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Professor Ellis Recognized for Blending Social Media in Humanities

Ellis used a Mellon Foundation grant to enable students to practice blended learning of digital tools like Pinterest in her contemporary women's fiction class

An article in Forbes this week recognizes Hampshire Assistant Professor Alicia Ellis for “an ingenious way of using Pinterest to help her students analyze challenging novels, poems and essays.” The article acknowledges Ellis’s innovative use of digital tools in her classes, and references her fall 2015 class where she sought to immerse her students in poet Claudia Rankine’s widely acclaimed book Citizen: An American Lyric.

Alicia Ellis

In the fall term, Professor Ellis used a Mellon Foundation Five Colleges grant to incorporate blended learning of digital tools into her class “Writing from the Diaspora: Reading in Contemporary Women’s Fiction.” The goal was to develop critical thinking and evaluative skills using digital tools and methods, offering students access to online media platforms for analysis of the course’s texts.

Ellis encouraged students to take advantage of a number of free online tools including Padlet, Wordle, Pinterest, Google Maps and Prezi. Students leveraged these tools to build their final critical research projects for the class. For most of the students, many of these online resources were already familiar, giving them confidence to structure and illustrate their thoughts in these media.

Due to the accessibility of these social media resources, Ellis was also able to easily analyze and assess her students’ work. Hampshire has for years used sites like Moodle as a centralized organizational tool, to streamline teaching. If Professor Ellis asked her students, for example, to spend an hour gathering material on a Padlet or to post four “pins” to Pinterest, she could easily track student progress.

Her course also featured guest lectures made possible by the grant. Sonya Donaldson, Professor of World Literature at New Jersey City University, encouraged Ellis’s students to think beyond the limits of the social media platforms they were using. “Break Pinterest,” she told the class, before showcasing her own Pinterest page on which she exposes countless instances of systemic violence toward Black women in the US. This lecture inspired students to take these online tools seriously, and to push the boundaries of its use.

Later in the semester, Professor Claudia Rankine, author of the widely acclaimed book Citizen: An American Lyric - which Ellis read with her students - came to Hampshire to discuss her book with an overflowing auditorium of readers. Professor Ellis introduced Rankine to the crowd and called Citizen a “beautifully constructed multimedia prose poem.” In many ways, Citizen, published in 2014, embodies the very type of blended method that Ellis succeeded in inspiring her students to pursue.

Ellis’s class motivated her students to take to the course’s online platforms with their own informed and impassioned causes, contributing to a number of Padlets and Pinterests that are still growing months after the end of the semester (141 pins and counting on one of many boards that came out of that class.)

These digital landscapes allowed students to visualize their thoughts and locate their analyses in space with images and maps rather than solely through text. Students are entering college with an arsenal of digital media skills, and Professor Ellis is innovatively leveraging these skills to enable students to express their knowledge and learning through these platforms.

Pinterest Alicia Ellis's class
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