In Katie Oliviero's Gender, Sexuality, and Migration course at CU Boulder, students navigate potential situations that undocumented immigrants may encounter in their everyday lives through the video game ICED (I Can End Deportation). Through the eyes of undocumented immigrants, players try to avoid detention without trial. Playing the game, Oliviero's students learn more about the challenges that undocumented immigrants or even legal permanent residents of the U.S. may face each day, including just making it to and from work safely. Students in Oliviero's classes reflect on their experiences playing the game as part of a larger discussion of U.S. immigration policies, specifically the Dream Act. Using digital gaming to better understand a social justice concept is emblematic of Oliviero's efforts to encourage her students to consider how they encounter technology in their every day lives and the role that technology plays in how they perceive the world.
Oliviero refers to these digital games as one example of cultural 'artifacts' that she encourages her students to present in class on a regular basis. These artifacts may also be images of high art or street art relevant to ideas discussed in class, such as a 2011 Banksy graffiti piece that humanized illegal immigration across a San Diego highway. Other artifacts that students present may be more technological in nature: a YouTube video of a political speech; a television commercial; or a public service announcement. Oliviero says, “Bringing in objects from the external world leads to dialogue in class." She may even incorporate discussion questions around a commercial that precedes a YouTube video: "How does technology change the way we understand materials;" or "Why is information commercialized?" Oliviero says these questions are important because, "The structure of technology shifts how information is shared."
Students report an enhanced learning experience from these presentations: Margaret Behm, one of Oliviero's former CU students, says:
Dr. Oliviero's use of technology in the classroom helps to connect the academic analysis of issues discussed in class to the real world ... Through documentaries, news sources, video clips of mainstream and other media, her class taught me how to better pay attention and decode the dynamic implications behind issues of gender, sexuality, race, etc. in relation to migration that we come across in our culture.
Oliviero's students enjoyed her incorporation of technology into her teaching so much that they nominated her for an ASSETT Outstanding Teaching with Technology Award last year. One student wrote in a recommendation of Oliviero:
Professor Oliviero always accesses some form of engaging and informative media to accentuate the classes' theories and themes. Whether it's a clip from YouTube, or a chart from an NGO's website, I am constantly aware of learning's real world implications.
In the Future: Using Clicker Technology to Survey Large Lecture Classes
In the future, Oliviero hopes to modify the use of technology in her teaching for larger lectures. She envisions using clicker technology with the larger number of students in a lecture class to take a spontaneous general opinion survey and "consolidate lots of information quickly," she says. This way, students can immediately analyze more relevant survey results of student opinions. Oliviero may successively ask students similar questions with different phrasing to demonstrate how the questions we ask determine the answers we get.
Regardless, ultimately, Oliviero aims to encourage her students to think more critically about the role that technology plays in communicating information in students' own lives. She says professors should embrace the fact that: "Students grew up in internet mediated world;" she believes that the professor should "Use the students’ landscape to illustrate concepts and teach core skills such as writing, critical thinking, and research." Oliviero wants to encourage students to create multimedia documentaries that would more effectively tell the untold stories that students learn about in her classes. In doing so, students would gain valuable professional skills as they learn how to splice different images and do voice over of recorded interviews.
Oliviero is currently finishing her final semester of her two year fellowship here in the Women's Studies Department at CU Boulder through the ACLS New Faculty Fellowship. She will move on to teach at Dickinson College this fall.
Written by: Moira McCormick