Underwood & Underwood’s Cleveland Cruise Portrait

On October 16, 1909, the S.S. Cleveland left Hoboken, New Jersey on the first commercial around-the-world cruise. American tour operator, Frank C. Clark, chartered the Cleveland from the German operated Hamburg-American Line, leaving the east coast with a party of 650 passengers and traveling eastward through the Suez Canal before making landfall in San Francisco three months later on January 31, 1910. Because the Panama Canal was four years away from completion, the passengers completed the last leg of the around-the-world tour via train, returning to their origin point on east coast. Thus, although Clark’s cruise was not a complete circumnavigation of the globe, the public and press treated it as such. Five days after landing in San Francisco, the Cleveland re-crossed the Pacific Ocean to start a second around-the-world tour, this time carrying more than 750 passengers. Clark’s pair of world tours generated significant amounts of publicity, with thousands appearing in San Francisco to send the ship off. The Cleveland made several subsequent trips between 1912 and 1914 until the advent of World War I interrupted access to the German owned vessel.[1] The standard itinerary for trans-Pacific cruises of the period included a longer stopover in the port of Yokohama. Here, passengers could go ashore and enjoy the local sites, including a visit to the Kamakura Daibutsu.

One of the most popular publishers of stereocards, Underwood & Underwood, took advantage of these widely marketed luxury world tours and assigned a stereo-photographer to accompany the guests aboard the Cleveland to chronicle the trip. These new stereophotographs then became stock in Underwood & Underwood’s massive catalogue of Japan views and marketed to the general public.

Figure 1


  • Title/Caption: 298-Daibutsu, Kamakura, Japan
  • Year: 1913-1914
  • Photographer: unknown
  • Publisher: Underwood & Underwood
  • Medium: sliver gelatin print; mounted on curved slate-colored card
  • Dimensions: 7 in X 3.5 in

According to the account of R. H. Casey, a passenger aboard the Cleveland during its fourth trip across the globe which arrived in Japan on February 24, 1913, the tourist excursion trips were a sight to behold. Two hundred and forty passengers boarded a train to Kamakura and rode rickshaws from the train station to the temple of the Daibutsu, travelling en masse through the narrow roads of the rustic city’s back country.[2] This feeling of mass tourism is captured perfectly by our unknown photographer’s view, showing a cluster of nearly fifty people crowded in front of the Daibutsu [Fig. 1]. Almost all of the visitors are mounted atop the stone foundation or posing in the lap of the colossal statue. This posturing of gazing towards the viewer reflects a long-standing photographic tradition of collecting exotic “trophies” by being pictured in front of one’s cultural conquests.

The card itself does not identify the party as originating from the Cleveland, but an adjacent card in the Underwood & Underwood catalogue (number 247, Fig. 2), does identify a large group of tourists perched along the tall stairway of Hachiman Shrine as travelling aboard the Cleveland. Moreover, a close inspection of these two photographs reveals the same individuals are depicted in both.[3] Thus, we can safely assume the visitors to the Daibutsu are among the globetrotters aboard the Cleveland.

Figure 2


It is difficult to determine which around-the-world cruise this group of people joined. Photographs from the initial pair of Clark’s trips, between 1909-1910, show the Daibutsu site displaying a picketed fence and gabled roof on the coin offering box (saisenbako 賽銭箱), elements that appear – to my eye – to be missing in this stereoview.[4] It is possible this image was taken on one of the second pair of cruises, landing in Yokohama in January and February 1913, having departed from Hoboken and San Francisco respectively.[5] A fifth, and likely final, cruise aboard the Cleveland was scheduled to depart the east coast in January 1914 on a 93 day voyage to San Francisco, with no scheduled “return” trip.[6] Thus, it appears this photograph of the Daibutsu could have been taken during one of these three trips during 1913 or 1914.

In contrast to the other Underwood & Underwood view of tourists atop the Daibutsu, this composition has the feeling of formal portraiture. The visitors are spread out symmetrically along the ground, statue, and stone base, with most looking sternly at the camera lens. As around-the-world cruises became more popular in the interwar period, these large group photos also became more common, sometimes being used in promotional material for the cruise company. The photographs of the 1860’s and 70’s that depicted small groups of interpid travellers (and mostly men), were now festooned with  tourists who draw as much attention to themselves as the statue in the background.


*This post is in honor of my father, may your curiosity in the odd live on through me.

*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in America. All items (except otherwise noted) are part of my personal collection of Buddhist-themed ephemera.

[1] The Hamburg-American Line advertised heavily for the Cleveland’s first trip through the Panama Canal, scheduled to disembark from Hoboken in January 1915 and bring passengers to San Francisco to celebrate the Panama-Pacific Exposition. I have found no evidence that this trip took place, and given that Germany was in the midst of war by the end of 1914, the excursion was most likely to have been abandoned by the Hamburg-American Line. Accounts of the previous completed trips, where the above information was extracted, can be found in Frizell & Greenfield 1910, Junkin 1910, Bush 1911, Forbes 1912, and Casey 1914.

[2] Casey 1914: 29. According to Casey, they also visited the Kaihin Hotel.

[3] The easiest to spot is the sole hat-less man with coiffed white hair and mustache. A second man in a brimmed newsboy hat and white beard is also easily identified in both.

The distinctive plumes in women’s hats also leads to several relatively easy identifications (not pictured). Moreover, Underwood & Underwood Japan-series cards issued with numbers in the 290’s all appear to be issued from the Cleveland cruises.

[4] The photograph by amateur photographer F. H. Wellcome and published in the travelogue of Frizell and Greenwod clearly shows the gabled coin box. (see Frizell & Greenwood 1910: 49).

[5] These dates are noted in Forbes 1912: 27 & 29. Forbes took two trips around the world, starting in Hoboken and travelling eastward until ultimately landing in San Francisco, where he then joined the “return” voyage, heading westwards until back in Hoboken

[6] The Cleveland would have needed to be back in Hoboken for its widely publicized trip leaving in January 1915 (see note above). It is possible the Cleveland left San Francisco and headed for the Panama Canal, testing the crossing without passengers before returning in January. This tour was operated by the Hamburg-American Line directly and Clark would not make his fifth trip around the world until after the war in 1924, when he chartered the S.S. California.


  • Bush, George Tome. 1911. 40,000 Miles Around the World. Howard, PA: N.P.
  • Casey, R. H. 1914. Notes Made During a Cruise Around the World in 1913. New York: N.P.
  • Forbes, Edgar Allen. 1912. Twice Around the World. New York: Fleming H Revell Company.
  • Frizell, William G. and Greenfield, George H. 1910. Around the World on the Cleveland. New York: N.P.
  • Junkin, Paul S. 1910. A Cruise Around the World. Creston, IA: N.P.


Non-Traditional Assignments Workshop

As instructors, we somtimes feel the temptation to spice up our coursework. We may feel a bolt of jealousy, for example, when we hear a colleague’s idea for a brand new approach to an old-school assignment (I’m looking at you, humdrum 10-page research paper). While reflection and refinement should be the standard to which we inspire, we should not seek novelty simply for novelty’s sake.

When seeking to craft a non-traditional assignment, we should be guided by our core educational goals, many of which cluster around critical thinking and thoughtful creativity. By foregrounding these goals it’s possible to conceive of new ways we can express our interests or student passions. In other words, the search for non-traditional assignments should be in service to expressing “traditional” education goals in new ways. Specifically, in ways that appropriately reflect our course content, student skill sets and interests, or general teaching philosophy.

I should note, it is also far easier to integrate a non-traditional assignment into a course when that course is designed “backwards.” By starting with and thinking through the learning outcomes we can more easily conceptualize the myriad ways in which they can be actualized. In contrast, if you start by thinking through all of the assigned readings written by scholar for scholars, it’s pretty natural to envision all student assignments in the same fashion, i.e. as variants of scholarly writing. Indeed, one of the first limitations you may run into with “backwards design” is that all of those scholarly monographs you assigned just do not work and need to be trashed mindfully returned to their bookshelves. (I apologize to the international cartel of scholars, please do not put cyanide in my afternoon tea. You weren’t getting any royalties from your book sales anyway…[1])

If you are not undeterred, below I offer several of the slides I presented for a non-traditional assignments workshop organized by my university’s Summer Teaching Institute for Associates program. I will also provide commentary to the slides. This workshop was far more “workshoppy” than my previous ones, thus there is much on my handout that is not covered in my slides. [NonTrad Workshop Handout]

We began the workshop by discussing the reasons why instructors might seek out non-traditional assignments. I tried to focus on the fact that traditional university research papers are a very specific genre that most students will not use later in their life. In addition, we may also recognize that this genre does not adequately reflect the goals or “spirit” of our courses. Accordingly, we might open up to the possibility that there are other modes and media more reflective of student interests, skills, and real-world needs that still ask them to engage the critical skills we value.

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A limitation of my workshop was the presumption I held for what a “traditional” assignment embodied – this is not the same across disciplines. In planning this workshop I decided to use my disciplinary expertise (as a historian of religious studies) as the norm which often assigns a printed paper meant to inform or persuade a well-informed (scholarly) audience. This is an assignmentt type that certainly resonates across much of the humanities.[2]

By highlighting the various rhetorical elements of genre, purpose, audience, and medium, I suggested during the workshop that the alteration of any of these aspects constituted a move towards non-traditional assessment.

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Before we moved on to discussing how we might alter each of these four variables, I suggested that a non-traditional assignment could also verge on becoming “creative” or even “experimental,” a side of the assignment spectrum that should be approached with care. I suppose I cannot dislodge the traditionalist voice ringing in my head (I am a historian of religious studies), but I suggested that truly creative or experimental assignments be paired with a more traditional writing assignment, like a cover letter offering an analysis of the assignment through the lens of course concepts or a reflection on the process of creating it (really, reflection is a good idea with any assignment). Fundamentally, this is a concern over evaluation (grading); we have to remain equitable in the assessment of our projects, an issue which arises as they turn more radically away from standard critical writing (this is discussed more on the handout). Additionally, I argued that more focus has to be placed on process and discussion as the more creative or experimental the assignment becomes. Feedback, necessary in any assignment, is simply more integral when the students are engaging in genre forms that are unfamiliar to them.

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We then moved into a discussion of the variables for crafting assignments (genre, purpose, audience, medium). Considered individually for heuristic purposes, these elements are actually closely interrelated. For example, changing just one of the variables may be enough to inspire a wholesale shift in the other three. As we discussed these variables, I had the participants fill out the four-field “matrix” on the handout as new ideas came to life.

If I had to give one suggestion, I would say reconceiving the audience functions as a powerful motivation for shifting an entire assignment. Instead of assuming an ill-conceived set of imaginary scholars (or the sole instructor or TA), which new audience could students address armed with their new knowledge? What would an assignment look like if the students had to talk to the general population or to people who held conflicting views on your course materials? What if your students spoke to a local community or to different organizations in your school? Or, perhaps, you could imagine them addressing a historical person or even a living political entity.[3]. Ultimately, the object of this exercise was to let the creative juices flow and sort the pieces afterwards.

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The last slide addressed some concerns I felt pertinent to exploring non-traditional work. It foregrounds the facts that many students may not have the required skills, money, or free time to do what you hope (or expect) from them. Student familiarity with or simple access to computer programs or the ability to go to a museum exhibit or performance may be stumbling blocks to some. Some of this could be circumvented with good planning.

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The rest of the workshop was devoted to discussing potential ideas and beginning the process of putting those new sparks of insight into words.

Below is a list of potential ideas

  • Have students draft a lesson plan (LO & assessment) and lead an activity on a concept for the class
  • Have students or instructor create Twitter or Instagram accounts and post regularly on course content (blogs are an “old-school” option)
  • Visit your university library archives or special collections and have students select a document or artifact and give a mini-lecture in class
  • Analyze the different views and approaches on a course-relevant topic by both a scholarly peer-reviewed article and something written for the public (news article, magazine article, YouTube video, etc…)
  • Hold a class poster presentation session (held in the classroom or hallways of your department) and have students comment on one another’s work (written peer-review)
  • Have students create a podcast or video on a tricky concept and use as an instructional aid (remember to keep create a catalogue of past work!)
  • Have students write in a “popular” genre relevant to course materials (e.g. magazine article, pamphlet, poster, newspaper opinion article, letter to the editor)
  • Visit a local site and have students document and analyze their visit or schedule an interview with someone about the site
  • Set up a formal class debate about central themes of the course (randomly assign “for” and “against” teams)
  • Establish a scenario and have students role play figures central to your course
  • Have students craft an annotated bibliography or literature review on complementary aspects to your course
  • Have student create a material object relevant to course material (e.g. alter, home shrine, model, etc…)
  • Compile a list of available public media on a course theme and evaluate the quality of each item’s content and post the evaluations online
  • Create an infographic about a topic or theme, or create a concept map/knowledge map of the course materials
  • Have student keep a course journal where they reflect on difficult topics and plan what they will focus on for next lecture/discussion
  • Design (/and implement) a collaborative on-campus project
  • Have student write a book review of a source read in class
  • Have students interview a professor about their current research (or an influential paper)
  • Volunteer at a local nonprofit or attend a community meeting or group and write about the experience related to course themes
  • Visit a local museum exhibit and have students analyze artifacts according to course themes
  • Atten a local performance and have students analyze experience according to course themes
  • Assign “On-Going Conversations” to students where they talk about a topic and take notes on the interaction
  • Have students do 4-Sentence Papers (They say…, I say…, One might object…, I reply…)
  • Using free online applications, have students create a map and timeline of important course events and figures


*This is part of a series of posts reflecting on my experiences offering workshops on university pedagogy. Please contact me directly if you want full versions of my slides pmr01[at]ucsb[dot]edu.

[1] Clearly, knowing the abilities of your students matters. The core of the concern is not so much the selection of works, but the training in reading and note-taking skills which allows students to truly access these works. Developing necessary reading and note-taking strategies is too often overlooked by instructors.

[2] Unsurprisingly, I had math and foreign language instructors attending the workshop, so we also talked about “traditional” assignments in their domains and folded them into our discussions as best we could. It seems some of the strategies we discussed were also effective in inspiring them.

[3] A colleague whose name unfortunately escapes me had students address the famous Chinese Empress Wuzitian and make an impassioned plea for imperial support of either the Buddhists or Daoists!

Handouts 101 Workshop

What is the quality of your students’ lecture notes? If you were to read the research on this topic, you might think the answer was unbelievable. Yet, study after study confirms the unbelievable: most students, especially first-years, do not possess the skills necessary to take quality notes. Students routinely miss more than 50% of the critical information in lecture, sometimes reported as a 70% loss of crucial content. We can chalk this up to a variety of potential factors, such as the newness of the lecture format, the complexity of the content (and resulting cognitive fatigue), the student’s inability to identify main points, or the lecturer’s inattentiveness to signaling important information amid a mass of presented material (often as text on lecture slides, or “death by PowerPoint”).

Lecture note-taking should be recognized as a multi-faceted challenge for many first-year students. Unsurprisingly, note-taking skills are rarely taught explicitly and it is worth outlining a “best-practices” for your students dependent upon your teaching methods, materials, and lecture structure.[1] Another important intervention for poor note-taking is the wise and timely use of handouts.

A handout is just another tool in your pedagogical toolkit. Ideally, it complements the other items in your teaching arsenal, namely your oral presentation, lecture slides (or board work), readings, and classroom discussions. Taken together, these different modalities help students to build robust conceptual models and form a deeper understanding of the material.

Below, I offer several of the slides I presented for a workshop organized by my university’s Summer Teaching Institute for Associates program. I will also provide some commentary and context to the slides themselves. My “Handout of Handouts” can be found here –> [The Handout of Handouts].

Using Mentimeter, I first asked the workshop participants about their current attitudes towards using handouts. Interestingly, among our small cohort, most regularly provided their class lecture slides to students (the yellow bar below), which as we will see has its benefits and drawbacks.

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Based on the literature I summarized above, I was curious to see what our participants believed about their first-year students’ note taking abilities. While everyone believed students could benefit from additional training, few were able to predict the dire assessment of the research, namely that students would routinely miss more than 50% of the critical information.Question 2.png

After review the reseach findings we assessed the possible interventions for students, leading to the potential value in helping students take notes through the strategic use of handouts. Overall, I addressed nine different types of handout, loosely categorized under the headings of advanced organizers, worksheets, and graphic organizers (the first and last being “jargon-appropriate” if you want to do more research).

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The first grouping of handouts can be placed under the category of “advanced organizers,” which as their name imples allows information to be presorted to allow easier integration and less taxation of the students’ cognitive load. This includes the circulation of lecture slides and detailed class outlines. While numerous research papers show these kinds of handouts are preferred by students, anyone who has implemented this practice may come across the problmes of decreased attendance. More importantly, it is likely that students will not learn effective note-taking habits and skills since they work is already done for them. Thus, it is encumbent upon the instructor to develop effective teaching strategies when using these types of handouts. For example, it’s generally a good practice to not have the oral lecture be redundant to the slides (text or image), meaning that students should need to take notes on what is said in class (and also tested on it). Or, the handouts could be limited in their content, only providing vocabulary terms or names and dates of historical figures. These still serve the purpose in helping the students organize information, but also require their focused attention. Additionally, by incorporating blank spaces in the handouts, it requires students to remain attentive thorughout the lecture, filling in answers as they are discussed.

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The next grouping of handouts I categrozed under the generic name of worksheets, perhaps the prototypical type of handout in many STEM classes. This includes the use of “adjunct questions” sheets, or test-like items preceding or following certain content. These can be used to cover the entire lecture, but are more regularly used for certain classroom activites, like reading a passge or watching a short video. It is important to note that questions will cue students to certain information, which will lead to retention, but it will also limit their focus on more global (or incidental) issues and potentially limit the types of questions they bring to the material. When providing problem sets (or passages to read and respnd to), this encourages the application of knowldge, and when used in conjunction with group activities, these will refelct more active learning environments. I also included the popular classroom assessment techniques (CATs) of the “minute paper” and “muddiest point paper” as different types of effective worksheet handouts, especially for students’ reflection on their learning progress.

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The last grouping covered “graphic organizers,” which visually represent relationships between concepts. Concentrated research on graphic organizes only began in the late 1960’s (when they were originally called advanced organizers) and developed with the schema theory of knowledge which posits that newly acquired information is accepted and assimilated into existing cognitive structures. This means a focus is placed on relational knowledge. This is important because notes are often organized linearly as lists or outlines (a format encouraged by digital note-taking), while a graphic organization of information is far better for retention and recall. Most student will only reread or recopy their notes when studying for an exam, but instead of employing redundant strategies students should re-organize their notes, looking for associations between ideas. By providing graphic organizers, blank or partially filled out, this would help students in this process. We ended the workshop by looking at a variety of examples and discussing their potential uses in our courses.

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*This is part of a series of posts reflecting on my experiences offering workshops on university pedagogy. Please contact me directly if you want full versions of my slides pmr01[at]ucsb[dot]edu.

[1] This is worth more discussion than I can provide here. It is not uncommon to find students only taking notes of lecture slides, and nothing else. Instructors need to decide if this is sufficient, or if they need to train students to take notes on what is also verbally presented, or the insightful comments of other students, among other considerations (class activities, videos, readings, and so forth). In addition, note-taking is not transcription. Students need to appreciate the cognitive value in taking notes, a particular method of information processing and meaning-making. A handout on effective note taking for students is included at the end of this paper.

Acting Tips for Lecturers Workshop

Most classrooms are designed the same way as theatres. Typically, there is a performance space separate from the audience space; one for the teacher and the other for the students. Not coincidentally, the larger the lecture hall the more evident the need to put on a rousing performance for those in attendance. Because of the structural (and even social) similarities between the classroom and the theatre, university instructors could bear to learn from the dramaturgical expertise of actors. While straight lecturing is only a single modality of teaching, it is a modality that can greatly benefit from training in oration and stage performance. This was my reasoning, at the very least.

This past week I attended a Epigraph.pngworkshop on Acting Tips for Teachers, led by the exceptional Hala Baki, a Doctoral Scholars fellow in the Department of Theater and Dance at UCSB. The room was cleared of its chairs, we stood (shoes optional) and waved our arms, and we shouted across the room at one another – in other words, the workshop matched perfectly with my imagination of an LA acting class. All jokes aside, these various exercises were devised to train specific aspects of performance for those who ply a trade on a stage: mastery of the body, mastery of breath, and mastery of speech.

In addition to exercises that cultivated these skills, another regular refrain made a lasting impression. In our role as performative lecturers we need to disrupt predictable patterns and break the “fourth wall” in as many ways as possible. We can break them down with our voice, break them down with our body, and break them down with our physical presence. Through employing physical and vocal animation, or even storytelling and suspense, we can stimulate our students instead of lulling them to sleep by the monotony of our voice and flickering of our slides.

Furthermore, woven throughout the workshop were subtle hints reminding us to make the lecture classroom an active learning environment. The structure of the classroom (and its theatre cousin) can overdetermine social interaction, namely, that students should remain quiet and listen like a audience. A good teaching performance should not only grab attention, but encourage “audience participation,” having students engage, think, and communicate. By breaking the fourth wall we are breaking the presumptions of student passivity.

The initial workshop exercises worked on developing our posture and breathing. Using a basic scanning method (based on the Alexander technique), we made sure our standing posture was balanced and erect, thus demanding attention and channeling confidence. And breathing from the diaphragm we ensured we had the respiratory capacity to project our voice.[1] Anxiety, fatigue, and poor habits all work against these foundational components of good lecturing, thus it’s worth checking in with our body and breath periodically.

Next, after vocal warm-ups, we worked on projecting our voice by imagining trying to hit a target in the back of the room. We practiced this by having everyone line up in two parallel rows across the room from each other. We then tried to project our voice across to our partner who attempted to pick it out among all of the other voices. I think the acoustics in the room made this particularly difficult, but I nevertheless liked the idea of “throwing” my voice to a partner like it was a ball. If anything, I thought this was a helpful conceptual cue I could use in a large lecture hall.

We then turned to practicing vocal articulation, running through a range of vowel and consonant exercises. This included practicing voiced and voiceless plosives (p-b, t-d, k-g), ultimately leading to a game of repeating “topeka-bodega” in a variety of iterations. We finished with a round of old-fashioned tongue twisters, involving both Sally’s seashells and Peter’s peppers, among few others.

After our voices were prepared we engaged in several voice modulation exercises. These were particularly insightful because they forced us to consider where we placed the tonal emphasis when we spoke. More specifically, it asked if we could make a question better by modifying our intonation patterns. By switching the emphasis from, “can *anyone* add something to that comment,” to “ can anyone *add* something to that comment,” it moves the focus from trying to find a willing speaker to the operative directive, namely generating news ideas through “addition.” A subtle change surely, but one I believe could have a cumulative subconscious impact on ourselves and our students. If we are always “begging” our students to speak through our intonations, it creates an expectation that they normally do not have to participate.

All of these elements came together when we added motion, both through gesticulation and walking around the classroom. Not only does motion add dynamism and excitement to what we say, it can add important paralinguistic (kinesic) cues which can modify, clarify, or nuance verbal meaning in important ways. Ultimately, by wisely employing vocal and physical animation we can disrupt patterns in our teaching performance and elicit a more engaging classroom setting. In addition, these actions need not be overly dramatic to be successful, as good posture, strong vocal projection, and a wisely placed pause or intonation can create the desired effect.


[1] To notice the rhythms of our breathing, we placed one hand on our chest and another on our belly and tried to identify which moved more when we breathed. The positioning of the hands added a subtle physical cue to help draw our breath into our diaphragms.

Learning Outcomes for the Masses

My first few rodeos of teaching did not take the learning outcomes [LOs] in my syllabus too seriously.[1] They were window dressings. Today, they significantly shape the courses I create, indeed, they are the foundation. This is my conversion story.

Of course, those familiar with “backwards design” know the entire process of designing a new class begins with drafting LOs. LOs are the skills, habits, and patterns of thinking that students will cultivate in your classroom. It is worth noting that LOs only have minimal overlap with content. In other words, these define what the students will do with the content. For folks who prefer to start designing their courses by curating appropriate readings, for example, this approach may seem, well, “backwards.” The name “backwards design” reflect this. It also represents the opposite direction from the perspective of the student in the course.

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Thinking “backwards” allows us to focus on what matters, to not lose the forest for the trees. Our courses should – or at least can – change how students think or even act, not just what they know. When we just focus on our lecture material or the content of proposed readings, it is easy to forget these larger aspirations. We should not only be concerned with our students learning facts, but what they can do with those facts.[2]

Like many novice instructors, even when I had these grand aspirations the stress of putting together a new syllabus often pulled me back to the “basics” – the basics of deciding reading material and crafting lecture notes. As I was recently telling several new instructors, I did not appreciate the power of LOs because I was struggling day-to-day. I had long given up on the big picture. In my experience, even after the first time I designed a course starting from the LOs, I was unconvinced by their ultimate value.

After I built up some confidence teaching – specifically getting my “reps” in teaching freshman writing, an explicitly skill-based course – and learning I could survive day-to-day, I became dissatisfied with my assessments in my other courses. Uninspired quizzes, midterms, finals, and papers were the rigmarole. I soon started to think the problem was how I was conceiving of my courses’ role in the lives of my students. Did I just want them to memorize facts and become trivia masters? By continually focusing on texts I also funneled my assessment onto low-level tasks of comprehension and memorization.

Inspired to try and have my students train in higher-level orders of thinking, most specifically in analysis and evaluation, I first changed my daily reading assignments. Instead of having students summarize the main argument, I asked them about their opinions (gasp). Specifically I asked them which passages struck them as interesting and why, which passages were confusing and why, which passages were they critical of and why. In other words, I started to think “backwards.” My students were now directly practicing – sometimes imperfectly[3] – the skills I wanted them to develop. Class conversation immediately perked up. This was a small revelation. My thinking process then filtered up into the types of essay prompts I devised. Now, all of my assessments are derived from my LOs. My reading and lectures are – and I only mean this in a relative sense – irrelevant (shun me if you must).

In my retelling, the crux of my conversion story fall upon tyring to reconceive my assessment strategies. Now, when I think about readings, I also have to consider their capacity to help me reach the objectives I have set for my students. Sometimes, this forces me to “create” a lot more (like podcasts), but in return I also ask students to “create” a lot more – I consider this a win-win.

What Does a LO Look Like?

There are many many many introductions to crafting Learning Outcomes online, here are my crib notes:

Well written Learning Outcomes:

  1. Tell the studentwhat they will do (not what the teacher will do).
  2. Use “thinking” action verbs that help measure the level of learning (see Bloom’s taxonomy)
  3. Refer to specific content (and/or clearly telescope to particular assessments, i.e. are measurable)
  4. Are concise and clear

Generally, a LO will often take the form: Actor/student + Bloom’s taxonomy verb + topic/content/related activity/assignment.

Also, it is advisable to exercise these verbs and phrases from all LOs: learn, know, understand, appreciate, be aware of, and be familiar with. I’ll admit, these are often the terms we instructors think with when we causally reflect on our classes. But these actions cannot be measured in an activity, assignment, or exam.



[1] I don’t want to get into too fine grained detail, but there is a distinction between “learning outcomes” and “learning objectives.” In my run down, objectives refer to the content of the course or goals of an activity (think: list X, discuss Y, state Z), while outcomes reflect what the student will do to achieve that objective (think: analyze, evaluate, create). The latter, being more directly student-oriented, are often included in course syllabuses. In practice, however, these terms are often interchangeable. Specific differences in objective and outcomes are discussed here.

[2] There are clear disciplinary differences here. From my many consultations with instructors and teaching assistants from across disciplines, skills are more at the forefront of STEM (think: how can I apply this formula to this problem). Unfortunately, folks in the humanities (students and instructors) too-often think memorization of content is the apex of learning.

[3] This point is often overlooked. For the most part, students have been trained to summarize – this is the easiest thing to test on standardized tests. Thinking with the text is a new skill, please do not think students will all be masters at this skill immediately, it needs to be modeled, practiced, failed, and retried.

Renjō’s Daibutsu: A Pioneer of the Path

Often called the “founding father of Japanese photography,” Shimooka Renjō 下岡蓮杖 (1823-1914) was a true artistic pioneer. One of the first Japanese to practice commercial photography, Renjō (a self-styled nickname) was also likely the first oil painter and lithographer in Japan.[1] His personal reminiscence, recorded in 1891, claims his fascination with photography began when he saw his first daguerreotype in 1844 in Edo (now Tokyō). He then spent the next ten years trying to find a photographer who could teach him the craft. According to his own account, which is held in suspicion by modern scholars, in 1856 Renjō had a secret meeting with Henry Huesken (1832-1861), the translator to the American general consul at Shimoda, to learn the basic principles of photography. Regardless of the veracity of this story, Renjō opened the first Japanese commercial photography studio in the port city of Yokohama in 1862.[2] His business soon prospered and he apprenticed several of the next generation of famed Japanese photographers, including Usui Shūzaburō 臼井秀三郎, Suzuki Shin’ichi (I) 鈴木真一, and Suzuki Shinichi (II) 鈴木真一. A considerable majority of Renjō’s surviving photographic oeuvre consists of small format cartes de visite, several of which depict the bronze Daibutsu located in Kamakura, not far from his studio in Yokohama.

According to several Western travelers and tour guides from the 1860’s, the original pathway leading to the Daibutsu was a long, stone-paved walkway, tightly flanked by tall evergreen trees and ornately pruned shrubs. For some, the most picturesque view of the Daibutsu was looking down through this long pathway of greenery towards the statue at the end. By the early 1870’s, however, the temple landscaping had undergone significant renovations and the pleasant framing effect of the towering trees was lost. Algernon Bertram Mitford (1837-1916), secretary to the British Legation, described his two contrasting visits to the Kamakura Daibutsu:

“The first time I saw [the Daibutsu], in the autumn of 1866, the approach to it lay along an avenue of grand old evergreen trees, and the effect of the colossus, when seen from the beginning of the avenue, was most striking. Now, unhappily, the trees have been cut down by the avarice of the priests, who grudged the little bit of soil which might bear a few more vegetables, and who took advantage of the revolution to pretend that the trees had been destroyed by the soldiery. The beautiful coup d’oeil is lost, but the figure must always rank among the most wonderful monuments of the world.”[3]

Regardless of the reason behind the removal of the trees, the change in environment certainly altered the viewing experience of the Daibutsu, which was now left in an open grove.

Figure 1


  • Title/Caption: NA (Diabutz [sic] on reverse)
  • Year: 1869-1871 (dated Oct. 7, 1871 on reverse)
  • Photographer: Shimooka Renjō 下岡蓮杖 (1823-1914)
  • Medium: albumen silver print, mounted on card
  • Dimensions: 3in X 2in (cartes de visite)

Interestingly, while the early written accounts of visiting the Daibutsu often included a vivid description of the “avenue of grand old evergreen trees,” the surviving photographic record rarely included this aesthetic aspect. Renjō was one of only a few commercial photographers who placed his camera rig far enough away from the bronze statue to incorporate the tree branches that converged on the walkway.[4] [Fig. 1] It remains uncertain if the rarity of this composition is due to a technical consideration of early photography (such as problematic lighting) or the resulting visual product which creates a cramped and partly obstructed view of the Daibutsu. If the latter case, the long row of trees and shrubs which undoubtedly added a sense of depth and scale to the in-person viewing experience is lost in the two dimensional space of the photograph. In the image above, a lone Japanese individual faces directly towards the camera, taking a wide, aggressive stance. This ultimately creates a sense of tension between the image and the viewer.[5]

Figure 2

APKD Renjō Reverse mark.jpgThe back of the cartes de visite is stamped by Renjō’s studio mark in indigo blue [Fig. 2]. The hand stamp depicts two serpentine figures twisting around a pair of trees and peering into two pots. The peak of Mt. Fuji and the top of a thatched roof also appear the background. This specific imagery appeared to Renjō in a dream when his business first started to turn profitable, thus he decided to honor his vision by incorporating it into his studio mark. The Japanese characters, written in a variant script (itaiji 異體字), simply say, “Yokomaha, Renjō Studio” (横浜 / 蓮杖斎).[6] The handwritten inscription at the top of the card notes the date as October 7, 1871, thus providing a firm terminus ante quem for the photograph. This possibly represents the date an unknown tourist visited the site. The popular name for the Daibutsu in the foreign port city of Yokohama in the 1870’s, “Daibutz,” is also imprinted at the top of the card, with an accidental inversion of the a and i (not all too uncommon a mistake).

During his professional photographic career, Renjō moved his studio to several locations, but never seems to have accumulated great wealth. In the mid-1870’s Renjō ended his commercial photography exploits and moved to the new capital of Tokyō (behind Sensō-ji 浅草寺) where he returned to his previous profession as a Western-style oil painter.


*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in America. All items (except otherwise noted) are part of my personal collection of Buddhist-themed ephemera.

[1] Bennett 2006, esp. p. 71. A more detailed examination of Renjō’s life can be found in Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography 2014. Some also credit Renjō with inventing the rickshaw (jinrikisha 人力車), but while this man-powered, two-wheel vehicle first appeared in Japan in the 1860’s, its attribution to Renjō is almost certainly misplaced. For many years, Renjō was considered the first Japanese professional photographer, but recent research suggests this mantle belongs to Ukai Gyokusen 鵜飼玉川 (1807–1887), who opened the first commercial photography studio in Edo in 1860 or 1861.

[2] For analysis of Renjō’s personal account, see Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography 2014: esp. pp. 130-5.

[3] Mitford 1872: 208.

[4] A photograph held in the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, attributed to Felice Beato, contain perhaps the most foliage of any image I have seen [here]. Another image is here.

[5] Another similar image attributed to Renjō and dated to 1873 can be found at the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (here). The position of the camera and framing is almost exact, but the figures by the altar are different. Older images by Renjō (still depicting the railing and balusters on the left) can be found at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (here & here) and among the Tom Burnett Collection (here). All three are also depicted in Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography: 2014. The Austrian photographer Wilhelm Burger (1844-1920) travelled in Japan for a year spanning 1869 and 1870, and only some of his photographs of the Daibutsu include the railing to the left of the stairs leading to the second landing. Because of this, Renjō’s photograph here must post-date late 1869.

[6] The mark and its origins is described in Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography 2014: 16-7.


  • Bennett, Terry. 2006. Photography in Japan: 1853-1912. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing.
  • Mitford, A[lgernon] B[ertram]. 1872. “Wanderings in Japan,” The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. 25, No. 146 (February), pp. 196-213.
  • Ozawa Takesi. 1981. “The History of Early Photography in Japan,” History of Photography, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 285-303.
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. 2014. Shimooka Renjō: Nihon shashin no kaitakusha 下岡蓮杖: 日本写真の開拓者 [Shimooka Renjō: A Pioneer Of Japanese Photography]. Tōkyō: Kokusho Kankōkai.


How to Find a Scholarly Source…and What to Do When You Actually Find One

So you’ve been tasked with some kind of assignment (likely a research paper, but there are other options, too) that requires you to find “scholarly” or “academic” sources. How do you find these magical items?

Well, if you find a work that is boring, dry, and references lots of people you’ve never heard of, congratulations, you’ve found a “scholarly” source. I’m joking…only a little.

What is It?: First, let’s simply review what is implied by the terms “scholarly” and “scholarship.” Superficially, this means that a work is written by scholars, but more importantly this means a work is written for scholars. Here’s the important difference: a scholar could write a book for a popular audience, thus while the work may be credible (and a great introduction into a topic), it would not be formally considered acedemic scholarship. Generally this would not be the type of research that scholars read and rely upon for their own intellectual work. In other words, work written for popular audeinces would not bear the conventions of traditional scholarship (outlined below) and thus would not be “scholarship.”

At a basic level, trying to find scholarly sources can be tricky because it requires you to infer who the intended audience is for the work – in our case, other scholars. Unless you are fully trained and socialized into a scholarly discipline (history, psychology, chemistry, or whatnot), scholarly works are not written for you (if you are a student), hence they can often come off as dry and boring. It’s like trying to join a conversation late, you don’t really know what’s going on or fully catch all of the “inside jokes.” (Don’t let this dissuade you! Every scholar starts off feeling like this.)

How to Find It: The simplest way to determine if a particular work is scholarship is to identify if the work is “peer-reviewed,” meaning that before a work is published it went through a rigorous review process by scholars (“peers” in the same academic field) who agreed upon the value of the research and its conclusions.[1] If you find an academic journal article, make sure the journal in which it is published claims that it is peer-reviewed (look online or in the print volume itself). Books are a little more difficult to identify as peer-reviewed, but try to locate works that are published by university presses (Princeton University Press, University of California Press, etc.). (Though, be aware, there are other publishing houses that print scholarly works.) If you can further determine if the author holds (or has held) a university position, there’s a reasonable chance the work you have is indeed “scholarly.”

Moreover, if you used specialized search engine, such as Google Scholar or a university library database, there’s a good chance the work is true scholarship. But still check to see if it’s peer-reviewed.

What to Watch Out For: Sometimes we will find works that provide us with great, well-informed knowledge on a topic. This may be a spectacular article in National Geographic Scientific American or a witty and interesting book on a fun topic by a popular publisher, such as Simon and Schuster. While these are great for giving you insight, they are not scholarship because they are not peer-reviewed publications.

Let me make an important distinction, here. Peer-review is not just a barrier to keep certain people out of a special “scholar’s club”[2]; it’s meant to help filter out work that is not up to scholarly evidentiary standards and, perhaps most importantly, to make sure the work actually “pushes the field forward,” which is a snappy way of saying that it provides new information on a topic.

There are plenty of published works in the world which provide reliable information on a topic, but do not add anything new to the discussion. The most common scholarship-doppelgänger in this regard are works written by career journalists. They often do a fantastic job in summarizing the available scholarship on a topic and write in an invigorating, accessible way. But summarizing old ideas do not push a field forward, even though it may introduce ideas to a much broader audience (with much more lucid prose). Thus, some of the basic genre conventions of scholarship is that it uses a solid ground of evidence to build to a conclusion (thesis) that is new or significant.

What to Do When You Find It: My advice here is simple: read unevenly. Do not put all of your energy into reading each passage with the same intellectual intensity. First, get an understanding of what the article or book is about by reading, slowly and carefully, the introduction (or abstract) and then perhaps jumping to the conclusion. Remember, you want to find out what the work is ultimately arguing for. This should be the new thing that pushes the field forward. The bulk of the writing will explain how that conclusion (thesis) was arrived at through marshalling lots of evidence. Once you know where the argument is going, try to piece together the most important pieces of evidence that lend to that conclusion.


[1] Of course, even if a work is peer-reviewed, that does not mean it hasn’t been problematized or even discredited after publication by other scholars. In any regard, it is often helpful to talk to your instructor about your research discoveries.

[2] There’s certainly a worthwhile discussion to be had here about how knowledge is socially constructed and how some (often marginalized) voices are left out of the scholarly debate. That will have to be a considerations for another time.