Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Link to Washington and Jefferson College

PrezTech Challenge

The Committee on Libraries and Educational Technology (COLET) is pleased to announce PrezTech Challenge. PrezTech Challenge encourages W&J faculty to enhance student learning by using library and educational technology.

Fall 2019 PrezTech Challenge Winner

Congratulations to Professor Berberick's COM 391 Students

Pictured is Librarian Samantha Martin, Professor Stevie Berberick, Dean Frick, and the students of COM 391 with the first place trophy.

Fall 2019 Participants

Podcasting the Cultural Edge: Contemporary Debates and Audio Storytelling

Stevie N. Berberick, COM 391: Audio/Radio/Podcast

The Cultural Edge podcast series was designed as an informative, objective podcast between co-hosts that takes on hot button issues that are central to debates on the national stage. The podcasts, designed in a manner that mirrors broadcast journalism, were also created with narrative structure in mind. For the project students worked in teams to discuss contemporary debates surrounding immigration (particularly the “Wall”), marijuana legalization or prohibition, the Second Amendment (gun control or constitutional conservatism), or student loan reform or free market logos

The podcasters were charged to do extensive research in order to present and support arguments one may hear from polarizing sides. However, students also had to consider principles of engagement in audio storytelling. Therefore, they worked to offer descriptive narration, complementary sound effects, and conversational debate between both “sides.”

To complete the project students had to familiarize themselves with editing software and recording hardware. Students worked throughout the semester to learn either GarageBand (Mac) or Audacity (PC and Mac). They also worked to gain proficiency in recording intricacies – such as where to keep the mic, how to adjust volume levels pre and post production, what tools to use to eliminate white noise, and how to utilize one mic between two hosts without compromising audio integrity (to name only a few). Students also familiarized themselves with various scripting methods throughout the semester to discover which worked best for their particular style of podcasting.

The goal of the project is a simple one: to illustrate how to engage ideological difference in an informed and respectful manner while keeping consumers engaged through utilizing various storytelling techniques.

Assisted by Samantha Martin.

The Trolley Problem, Three Ways: Argument Maps, Interactive Self-Driving Car Scenarios, and More!

Hanna Kim, FYS 199-08: Experimental Philosophy

Experimental Philosophy is an interdisciplinary area that marries together questions and issues in philosophy (e.g., Is it morally permissible to do X?) with experimental methods in psychology and cognitive science (e.g., surveys, experiments, statistical analyses, etc.). One key reason for engaging in Experimental Philosophy is to uncover differences between expert vs folk intuitions, differences in how one would respond in theory vs practice, and differences in how one would respond in abstract vs concrete conditions.

The PrezTech Challenge project for FYS 199 08: Experimental Philosophy was to investigate the famous thought experiment in moral philosophy known as the “Trolley Problem.” We investigated whether and how different people might respond differently to the Trolley Problem under low, medium, and high levels of realism. For the low realism case, we read Judith Jarvis Thomson’s paper, “The Trolley Problem” and used a game-based learning platform called Kahoot to check for reading comprehension of Thomson’s paper. Then, we visually mapped a key argumentative passage from Thomson’s paper using MindMup, a free and open-source platform for collaborative argument mapping. For the medium realism case, we interacted as a class with the Moral Machine, a platform for gathering a human perspective on moral decisions made by machine intelligence, such as self-driving cars. We read a report of the Moral Machine Experiment in order to see how ordinary people responded to a more concrete and realistic depiction of trolley problem. And for the high realism case, we viewed an episode of Mind Field’s “Trolley Problem” to see how ordinary people responded to a highly concrete and realistic depiction of the “Trolley Problem.”

Students were encouraged to reflect on the limitations and strengths of each approach, discuss which method could best reveal our moral intuitions, and defend why they thought so.

Assisted by Ben Stoviak.

Programming without Programming: An Approach to Enhance Students’ Engagement and to Acquire Computer Programing Skills through Algorithm Development 

Nobunaka Matsuno, CHM147/147L: Chemical Foundations - From Photons to Pharmaceuticals

In recent years, computer coding (programming) has become more accessible through visual programming language (VPL), such as Minecraft’s Visual Mod Designer or LabView, by connecting boxes with lines. However, this project is not about connecting boxes with lines to move objects on a computer.  While VPL makes it easy for a novice programmer to create a prototype design of an application, it often leaves out a crucial detail in computer programming - the algorithm development.  Many introductory programming courses tend to focus on the syntax of the programming language, and it can be discouraging for students to utilize the programming language for solving a computationally-intensive problem.  Therefore, in this course, students will learn to build a mathematical model (algorithm) through Chemistry/Physical Science experiments, and they will analyze their numerically-intensive data.

Once a mathematical model is developed, students will simulate their experiments using Microsoft Excel and Visual Basic Macros.  Students will also be introduced to advanced functions, such as Optimization and Mathematical Solver.  In this project, students will work as a group, collaborate using MS Teams as well as SharePoint Services, and generate a final presentation using Microsoft Sway, using three of the recent educational technologies enabled by the W&J ITS Department.  

Assisted by Jackie Laick.

Re-Creating the Past: History of W&J in Photographs

Cory Christenson, FYS-199-03: Origins of Good ideas

The theme of this FYS section is innovation and invention. The primary goal of this project was for students to research how innovation has affected their lives and their new school, in an interactive manner by using technological tools they are familiar with. Students investigated the evolution of W&J over time by finding and re-creating pictures from the college archives. They then constructed a website that documents and explains how the photos show the changes the school has undergone. In addition, the project teaches practical skills such as finding information in the library and how to convey a compelling story.

Students were introduced to the library and the college archives by the Archivist and FYS class librarian, Kelly Helm. They were broken into groups and assigned a decade of W&J history to learn about. They searched through the Archives (primarily newspapers and yearbooks) to identify pictures that they could re-create. These involved social scenes, an athletic event, or club picture, including many buildings and organizations that no longer exist or have evolved greatly. Once they re-created the pictures, they wrote a brief description of how the pictures illustrated the way the school has changed. Some of these were obvious, like landscaping or the presence of buildings, but others were more subtle, like the lack of women (or any real diversity) in pre-1970 pictures, the style of dress, or the centrality of Greek culture. Addressing broader issues required them to read primary source material or talk to the Archivist or other faculty. 

Finally, the students their photos and descriptions to Google Sites, showing past and present pictures side-by-side. You can see the website here:

By illustrating the rich history of W&J through the broader lens of innovation, the students will begin to foster a sense of community amongst themselves, but also learn early in their career how to use the library and tell an engaging story. Assisted by Kelly Helm.

Conflict and Resolution Studies: CRS 101 The Website By Its Students

Richard Easton, CRS 101: Introduction to Conflict and Resolution Studies

CRS students agreed to create a course website to archive their learning in the course. Because the PrezTech Challenge offered technical mentoring, everyone could learn the steps to establishing a website to save and share their learning experiences instead of providing mere paper copies at course end for evaluation purposes and others’ information. Ms. Laick provided classroom instruction about website design issues, photo copyright and citing procedures and how audiences interact with websites. She also provided weekly mentoring as 20 students downloaded their work in small groups. The website displays student research on the origins of conflicts between countries as well as in our own county, plus student research on the possibilities of resolution, focused on world figures successful in bringing significant human rights change.

Assisted by Jackie Laick.

Trees, deer, bugs, oh my! Communicating science to the public

Jason Kilgore, BIO 219 Field Biology

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS 2011) promotes the incorporation and enhancement of both technical and general communication skills in the undergraduate biology curriculum so that future scientists are better able to explain the importance of their work to the public. Furthermore, solving biological problems requires the development of skills in group collaboration. Consequently, one of the Biology Department student learning outcomes (SLOs) is that students should be able to “communicate biology through multiple media to both general and scientific audiences, both within and beyond the W&J community.”

In this Field Biology course, students learn how to identify and quantify the abundance of trees, birds, and mammals across ecosystems of western Pennsylvania. The vehicles to develop these skills are thematic projects led by groups of students, but all students contribute to all of the projects, thus building leadership, organization, collaboration, and communication skills among peer scientists. The project foci are diverse -- justifying classification of old-growth forests, quantifying acorn production and infestation, monitoring long-term forest succession, and estimating white-tailed deer abundance and age structure -- and all require students to communicate their research findings through a manuscript prepared for the journal Ecology (i.e., technical) and through an online article (i.e., broad audience). The PrezTech Challenge 2.0 provides an opportunity for students to explore the use of online media platforms to creatively interpret the most important elements of their work for the web-based public.

Assisted by Jackie Laick.

Exploring Folklore through Podcasting

Kay McEvoy, FYS 199-12: Lore

Inspired by Aaron Mahnke’s popular podcast Lore, the students of this First-Year Seminar have worked in groups to research, write, and record their own podcasts on the folklore topics of their choice, from leprechauns to tricksters to the origins of Dracula to Pittsburgh’s own 13 bends road. After discussing the definition and importance of folklore in class, the students analyzed sample episodes of Lore, examining the way Mahnke chose to tell each story, down to the transitioning effects and music. They then researched their own topics using the skills they learned earlier in the semester, to gather information to craft their scripts and created an annotated bibliography of their sources that included sources from peer-reviewed journals. The students will record their final podcasts over the final two weeks of class, formally presenting the completed versions during our final exam block on the morning of Friday, December 13th. These presentations will take place in Old Main 306 beginning at 9:00 a.m. Guests are more than welcome!

Assisted by Samantha Martin.

Digital Storytelling & Holocaust Remembrance

Mike Shaughnessy FYS-199-17: Remembering the Holocaust

Although the course is about the Holocaust, it is not a history class that involves the memorization of facts. Students will be asked to reflect upon the lessons of the Holocaust and evaluate how the Holocaust is taught to current generations. For their major project, students will be required to create a digital story that is largely map based and interactive. They will leverage open-source materials from the USHMM, The Fortunoff Archives, and the USC Shoah Foundation, as well as information from print sources. Students will use digitized testimonies to help produce a story that they think is worth telling, placing the narrative within geographic regions using tools such as MyMaps (free). The project will be evaluated based on the reasoning for why materials were selected and how they were presented to reach a specific target audience. In preparation, students will evaluate a number of Holocaust museum exhibits, in person through the USHMM and virtually through online sources worldwide.  

Assisted by Kelly Helm.

Transforming Environmental Data into Music

Mark Swift, MUS 245/345: Music and the Natural Environment

The goal of this project was for students to experience the many ways that music can present ideas about the natural environment.  Students’ starting point was World Water Monitoring Day in September.  Students gathered water quality data (pH, temperature, dissolved Oxygen, turbidity) from Mingo Creek and cleaned trash from a section of Catfish Creek near Cameron Stadium.  Later, working in groups, students decided what kind of statement they wanted to make about streams or the environment with their composition.  After being exposed to a variety of examples and learning about the basic frameworks for the compositional process, students mapped out an “abstract” for how their composition would unfold. Then, students got to work on building their composition using technological tools.  Technology was used at several stages: 1) Digital recorders were used to record sounds made by water as well as the trash they collected, including items made of plastic, metal, glass, etc.  2) GarageBand was used to isolate and manipulate their recorded sounds.  3) GarageBand built-in instruments and loops were selected and layered with each other and with the recorded sounds to build the compositions.  Students were required to creatively use the data they gathered from Mingo Creek and/or data from other streams found at to flesh out their basic musical materials, such as pitches and scales, harmony, rhythm, volume, and timbre.  Finally, students were given the option of displaying images with their compositions to help the audience “ponder” while listening to the compositions, but the images are not inherently part of the composition. 

Assisted by Beth Miller.

Reading Poetry in a Digital Age

Linda Troost, ENG 250: Sound, Image, Word: Reading Poetry in a Digital Age

Working singly or in pairs, students will create either two-minute videos or recordings of poems to present to a wider audience using either Adobe Spark (video) or Audacity/Garage Band (audio). Students record themselves reading a poem aloud and then use that as a basis for a video or audio recording (adding images, background music, sound effects, and so on). In the course, they will each do a video and a recording and write commentaries; for the showcase, each student will select either the video or recording to present to the audience.

These assignments will help students master the following learning objectives in the class: students will produce visual interpretations of the poems and students will develop skills in the oral interpretation of poetry.

In addition to gaining these technical skills in the aid of interpretation, students become conversant with matters of digital copyright—for text, images, background music, and sound effects. They will gain a knowledge of fair use, acknowledgement of sources, and learn their way around a variety of Creative Commons licenses.

Finally, they will develop their online skills, learning how to use search filters wisely in Google (to filter content by usage rights or images by color, for example), locate material in online sound/music/image repositories, and select images and video clips of the correct format/resolution.

Assisted by Beth Miller.

Fall 2019 PrezTech Challenge Reception


  • Jen Bayline, 1st Place PrezTech Winner Spring 2019
  • Dave Kieran, 2nd Place PrezTech Winner Spring 2019
  • Michael Lewis, 3rd  Place PrezTech Winner Spring 2019

Committee on Library and Educational Technology (CoLET)

Jim Benze, Ronalee Ciocco, Dan Faulk, Dave Kieran, H.J. Manzari, James March, and Ben Stoviak

Special Thanks to

The Information Technology Department for refreshments.

The Office of Academic Affairs for funding and support.