Ithaca College Quarterly, Fall 1998


Opposites Attract

A Keck Foundation grant helps bring the arts and technology together.

Associate professor Stephen Clancy has plugged in his daughter’s boom box next to the slide projector. In his History of Architecture class, students listen to the harmonies of medieval liturgical music while examining the soaring interiors of Gothic cathedrals. But slides don’t convey a sense of movement through time and space. "You sort of have to stitch the different sensory experiences together in your mind," Clancy apologizes.

Virtual VoyagersBut a $516,870 W. M. Keck Foundation grant to the College’s humanities faculty will afford Clancy’s students — and many others — a much richer learning experience. The grant, which is to be administered over three years, supports the integration of advanced computer graphics and multimedia technologies into the humanities curriculum. It has two components: upgrades to equipment and facilities, and curriculum and workshop development support for faculty.

Associate professor of art history Lauren O’Connell says the key is to use the new technology not just because it’s there, but because it enhances the way professors present information to students. She sees the new technologies as a way for stu-dents to learn by "investigation rather than absorption."

Virtual Voyagers -- ParisFor instance, using a variety of multimedia and advanced imaging technologies that the grant is making available, Clancy’s students can "virtually" visit cathedrals at different times of the medieval calendar and through the eyes of different medieval people. "We tend to see buildings as tourist monuments or museum pieces instead of dynamic sites," he says. "But buildings attracted different social and economic activities depending on the time of year. For instance, if you were a wine seller visiting the cathedral of Chartres on a special feast day dedicated to the Virgin Mary, you’d have been able to set up your stall in the pews."

The grant will also provide funds to build an advanced visual studies center, which will be housed in a converted classroom in Gannett Center. Here students will have access to thousands of high-quality images, allowing them to get past the linear limitations of the slide projector. "It would be a very different classroom if the students could choose the images to discuss instead of me, the professor, coming in, having already decided on the topic for that day," explains Gary Wells, associate professor of art history and co-coordinator, with O’Connell, of the College’s Technology in the Humanities project.

And, says Howard Erlich, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, "the implications go beyond art history. The possibilities that this presents to humanities faculty are what is so exciting about the grant." For example,

language students can do more than just listen to tapes; they’ll have a more integrated experience of the culture being studied at the new international learning center. "What does the inside of a Parisian café really look like?" asks professor of French Jane Kaplan. Understanding café culture adds to students’ understanding of French patterns of sociability, she says, and so, by extension, of the French language.

"This puts technology into the hands of faculty who haven’t typically used technology as part of their teaching," adds Wells. "We can’t take students to Italy to discover art or architecture or the local urban environment, but we can provide them with some experiences that let them examine a Rome street or public space."

— Bonnie Auslander


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