Info Age Assignment # 3 — The advertisements

[Though I still need to go back and blog about the first two assignments in my History of the Information Age senior seminar (the creation of our class timeline and the first set of projects to be placed in that timeline), I decided to go ahead and post about this assignment anyway.]

For this assignment, the class split into four groups, each to work on their own fictional advertisement.  The goal of this assignment was to have students explore what went into advertisements in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and/or 1960s.  We read several pieces on the history of advertising as part of our weekly class reading on the history of communication and information, and students did further research before they actually created their projects.  [Some of the ads juxtapose topics that are chronologically out of the time period of the ad style, but I think that actually helped, in that it forced students to do more than just copy previous advertisements.]

Students threw themselves into researching the way that advertising was done in terms of themes, colors, wording, images, stories, tone, even font.  And at the end I think that they learned quite a bit about the difficulty and possibility of communicating in ways that go beyond text itself.

Check them out and let us know what you think.

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.

A Professor’s Legacy

This weekend I attended a memorial service for one of my Mary Washington college professors, and later colleague, Dr. Richard “Doc” Warner.  Dick had died suddenly a couple of weeks ago while in New York to talk to an editor about the historical novels he’d been writing since he retired.

Dick Warner spent 36 years at Mary Washington, teaching classes in Russian, French, and maritime history.  When I first came to the school as a prospective student he was the one who spent nearly 90 minutes talking to me about the school and the history major.  This was in stark contrast to the other schools I had visited at which I was lucky to get even five minutes with any faculty members; I don’t know if he ever realized it, but he was a big reason that I came to (then) Mary Washington College.  [Over a decade later,  when I applied after graduate school for a tenure-track teaching position in the department, Dick told me that he would only support hiring me if I agreed to become chair someday….  Something tells me he’s still got a smile and a twinkle in his eye about that one.]

Although a dedicated teacher, his real passion was men’s rugby.  He was instrumental in starting the club sport at MWC in the 1980s and was, as one of the participants this weekend noted, the “Godfather of Mary Washington Rugby”.  He advocated for resources with the administration and raised money from a wide variety of sources.  He recruited constantly, boldly poaching athletes from more mainstream sports at the school.  He attended almost every match for decades and continued to come to many games, even after his retirement and move out of state in 2004.

I knew most of this before this weekend.  Frankly, you couldn’t be Dick’s colleague (or student) without getting a major rugby update at least once a week.  But this weekend’s memorial service was a powerful sign of Dick Warner’s impact, of a remarkable legacy.  At the service, on the rugby pitch that really should be named Doc Warner Field, nearly 100 people remembered his life and his impact on them.  As we went around the large circle, we heard from alumni from the classes of the 1980s to 2011, from people who had traveled thousands of miles or just a few blocks, from teary middle-age men to proud recent graduates, all to pay tribute to Dick.

But the tales that were told of Doc Warner this weekend went beyond that of solely a sport.  Of course there were stories of recruiting phone calls and of conversations about various aspects of a student’s rugby game, of the enduring passion and love Dick had for the sport and its players.  But even more powerful were those stories of Dick mentoring students about their classes, working out structured schedules with young men who were having trouble adjusting to the rigorous demands of Mary Washington’s courses, introducing them not only to the library, but to the specific cubicle in which they would henceforth be studying.  Several alums spoke to the fact that, rather than being easier on rugby players in his own classes, that he expected more of them.  And that attention to their success as students and as men didn’t stop with their graduation.  We heard of countless recommendation letters written, or phone calls to potential employers; we heard of the community of people (students, alumni, parents, friends) bound together ostensibly by rugby, but really by Doc Warner’s unrelenting energy and interest; we heard about Dick recognizing former students on the street decades later and remembering key details about their lives.  We heard from Dick’s own family about the importance of “his second family” to Dick, of his pride in them and in their successes.  We heard about his generosity, his quiet support of students in financial straits, and his wry sense of humor.

I was talking with other faculty members at the end of the memorial, wondering at the powerful impact Dick had had on these student-athletes.  Few faculty have the kind of impact, inspire the kind of devotion, leave the kind of legacy that he did.  Many of us who teach would be thrilled to have a memorial service to which so many of those we advised and taught came, where there was as much joy and laughter as there were tears and sadness, a sense of a life well and fully lived for both family and work.  It was a fitting tribute to Richard Warner’s career and life.

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

    Day One of Faculty Academy–Got Inspiration?

    As always, I’m inspired by UMW’s annual Faculty Academy, in its 14th year. I’ve been presenting here every year since I started full time at Mary Washington in 2001, yet I always seem to get more out of the sessions than I ever give in the presentations.

    Others have done recaps, but I’ll do a brief overview of my takeaways from today.

    The day began with brief introductions and a welcome recognition of the talents of our DTLT staff by acting provost Nina Mikhalevsky.

    We quickly moved into the first set of concurrent sessions. I attended Digital Resources and Global Studies: Working Projects, with Susan Fernsebner, Joseph Calpin, Alexandra deGraffenreid, Steven Harris. These faculty and students from my departent of History and American Studies showed how much has changed since I was the only history faculty member to attend Faculty Academy just four or five years. Sue and Steve talked about their projects to collect digital resources (or offline sources catalogued in digital form) related to their particular areas of interest, specifically the history of China and Russia/Soviet Union. Especially intriguing to me was the role that the two students played in shaping the structure of the resource sites, the categories that were used, and the general involvement in the creation of what we might describe as the information architecture of the sites and the resources. Excellent work all!

    The keynote address by James Boyle of Duke Law School, “Cultural Agoraphobia: What Universities Need to Know About Our Bias Against Openness” was a delightful romp through the history of computer technology and the internet (making me think that there is a class to be taught in the “history of the ‘future'”) as well as an argument that our default position should not be closed/proprietary/walled, but open/shared/commons. His point that academia, a group invested in the sharing of information, has been the most closed, most inaccessible group in sharing that information hit home with me. Much to think on there.

    Lunch was enlivened by a mock debate on “Is the CMS Dead?” that went nothing like any of us had expected. Jim Groom of EDUPUNK fame attacked CMSs in his usual passionate way as restrictive of innovation and old. John St. Clair both brought down the house with his laugh-inducing descriptions of Jim and other individuals, and made the argument that there are various teaching styles, some which lend themselves well to Blackboard, and some which don’t, but that we should respect both.

    PSU’s Cole Camplese presented a new version of a talk I heard him give at the Chronicle’s technology forum a few weeks ago, now entitled, “If this is scholarship, then we’re all doomed” (an allusion to a quote from a Chronicle forum audience member who was resisting Cole’s multi-modal argument about social networking (YouTube and/or Twitter) as both creation and conversation).

    Finally I sat on a panel about grappling with one’s own digital identity via purchasing individual domain names and (potentially) mapping onto current UMW resources. I think it was a fascinating conversation with the audience and between the panelists. Very cool.

    After a leisurly evening disecting Jim’s next move, most of us retired for the evening. Tomorrow is another day.

    The Responsibility of a Tech Evangelist: Or, should I help people use a technology I don’t?

    Intellagirl’s recent comment on the EDUPUNK discussion highlights an issue I’ve been struggling with lately. Her comment raised a concern about the notion of “non-cooperation” with more standardized forms of closed/proprietary educational technologies, specifically exploring the issues with non-cooperation as they relate to helping faculty who aren’t interested in ed tech (and/or are not tech-savvy). This gets right at a question I’m interested in hearing from others about.

    I stopped using our out-of-the-box CMS system nearly three semesters ago, but many of my colleagues in the department and the institution still do. It meets their basic needs for course management (dealing with distributing readings, syllabi, assignments, grade posting, limited discussions, digital drop-off, etc.) However, as one of the people seen as an informal departmental (and building) ed tech resource I get lots of questions about how aspects of the CMS works. People want help on the grade book, on arrangements for discussions, on how to best set up online assignments in the CMS, or just basic troubleshooting.

    Some of these questions I can answer, but since it’s been 18 months since I used it last, and since the school has upgraded to a new version of the CMS since then, there are a number of questions I can’t answer.

    This raises the following questions:

    1. Should I spend some valuable time diving back into the campus’s proprietary CMS in order to better help them do what they need to do in it?
    2. Should I just send them off to campus tech support, knowing that in doing so, at least some of them will stop looking to me for advice on tech issues?
    3. Should I use these moments as opportunities to make a hard sell for going outside the CMS for options, knowing that for some of these faculty, even going to the CMS was more change than they were interested in, and knowing that for others, the issues of lack of stability/uniformity/secure access, etc. would make their outside-the-CMS experience at a minimum frustrating, and potentially a deal-breaker? [I’m aware that’s a ridiculously long question, but I see this as a fairly complex issue.]

    How do we help faculty who are at least nominally interested in engaging with educational technology, when we don’t always see that particular tech as being the best way to approach these questions? And how do we approach a technology resource that others use but we don’t? Should we just dismiss it, or should we continue to facilitate its usage?

    Any feedback on this issue would be greatly appreciated.

    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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    A Radical Idea for the Teaching Center

    As is so often the case for me, this post began as a comment on someone else’s blog post (Steve at Pedablogy) and grew to a silly size, so here’s my expanded version:

    I’ve been having this radical idea lately (and it’s one that may make no practical sense, given our institution’s resources and structure), but here it is. In the conversation that the UMW University Committee on Digital Initiatives had with the CIO of Rhodes College, we learned that they had combined the IT and Library departments into one group. One advantage of this for students and faculty was that if you had any questions/ideas/interest about a research/informational topic/project/idea you went to a single place, where you would be referred to the person or people who could best help you (reference librarian, programmer, ITS, or some combo). From a user perspective it helps avoid the paralyzing question about where you go and it avoids some of the “siloization” that seems to be such a problem for academia.

    What if the UMW teaching center worked in a similar way? [Here I’m thinking of combining, DTLT, the Speaking and Writing Centers, maybe even academic tutoring.] What if you had any kind of question about teaching or learning and you just had a single source to go to? E.g., I want to brainstorm new assignments to engage my students more fully in a text. Go to the single entry point and you have access to a number of options, a number of experts in various aspects of teaching and learning. Maybe you can talk with someone from the speaking center and someone else from DTLT to create a project.

    Imagine what it would be like to be able to have all of those resources in one place, easily accessible to faculty and students. Imagine what collaborations might emerge. Another benefit of having all those groups under one institutional roof would be that they would be able to talk to each other and bridge some of those silos of effort and innovation. [I’m not so naive to think the silos would disappear.] Another potential benefit might be streamlining of spaces and resources and administration.

    Obvious Cons: It would take a special group of leaders to make this work. It would require combining some radically different departmental cultures. It might result in fewer people working to support faculty and students in these areas (the dark side of “streamlining”). It risks restricting the nimble, creative nature of at least one of those departments. With the wrong leader, it risks overemphasizing one method or approach over others. Perhaps it should just focus on pedagogy and leave student services where it is.

    What am I missing here? [I’m sure a great deal.] And, if the plan itself is impractical, how could we take some of best aspects of it and implement them now, in 2 years, in 5 years?

    A Semester of Digital History — Formal Presentations

    The formal presentation of my seminar’s Digital History projects will be part of the History Department’s end-of-the-semester symposium. All four groups will present on Friday, April 25, at 3 PM in Monroe Hall 202.

    Those of you in the area, please come see them present. We don’t just want to present these projects to the class, but to the department, the university, and the alumni community.

    [Over the weekend, I showed the projects to the Alumni Association Board of Directors and they were well received.]