This year I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Peggy Spitzer Christoff, lecturer in Asian and Asian American Studies at Stony Brook University. She shared with me how she’s using the Library of Congress’ Viewshare tool to engage her students in an introduction to Asia Studies course. Peg talked about using digital platforms as a way to improve writing, visual and information literacy skills in her students. In this interview, she talks about why and how Viewshare is useful in connecting the students’ time “surfing the web” to creating presentations that require reflection and analysis. (Editor’s note: the Viewshare program was retired in 2018.)
Abbey: How did you first hear about Viewshare and what inspired you to use it in your classes?
Peg: I heard about it through the monthly Library of Congress Women’s History Discussion Group, about three years ago. At the time, Trevor Owens [former Library of Congress staff member] was doing presentations throughout the Library and he presented Viewshare to that group. It sounded like a neat way to organize information. Around the same time, I was developing the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies’ introductory (gateway) course for first and second year students at Stony Brook University. Faculty in our department were concerned that students couldn’t find Asian countries on a map and had very little understanding of basic information about Asia. I thought that developing a student project using Viewshare would enable each student to identify, describe and visually represent aspects of Asia of their choosing — as a launching pad for further exploration. Plus, I liked the idea of students writing paragraphs to describe each of the items they selected because it could help them become better writers. Finally, I wanted students to learn how to use an Excel spreadsheet in the context of a digital platform.
Abbey: So it sounds like the digital platforms project is allowing your students to explore a specific topic they may not be familiar with (i.e., Asian Studies) with a resource they are probably more familiar with (i.e., the web) while at the same time exposing them to basic data curation principles. Would you agree?
Peg: Yes. Combining these into one project has been so popular because we’ve broadened student interest in how collections are developed and organized.
Abbey: Why do you think Viewshare works well in the classroom?
Peg: Because students have the freedom to develop their own collections of Asian artifacts and, at the end of the semester, share their collections with each other. Students approach the assignment differently and it’s surprising to them (and me) to see how their interests in “Asia” change throughout the semester, as they develop their collections.
Abbey: Please walk us through how you approach teaching your students to use Viewshare in their assignments.
Peg: I introduce the Viewshare platform to engage students in critical thinking. The project requires students to select, classify, and describe the significance of Asian artifacts relating to subjects of common concern — education, health, religion and values, consumer issues, family and home, mobility, children, careers and work, entertainment and leisure, etc. Also, I want students to think about cultured spaces in India, Southeast Asia, China, Korea, Japan and Asian communities in the United States. I encourage students to consider the emotional appeal of the items, which could include anything from a photograph of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Korea, to ornamental jade pieces from China, to ancient religious texts from India, to anime from Japan. Food has a particularly emotional appeal, especially for college students.
Undergrad TAs have developed power point slides as “tutorials” on how to use Viewshare, which I post on Blackboard. We explore the website in class and everyone signs up for an account at the very beginning of the semester. The TA helps with troubleshooting. Four times throughout the semester, the students add several artifacts, I grade their written descriptions and the TA reviews their excel spreadsheet to correct format problems. Then, around the last few weeks of the semester, the students upload their excel spreadsheet into the Viewshare platform and generate maps, timelines, pie charts, etc. Here’s an example of a typical final project.
Abbey: How have your students reacted to using Viewshare?
Peg: Sometimes they are frustrated when they can’t get the platform to load correctly. Almost always they enjoy seeing the final result and would like to work more on it — if we only had more time during the semester.
Abbey: Do you see any possibilities for making more use of Viewshare?
Peg: I’d like to keep track of the Asian artifacts the students select and how they describe them over long periods of time — to interpret changes in student interests. (We have a large Asian population on campus and over 50% of my students are either Asian or Asian American.)
Also, my department would like to use the Viewshare platform to illustrate a collection of Asian connections to Long Island.
Abbey: Anything else to add?
Peg: I think Viewshare is really ideal for student projects. And I have used Viewshare in academic writing to organize data and illustrate patterns. I just cited a Viewshare view in a footnote.