Angelina Craig-Flórez on Transforming a Research Paper Assignment into a Student-Generated Class eBook

by | Nov 30, 2015 | Announcements, For Faculty, Spotlight


The Center for Teaching and Learning interviewed Angelina Craig-Flórez, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, about her course, Spain in its Art, which covers the history of Spain and Spanish art from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century. Dr. Craig-Flórez was one of sixteen grant recipients from the first round of awards in the Fall 2014 through the Hybrid Learning Course Redesign and Delivery Request for Proposals from the Office of the Provost. One of the aims of the RFP was “to improve instructional delivery and learning outcomes of Columbia University students.”

Dr. Craig-Flórez already followed a flipped classroom model prior to receiving the grant. Her students were using class time to collaboratively reconstruct and verbalize in the target language the knowledge they were acquiring through the readings and videos assigned for homework. Unfortunately, the students’ final project— an individual research paper — lacked the collaborative spirit of the rest of the class. That felt anticlimactic to her because only she got to read the excellent papers students were submitting, when the goal of the class, throughout the semester, was to collaboratively reconstruct the content they were learning together. Dr. Craig-Flórez decided to change the final research assignment to a student-generated class ebook using iBooks Author. Dr. Craig-Flórez discusses her class project in the video below.

Dr. Craig-Flórez stresses how pleased she was with the results of the peer-review and editing exercise she introduced as part of the project. She went on to say, “One of the most rewarding aspects was the peer review and editing. This was truly a collaborative project and the fact that they were responsible for writing a book together motivated them to really help each other and take the peer-editing seriously. In some cases the detail of their comments, both at the content and at the language level, were wonderful cognitive exercises. As I explained to them, if they are able to analyze the content, structure and language of their peers’ work, they are learning how to improve their own.”

Dr. Craig-Flórez pointed out that improving students’ digital literacy was another important dimension of a project like this. “As we know there is an increasing need for our students to learn not only the content of the subject but also how to research it, store it and present it in a digital world. We are in the midst of a transition into digital humanities and our students, as the new generation of researchers and scholars, must be knowledgeable in the creation of new digital texts.”


Fig: Spain in its Art iBook – detail

We included some additional questions Dr. Craig-Flórez answered off-camera regarding her class assignment.How did the students react to this new project?

Realizing the target audience for their research was not just their teacher, but rather, their research was part of a tangible and public work was a very important experience for them. The assignment raised their competence in the target language (Spanish) and promoted ownership of the content and their learning process. The students were also excited about learning how to create a digital text, which is different from just cutting and pasting content into a “cool” platform. Being able to intertwine multimedia elements (video, audio, picture galleries, and quizzes) allowed them to think outside the box and to be more aware of their relationship with the reader audience. They were thrilled that this project was a real task transcending the walls of the classroom.

How did the students react to the use of iPads?

Through the grant I was able to purchase some iPads, which we used to fully experience the iBook the students created. We used the iPads during the semester to enrich students’ in-class learning experience. The iPads offered students the possibility to explore the details of the works of art and go way beyond the ones presented in their books or in the class PowerPoint slides. We enjoyed very much working with apps like Art Authority, a virtual museum which, with a simple touch, displays hundreds of works of art for exploration and comparison. The use of iPads in the classroom really changed the class dynamic. They were a huge success, making important contributions to my students’ learning experience.

Do you have any advice for other faculty who are considering blending their courses? Why should they do it? What should they expect?

If you are already considering blending your course, it is because you know that it has the potential to improve your course. Sometimes we are concerned about the extra work it might entail or we might be intimidated by the technology, but it is very refreshing and rewarding to try new things. As with anything that you do for the first time there is always a bit of a learning curve, especially when dealing with technology. It will add more hours of work the first time you implement it but it is work that you do once and can repurpose the following semesters. As for the technology support, we are very lucky to have the support of enthusiastic and competent educational technologists at the CTL. Also, be very upfront with your students, let them know this is a first for you also and that you welcome their input. So, besides having very clear goals and being flexible at the same time, I would say, definitely embark in the challenge!

Dr. Craig-Flórez’s effort is exemplary of the experimentation catalyzed by the aforementioned RFP. After working with Dr. Craig-Flórez, it is clear how committed she is to her students and to their learning. A survey conducted at the end of the semester confirmed many of the observations described here. See: Student Survey Infogram.

The iBook created by the students of Spain in its Art is also available for download. España a Través de su Arte: iBook (136MB) | PDF (40MB). (To download the files, right click or control click on the link, then import the file into your iBooks app or PDF reader.)