A Successful Lesson with Prism




As a tool for “crowdsourcing interpretation,” as its creators describe it, Prism is visually and functionally interesting for college students. This semester I used Prism to teach two texts in Latin American history, but one stood out as a good length and style for classroom use. Below, I’ve pasted a screen shot of how the class marked up an excerpt from Maria Eugenia Echenique’s essay “The Emancipation of Women” (1876). (This text was published for educational purposes by Harcourt Brace Custom Books and translated by Francisco Manzo Robledo.) I uploaded text and had my class sign up for Prism in small groups. They then read part of the essay and highlighted portions of the texts using three facets. Below, you can see how they understood the theme of legal culture working in this text. The other facets were “Gender Roles” and “Progress.” Three facets seems like a limited number, but I think adding more would not make the exercise as compelling or easy for students to conduct in groups.

My class found the Font Size Visualization feature appealing, though Winning Facet I think would be interesting in a larger class. The Font Size is easier to understand on impact and encouraged students to think about their ideas in relation to those of others. We were able to discuss where we strongly agreed and where some groups had different ideas. The Winning Facet Visualization takes some clicking to understand. Black text indicates places where facets were equally popular. For example, the author argues that Argentine women, “can manage the interests of our children, these rights being the basis for emancipation.” My students believed that managing children’s interests was equally applicable to gender roles and legal culture in nineteenth-century Argentina. Therefore, this portion of text had no winning facet. When we examined this phrase using the Font Size feature, we found that fewer groups had highlighted this section anyway. The combination of the two visualizations is really neat and helps students communicate their ideas with their peers. This exercise allows the class to quickly evaluate multiple opinions–where they overlap and where they diverge.

Like many educators, I have found Prism valuable. Thanks again to all the graduate students, librarians, and faculty at University of Virginia who support the Praxis Program, and the Scholars’ Lab in general. I am a huge fan!