the classroom”, helping to ease our instructors gradually into a more completely flipped course.

One of my favorite tools made this spring is a series of short videos written by Molly Harrington and edited by Madeline Gent that verbally explain and visually illustrate core concepts of formal analysis in art history. Assign this series as homework for your students, so the next week you can spend the whole time evaluating and honing their skills, rather than spending class time on initial definitions.

Talking about Art: Atmospheric Perspective from TerpCollaboratory on Vimeo.


If you do any kind of work with written texts, you should most definitely take a look at Scholars’ Lab latest creation, Prism. This is a remarkable accomplishment by their graduate fellows, all of whom come out of humanities departments (although no art historians, I’ll note!)

Prism is a collaborative interpretation sandbox that allows a user to upload a text, define up to three “facets” of interpretation, and then open the text to contributors. Contributors may highlight words in the text, assigning them to a particular facet. Prism aggregates these contributions and then visualizes them, so you can see something like a heat map of interpretation of a given passage. The result is what the Prism team likens to Johanna Drucker’s and Bethany Nowviskie’s “aesthetic provocations”, a visualization that prompts entirely new paths of inquiry. This concept is something I’ll be exploring in greater depth in a later post, but it should sound familiar.

This is very much a sandbox, a playground, rather than a detailed and robust tool. However I see so much potential to link their easy-to-use interface with more complex analysis or harvesting of contributor data. They are also exploring collaborative image interpretation/annotation as a next step, which would be quite exciting for art historians to use in the classroom, like a Telestrator on crowdsourced steroids.

See it in action, and go give it a try yourself: