In Spring of 2020, Tim Clarke and I team-taught “Mapping Religion.” The course was Integrative Learning-designated, with the expectation that we would bring to and model for the students the different perspectives we bring to the concepts we were exploring. Sharon teaches in the Religion Studies department, with interests in theoretical framinings of place and space in religious contexts; Tim is an instructional designer with interest in the physical elements of mapping, and also the use of GIS across the disciplines. The course had no textbook, but lots of reading. Our glossary assignment was one way (among many) to draw out and emphasize relationships between texts, and ideas, across disciplines.
Even as we developed the course we realized the extent to which language–even, perhaps especially, at the level of words–was a potent site for thinking about the nuances in how we both approached our materials. A broad example is the concept of “boundary,” essential both to religion and to mapping: thinking about boundaries both as components of physical maps we were creating and also in a more theoretical way would allow us to play with ideas of permanence, fluidity, and liminality in ways that enriched both perspectives. But it was important to us that the glossary itself be a site of fluidity, and that the students participate in its development. Thus our glossary assignment was born!
To achieve the goals we wanted the assignment to achieve we needed a platform for the glossary that would allow students
- to choose which terms or concepts were added;
- to provide initial definitions or explanations for the terms;
- to develop those terms as we learned more over the course of the semester.
It was also essential that the students be able to have exchange with each other, asking questions, and complicating, nuancing and adding to each other’s work.
WordPress proved an excellent site for our glossary.
We downloaded a plug-in that allowed us to organize posts in alphabetical order.
Everyone in the class had full editorial permissions for the site.
Students added each new term or concept as a distinct post with the term or concept as the title of the post and the definition or explanation as content.
Students then expanded on the definitions by commenting.
We encouraged students to select and post terms for the glossary as they were reading in preparation for class — motivating posting by allocating grade credits! During the first few weeks of the semester we started class sessions by asking students to call out significant terms or concepts. We would write them on the Blackboard, discuss them briefly, and then ask a student to take on responsibility for posting it to the glossary.
Our class started in person. By March, the Covid-19 pandemic had taken over and we were virtual. The glossary became a significant site for asynchronous connection among the students. In a very disrupted semester, it also helped us to maintain a thread through the pre-virtual and post-virtual work of the semester.
Some students used the glossary more than others (and we set up the grading structure to allow for that variation). While there are tweaks we will make next time round, we both considered the glossary a great success.