January 6, 2021.

Slavers were never a major part of the population of the District of Columbia (census records, for example, indicate 3,185 resident slaves in 1860, or only 4.25 percent of the city’s residents). Yet on the national political scene, no single patch of ground was more consistently and more controversially thrust into public light during some four decades of abolitionist and proslavery campaigning. Even when they could make no headway in the rest of the South, Northern activists tried repeatedly throughout the antebellum years to erase the blot of slavery in the nation’s capital.

On Slavery in Washington, “Eastman Johnson’s Negro Life at the South and Urban Slavery in Washington, D.C. John Davis” in Art Bulletin vol. 80 no. 1 (March 1998).

Like most others I have been horrified watching yesterday’s failed coup in Washington, DC. The image above however struck me as particularly poignant and as the art historian I am I decided to dig a bit deeper. Please note that this post captures only my initial findings and I hope to follow it with a more thorough analysis.

After a quick search I discovered that the portrait hanging on the wall behind the domestic terrorist carrying the Confederate flag is of Justin Smith Morrill (1810-1898), one of the founders of the Republican Party best known for his role the Morrill Land-Grant Acts that established federal funding for establishing many of the United States’ public colleges and universities. Now in the Senate collection it was painted by Jonathan Eastman Johnson (1824-1906) in 1884 (below).

For those familiar with 19th century American art, Johnson is best known for his depictions of “so-called slave life,” like Negro Life in the South (1859) later nicknamed Old Kentucky Home (below). In The Civil War in 50 Objects Harold Holzer (2013) characterizes the work as “the visual embodiment of the dangerous myth of the ‘happy slave’ – an argument that fueled pro-slavery intransigence for generations.” How fitting that an image depicting the anti-black sentiments of 21st century white supremacy would include both a confederate flag, and a painting by Johnson.

According to SmartHistory essay by Scott Mestan and Dr. Bryan Zygmont, Johnson’s second most famous work in his focus on the status of race around the time of the American Civil war is A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves (c. 1862). For more on their analysis of this work see their article here.

Margatita Karasoulas, Assistant Curator of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum and Steven Zucker further discuss the work in this “Seeing American” video.

I debated even posting the initial image of the reprehensible acts of January 6th, 2020, but I have been so struck by the appearance of Johnson’s Portrait of Justin Morrill in the photograph that I think it needs to be addressed. This is just another example of the poignancy of visual culture and the importance of visual literacy and critical thinking in 2021, especially in topics around race and representation.

In his detailed account of “Eastman Johnson’s Negro Life at the South and Urban Slavery in Washington, D.C.,” John Davis concludes by stating: “American history, it is becoming increasingly clear, has suffered no small number of such losses of memory, particularly when the issue of race is a determining factor.” This was true when he wrote the article in 1998, and tragically it is even more apparent in this current moment.

While I think more about yesterday’s events and the significance of these images here are some additional resources to consider.

A Dangerous Escape to Freedom in the Brooklyn Museum

American Scenes of Everyday Life in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Photographs of African Americans during the Civil War at the Library of Congress

Eastman Johnson Papers in the Archives of American Art

Eastman Johnson in the Google Art Project

Looking Back, Thinking Forward

The future lies in personal learning networks and paths, learning that blends experiential and digital approaches, and free and open-source educational models.

Anya Kamenetz
DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education

Download free photo of Glow,sunset,view,pink sunset,lake - from needpix.com

Over the past six weeks I have been participating in the OERu’s Digital Literacies for Online Learning course (LiDA 101). I recently completed the final Learning Pathway, “Learning in a Digital Age.” Upon completion of this module I was able to use SimpleNote a digital, open-access note taking tool, summarize an academic publication to support my research, identify a range of academic and study skills in a mind-mapping exercise, and confidently discuss the future of higher education in a digital age with particular emphasis on the implications for academic and study skills.

Due to my other teaching commitments, administrative duties, and research responsibilities I was unable to complete this module as quickly as I had hoped. This meant that each time I started I had to review the previous material to ensure that I was able to move on. Fortunately, this allowed me to spend a bit more time thinking about the material presented and also connecting some of the ideas to the current state of higher education as impacted by the global pandemic and sudden pivot to remote delivery and online teaching.

Which brings me to the realization of how closely linked many of the ideas I have been learning about in this course, are to some of my other research interests. In her TEDx Talk “DIY U” Anya Kamenetz explained the 2010 crisis facing post-secondary institutions and the disruptions they faced. I teach at a community college so many of her comments on the need for open education to support contract academic faculty and make resources more affordable for students deeply resonated with me. We have come along way toward realizing some of Kamenetz’s visions (especially in BC where open education has been embraced), however nearly 10 years later we are not that much further from the structural challenges Kamenetz outlined. Fortunately, however, the unique circumstances of 2020 may be forcing an unprecedented disruption to how we teach and learn in a way that will provide the opportunity to more fully realize the open, tech enabled communities of practice she advocated for in her presentation.

When researching academic skills for learning success I remembered a LinkedIn post one of my colleagues recently shared (figure 1). According to the World Economic Forum’s “Top 10 skills of 2025” the jobs of tomorrow will require problem solving, self-management, working with people, and technology use and development skills. Seeing these competencies made me think about how important it is for us to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the pivot to online learning. It left me wondering more about how these skills could be further cultivated by a radical rethinking of our core beliefs about teaching and learning and need for drastic systemic change in post-secondary education.

I am grateful for the tech skills and research methods I have learned in LiDA 101. Stay tuned for my next research project!

“Land is Our First Teacher”: Teaching Indigenous Art Studio & Art History Online

A Workshop Presented by Open Art Histories

November 27th, 2020 11:00am (PST), 12:00pm MST
Facilitated by Jackson Two Bears & Devon Smither,

University of Lethbridge

As Jennifer Wemigwans argues in A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online (2018), the Internet can play a vital role in the transmission of Indigenous Knowledge, at the same time that it can pose risks, ethical questions and challenges as educators shift their teaching online. For those teaching Indigenous art or art history in remote or hybrid courses, the question of how we teach is an especially urgent one. This interactive workshop is a starting point for developing strategies for creating accessible, inclusive, and active remote classrooms that position education as the vehicle for sustaining cultural knowledges.

We ask: How do we teach Indigenous land-based knowledge online? How can online pedagogy enact Indigenous Knowledges? What specific assignments and strategies can we employ to address these concerns?The workshop will be held on Zoom and will use the chat and breakout room features. Participants will also be asked to work collaboratively on a Google Doc. If you have any questions about using these platforms, please let us know by emailing one of the addresses below.

Space is limited, please register by Friday, November 6th, 2020, email devon.smither@gmail.com or openarthistories@gmail.com
Further information will be sent upon registration.

Annotated Bibliography

Bloom, M. (2019). Assessing the Impact of “Open Pedagogy” on Student Skills Mastery in First-Year Composition. Open Praxis, 11(4), 343–353. https://doi.org/10.5944/openpraxis.11.4.1025

Research Question

“Does switching to ‘open’ assignments from ‘throwaway’ assignments have a significant impact on student skills mastery?” (Bloom 2019).


Ultimately this study found, that with all factors considered, minimal shifts to open pedagogy had no impact on skill mastery.


In his study Bloom compared the performance of students in five sections of English 101 where a control group was previously provided with “traditional assignments” and an experimental group was given “open assignments”.

Key findings

  1. Bloom discovered several flaws with the experiment
  2. Moderate shifts toward open pedagogy had no impact on skill mastery, and no harm was done in disposing of the “disposable assignment”


While more challenging, the renewable rhetoric assignment nonetheless provided students the opportunity to use prior knowledge and extracurricular skills in the demonstration of their rhetorical prowess, which some students found exciting and others found frustrating.


        Bloom’s own criticism of his study raises important points about the study of open educational practices and demonstrates a refreshing self-awareness that serves as a counterbalance to any issues with his methodology. His findings appear in a reputable publication with a peer-review process.

Gibson, D., Ifenthaler, D., & Orlic, D. (2017). 13. Open Assessment Resources for Deeper Learning. In P. Blessinger & T. Bliss (Eds.), Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education (pp. 257–279). Open Book. http://books.openedition.org/obp/3582 (N.d.).

Research Question

        Can an Open Assessment Resources (OAR) repository streamline and support formative assessment?

Using a six core operational services of higher education (content, interaction, assessment, credentialing, support, and technology) this essay proposes the Open Assessment Resources (OAR) model of free automated formative assessments.


Gibson and Orlic propose six core services of higher education, content, interaction, assessment, credentialing, support, and technology, and two trends of scale and uniqueness to consider when providing automated and semi-automated formative assessment. The goal of this model is to support future research topics including but not limited to assessment construct validity, predictive analytics for constructive feedback, modification an adaptation of assessment modules, effects of teaching to authentic tests, and equity of treatment for subgroups.

Key findings

  1. Trends of scale and uniqueness are two interrelated components of the role of higher education. For example, the development of learning experiences that are unique to one institution but scalable to the world demonstrates quality of offerings, interactions, products, teaching excellence, and student satisfaction. Both scale and uniqueness have different impacts on the six dimensions of higher education services they define as content, interaction, assessment, credentialing, support, and technology.
  2. Their key findings are illustrated in this model:


The core idea proposed here is that an open assessment resources (OAR) approach has the potential to increase trust in and use of OER in formal educational systems by adding clarity about assessment purposes and targets in the open resources world. P. 260


One limitation of this study is that it does not address challenges of assessing deep learning processes. Many of the art history assignments I am considering align with higher level learning objectives related to collaboration, problem-solving, creativity, analysis, and metacognition.  This source is credible in part because it has been included in a peer reviewed publication.

Reference Management Tools

When I started my doctoral project in 2009 I did not use any sort of reference management tools. Instead I had elaborate, unwieldy Word Documents that got messier and messier with each chapter. My dissertation, “Homeliness and Worldliness: Materiality and the Making of New Netherland and New York, 1609-1750” critically investigated the intersecting topics of domestic interiors, women’s history, cultural production and global consumption to explore how Dutch colonial projects intellectually imagined and physically built homes overseas.

One of the maps cited in my dissertation, Nicolaes Visscher, Novi Belgii Novæque Angliæ: nec non partis Virginiæ tabula multis in locis emendata (1685).

Needless to say, I wish I would have known then what I know now about reference management tools. In the hour that I have been using it Zotero has proved to be a relatively easy to use, and efficient tool for helping me cite my sources.

See attached for a short paragraph I wrote and cited using my new found Zotero tools!

Evaluating online sources

Source evaluation–the determination of information quality–is something of an art.  (Robert Harris 2018)

The sheer volume of information available can make evaluating online resources daunting. In “Evaluating Internet Research Sources,” Robert Harris makes the case for adopting a skeptical attitude toward the extremely wide variety of material on the internet. He makes one analogy I was particularly fond of, suggesting that in order to corroborate information, one must become a discerning conoisseur:

In the art world, several paintings by Vincent van Gogh have sold for more than 50 million dollars each. At such a price, there muist be the temptation for unscrupulous people to paint forgeries. So  how can the buyers be confident that they are getting a genuine Van Gogh? The answer is provenance. Provenance is a list of previous owners, tracing back to the original buyer from Van Gogh himself. Provenance answers the critical question, “Where did this painting come from?” (Harris 2013).

File:Vincent van Gogh's famous painting, digitally enhanced by rawpixel-com  2.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Vincent van Gogh, Irises (1889) digitally enhanced, original from the J. Paul Getty Museum. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Harris also provides a CARS handy nemonic device for source evaluation, reminding researchers to consider:

CCredibility (trustworthy source, author’s credentials, organizational support, known or respected authority)
AAccuracy (up to date, factual, detailed, exact, comprehensive, audience and purpose reflect intentions of completeness)
RReasonableness (fair, balanced, objective, reasoned, no conflict of interest, absence of fallacies or slanted tone)
SSupport (listed sources, contact information, available corroboration, claims supported, documentation supplied)
Adapted from Harris (2013)

For my research I selected Matthew Bloom’s “Assessing the Impact of ‘Open Pedagogy’ on Student Skills Mastery in First-Year Composition,” in Open Praxis (2019).

As a faculty member and OER scholar at Maricopa community College, Bloom proves to be an authoritative source, and he published his findings in a reliable, peer-reviewed journal. It appeared recently (2019) meaning it is reasonably up to date, and has detailed analysis of the experiment and findings. Furthermore Bloom seems to be aware of any issues in the methodology demonstrating he has engaged with the subject thoughtfully and has been truthful in considering the impact of his assessment. Finally with a comprehensive list of references he provides convincing evidence for the claims made and other sources to support and document his research.

My selected article easily meets the criteria proposed by Harris in his test of source credibility, The CARS Checklist for Information Quality.

#LiDA101 #DigitalLiteracy #diglit #opened #oer #oep

Bloom, M. (2019). Assessing the Impact of “Open Pedagogy” on Student Skills Mastery in First-Year Composition. Open Praxis, 11(4), 343-353. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5944/openpraxis.11.4.1025

Harris, R. (2013, December 27). Evaluating Internet Research Sources. Retrieved from http: //www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm

Digital literacies 101

As an art historian we often talk about visual literacies or the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image, this builds upon the typical meaning of literacy which typically refers to written or printed text.

I think in many ways there are parallels between visual literacy and digital literacy, especially when it comes to critical thinking. The metaphor I have been thinking about is that a visual skill would be to be able to draw what you see, but a visual literacy would be to understand the history of drawing, compare it to other drawings, and think critically about what it could mean or signify.

According to one of my favorite scholars, Maha Bali, “Digital skills would focus on which tool to use (e.g. Twitter) and how to use it (e.g. how to tweet, retweet, use TweetDeck), while digital literacy would include in-depth questions: When would you use Twitter instead of a more private forum? Why would you use it for advocacy? Who puts themselves at risk who they do so?” (Bali, 2016, p. 2).

For me digital literacies are the ability to interpret, negotiate, make meaning from, and think critically about information presented digitally and our relationship to it.

Part of analyzing my own digital literacy was to create a map of my personal learning network (PLN):

Ironically part of my plan for improving my digital literacy is to cut back on my screen time. I would like to be more intentional about the types of apps and social media I consume. Being more strategic in how and when I use digital tools and thinking critically about why I use them, and when they will help me connect with people versus disassociate, will ultimately improve my digital literacies.

#LiDA101 #personallearningnetworks #personallearningenvironments #pln #ple #lida101blog #lida101challenge

Bali, Maha. 2016, Feb. “Knowing the Difference Between Digital Skills and Digital Literacies, and Teaching Both.” Retrieved from https://literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/ 2016/02/03/knowing-the-difference-between-digital-skills-and-digital-literacies-and- teaching-both

Declaration for LiDA 101

Hi! Alena here! One of my main goals for this blog over the next few weeks is to support my learning in Digital Literacies for Online Learning (#LiDA101). I have used a blog in previous courses I have taken including the Provincial Instructor’s Diploma Program through Vancouver Community College and more recently their Certificate for Online/eLearning Instruction.

I do enjoy blogging but often find it challenging to fit into my busy schedule. I also really like the activity because like this semester I do typically assign some sort of blog project to my students and it is good for me to be able to do what I am asking them to do!

On to learning more about digital literacies! #LiDA101


This week I started a new course called Digital Literacies for Online Learning one of four micro courses in a series on Learning in a Digital Age offered through the OERu. One of our first assignments was a #photochallenge in which we had to share a selfie of us using digital technology or something that made us think about learning in the digital age. I picked this selfie of me in a mask because the pandemic has truly been a catalyst for me to explore new technologies. And I am totally going to borrow this challenge for one of my courses! Much like the #artinquarantine activity I have designed it is a fun way for learners to build community and share perspectives of digital literacies and learning in a digital world! #oer #oep #sotl #sotlah #education #openarthistories #arthistory #langara #lida101 #lida101photo #photochallenge