Teaching Hub

Interactive Map Brings Art History to Life

Hoping to make her online course match the in-class experience, Jenny Tucker teamed up with the Alabama Digital Humanities Center and Katy Allen of the College of Continuing Studies to build an interactive map for her Survey of Art course.

ARTmap, as it’s officially called, combines a multilayered Google map with multimedia and discussion elements to create a richer online learning experience. Students can now explore the evolution of art across time and space as they travel through each module.

In this interview, Jenny and Katy talk about how the map came to life and how they hope it will enhance student learning for semesters to come.

What were your first thoughts about the idea?

Jenny: It initially began as a conversation with CCS during the typical 3-year MOU update/revision process. I stated that I wanted my online course to feel like my original on-campus courses, but I didn’t have an idea of how to achieve that beyond additional video recordings of “tidbits” or “fun facts.”

To expand upon wanting my online course to feel like a classroom course: An accountability of interest for instructor and student was missing in my courses — the interactivity, the personal anecdotes, and relevant cultural references that enrich the classroom experience. I initially joined UA as the on-campus lecturer for the large survey classes, teaching approximately 600-800 students a semester.

From the beginning, I saw that my job as a lecturer was to go beyond the fundamental art history content and to attempt to find a method that would resonate with the students. Humor was initial instinct probably because I was nervous and young on that first day of classes 8 years ago (and hey, if it’s not baroque, don’t fix it — an oldie but a goodie). As an aside, I’ll never forget that first class: It was in the biology lecture hall and I stood in front of 250 students.

It’s also of note that I have approximately 340 students in my online courses this semester. The high enrollment numbers are still present so I still experienced that desire to find something that resonated with students, but with a greater challenge of some of the obstacles of online instruction.

What were your motives for building ARTmap?

Jenny: For me, it felt like a good idea simply because the project seemed exciting, which is usually a good barometer. It felt new, inventive, and personal. The personal component was paramount to me — including personal photos, stories, and interesting anecdotes about artworks in the manner I had historically used in the classroom.

Also, I knew I would be working with Katy Allen at CCS. She and I had worked together before with my original 252/253 revisions, and we work really well together.

What was the creative process like? How did the project come to life?

Jenny: I had no real expectations except that I trusted Katy and I would come up with something interesting. She knows my personality and therefore knew what “personal” element I wanted to bring to my online courses. Additionally, I knew it would include videos of some kind.

It began with describing to Katy that I wanted to include a personal component to the online course experience. My first thought was to include personal photos involving these artworks and pertinent art historical sights. This also meant there was immediately a component of travel. The “travel” and “personal” themes led to an idea of a map. I can’t remember who suggested the map, but I imagine it was probably Katy.

Katy: My involvement ideally happens very early in these projects. When I start working on a revision project with a content expert, I like to ask what has been working and what has not been working in the current course, and these initial conversations are really my opportunities for discovery. Jenny had real issues that we needed to address.

As she has said, this course is a very high enrollment course. These high enrollment courses are very difficult to plan with effective student-to-student interactivity, and this kind of interactivity was not working in the current course. So, that was problem #1.

She also wanted it to be more visual, especially as it is an art history course. She imparted that the visual element should be very strong and fresh so to appeal to her students, and that was problem #2.

Jenny’s third issue was reaching and engaging the students. This is the crux of all online course design, really. Our talk about this issue seemed to revolve around her personal stories and experiences and also all her travels. I also had a fairly decent idea of her lecture style having worked with her before; it was easy for me to “see” Jenny talking about all these other artworks and places and how they relate in history.

My role as an instructional designer is to help instructors sort through all the ideas — and the problems as well as the hopes — to come to a coherent concept that if all goes well addresses all of these concerns. The thought-through idea is really the cornerstone of any planning project. All the details come from that.

As I listened to Jenny and asked more questions, I kept thinking of Google Maps. I’m also an avid traveler, so our conversations do seem to center around all these different places we’ve visited. I would make notes of specific objects, museums, and places that Jenny would mention in our conversations, and later on, I’d go to Google Maps and look into them. That was really my inspiration for this concept.

But I also have to work through the details of the concept and pitch the idea so that any collaborators can envision the end product. In this case, I created a storyboard.

What was your role in this process?

Jenny: My role was to produce the content for ARTmap. More specifically, I produced the content for locations, images, and descriptions of each marker. I wrote the scripts for the “Did You Know” videos and included my vision for how they would look.

Katy: I see my role, especially in this project, as a project manager because it evolved into such a complex collaboration. I worked day-to-day with Jenny the most, but as I was working with her to help with scripting, finding appropriately cleared content, fielding questions, I was also planning the project’s technical aspects, coordinating with our media team, scouting locations, and making sure we were working in a format that Tyler at ADHC could take and use. My goal was to ensure that everyone had what they needed at the right time to complete their specific part in this project. I was everyone’s go-between.

Did the project present any unique challenges?

Jenny: The sheer volume of content was the most challenging for me. Drafting and revising video scripts, deciding what to include in the map so that it wouldn’t be redundant in Blackboard or the course textbook.

Katy: I knew from the very start that this would be an ambitious concept to deliver, and my initial challenge was getting programming help for the course companion site. While CCS does have a lot of internal resources, I worried about the scale of this project in terms of its programming needs. It was serendipitous that Jenny had had a meeting with Emma and Tyler at the ADHC as I was investigating what our internal options were for a project such as this. It was the perfect partnership.

How did you initially expect students to use ARTmap?

Jenny: Once the idea for ARTmap came to fruition, I expected students to use ARTmap the same way they are using it today. This means it took a few pauses to envision and define what ARTmap would be. This seems like an opportune moment to state that the name “ARTmap” was probably the last step (and that the name was Katy’s idea).

Now that ARTmap is live, what do you think? What kind of feedback have you all received?

Jenny: For me, the collaboration of CCS and ADHC was the masterpiece. CCS and ADHC were the cornerstones of this project, and ARTmap would have never happened without them. I was an instructor with a very simple idea and CCS/ADHC laid the framework for an exciting educational adventure.

ARTmap has been well received. I just sent out a questionnaire to my current classes asking for their feedback and critique of ARTmap. I haven’t finished reading them, but many students have had praising comments and helpful suggestions for the future.

Katy: I am quite happy with how ARTmap came together; it is very close to how I envisioned it. Tyler at ADHC has really done a good job on the platform, and Jenny is a rock star! She really did commit to the idea, and she worked diligently and steadily to compile all this extra content for the course. You really can’t do these kinds of projects without full commitment, but I think the return on investment is a reward in itself.

ARTmap was built in collaboration with CCS instructional designers Katy Allen and Alison Lewis; Josh Michael, John Kliner, and Don Dendy and the CCS media team; and Emma Wilson and Tyler Grace of the ADHC.