An Amazing Life

The last few days have been very difficult for the UMW community.  It’s been a turbulent semester, but the news late last week that one of our students had been murdered in an event that remains tragic and largely unexplained has rocked our worlds.

I didn’t know Grace Mann well, but I knew of her from many people who I respect and trust, students, faculty, and staff.  I knew of her activism, I knew of her passionate defenses of others, I knew of her energy and enthusiasm, and I knew that I was glad that she had been appointed to serve on the President’s Task Force on Sexual Assault.  I knew that Grace, an American Studies major, had, even as a junior, already been involved at a high level in independent studies and presentations at scholarly conferences.  Her dance mat typing skills helped her a lot. I knew that she had a reputation for engaging, challenging, and inspiring those who taught her.  I knew that I was looking forward to having her in my US Women’s History course in the fall (especially because I was going to have to bring my “A game” to keep up with her).

My heart aches for her parents and her family, for her fellow activists, for her friends, for her teachers, for her communities in Fredericksburg, Northern Virginia, and beyond.  I cried with so, so many of them today as we attended her funeral at Temple Rodef Shalom, and the grave-side burial at King David Memorial Gardens.  I won’t try to summarize the funeral (which can be seen here by clicking on the On-Demand Viewer on that page) beyond noting that the speakers–Cedric Rucker, Leah Cox, her roommates and best friends, and her amazing parents–depicted a life of light, passion, energy, deep friendship, inspiration, activism, and love–deep, giving, encompassing love–that defies simple categorization but included many, many hugs.  The sadness at her death and the inspiration of her life battled within me all day and I suspect within the many others around me.

It’s painful to imagine what we have all lost, what the world has lost, from her life being abruptly shortened in this way.  Given what Grace had already accomplished, the good she had already done, the people she had already inspired, we are poorer today to not have her among us.  Yet the incredible woman her parents brought up will continue to inspire all who knew her, and as long as her story continues to be told, she will inspire others as well.

Her parents have requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to RCASA, the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault. Having watched RCASA provide essential support as far back as my own undergraduate days at Mary Washington in the early-1990s, I know it is a great organization doing incredibly important work and donations to it are a fitting tribute to much of Grace’s work on and off campus.  There will also be a memorial fund established at UMW in her honor.

There were many hugs today as we mourned our loss and celebrated Grace’s life.

Talking about Digital History and the SHA

At the Southern Historical Association Conference in November 2013, I was asked by Ian Binnington and David Herr, editors of the H-South discussion network and fellow historians of the South, to sit down and talk about digital history, digital tools, scholarship and teaching, and the role of scholarly organizations and conferences in a Digital Age.  I was honored to be asked (though I should note I was a last-minute replacement for another scholar who has a terrific book about which it would have been great to hear more), and Ian and I talked for about an hour.  David Herr did a great job splitting the footage into discrete clips. [I’ll be honest, though I’m pleased with the conversation, mostly what I see are my own verbal tics, include some painful verbal clutter.] Still, I think Ian and I work through some basic issues and opportunities that historians face these days.

Introduction

https://networks.h-net.org/node/512/discussions/34999/h-south-sha-and-youtube

Changing Modes of Research

Cataloging

Digital Tools

Dangers of Digital Humanities

Academia

Scholarship

Student Engagement

Changing Conferences

Finishing Up the Semester with a Big Thank You

It has been an incredible semester.  We’ve opened an amazing building that thousands of people have already used, submitted one grant and are working on another, created a new First-Year Seminar that 7 of us will teach next fall, opened a new Digital Knowledge Center with students helping other students with technology questions, begun a process of assessing where our students are and would like to go regarding digitally enabled learning, created a new major in Communication and Digital Studies, and so much more.  I’ve also taught two classes, advised dozens of students, and started a new section of the team-taught, inter-institutional Century America class with my colleague from UNCA, Ellen Holmes Pearson.

My dual roles as Professor of History and American Studies and as the Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation has been made possible by a network of amazing people at UMW. This post is just an attempt to document that network in the most basic way and to say thank you to each of them.

  • My colleagues in the new Teaching, Technology, and Innovation Unit that I now oversee.
    • Mary Kayler, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation
    • Jim Groom, Executive Director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies
      • Lisa Ames, LMS Administrator & eLearning Specialist
      • Martha Burtis, Director of the Digital Knowledge Center
        • Student tutors of the DKC
      • Ryan Brazell, Instructional Technology Specialist
      • Tim Owens, Assistant Director of DTLT
      • Andy Rush, Coordinator of Academic Media Production
    • Leah Tams, Admin Assistant
    • Cartland Berge, ITCC Building and Digital Auditorium Manager
  • The ITCC Building Committee — who designed the building over a six year period (and many of whom have stayed on as part of the Building User’s Group).
    • Rosemary Arneson, University Librarian
    • Jack Bales, Reference Librarian
    • Martha Burtis, Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies
    • Hall Cheshire, Interim Chief Information Officer
    • Gary Hobson, Capital Outlay Director
    • Nina Mikhalevsky, Professor of Philosophy
    • Allyson Moerman, Associate Vice President for Finance and Controller
    • Cedric Rucker, Dean of Student Life
    • Leonard Shelton, Associate Capital Outlay Director
    • Jerry Slezak, Director, Information Technology Support Services
    • John Morello, Associate Provost (committee chair)
  • The many other people in the other units in the ITCC
    • Gwendolyn Hale, Writing Center and Writing Program Director
    • P. Anand Rao, Associate Professor of Communication and Speaking Intensive Program Director
    • Amanda Rutstein, ITCC Office Manager
    • Deb Hovey Boutchyard, Director of Network & Communication Services
    • David Dean, Director of Data Center Services
    • The whole team of IT Support Services
    • Keith Mellinger, Director of the QEP
  • The many people in Capital Outlay, Facilities, UMW Police, Housekeeping, and Emergency Management and Safety, especially Joey Straughan.
  • Jonathan Levin, Provost
    • The Deans and Associate Provosts of the Academic Affairs Council
  • My patient colleagues in the History and American Studies Department, who have put up with my being away from the halls of Monroe more than I first envisioned.
  • Debra Schleef, Steve Hanna, and others outside my department who have listened to me talk endlessly about security, contractors, and building management issues,
  • The students in my US History in Film and History of the Information Age classes, who reminded me constantly of the mission of the institution and why I love teaching.
James Farmer on ITCC Media Wall

James Farmer video created by UMW students displayed on the new ITCC Media Wall — See http://jamesfarmerlectures.umwblogs.org/ for video.

I have so many people to thank, so my apologies if I’ve forgotten anyone.  But it should be clear that if I had a good semester, it’s because I work with a large, amazing network of colleagues.  So thank you all.

Revised Digital History Review Guidelines

Thanks to all those who offered advice on my last post, especially Sheila Brennan and Matthew Lincoln.  The new guidelines I submitted are copied below.  They are still heavily based on those created by previous editors of this section of the Journal (Roy Rosenzweig and Kelly Schrum) but offer more categories, more instructions for reviewing, and a mention of collaborative authorship and coding/programming.  It’s not perfect, but I think it does a much better job of addressing the changes in a growing and complex field.

Digital History Reviews

“Web Site Reviews” first appeared in the June 2001 issue of the Journal of American History and became “Digital History Reviews” in the September 2013 issue. This section is a collaborative venture with the History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web, http://historymatters.gmu.edu. This section appears quarterly and normally runs five reviews.

Jeffrey W. McClurken, Professor of History and American Studies & Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation at the University of Mary Washington, is the contributing editor for the “Digital History Reviews” section of the Journal.

The editor welcomes suggestions and may be reached at jmcclurk@umw.edu.

 

Guidelines

Although these scholarly reviews of digital history projects follow the long tradition of reviewing books in the JAH—as well as the more recent practice of reviewing museum exhibitions, films, and textbooks—digital history reviews have some particular features. The guidelines below provide specific suggestions for dealing with this medium. Please feel free to write to me with any questions you might have, as well as suggested revisions and clarifications in the guidelines.

Digital history projects share a common medium, but they are quite diverse in their character. Reviewers need to keep that diversity in mind and to evaluate them on their own terms. Generally, most digital history projects fall into one of the following categories, although many sites combine different genres:

  • Archive: a site that provides a body of primary sources. Could also include collections of documents marked up in TEI or databases of materials.
  • Essay, Exhibit, Digital Narrative: something created or written specifically for the Web or with digital methods, that serves as a secondary source for interpreting the past by offering a historical narrative or argument. This can also include maps, network visualizations, or other ways of representing historical data.
  • Teaching Resource: a site that provides online assignments, syllabi, other resources specifically geared toward using the Web or digital apps for teaching, including educational history content for children or adults, pedagogical training tools, and outreach to the education community.
  • Tool: downloadable, plugin, app, or online service that provides functionality related to creating, accessing, aggregating, or editing digital history content (rather than the content itself).
  • Gateway/Clearinghouse: a site that provides access to other websites or Internet-based resources.
  • Journal/Blog/Publication: any type of online publication.
  • Professional/Institutional Site: a site devoted to sharing information on a particular organization.
  • Digital Community: online social spaces that offer a virtual space for people to gather around a common experience, exhibition or interest.
  • Podcasts:video and audio podcasts that engage audiences on historical topics and themes.
  • Audio/Application-based Tours: Downloadable walking, car, or museum tours
  • Games: Challenging interactive activities that educate through competition or role playing, finding evidence defined by rules and linked to a specific outcome. Games can be online, peer-to-peer or mobile.
  • Data sets, APIs: compilations of machine-readable data, shared in a commonly-accessible format, possibly through a CSV file or an Application Programming Interface (API), or data files, that allows others to make use of this data in their own digital history work.

Many projects to be reviewed will probably fall into one of the first three categories. The reviewing criteria will vary depending on the category into which the site falls. Thus, for example, an archival site should be evaluated based on the quality of the materials presented; the care with which they have been prepared and perhaps edited and introduced; the ease of navigation; and its usefulness to teachers, students, and scholars. How comprehensive is the archive? Are there biases in what has been included or excluded? Does the archive, in effect, offer a point of view or interpretation? As with other types of reviews, you are providing guidance to readers on the usefulness of the site in their teaching or scholarship. At the same time, you are participating in a community of critical discourse and you are trying to improve the level of work in the field. As you would do in a scholarly book review, then, you are speaking both to potential readers and to producers of similar work.

Even within a single category, the purposes of the digital history projects can vary significantly. An online exhibition or a digital narrative can be directed at a largely scholarly audience or a more broadly public audience. It would be unfair to fault a popularly oriented website for failing to trace the latest nuances in scholarship, but it would certainly be fair to note that the creators had not taken current scholarship into account. In general, then, online exhibitions and essays should be judged by the quality of their interpretation: What version of the past is presented? Is it grounded in historical scholarship? Is it original in its interpretation or mode of presentation? Again, the goal of the review is to provide guidance to potential readers (who might be reading in their roles as teachers, scholars, or citizens) and to raise the level of digital-based historical work.

Classroom-oriented projects would be judged by the quality of the scholarship underlying them, but naturally you would also want to evaluate the originality and usefulness of the pedagogical approach. Will this project be useful to teachers and students? At what level?

Reviews of digital history projects must necessarily address questions of navigation and presentation. To some extent, this is the same as a book reviewer commenting on whether a book is well written or clearly organized. To be sure, the conventions of book publication are well enough established that book reviewers rarely comment on matters of navigation or design—although they do occasionally note a poorly prepared index or a work with excessive typographical errors. But in the digital world, which is an emerging medium that is visual (and often multimedia), issues of design and “interface” are necessarily more important. In this sense, digital history reviews share a great deal with film and exhibit reviews. In general, reviewers should consider what, if anything, the electronic medium adds to the historical work being presented. Does the digital format allow the creators of the project to do something different or better than what has been done in pre-digital formats (for example, books, films, museum exhibitions)? Have the creators of the project made effective use of the medium? How easy is it to find specific materials and to find your way around the project?

In summary, most reviews will address the following five areas:

  • Content: Is the scholarship sound and current? What is the interpretative point of view? How well is the content communicated to users?
  • Design: Does the information architecture clearly communicate what a user can find in the site? Does the structure make it easy for a user to navigate through the site? Do all of the sections of the project function as expected? Does it have a clear, effective, and original design? How accessible is the site for individuals of all abilities? If it is a website, is it responsive (i.e., tablet/mobile-friendly)?
  • Audience: Is the project directed at a clear audience? How well does the project address the needs of that audience?
  • Digital Media: Does it make effective use of digital media and new technology? Does it do something that could not be done in other media—print, exhibition, film?
  • Creators: Many digital projects include multiple contributors. Who worked on this project and in what capacity?

Although it won’t be necessary for all sites, it may well be appropriate to comment on some of the more technical aspects of the site.  What programming or coding choices have been made and how have they shaped the project that emerged?  How are the materials of the project made available? [For example, how are the materials in a database project accessible? Via a search bar?  In a downloadable format? In multiple machine-readable formats (CSV, JSON, API)?]  Remember, however, that the journal’s audience may not be familiar with these terms, so plan on some context.  If you have questions about when such comments are appropriate or how best to provide context, please ask me.

Because some digital history projects (largely archives) are vast, it is not possible to read every document or visit every link. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936–1940, at the Library of Congress’s American Memory site, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wpaintro/wpahome.html, includes 2,900 documents that range from 2,000 to 15,000 words in length. The reviewer could hardly be expected to read what probably amounts to the equivalent of 300 books. In such circumstances, some systematic sampling of the contents can substitute for a review of every single part. At the same time, the reviewer of a digital project should devote the same kind of close attention to the work as does a reviewer of a book, exhibition, or film. Because there is no easy way to indicate the size of a digital project (as you can note the number of pages in a book or the number of minutes in a film), you should try (ideally early in your review) to give readers some sense of the kinds of material found and the quantity of each.

One final way that digital history projects differ from books, exhibits, and films is that they are often works in progress. Thus, we ask that the headnote for the review indicate when you examined the project (this could be a range of dates) just as you would indicate in reviewing a performance of a play. Where the project plans some significant further changes, you should say that in the review. If you think that it would make more sense to wait for further changes before reviewing the project, then please let us know and we will put the review off to a later date. If you feel that you need additional information about a project in order to complete a review, we would be happy to contact the author or creator on your behalf.

Because of our scholarly and pedagogical focus, our first priority in selecting reviewers is to find people whose scholarship and teaching parallels the subject areas of the project. We do not favor people who have some “technical” skill any more than we would expect book reviewers to know how books are typeset and printed. But we do have a preference—where possible—for reviewers who are familiar with what has been done in the digital world, since that will give them a comparative context for their evaluation. Still, we recognize that such familiarity is still only gradually emerging among professional historians, and some reviewers will be relatively new to such work.

Headings:

Name of site/title. Address/URL. Who set it up? Who maintains it (if different)? When reviewer consulted it.

EXAMPLES:

Panoramic Maps, 1847–1929. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/pmhtml/panhome.html. Created and maintained by the Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Reviewed Dec. 25, 2000–Jan. 2, 2001.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: March 25, 1911. http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at Cornell University in cooperation with UNITE! (Union of Needle Trades, Industrial, and Textile Employees); edited by Hope Nisly and Patricia Sione. Last site update April 21, 2000. Reviewed Dec. 20, 2000–Jan. 5, 2001.

 

Jeffrey McClurken
Editor, Digital History Reviews, Journal of American History
Professor of History and American Studies
Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation
University of Mary Washington
http://mcclurken.org/
Twitter: @jmcclurken
Phone: 540-654-1475
jmcclurk at umw dot edu

 

Reviewing Digital History Projects — A Request for Input

Among the many hats I wear, I’m the contributing editor for Digital History Reviews in the Journal of American History.  That means I solicit, edit, and submit 5-6 500-word reviews every 3 months on a wide array of digital projects (including sites, tools, apps, databases, and so on).  There are very few places that regularly review digital projects and those of us interested in digital history as a field need to facilitate more and better reviews of those projects.  This notion was something that I heard over and over again at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media 20th Anniversary Conference last weekend.  [There were 3 different breakout sessions that dealt with peer review of digital history projects in some way and several of the invited speakers mentioned it in their remarks.]

Fortuitously, it is also time to update the guidelines that I provide the JAH Digital History Project Reviewers (copied below).  Having just had a number of conversations about peer review of digital projects at the RRCHNM conference, I know that I want to push reviewers to think more about who the various contributors are (including undergraduate and graduate students), to contemplate questions of coding/programming, and to look more deeply at claimed and actual historiographic impact.  I’m also struggling with notions of reviewing versions of digital projects (should we go back a review a site again after a big update?) as well as questions of how to capture the complexity of some projects in limited space (is it worth doing just 3 1000-word reviews to allow reviewers to explore more extensively each site?).

So, any suggestions you have for changes, updates, clarifications, or additions are welcomed.

 

Digital History Reviews

“Web Site Reviews” first appeared in the June 2001 issue of the Journal of American History and became “Digital History Reviews” in the September 2013 issue. This section is a collaborative venture with the Web site History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web http://historymatters.gmu.edu. This section appears quarterly and normally runs five reviews.

Jeffrey W. McClurken, the department chair and professor of History and American Studies at the University of Mary Washington, is the contributing editor for the “Digital History Reviews” section of the Journal.

The editor welcomes suggestions and may be reached at jmcclurk@umw.edu.

Guidelines

Although these scholarly reviews of digital history projects follow the long tradition of reviewing books in theJAH—as well as the more recent practice of reviewing museum exhibitions, films, and textbooks—digital history reviews have some particular features. The guidelines below provide specific suggestions for dealing with this medium. Please feel free to write to me with any questions you might have, as well as suggested revisions and clarifications in the guidelines.

Digital history projects share a common medium (the World Wide Web), but they are quite diverse in their character. Reviewers need to keep that diversity in mind and to evaluate them on their own terms. Generally, most digital history projects fall into one of the following categories, although many sites combine different genres:

  • Archive: a site that provides a body of primary documents.
  • Electronic Essay/Exhibit: something created/written specifically for the Web—that is, a secondary source that interprets the past in some fashion. This would include “hypertexts” that offer a historical narrative or argument.
  • Teaching Resource: a site that provides online assignments, syllabi, and other resources specifically geared toward using the Web for teaching.
  • Tool: something that provides functionality related to creating, accessing, or editing digital history content (rather than the content itself).
  • Gateway: a site that provides access to other Web-based materials.
  • Journal/Webzine: an online publication.
  • Organization: a site devoted to providing information on a particular organization.
  • Virtual Community: a site on which a historical community—popular or academic—interacts.

Most projects to be reviewed will probably fall into one of the first three categories. The reviewing criteria will vary depending on the category into which the site falls. Thus, for example, an archival site should be evaluated based on the quality of the materials presented; the care with which they have been prepared and perhaps edited and introduced; the ease of navigation; and its usefulness to teachers, students, and scholars. How comprehensive is the archive? Are there biases in what has been included or excluded? Does the archive, in effect, offer a point of view or interpretation? As with other types of reviews, you are providing guidance to readers on the usefulness of the site in their teaching or scholarship. At the same time, you are participating in a community of critical discourse and you are trying to improve the level of work in the field. As you would do in a scholarly book review, then, you are speaking both to potential readers and to producers of similar work.

Even within a single category, the purposes of the digital history projects can vary significantly. An online exhibition or an “electronic essay” can be directed at a largely scholarly audience or a more broadly public audience. It would be unfair to fault a popularly oriented Web site for failing to trace the latest nuances in scholarship, but it would certainly be fair to note that the creators had not taken current scholarship into account. In general, then, online exhibitions and essays should be judged by the quality of their interpretation: What version of the past is presented? Is it grounded in historical scholarship? Is it original in its interpretation or mode of presentation? Again, the goal of the review is to provide guidance to potential readers (who might be reading in their roles as teachers, scholars, or citizens) and to raise the level of digital-based historical work.

Classroom-oriented projects would be judged by the quality of the scholarship underlying them, but naturally you would also want to evaluate the originality and usefulness of the pedagogical approach. Will this project be useful to teachers and students? At what level?

Reviews of digital history projects must necessarily address questions of navigation and presentation. To some extent, this is the same as a book reviewer commenting on whether a book is well written or clearly organized. To be sure, the conventions of book publication are well enough established that book reviewers rarely comment on matters of navigation or design—although they do occasionally note a poorly prepared index or a work with excessive typographical errors. But in the digital world, which is an emerging medium that is visual (and often multimedia), issues of design and “interface” are necessarily more important. In this sense, digital history reviews share a great deal with film and exhibit reviews. In general, reviewers should consider what, if anything, the electronic medium adds to the historical work being presented. Does the digital format allow the creators of the project to do something different or better than what has been done in pre-digital formats (for example, books, films, museum exhibitions)? Have the creators of the project made effective use of the medium? How easy is it to find specific materials and to find your way around the project?

In summary, most reviews will address the following four areas:

  • Content: Is the scholarship sound and current? What is the interpretation or point of view?
  • Form: Is it clear? Easy to navigate? Does it function effectively? Does it have a clear, effective, and original design? Does it have a coherent structure?
  • Audience/Use: Is it directed at a clear audience? Will it serve the needs of that audience?
  • New Media: Does it make effective use of new media and new technology? Does it do something that could not be done in other media—print, exhibition, film?

Because some digital history projects (largely archives) are vast, it is not possible to read every document or visit every link. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936–1940, at the Library of Congress’s American Memory site, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wpaintro/wpahome.html, includes 2,900 documents that range from 2,000 to 15,000 words in length. The reviewer could hardly be expected to read what probably amounts to the equivalent of 300 books. In such circumstances, some systematic sampling of the contents can substitute for a review of every single Web page. At the same time, the reviewer of a Web site should devote the same kind of close attention to the work as does a reviewer of a book, exhibition, or film. Because there is no easy way to indicate the size of a Web site (as you can note the number of pages in a book or the number of minutes in a film), you should try (ideally early in your review) to give readers some sense of the kinds of material found and the quantity of each.

One final way that digital history projects differ from books, exhibits, and films is that they are often works in progress. Thus, we ask that the headnote for the review indicate when you examined the project (this could be a range of dates) just as you would indicate in reviewing a performance of a play. Where the project plans some significant further changes, you should say that in the review. If you think that it would make more sense to wait for further changes before reviewing the project, then please let us know and we will put the review off to a later date. If you feel that you need additional information about a project in order to complete a review, we would be happy to contact the author or creator on your behalf.

Because of our scholarly and pedagogical focus, our first priority in selecting reviewers is to find people whose scholarship and teaching parallels the subject areas of the project. We do not favor people who have some “technical” skill any more than we would expect book reviewers to know how books are typeset and printed. But we do have a preference—where possible—for reviewers who are familiar with what has been done in the digital world, since that will give them a comparative context for their evaluation. Still, we recognize that such familiarity is still only gradually emerging among professional historians, and some reviewers will be relatively new to such work.

Headings:

Name of site/title. Address/URL. Who set it up? Who maintains it (if different)? When reviewer consulted it.

EXAMPLES:

Panoramic Maps, 1847–1929, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/pmhtml/panhome.html. Created and maintained by the Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Reviewed Dec. 25, 2000–Jan. 2, 2001.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: March 25, 1911, http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at Cornell University in cooperation with unite! (Union of Needle Trades, Industrial, and Textile Employees); edited by Hope Nisly and Patricia Sione. Last site update April 21, 2000. Reviewed Dec. 20, 2000–Jan. 5, 2001.

Jeffrey McClurken
Editor, Digital History Reviews, Journal of American History
Professor and Department Chair, History and American Studies
University of Mary Washington
http://cas.umw.edu/historyamericanstudies/
http://mcclurken.org/
Twitter: @jmcclurken
Phone: 540-654-1475
jmcclurk at umw dot edu

Updates on the Convergence Center

So, 8 weeks after the ITCC opened, I decided it was (past) time for an update to students, faculty, and staff about what was going on in the building and was still to come.  This is the email that went out to Faculty and Staff.

To:  UMW Faculty and Staff
From: Jeff McClurken, on behalf of the Information and Technology Convergence Center User’s Group
Subject: Update on the Convergence Center

The Convergence Center has been open for two months now and hundreds of students (& faculty and staff) have already taken (or taught) classes there, walked across the bridge to the library, had coffee at Blackstone’s, charged devices while sitting on the powered lobby furniture, taken a spin in the famous red chairs on the 4th floor, held meetings in one of the conference rooms, reserved a collaboration space or room online, tried out the computers in the training lab or in the lobby, visited one of the many student support centers, and studied in the numerous niches around the ITCC.  Last week the new Digital Knowledge Center (like the Writing and Speaking Centers, but for digital class projects) began accepting appointments with its student tutors. [For those who are interested, Director Martha Burtis recently wrote about the creation of the Center.]  

Starting today the multimedia editing room with vocal recording booth opens on the first floor (accessible to all students via the EagleOne card).  In the weeks and months to come, the building will offer new opportunities, from checking out digital equipment at the Information Desk, to the opening of an Advanced Media Production Studio and the Digital Auditorium, to the unveiling of the Library’s Digital Archiving Lab and Digital Gallery on the third floor near the bridge.  Keep an eye as well on the Digital Media Wall in the lobby of the ITCC as we begin to display more student-created digital media projects.

If you have any questions about the Convergence Center’s resources, policies, hours, options, and opportunities for students, faculty, and staff, or simply want to keep up to date on what’s new in the building, check out the newly launched website, http://convergence.umw.edu.  You can also ask any of the student aides who work in the building about what is here and how to use it, especially those staffing the Information Desk found as you enter the building from Campus Walk.

See you soon!

A Day in the Life of a SAPTTI

I haven’t written much about my new job as Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation (SAPTTI), in part because it has kept me quite busy, especially since it is “only” a half-time position (meaning I’m still teaching two courses each semester).  But today I had a day that involved many of the aspects of this new position that I deeply enjoy, and I wanted to share them, both for my own sake, and for others to get a sense of what a position like this one entails.

At various points today, I was involved in the following activities (in no particular order, since many of them overlapped):

  • Collaboratively planning a new First-Year Seminar–“Beyond the Selfie: Exploring Digital Identities”–with an amazing team of faculty and staff from multiple disciplines to be taught in the Fall of 2015.
  • Sitting a shift at the Convergence Center Information Desk where I saw over a hundred students, faculty, and alums (it’s Homecoming Weekend) walk in to go to class, to hang out in the chairs, to study (on a Friday!) in the collaboration spaces, to meet with people from the Help Desk, Writing Center, Speaking Center, Center for Teaching Excellence & Innovation, and just to check out the building.
  • Reviewing with the ITCC building contractor and UMW’s project inspector the myriad of small things that continue to be revised in any new building.
  • Collaboratively hacking out a grant proposal with several of people I work with in UMW’s stellar Teaching and Learning Technologies unit (DTLT).  It has the potential to be an amazing partnership involving faculty, students, and some terrific people outside UMW as well. [And yes, I’m going to leave it that vague for now.  Hopefully we’ll be able to brag about it later.]
  • Finishing up one of the last duties of my life as department chair, a duty that reinforced for me how great the faculty are in my home Department of History and American Studies; they are a gifted group of scholar-teachers.
  • Swapping strategies on framing a proposal a number of people from various departments have been working on for a new major in Communication and Digital Studies.
  • Discussing evolving student projects from my classes on US History and Film and History of the Information Age, reminding me how creative and impressive our students are capable of being.  [More about these as they get further along….]
  • Writing up an email to UMW students about the resources currently available in the Convergence Center, the new ones coming on line (including our Multimedia Editing Lab) and the features still to come, like our Digital Auditorium and Production Studio.
  • Working to finish up the process of adding an important final piece to the people who make the ITCC go, a part-time Building and Digital Auditorium Manager.
  • Reviewing questions for a survey of students to assess their interest in digitally enabled learning of all forms, their digital fluency, and their experiences using technology in learning.  [A survey built and to be run, in part, by UMW students.]  This survey results will be a key set of data as I work with others on a digital learning strategy for UMW this year.

Finally, toward the end of the day, I walked by the brand new Digital Knowledge Center where I saw students working one-on-one with other students to learn how to use digital tools in their classes.  This idea, first proposed by a number of us in 2011, has finally happened. [And founding Director Martha Burtis has a wonderful description of that new academic resource that you should read.]

At so many points today I was surrounded by smart, thoughtful, creative, gifted people, all teachers and learners (despite their titles of student, faculty, staff, administrator, director, or whatever).  Laughter abounded, ideas blossomed, learning happened.

What is the day in the life of a Special Assistant?  Well, this one was pretty good, but frankly, on the whole, most of them are.

Why I Teach

Let’s get something clear from the start: I love teaching. I love teaching history. I love teaching students at a school that prioritizes teaching. I love walking in to a classroom with historical documents and scholarly readings and images and strategies for how I’m going to talk with students about the past (and often the present and the future).  I love that I walk out from that same classroom an hour or so later simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated, having learned as much as the students have in our give and take of learning about the past.  I love seeing what students can do if you push them out of their comfort zone while also providing them with support and opportunities to approach, both creatively and rigorously, the study of history.  I love my job.

My approach to teaching is grounded in the importance of historical inquiry, the multidisciplinary nature of the liberal arts, and five key related beliefs.  First, I believe that students are at the center of teaching.  I work to involve students in classes as participants, leaders, and fellow learners.  In exchange, I expect students to take responsibility for their education in and out of my classes.

Second, I believe that technology can play a key role in enhancing traditional pedagogical practices.  I integrate WordPress, Omeka, Facebook, Twitter, wikis, and web-based discussions, online research, multimedia content, digital history projects, electronic editing of papers, and image and video creation into my classes.  All of these aspects of technology are used to vary and improve communication, offer alternative forms of discussion or presentation, or broaden the academic experience in and out of the classroom, while holding on to scholarly and intellectual rigor.

Third, I believe in the importance of teaching students to be critical consumers of knowledge.  I have a responsibility to teach students to approach all primary and secondary content with a skeptical eye, not just historical sources or scholarly books and articles, though grappling with these remain essential to the discipline.  For example, in my courses on US History in Film, American Technology and Culture, Civil War and Memory, History of the Information Age, and Digital History, I work with students to analyze critically what have become the key popular sources of information about the past, namely movies and the Internet.  In all my classes I work with students to explore what it means to be skeptical about all sources of knowledge.

Fourth, I believe in the need to teach students to be rigorous yet creative and adaptable producers of knowledge.  This skill links closely with the previous notion.  Understanding how knowledge is produced makes one a better consumer, but being skeptical about one’s sources also makes one a better writer and speaker.  In my classes students are encouraged to express themselves in various ways: formal and informal, written and oral, online and in person. I teach a number of different skill sets related to exchanging and expressing information in my classes, from basic writing to oral presentations to working with groups to digital project design to the creation of infographics, images & documentaries, yet all stem from one’s ability to convey content, concepts and ideas in the best possible way.

Fifth, I believe in students being “uncomfortable, but not paralyzed” in their learning. A student walked into my office several years ago and said to me, “Dr. McClurken, I’m really struggling with all this online stuff,” referring to the projects I had assigned to the students in my American Technology and Culture course. She explained that digital projects were unfamiliar to her and that she was uncomfortable with her ability to do the assignment. She was surprised when my response to her discomfort was, “Good.” I went on to explain that I wanted her and her classmates to push the boundaries of what they understood about the conceptualization and presentation of historical information beyond papers and tests. Though she struggled a bit learning the tools we were using that semester, she later sent an email thanking me for introducing her to new methods of approaching history with the subject heading, “From Antipathy to Appreciation.” Note the last part of my initial phrase—“not paralyzed”—because it’s equally important.  I want students to move out of their comfort zones because that is where deep learning occurs, but I don’t want them to be so uncomfortable they can’t get anything done.  To keep them from paralysis we discuss potential resources to which they can turn (including their fellow students), we talk extensively about what constitutes successful work (even to the point in some classes of collectively constructing the rubrics with which I assess their papers and projects), and I tell them that they can always come to me if truly stumped.  The results of a semester’s worth of student discomfort is worth it to me, and more importantly to them, as I see their pride in the work that they’ve created and shared not only with me or with their class, but with the wider world.

This post is part of a Connected Courses assignment, and is a revised version of a piece I’ve written in various forms for various submissions.

Dedicating the Information and Technology Convergence Center

I was honored to be asked to speak at the ribbon-cutting and dedication of UMW’s amazing new ITCC (aka the Convergence Center).  [For a great time-lapse of the building being built…]

Picture by Anand Rao

My brief remarks are posted below.


 

Let me offer my own welcome to all of you and my thanks for coming this afternoon.

I want to start by offering some much-needed “thank yous” to people involved in this project.  Thank you to my fellow ITCC Building Committee members for all their efforts in dreaming up a new space in which people could work. Thank you to the architects and designers at HEWV for turning that dream into a vision.  Thank you to UMW’s Len Shelton and Joey Straughan and W.M. Jordan’s Frank Bliley for their efforts in making sure that the vision became a reality.  Thank you to Provost Jonathan Levin and Vice President Rick Pearce for stepping up with the resources necessary to operate the building.  Thank you to the new residents of the building for working with each other to ensure the space becomes all it can be.  Thank you most of all to John Morello, for shepherding this project from conception to creation.  It is not a stretch to say this building would not be here today were it not for his leadership. Let’s give him a well-deserved round of applause.

Edward Burger, the president of a small liberal arts institution in Texas recently said, “There are only two branches to this job: No. 1, make sure students are getting the most profound, life-changing, life-enhancing educational experience they can, and, No. 2, make sure that 100 years from now, whoever’s sitting in this chair will have the resources so he or she can do the exact same thing.” [“A Professor in the President’s Chair: Pushing for a ‘Friendly Revolution’ – People – The Chronicle of Higher Education — http://chronicle.com/article/A-Professor-in-the-Presidents/148527/]

Now I haven’t ever sat in President Hurley’s chair, but it seems clear to me that this Convergence Center addresses both of these goals.  The first is perhaps obvious to anyone who has walked around it. [And if you haven’t, please take advantage of the tours that will be offered after this ceremony.] Simply put, the opportunities for transformational experiences for students exist throughout the space.  Less obvious is how constructing a building contributes to (rather than subtracts from) an institution’s resources.

And the answer to that is that it is buildings like these that bring in new students, buildings like these that inspire faculty, buildings like these that engage staff, and buildings like these that attract donors.  The Convergence Center introduces the UMW community to a wide array of technologies and opportunities that simply haven’t existed before, and in a format that doesn’t exist at other schools.

Now, much has been made in the press in recent years of the potential for technology to alienate people from each other.  This technology-rich building contradicts that claim.  With its classrooms and collaboration spaces, with its communal furniture and its multiple centers of student support, with its formal and informal gathering spaces, this building is a physical manifestation of the institution’s emphasis on–no, the centrality of–the relationship between people: faculty and student and staff — the relationship between teachers and learners, mentors and mentees.  Yes, it is a technology-enabled building that supports our digital spaces, but it does so to further enable the personal connections that are at the center of knowledge creation and at the core of the deeply collaborative experience of learning.

It is also a manifestation of UMW’s leadership in the field of digitally enabled creativity.  It is an institutional commitment to the future of teaching and learning, a future in which we see even more than before the melding (a convergence) of the curricular and co-curricular in one space.  This building represents the future of UMW while maintaining the commitment to students, to individual and group exploration, and to a variety of learning techniques.  The building itself, with so much glass, surrounding Campus Walk itself, is also an acknowledgment of our responsibility as a state institution of higher learning to be outward facing, to be transparent in what we do and what we have to contribute to the region, the nation, and the world.

So, to students, faculty, and staff of the University of Mary Washington: welcome to your new home on campus.

Thank you.

 

Joining Connected Courses

Looking forward to joining the Connected Courses discussion over the next few weeks.

Quick intro: I’m a Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Recently I also took on a new role as the Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation.  [Among other wonderful things, it also means that Jim Groom reports to me.]

I’ve been engaged in digitally-enabled pedagogy for many years (see my courses at http://mcclurken.org/, but I’ve increasingly been exploring hybrid, blended, and some forms of distance mentoring.  For example, last spring, I co-taught (with Ellen Holmes Pearson at UNC-Asheville) a new, cross-institutional class whose goal was to work with 13 students from 9 COPLAC institutions to create a digital history site that recounted the experiences of the schools and their towns from 1914 to 1919.  The 4 UMW students served as tech support for the course, and built the overarching site at http://centuryamerica.org/ and the Fredericksburg site at http://umw.centuryamerica.org/   We described the course this way for the presentation we did with 7 of those students at the COPLAC annual conference in June (and the Council for Undergraduate Research in July):  “Century America is an experiment that combined traditional archival research methods with digital history and distance education. The project contributes to our understandings of the American homefront experience during World War I as well as the ways in which we can facilitate high-impact undergraduate research through distance learning technologies.”

In any case, I’m excited to join in on these discussions.