I remember meeting a group of math students in a monastery (converted to a hostel) in Venice. I was leading my own group of students across the country and was interested in exchanging notes. I was not able to speak with the instructor, but from the students I learned that they had an English speaking instructor and an Italian “handler”. I have the tendency to be protective of my students (and their wallets) and this situation made me think that it was a waste to have the students pay for both a professor that was not familiar with the country and a guide that was probably not familiar with the academic material. This way of organizing the course seem to pull apart the experience of study abroad into a cultural experience and an academic experience, and the two would not overlap. This seemed a shame, sitting in an old monastery in the middle of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
We are asking a lot from any teacher if we expect them to be a master of their academic field as well as negotiate a foreign country with a row of students in tow. I am fortunate that I have experience that has allowed me to do just that. Two years spent living in Italy and speaking the language, as well as numerous trips back to determine the parameters of my academic course were under my belt. I am sure this was not the case for the math professor.
One of my first experiences teaching abroad was an example of what not to do. I was invited by a school in Florence to teach a painting class. Most of my students were working on self-initiated projects that may have only been peripherally related to the city. This meant that the students and I spent six to eight hours a day sitting in a room in a renaissance palazzo, whose stone walls had been white-washed to take the abuse of twenty painters at a time.
Even in a study abroad situation, you cannot spend every moment soaking up the city. Study abroad is a strange amalgam of cultural tourism and work. You have to work at least a little. But for an art professor in Italy, the cultural tourism was a necessary part of the work. This is what led me to develop my figure drawing class in Rome.
Rome is really a Baroque city. It is filled, inside and out, with art and architecture from Caravaggio, Bernini, Boromini, etc. Add to this the history of Roman art and the seat of the Catholic Church, for someone wanting to learn to draw the human form, it is a case study of wonderful. I have spent countless hours in museums, churches, and in public squares sitting at the feet of these works, pulling out lessons from amazing artists.
For me, this is the ideal in study abroad: to take an academic discipline and match it with the cultural and educational resources of the location in a way that they cannot be taken apart. That class could not be taught in any other place, in that way. I think that there are probably similar pairings of academic material and geographic location all around the world, waiting to be made in geology, history, ecology, and many other fields.
This is why I decided to put up my lessons on the Popwalk app. I had created a course of study that used the cultural resources of a specific location. Popwalk could make that course available to any who wished to take advantage of that academic experience. Here is an example of one of my lessons:
As you see here, I took one of the lessons that is important for my figure drawing class and was able to connect it with a specific location in which there are sculptures that can help to teach this lesson. This lesson is in the middle of the course, so please excuse me if you don’t follow along, all of the lessons build upon each other. There are twenty three lessons in all, when you look at the map on Popwalk, this is what you see:
Popwalk has allowed me to take an academic course that was only made possible through my circumstance and experience and place it for others to experience. I am excited to see where this leads and how i might continue to collaborate in this process, to make this content available to more people.
Of course, this is not the end of the story. In making this a viable educational experience, I still have to figure out how homework gets turned in. I need to figure out how to test my student’s knowledge of the material taught. I need to have a viable format for communication with the students. (fortunately, people can leave comments for the videos, which is a good start) but these are all great questions for this project. I have made a college level learning experience available to any who want to have it in Rome.