The pivot to distance learning spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic forced professors to adapt to using virtual tools and modify their curricula for a digital world. In the case of education centered on food, this meant translating a tactile and communal subject typically grounded in experiential learning for a remote environment. The New York City-based nonprofit Food Education Fund (FEF) developed Pass the Spatula (PTS) during this period as a means for culinary and hospitality-focused high school students to continue building skills at a time when the restaurant industry was largely shut down. The creation of the first issue of PTS exceeded the organization’s expectations and engaged students in critical thought around food, while also advancing their development of both cognitive knowledge and transferable skills. An examination of the PTS program revealed many elements of project-based learning embedded in its framework. Inspired by FEF’s work, this paper explores how project-based learning in the form of a food multimedia project can be adapted for the higher education level. Over the past two years, undergraduate and graduate Food Studies students at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA have participated in the creation of digital multimedia projects as a component of their coursework. Through the intentional use of technology, mentorship, and collaboration, student projects included the creation of digital magazines and a blog. Examining interviews with individuals involved in the creation of PTS and their publications, alongside Chatham completed assignments and student feedback, we report here how projects of this nature can impact student outcomes: (1) creation of multimedia projects contributed to student development of both cognitive knowledge and transferable skills, (2) utilization of mentorship and interaction with industry experts helped to bridge knowledge gaps and facilitate dynamic learning, (3) increased student agency created a sense of empowerment and engagement with both course content and current events. Challenges implementing multimedia assignments at the higher education level include the input of time and funding, assessment, and adequately supporting students who have chosen to explore a topic beyond the professor’s area of expertise. However, the use of digital tools, a layered assessment strategy, and interdepartmental collaboration can assist with overcoming these obstacles. Although this study is focused on multimedia projects within a university Food Studies department and an after-school program for high school students, the tenants of the takeaways discussed in this article could translate to other interdisciplinary fields of study.
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