Part of our object in the Communication Arts & Sciences course that we are calling The Rhetoric of Rome – Street and Studio is to explore how we can make use of developing multi-media technologies to study, reflect on, and communicate about our experiences of Rome past and present. Our students and instructional team have brought laptops, and we have high-speed WiFi Internet connections at the Penn State Sede di Roma. The women students also have WiFi at their apartments, so they can work in the off hours.
We are using blogs as the basic platform for hyperlinked textual and photographic reports, not so much because of the way blogs are structured sequentially by date, though that is not a problem for our way of working, but because blogs are such an easy way to post both pictures and text, and to link various entries according to categories and keyword tags. The blogs also make it easy for anyone interested in our work to keep up with it, since all the blogs are linked to the Rome – Street and Studio central navigation blog. All the blogs are set up to allow comments, moderated by the author of the blog, so that we can screen out spam.
We have chosen the Google blogspot software platform for our student blogs because it is free, easy to use, and reasonably flexible. Penn State University also has a blog platform, run with Movable Type software, and it is a good implementation, but not so easy to use as the Google platform.
The Penn State software platforms present some other problems for us. We have been using ANGEL, the secure online course system, for program and course development, and for communication, during the months before the program left for Rome. But ANGEL is not so useful once we are here, partly because ANGEL is down for maintenance every morning from 4:00 to 7:00 University Park time. We are six hours ahead, so those hours fall between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., just in the middle of the day, when we need to have access to our projects. This is not to complain about the Penn State arrangement, but simply to record the rationale for the various experiments and adjustments we are making.
Other technical problems present themselves every day. In the weeks before departure, we talked with students about the different Italian current, requiring adaptors for any equipment that could itself run on on current from 110 to 240 (typically laptop computers and camera battery rechargers, but not hair dryers).
And then there are inevitably breakdowns. A student’s HP power cord burns out. How to replace it here in Italy? We’re working on it.