Invisible Boston: An Emerson.Build Project


On March 21st, the Iwasaki Library and Instructional Technology Group held its 3rd annual Innovation@Emerson Faculty Showcase. The event featured a variety of professional development initiatives that Emerson offers and highlighted specific examples of faculty work from each. Faculty posters are on display at the Iwasaki Library for the rest of the Spring semester.

At this year’s event, ITG highlighted Emerson.Build, a pilot of the Domain of One’s Own initiative. By providing free domain spaces, Emerson.Build offers faculty and students the opportunity to build websites from the ground up and take ownership of their digital identity. Mark Micheli and Gustavo Faleiros showcased student-produced websites using Build. In this post, Mark discusses how he used Emerson.Build in his Advanced Multimedia Reporting course (JR 612).

Tell us about your course and Invisible Boston.

JR 612 is designed to take students’ visual storytelling skills to the next level through hands-on assignments that are created and edited in a real-world editing environment. They have to work on their assignments until they get them right and worthy of publication to Invisible Boston, the class website.  Specifically, Invisible Boston is a news website that uses multimedia to tell stories outside the mainstream of traditional media. The mission of this course was to have graduate students cover stories that are usually not covered by traditional media.

How did you structure the student work?

The students came up with a list of four beats — religion; social issues; public safety/health; and the arts — and then worked in small teams to cover stories. Students wrote cover letters applying for jobs at Invisible Boston and were assigned beats based on them.

At the beginning of the semester, the students conducted interviews with people relevant to their beats and then brainstormed story ideas for each beat in class. We used those lists all semester to choose the best stories to cover. Allowing students to be involved in every step of the process motivated them to produce good work.

Why did you use Emerson.Build for this project?

I wanted to build an elegantly designed website where graduate students could showcase their multimedia news stories. The website needed to be outside of Emerson’s traditional WordPress installation so that students would be free to use plugins from online multimedia tools without the risk that other academic blogs would be affected. The support services at Emerson are amazing. When I described what I was looking to do, ITG recommended I try Emerson Build and met with me to ensure I got off to a good start.

Would you do anything different next time?

I’m not sure what I’d change the next time I teach this class but as usual, I’ll reassess what worked at that time. For anyone interested in building a website, I’d highly recommend working with ITG and using Emerson Build.

photo of Mark and his students
Mark and his team of students behind Invisible Boston.

Ways of Implementing UDL principles in Canvas

As educators, we tend to replicate techniques we are comfortable using while assuming our students are OK with them. But in fact, our learners differ in ways that “they perceive and comprehend information that is presented to them” , and learners differ in ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn in various learning environment. The UDL principles scaffold and support to students variability.


Principle I: Provide Multiple Means of Representation (the “what” of learning)

Principle II: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression (the “how” of learning)

Principle III: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (the “why” of learning)


In Canvas, there are several approaches to empower students’ engagements especially in online learning environment.


  1. Prerequisite Modules

When determine the students best interests and their prior knowledges, instructors can create an optional modules with pretest or pre requisites materials.  For examples, the modules can include quizzes that contain the background knowledge check in that required for further learning. Once they have passed a certain level, they can move into the next core content modules.

  1. Extension/Optional Modules

On the other hand, some students will benefit from extension/optional modules if they would like challenge themselves, explore more opportunities above beyond what is required. For example, instructors may fill in an extension modules with extra credits items, additional course materials, or optional assignments build on students’ own interests or objectives.  


  1. Optional Discussion Board

Optional discussion board provides a space in which students may interact with each other and the instructor in a way to allow students to choose the comfortable level of engagement. For example, it may be useful to provide students with discussion boards that focus on questions related to assignments. And this kind of discussion board can be open-ended for questions and ideas for students to raise questions of ideas related to the learning whether in or out of class.


  1. Facilitate Peer Feedback

Students may benefit from the opportunity to give and receive solicited feedback during the writing or project design process. In Canvas, there are at least two ways to enable students to provide one another with quality feedback: (1) group discussions and (2) peer-reviewed assignments. Peer assignment review enables instructors to assign peers (manually or automatic/randomly) to review one another’s work before it is submitted for instructor review. This method is excellent for students to consider the rubric explicitly in commenting on one another’s work.

How to Embed Videos in Omeka Items

Are you a librarian, archivist, or scholar interested in creating your own digital collection? Omeka, one of the tools you can install on your domain, might be for you! Omeka is a content management system similar in some ways to WordPress or Drupal, but unique in its focus on curation and archival metadata. It’s great for creating digital exhibits that showcase scholarship—both texts and media—in interactive, detailed, and highly organized ways.

An “item” is Omeka’s most basic building block; think of it as a bucket containing all the data and metadata about an artifact or topic. Because Omeka offers about a million different fields to complete when creating an item (most of them optional), it’s easy to miss some of the more dynamic options. One such hidden gem is the ability to embed video into your item. Here’s how!

  1. Go to your Omeka dashboard (your Omeka URL ending with /admin). Click Item Types on the left-hand menu. Under Moving Images, click Edit.
  1. At the bottom of the form: select the button next to New, then click the green Add Element button. Enter “Player” for the title and (optionally) a sensible description. Then, you can drag this new element to the top of the list so it’s easy to find when you’re making items.

Add the Player field.

  1. Begin creating an Item. Click the Item Type Metadata tab. Select Moving Image as the item type. This will cause more fields to appear below. In Player (now the first field): first, check the Use HTML box, then click the HTML button that appears in the top right corner:

Embed the code in the Player field.

  1. A pop-up window will appear called “HTML Source Editor.” Paste your video’s iFrame embed code (or whatever other kind of embed code) here, and click Update. The embed code will look something like this, but with your video’s URL (typically from Youtube, Vimeo, or a similar service):

<iframe width=”480″ height=”360″ src=”//” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=””></iframe>

  1. A yellow box appears in the Player field. Click Save Changes, and you’re done! Your video should display on the Item’s public page:

An Omeka Item's public page containing an embedded video.

If you’re working with Neatline exhibits—interactive maps or timelines—you can import your item into Neatline, and the resulting record will contain your video!

If you’re interested in using Omeka and/or Neatline, I recommend checking out the following resources (in order):

  1. See some inspiring demos of Neatline in Omeka.
  2. Learn how to use
  3. Learn how to use Omeka.
  4. Learn how to use Neatline.

As always, you can contact for hands-on tutorials!

Don’t Generalize Generations

In this day and age, it seems you can’t read the Internet without coming across some kind of attention-grabbing headline about how Millennials are destroying an industry, or changing how employers are hiring, or how they present some other obstacle to keeping the world the way it should be. Higher education isn’t any different. In fact, if you were to perform a Google search for “teaching Millennials,” the top article in the search is entitled How Millennials Learn: The 5 Rs and goes through five distinct issues that differentiate Millennials from previous generations, and how a teacher’s pedagogy needs to be adjusted. The problem with the article and generational generalizations (yes, I said that) is that they’re just not true. The article breaks down the strategy as such: teaching needs to be research-based, relevant, rationalized, relaxed, and relatable. All things that are true, but in very different ways than what so many pundits are trying to attribute to Millennials.

Jon Laskaris’ article starts out with quite a statement: “The concept of learner-style is more pronounced in this generation. They prefer materials that are delivered to cater to their visual, auditory, and even kinesthetic needs.” Combine that rationale with the idea that Millennials’ attentions spans are shorter–all in bold–and that is the research the authors cite. Problem is, it’s not what the research actually says. The idea that there are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners is one of the greatest myths in education. It’s just not how the human brain works. Throughout the 21st century, articles in Science Daily (2009), Educational Research (2008), Journal of Neuroscience (2009), and Journal of Educational Psychology (2006), to name just a few, all found that human beings combine all of these modes simultaneously when learning. When you read, your brain is also “playing” the words to you, spoken in your head, while simultaneously registering the tactile feedback of the book or keyboard. It’s the same with audio-based strategies. Anyone who’s listened to an audiobook can vouch that they “see” the scene in their mind’s eye. So, why do we continue to believe that we need to make separate learning activities to cater to each sense? As for attention spans, why blame Millennials when it was the Boomers and Gen X-ers who invented all of the technology these same generations claim to despise. In her book, Minds Online, Michelle Miller simply sums this up by pointing out that these shorter attention spans are linked to us as a species, not to a certain age group (2014, p. 45). As I like to tell anti-Millennial critics, the 24-hour news cycle wasn’t created by 20-year olds.

The second “R” is relevance, and the article states, “Millennials are aces at ‘googling’ and discovering information. They do not value a piece of information for its own sake, rather for its relevance to their lives.” Well, did you know Iceland declared itself a republic on June 17, 1944, but was its own sovereign state under the Danish Crown since December 1, 1918? Probably not, because that kind of information likely doesn’t have direct relevance to your life. The article got it right about relevance, but this is NOT a Millennial issue. In fact, problem-based learning (PBL) has become very popular in recent years and serves, as Michelle Miller puts it, “to integrate knowledge — that is, build meaningful connections as opposed to just learning collections of disjointed facts” (Minds Online, 2014, p. 139). It’s a strategy that is rooted in the learning sciences and has even spurned its own peer-reviewed journal, Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning. Because human beings naturally gravitate towards applying new information into their pre-existing scaffolding, making things relevant is not just a Millennial strategy.

The next “R” according to the article is a real head-scratcher to me: “Baby boomers or generation X-ers respond well to an authoritarian teaching style. They follow orders for the sake of complying with commands. On the other hand, Millennials were raised in a less authoritative environment – where decisions and actions were constantly justified.” I can attest to my own experience teaching faculty here at Emerson that telling people to learn something “because that’s what the administration says you need to know” and leaving it at that would NOT foster a positive learning environment. The statement that ANY generation responds well to authoritarian teaching styles is pseudo-science at its worst. Now, remember that we’re talking about generational generalizations here. Telling someone to learn something because they need to can work for individuals on a case-by-case basis. But, the research on what motivates students to learn has been pointing to three distinct and basic things: competence, relatedness, and autonomy (Miller, 2014, p. 169). Psychologist Edward Deci began researching motivation in the 1970s, and his work laid the ground for self-determination theory (SDT), which contains the three aforementioned basic pillars of learner motivation. To learn more about current SDT research, be sure to look up Deci’s work in the American Psychologist and the Educational Psychologist.

I’m going to group the final two “R”s, “Relaxed” and “Rapport,” together since they make equally laughable claims. First, let’s tackle the statement that “eLearning course mentors need to create a warm, empathetic, ‘no wrong answers’ collaborative environment.” Again, there is truth to this, but not because Millennials are special “snowflakes.” While many teachers are already familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, Dr. L. Dee Fink pioneered an additional taxonomy called the taxonomy of signification learning, which has “Caring” as one of its cores. Empathy, values, feelings, and interests have been found to tether learners to the subject matter and create stronger memory bonds. Interestingly, the more negative the emotion, the more it accentuates memory (Miller, 2014, p. 97). Luckily for teachers, positive emotions also help memory encoding. So, there’s no reason to emotionally torture your students, and the article’s advice isn’t terrible. Just remember that calling out a student for a wrong answer in class will lead to embarrassment, which will have a much better chance of solidifying the correct answer in their long-term memory. As for “Rapport,” the article positions that “[w]hen being raised, [Millennials] had complete attention from their parents. They are used to older adults showing more interest in their lives.” What this means, of course, is that the upper-middle class, privileged, two-parent household, white Millennials had complete attention from their parents. Even then, the demographics are spotty. According to the CDC (based on 2014 data), 38 percent of all marriages end in divorce in the United States. Statistics are not on the side of Millennials. Furthermore, from a purely mathematical view, the concept that Millennials need special attention from “adults” is absurd since Millennials now consist of people in their 30s. Treating every student, no matter what their age, as an individual with unique backgrounds is the only reliable way to make sure you connect with them.

Hopefully, you now have some additional vocabulary and concepts to apply to what some effective teaching strategies are for all human beings. As we are on the cusp of the next generation of young adults entering college, let’s strive to reflect on the scapegoating of Millennials, and let’s work to stave off the same mischaracterizations going forward.