Campus Panorama

A Monstroulsy Interesting Course
Frankenstein on Multimedia cover

Like Victor Frankenstein, history professor Robert Schwartz has taken something old-intellectual history-and zapped it with something new-multimedia technologies-to create a new academic creature. History 257, Computing Applications in History and the Humanities, is breaking new ground at the College by using computer technology to teach students how to produce an applied learning tool.

Once a week Schwartz gives a classroom lecture on how Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's great novel Frankenstein mirrors the intellectual history of Western Europe since the sixteenth century. The other weekly class session takes place at Dwight Hall computing labs, where students work in teams to master Authorware software, which they will use to create a multilayered study of the novel on CD-ROM.

"It's great to see hands-on computer applications in the humanities," says senior Alison L. Jones, who also "likes the pairing of lecture and computer lab." Jones took the class "for the opportunity to use tools I hadn't seen before," including multimedia equipment. She appreciates the class's teamwork approach. Jennifer Adams '00 says she also enjoys having a partner to cheer her on, as the computer learning and program debugging are challenging. "It's exciting to get to know the computer programs and technology," Adams reports, "and I like the way we're taking history and adding an aspect of fun to it."

Schwartz developed the class with the goal of providing a concrete lesson in how a liberal arts education can be applied to the work world. "Skills like analyzing text and images, or distilling a considerable amount of information into a report, are critical," he says. "In this class students also learn to work in groups, just as they may do task-oriented group project work for an employer someday."

Putting together "Frankenstein Meets Multimedia" has been a complex task in itself. The course is funded in part by the Five Colleges Multimedia Access Program, which sponsors or funds projects encouraging faculty multimedia development. Three student assistants, a project director, and Schwartz have put in a "huge amount of time creating documentation, organizing labs, and serving as facilitators," according to Schwartz.

Once computing skills are mastered, students will tackle specific tasks, such as researching and providing the links between Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophy and Shelley's novel. "Text links will pull in levels and layers in a nonlinear way," explains Schwartz. The finished product will teach audiences the same intellectual history learned in a traditional course, but in an entirely new format.

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Photo credits:
Ann Jones
Fred LeBlanc
Jim Gipe
Paul Schnaittacher
Jen Pontius '97
Thomas Jacob
Michael Zide

Nikolai Punin

Photo Collage:
Tim Toffoli

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