For the first time in six years I’m going to try something substantially new in my Western Civ course. The last time I re-wrote the course was in 1999 when I reconfigured it as part of my Carnegie Foundation research project (please excuse the ugly frames…it was 1999 and frames were way cool). In those days my interest was in the ways that digital media might influence student learning in a survey course. These days my interests are in the ways that digital media influence student collaborations and in the ways that various media (not just digital) can be used to allow students to exercise more control over the work product they turn in for assessment.
To that end, I’ve changed the assignments for this semester’s course, centering them on what I’m calling scrapbooks. Why scrapbooks and not portfolios? I have two reasons. The first is that the term “portfolio” has all sorts of connotations in higher education these days. The U.S. Department of Education even has a webpage on student portfolios which means portfolios have been with us for a while now. So, I wanted to avoid being locked into something that people thought they already knew what it was and so whatever my students produced wouldn’t be a real portfolio. The second reason is that I’m assuming that most students have seen something called a scrapbook and so have some idea of what one might look like and feel like. I’m hoping this will mean the assignment will be a bit easier for them.
Where I’m going to make it difficult is by not telling them what form their scrapbook should take. I honestly don’t care if it looks like the kind of family scrapbook from last year’s vacation that is found all over America, or if it is a digital product, or a binder, or anything in between. The form is entirely up to them. I’ll be interested to see how many of them decide to use the Web Scrabook to build their own course scrapbooks.
What’s not up to them is what the minimum requirements for content are. I’ve provided them with a list of just what the scrapbook must contain. What they include beyond that is up to them. As one would expect, I’m requiring their blog postings, various essays, reflections on films, performances and museum visits, primary sources they collect organized around a theme, and a self-evaluation.
Will it work? I think so. Will it be more work? I’m sure it will be. But this semester is a good opportunity for me to try out something a bit more labor-intensive because my teaching load is lighter and my book is in press.
As the semester unrolls I’ll be chronicling this experiment here, so stay tuned…