Preserving collective memory of Renison: VoiceThread Project

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Students show project done through VoiceThreadTony Tin (Renison Librarian), Daniel Bratton (Renison Faculty), and Kyle Scholz (Centre for Teaching Excellence) have been involved in a VoiceThread pilot project during the Winter 2016 and Spring 2017 semesters. This project, focusing upon the “collective memory of Renison,” has been incorporated into the course work for students in four sections of ENGL 140R. The VoiceThread presentations and related material are now archived on Renison’s Lusi Wong Library’s ”Rspace.

During the past two semesters, Renison has been piloting Information Communication (IC) technologies through a VoiceThread project incorporated into four sections of ENGL 140R, “The Use of English.” Toward the end of the Fall 2016 semester, Tony Tin, Director of the Lusi Wong Library, and Kyle Scholz, Faculty of Arts and University Colleges Liaison - Centre for Teaching Excellence, approached Daniel Bratton, the instructor of the course, about forming a partnership to integrate this cloud application into the Learning Management System for the course.

Bratton suggested the application of this -cutting edged technology, devoted to “transforming media into collaborative space with video, voice, and text commenting,” to the first assignment for the course, which previously required the writing of a descriptive narrative. A reading on Japanese gardens had been a lead-in to this writing assignment, and when Bratton had wondered aloud to Renison’s Administrative Dean, Judi Jewinski, about how relevant his students might find this subject, she had immediately suggested taking them into Renison’s East Meets West Garden. Tin and Scholz suggested transforming this assignment into a full-blown VoiceThread project. The focus would be upon what Tin envisioned as the “collective memory of Renison,” to be preserved on the Lusi Wong Library’s recently created Rspace.

Bratton and Tin soon expanded the “Voice of Renison” to include not only the movers and shakers behind the creation of the East Meets West Garden but also other formative influences on Renison, including Archbishop Robert John Renison, for whom the College is named. Also included were various artists whose work can be found throughout the Renison campus, and the much-loved former Renison professor, Michael Bird. (As an avid collector of the German folk art known as Fraktur, Bird had also contributed the University’s art collection.)

Fortunately, the designer of the garden, Larry Lamb, though now retired, agreed to visit classes to discuss what makes the East Meets West Garden arguably unique in North America—its playing off of East Asian and North American plants and trees dating back to the Tertiary Period. Lamb’s visit was arranged by Susan Bryant, who had in fact instructed ENGL 140-R for over twenty years before her own retirement: both Susan and Darrol Bryant spoke as well, Susan of her involvement in the garden, and Darrol of his friendship with long-term colleague Michael Bird.

As well, Mary Horman, archivist at the Lusi Wong Library, visited a separate class to tell students about the archival holdings on Archbishop Renison, including photographs suitable for inclusion in VoiceThread presentations. As with the other speakers, her talk was then archived in Rspace, along with Larry Lamb’s notes and a map of the East Meets West Garden, as well as a PowerPoint presentation put together by Susan Bryant.

This spring the project was run again, with the added attraction of the classes being able to enjoy an hour-long tour of the garden with Larry Lamb. As well, Tin suggested that students explore the work of an additional Renison artist: the College’s president, Wendy L. Fletcher. Although the majority of students in the two current sections were not enrolled at Renison—which had also been the case during the winter semester—they seemed very pleased to be developing a better understanding of the history and culture of Renison University College. Some groups focused on the contribution made by Chinese labourers to the Canadian Pacific Railroad, as depicted on a large canvas that hangs outside Renison’s Lusi Wong Library, while others presented on Nicholas Rees’ wooden sculpture over by the Social Development Studies (SDS) wing. Another group held a roundtable discussion about each member’s favourite work of art on campus.

What makes VoiceThread cutting-edge is that, once they post their own work, groups critique their peers’ presentations using voice, text, and even video—among other options—at any specific point in the presentation. Although the VoiceThread pilot project may not continue beyond this year, those who collaborated on the project are hoping to continue this tradition through other technologies in the future. In the meantime, they are pleased with the contribution made by students of ENGL 140R in digitally archiving the “collective memory of Renison.”

“This VoiceThread project engaged students in a very exciting way because they were able to use their mobile phones and other electronic devices not only to conduct research through Renison’s Institutional Repository, Rspace, but also to post their presentations in a collaborative space,” said Bratton. “Now all this material is available, through Rspace, for future projects and open access by local and global communities.