Increasing Access to International Scholars

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Graduate school involves encountering a lot of scholars and wrestling with their ideas. Traditionally, this meeting has happened on the pages of photocopies or PDFs, and the conversation has been mostly one-directional. Imagine how much richer these meetings could be if the scholars could attend in person and answer questions directly. This has not been common in higher education, outside of conference Q&A sessions and the occasional invited lecture.

But technology is making it easier to close the gap between students and scholars. In Dana Renga’s Spring 2015 section of Italian 8243: Studies in Italian Cinema, her students had the unique opportunity to study each week with a different scholar, who attended via ODEE's CarmenConnect webinar tool.

“Having speakers coming in and being able to talk to them individually really helped our class and our networks,” said Anna Bobbio, second year graduate student in French & Italian. “I had never taken another course like this, and I thought the whole experience was great.”

At the beginning of the 2014-2015 academic year, Renga received an eLearning Professional Development Grant from ODEE to support her in hosting experts in Italian cinema both in person and through videoconferencing for 11 weeks of the spring semester. She is also developing an iTunes U course to publish her class materials and recordings of the scholars' conversations with students online for free viewing.

Renga took advantage of the small class size to engage her students and create a community dialogue with the field experts.

“The course was structured around different units on new research trends in contemporary screen studies within Italian studies,” said Renga, Associate Professor of Italian. “Creating the course was challenging but overall it was a huge success. My students not only learned new trends in our discipline but made important connections with some of the top experts in the field.”

Each week, the students were exposed to new pedagogical methods. Experts lead the lessons and assigned the readings. Renga said that the biggest obstacle she overcame within the course was figuring out a common thread to bridge each of the different topics.

“I really enjoyed this course and the way Dana connected the course materials,” said Calvin Beckley, second year graduate student in French & Italian. “It was so valuable to speak with other professors, ask them questions, and then connect each lesson to what we were learning.”

Many of Renga’s students have continued contact with the field experts. Some of those same experts from the class lessons are offering advice for students on their papers or dissertations.

"This is exactly the kind of creative, engaged learning that we like to support with the grant money we receive from the WOW! Affiliate program," says Henry Griffy, ODEE Grants Coordinator. "Five years ago, it would have been very difficult and expensive to set up so many video conferences.  Twenty years ago, it would have been basically impossible or unaffordable. Now, with standard tools like CarmenConnect, just a few hundred dollars and a couple dozen hours can enable an engaged instructor like Dana to leverage her relationships with fellow experts in the field to explode the classroom. We don't have to wait until we get teleporters to make the classroom span the world." 

Overall, the class was very popular and the students said the resources they gained from this course are invaluable to their future careers.

“I would love to take more courses like this at Ohio State because this course model enhanced the opportunity for students to think on our own,” Bobbio said. “With so many perspectives, it allowed us to form our own arguments and opinions which I had not experienced in any other classes here.”