CONWAY, Ark. (November 7, 2013) – Hendrix students arrived at class to discuss
a reading assignment with the author. But the San Francisco-based author wasn’t
on campus. She was sitting comfortably in her Bay Area home in front of her computer
screen. Arlene Goldbard nonetheless carried on an hour-long conversation with Hendrix
students via video conferencing.
The students are enrolled in Art and Spirit, co-taught by theatre professor Danny
Grace and religious studies professor Dr. Jay McDaniel. The class is one of 14 new
interdisciplinary offerings in the College’s new The Engaged Citizen (TEC) course
for first-year students.
Goldbard, the author of New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development
and The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists, and the Future, listened as
student groups posed questions such as “Should art be free?”
“Arlene had been so generous toward our course content and the idea of our Art
and Spirit Course. Our students had responded very favorably to The Culture of
Possibility: Art, Artists, and the Future,” said Grace. “Jay and I felt she
would be a great role model for the students.”
Making arrangements with the author was pretty easy, Grace said.
“She is very busy and in high demand, but she made time for our students,” he
said. “She told me she has done a lot of this sort of thing. I don’t know
if she has done classes like ours.”
Having the author talk and answer questions about her work was a unique experience
for students, Grace said.
“Our students interacted with a nationally known and respected writer and activist.
She brought her material to life for our students in a way Jay and I would never
be able to accomplish,” he said. “I know our students (as well as Jay and I) drew
inspiration from having her ‘in’ class. I doubt our students will forget her
Students in Art and Spirit agreed.
“Getting to discuss with Arlene the topics of her book was truly an awesome experience.
Never before has classroom material been brought to life so directly for me,” said
Lexi Adams, a freshman from Lawrence, Kan. “It made everything that we’d previously
discussed in class become a thousand times more relevant and real, as opposed to
having a book author simply be some invisible presenter of ideas and thought.”
“By speaking with the author we were able to get a better understanding of the
author's true intentions with various literary devices rather than a third party's
interpretation of such things,” said Alainna Collins, a freshman from Nixa, Mo.
“I also found that Arlene has a lot of other insights that were not in the book
that I found very interesting, both pertaining to the class and in my outside life.”
“It made the text more real,” said Tori Walters, a freshman from Dallas, Texas.
“It made it relatable and made it understandable.”
“Discussing the book with the author as opposed to discussing the book with a
professor gives us a completely new perspective and understanding of the material,”
said Carly Howden, a freshman from Mandeville, La. “We asked Ms. Goldbard questions
that, as a class, we thought up and received real answers as opposed to making assumptions.”
“Well just the fact that it was her book, when she talks about it, it makes it
ten times more believable,” said Benjamin Robles, a freshman from Little Rock, Ark.
“And also the overall message seems clearer.”
Grace and McDaniel are no strangers to using video conferencing technology in
Last spring, the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, Grace’s department, produced
Voice for the Theatre, the College’s first video teleconference class, in collaboration
with faculty at Rollins College. The department is also making arrangements to have
teleconferences for current students to interact with Hendrix alumni who are graduates
of the theatre arts program.
McDaniel has used video conferences to conduct course sessions with students
and faculty at institutions in China.
“I sure feel like Skyping with authors is good for students,” said McDaniel.
“They really liked it.”
Student feedback was definitely positive, McDaniel said, adding that the level
of interaction between student and guest speaker wasn’t affected by the technology
“I actually think video is better,” he said. “You don’t have to host them the
whole time, and it isn’t as costly because they don’t have to spend a day or two
Having a guest the caliber of Goldbard on campus would cost the College about
$2,500 a day, Grace estimated.
“Arlene did the session at no cost to us,” Grace said. “I feel in the future
we would at the very least need to offer her some compensation. We would like
to have the author of our other text book visit our class [but] we could not afford
to have her on campus through TEC.”
Using video conferencing technology is a cost effective, timely, and user friendly
classroom solution compared to the expense and planning required bringing someone
to campus, according to Hendrix Fellow in Digital Humanities & Pedagogy Timothy
A. Lepczyk, who assists Hendrix faculty with technology initiatives in the classroom.
In terms of current events and immediacy, faculty members can connect very fast
with those who are experiencing an event or connect with an author or subject matter
expert via Skype, Lepczyk said.
Sometimes things can go wrong, Lepczyk said. You can't control the technology
on the other end of the call. Sometimes students and faculty may be camera shy and
may feel awkward establishing a rapport with people on a video call.
And sometimes the uncertainty of video technology can be an asset for students
in class, Adams said.
“Because the connection was at times a bit sketchy, like it often is during video
calls, it was important to pay close attention to the subject Arlene was discussing,”
Any drawbacks to using video conferencing in the classroom are likely a product
of uncertainty more than difficulty in learning, Lepczyk said.
“The media center does a fabulous job supporting faculty in this activity,” Lepczyk
said. “There's not a lot for faculty to learn or be responsible for. The goal is
to have the faculty member teach as they normally would and let the technology fade
Hendrix education professor Dr. James Jennings uses video conferencing for his
TEC class called Poverty and Institutions. The course, which he teaches with politics
professor Dr. Carmen Hardin, focuses on how poor people interact with four institutions
– education, welfare, housing, and criminal justice.
Jennings and Hardin have used video conferencing to connect students with a curriculum
director in a high poverty school system and with a juvenile judge.
“It’s really helpful in terms of giving students the opportunity to interact
with these subjects,” said Jennings. “It gives us so much accessibility to sources.”
Jennings isn’t concerned that the use of video conference technology is overshadowing
traditional classroom instruction.
“Teaching still drives technology,” he said. “Technology supports what you’re
trying to do with traditional teaching.”
Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is a national leader in engaged liberal arts
and sciences education. For the sixth 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 latest edition of Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools
That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges, as well as the 2014 Princeton
Review’s The Best 378 Colleges, Forbesmagazine's list of America's
Top Colleges, and the 2014 Fiske Guide to Colleges. Hendrix has been affiliated
with the United Methodist Church since 1884. For more information, visit