Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 13, 1997

Creating The "City Kit"
Electronic Teaching

Innovative classroom aid
resulted from A&S,
library effort

Timothy Fitch
Special to The Gazette

Using funds awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, a team of Hopkins experts is inventing an electronic teaching "kit" that soon will link curricula at colleges and universities nationwide.

Robert Kargon, the Willis K. Shepard Professor of the History of Science, Medicine and Technology in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, conceived of the kit as an outgrowth of his undergraduate course, The City in Disciplinary Perspective. Faculty around the country will be able to use The City Kit in a variety of courses to supplement their teaching with a digitally linked, multidisciplinary collection of lectures, maps, writings, sketches, videos and photographs, as well as a communications network that will provide links to additional resources on the World Wide Web.

Developing The City Kit requires input from information technology specialists, including an electronic instructional designer and digital programmer. Such expertise is still relatively rare in academia but is available at Hopkins through the staff of the Eisenhower Library. As a result, the library and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences have launched a new and promising partnership.

Robert Kargon (left) professor in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology Department, and the "City Kit" team: Brenda Knox (seated), Sayeed Choudhury and Elizabeth Kirk. "We wish to demonstrate that the humanities...offer an important way of thinking about our society and also the material world," Kargon says.

The Course

The library has been collaborating for over a year now with Kargon, whose accomplishments include serving as a consultant at the National Museum of American History and as a member of the Scientific Council for the Maryland Science Center.

Kargon believes that "an undergraduate curriculum should expose students in a systematic manner to different ways of thinking." He organized The City course on this premise and presented it to Hopkins undergraduates during the spring semester of 1996. The course drew on 18 faculty members from 12 departments. Beginning with archaeological evidence from the earliest cities, the course examined the origins and growth of the city, the causes and character of its spatial differentiation, and its technological substructure (incorporating archaeology, history, linguistics, geography, economics and history of technology). Having established this foundation, the course next considered the culture of cities and the representation of cities in literature, cartography, film and art. Finally, the course examined the modern city and its sociology, politics, architecture, history, public health and impact on the environment.

"The City Kit"

Kargon and library staff are continuing their collaboration through the development of The City Kit, which will serve a much broader audience.

The Kit will increase the resources available at a range of colleges and universities, and increase the potential for teacher and student interaction among these diverse institutions.

Kargon says he was eager to continue his collaboration with the library because "staff have helped me combine a variety of electronic capabilities in a way that creates new applications for teaching and scholarship. They routinely learn new developments in information technology, build new capabilities into the services provided by the library and provide technical training to library patrons." By uniting the technological expertise of library staff with Kargon's innovative teaching approaches, the development of a new teaching application like The City Kit is becoming a reality.

The primary library staff participating on the project are Sayeed Choudhury (acting head of the library's Digital Knowledge Center), Elizabeth Kirk (resource services librarian and instructional designer) and Brenda Knox (information technology assistant for the Digital Knowledge Center). Team expertise was further expanded by the addition of Joanne Riley (discipline specialist for the School of Arts and Sciences at Homewood Academic Computing), who has a comprehensive knowledge of database design and connectivity, as well as a broad knowledge of digital technology.

The project team's goal is to create a kit that incorporates original material from The City course, addresses the needs of potential users and provides compatibility with emerging as well as existing technology.

The materials--including text, still pictures, video, film and sound resources--can be woven into interactive digital seminars and can be supplemented to include additional digital resources from all over the world.

The entire package (interactive seminars, easy-access student and faculty communication via the home page, course examination protocols, and future additions of reading and visual resources) will be used by teaching institutions in-house or accessed for distance learning purposes via CD-ROM or a system of servers over the Internet. Each year, the digital content will be upgraded with relative ease to reflect an expanded digital knowledge base as well as changes in technology.

The Planning Process

To accomplish their goals, the Hopkins team expanded participation on the project to include input from faculty at Catonsville Community College, St. Mary's College of Maryland, Towson University and University of Maryland, University College. The team also sought out assistance from the University of Texas, Austin, to provide special expertise in electronic graphic design through UT faculty member Katie Salen.

Last May this expanded project team convened for a four-day symposium, at which participants discussed the optimum nature and uses of The City Kit. During the workshop, held on the campus of St. Mary's College, participants first discussed the results of a pre-meeting survey that collected information on the computer, faculty and library resources at partner institutions. They then shared thoughts on using digital technology to enhance the learning process.

In addition to presentations on The City course materials, participants were shown prototypes for The Kit itself, designed by the project team to elicit comments and recommendations that would help shape the final product.

The Result

The project team is now incorporating the findings of the workshop in a final plan for creating, testing, assessing and disseminating The City Kit. The final version is expected to be completed by fall of 1998. As they progress with their work, the project team will continue to include the participation of institutional representatives who made the planning phase of this project so successful. Kargon believes The City Kit will serve as a prototype.

"Using the same collaborative approach, we envision developing a series of courses aimed at first- and second-year students, which are humanities-based, multidisciplinary views of important aspects of our society and culture. We wish to demonstrate that the humanities disciplines offer an important way of thinking about our society and also the material world," Kargon said. The Eisenhower Library staff look forward to additional opportunities to serve Hopkins faculty and students-- and ultimately, faculty and students nationwide--by creating new forms of access to teaching materials.

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