Although online digital media had always been a part of my Women and Power in Early Modern Spain class, the Covid-19 stay-at-home order issued during the spring 2020 semester turned it into a central feature of my course rather than a supplemental one. This class was taught in Spanish and focused on the political and social role of women in early modern Spain. The core objectives were to acquire understanding of power relations and gender roles in early modern Spain; comprehend the importance of women’s contributions and legacies during the period in question; and obtain awareness of the historical, social, and political issues that influenced Spanish society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In order to achieve these goals and offer learners the opportunity to put into practice the knowledge they had acquired in class I redesigned the final project taking into consideration digital tools and academic resources that students could access while taking courses at home. This led to designing an assessment that involved using, creating, and posting digital shareable content1 on a custom-built Google Site.2 In designing the project, I ensured that students would engage in the traditional intellectual processes of research, analysis, writing, peer evaluation, but use a shareable format in order to showcase the final project to other audiences outside the class. Some of the questions I explored prior to the design were: How can I keep students connected and engaged to the course material and their peers? How can I make them reflect on the subject matter and understand its relevance in today’s world? How can learners take advantage of the online resources they have at hand? How can they continue identifying common or culturally specific topics, and making connections between works of literature, history, and art?
These questions, together with the intellectual goals led me to the following project objectives: analyze the political and artistic role influential women had within the Spanish monarchy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, write about the impact these women had within their social and historical context, examine their role within the geopolitical and cultural landscape of the Spanish empire, and share a writing piece and research materials in a digital platform in order to expand and contribute to the existing body of knowledge about the subject. Once these objectives were clearly laid out to the class, I divided students into pairs, assigned each group a specific topic and gave them a step-by-step guide that explained the process they needed to follow. While students could have worked individually, I asked them to do it collaboratively in order to keep them engaged and so they could continue practicing their oral and written Spanish at an academic level while working remotely.
Each group was assigned a historical figure studied in class, for example: Isabel I of Castile, Juana I (better known as “Juana the mad”), Isabel of Portugal, Ana de Mendoza (princess of Eboli), María de Guevara, and Ana Caro Mallén de Soto. Their task was to write a collaborative essay that included works cited and a general bibliography, contribute to a gallery of images, and share a list of online and user-created content. This was posted in different parts of the site, as I will explain. The main content area of the website consisted of images and links that led to six digital profiles, each pertaining to one of the aforementioned historical women. The site also had a menu with tabs to two additional sections designated as Gallery and Resources.
For the digital profiles, each group had to collaboratively write and post a short article-like essay (1,000 words) that responded to a specific research question and was intended for a general audience. More precisely, I asked students to write an article meant for the cultural or historical section of a fictional newspaper. In order to show them several models of the content they had to create, I asked them to access and read online articles published in Spanish newspapers that focused on early modern Spanish women; paying attention to their structure and format, tone, main argument and counter-arguments, facts, logical reasoning, and supporting evidence. All essays went through a peer-editing process that allowed for feedback and exchange of ideas among students in the class. The gallery section of the website was divided into six different segments and had to include four to five works of art associated with each historical figure and their time period. This allowed learners to explore different virtual collections and exhibits, for example, Museo del Prado, and learn about painters like Sofonisba Anguissola and Diego Velázquez, among others. Once they identified a series of significant art works, each group had to post the images or links with their description, location, and bibliographical information. The last section in the website, designated to post external web content, was intended for students to explore and share interesting online and user-created content related to their topics. This included a diverse array of resources, such as links to documentaries, films, theater productions, digital galleries and museums, among others. Each resource needed to be accompanied by a description and an explanation of how it connected to the students’ work. This part followed a format similar to an annotated bibliography. Its purpose was to inform the content recipient about the distinctive features of each item and its relevance to specific topics covered in the website. In the end, students shared their respective website content in a final presentation via Blackboard Collaborate Ultra3 followed by a synchronous question-and-answer session.
In order to assess students’ learning outcomes, I distributed a survey for them to answer voluntarily after the semester was over. Questions were geared toward understanding students’ challenges, acquired knowledge, and overall experience conducting the project as well as using online content. The main challenges reported by the students were: finding suitable images that historically corresponded to some of the subjects in question and the design limitations provided by Google Sites. However, they reported that academic databases and online and user-created content, such as videos, articles, virtual museums, helped them to conduct their research and complete the tasks for the project. In terms of learning outcomes, all students reported that they met the project’s objectives. They found that creating digital shareable content for their website and reading their peers’ work helped them acquire additional knowledge not necessarily covered in class, such as additional biographical details and how the women studied in class are still relevant to Spain’s history and cultural production. Students also learned how these women’s work and life events have been reimagined by contemporary authors, playwrights, and artists who have brought them before modern audiences in academic publications, historical fiction, TV series, films, and plays. For the most part, students found the digital format and the length and focus of the articles to be accessible for a general audience. They described the shareable aspect of their projects as something useful and professional looking that expanded and contributed to their learning.
Additionally, to make this shareable material accessible to others, it can be shared by the educator or the students in the form of a promotional video or event announcement via social media. Facebook or Instagram are popular media outlets and can help draw attention to the website. Many academic departments now have a social media presence and these are ideal outlets to give students’ projects visibility within the campus community and to prospective students. There are other academic groups and pages on Facebook where these projects can be promoted. Another important point to consider is that many of the skills acquired and put into practice through this project add to students’ job readiness. Students may list or show these skills and projects in a professional e-portfolio and/or CV. These include writing skills, critical analysis, editing and proofreading, time and organization management, collaborative work, project and web-based design, and communicating through online media and public speaking.
This project has some advantages that traditional in-class assignments might not offer students. It can be done in stages, depending on the section and shareable digital content the students are working on. Each section may be used to emphasize a specific skill the educator wants to highlight, be it research, writing, collaborative work, etc. Another advantage is that it can engage learners in independent and/or collaborative work. In addition, its format may be modified, depending on the needs of educators or students. Other advantages of working on a web platform is that the educator can read and edit the students’ work in real time and it can be easily adapted to a traditional or online course. In both cases, it does require the educator’s direct guidance and supervision. This will help students achieve better learning outcomes, especially if the learners are interested in using their work for professional purposes.
Finally, this project helped my students meet the learning goals set for this specific assessment. Even though they worked at a distance, students were able to follow and complete each project part successfully, and the online component engaged them in research and academic conversations with their peers. This project also enriched students’ knowledge, creativity, and curiosity by prompting them to explore online resources and new ways of sharing their academic work.
Glenda Y. Nieto-Cuebas is an Associate Professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. Her current research focuses on contemporary productions of seventeenth-century texts, with special emphasis on performance and social issues. She is also working on several pedagogical projects and publications focused on how experiential learning can help students better analyze the Spanish comedia through non-traditional means. Along with Erin Cowling, Mina García, and Tania de Miguel Magro she co-edited a forthcoming volume on Social Justice in Spanish Golden Age Theater (University of Toronto Press).
1 For clarity, I will be using the following terminology: “online content” when referring to any kind of internet content, “user-created content” when referring to media created by individuals to be shared online, and “shareable digital content” when referring to my students’ work.
2 Google Sites is an intuitive and easy-to-use web page creation tool that allows users to build a professional-looking web page without IT assistance. It allows users to drag and drop content where needed and it automatically saves changes to Google Drive. It can be edited simultaneously by multiple users, which makes it ideal for this type of project. It also allows users to publish a site for restricted audiences or for everyone to see on the web.