University at Snelling 20×20: A Petcha Kutcha Study

How can students in a senior seminar present ideas to the class in a low-stakes way that might enjoyable and, above all, fast enough that we can get through all of them with time for brief discussion at the end of class?

After discussing photography for two weeks, I wanted everyone in class to actually take photographs—to do a brief study on a subject or theme—and present it to the class. Ideally the subject or theme would be related in some way to a possible topic for our final term project. These days nearly every student has a camera in their pocket, in the form of a mobile phone, so the technical issue of taking the photos is easily solved. But what about the issue of presentation to the class?

Since first hearing about them some years ago, I have been fascinated with the presentation style of the Petcha Kutcha and wondered how it would work in a classroom. This week I finally tried it.  I assigned everyone in my anthropology senior seminar to prepare a twenty-photograph study to present, taking twenty seconds to describe each photograph. One by one everyone in the class stood up and presented their photo studies. At the end of the class period we didn’t have as much time left as I had hoped, but the next day we enjoyed discussing the presentations—discussing them both as individual studies and as a collective brainstorm of possible ideas for our final class project.

While the topic of the final project has not been decided, I am very interested in having the class work on a documentary project dealing with the intersection of Snelling and University Avenues just south of campus. The intersection is one of the most heavily trafficked in the whole state and for many students at Hamline University is seen as very “urban” with all of the associated negative stereotypes. For the purposes our class, it offers an incredibly rich site for examining just about any issue we might imagine. The intersection has large corporate businesses, small family restaurants owned by new immigrants, it has automobile congestion, public transportation, pedestrians, liquor stores, local bars, a touch of urban blight and a dose of cosmopolitan hip. It is a historic intersection with a strip mall on one corner, a corporate drugstore on another, a storied local used bookstore on yet another, and one of the worlds ten ugliest buildings on the remaining corner.

For my Petcha Kutcha presentation, I chose to take my photos in the area of the intersection. I tried to document the texture of the urban intersection in ways that highlight the old, the used and the falling apart—the aspects of the place that fall within the typical stereotypes that many of my students have of the area. Here are my 20 images:

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