posted December 9, 2010

“Social e-textbook” Concept Wins Competitive Fellowship

The unique "social e-textbook" pioneered by Hope College faculty member Dr. Christian Spielvogel as a way of more fully realizing the Internet's teaching potential is one of only 20 innovative concepts nationwide - out of 1,000 hopefuls - to receive major support through the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Spielvogel's approach blends textbook content, social media and role-playing to move students from the sidelines to the center of the action in living out the material they're studying to deepen their understanding of it.  It's a model that he has been using at Hope since 2009 in his "Communication and Conflict" course, during which students take on the identity of real-life Civil War-era residents of the Shenandoah Valley and interact with each other in responding to the events of the time from their counterpart's perspective.

"Our goal is to transform the textbook from a passive, solitary, read-only product to a collaborative, interactive and immersive experience," said Spielvogel, who is an associate professor of communication.  "The idea is that reading is still critically important, but students by playing the simulation will have a better chance to apply, extend and critique traditional textbook content."

Spielvogel has received a fellowship through the foundation's Kauffman Education Ventures Program designed to help promising educational innovations find their way to market.  From February through June, Ventures Lab fellows will spend two months at the foundation's headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., immersed in a training, mentoring and coaching program, and then another two months shadowing the heads of educational companies to see the principles they've learned in action.  The fellowship also includes housing and covers all related expenses for the duration of the program.

Spielvogel's collaborators include his wife, Dr. Laura Spielvogel, an associate professor of cultural anthropology at Western Michigan University; Dr. Khusro Kidwai, a research associate and instructional designer at Penn State University; University of Virginia historian Dr. Gary Gallagher; and UCLA historian Dr. Joan Waugh.  The chief outcome of the fellowship will be a social e-textbook on the Civil War and Reconstruction co-authored by Gallagher, Waugh and Spielvogel.

Spielvogel, a member of the Hope faculty since 2000, began developing collaborative online learning environments during a 2007-08 sabbatical at the University of Virginia, supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Virginia Endowment for the Humanities.  He was seeking to more fully use the Internet as not only a source of information, but as a way of producing information and interacting with others about it - a progression that he dubs "Web 2.0," as opposed to the earlier "Web 1.0" days of read-only.

The result was the "Valley Sim," in which students take on the identity of one of 25 real-life citizens of two communities that were on opposite sides of the Civil War.   The students then interact, in character, via Internet chat as they learn about and respond to the events of the war through information featured in an online database

The Kauffman Foundation fellowship is the second round of support that Spielvogel has received this year as a way of helping him and his collaborators develop business acumen to accompany their concept and technical understanding.  This summer, Spielvogel's "social e-textbook" was one of only four concepts chosen from a statewide competition to participate in the 12-week entrepreneurial "boot camp" program sponsored by Momentum in Grand Rapids.

Spielvogel intends to apply the lessons from both experiences to his teaching at Hope as well.  He sees potential in the contacts that he is developing with other education-focused firms in creating internships around the country for Hope students.  He has gained valuable perspective for his new role as a faculty advisor to the college's Hope Entrepreneurship Initiative for students.  He is also picking up more ideas for innovating in the classroom - a potential new summer course, for example, might involve students working in teams on projects that draw on the expertise of multiple faculty mentors and use multiple classrooms and computer laboratories rather than follow the more traditional model of a single instructor and single room.