Active Audiences: SI Archives and Women in Science

Smithsonian Institution Archives audiences are actively solving mysteries surrounding Women in Science.

Over the last months, I have been privileged to learn first-hand the ways in which Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) is taking engagement with audiences to the next level.

By actively listening to quick-thinking audiences and continuing to expand articles about Women in Science on Wikipedia, SIA staff have been able to

  • identify previously unknown women in science and highlight arc-welding success,
  • learn more about women in research positions at the University of Chicago, and
  • bring attention to a record-setting pilot through the Wikipedia Did You Know? main page feature
Dora Dougherty Strother setting helicopter flight records
Dora Dougherty Strother setting helicopter flight records

Watch for more about #Groundbreakers – women who have made massive contributions to science and technology – every Wednesday through The Bigger Picture blog and connect with SIA on Facebook for more.

These are success stories from engagement and crowdsourcing and offer interesting take-aways for sustaining collaborative activities around cultural heritage collections.

Click through to read more in my post at The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives’ blog.

Quebec City & NASSS13


Just a glimpse at the cityscape in Quebec City…

More to follow on presenting, presiding, discussing, and developing new research ideas at the annual North American Society for the Sociology of Sport conference #NASSS13 here in Quebec City.

So far, it’s been two days of dynamic conversations, aggregating interest in various topics, and making use of my very dusty French language skills.

If you’re interested in fans and fan behaviors, come join us in the final session of the conference, 2:45-4:15, in the Ste-Foy Suite; many angles of participation and much chat about football (soccer) fans.

I can’t wait to learn more – see you there!

Manifesting Active Learning

Last week, Dr. Jason Farman from the University of Maryland shared his “Manifesto for Active Learning” on ProfHacker and I offered a few additions.

As Assistant Professor of American Studies and Distinguished Faculty Fellow at the University of Maryland, College Park, Farman shared the ways in which he approaches teaching groups of students from diverse backgrounds – with an equally varied set of interests and goals.

Farman’s manifesto suggests learning should include

  • multi-modal experiences: lectures, discussion, online, IRL, visual, reading, and doing (!)
  • awareness of and making space for learning styles and personality types in the classroom
  • thinking holistically about the environments in which students live … OR the contexts that inform their opinions, behaviors, and integration of knowledge
  • and how they can flexibly apply what they’re learning in the classroom to everyday and work experiences
  • integrating and encouraging use of technology – in keeping with the ways students ALREADY engage with ideas and peers in digital spaces; welcoming unfolding discussions
  • acknowledging and celebrating effort and growth in perspective, rather than merely “grade” performances

Below are the pieces I would add to the manifesto, which I shared in the comments section. I believe active learning also includes:

  • allowing and working through conflict
  • tracking and assessing change and progression of thought, skills, and data analysis
  • integrating moments of vulnerability into learning

I wrote:

Excellent snapshot of the confluence of technology, communication, and learning styles in contemporary classrooms! My additions to the manifesto are conflict, iteration to assess change/learning, and vulnerability for an engaged learning experience.

My best courses* have featured a combination of lectures, discussions, and
tutorials/practicals – but individual classes in which I could flesh out, then moderate opposing perspectives (disagreements) have been most productive. Working through conflict allowed us to highlight some of the key points and cultural values we’ve attached to the topics; we can problematize these perspectives as a group, as well, meaning we can unpack them in detail. I also used mid-class flash debates or polling to allow students to hash out their views as they are integrating theory.

I often think of our classroom experiences as akin to ritual (we come together regularly, we perform certain tasks, we confront myths and beliefs, we emerge “changed”). We can couple that collective experience with the individual processes of change in perspectives that may occur over a term. Tracking particular perspectives offered moments of best engagement: one reason I love teaching introductory Anthropology and Sociology courses and seeing critical lenses calibrated in discussion! I’ve used documenting opinions early in a course and then re-evaluating them at the middle and end to see whether and where our thinking as a group and individuals has moved. Bringing a similar approach with more rapid intervals could actively demonstrate engagement with course
content and open opportunities to wider applications (i.e. capturing lessons from media discourse, history, sport, entertainment, etc), as well.

Finally, I’ve seen vulnerability (though hard to quantify!) impact planned lessons and the import of class experiences in many ways. The students willing to offer a “less than right” opinion or admit they may not have considered their perspective fully often triggered nuanced discussion. Vulnerability seems to offer chances to capture powerful learning moments and discover gaps in knowledge through discussion, often something I need to address as a teacher-researcher (and lifelong student!), and interrogate my own existing views. Thanks for sharing your manifesto!

*”best” based on regular attendance, student evaluations, and student performance

Do you have any experiences or opinions about active learning – either as a lecturer and teacher or as a student? Let me know in the comments or join in the discussion at ProfHacker – and get more “tips about teaching, technology, and productivity” while exploring the challenges of working in contemporary academic environments. Discover more of Farman’s work at his website – including his syllabi – or @farman on Twitter.

We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.

– Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (2013)

The Economist on Anthropology & Adidas

Last month, The Economist profiled ReD, the design research company that uses anthropologists and researchers to deliver insights for Adidas product and brand development.

ReD Associates, the Copenhagen and NYC-based researching firm, has used a unique combination of ethnographic and applied social science research coupled with business market analysis to inform robust brand development. The Economist article deftly explains the ways in which anthropologists tap into the heart of complex relationships and hidden meanings through participant observation and specific-but-unexpected questions.

What I admire about this company is the way they encourage their researchers (according to the article and their own brand identity materials) to ask different kinds of questions to derive actionable insights. They very accurately describe the complexity of fieldwork and how work in the “messy” environments of people’s lives, emotions, and work results in realistic (and sometimes askew or counter-intuitive) understanding of behavior and belief: they say “we look at people holistically in their environments.”

The kinds of questions that are suggested in the Economist article actually relate to unspoken personal and shared beliefs and tell as much about the cultures in which these people live as their likely brand affiliation and consumer behaviors.

There are five design research tasks described in the article; three relate to collective beliefs. Two of those collective beliefs relate to national identities and collective representation – and their findings linked to traditions and moments of sporting national pride that relate to scientific and political successes (in the U.K. and Russia). These are really fascinating discoveries about collectivity and the ways in which shared cultural history can inform, frame, and sometimes even inhibit brand relationships.

The types of questions we anthropologists might ask in a research environment–or indeed in a social setting–might not immediately make sense or seem to relate to objectives. Why would understanding what would make a great footballer in the future be helpful for improving performance technologies today? Why would knowing that fitness for body composition is as important as sporting prowess for some consumers be useful? These are anthropological ways of investigating and accessing aspirational qualities associated with the values and products of the brands that create outstanding consumer experiences.

If you’re looking for actionable insights through ethnography and grounded research methods, please get in touch – and if you’re an anthropologist, keep turning that rock!