Omeka and the Digital History Class

This began as a comment at an NITLE blog, but I realized that it contained information that I’d been meaning to blog about anyway. So, here it is:

I’m teaching an undergraduate seminar in digital history this semester at the University of Mary Washington. The students in the seminar were shown an array of digital tools during the first 4 weeks of the semester. Of those, they chose a series of tools for their projects, and three of the four student groups in the course decided to use Omeka to create archives for their projects. [These projects, descriptions of which can be seen at the course blog noted above, include a site on civil rights leader James Farmer, a project using alumni interviews to tell the history of UMW, and a site exploring James Monroe’s time as Minister to France.]

I should note that although I (via UMW’s excellent Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies experts) presented Omeka to the students as one of many options, they all seemed to quickly get its possible uses as an archive and presentation tool.

We began with a test Omeka installation for the entire class with which all the students played around. Now, each group will have its own Omeka installation to begin this week to populate with photographs, scanned documents, and videos.

I’d be interested in hearing about how others are using Omeka in their own classes.

Brief Update — End of Week 5

I’ve been kept from blogging here lately by managing various class details and two searches, among other things. Still, I wanted to post a brief update of what’s going on in the Digital History Seminar.

All four groups have submitted proposals (“contracts”) with their plans for the projects and how they will complete the project. [They did this via GoogleDocs that each group had used to write the contract.] These contracts included a description of the project, an annotated list of the digital tools they were planning on using, and a timetable for the completion of the major components of the project.

My observations, in brief, after reading these contracts:

  1. In most cases, the proposed projects are more ambitious than those I would have assigned had I been very precise about what I wanted. [I was intentionally broad in my initial descriptions of the projects.] Although one or two of the groups may have to ultimately scale back their goals a little bit, thinking creatively and ambitiously about these projects is exactly what I hoped for these students. They have done that.
  2. The tools they’ve chosen to use are mostly those that DTLT and I presented to them as part of their digital toolkit. [Omeka, GoogleDocs, SIMILE/Timeline, WordPress (via UMW Blogs WPMU), WindowsMovieMaker, scanning, etc. There are a few exceptions that were outside that list (e.g., Adobe Contribute for a site that’ll be part of the school’s official site), but that’s okay. The groups at least had a chance to think about which tools made the most sense, given what they wanted to do.
  3. The schedules were often very ambitious, and that was the most common comment I made to the groups. Still, in almost every case the group members wanted to forge ahead with their ambitious set of deadlines, hoping that it would keep them on track throughout the semester.

Each group received my comments and has until tonight to revise their contract for my approval. [They can still make changes, but they’ll need to have a good reason to do so after this point.] Next week we’ll continue our weekly discussions of a topic related to digital history (this week’s topics are Copyright and Wikipedia) and we’ll see the first groups present status reports to the class as a whole. Not only will these weekly reports force students to articulate where they are and what they’ve been doing, they will also provide a forum for students to share their problems and successes with their classmates.

Honestly, I can’t wait to see the products these groups produce. If anything, I’m more excited now that I’ve seen their proposed contracts. I was talking to a group of alums this weekend about the project and many of them expressed the wish that they were back in school again. [This kind of project is infectious. Be warned!]

The one thing that I’m slightly let down by has been the relatively light blogging of the process by many of the students. [Some have been quite good.] But, since that blogging is a major part of the way I can assess their work (and ultimately leads to part of their grades), I’m a little surprised. Still, that is a minor issue (and one that I’m working on) that I think does little to detract from projects that have the potential of being some of the best student work I’ve ever been a part of. [I don’t think I’m being overly hyperbolic here, but I’m not exactly unbiased either. Besides, I said this would be a brief post, and look at it now…. :-]