Digital Summer School

A new workshop series helps instructors teach in a virtual classroom
Author: Matthew Cook
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Masked, armed with sanitizer, and prepared to tell students, faculty, and staff to maintain a six-foot distance, the University of Rochester is coming out of isolation. As of this writing, Rochester’s undergraduate students will begin the fall 2020 semester on Aug 24. However, not all students will be returning to campus.

The coming semester’s mix of in-person and remote learners has led to some classes being taught in a hybrid format, while others will be completely online. Professors using the virtual classroom will build upon lessons they learned in the spring. Last month, the Digital Scholarship Lab (DSL) offered faculty members an opportunity to further bolster their digital competencies and pick up some new skills.

In the DSL’s newly created Digital Projects and Platforms Workshop Series, instructors were taken on a digital journey through five thematic workshops that presented available tools, examples of assignments, and exercises designed to get them thinking digitally. The series culminated in a two-day workshop where participants worked with River Campus Libraries staff to design and test an assignment for use in a future course. 

“It was really exciting to not only include our own subject experts, but also highlight different areas and resources in the library,” says Emily Sherwood, director of the DSL. “Every workshop gave us an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, here’s all these people who can help you.’ So, it gave us a chance to have our faculty see the kinds of collaboration that are possible.”

Given the current teaching circumstances, it should come as no surprise that the workshops—with about 25 slots each—filled up quickly. Several of them had waitlists. 

“I was so happy that I attended,” says Ming-Lun Lee, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, who also gave a talk on producing 360-degree, 3D videos with spatial audio in the “Virtual and Augmented Reality” workshop. Lee had always thought building websites for his courses would be too difficult. That was before he attended “Course Sites and Digital Publication.” 

“I found out that [building a website] is not that hard,” says Lee. 

The credit for that realization belongs to the workshop’s instructors, who for Lee, were great teachers. Karen Berger, associate professor of instruction for earth and environmental sciences, felt the same.  

“I appreciated their knowledge base and their willingness to brainstorm ideas and provide technical support,” Berger says. 
Berger attended “Spatial Thinking and Mapping,” where she was introduced to ArcGIS StoryMaps. She intends to use the tool in her EESC 213: Hydrology and Water Resources.

“It’s an extremely helpful way to visualize information and enable students to draw connections between different topics and places,” says Berger. “I plan to have students do a StoryMap exercise to reflect on the processes within a river watershed that affect the quantity and quality of its water.”

Jayne Lammers, associate professor in teaching and curriculum and associate director for the Center for Learning in the Digital Age at the Warner School, notes that the format was as valuable as the content.

“This series of workshops gave us time to dig in,” says Lammers. Part of her experience was spent in “Audiovisual Analysis,” where she was able to do some hands-on exploring of Mediate. Being able to work through how to use “this particular tool for my class with Josh [Rompf, digital humanities programmer] right there was awesome.”

Lammers is considering using Mediate for analyzing student teaching videos with her students and to annotate video that is being used as a course text.

Throughout the series, participants were also learning from each other. Berger notes how much she valued hearing “how different colleagues were planning to incorporate the technology into their very different courses.”

These collegial moments are where Sherwood found much of her satisfaction. 

“It was fun to see people who wouldn’t normally be in a workshop together, engaging across disciplines,” she says. “There was a lot of enthusiastic discussion. I think they learned a lot from each other, too.” ∎

The Digital Projects and Platforms Workshop Series was only a start. More discussion, guidance, and training is available. For help or more information, you can reach out to Emily Sherwood at or a subject librarian in your discipline. Enjoy reading about the University of Rochester Libraries? Subscribe to Tower Talk.