Today is March 8 – International Women’s Day, which is being marked in the US by the #Daywithoutawoman campaign. I’ve struggled to get clarity on my own stance here — I’m especially sensitive to the point that striking is a privilege not everyone enjoys and have settled for the following demonstrations of solidarity: I’m wearing red (glasses), only spending money at my favorite local businesses owned by women, (mostly) staying off social media, reminding the world that we still / will always deserve equal pay and paid family leave, and holding off until tomorrow to post this.
My what a couple of weeks it’s been….So much anticipation, trepidation, incredulity, outrage, sorrow….resolve…
No, I’m not talking about #OpenLearning17. The course launch last week provided a wonderfully affirming forum for engaging with the forces of enlightenment. Laura Gogia’s masterful facilitation of a Twitter Journal Club (#TJC17) on Friday brought folks together around a close reading of Jeffrey Pomerantz’ and Robin Peek’s Fifty Shades of Open, and through Twitter magic and generosity Jeffrey Pomerantz was able to participate in the discussion. Some of us even carried the conversation further by annotating it on Hypothes.is . And because the #TJC17was open and coincided with the annual AAC&U conference in San Francisco, conference participants could join the fun and those of us who were not physically in attendance could share in some of the buzz generated by the big gathering.
A couple of years ago, when I began thinking about the courses I teach as places where content is created and curated rather than transmitted and tested, lecturing was one of the teaching modalities I most wanted to jettison. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy lecturing, it just seemed that so little of it “stuck” — and what did stick often sounded parroted or parodied when it came drifting back up through the prose of a midterm essay. My lectures articulated my explanation and interpretation of historical developments I’d spent twenty years studying and thinking about. Did I think they were good? Yes. Did students get a lot out of them? I liked to think so. Did what they learned from them stay with them past the midterm? Doubtful. Was there a better way? Probably.
Winning the Great Patriotic War: The Soviet Union in World War II
Montgomery County Public School Teachers’ Workshop, November 3, 2015
The Fallen of World War II – by Neil Halloran. Both understated and stunning, this animated, data-driven documentary looks at the human cost of the second World War. The cinematic story-telling technique of this data visualization brings the staggering complexity of the war’s casualties into focus in unexpected and illuminating ways.
Seventeen Moments in Soviet History – Archive of primary sources developed by Lewis Siegelbaum (Michigan State University) and James Von Geldern (Macalester College) in 2002. I joined the editorial team as web director and content curator in 2015. This rich multi-media repository includes texts, images, video, and music. The site is designed as a window on the Soviet experience as ordinary people made and experienced it. The materials are organized chronologically and thematically. A short subject essay introduces the user to the materials on a particular topic. All of the modules in 1943 (as well as many in 1939 and 1947) relate to the war in some fashion.
Victory Day 70 — Interactive multi-media website developed by RT (Russia Today — a state-funded television network broadcasting in English, Arabic and Spanish outside the Russian Federation). Developed for the seventieth anniversary of the Allied Victory in Europe in May 2015, this site presents many beautifully-produced resources relating to the Soviet war experience to English-speaking audiences. Materials high school students will find especially compelling include oral histories with Soviet veterans and their children, an interactive documentary map, and a dynamic timeline of the Eastern Front, as well as posters, songs and key speeches from the war. (Site works best in Chrome.)
Restored film of Victory Day Parade, Red Square, Moscow June 24, 1945
The Battle of Russia from Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series
Gremlins in the Kremlin, Robert Clampett / Warner Brothers, 1944
And One Book:
Geoffrey Roberts, Victory at Stalingrad. The Battle that Changed History (2002)
Diggs Roundtable Presentation, Virginia Tech
October 26, 2015
Links for materials referenced below here
I am a historian – not of the cut and dried variety, but of the shades of grey and multiple viewpoints persuasion. I have always been committed to promoting active learning, critical thinking, and analytical writing in my classes and helping my students become good historians. I have always seen myself more as a facilitator of learning than a font of knowledge. And I have always tried to teach in a way that helps students make sense of the world around them and appreciate the experiences of people who lived in other times and places. These principles remain at the core of my teaching praxis, but have been augmented in the last three years by a series of epiphanies about the potential for particular tools and learning environments to amplify this kind of learning.
The project I want to share today uses networked learning environments and active co-learning strategies to expand and extend the reach of the course beyond the physical confines of the classroom and the conceptual constraints of traditional writing assignments. I’d like to briefly describe what it is and how it works, and then say something about what I like about it. Questions, comments and suggestions will be most appreciated.
A syndicated blog serves as the gateway to a hybrid course in which students author original research posts on topics of their choosing, using print materials, sources available on the open web, and databases provided by the Virginia Tech Library.
The main course blog uses a WordPress template with a custom magazine layout to showcase exemplary posts, direct readers to relevant material, facilitate discussion of the posts (via a “shadow” comment blog), and articulate the content parameters of the weekly digest (via an “editors’ corner” sidebar).
An editorial team comprised of the instructor and undergraduate alumni of the course curate the posts from individual researchers into a Weekly Digest. This builds peer-to-peer mentoring into the course design and allows the editorial assistants to further develop their web working skills and content expertise. A Twitter feed for the course hashtag provides additional social networking around the course content, and the “publicize” widget disseminates updates from the course to broader audiences via social media.
Students design and maintain their own blogs, which are syndicated to the main site. This format allows them to develop multi-media research projects (using images, video and sound as well as text), embed ancillary material, and document their sources via conventional citation formats and hyperlinking. They give and receive feedback on their work from their classmates, the editors, and the instructor through the comment function. They revise their work throughout the semester. At the end of the course their individual blogs serve as digital portfolios demonstrating their accomplishments in research, writing and web work. They comprise a key deliverable of the course.
In contrast to traditional “delivery” systems, this format positions students, editors and the instructor to create and curate content, thereby elaborating the course in a collaborative, accessible, and enduring medium. Blog posts are not just a key feature of the course, they are the course.
We also use Googledocs to support the course and help extend its reach. The class has a shared folder where we manage administrative details (such as nominating posts for a weekly “students’ choice” award, or suggesting primary materials to work with during class), and keep track of work done during class. A second shared folder gives the editorial team a work space where they can maintain records (of posts and comments) and consult (via Chat or Hangout) on the selection of exemplary posts to be featured in the weekly edition.
What students produce on their blogs conditions what we do in class:
The content students create provides a jumping off point for our face-to-face meetings. I don’t give set lectures, and I don’t lecture for more than twenty minutes per class. Instead I use the content created by the students to frame a particular topic or period. I help students see how their posts are connected and address the interpretive issues raised by them.
We also use class time for discussion, focused work with primary materials, and with databases. Having small groups of students working on a series of googledocs that I can see and contribute to in real time allows for a rich multi-lateral conversation about the source. I can encourage, query or correct as warranted and project a particular group’s document on the classroom’s screen if she wants to bring something to the class as a whole. Class sessions may also be devoted to “blog beautification” (workshops helping students customize and enhance the functionality of their blogs) and practice locating and citing high-value materials for upcoming posts. We also designate some classes as “make sessions,” where students produce digital artifacts such as interactive timelines, collectively authored blogposts or animated gifs illustrating a particular theme of the class.
Advantages of the networked learning community approach:
This course format puts students in charge of their learning and encourages them to pursue their own interests at the same time it stimulates collaboration and peer-to-peer mentoring. It engages students directly and immediately in the research process and the production of knowledge. I have found that student engagement with the material tends to be higher than in a traditional class setting, and it intensifies over the course of the term. Students gain confidence and satisfaction from producing longer, more sophisticated and better-documented posts as the course progresses.
Because blogging is required but not “assigned” (in the sense that the parameters of the posts are left quite flexible), and the individual posts are not graded, the focus of the course shifts away from evaluation in favor of more qualitative indicators of accomplishment (i.e. discovery of new insight, intellectual engagement with peers, enhanced interest and effort in understanding the subject, enhanced skills in critical thinking and analytical writing).
Finally, access to the course site on the open web amplifies the project’s impact, especially when visitors to the site comment on salient posts – often long after the semester has ended.
Our afternoon session at the Digital Pedagogy Lab today focused on using digital environments to support student learning communities. I promised a couple of people I would post / tweet references for the blogging guidelines and course websites where my students have come together to create rich learning environments that outlived the chronological parameters of the semester and the physical confines of the classroom. So here goes:
This is the syllabus for the second iteration of “Deep History and Domestication” (which prompted the reference to “dinosaur afterlives”). As I mentioned today, this course was my first foray into networked and connected learning. Gardner Campbell gave me the inspiration to try something new, and my students showed me how incredibly powerful, fun, and effective such endeavors could be.
These are the Soviet History courses that extended the networked component of the Deep History and Domestication format to include class-sourcing the majority of the content and supporting students’ use of proprietary databases as well as openly accessible high-value sources on the web.
A couple of people asked about the mechanisms for framing and supporting vibrant student interaction in these online environments. Here’s an excerpt from the blogging instructions for Deep history:
While this syllabus provides a road map to the course, a large part of our work together will be constructed, elaborated and refined on the web. I am interested in deepening and expanding on our in-class discussions and research endeavors and hope that this experiment with blogging will help us create the course together in an immediately accessible, professional, enduring and transparent medium.
You are required to blog at least once per week about the assigned readings, and you are required to comment on another person’s blog at least twice per week. There is no assigned length or format for your blogging. I just ask that you engage the readings thoughtfully and substantively, and that you explore and play with the many nuances of the blogging modality. You might comment on the author’s theoretical/methodological framework or relate the assigned text to other readings for the course, other perspectives you have encountered elsewhere, and the thoughts, questions, and responses of your classmates on their blogs. You may also respond to the text’s major arguments in more personal terms, as long as you engage those arguments carefully. Individual blog posts are not graded, but will be considered holistically as evidence of your general commitment to the course and its content.
Guidelines for blogging and commenting in the Soviet History courses are here. You can also look in the category “blogpost guidelines” for the weekly prompts.
And finally, I’ll note that all of these courses use two blogs — one that aggregates posts from the students’ individual blogs (the main course website), and one that aggregates the comments from all of the students’ blogs. I pull the second blog through an RSS feed on the main blog so that students can see all of the comments on the main site. If you really want the deep dive on setting this up, I’ve outlined the process here.