Incorporating Digital Literacy into History Methods Courses

In the History and American Studies 2009 Departmental Strategic Plan my department said that, in addition to other skills and literacies, we wanted all majors to develop the following abilities:

n  Digital Literacy
o   The ability to find reliable, scholarly, information on topics:
§  Within gated, subscription databases and in the larger, disorganized online world.
§  In online archives, museums and institutions of higher education.
o   The ability to assess and evaluate the reliability of online sources bringing to this newer source of information the skills of judicious, critical skepticism that have long been an indispensable historical tool.
o   The ability to produce creative, scholarly materials for the digital world that require the same level of rigor historians have applied to writing and publishing traditional papers, presentations, and monographs
When we developed learning outcomes for the history major, we incorporated these concepts into 8 of the 14 objectives, including the most obvious one:
  • Ability to utilize technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation.
Now, we are looking at revising our department’s long standing methods course, HIST 299, into a two semester class (HIST 297 — Colloquium and HIST 298 — Practicum) for a number of reasons, among them the desire to be able to fully integrate all of the aspects we believe necessary to be a successful history major in our upper-level classes, in graduate school, and beyond.

At our last department meeting, the department agreed to include the following ideas, concepts, and assignments into the two classes:   


HIST 297
n  Finding and evaluating sources online
o   How do we find and evaluate online materials for scholarly uses? How does one begin to sift through the massive content that is available in a systematic and/or creative way? What are the pitfalls and perils, the promises and potentialities of the online information experience?
§  Learn library databases
§  Advanced scholarly searching
§  Evaluating sources online
n  Discuss new forms of scholarly communication and methodology, including digital history projects, collaborative writing, blogs, text-mining/topic modeling, mapping/GIS [1]  
n  Digital identity
o   How should we present ourselves to the online world (personally, professionally, and intellectually)?
n  Potential assignments for HIST 297:
o   E-portfolio/digital resume
o   Website review (e.g, along the lines of the Journal of American History website reviews)
o   Public writing (reflective blogs or individual/group resource sites on historical topics)
o   Some kind of public history assignment
HIST 298


n  Review, as needed, concepts of source location and evaluation (focusing on primary sources), digital identity, and new forms of scholarly methods and communication.
n  Potential assignments
o   Minimum level:
§  Public writing (Research log or resource site on topic)
o   Innovative level:
§  Multimedia version of their research project.
§  Contribute to a larger digital project in a small way
·       Partnered with James Monroe Papers, James Monroe Museum, and/or Library’s Special Collections, students could make small contributions to larger projects, getting a sense for what goes on behind the scenes and contributing to a larger good.
·       Or students could participate in crowd-sourced transcription projects, such as the War Department Papers or Jeremy Bentham’s papers.

We’ll have to see how it actually plays out in classes, but I’m glad to see our department working on practical ways to implement digital fluency into the core classes of our curriculum.



[1]Here I’m talking about, at minimum, exposure to the complex new approaches to research in the some exposure to the complex new approaches to research in the discipline offered by recent advancements in computing, including text-mining or GIS (if only because that those methods are influencing a new generation of scholarship that students will need to understand to assess). As they become more accessible and widely used, there will be more opportunities for students to also engage in the application of these tools in their own work.

Pushing Boundaries

I’ll make this public here, partly to keep myself honest, partly to explain why there may be fewer* posts here.

I often say that one of my goals in teaching is to push students beyond their comfort zones, that discomfort is where real learning occurs, and that I want students to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.  One of the parallels to that, however, that I’ve also made clear in the teaching presentations I’ve made to faculty is that the concept applies to us as well.    We need to get outside of what we are comfortable with and to learn new skills while remembering what it is like to be a student.

In that vein, and because I’ve really always wanted to join in the fun that many of my students and my good friends at UMW’s DTLT are having, I’m going to participate in DS106 this summer as a student.  The course (phenomenon?) that began at UMW a few years ago had its origins as a face-to-face course in Digital Storytelling in Computer Science.   DS106 has become much more than that, and runs at various points throughout the year with both students taking a formal class with grades and credits and a host of open, online only participants (like me).

I’ve created a separate site for my various projects to come out of the 10 week course at http://ds106.mcclurken.org/.

*I’m aware that some of you are laughing right now at the idea of “fewer” posts here, given the sporadic nature of my blogging.

Lecture: Teaching and Learning with New Media

I’ve not posted on this blog in a while (see ProfHacker.com and http://mcclurken.org/ for other goings on).

However, I was honored to be asked to give one of the inaugural lectures in the Teaching Excellence series begun this year by UMW’s Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning.

What follows is the video and a list of the links mentioned in the talk.

Thanks to all for the opportunity and the questions. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

Overview

  • What is New Media?
  • My Goals in using New Media tools
  • Examples of Classroom Use
  • Assessing the Impact
  • What Can You Do?
  • What is New Media? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_media

    UMWBlogs

  • Blogging – Teresa Coffman (EDUC) and Steve Greenlaw (ECON)
  • Blog as course management toolSue Fernsebner’s Freshman Seminar: Toys as History
  • As site for collecting hard-to-find research sources for students –Steve Harris’s Hist 485: Researching Russian and Soviet Resources
  • UMWers & New Media

    Low Levels of Technology Use

  • Wiki for discussions in all my courses
  • Blogs as Individual/Group Reflections
  • Blogs as Research Logs (Historical Methods/Digital History)
  • More Intensive Uses of New Media Tools

  • Examples of Individual digital projects — US History in Film
  • Class Museum of history of technology projects (http://historyoftech.umwblogs.org/)
  • See also Krystyn Moon’s 19th-Century Museum – http://amst312.umwblogs.org/
  • Adventures in Digital history course
    Digital Toolkit
    • 2008 Class & Projects http://digitalhistory.umwblogs.org
    • – Historical Markers Project (HMP) — [6]
    • – James Farmer Project (JFP) — [7]
    • – James Monroe Papers Project (JMPP) — [8] and [9]
    • – Alumni Project (AP) — [10]

    Adventures in Digital History 2010 — http://dh2010.umwblogs.org

    • UMW Images Project
    • Life and Legacy of Mary Ball Washington
    • James Monroe’s Letters as Minister to France
    • City of Hospitals: Fredericksburg in the Civil War

    Student Impact Survey — From November 2009Contact me directly for details

    Digital History and Undergraduate Digital Literacy

    As so many of my posts, this began as a comment on someone else’s blog that grew unwieldy as a comment…. In this case, I was joining a discussion about teaching undergraduates digital history begun by the wise Mills Kelly at edwired and continued in the comments by Sterling Fluharty of PhD in History and others. Mills expresses concern about the lack of attention to the question of undergraduate teaching in a recently published panel discussion in the Journal of American History about “The Promise of Digital History” . [As Mills points out, it’s quite a useful panel other than this glaring omission of teaching undergraduates.]

    So, my comment (and now this post) is an attempt to explain from my perspective why digital history is important to teach to undergraduates.

    My goal in teaching undergraduates digital history is to offer students new ways of approaching their own research and thinking and writing. Our department has agreed that “digital literacy” is core to our expectations for our undergraduates (along with critical thinking and reading, the creation of original ideas, the deployment of evidence to support one’s arguments, and the ability to present those arguments in sophisticated written and oral forms).

    Now, I know the notion of “digital literacy” has been overused and has multiple definitions, but I actually like the phrase for people’s familiarity with it and for that very richness of meanings. So, I’ve viewed the goals of my undergraduate digital history course through some of those definitions.

    • One goal of my digital history course is to teach the most conventional form of digital literacy: How does one find and evaluate online materials for scholarly (and non-scholarly) uses? How does one begin to sift through the massive content that is available in an systematic and/or creative way? What are the pitfalls and perils, the promises and potentialities of the online information experience?
    • Another facet of digital literacy is the notion of digital identity: This is a class that, through individual and group online presence (often blogs and wikis, but many other tools are available as well), explicitly engages students in discussions of their digital identity. How should we present ourselves to the online world (personally, professionally, and intellectually, but also individually and in groups)? [In future iterations it might even encourage them to create their own centralized online presence that wouldn’t necessarily be housed by the university (or restricted by a single course). We’ve been engaged recently at UMW in a number of discussions related to this notion of enabling students to take control of their digital identity. See Jim’s post and comments for one take.]
    • Increasingly I have become convinced that a key, but often overlooked, aspect of digital literacy is a willingness to experiment with a variety of online tools, and then to think critically and strategically about a project and to identify those tools that would be most useful to that project. [Note that I’m NOT talking about training in a specific tool or even a set of tools. This is not an MS Word or Blackboard skills class. This digital history class offers students a “digital toolkit” from which to choose. There certainly needs to be some basic exposure and technical support, but part of the goal is to get students to figure out how to figure out how a new tool (system, software, historical process) works on their own.]
    • Broadening the previous point, one of my desires for students is for them to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as they try new things. Figuring how to deal with constantly changing technology is something we all are dealing with, yet in higher education we often put students in new situations only when they first begin. Before long, they’ve got the process and procedures down and can churn out 8-10 page papers in their sleep. Yet what kind of preparation is that for the larger world? I know, I know. There are much larger philosophical and practical and even political issues at work here. But my point is simply that it’s good for college classes to shake students (and faculty) out of their comfort zone. Real learning happens when you’re trying to figure out the controls, not when you’re on autopilot.
    • Finally, I think digital literacy for undergraduates in history should encompass at least some exposure to the complex new approaches to research in the discipline offered by recent advancements in computing, including text-mining or GIS (if only because that those methods are influencing a new generation of scholarship that students will need to understand to assess). As they become more accessible and widely used, there will be more opportunities for students to also engage in the application of these tools in their own work.

    Now, one of the issues raised by Sterling on Mills’s blog post was whether the goal of an undergraduate history class was to train students for particular jobs. My response to that is both practical and pedagogical. No, I don’t see this course as preparing them for particular jobs. However, I do see the class as preparing students to be adaptable citizens and workers, with a sound grounding in who they are (on- and off-line) and a willingness to try new things, to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Having said that, I’ve had several alums of my first digital history class get jobs that were direct results of the skills (and portfolio of projects) gained in the class. In some cases it was because of a specific tool that they’d worked with; in others it was because of the package they were able to present to their potential employers. Certainly those students felt like the class had been worth it for them.

    Finally, although I’ve been talking specifically about one class, aspects of these ideas have made their way into most of my classes, as well as those of several of my departmental colleagues, including that of our methods class for majors. Still, I suspect there will be a need for (at least) one class in my department that is explicitly focused on Digital History for a long time to come.

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    Faculty Academy 2008

    I just finished my third session at Faculty Academy. All three went well and we got good feedback from the audiences. I continue to be jazzed and energized by this conference and it’s good to see so many people from UMW and from other places here and talking about these issues.

    I’ll have more detailed posts on these sessions when I get through my other two presentations this week (on my First-Year Seminar class and to a group of local elementary school teachers).

    Web Filtering and the Schools

    Fair warning: This is a rant about the inability to access certain social tools in certain K-12 school systems. [For another rant on a similar subject see this rejection of over-the-top web-related fears in education.]

    I’ve presented and talked with a number of different K-12 teachers from a number of different school districts in my roles as a history professor and as a relative of numerous such teachers.

    I’ve increasingly been annoyed by the trend among many school districts to block access from their networks to more and more websites. Now, let’s be clear. I understand that there is a great deal of material out there that we’d rather our students did not look at. But the process of filtering and blocking is done is such an awkward, blunt manner that the process of teaching is being impacted. [This is not to mention my problem with the notion that blocking access makes these things go away; we should instead be teaching students to engage the Internet in responsible ways.]

    Let me give you some examples.

    • del.icio.us and ma.gnolia.com — social bookmarking sites — I tried to demonstrate del.icio.us to a group of teachers recently, only to find that it was blocked, for reasons no one could explain. — How exactly are these a threat to individuals? Seriously, can somebody explain this one to me?
    • Basic Searches — I was on a K-12 school network and trying to find a citation for a friend to a scholarly article on Civil War prisons. I remembered the title, “Houses of Horror,” but was stymied by the keyword filter placed by the school system on the Google Search I ran. Now, I was able to find a workaround to locate the citation, but finding things online are difficult enough without such restrictions.
    • YouTube — YouTube is blocked by many school systems, and perhaps I can understand why. However, there are many useful videos on there for history (and other) teachers. Why can’t teachers access such materials, even if students can’t? Why block an incredibly useful resource for teachers? [I know there are walled garden version of these: TeacherTube, unitedstreaming, etc. But none of these are YouTube, the largest and most important of the video sites.]

    The two biggest problems I have with the filtering are:

    1) It ignores the reality that most students will figure out a way around such filtering. Or even if not, they’ll find this stuff outside of school, and likely outside of the guidance of the people who are trained to teach students how to process information in a responsible way. At the least, guided time online outside of walled Internet gardens better prepares students to be better Net citizens. How are students to learn information literacy if they get only a filtered version in the place where they are supposed to be learning critical thinking, source evaluation and knowledge creation?

    2 ) It shows a remarkable lack of trust for teachers themselves. Blocking teachers’ access suggests that although they are trusted with teaching 20-40 students at any given time, they are not capable of figuring out which sites are appropriate and which are not. The filtering systems used are too often blunt objects which make it harder for teachers to do their jobs well. [I’ve talked to teachers who’ve never been on YouTube, never heard of del.icio.us, never tried any one of a number of tools central to Web 2.0, and the main reason is that they don’t have access to them in the classrooms and schools where they spend so many hours each day.]

    I acknowledge that K-12 school systems face real problems in protecting children and young adults from the worst that is online. I understand much of the effort that they’ve made in this area, and comprehend that there are very real financial and technical constraints. However, in order for school districts to prepare their students for the digital world in which so often live, filtering systems have to become more targeted, and until they are, teachers need to be able to bypass those systems to gain access to some sites that are wrongly blocked.

    Am I off the mark here? Am I missing something? Are there other obvious sites/tools being blocked I haven’t listed here? Let me know.

    Confessions of a del.icio.us Addict

    In recent weeks, I’ve become increasingly enamored of the social network and bookmarking service known as del.icio.us. I set an account up nearly 2 years ago now, but largely used it as online bookmark storage. Gradually, through several friends (online and off) I became aware of its other features. Caleb McDaniel (formerly of Mode for Caleb) demonstrated the numerous tagging capabilities through a couple of emails and conversations. [Looking at my own del.icio.us account (del.icio.us/kurastan90) you can see that my earliest del.icio.us links are not tagged, or if they are, the tags were added later.] Yet, even with the new tagging making my bookmarks more accessible to me, I was still using it as an amped-up version of my own bookmarks in IE or Firefox. It was Martha who alerted me to the use of a network and “for:” tags in del.icio.us in this post. [For the uninitiated, del.icio.us allows users to add other users to their network, allowing you to see the sites they’re tagging. The “for:” tag allows you to send particular users in your network particular sites in which you think they may be interested.] I began to add various people to my network (first DTLT members, then people from CHNM, and soon others) and realized how many cool sites I had been missing. As I pored over their various sites, I began to mark particular sites for them, and slowly they began to tag them for me as well.

    I have managed to convert other colleagues to del.icio.us, and they too have become addicted to the ease, the social bookmarking, the tagging, and the sharing of good sites. At this point, if I run across a link I that I think someone might want, and that person is not in my network, I’m actually a little annoyed. I think about how much easier it would be if I could just add the “for:” tag and they would be able to see it.

    I realized recently that I have created a network of people I know (to varying degrees) who scour the internet for me (and I for them). Although we have overlapping interests and therefore look at some of the same sites, we’re different enough that they run across resources I don’t and vice versa. In this chaotic, information-saturated online world, having a few (or 14) expert researchers sharing the best (or maybe just fun) resources can prove an incredible boon.

    Now, to figure out how to add this to my goals for digital literacy and to my classes this fall. More to come….

    One More Stab at Digital Fluencies

    In a previous post I responded to failingbetter’s query about my definitions of “digital fluencies” as it related to students. I was rereading the first of his/her questions and it occurs to me that the query has another layer I missed at first glance.

    I would like to hear a little more about what fluency means and what it entails that is different from skills. Is it just the combination of one’s writing skills with one’s technical knowledge of how to construct/write a blog? Or does it also entail knowledge of the norms of blogging? Is there another category of things that differentiate skills from fluency?

    I’ve been articulating a notion of digital fluency that incorporates technical skills and the ability to deploy those skills as part of a skillful consumption and production of information that I think is critical to students and faculty alike. But failingbetter suggests that there are also rules to online social tools (and the societies they create) that students might need to know. Might digital fluency also include an awareness of the norms of online culture(s)? I’m going to have to think about this some. Any thoughts?

    Digital Fluencies–A Reponse

    I wanted to respond to failingbetter’s comment on my post last fall on digital literacies, but this response (rant?) seemed to expand beyond comment size. So, a new post was born.

    1. I would like to hear a little more about what fluency means and what it entails that is different from skills. Is it just the combination of one’s writing skills with one’s technical knowledge of how to construct/write a blog? Or does it also entail knowledge of the norms of blogging? Is there another category of things that differentiate skills from fluency?

    I would crudely define “digital fluency” as the ability to deploy basic technical skills (changing margins or using track changes in Word, participating in online forums, and for some, more complex skills such as website building) in the consumption and production of online materials in a variety of formats. Blogs are just one online format (though perhaps the easiest to engage in–after all, passive consumption is also participation). There are a number of ways that students could demonstrate digital fluency, including appropriate creation of documents, presentations, wikis, websites, forum postings. These things require a wide variety of technical skills, but more than just knowing how to change margins, use email or set up a blog, doing them well requires adaptability, critical thinking, and making clear arguments. [Sound familiar? It should, because digital fluency should be seen as an extension of the core concepts of the liberal arts.]

    2. I don’t know that incorporating DL into classes–if they are to be tech across the curriculum–would work. Most faculty only know the skills that they need to survive (no members of my dept. write a blog or know how). I suspect that faculty ignorance would be a significant barrier to making this work (as I understand it).

    First, digital fluencies don’t have to be integrated into every class. Still, they do need to be discussed by every department. The advantage of a plan that argues for departmental definitions of digital literacy is that it allows faculty to meet the requirement where they are in terms of their abilities and desires. But here’s the thing: even though no one in failingbetter’s department writes a blog, I’m willing to bet every department member has some goals for students with regard to digital literacy. For example, I suspect his/her department members would agree that students need to be able to differentiate between reliable and unreliable websites. So would it be overly onerous to add to his/her department’s set of goals an ability to consume online information in a skeptical and critical manner? That might be the limit of what a department decides it wants to do on this issue.

    One final point of honesty from me on this: I hope that such conversations in each department about what digital literacy means for their students would push some faculty to look more closely at the skills (and fluencies) they themselves have (or might decide they need). [Let’s be clear about something else: “faculty ignorance” should never, ever, be a reason not to do something.]

    But I would also hope that such an examination would occur within the context of significant institutional support. One of the things that I’ve made clear in every conversation I’ve had with the various committees involved in these conversations is the absolute need for substantive investment in a variety of support resources and personnel to make this change. These resources would need to be in the form of software/hardware technology support (personal computers and projectors and software licenses must work nearly all the time, or a reasonable substitute made available within 24 hours at most), instructional technology support (people who can take ideas about teaching and show faculty how to implement them), training workshops and summer sessions that people want to go to (even are paid to attend), summer and school-year financial support (or course releases) for those working on such projects, and recognition from the merit and tenure process for efforts made to advance digital fluencies in course and department arenas.

    [I want a lot, don’t I? What about what I’ve put forward here is unrealistic? Which of the various portions could be implemented most easily? Are they mutually dependent? Critique away….]