Visiting Parson Weems’s House

A bit of a break from my normal discussions about teaching and technology:

Today, my family and I had the chance to visit a house once owned by Parson (Mason Locke) Weems, famed for writing the first biography of George Washington (and the man responsible for introducing that silly story about Washington chopping down the cherry tree as a child).  The house is for sale at auction next month and today was an open house.  My family doesn’t have much chance of buying it (though I was assured that it could well sell for “under a million”), but we enjoyed touring the house and the 25 acre grounds of Bel Air (especially since after the sale, it’s likely to be inaccessible again as a private residence).

Originally built in the 1740s, it was renovated in the late 19th Century and again in the mid- and late 20th Century.  It is oddly accessed by driving through a very modern neighborhood (a contrast which I tried to capture in the last group of pictures in the Flickr slideshow at the bottom of the page).  There is a great deal of land that comes with the house, but the house itself is quite close to the neighborhood and a nearby modern church building.  Still, the house is a wonderful blend of the modern and the colonial, from the formal sitting rooms on the main floor (see image below) to the wireless router and laser printer in the office, from the servant staircase that leads to a door on the second floor living room and the full hearth in the same room as the modernized kitchen appliances.  The grounds would be a wonderful place for a garden party, although they could use a little work.  There is also a small family graveyard, where Weems is apparently (though not definitively) buried.

All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon with my family.  Now we just have to start a Kickstarter fundraiser to be able to buy the house ourselves.

Formal Sitting Room on Main Floor (captured using Photosynth)

Vote now on the UMW decade sites

The research sites on the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s that my US Women’s History students have created as part of our project to re-create the Mary Washington college classroom experience are now up on the course site.

Please check the sites out, and vote for the site that you think provides the best set of resources for our class to actually re-create the classroom experience.

Thanks!

What do we call that “digital” thing that we want to teach?

I’ve been wrestling with the notion of an interdisciplinary academic program for undergraduates that engages students in thoughtful consumption of digital media, in production of scholarly and creative work in various forms of digital media, and in exploration and analysis of the implications of such media.  In trying to clarify my thoughts before I go talk to people about this idea at my school and elsewhere, I asked for help on Twitter.  The following is the conversation that emerged.  I’m still analyzing it–I’m clearly still stuck, for example, in my quest to find a term that captures much of what I like about “Digital Humanities”, while including the social sciences and sciences as well–but I thought it might be useful to have the whole thing in one place for me and for anyone else who is interested.  I’d welcome any other comments or contributions to the discussion.

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).   

Re-Creating the College Classroom of the Past

I just sent the following email to one of my classes for the Spring.

Hello all,

Thanks for signing up for History 328: US Women’s History since 1870.  I wanted to give you a little preview of my plans for our class next semester because the research projects in the class are going to be a little different than that of other history classes (even for those of you who took HIST 327 this fall).

First of all, in many ways, the general structure of the class is going to be fairly standard.  We’ll have lectures on Tuesdays and part of Thursdays, and discuss readings on Thursdays.  There will be a mid-term and a final based on those lectures, discussions, and readings.

What’s different is that the rest of your grade, roughly 40%, will be based on a series of projects we’ll be working on in groups and as a class.  These projects 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 the class lectures and readings look at the experiences of women in the United States in the late 19th and 20thCenturies, 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 20thCentury.

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.

Based on those sites, we will collectively decide (perhaps 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.

Now, if this project is not the kind of thing you’ll be interested in working on, you may want to look for another class.  But I hope you’ll each at least be intrigued by the idea and perhaps even excited by doing something that is original, fun, and creative, while tying in to the themes we’ll be discussing more broadly for US women in the class.

Have a terrific break and I’ll see you in January.

Dr. McClurken

I’m very excited about this project, so any suggestions you have for the process, the approach, the research sites, or anything else will be greatly appreciated.

Info Age #4 — The Documentaries

[Be sure to check out the earlier installments of my discussion of my History of the Information Age senior seminar as well:   here, here, and here, as well as the class timeline and the list of the first set of projects to be placed in that timeline.]

Assignment #4 in this course was the group documentaries on some aspect of the Information Age.  I didn’t give the students a great deal of direction, other than to say that they needed to show change over time, that they should be between 5 and 10 minutes, and that they needed to upload them somewhere where they could be seen (they all chose YouTube).  They had about three weeks to come up with a topic (related to the class discussions of the digital age), research, film, and edit the video.


Each group had a basic video camera, and they had access to the editing stations in our Digital Media Lab (with iMovie and Premiere).   Ultimately, only one group used Premiere, one used iMovie, and two used Windows Movie Maker.  
Although they had been given a brief intro to video editing at the start of the semester by DTLT, most of them were going to be doing video capture and editing for the first time.  I recommended that they test out their cameras, video files, and basic editing before they got too far into the process so that they could figure out problems in advance.

They presented the documentaries to the class and they were a great deal of fun.  Certainly, the videos aren’t as polished as they would have been if I had spent more time in training them how to use editing software, or if they’d had more time in the semester to work on them (both points the students make in their after-project posts, linked below), but I’m quite impressed with the work they produced and their willingness to throw themselves into the projects.  

What’s your take?  What suggestions do you have for future iterations of the assignment?

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.