African Art Pedagogy: A Hypertexted Journey


AAP Exhibit, installation view, CCA’s Meyer Library, Oakland, CA

In early fall, our Instructional Designer, Bobby White, who is based in the Library, brought a potential Digital Scholarship project to my attention, a Library exhibit idea with both a digital and physical component. In this article I’ll talk about the idea behind the project, our process, the technology utilized, and our reflections after we completed the exhibit.

Leslie Townsend, faculty member in the Visual Studies and Writing and Literature programs, approached the Libraries with the idea to share her pedagogy for an African Art survey course (part of the Visual Studies Program) with other faculty and the greater CCA community. In addition to displaying material artifacts, she was interested in linking the many types of digital artifacts from the course–images, videos, texts, student assignments, reference materials, syllabus–into an integrated digital display. Bobby had recently seen student work from faculty member Rebekah Edwards’ literature class using the software Twine and suggested Twine for this project. Twine is an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories, and is also used for narrative games. Like a labyrinth, it allows viewers to choose different and multiple paths to travel through a particular story. Twine offered a unique way to open up Leslie’s African Art course to reveal layered perspectives–instructor, student, assessment, and reflection–and reveal complex interactions unavailable in a traditional 2-D format. The African Art Pedagogy Exhibit was to be the Libraries’ first Digital Scholarship project and our first exhibit utilizing an iPad.

Bobby and I set about to learn Twine, and began a series of weekly meetings with Leslie to discuss the content and structure of the Twine, as well as to curate a selection of objects and books related to her course. We had already determined that we would use an iPad to display the Twine; the Libraries’ had purchased several iPads in the past year or so, and we have been interested in deploying them for a variety of purposes, including for displays. I began researching a display stand for the iPad, and eventually settled on an iPad floor stand from a Website called Displays2Go, which specializes in marketing displays. The criteria included a locking case, cable management, a rotating bracket to allow flexibility in display, a fit for the iPad Air, hidden home button (to keep users from navigating away from the exhibit), relatively inexpensive price, and last but not least, pleasing aesthetically. When it came time to install, we also utilized the iPad’s “Guided Access” feature, which keeps users in the app.

As for Twine, we discovered there are currently two versions of Twine; we chose to use the newest version (version 2), for what seemed like obvious reasons — newer versions tend to be better supported and offer new features. But in the case of Twine, the new version represents a renewed focus on text, and away from the easy integration of adding images that version 1 offers. Adding images and links to embedded videos were important to this project, to give viewers direct contact with selected course materials. We were able to work with version 2, but it required additional research. For a future project, we would look more closely at Twine 1 and consider using it instead.

The goals we developed going into the project were to

  • Design an integrated physical and digital pedagogy exhibition in the Library
  • Test Twine’s application in an academic environment
  • Share Leslie’s pedagogical process with colleagues
  • Offer an experience of her African Art course to a range of viewers in the Library: students, faculty, staff, visitors
  • Enable Leslie to continue to develop the Twine after the exhibition
  • Explore options and issues with sharing the Twine outside the Library once the exhibition ended

The three of us then began to work as team, and in short order defined our roles — a key component to a successful collaboration, and one that made it easy and enjoyable to work together. These were based on our individual expertise/s: Leslie Leslie focused on providing the content, and input on the flow of the narrative; Bobby focused on Twine and pedagogy development; and I assumed the project management hat, as well as Twine development.

Neither Bobby nor I have a background in African Art so one of our initial tasks was to get to know Leslie’s curriculum, both through her syllabus and in conversation with her. We defined the content areas for our Twine: syllabus, student work, teaching philosophy/learning outcomes, and resources, and created a structure for storing and sharing materials in Google Drive, which our campus uses. At this point we began to re-imagine the course as an exhibit: the content areas would become four paths in Twine, that intermingle and connect, depending on the choices a visitor makes. The content areas are: Curriculum Guide, Students in Action, Teaching Philosophy and Learning Outcomes, and Experience African Art. I built a timeline with milestones, working backward from the exhibition date, and we scheduled weekly working meetings (initially two-hour blocks, though toward the end of the project we had a few full-day working sessions). In addition to our weekly meetings, Leslie spent additional time pulling together coursework, and Bobby and I spent time researching Twine questions and implementation questions. But it was difficult to properly estimate the amount of time we needed, especially since we were engaged in multiple new tasks: learning an open-source software, figuring out how to host the completed work, and turning a course into an open narrative. Bobby reflected after the fact that this type of scenario will most likely repeat itself, as part of what we do in the Libraries now is engage with new technologies. Leslie observed that she could imagine another project in the future taking place over a longer period of time, perhaps over a semester and a summer, as we spent many hours toward the end of the project, and could easily have spent more.

Once we’d identified works for inclusion, we had a variety of media to organize: electronic documents, links to embedded videos, and physical objects. We categorized works into proper folders, selected physical objects to scan or photograph, and hashed out the best way to present the material, to tell the story the course suggested to us. It was a fully collaborative process, which was one of its joys. One of the challenges we struggled with was whether we should map the story out in advance or whether we could build it once we’d added all the ‘raw’ material into Twine. Twine’s premise is simple: create a nonlinear story easily and quickly, by creating passages. At its most basic, each passage contains some text and a link or links embedded anywhere within the text to go to another part of the story. Images and multimedia can also be embedded within passages. When building a Twine, one works in a map where you can see all of the passages you’ve created and how they’re linked to one another. It’s a great feature, to be able to have a bird’s-eye view; one navigates back and forth between the editor view of the passage, a preview of the passage/s, and the map of the whole story. We settled on getting all of our content into passages in Twine and then connecting them into multiple narratives, which we thought would allow us to better see the possibilities that the Twine format offered.

Twine-Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 3.16.24 PM

African Art Pedagogy Exhibit, Twine map screenshot

Simultaneously, Bobby and I began researching where we might host the finished work. A site called publishes text-only Twines for free, though if you want to include locally stored images or other media, and/or if you have any privacy concerns, it’s not the place to host your Twine. We also looked into using Google Drive and Dropbox as hosting sites but both services have now made it very hard if not impossible to use them as hosting sites. Our solution: we requested a slice of space on one of our Educational Technology Service’s Web servers. This turned out to be ideal, as we now have a space to host future digital-scholarship projects. We still have to grapple with some rights issues for the site: we digitized a few images from books that Leslie uses in her course, which we believe falls under fair use when only shown in the library, but would most likely not be considered Fair Use were we to share the site publicly, as we could not control who would see the images nor what they might do with them. The nature of the digital portion of the exhibit presents opportunities beyond the library exhibit dates, a complicated but exciting aspect of the project. Stay tuned.

Gradually we built out our content into passages and connected them into a variety of paths for the viewers to choose from: we broke up the syllabus into individual passages, with links forward through the syllabus, and links to key course materials, which in turn might take the viewer to other course materials; the Students in Action section is comprised of two assignments, with introductions by Leslie, which offer an insight into students’ interactions with the materials and learning: an introduction to the geography of the continent, and excerpts from a few student papers; Teaching Philosophy and Learning Outcomes offers Leslie a way to frame and share her thinking about the course, one of the most valuable parts of the exercise; lastly, Experience African Art shares a selection of curated, visual course materials, with explications. A map of the continent of Africa is the unofficial hub of the story, as many links across sections radiate to and from it.


Screenshot from AAP, Teaching Philosophy

Physical objects chosen for display were related to images and text in the Twine, and gave the exhibition a tactile presence that was a nice complement to the digital, while increasing the overall visibility of the exhibition. The Libraries’ Assistant Curator (a work-study position), Hannah Novillo-Erickson, worked with Leslie and I on the exhibit installation, another nice collaboration point.

Overall, we consider the African Art Pedagogy exhibit1 (link to Twine) a successful undertaking. The opportunity to work in-depth with both the Instructional Designer and a faculty member was an invaluable, rich, learning experience. It required a significant time investment, but, having lived through it, the Instructional Designer and I now have a ballpark figure to work with going forward, as well as ideas about how to manage and possibly reduce the time outlay. We found examples of writing composition and writers employing Twine, but we did not find any examples of projects similar to ours, which is kind of exciting. The technology, though easy, still demanded respect in terms of a learning curve, both conceptual and technological. I consider our Twine to be more of a first iteration; I wish I had more time to refine it, now that I better understand its potential in relation to our subject matter. Leslie observed that it showed her relationships and things she could do with the pedagogy that she hadn’t seen previously. She couldn’t imagine how she would do something like this on her own; I assured her that facilitating these types of projects is one of the goals of the new Digital Scholarship position.

Lisa Conrad is the Digital Scholarship Librarian at California College of the Arts, in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Art and Art History, and an MLIS from San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science. Images from her art work 4 1/2 feet can be seen at fourandahalffeet.


  1. for educational purposes only; no re-use of any of the images in the Twine.

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