By Kate Daley-Bailey…I have recently had the good fortune of having various scholars come in and speak with my Religion and Media course. Dr. Russell McCutcheon, noted scholar and head of the Religious Studies Department at the University of Alabama, has recently created a collaborative website dedicated to investigating cultural constructions and identity formation (Culture on the Edge: Studies in Identity Formation). The website welcomes professors currently teaching classes to request a virtual class visit from one of the scholars writing for the site. Given my course title and topic, I knew this website would be a vital resource. Taking Dr. McCutcheon up on his gracious offer to Skype with my class, I took the first step towards integrating Skype into my courses. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I gathered from the process:
1. Be sure to check time zones if Skyping a scholar in another region! I fear I was so amped by the upcoming virtual class visit, I forgot to note that Dr. McCutcheon and I were in different time zones. Luckily, we had planned a test date and time.
2. Make sure you are familiar with the technology in your classroom. Most universities have IT departments which can assist with the technical setup. Many of our students are much more technologically-savvy than their Religious Studies professors. Use their expertise!
3. While departments might be strapped for cash and unwilling to fund guest speakers, the Skype option is free and does not require travel.
4. While my favorite media forms may be of the print variety, this generation of undergraduates have never known a world without cell phones or the internet. If I want to reach them I am going to have to take this into account. Skype is an easy and accessible technology which allows your students an opportunity to engage other voices in the field.
5. Never underestimate the ability of another scholar to open new avenues of thought for your students. By the middle of a semester, students and professors have usually exhausted their early course energies and fallen into logistical and ideological patterns. This is the pique time to change things up. My students had recently read a series of posts from Culture on the Edge, ReligionNerd, and other websites focusing on disquieting the seemingly stable category of religion. Dr. McCutcheon was able to crystalize a number of concepts I had been laying out throughout the first half of the semester (questioning ‘religion’ as a category, the inseparable nature of form (media) and content, and role of language as the great arbitrator of what counts as meaningful in a given context) . The students were energized by not just the use of a different medium in class but also by how easily this technology made access to such a significant voice in the field. It was also a lot of fun!
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