Summer Dresses

Sometimes, English professor Trudelle Thomas imagines herself walking down a dirt road on the rugged island nation of Haiti.

In the midst of drab shacks and the smell of raw sewage, she comes upon a group of little girls jumping rope.

haiti

The girls are orphans—many of them lost their parents in the 2010 earthquake—and have little to
call their own. But they are wearing dresses of crimson and yellow and cobalt blue with pockets and collars and lace and ribbons—as pretty as a field of wildflowers bobbing up and down in the breeze.

The dresses make the girls feel special, loved. And they make Thomas feel the same way. For the past two years, Thomas has spent part of her summers creating the dresses for Angels Dress Shop, a church organization in Owensville, Ohio, that began organizing the dressmaking campaign in 2011 after their pastor visited Haiti and saw a need he described as “infinite.”

Thomas read about the project in a news story last year. Being a skilled seamstress, she wanted to help, so she and a friend began making dresses using the group’s pillowcase pattern. She also bought fabrics—yellow gingham, pink floral, blue batik—and added ruffles and pockets. She made some of the dresses reversible since many girls have only one dress to wear.

Since last summer, Thomas made more than 100 dresses. They donated about half to the Angels Dress Shop and half to the Restavek Freedom Foundation, which works to free girls from servitude in Haiti.

“It’s a small thing I can do,” says Thomas, who sponsors a girl through the foundation. “It’s good for my mental health, it helps other people, and it makes me feel really good.”

The dressmaking continues this summer. Thomas expects she’ll make 20-30 dresses and a number of shorts for boys from a bolt of red cloth sent to her by the Angels organization. In Thomas’ mind, boys in bright shorts can be wildflowers, too.

The Office: Niamh O’Leary

Assistant professor of English Niamh (pronounced Niev) O’Leary loves everything Shakespeare. She teaches it, researches it, reads it, studies it, writes about it. And she collects it. A trip to her office uncovers a variety of Shakespeare stuff, such as:

• Skull from the Tower of London gift shop. Hamlet held the skull of Yorick, the court jester he knew as a boy, and philosophized about mortality and living a moral life.

• Bloody Mug from the Globe Theatre gift shop in London. The quote on the mug, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” is from Macbeth.

• Shakespeare figurines—an action figure, a bobblehead and Steampunk Willie, a limited edition figurine made for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s steampunk-style production of Titus Andronicus.

• Map of Shakespeare’s Britain from 1611 published in National Geographic in 1965 includes names of plays printed over the locations where they took place—Henry VI at Yorke, Macbeth at Byrname Wood, Richard III at Bosworth Field.

• Empty wine bottle with “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” on the label. The words refer to the scene in A Winter’s Tale where a bear kills Antigonus. O’Leary performed the scene for actor Kyle MacLachlan, who owns the winery, before realizing he only wanted her to look at his framed Shakespeare picture. So she felt obliged to buy the wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, which he signed and she drank.

• Poster of Shakespeare quotes with words he coined that are still in use today, like “arch-villain,” “cold-blooded” and “eyeball.”

• ABCs of Shakespeare poster where F stands for “Falstaff.”

• Necklace of a G clef inscribed with the first lines from Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on.”

• Light switch cover with drawing of Shakespeare on it.

Poetic Justice

Tyrone Williams has lived in Cincinnati for nearly 30 years. It’s his home.But during his three decades here, at least one piece of the city’s storied history eluded him—the story of the Black Brigade, Cincinnati’s free black men who were rounded up during the Civil War and forced into slave labor to protect the city from advancing Confederate troops.

Although a well-published poet, Williams had never created any type of public art. But when the call went out for someone to write a poem about the Black Brigade for a monument that was being created along Cincinnati’s riverfront, Williams decided to step outside of his usual comfort zone. It was, he thought, a perfect fit for him.

Others thought so as well. He was selected to write a 10-verse poem that was etched in stone as a small part of a larger piece of public art honoring the brigade. While notable on its own, what he loved most about the project was, as a poet, he got to work with three other artists in the monument’s creation.

“It takes your ego out of the process,” he says. “You have to work with someone else’s idea and you have to sometimes give up some things. It becomes part of something larger.”

His research helped him imagine the feelings of the 400 men who, in September 1862, were taken from their homes, locked in mule cages overnight and forced across the Ohio River to build fortifications against the Confederates. He imagined the fears of their wives and children, not knowing if their men would come back from Kentucky, where they were at risk of being captured and returned to slavery.

He thought about the joy the men felt when they were rescued by an abolitionist judge-turned-colonel, returned to the city and offered the chance to willingly volunteer. And he imagined the pride they felt when 718 of them showed up the next morning to help defend their city—and their elation when the Confederate troops retreated.

The monument is a series of panels on a wall that consists of statues, bronze plaques and words etched in marble and stone. Williams’ 10 verses fill the spaces between the panels. The wall is embedded into the earth, resembling the fortifications the men built with their hands along eight miles of Kentucky landscape near Fort Mitchell. Shaped like a crescent, it points toward the Ohio River and the Kentucky shore.

The names of all 718 men in the three regiments are engraved along the bottom of the wall. Their flag is engraved beneath a statue of a worried woman and child. Another statue, depicting Judge William Dickson receiving a sword from a brigade member, anchors the end, near the words of Williams’ final poem, which is etched permanently into the stone—and into Cincinnati’s memory.

Touch Points

When it comes to teaching with technology, Stephen Yandell is torn.

On one hand, the professor of medieval English literature embraces the traditional classroom with its face-to-face instruction and eschews recent advances in web-based curriculum. On the other, he’s intrigued by the wide variety of user-friendly technologies transforming the form, feel and delivery of higher education in today’s globally focused, Internet-dependent world.

“I have a conflicted relationship with online learning,” says Yandell. “I am both skeptical and excited about the possibilities.”

Skeptical, he says, because online classes have a tarnished reputation for being too easy. Excited because today’s technology allows for innovative and creative ways to study almost any topic.

Even medieval literature.

“There is technology that allows you to explore medieval manuscripts,” Yandell says. “It can turn the pages for you. It’s great and that’s just the beginning. I was at a conference on medieval studies, and one presenter told us how she took her students to a Second Life space where she had designed a way for them to deal with various portions of the text while forced, as an avatar character, to confront the same issues of greed that the Pardoner addresses in Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale.”

In many ways, Yandell’s love-hate relationship exemplifies the fear and fascination sweeping campus as Xavier begins to chart its path into a realm now dominated by for-profit institutions such as the University of Phoenix.

Exactly where or how Xavier positions itself is uncertain because the University hasn’t outlined a clear strategy—yet. But it’s coming. Yandell is co-leading a group studying the issue. (See sidebar.)

“It will be a serious concern for Scott Chadwick, the new provost, to put structures in place to address Xavier’s proper place in online course delivery,” says Steve Herbert, a physics professor who co-chaired the University’s search for a new provost and chief academic officer to replace Roger Fortin, who’s retiring and returning to teaching this summer. “Everyone knows this is something we have to do and that’s been reflected in the provost search, but no one has stepped up or is capable of stepping up because no one really has the power.”

[divider]ONLINE (R)EVOLUTION [/divider]

To this point, Xavier’s foray into online classes has been a random, grassroots effort. It started seven or eight years ago, with a handful of pioneering professors who experimented with online tools such as podcasts and discussion boards to reach graduate students in business and education.

Now online classes, mostly graduate level, are offered through all three colleges. Xavier also is on the cusp of a watershed event. The University is expected to unveil its first online degree—a master’s degree in Montessori education—as early as Fall 2012.

“Our direct competitors offer online degrees, so we need to get busy,” says Gina Lofquist, director for Xavier’s Montessori Education program. “It fulfills the mission and broadens Xavier’s opportunities.”

The availability of online classes at Xavier varies greatly, however, depending on demand in a particular program and the ability and willingness of faculty to make the digital leap from in-class to online.

“Every university is in a huge state of flux,” Yandell says of online curriculum nationwide. “The field of online courses has been the Wild West for many years now.”

The result will no doubt define a revolutionary change in higher education but the process is evolutionary, a phenomenon akin to other major technological advances throughout history.

“Every new technology that has come along has made educators nervous and the public, in general, starting with the printing press,” Yandell says, “and later AV technology, email and the Internet.”

As a result, Xavier and most traditional universities also offer hybrid classes that incorporate traditional classroom instruction with online components.

“Hybrid courses concede the benefit of meeting face to face with an instructor to guide students along the way,” Yandell says. “No one seems to have clear answers about what kinds of courses have proven to be best suited for online components or what steps are being taken to ensure that the same level of rigor is maintained for online and traditional classes.”

Yet the direction is unmistakable, Yandell says. “More online offerings are clearly a key direction that higher education is moving in, and it absolutely behooves us as a faculty at Xavier to address these questions right now. Putting our heads in the sand won’t do anything.”

[divider]THE NEXT FRONTIER [/divider]

Online classes have caught on at Xavier—and elsewhere—because they offer students flexibility and require nothing more than a typical PC to participate.

“The technology is cheap and accessible,” says Cynthia Kelly, a longtime nursing professor who started teaching graduate classes online two years ago. “I’m 53 years old. When I started teaching, you had to be able to write a programming language to use the technology. Now you pick and click.”

Kelly insists that today’s technology is uber easy to use, for teachers and students alike.

“You don’t have to be a techie person to use the tools,” Kelly says. “It’s really old technology. What’s new is the application.”

Online also offers universities a way to attract more and different types of students, Lofquist points out. “The rest of the world is doing it. We need to offer people options.”

The online Montessori master’s degree program is making its way through the University’s curriculum approval process and must ultimately be reviewed by the Higher Learning Commission to obtain accreditation, says Mark Meyers, dean of the College of Social Sciences, Health, and Education. Approval for a traditional program typically takes a year to 18 months, he says.

Meyers isn’t sure how long it will take to get approval for the online Montessori degree because it is the first of its kind at Xavier.

“It could get stopped for discussion at any point along the way because it is new,” he says. “It will be the pilot.”

[divider]IGNATIAN IDEALS [/divider]

Traditional public and private universities—Jesuit among them—are moving into online programs at a rapid pace, particularly in the last year. The Jesuit universities with established online degree programs include Regis in Denver, Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., and St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia.

But how does Xavier—or any Jesuit university—incorporate and protect Ignatian ideals of pedagogy with online curriculum? It’s an important consideration among most faculty at Xavier.

“If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this right,” says Elaine Crable, a veteran business professor who champions Ignatian best practices for online curriculum. “It’s not going to be a correspondence course. We’re going to incorporate the Ignatian philosophy or pedagogical paradigm into it.”

The former chair of the Department of Management Information Systems got on board with online programs several years ago.

“When we started doing this we weren’t worried about the Phoenixes of the world,” she says. “That pressure started coming in the last year with so many pop-ups. We decided it was an important addition to the MBA. Our students needed it.”

Crable, Meyers and other online proponents believe strongly in the importance of maintaining high academic standards and the Ignatian pedagogical ideals for which Xavier is known with any class the University offers.

Proponents contend that a well-structured online class can be at least as challenging—if not more so—than its traditional counterpart. Students in an online class, for example, often are required to participate “in class” by posting comments on a given topic.

“The thing about online is you can’t hide,” says Meyers, who has taught online courses in Xavier’s Department of Educational Leadership. “As an instructor, you get direct reflective evidence from individuals, even more than in a classroom. Everyone has to comment.”

At Xavier, professors choose how much or how little technology to incorporate into their classes, but the University is making it easier for instructors to make the digital leap through a rollout of Wimba, a computer-based platform for online teaching. “With Wimba, your computer is your classroom,” says Bob Cotter, associate vice president for the Division of Information Resources. “The key is that Wimba uses consumer technology. It’s Skype-like.”

[divider]CRAWL, WALK, RUN [/divider]

No matter how easy the technology is to use, using it well enough to teach effectively takes time and practice, says Roger Effron, an adjunct professor in the School of Education. Effron has taught in traditional classrooms on campus and in a host of non-traditional venues, including Cincinnati-area high schools, in Xavier’s video conferencing studio and at an off-site location in Wilmington, Ohio. Last fall, though, he ventured out even farther, teaching a class to Xavier students from his second home in Venice, Fla. Effron says he even recorded a few podcasts of his lectures while sitting poolside.

“Getting used to being an online professor is very challenging,” says Effron, who received good overall reviews from his students. “You gotta crawl before you walk and walk before you run. I experimented with a few things this year. I made lots of podcasts. Next year I will probably add Wimba.”

To be sure, just because today’s students live in the Information Age doesn’t mean they all want to take online classes. To address both needs, Xavier offers multiple traditional sections for every online version of any class. Sometimes both online and traditional versions of the same course are available during the same semester. In other cases, such as with Effron’s classes, the online counterparts are offered during alternating semesters.

Kelly, the nursing professor, says it’s easy to get hooked on the technology with a little patience and some practice. “It’s like something you didn’t know you needed until you started using it,” she says, comparing Wimba to email. “If I can do it, anybody can do it. There’s really nothing special about me other than my curiosity.”

The interest in teaching online courses varies widely among Xavier’s 318 faculty, and the extent to which an instructor uses online components also varies.

“The focus is on good teaching,” says Kandi Stinson, associate provost for academic affairs. “It’s up to the instructor how much technology to use or not use.”

“I’m looking forward to experimenting with online options,” says Yandell. “The key is using the technology where it can make a difference and meet the goals.”