A second project I want to highlight from my graduate seminar Teaching History in the Digital Age is by Kurt Knoerl. Kurt is the owner and webmaster of the Museum of Underwater Archaeology and one of the PhD students in our program. The Museum exists entirely online, but Kurt has plans to establish a distributed physical presence in the years to come (ask him what that means…it’s a revolutionary idea).
For his class project Kurt worked with a graduate underwater archaeology course at East Carolina University and made space on his website for the grad students to write about their experiences beneath the waves and then in the lab. Kurt’s stated goal for the project was to see whether forcing the students to write about their work in online journals would meet his (and the professors’) goal of “influencing and impacting underwater archaeologists’ attitudes about using the Internet to reach the public.”
Students in the class wrote weekly entries in the online journal and then as the semester progressed Kurt interviewed them about their experiences and their attitudes about writing exercise. What he noticed was that the early entries were much chattier and informal, but as soon as he pointed out to them that their entries were attracting a fairly large audience (large for underwater archaeology…meaning in the hundreds), they began to take much more care with their writing. In short, knowing they had an audience introduced an element of professionalism in their work that was lacking at first.
One of the strengths of this project is that Kurt interviewed the students and posted video of those interviews online (unfortunately available only in .wmv format). Only a couple of these are up on the site now, but more will be in the weeks to come as he wraps up the project.
By watching these interviews–think alouds of a sort–you can get a sense for how the students’ thinking about their work underwater changed over the course of the semester. Having this sort of evidence of student thinking about a course is invaluable as we try to figure out what works and what doesn’t in our courses. Also, it’s worth noting that Kurt did these “video” interviews with an Olympus still camera and its built-in microphone. Obviously, this doesn’t produce professional quality video–but it does produce “good enough” video that can be displayed online.
This project is a model of the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) in action. Kurt had a question–how writing online might influence students’ thinking and attitudes about their work. He had a good design–have them write, interview them a couple of times during the semester about that writing, analyze the results of those interviews. And as he did that analysis he was mindful of the influence he himself was having on the results–influence that came from the questions he asked them. Best of all, from my perspective, this project demonstrates two things–that our graduate student can do sophisticated an interesting SoTL work and that we need more of this kind of work focusing on graduate education. Too much of the research underway in the SoTL is focused on undergraduate education.