Spotlight: Dr. Cinzia Fissore, Environmental Science Professor

I recently had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Cinzia Fissore for a few minutes and discussing how she has incorporated digital media into her classrooms, as well as her relationship with DigLibArts. Listen to some highlights of the interview below, and be sure to check out her written responses to the questions as well.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you study? What department do you teach in?

I was born and raised in Italy, where I obtained my undergraduate degree in Forest and Environmental Science, with a major in Soil Science. Then I came to the U.S., where I obtained my Ph.D. in Forest Science, with emphasis on Soil Biogeochemistry, at Michigan Technological University. After four years of research experience at the University of Minnesota, in 2011, I joined the Environmental Science Program at Whittier College.

What classes do you generally teach? And how did you teach them in the past?

I teach Introduction to Environmental Science, Soil Science, Long-term Environmental Change, Senior Seminar and a January course abroad on land use and sustainability. In my courses I use a number of activities to engage and challenge the students and test their understanding. Besides classic exams and quizzes, in several of my courses I include field trips, data collection and analyses, simulations, followed by papers and writing reports.

Tell us a little bit about how you’ve worked with DigLibArts (did you receive grant funding? What did you use it for?)?

As soon as I heard about the various activities promoted by DigLibArts I saw that they could fit nicely in my courses. Last year I received faculty salary to support my time investment in developing some of the activities and I coordinated workshops and class meetings with members of DigLibArts.

Can you share one or two examples of digital assignments/activities you’ve used in your class?

I have used Digital Storytelling in three of my courses. Last fall, with my Intro to Environmental Science class, we created infographics.

How did it/they go? What do you like/dislike about these assignments? How’d the students feel?

All in all it was a good experience, even though I admit that I had a lot to learn, too. I like the fact that these types of assignments allow students to learn new skills and to communicate their knowledge in a number of ways, including videos or infographics, which are becoming more and more important in our society.

Would you do it again? How would you change it if you did? What did you learn from the experience?

Absolutely. I think that activities such as digital storytelling are ideal to promote interdisciplinary work, like the ones we do at Whittier College, and help support students’ creativity, promote their organizational skills and help them think about assignments in a different way. I have made many changes to my assignments in the past few semesters. In the future, I want to provide the students with more examples of excellent work to set the bar high and I want to have very clear guidelines for their work. I believe that, as faculty, communicating our enthusiasm in the product is key to motivate students. Passion is contagious!

Do you have any tips or tricks that you’d like to share with students interested in digital assignments or faculty who are interested in experimenting pedagogically?

My main concern when I first considered introducing digital storytelling and infographics in my courses was that the focus would be on aesthetic more than content. This is a real risk. I then realized that this does not have to be the case, as long as the students are given sufficient instructions and feedback throughout the process. I now structure each assignment as a multi-step process, where literature search and data collection are critical components. In some cases the digital product originates from a paper, which is subject to a number of reviews. Every course is different though, and tweaking and flexibility are necessary. My recommendation would be to thoroughly think about what experience we want to provide our students with an activity such as digital storytelling and what we want to assess. The other advice, for both faculty and students, is to take advantage of the knowledge that the amazing people at DigLibArts have to share. Their feedback and ideas can really help us create a fun and productive experience. What I learned during my last two JanTerms abroad is that working towards creating a digital story invites the students to pay more attention to their surroundings. For example, last month in our JanTerm to Hawaii, our students took hours of videos, hundreds of pictures, and conducted interviews to document various aspects of their experience abroad, from the role of energy in the Hawaiian economy, to the challenges associated with food production and sustainability in Hawaii.

Here are some examples of digital stories that Dr. Fissore’s students have produced: