It used to be that college students taking a beginning art history course were forced to go to great lengths to cram for a midterm. Some would gather to stare at posters tacked to a wall in order to memorize the paintings and sculptures that might be on the test. Others played peekaboo with small photos and their captions in a textbook or competed with the other students in the class for a few hours alone with the slides on reserve in the library.
Starting this semester, students taking Herbert Kessler's Introduction to the History of European Art II at Johns Hopkins can point and click their way through study sessions without leaving their dorm rooms, thanks to a new Web site. Each student taking the course has an individual user name and password to access to the site, which is limited to students only because it contains works of art that are protected by copyright laws.
"Eighty-five percent of students taking the class logged into the course site in the week before the midterm," says Mike Reese in the Center for Educational Resources, which provides overall administration for the project. "Students are not required to use the online resource, but they are naturally gravitating to it."
Not intended as a substitute for attending class, the Web site was developed to supplement the course by providing an online database of every lesson's slide show. With the slides from every lecture posted online, students have the flexibility to study great works like Michelangelo's David or views from the Sistine Chapel anytime they like.
"The problem has always been how to make the slides available to the students," says Kessler, a professor in the Krieger School's History of Art Department. "For more than 10 years, we've been working on developing an online database of slides that could be used, but the technology was poor."
For example, the History of Art Department's slides could be scanned into a computer and posted online for students to review, but the images weren't properly sized.
"Before, you could look at the Mona Lisa, but maybe only her forehead would be visible at one time," Kessler says. "You'd have to keep scrolling and scrolling to eventually see the whole painting."
Now the department uses software called the Madison Digital Imaging Database to create its cyber collection. MDID is provided free of charge by James Madison University, where the software was developed, according to Ann Woodward, curator of art history for the History of Art Department.
The Web site itself was created through the Technology Fellows Program from the Provost's Office. Funded by a $200,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, the program provides funding to help faculty-student teams develop projects that integrate technology into instruction. The competitive grant program is open to all students and faculty in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineering and the Peabody Conservatory.
A grant was given to Kessler and grad student Kathleen Schowalter to create the Web site, and Woodward says they've received valuable help from undergraduates David Lefcourt and Sarah Walsh, Mike Reese in the Center for Educational Resources, Macie Hall in Hopkins Information Technology Services and Don Juedes, research librarian for the History of Art Department. The grant pays for an outside service to digitize Hopkins' catalog of slides, additional software, Schowalter's fellowship and student help in the site's development.
It's Woodward's job to post online the pieces selected for each lecture by Kessler. For the 11 lectures given so far this semester, Woodward has posted more than 300 digital images and their corresponding information.
"It takes a lot of work to set it up," Woodward says. "But the goal is that there will be less work to do down the road. No matter who teaches the introductory courses, there are some pieces that will always be included."
Students can review the list of the slides presented during a lecture by looking at the artwork on their computer screens. Each virtual slide includes the title, artist, date, medium, culture, period, style, country of origin, site and copyright information. There is also a space for Kessler to add his comments and notes about each piece.
Gone are the days when students had to look away from glossy textbook photos to quiz themselves. With one click on the words "hide info" next to each image, students can make a painting's biographical information disappear in order to test their memories. A practice quiz for the recent midterm was included on the Web site as well. As images appeared on the screen, students filled in the blanks and received feedback on their answers for self-evaluation.
"I've used the Web site several times," says Jen Baldwin, a freshman taking this semester's intro class. "For the midterm, I was quizzing myself until 4 a.m. I would have made the paintings on the site into flash cards, but I don't have a printer."
Students also can post questions for Kessler and his teaching assistants through their individual online bulletin boards. Through the user name system, instructors can keep tabs on students, tracking those who visit more than daily and those who haven't logged on once.
"They are using the Web site," says graduate student and TA Heather Egan, "particularly the midterm self-quiz. I know a lot of students used that. And if you miss a lecture, the Web site makes it easier to catch up."
Though the new technology might not seem to foster the group study Woodward recalls from her undergraduate days, Baldwin says it has actually facilitated studying with her friends.
"We're sort of art history buffs, so it's fun," Baldwin says. "We study together by going to the Web site to talk about things."
"That's nice to hear," Woodward says. "One of my first thoughts was that the computer could make [studying] so solitary. I'm glad to hear they use the Web as a group."