Elizabeth Richmond-Garza

Wanda Cash, a journalism professor and associate director of the College of Communication, discusses the value of creating Facebook groups for students to engage with one another. Cash believes that Facebook groups provide students with useful sources of information and an alternate method of communication.

Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

A few years ago, having Twitter or Facebook open during class was a sure sign a student was distracted — but as social media becomes more popular, many professors have embraced the sites and integrated them into their own curriculums.

UT professors from a range of colleges discussed methods through which they integrate social media into their classrooms in order to promote collaborative learning. The professors said social media sites including Twitter, Facebook and hoot.me establish links between students and professors.

Associate English professor Elizabeth Richmond-Garza said she focuses on the different ways people present themselves in person and online and hopes her students understand the importance of representing themselves honestly.

“The discipline of Twitter is what I am interested in them understanding,” Richmond-Garza said. “I teach [the concept of] double lives, and social media [has created] a virtual life for my students. Twitter is a double life through verbalization.”

Richmond-Garza said she puts her teaching material on one screen and a Twitter feed on another, allowing students to comment and ask questions via Twitter in real time.

“I have learned you must be interactive with social media for it to work successfully,” Richmond-Garza said. 

Wanda Cash, a journalism professor and associate director of the College of Communication, said Twitter and Facebook provide valuable storytelling tools, an idea she emphasizes with her journalism students. Cash said students must have Twitter accounts, which they are allowed to use in class.

“I require a Twitter account and take a grade on it, so I know students are being interactive,” Cash said. “Students can go back and see what classmates and professors have to say about specific topics.”

Clinton Tuttle, a UT extension instructor in the business school, uses hoot.me, a Facebook application that allows students in a class to connect without “friending” each other, to make his large classes seem more intimate.

Anne Braseby, a faculty development specialist in the Center for Teaching and Learning, said social media will become even more relevant to students as it is integrated directly into Canvas and Blackboard, two online course information sites.

“This is relevant to students, if the faculty decide to use this method and encourage [and] maybe even reward students for using social media to learn collaboratively,” Braseby said.

Professor Elizabeth Richmond-Garza presents her analysis of Oscar Wilde during a roundtable discussion of the Harry Ransom Center’s Oscar Wilde archive Tuesday afternoon. A second prequel to “The Oscar Wilde Archive” will be open to the public on March 19.

Photo Credit: Becca Gamache | Daily Texan Staff

A roundtable discussion about Oscar Wilde’s life and work was held Tuesday at the Harry Ransom Center, which houses the Wilde archives. The event was hosted by the Ethnic and Third-World specialization of the graduate program at the Department of English.

The talk, “The Oscar Wilde Archive,” was held in preparation for the Ethnic and Third-World specialization’s 12th Annual Sequels Symposium, a yearly conference that centers on the recent work of UT alumni and showcases the work of the program’s current graduate students. “The Oscar Wilde Archive” is one of two Spring Prequels — smaller events that preview the coming Symposium’s topic matter through exploratory discussion. The second Prequel, open to the public, will be March 19.

The afternoon’s talk covered topics like Wilde’s human rights efforts and his legacy. English and comparative literature associate professor Elizabeth Richmond-Garza discussed the links between Wilde’s translations and queer theory. Richmond-Garza said speculation over Wilde’s sexuality arose as scholars translated his works. She also provided the original manuscript of “Salome,” a play by Wilde, for viewing. 

Ransom Center digital archivist Gabriela Redwine talked about Wilde’s correspondence with his niece and nephew.

“I liked how they gave views of Wilde that I haven’t seen analyzed before,” English junior Carmen Hargis-Villanuev said. “You wouldn’t think you could see him in a whole new way just through studying his niece.”

The discussion was led by English Department Chair Elizabeth Cullingford.

“Since the presiding genius of today’s talk is Oscar Wilde, I think he should provide our epigraph,” Cullingford said. “He said, ‘There is only one thing in the world that is worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’” 

This year’s symposium will feature UT graduate Ellen Crowell, whose latest book, “Oscar Wilde’s Body,” examines the writer in the literary and cultural landscapes of early modernism. 

English senior Cynthia Brzostowski said the series is beneficial because it shows what English scholars can do following graduation.

“It’s always motivating to see a liberal arts degree in action,” she said. “Seeing what professionals in the field study, how they prepare and then in what forum they present their research is really interesting.”

Associate English professor Neville Hoad said it is intimidating to delve into the life and work of Wilde, who has been called the leader of the Aesthetic Movement.

“In discussing Wilde you run the risk of being upstaged by your subject’s own material,” he said. “Which is a risk I’m honored to take.”

International Relations and Global Studies senior Gerado Amaya tweets during his World Literature class on January 13, 2013.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Tweeting in class is normally done discreetly under a notebook or on a cell phone nestled in a crotch — but not anymore for some students.

Associate professors Elizabeth Richmond-Garza, Thomas Garza and Orlando Kelm in the College of Liberal Arts have integrated Twitter into their large lecture classes this semester to enhance student interaction. Select liberal arts courses are being restructured through the Course Transformation Program, which aims to redesign lower-division, large enrollment classes into a more interactive learning environment. Richmond-Garza said a top priority of restructuring classes is implementing technology, including social media, that can improve the course.

“In these huge classes that almost everyone takes, the Department of English has been talking about how to really adapt and optimize what we’re doing, not just in my class but across the board,” Richmond-Garza said. “This is just one of the tools they are considering and how can they use them. They’re right in the middle of that conversation.”

Garza uses a protected Twitter account in his Russian sci-fi in literature and film signature course to review class material with more than 200 students. 

Richmond-Garza said Kelm inspired her to introduce Twitter into her courses. Although Twitter is encouraged in her Masterworks of World Literature class, Richmond-Garza said she does not require students to participate. However, students can get participation points by tweeting with the class hashtag in addition to the traditional in-class interactions. 

“Some people find it a much less threatening and stressful way to interact,” Richmond-Garza said. “They allow me to know if something is not clear, if something is fascinating and if people are disagreeing.”

Architecture freshman Daniel Cotte said Twitter works as a class communication tool mainly because Richmond-Garza incorporates students’ tweets into her lecture.

“If a student has a question about the lecture or the reading they can simply tweet about it, allowing Professor Richmond-Garza to naturally integrate the answer in a seamless matter with the lecture, not disrupting her flow,” Cotte said. “It is less distracting than if students had to raise our hands and interrupt the lecture by yelling out questions across the large auditorium.”

Theatre Studies sophomore Rebecca Walach said the structure of the world literature class is based on what students are already familiar with, making the class a more comfortable and engaging environment.

“There are more to lectures than a professor barking for fifty minutes, we should be taught the way we learn,” Walach said. “In today’s society we get our information through the media. She looks to find interesting ways to engage her students with music, video and social media.”

Although Twitter is one of several online platforms that can be included in lectures, Richmond-Garza said her colleagues have to find the technology that fits their class. Richmond-Garza said she used the Blackboard blog feature in past semesters, but Twitter suited her lecture style better because it has character limitations and is updated in real-time. 

“Blackboard and clickers can be useful, but I haven’t found them to work as well,” Richmond-Garza said. “It should be there to enhance the learning. In smaller classes where you know every student, you might not need something like Twitter.” 

Printed on Thursday, January 24, 2013 as: UT courses use Twitter to up student involvement 

The Record

Dr. Garza and Dr. Richmond Garza read in the company of their favorite literary and film characters. From left to right: Cesare from “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” Holly Golightly from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan from “The Great Gatsby,” and Basil Howard, Dorian Gray and Lord Henry from “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.

Photo Credit: Andrea Macias-Jimenez | Daily Texan Staff

“The Record” is a bi-weekly segment dedicated to featuring the many people and traditions that make the University of Texas such a unique place. For our third issue, we talk to Dr. Elizabeth Richmond-Garza and Dr. Thomas Jesus Garza about Oscar Wilde, vampires and bad book endings.

1) Dr. Garza and Dr. Richmond-Garza, tell us about your specific field of study.
 RG: My field is comparative literature, where scholars and students work in three or more languages and use juxtapositions across linguistic and cultural lines to address aesthetic, cultural and ideological concerns. My specific interests are Orientalism, Cleopatra, Oscar Wilde, European drama, the Gothic and literary theory. I teach theater, aesthetics and the fine arts and work actively in eight foreign languages.
G: My area is Russian language and culture. I work on ways and materials to teach Russian as effectively and efficiently as possible, and I work a great deal in cultural studies, mostly Russian, and that research is directly reflected in the courses I teach.

2) How does that fit into your life in Austin? Have you found a community that shares these interests with you?
RG: Austin has a quite accomplished regional theater scene and is itself multilingual and multicultural. Working with local theater groups and with colleagues and groups across the UT campus has been very rewarding indeed.
G: There’s actually a fairly robust Russian community in Austin and a much larger one in Houston.

3) What has been the topic within your field of study that you have found most fascinating? Why?
RG: I am especially interested in resonances between English, French, Russian and Austrian culture around the year 1900 and our present day. The anxieties about gender and sexuality, immigration and identity, etc., that haunted the late 19th century seem to recur today. Oscar Wilde’s works and life are at the center of my work.
G: The work on vampires has been the most interesting, as it allowed me to work comparatively — something my wife, Elizabeth, inspired — and in a number of different media and contribute to some interesting projects, like “30 Days of Night,” “True Blood“ and “Vampire Secrets” on the History Channel.

4) What made you decide to look into these topics?
RG: I am interested in what attracts us to things that are frightening or disturbing but at the same time appealing. These works blur fixed categories and produce the effect of the uncanny. Analyzing what frightens but also attracts us offers important insights into our cultural moment and into past moments that share our concerns.
G: My interest in Russian/Russia goes back to my freshman year at Haverford College, when I chose the language on a whim and wound up majoring in it. Vampires grew out of a childhood fascination that became an avocation when I visited Dracula’s domain in Transylvania in 1988.

5) If you were to tell your students what your life as an academic is like in three words, what would they be?
RG: Cosmopolitan, intellectual, high-energy.
G: No dull days.

6) Speaking of your students, do you find it easy to inspire them?
RG: The materials I teach tend to spark a strong response from students. Their striking impact is one of the reasons I select them. Only students can inspire themselves, but instructors can model enthusiasm, respect and intellectual curiosity. I am constantly impressed by how infectious enthusiasm is, especially when students challenge themselves to do their own best work on projects that they tailor to their personal interests.
G: To teach them, yes; to inspire them, no, that is not so easy. Inspiration doesn’t simply well up and become passion. There’s a lot of groundwork to lay out in order to inspire, and sometimes one or even two semesters is not enough time. But it does happen from time to time, and those are some of the best experiences I’ve had as a faculty member.

7) What has been the most memorable moment you have had as a professor at UT?
RG: Among the many remarkable moments I have had was meeting a freshman seminar less than two hours after the 9/11 attack. I decided to come to campus to meet the class. Every student showed up that day, and all had heard about the events. The humane and mature way in which a group of first-year students responded to that horror without judging or conjecturing epitomized what is best about our students.
G: Personally, that would be when I met Elizabeth in the basement of Calhoun in 1991. Professionally, it was when my chairperson told me that I had received tenure.

8) Students tend to see only the academic side of their professors. Is there any part of your personality that your students would be surprised by?
RG: Of course if you teach things like “Dracula” and “Inception,” then there is quite an overlap between the personal and the professional. I imagine that they know I go to the theater and to musical performances all the time. I do not know whether my students would be surprised by quite how noisy my taste in music is, or quite how much I like to cook for friends, family and students.
G: There’s not too much of my personality that students don’t see in most of my classes. But some students might be surprised to know that I played Dr. Frank-N-Furter in a 1975 high school production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

9) And speaking of hobbies, what do you like to do in your spare time?
RG: Maybe see above, and also, which would not surprise my students, playing with my cats.
G: Travel, watch movies, explore new places to eat and drink.

10)  If you could rewrite any one scene and/or chapter in any book already written, would you? If so, what would that be?

RG: Oscar Wilde wrote a letter to his friend, Lord Alfred Douglas, over the course of his time in prison serving a harsh sentence for “gross indecency.” “De Profundis” is a poignant, self-indulgent and beautiful letter about sorrow and suffering. I wish that Wilde had taken the advice of friends and left London for France. Had he done that, we would still have “De Profundis,” I think, but in a different form. He would have lived to see the first World War, and I have always wanted to know what he would have said about that moment of global suffering.
G: I can’t imagine tampering with someone else’s finished literary work. If I thought I could do better or different, then I would write my own.

11) Is there an ending to a book that you absolutely disapprove of? How would you fix it?
RG: There are not endings of which I disapprove, but there are some that are unbearable. Shakespeare’s “King Lear” ends with all the characters who survive to the finale recognizing their errors and even learning the need to care for one another. They are never given the chance to act upon that insight. It is an ending that opens the abyss of postmodernism for me and for so many great writers.
G: I couldn’t imagine changing what [an author] had already created. I do admit, though, that Dostoevsky’s epilogue to “Crime and Punishment,” which results in Raskolnikov finding religion, smacks of capitulation to a government editor/censor.

12) Do you feel like you live a life similar to an already-existent literary character?
RG: I would like to live like one of Oscar Wilde’s dandies, like Lord Henry or, even more, Lord Goring from his play, “An Ideal Husband”: witty and ultimately forgiving of their failings and those of others. I sometimes fear that I am more like Josef, who is caught in a maze-like world in Kafka’s “The Trial.” This may just be the midterm-timing of your question speaking!
G: I certainly feel as though I have a number of moments like Arthur Dent from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” when I have no control of the chaos around me, but mostly I prefer to think that I’m writing my own character.

13)  Who are your literary alter egos?
RG: Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Boris Akunin.
G: I’d have to say that I’m partial to Woland, the devil figure in Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita.”

14)  Dr. Richmond-Garza and Dr. Garza, if you were to have tea with Oscar Wilde and Vladimir Vysotsky, respectively, what is the very first thing you would say to them?
I wish that the wallpaper had gone instead.
G: Volodya, have some “tea,” and then sing something!

15) What would be your parting words to them?
RG: What is your Twitter name?
G: Volodya, before you go, sing one more.

16)  If you could choose to live the life of a literary character, who would that be?
RG: Lord Goring.
G: He’s not quite a literary character, but I would love to be Dr. Who, maybe just for a while.

17) What research/projects are you currently working on?
RG: I am currently finishing a study of decadent culture at the end of the 19th century. I have a smaller essay on the queer translation theory, which will appear in the spring, and another essay on dandyism and detective stories I am working on for next summer.
G: I’m finishing a book on the similar ways that masculinity is portrayed in popular culture in Russia and Mexico from the 1990s to the 2000s.

18) Lastly, if you had an alternate profession, what would that be?
RG: I served for nine years as the CAO/CFO of the learned society in my field, the American Comparative Literature Association. If I were not able to be part of the academy as a professor, I would want to work for a not-for-profit humanities advocacy group.
G: If I hadn’t wanted to be able to eat and live in place with walls, I would have tried to become a stage actor.

Gaffer: Aaron Berecka
Make-Up Artist: Thumper Gosney

Have you ever walked away from a class feeling you haven’t learned a thing?

It’s not necessarily your fault, and you’re not alone. The conventional, lecture-based approach to teaching, which asks students to master concepts in only one way, slows understanding and makes learning difficult.

The problem isn’t the lectures themselves, but rather that relying on lectures alone limits many students’ abilities to process the information.  A more effective approach would be to diversify the way in which material is presented and incorporate multiple learning styles.

A recent study in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology supports this idea.

In the study, researchers at the University of South Florida taught groups of fourth graders how to calculate the dimensions of a prism. The researchers divided the kids into two groups. One group studied examples of only one type of equation. The other studied four different forms of calculation. Both groups solved the same problem sets by the end of the session, but the children that studied the mixed approaches scored 37 percent higher than their counterparts.

In a column for The New York Times, Benedict Carey further explains the results, “Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time.”

In other words, variety is the key to understanding. Rather than studying a concept in the same manner over and over again, we should routinely change our perspective and approach the idea in a different manner.

But how feasible is this in a class of 500, where just covering a couple of concepts can be difficult? Elizabeth Richmond-Garza, an associate professor of English at UT, offers some possible solutions.

In classes of up to 400 students, Richmond-Garza integrates a medley of media to enhance her students’ understanding. These include posting a live Twitter feed in class, recording all lectures and visual supplements and creating a custom, media-based website for additional information and review.

Though they have made modern adaptations, Richmond-Garza and others’ emphasis on diversified learning is not a new idea. Richmond-Garza explains that her class is inspired by, among other things, 19th century poetry. “Howard Garner’s notion of multiple intelligences and various nineteenth-century poetry which says that students have multiple learning pathways… Many [professors] are using a hybridization, a number of these different learning styles,” Richmond-Garza said. 

According to Richmond-Garza, students love her class and find the additional tools useful especially before tests. And although she relies on technology in class, her students attest in anonymous surveys that her recorded lectures are helpful supplements, but not substitutes for the real thing.

She’s not the only professor at UT who recognizes the value of variety. In his classes of about 100 students, Special Education Adjunct Professor James Patton offers notes from volunteers, three types of test formats (oral, multiple choice and short answer) ten-minute video summaries of the day’s main points, and the option to use most forms of technology in class.

The effectiveness of these methods triggers a debate of its own. By providing students with such supports, some argue that professors like Patton and Richmond-Garza are hindering students’ ability to adapt to difficult situations, setting them up for failure later in life.

Patton disagrees, arguing that if the aim is to help students “acquire knowledge and skills … then I am definitely doing that because these are ways in which they can master what we are going to cover in ways that are conducive to their individual learning styles.”

After discovering which styles work best for them, students can seek them out later when they are not so readily available.

Overwhelming evidence supports a varied approach to teaching, and professors should alter their methods accordingly. After all, if they’re not teaching their courses in the most effective way possible, then we’re not getting our money’s worth.

Malik is a Plan II and Business Honors freshman from Austin.