Enhancing Electronic and Embodied Learning Experiences

By Dominic Corrywright and Tom Cosgrove

This paper provides an interim review of an innovative ongoing project that links electronic and embodied learning and teaching experiences in Religion and Theology.  The development of electronic resources is specifically an aim of an Oxford Brookes University Teaching Fellowship (2010-12), a combined award for Dominic Corrywright and Tom Cosgrove. The broader objectives we have called ‘The Yatra project’.  The Hindi term yatra, translated as pilgrimage and journey, includes notions of material journey, conceptual and cognitive journeys and imagined journey. Yatra can be the movement between places and between positions of understanding. Yatra as pilgrimage in traditional Hinduism is often a journey to a confluence of sacred rivers, and for the pilgrim, or yatri, is psychologically and spiritually a journey of transition or of transformation.

In many ways an undergraduate degree is a yatra as the student travels from one abode, ‘home’, to another, a place of learning. The outcome of the journey, after three or more years, includes a change in understanding and perspective. One might also say that yatra is at the core of learning and teaching. In higher education we emphasise the internal cognitive yatra, but the experience for the learners is often more embodied. We remember the privations of student finance and observe them in our students with concern as they manage paid work and learning commitments; we recognise in the eyes of our classes the wider student experience, lived, enacted, and struggled with, on a path from immature fact-finder to mature fact-sifter and academic critic. The core aspects of the project are the development of electronic resources to enhance undergraduate teaching materials, a related study visit to India and student research emerging from the project.

sahi_yogaFor a number of years we have been working with Jyoti Sahi, a theologian and painter based in southern India, whose work reflects a number of key themes such as enculturation, marginalisation, primalism, Dalits and dispossessed, and the relation between art and spiritualities. This project has led to the creation of a series of web-based multimedia learning objects, utilising Sahi’s work to explore these themes. The learning objects are being trialled on the Religion and Philosophy department’s virtual learning environment for use in Research Topics modules at levels five and six, before being released on the University Research Archive and Digital Asset Repository (RADAR), for wider use across the University and as open educational resources (OER). It is planned that the packages are appropriate for use by students studying on anthropology, culture, communications, philosophy, sociology, art, geography, and education programmes. The BA Religion and Theology programme includes modules which encourage and develop the student as an independent learner. A learning object, or selection of these objects, will be used by students for independent research topics.

The exciting possibilities of these resources feed in to a longer term plan to develop and build student research projects on themes emerging from the learning objects and study visits to Sangam, based near Bangalore, India. We have organised study visits to Sangam that enhance Religion and Theology as well as other programmes. The meaning of Sangam, as Sahi puts it, is ‘a meeting place, a confluence’, this aspect has the potential to impact powerfully and beneficially on the work of students and staff. Students gaining global perspectives on religions, cultures, ethics and the environment, in a holistic manner will be betterplaced to retain these insights and carry them intotheir wider communities and future employment. The project is international in nature and embeds internationalisation of the curriculum in learning and teaching. Digital literacies are also explicit in this project, offering students enhanced methods of using information technology as a communication and learning tool and embedding the ability to use IT to access and manage information.

At the end of just one year, the mid point of the Teaching Fellowship, we have achieved a number of key objectives in two areas: products, both e-learning resources and student engagement, and dissemination.

There are already a number of products designed as web based learning packages that are complete, some that are in development and a number more that will be designed and released by the end of the fellowship. Three kinds of products based on Sahi’s work illustrate the different kinds of e-resource, narrative and granular, that can be used as the basis for student response and research. The first, AngelsandtheCosmosofFaiths is a narrative resource. It comprises a series of Sahi’s paintings with a commentary by the artist providing a structured teaching resource that develops a clear argument related to plurality and the notion of Angels. The second type of resource are collections of themed PowerPoint collections unaccompanied by didactic textual exposition of their meaning. An example we have already developed of this kind of resource is on the theme of compassion: Yoga of Compassion; Creation as Compassion; The Feminine Figure of Compassion; Transforming Compassion. The third type of resource is simply granular, based on single images with no meta-narrative defining how they should be used, read or ‘seen’. Students are invited to use these resources as starting points for creative responses relevant to their field of study.

jain_statue

At this early stage in the project there have already been a number of creative student engagements with the Sahi products and growing outof the study visit. Three examples of this work are: a level 5 student essay for the module Research Topics in Religion (title negotiated with module leader) on Christianity and secularism in India using Sahi lectures and the experience of visiting a Dalit church in Silvepura; a review of the student learning experience to be published in The Westminsterian (Autumn 2011); a student PowerPoint presentation on Jain spirituality utilising photographic images from RADAR of Jain temple and personal experience of visitto Shravanabelagola (Karnataka). Two further students are developing dissertation proposals using e-resources from the project. We hope, in the second year of the project to engage students from a wider range of subjects, especially in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. We also hope to addhigh quality student work to the e-resources, thereby adding what Chang and Jackson (2007) call an ‘inheritance mechanism’ such that student research is built into the e-learning object and there is a cumulative improvement on the resource.

We have also been active in the wide dissemination of the project and its products. Conference and discussion papers include: ‘Enhancing and Evaluating the Electronic Learning Experience’ – Brookes Learning and Teaching Conference, Oxford, 29 June 2011 and ‘BlendingtheStudentExperience: Elearning, StudyVisitsandInterdisciplinaryLinksExplanationandEvaluation’ – Foundations for the Future conference, Higher Education Academy, London 13-14 July 2011. These and other events have led to the development of a network with a specific focus on the role of study trips to enhance the student learning experience. We have also sought to disseminate the project products more widely through, for example, a short RADAR mounted video demonstrating how the visits have been used by students: OxfordBrookesIndiaStudyVisits, and by learning about how to release products as open educational resources through the Ripple project.

The Yatra project will be ongoing beyond the funding of the Teaching Fellowship. We plan to continually enhance the student learning experience with increasing student research growing from the original e-learning products. Equally we plan to develop strong collaborations with programmes across Oxford Brookes University, especially in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Further abroad we will continue collaboration with Sahi and Sangam while developing networks with other higher education institutions and contiguous projects, such as Cush and Robinson’s LivingReligionProject, and Scholefield and Gregg’s (2011) examination of field trips and study tours. Alongside developing new networks and extending dissemination of the project we have concurrent evaluative operations. Evaluation of student achievement and assessment and evaluation of dissemination and collaborations will be part of a summative evaluation in 2012.

Author biographies

Tom Cosgrove: Digital Media and E-learning Developer, University Teaching Fellow, Oxford Brookes University

Dominic Corrywright: Programme Leader Study of Religion and Theology and Principal Lecturer Learning and Teaching, University Teaching Fellow, Oxford Brookes University.

References

  • Chang, H., and Jackson, C. (2007) An Element of Controversy: The Life of Chlorine in Science, Technology and Medicine BSHS Monograph Series Vol 13. (London: British Society for the History of Science).
  • Corrywright, D., and Cosgrove, T. (forthcoming) ‘Yatra – Journey: Maintaining the Visceral While Going Virtual: The development of electronic resources to enhance student learning’ in Discourse Vol 11 No. 1
  • Scholefield L., and Gregg S. (2011) ‘The Student Learning Experience in Religious Studies Field Trips and Study Tours: Managing Expectations and Outcomes’ Paper given at ‘Foundations for the Future Conference’ HEA-PRS, 13- 14 July, University of Greenwich, London.

Further resources

  • The Living Religion website from Bath Spa University and the Higher Education Academy promotes fieldwork placements in theology and religious studies.
  • The Ripple Project is is an OER Cascade Project led by the Learning Technologies Group, Oxford University Computing Services, University of Oxford.
  • RADAR is the Oxford Brookes Research Archive and Digital Asset Repository, which provides both an open searchable archive of Brookes research, and a way to manage and share online teaching materials.
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