This semester the students in my graduate course Teaching History in the Digital Age produced either digital projects (if they had the tech skills) or concept papers for digital projects (if they didn’t). I’ve already highlighted two of the digital projects (and will highlight one more shortly). Today I want to call attention to the excellent work of the students who didn’t have the tech skills. As you’ll see when you read the brief descriptions below, these grad students–a mix of MA and PhD students–really “got it” when it came to thinking critically about how digital media might be used to teach about the past.
1. Michelle Carr designed a project on eminent domain using three case studies–the Ashokan Reservoir, the Tocks Island Dam project, and the Shenandoah National Park. Michelle’s project targets high school or early college students and challenges them to think about the cultural effects of land taking–what happens to the communities that are disturbed by large public projects–dams, parks, etc. Because examples of such projects can be found within reach of almost any classroom, it has the advantage of encouraging students to think locally as well as globally.
2. Gary Wrightman developed a course module on the Albany Congress of 1754 that incorporated both the analysis of a diverse set of primary sources and student role playing. Gary drew on his work experiences to develop an historical simulation that divided the students into the three different groups at the Congress and gave them specific (historically accurate) parameters within which they could act. The use of the online primary source analysis in the first part of the module is central to the role playing because it gives the students the historical context they need to operate within the constraints of the simulation.
3. Matt Gravely created a module on reading historical biography. Students using this module would begin at the beginning–learning the difference between a primary and a secondary source, then would proceed to learning about biography as either a primary or a secondary source (depending on its status). Finally, they would select one historical figure from a diverse group Matt selected for them and research the biography of that person using the skills they learned in the first part of the module.
4. Susan Douglass used the assignment to tie into another project she is working on–the creation of an entire website targeting middle school students on the Indian Ocean Basin in History. Her project makes particularly good use of maps and other geographical information to help students understand the complexities of such a large region. A particular strength of this project is the way that it is so carefully aligned to the eras of the world history curriculum. Another is that way that it breaks free from the earlier models of world history instruction, incorporating the latest research on how to teach world history as world history as opposed to Western Civ Plus.
One of the things that was impressive about all of the projects was the way that the students designed their efforts using the research they had been reading in the scholarship of teaching and learning in history. Instead of creating a module with the idea that it would work because it seemed like a good idea, each project description included numerous citations of relevant research. Thus, these are not just good ideas–they are scholarly good ideas.