Faculty Spotlight: Katharine Burnett

Dr. Katharine Burnett

Dr. Katharine Burnett, Associate Professor of Art History at UC Davis, has found considerable success with a hybrid approach to Art History 1DV – Arts of Asia. “I didn’t expect to be impressed with hybrid teaching,” Burnett admits, “but after participating in a study with the Mellon Foundation ten years ago, I saw that it could work.” Once she started using the hybrid format, she found that “the pay-off was exceptional. I’ve become a firm supporter of hybrid learning and teaching.”

Adding an online element to Art History 1DV was especially attractive to Burnett because “the course is a monster – 5000 years of three different cultures from the neolithic to the contemporary. It’s a very intense ten weeks, and it’s easy for the material to get out of control.” On top of that, it was all done in the dark – with glowing slides and white noise at the front of the room, Burnett laughs, “well, you can guess what would happen, especially after lunch.”

In the hybrid version of the course, Burnett posts the lectures online, cutting the amount of time the students spend “in class” in half. She divides the class into an A group and a B group, and meets with one on Tuesday and the other on Thursday, each for the normal hour-and-twenty-minute time slot. The students are required to view the online lectures and complete a weekly written assignment, which they discuss in depth with their TAs during a weekly discussion section.

The online lectures, embedded into SmartSite, have several images accompanied by an audio file; “this way,” Burnett explains, “the students can hear me lecturing. If they want to read the information, as well, then they can access a transcript.” Students can also complete “self-tests” as part of the online lecture, which involve identifying or comparing/contrasting images, as well as answering questions about the development of beliefs revealed by the images. An added benefit of this approach, Burnett notes, is that “the whole personal commitment level goes up because when the students study the online lectures, they determine when they understand the information, and decide when they are ready to move forward.”

When the students attend the weekly face-to-face meeting with Dr. Burnett, they divide themselves into small groups of 3-4 students. Burnett comes prepared with PowerPoint image comparisons, which she asks each group to analyze and discuss. For example, given the images below, the students would compare and contrast the images and discuss the iconography involved, as well as explain what belief systems/religions are manifested in each.

Shahzia Sikander, Extraordinary Realities I, 1996, vegetable color, dry pigment, watercolor, tea.
Ang Tsherin Sherpa, The Butterfly Effect/Chaos Theory, 2008, 22.5" x 28”, gouache on cotton.

This discussion format, Burnett says, allows her to “get to know the students. I can tell how well they understand the material, and where they need help. I know who is a hard worker, and I have a greater chance of remembering their names and faces, in and outside of the classroom. And they tend to come more prepared because they are on the spot not only with me, but also with their TAs and their peers.”

Burnett reports that the course evaluations for the teaching assistants and for the online learning have been “very positive. Students say they are better prepared for this course than they are for their other courses. The average grade has gone up from a C+/B- to B+/A-. I would say it’s wildly successful.”

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