On the implications of multimodal research for ethnography– and for the environment


As a social scientist and scholar, I see the emergence of digital or multimodal dissertations— traditionally researched and developed theses, which are published electronically and enhanced by audio files, video segments and even infographics generated from the research data—as platforms that expand the accessibility, timeliness and utility of graduate research for a broader global community.

In Fall 2014, I attended a Center for Teaching workshop at Vanderbilt University concerning multimodal dissertations, where I learned about the emergence of these digital theses and their potential to reach broader audiences and be adapted to a variety of purposes. This and other  experiences with digital humanism have led to my establishing a committed focus on both media and activist anthropology with my research and ethnography.

My commitment to public and digital learning platforms is rooted in my past experiences as both teacher and environmentalist. Fluent in Spanish and trained as an educator,  I moved to Costa Rica in 2009 to teach High School in the Cloud Forest of Monteverde.

During that school year, the film Avatar engaged popular audiences with an emotional critique of environmental destruction, and the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill devastated the Gulf Coast. My pedagogical approaches  to teaching about environmental crises were influenced by working with young Costa Ricans who had taken ecology as a core subject from kindergarten onward. Hearing their ideas and learning their social frameworks associated with issues related to the “natural world”– of which they saw themselves as an integral and inseparable part– motivated me to recognize new possibilities for shaping attitudes toward climate change.

I believe that a crucial component of this process involves public education and engagement about human-environmental interactions. Digital platforms represent one highly effective way of communicating these efforts, and in particular, enhance the ability to widely disseminate some of the most up-to-date scientific findings in pliable formats that allow selection of content to suit the needs of the learning community.