Co-creating a syllabus with students

I’m teaching my History of the Information Age course again this fall.  This is the course where I send the students a skeleton syllabus and we fill it in together.  We will work together to pick the topics to focus on, many of the readings to complete, and the digitally rich assignments by which we will explore the history of broadly defined Information Age (cave paintings to today).

We will also get to do so in the soon-to-be completed Information and Technology Convergence Center‘s Active-Learning Classroom.  We also will be able to take advantage of the building’s green-screen-equipped recording studio, the audio booth, the editing computer stations, and the other cameras and recording equipment that can be checked out and used.

ITCC Active Learning

From http://provost.umw.edu/teaching-spaces-in-the-convergence-center/

I’d welcome any suggestions of assignment ideas, discussion starters, readings/videos that I can bring to the class.  Other comments, including smart remarks, are welcome as well.


 

VERSION 0.9

HIST 471D7: History of the Information Age
Fall 2014
ITCC 237
11-12:15 TR
http://infoage2014.umwblogs.org/

Jeffrey McClurken
E-mail:  jmcclurk@umw.edu
Twitter (@wheresthechair/@jmcclurken)

Course Description

This readings seminar will explore the history of communication, media, new media, and the digital age.  We will begin with an investigation of the various definitions of the Information Age, then move into a discussion of the historical & technological foundations of information production, computing devices, and communication and networking tools.  We will explore the social and cultural history of information production and consumption from cave paintings to the Internet, from analog computational machines to handheld computers.  The course will generally be based in the history of the US, but, given the transfer of technology and the increasing ability of these technologies to transcend geographic regions, it will logically range more widely as appropriate.

 

Departmental Course Goals and Objectives

This course will help students build upon a range of skills, including the ability to make discipline-specific oral presentations to groups; the ability to utilize technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation; the ability to communicate in a group setting; and the ability to read critically primary sources and modern authorities.  This course also counts in the History Major and the Digital Studies Minor.

 

Honors Program Objectives

As part of the Honors Program, this course also will help students to formulate an academic argument with appropriate research documentation; articulate the value of the goals of the honors program as it relates to the liberal arts as an multidisciplinary, systematic approach to knowledge; apply specific academic solutions to broader, interdisciplinary fields of study; integrate multiple viewpoints involving different cultures and/or perspectives.

 

Course Requirements

What should these be?

Non-negotiable parts include: Students are expected to attend all classes, read all assigned texts, post regularly to the individual blogs, participate in class, and help lead two weeks of class discussions.  Students are also expected to contribute to the creation of a public, digital timeline/database of popular representations of the information age and add materials to it all semester.

However, negotiable is whether or not we should also do formal presentations of projects, what student contributions to the timeline/database might be, even other ideas for assignments we might come up with.

In my initial brainstorming, the timeline/database components, additions, projects potentially included:

 

 

 

Obligatory turn things in on time notice: Projects are due at the start of class on the day they are due.  Projects are considered late if turned in anytime after the start of class on the day they are due.  Late items will be penalized one full letter grade or, after 24 hours, not accepted.

Texts/Sources

In the Bookstore – 4 Core texts are in the bookstore

  • Downey, Gregory John, American Historical Association, and Society for the History of Technology. Technology and Communication in American History. Washington, DC: American Historical Association, 2011.
  • Gleick, James. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. New York: Pantheon, 2011.
  • Rosenzweig, Roy. Clio Wired: The Future of the Past in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
  • Winston, Brian. Media Technology and Society: A History From the Telegraph to the Internet. Re-issue. London: Routledge, 1998.

Other Readings as determined by class, at least some of which are online

Discussions

Students are expected to attend all classes having read the material.  Class participation includes actively participating in these daily discussions.[1]  Each of you will also be expected to co-lead group discussion with another person (or persons) during two weeks, including opening discussion activities.  THAT MAY MEAN HELPING TO CHOOSE (ADDITIONAL) READINGS FOR THOSE WEEKS.  I encourage those leaders to meet with me ahead of time to talk about how to choose readings and/or facilitate discussion for their particular week.

Blogging

Create a new (or use a preexisting) UMWblog/Domain of One’s Own WordPress site by Sept. 1. Narrating your reactions to the reading, your experiences planning, researching, and implementing your projects as part of the class timeline/database via your blogs is a central part of the class and a way for me to measure your effort, your creativity, and your progress as digital scholars. Blog about your problems as well as your successes. Be sure to comment on each other’s blogs and help each other out. This is a community of people going through similar efforts that you can tap into, so do so. Weekly posts & comments are a minimum expectation of the class.

Final Grades

Final grades will be determined based on a combination of factors, some determined by me and some determined by the class as a whole at the start of the semester.  The non-negotiable parts are class participation (including two weeks of co-leading discussion) worth 40% and on performance on blog posts worth (at least) 10%.

The other 50% of the grade will be divided (as decided by the class) between projects added to the timeline, formal presentations of projects, or other items as suggested by the class.

[Unsatisfactory mid-semester reports will be reported for anyone with a grade of D+ or below at that time.]

Grading Scale

A Unusual Excellence 93 or higher=A; 90-92=A-
B Distinctly Above Average 87-89=B+; 83-86=B; 80-82=B-
C Average Quality 77-79=C+; 73-76=C; 70-72=C-
D Below Average Quality 67-69=D+; 60-66=D
F Failure, No Credit 0-59=F

 

Accommodations

The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the University as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities. If you receive services through the Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodation needs. Bring your accommodation letter with you to the appointment. I will hold any information you share with me in strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you have not made contact with the Office of Disability Resources (540-654-1266) and need accommodations, I will be happy to refer you. The office will require appropriate documentation of disability.

Honor Code

I believe in the Honor Code as an essential, positive component of the Mary Washington experience.  You should know that if you cheat or plagiarize in this class, you will fail, and I will take you to the Honor Council, so do not do it.  On the other hand, I also believe that having friends or family read and comment on your writing can be extremely helpful and falls within the bounds of the Honor Code (assuming the writing itself remains yours).  If you have questions about these issues, then you should talk to me sooner rather than later.

Topics & Readings

Class Calendar

Week 1 — Introduction — Week of August 25

— What is the Information Age?

— Planning the semester – What topics will we focus on? What assignments will we complete?

By the weekend:

  • — Set up a Twitter account (or use an existing one) and follow me (@jmcclurken) and/or your classmates and/or some of the scholars from the DH Compendium.  When you tweet about our class use the hashtag #InfoAge14.
  • — Install a WordPress blog on your Domain of One’s Own account or UMWblogs.
  • — Add your blog to the class blogroll using the add link widget on this blog.  [Use Twitter to ask Dr. McClurken or a classmate for the password.]
  • — Write and publish first blog post on why you’re taking the class and what topics/assignments you want this semester.

 

Week 2 — Introducing New Media tools and an overview of the history of information/communication — Week of September 1

Tuesday:  DTLT visit and start of timeline/database project

Reading –Thursday:  Downey, all; Winston, Intro

 

Part I – Print (and its predecessors)

 

Potential topics:  Cave paintings, African Drums, art, written language, coffee houses and print culture, universities, printing press, newspapers, oral tradition, plagiarism/citation/rise of the footnote; photography

 

Week 3 — Week of September 8

— Topics:  Newspapers, Magazine, Books

Reading — Tuesday:   Appleby, Inheriting the Revolution, Chapter 4

            Thursday: 

 

Part II – Early Networked Communication 

Potential topics:  Postal Service, Telegraph/telephone, rise of modern journalism

 

Week 4 — Week of September 15

— Topics:

Reading — Tuesday:  Winston, 19-66

            Thursday:

 

PROPOSALS FOR TIMELINE/DATABASE PROJECTS DUE TO ME BY SEPTEMBER 22

 

Part III—Broadcasting 

Potential Topics: technological, cultural histories of Film/Radio/TV; advertising, rise of mass media; propaganda

 

Week 5 — Week of September 22

— Topics:

Reading — Tuesday: Winston, 67-146

            Thursday:

 

Week 6 — Week of September 29

— Topics:

Reading — Tuesday: 

            Thursday: 

 

 

 

 

Part IV – Information in the Digital Age

Potential topics:  Early Computers (Human Computers, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace); Role of war/military in creation and spread of information/computing technology (WWII, Cold War, ARPANet); Rise of the mainframe and then personal computers; Doug Engelbert and the Mouse; the creation/expansion/commercialization of the Internet; Women and Computing; Pop Culture treatment of the digital age; Hackers and Hacking Culture; Video Games; cell phones/smart phones/tablets; the wiki phenomenon; Coding/Programming; images/video in era of access to creation tools; Information Theory; Information Overload; Satellites/cable/fiber optics; identity in the digital age

 

Week 7 — Week of October 6

—    Topics: Early Computers

Reading — Tuesday: Vannevar Bush, As We May Think”; Winston, 147-242

Thursday:

 

Week 8 — Week of October 13

— Fall Break — No class Tuesday, October 14

— Topics: Networks and the Internet

Reading — Thursday: Winston, 243-336; Rosenzweig, 179-202

 

Week 9 — Week of October 20

— Topics:

Reading — Tuesday:

            Thursday: 

 

Week 10 — Week of October 27

—    Topics: Web 2.0/3.0/18.0

—    Reading — Tuesday: Rosenzweig, 85-91 (CD-ROMs and textbooks)

            Thursday:

 

Week 11 — Week of November 3

— Topics:  Trust, Citations, “truth” in the Digital Age

Reading — Tuesday:  Rosenzweig, 28-50 (Historical Knowledge online); 51-82 (Wikipedia & History); 155-178

            Thursday:

 

Week 12 —Week of November 10

— Topics:

Reading — Tuesday:

            Thursday:

 

Part V – Looking forward

Potential topics: Copyright/open source/intellectual property; History in the digital age; Infographics; social networks in the age of Facebook; search in the age of Google; Artificial Intelligence; Crowdsourcing; Digital divide;

Week 13  — Week of November 17

— Topics:  History of Digital History and Its Future

Reading — Tuesday: Rosenzweig, xxi-xxiv, 3-27, 92-153, 203-236

            Thursday: Winston, 337-342

 

Week 14  — Week of November 24

— Topics:  Infographics and the Rise of Visual Literacy

Reading – Tuesday:

— Thursday — Thanksgiving — No Class

 

ALL PROJECTS DUE BY DECEMBER 1

 

Week 15  — Week of December 1

— Presentations?

Reading — Tuesday:

            Thursday:

Exam Period – Discussion of the semester – what worked and what didn’t.

 

Inspirations for this class and syllabus include:

 

 

Questions for students [These will guide our initial discussion as we fill in the syllabus together.]

1)     Which topics are you particularly interested in studying this semester?

2)     What sources would you add to the class resource bibliography (http://www.zotero.org/groups/infoage/items )?  [Note: we’re not going to read all of these.  This bibliography is a resource to draw from and contribute to all semester.]

3)     The central work of the class for the semester will be the creation of a digital timeline/database of popular representations of the Information Age and add materials to it all semester.  We’ll generate the list of dates/items together and then you’ll be creating additional pieces (either as individuals or in groups) that will be added to the timeline database.  So, what types of assignments/projects would you be interested in working on/doing?   What alternative ways might we use to construct/present what we’ve learned in and out of the class about the history of information? 

  1. I want to take advantage of the digital media resources on campus.  In particular, there are two resource-rich locations we should be thinking about.

                                                    i.     The Digital Media Lab in the History/American Studies department in Monroe.  We’ll have 3 iMacs and two Windows computer, with scanners, digital cameras, as well as basic and advanced image, video, and audio editing software.  What kinds of projects could we do with those tools? 

                                                  ii.     What projects relevant to our subject could we create with the full resources of the new IT Convergence Center?  [At a minimum, cameras, audio booth, video recording and editing suites.  What could we create for the digital signage in the building?  For the digital library gallery?  For the giant video wall?]

  1. What percentage of course grade should those assignments be valued at?

4)     I want to take advantage of the classroom we’ll be in.

  1. The new active-learning classroom in the ITCC that we will be in is built around the idea of group work.  In addition to the standard projector and screen, it will have LCD panels at small group tables around the room so students will be able to hook up their laptops and work collaboratively.  I’ve been thinking about having some discussion days start by splitting up into groups with a small topic assignment, giving you 15-45 minutes to work in groups, then asking you to present your results to the rest of the class. What classroom small group projects would you like to try?

5)     What do you think of the layout of the course schedule?  Do you want to spend more or less time on certain broad topics?

 

[1] To that end, for each class students should also prepare some notes on the reading (parallels, problems, factual questions, reminders of past readings, connections to ideas from other classes or from “real life”) so that they have those points in front of them for the discussion.  Although I have no current plan to collect these comments, I reserve the right to do so at some point during the semester.

 

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.

The Assignment for Recreating the historical MWC Classroom

As I discussed in this post, my US Women’s History since 1870 class will be working on a project in which the ultimate goal is to be able to recreate a class session or two from the middle of the 20th Century.

Here is the assignment that I developed for the course, in three stages.  Note the use of individual and group work, online and IRL activities, and deep research in the archives of the school.

As always, I’d appreciate any comments or suggestions.  [The full course syllabus is here.]

MARY WASHINGTON CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE RESEARCH PROJECT
This project will be based around researching Mary Washington College classes in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, & 1960s (including course topics, pedagogical approaches, majors, gender stereotypes, technology, and clothing).  As our class lectures and readings look at the experiences of women in the United States in the late 19th and 20th Centuries, our parallel goal will be to understand what college meant to women who came to Mary Washington in the four decades in the middle of the 20th Century.
Each group of 6-7 of you will have a decade to research, using a variety of online and archival sources, as well as interviews with alums from these decades.  Rather than writing a traditional individual research paper, you’ll keep a research blog and work with your group to create a research site collecting together the information that you’ve found.
Primary source resources (many available in UMW Special Collections)
  • The Bullet
  • Course Catalogs
  • Academic Department and Faculty Files
  • Student Handbooks
  • Photographs (Centennial Collection online plus those digitized, but not online yet)
  • Alumni/Faculty Interviews (talk to me about interview waivers)
  • Resources from Historic Preservation (?)
  • Scrapbooks/Aubade/Alumni Magazine/President’s files
Secondary Sources
  • Crawley, William B. University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History, 1908-2008. Fredericksburg, VA: University of Mary Washington, 2008.
  • Key UMW faculty and staff (Parsons, McClusky, Thaden, Snyder)
Decade-based Research Groups
I will assign each of you to a group of 5-7 each with a different decade at MWC to research, using a variety of online and archival sources, as well as interviews with alums from these decades.  Each person will keep their own research log/blog and work with their group to create a research site collecting together the information that you’ve found.
Part I — Individual Research Logs
Each student will take a particular set of primary sources (or will interview alumni) and research classroom experiences for their group’s decade.  Each student will share her/his work in progress in the form of four individual research log-style blog posts posted before class starts on four consecutive Tuesdays (1/31, 2/7, 2/14, 2/21).
Part II — Group Research Project
Building on the research done by each of the group members, each group will construct a site for their decade in UMWBlogs.  The design, format, and presentation of these sites will be determined by the group, with a broad audience in mind.  These sites are due by 11:59 PM on Monday, March 12.
Grading for Parts I and II – 30% overall, with an individual grade for research logs and group grade for the research project.
Part III – Class re-creation
Based on those group research sites, we will collectively decide (with the help of some alums), which decade we will then use for the final project, a re-creation of a course session or two from that decade.  The form these class sessions will take is still yet to be determined (depending in part on the decade picked), but they will involve everyone in some way in preparation and presentation.  Specific tasks will be determined after the decade is chosen.  This recreation will take place during the week of April 17.
Grading for Part III – 10%, with individual grades defined by student’s participation in the re-creation process.
PLEASE NOTE: Throughout these projects, all ideas, phrases, and quotes must be cited using footnote-style citations and bibliographies done using the Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition) or Turabian’s newest Guide (7th Edition).   

History of the Information Age Syllabus 2.0

So, over the last two weeks, the students in this senior seminar on the History of the Information Age have worked with me to fill in the broad outlines of the syllabus.  This syllabus, version 2.0, has the discussion topics and the assignments set, though I still need to sit down with the weekly discussion leaders to decide on the readings for the week.

The assignments include a variety of ways that, as groups and as individuals, students will contribute to the class timeline set up using the Simile Timline plugin for WordPress.  First they’ll work in groups to create the events that go into the timeline (a process we discussed as a class last Thursday), their other assignments (again, suggested and/or modified by the students) are as follows:

Part one & two – Select one of the following by September 15.

  • Actually use an early system of communication to convey information (demonstrated to the class)
  • OR describe the process and complications of using such an early system to convey information.  (300-500 words, plus sources, posted to your blog)
  • OR research and discuss the significance of an information technology in the life of a specific individual before 1950.  (300-500 words, plus sources, posted to your blog)
  • OR create an infographic with information about an early system of communication from Parts I or II (with sources, posted to your blog)
  • Individual project – Value is 10% of course grade
  • To avoid overlap, each topic must be submitted for approval by September 15.
  • Project due September 29

Part three – Create your own advertisement/commercial/print ad related to the history of information to be shared. – Group – 10%

  • Due Thursday, October 13

Part four – Make a documentary (5-10 minutes) on topic from this period – Group – 15%

  • Due Thursday, November 10

Part five – 5% – Help improve the timeline – Aspect must be preapproved before work starts on it.

  • A) Work on the overall structure/format/presentation of the timeline.
  • B) Pick any point on the timeline to expand on (with research) – Can take form of video, brief, essay, infographic, oral history, etc.
  • Individual, unless a case can be made for group work here.
  • Due the last day of class, December 8.

As always, questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome.  I’m excited to see what projects the students come up with as they begin to explore the concepts of historically located information and communication through a variety of tools.

Collaborative Course Construction

I’m teaching a new course this semester, a senior seminar on the History of the Information Age.  I’ve got a great group of students who are interested in the topic, but also in breaking out of the normal senior readings seminar.  I’ve challenged that format in another senior seminar, Adventures in Digital History (2008/2010 iterations), but this class is a bit different.  ADH is primarily a project based class, where the process of creating the projects is the entire focus of the course.

For this seminar on the Information Age, I wanted to try something different.  I wanted to combine digital history projects with a genuine engagement with  scholarly readings and discussions of themes.  But I also wanted to engage the students in creating the course itself.

So, in late July/early August I created a rough syllabus (version 0.9) here.  It has a rough semester calendar with four broad eras of the “Information Age” — Print (and its predecessors), Early Networked Communication, Broadcasting, and Information in the Digital Age.  It includes three books I had the bookstore order and will have the students read over the course of the semester.  It includes what I see as the non-negotiable parts of the course:  

Students are expected to attend all classes, read all assigned texts, post regularly to the individual blogs, participate in class, and help lead two weeks of class discussions.  Students are also expected to contribute to the creation of a public, digital timeline of developments, events, people in the information age and add materials to it all semester.”

Participation will be worth 40% and blog posts will be worth at least 10%.  
Here’s what I don’t know and what I want to figure out with the class over the next 10 days or so.

  • I don’t know quite what that timeline will look like yet.  I don’t know what will make it on the timeline, how exactly we’ll construct it, what we will add to it and how.
  • I don’t know what the other 50% of the graded portion of the course will consist of.  
    • I imagine some of it will be material that enriches the digital timeline, but I don’t know what that will be yet.  
    • Some preliminary discussion of ideas on the syllabus comments suggests a student interest in group projects, perhaps video recorded oral histories of aspects of the Information Age.  
    • Others have discussed the value of infographics for displaying particularly perspective on trends/ideas/concepts.  
    • It’s also possible that they will include formal or informal presentations of their work as part of the graded portion of the course.
  • I don’t know which topics the class will want to focus on and for how long.
    • On a related note, I don’t know which readings/texts/images/videos we’ll be using beyond the three core texts to explore the topics the class wants.
  • I don’t know if this will work.  But I’ve got a group of students who genuinely seem excited by the chance to try, and so I’m excited too.  

More to follow.