FOLDing in Creativity: How a Web Tool Reinvigorated a Course

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Acting on a tip from a colleague, lecturer Kim Davenport reinvigorated her music appreciation course with a web-based presentation tool that fosters the creativity of her students.

Kim Davenport: Paths of Artistry

Kim Davenport's self-effacing personality hides a wealth of interesting accomplishments, from her career as a concert pianist to her role in documenting Tacoma's history to her adoption of innovative classroom technologies. READ MORE...

(Above: Kim Davenport at the keyboard in Carwein Auditorium. Photo by Cody Char.)

“It brought out a lot of creativity in my students. And it made them better presenters.”

So says Kim Davenport, lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, about FOLD, a web-based open publishing platform initially developed at MIT.

What the innovative technology did for her students gets to the heart of what university teaching is all about: unleashing creativity and giving students the opportunity to become better according to the learning objectives of a particular course. This is as true today as it was in 9th-century Europe when the first universities were founded.

There’s a perception among some in the public today that universities are hopelessly out-of-touch, slow to embrace new technology, and that a university degree is overrated. But universities are big, complex places. In 2016 UW Tacoma has more than 350 faculty, all of whom are constantly looking for new ways to connect with students and keep coursework relevant.

This is the first in a series of occasional stories we plan to publish on innovative teaching and learning at UW Tacoma. For those who think that lecturing represents the state of the art in classroom engagement, we think you’ll be amazed at the creativity on display in these stories.

Potato Clarinet

Paul Kang's potato clarinet, created for an assignment in Kim Davenport's class, has an airway and playing holes carved into the potato, and a clarinet reed and mouthpiece assembly attached.For example, there’s the potato clarinet. That’s what student Paul Kang created for his final assignment in Kim Davenport’s course, Listening Outside the Box: Concert Music in the 21st Century.

The course is part of UW Tacoma’s first-year core curriculum. The challenge Davenport faced was to develop an assignment—and a way of evaluating it—that built on the creative journey students take in the class, which explores the musical philosophies of influential 20th century composers like John Cage.

“The whole assignment is about creativity,” said Davenport. “Students are creating their own musical work. They are having to bring it from conception to realization all on their own, and then write an artistic statement that explains the meaning of it. That statement used to be a 2-3 page double-spaced paper. I was bored with grading those papers because they seemed so dry, and students didn’t seem to be having fun producing them, and it didn’t fit the rest of the assignment, which was so creative in nature.”

Davenport had been introduced to FOLD by Colleen Carmean, UW Tacoma’s assistant chancellor for academic technologies, who herself had heard about it from Emma Rose, an assistant professor of user-centered design.

“FOLD popped into my mind as a great way to reinvigorate the course assignment. It’s really easy to learn how to use, and I haven’t had a single student tell me they couldn’t figure it out or that they didn’t want to do it,” said Davenport, who notes that more than 150 students have now done the assignment using FOLD.

Technology in the Classroom

Screenshot shows the starting point of a FOLD presentation built by Kim Davenport.Davenport herself is a great example of a technology skeptic who has had something of a conversion.

“I think what has made me open to teaching tools like FOLD is my experience with UW Tacoma’s iTech Fellows Program,” said Davenport. “ I’m someone who never ever thought I would teach online. I wasn’t afraid of the technology; I just didn’t like the concept. When I think of teaching, I think of being in the room with people. But, there was a need for more humanities courses online.

“So, I went through the iTech program. I went in as a skeptic. Then I designed a couple of online music classes. I’ve realized some things can be done online that are actually better than what I can do in the classroom.

“For example, the format of a music appreciation class is traditionally someone at the front of the room lecturing about what was going on in Vienna in 1780 and why Mozart would have written a particular piece. Then they’ll put on a recording and play it once. Right there is the problem for a student body like ours. We have students on this campus with so many different backgrounds. Some grew up learning to play an instrument and listening to lots of music at home, and some don’t have that background. They might hear Mozart or Beethoven and think ‘that’s music for rich white people; that’s not music for me.’

“I’ve had the experience of putting on a recording and seeing that some students just don’t relate to it at all.

“With an online format, I can really stress that it’s okay if you want to listen to something five times…it’s okay if you don’t want to listen at all. The students can basically move at their own paces. I find I’m reaching more people this way.”

Davenport's open-minded approach to the possibilities of technology in the classroom has been recognized by, among others, UW's Office of the Provost, which featured her use of FOLD in its ongoing Trends and Issues in Higher Ed series ("Finding meaning behind the music," May 2016). And, in 2015, the College Music Society presented her with its Instructional Technology Initiative Award.

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Written by: 
John Burkhardt / June 30, 2016
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu