Gormley researches visual culture for her Wisconsin Teaching Fellows project

August 8, 2013

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Dr. Melissa Gormley

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Dr. Melissa Gormley, associate professor of history and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, is researching how visual culture can be used to increase student understanding and engagement for her Wisconsin Teaching Fellows project. Visual culture is an academic field of study that includes cultural studies, theory, philosophy and anthropology and focuses on aspects of culture that rely on visual images.

Gormley was selected by the UW System Office of Professional and Instructional Development to serve as a Wisconsin Teaching Fellow for the 2013-14 academic year. The Wisconsin Teaching Fellows program is designed for untenured faculty members, one from each UW System institution, who show exceptional promise as college teachers. As a Fellow, Gormley is sharing ideas and best practices in education in a series of institutes and seminars with colleagues across the UW System while researching a scholarship of teaching and learning topic that facilitates increased student learning in the classroom.

Gormley, who specializes in modern Latin American history, is focusing her learning topic on using film as a teaching method to address the violence Latin American women have suffered under military dictatorships. She plans to show students “Death and the Maiden,” a film based on the play by Ariel Dorfman that explores the consequences of torture under military dictatorships, in her course Women and Gender in Latin American History in the spring.

“One obstacle in teaching courses in Latin American studies is that most students do not have the language skills they need to do historical research,” Gormley said. “My research on visual culture can be applied in the classroom to help remove this barrier. In my project, I will use film to present students with historical dilemmas in a way that encourages deeper thinking as well as greater understanding and engagement.”

In May and June, Gormley met with other Fellows in the UW System at UW-Richland, Richland Center, Wis., where they began working on their research projects. Gormley is working with Dr. Sam Cocks, a philosophy professor at UW-La Crosse, and Dr. Caroline Boswell, a history professor at UW-Green Bay. All projects must obtain institutional approval from the Institutional Research Board. In October, Fellows will meet to report on the progress of their projects.

Early in the spring semester, Gormley will assign students two, ungraded, reflective writing assignments. One of the assignments will be given before students have viewed the film and one will be given after the students have viewed the film. She will analyze their understanding of the material pre- and post-film to see how their understanding and perceptions changed.

“In January, I will have a way to assess whether using film was an effective tool in teaching Latin American history,” Gormley stated. “My analysis of students’ understanding of the subject matter before and after they have seen the film will help me identify the specific skills and topics I need to teach in that course. My analysis will help me identify the broader topics I need to address as well.”

Gormley cited an example of how using visual culture has increased student understanding and engagement in her students. “During the spring semester, I taught Modern Latin American History. At the same time, the UW-Platteville theatre department, under the direction of Dr. David Schuler, was putting on ‘Death and the Maiden,’ a play about the consequences of dictatorship in an unnamed Latin American culture. It was mandatory for my students to attend the play. As I observed my students watching the play, it was amazing to see how absorbed they were in the drama and then later, hear how much they truly enjoyed watching history come alive on the stage. It was highly effective and engaged students in a meaningful way that they may not have been before. I plan to incorporate cinema into the Women and Gender in Latin American History course in the spring.”

Gormley stated that the Wisconsin Teaching Fellows program has given her an opportunity to focus even more on her student-centered teaching approach. “As a professor, it is critical that I constantly ask myself what will work best to hook students into being fully engaged in the learning experience,” she said. “How do I present course content in a way that promotes the highest level of student understanding and engagement? By connecting colleagues across the UW System, the Fellows program has given all of us many ideas as well as a set of tools that we can use to accomplish this.”

Gormley, who began teaching at UW-Platteville in 2008, specializes in modern Latin American history. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from San Francisco State University and her doctorate degree from the University of California-Davis.

She will be honored with the other UW-Platteville award winners Thursday, Aug. 29 at the annual all-campus convocation in Williams Fieldhouse.

Contact: Melissa Gormley, associate professor of history and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, (608) 342-6111, gormleym@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, communications specialist, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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