SoTL in Action

What would it look like if the results of research in the scholarship of teaching and learning found their way into websites created for students and teachers?

For the past several years we have been doing just that at CHNM. Relying on the research of Sam Wineburg, Peter Seixas and others, we’ve created a series of online learning opportunities for students and teachers to see what happens when expert learners make visible their methods of inquiry and analysis. So, for instance, Dana Liebsohn, and Art Historian at Smith College, talks visitors to our World History Sources website through her analysis of the Codex Mendoza. Or, in our History Matters site, Larry Levine discusses his analysis of blues music.

As useful as these are, they are still not where we ought to be. Because we have to take into account the fact that many possible users of our sites still have limited bandwidth, we’ve set these up in Flash. Because we don’t have sophisticated videotaping capabilities, we provide an audio track only. I think it won’t be until we get the real live historian on video talking to students more directly that we’ll be able to realize the full potential of such an exercise.

The other thing we desperately need are specific examples of scholars and students engaged in “think alouds“, talking their way through their analysis of sources. It is through these kinds of exercises that novice learners can really see just how different their analysis of a source is compared to that of an expert learner. Again, though, I’m of the opinion that this isn’t really going to be effective unless it is done on video so that the viewer can see the person who is talking struggling to make sense of the evidence. Maybe now with the new iPod video capability (and the sure to follow imitators), we’ll have a technology that makes it possible for us to deliver such video easily to our students, rather than making them watch a stream cast on their computers.