In a Natural State of Mind

CONWAY, Ark. (October 8, 2012) - Environmental studies professor Dr. Amanda Hagood is making Arkansas' state slogan more meaningful to students, thanks to a Blended Teaching and Learning grant from the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS).  

Dr. Hagood is in her second year as an environmental studies post-doctoral fellow, a two-year appointment also made possible through the support of ACS and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This semester, students in Hagood's Writing in the Natural State, an environmental literature class, are collaborating with environmental sociologist Dr. Carmel Price and her students at Furman University, where Price is an ACS/Mellon post-doctoral fellow.

The courses exist independently (e.g. Price's course includes first- and second-year students; Hagood's course is mostly juniors and seniors), but the professors are co-teaching some class sessions using new high-definition videoconferencing technology available at both institutions.

The classes are also interacting with one another through a blog.  

Prior to the experiment this semester, Hagood and Price had met a few times at ACS/Mellon meetings. Price was teaching a place-based course using the Furman campus and surrounding community as a lab. Hagood had developed a course for Hendrix students on the literature of Arkansas and how it relates to the idea of Arkansas as the Natural State. The two professors discussed blended learning programs and how their common interests could become an interdisciplinary opportunity.

"We started to look for ways in which we could help our classes talk to each other," Hagood said. "We thought it would be a nice balance to have blog and video."

Students use the blog to discuss common texts, including environmental classics by John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, and Aldo Leopold.

The blog interactions make the digital sessions more engaging, Hagood added.

"The other day my students were reading Dumping in Dixie by Robert Bullard, a text about the concept of environmental racism, which is basically the notion that communities of color are more likely to be saddled with the proximity of negative 'externalities' such as power plants or waste disposal sites that may or may not actually benefit their communities, but certainly do cause public health problems," she explained. "Carmel's class had recently discussed the same text, and one student had written a blog post about it. From that blog post, my student was able to pull some information that she used in presenting Bullard's text to our class. This was entirely unprompted. My student had just been exploring the other course's blog and happened upon the EPA.gov map of toxic sites across the nation that one of Carmel's students had posted. Of course, that class was interested in discussing toxic sites in Greenville S.C., but Elsa wanted to show us what she'd found near Conway."

An Alabama native, Hagood studied English and creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She completed her graduate work at Vanderbilt University, where she studied literature and the environment and the change in the American environmental movement's focus from conservation to pollution and containment. Her graduate work focused on how the production of new substances such as DDT changed the way people thought about environmental degradation.

Prior to coming to Hendrix, Hagood taught in Vanderbilt's American Studies program. Last spring, she presented "Trees and Tales: Engaging Sustainability in the Writing Classroom" at the annual meeting of the State University of New York Council on Writing and "Dead Meat: Margaret Atwood's Ecological Collapse and the Language of Carnivory" at Centre College.

This year, Hendrix is also using video conferencing technology for other blended learning projects, including two courses with students in China taught by religion professor Dr. Jay McDaniel and a politics course taught by Dr. Jay Barth from the Democratic National Convention.

Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is a national leader in engaged liberal arts and sciences education. For the fifth consecutive year, Hendrix was named one of the country's "Up and Coming" liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report. Hendrix is featured in the 2012 edition of the Princeton Review as one of the country's best 377 colleges, the latest edition of Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Feel about Colleges, Forbes magazine's annual list of America's Top 650 Colleges, and the 2013 edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. For more information, visit www.hendrix.edu.