Digital, the Dordt way

Digital, the Dordt way

When snow sculptures go viral

Dordt sophomore Trevor Bartz never meant to become an internet sensation. He and his two brothers were simply looking for something to do on a snow day at home in Minnesota. They ventured out into the cold and started sculpting a giant pufferfish from the wet, late-March snow.

He posted a picture to his Facebook page, and from there it went viral. “It was weird—people we didn’t even know were liking and sharing our photo,” he says. “We were the top news story on Yahoo for a day, then we were trending on Facebook.”

They’ve made the news every year since. They’ve been featured on Good Morning America, Fox International News, and NBC News, among others. Bartz is now an engineering major at Dordt, and in the years since that first pufferfish, he and his brothers have sculpted a walrus, shark, sea turtle, and octopus, using sleds to haul snow onto their New Brighton front lawn. This year they transported over 300,000 pounds.

Last year, they created a Facebook page, Bartz Snow Sculptures, featuring their work. They now have 20,000 followers on Facebook, and this year, they leveraged their visibility to raise over $17,000 to help provide clean water to Haiti through the organization One Day’s Wages.

While many donated online, others drove from five or more hours away. “Over half of the money we got was in one dollar bills,” he says. Beyond raising money for a worthy cause, he says “it brings people a little bit of joy. That’s why we do it.”

 

Tweeting in the service of learning

Dordt Professor of Education David Mulder says it took him three years to figure out what Twitter was for. Eventually, he discovered that Twitter can be more than a platform for self-promotion. It can be a way for educators to connect and share resources, 140 characters at a time.

Mulder often convenes with educators from around the world for Twitter chats. Meetings are published ahead of time, and anyone can join by following hashtags like #iaedchat or #weirded. Moderators keep the conversation on track by posing questions, which spark dozens of side conversations.

“You have to choose your words very thoughtfully,” Mulder says. “The 140-character limit breeds economy—you have to be as clear as possible in as few words as possible.”

One of Mulder’s former students, Brian Verwolf (’12), has also discovered Twitter as a tool for professional development. He agrees the character limit has benefits. “It’s a great practice to summarize thoughts and eliminate jargon,” he says. “Plus, I think it keeps people more intentional about the words they type.”

Verwolf, who completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Dordt, took to Twitter early in his teaching career, when he was “looking for a way to grab students’ attention at the start of math class each day.” He connected with a teacher in Texas, who turned him on to a math teaching website, estimation180.com.

Verwolf is now the head of school of Deer Creek Christian School, which is relocating to Chicago Heights, Illinois, in the fall, but he continues to teach a daily math class. Ever since that first Twitter connection, he has started each math class with an “estimation challenge.”

“It’s a fun way to start each class,” he says. “Students experience math in a real-world context and then explain why they chose their responses.” Verwolf connects the discussion to concepts they’re covering in the course.

Mulder has also used Twitter connections as a catalyst for better teaching. He’s even found a way to replicate Twitter’s benefits for students sitting in his classroom. He uses a website called todaysmeet.com to create a private chatroom, where students can join in a virtual discussion during class time.

“Students are already having whispered conversations in back of class,” he says. “This is a way to capture those whispers in public. It’s a deliberate back-channel for your classroom.” So far, it’s been successful. “In a technology-mediated environment, I’ve found some of my quietest students suddenly have a lot to say,” he says.

Mulder has found Twitter such a useful tool that he developed a four-week online course for practicing teachers and administrators, using funds from an innovation and teaching grant. Twenty-three teachers from across North America, including several Dordt alumni, signed up for the course to “explore how educators can use tools like Twitter and YouTube for professional development.”

Mulder acknowledges that connecting online has a different character than face-to-face interactions, but he doesn’t agree with those who say we can’t build real, meaningful relationships through technology-mediated connections. “I think that’s bogus—we can, and we do.

However distant, it’s always another human being on the other side of the interaction,” he says. He’s even found Twitter to be “a great leveling tool,” allowing him to connect with well-known figures in his field.

Verwolf is cautiously optimistic. “Twitter should never be a sole substitute for any face-to-face professional development,” he says. “But it definitely increases opportunities to connect with people serving all over the world, in different educational contexts.”

 

Turning the “selfie” on its (bed)head

For six months, Rebekah Dykhuizen (’15) rolled out of bed, grabbed her phone, and stared, squinting and half-asleep, into the dark eye of her camera’s lens. Her hair was tousled, or stringy, or comically matted. Her expression in each photo is unmistakably grumpy.

“Everyone is always posting these really nice pictures online, and I thought, ‘That’s not how I look.’”

Dykhuizen’s Instagram page, mymorningmane, is a self-conscious upending of the “selfie,” photos taken at arm’s length that rose to prominence alongside the smart phone.

“I tried to achieve as natural a state as possible,” she says. “I always took it before I touched my hair, or wiped the sleep out of my eyes.” She had rules: one take, no filter. Just her and her iPhone and the World Wide Web.

Dykhuizen’s selfie project was her good-humored but subversive response to the mounting pressure to appear perfect online. With everyone carefully selecting and editing their best photos, she decided to do the opposite.

She stuck with it from July through December of last year. “Friends started sending me their own bed-head pics, in texts or Facebook messages. Even my mom would do it,” she says. At one point, she tagged another Instagrammer known for bed-head selfies, and they struck up an online friendship.

She posted her last selfie on the last day of the year. “I didn’t want my first instinct in the morning to be to grab my phone and take a picture,” she says.

 

Authentic intimacy online

While the internet anonymity doesn’t always lead in fruitful directions, Chelsey (Munneke, ’11) Nugteren has experienced something surprising. She develops and leads online Bible studies for women through Authentic Intimacy, a nonprofit organization that ministers to women on topics related to intimacy in marriage and intimacy with God. The first study Nugteren led, Passion Pursuit, was intended for married women, and the study she’s developing now, Sex and the Single Girl, is for women who are between 18 and 30 and either divorced or single.

“Since we’re covering topics related to sexuality, the women often appreciate communicating online. I think the distance is helpful in this context,” Nugteren says. The Bible studies are conducted using a free conference calling website, and later, participants process the material together on a private Facebook page.

“Many women end up sharing things they’ve never told close friends,” she says. “I think many of them feel more comfortable being behind a screen. In this setting, it proves to be something really powerful.”

 

Virtual collaboration

Crissy Chahyadinata (’19) works in watercolors, but her calligraphic designs have a life beyond the hot press paper she favors as a canvas. Once Instagram launched her into the public eye, she gained a global audience. Using the same platform, she began to form relationships with other artists, sowing the seeds for digital collaboration with other artists—some of whom she’s never met in person.

Last year, Chahyadinata undertook a collaborative project with fellow Dordt student Brett Randolph, a junior who enjoys photography. She did the lettering with her paintbrush, then transformed the artwork into a series of digital images to be overlaid on Randolph’s photographs of tree branches and sky. This past Christmas, she collaborated with another Dordt student, senior digital media major Nathan Walter, to create a Christmas card. In the past, she has sent out 100 Christmas cards to friends and followers at random; this year, she sent them to 100 Dordt faculty, staff, and students.

Aleisa Dornbierer-Schat

 

More resources

Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology by Derek C. Schuurman
iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind by Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan 
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle
It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd (danah.org)

 

Online reading

A six-part “Technology Today” series from inallthings.org: inallthings.org/is-technology-bringing-us-together-or-pushing-us-farther-apart/

www.thedordtlife.com, which features blog posts by Dordt students.

 

Official Dordt College social media accounts

facebook.com/dordtcollege 

twitter.com/dordtcollege 

instagram.com/dordtcollege 

linkedin.com/edu/school?id=18216