Co-creating a syllabus with students

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

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

ITCC Active Learning

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

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


 

VERSION 0.9

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

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

Course Description

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

 

Departmental Course Goals and Objectives

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

 

Honors Program Objectives

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

 

Course Requirements

What should these be?

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Texts/Sources

In the Bookstore – 4 Core texts are in the bookstore

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

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

Discussions

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

Blogging

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

Final Grades

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

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

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

Grading Scale

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

 

Accommodations

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

Honor Code

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

Topics & Readings

Class Calendar

Week 1 — Introduction — Week of August 25

— What is the Information Age?

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

By the weekend:

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

 

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

Tuesday:  DTLT visit and start of timeline/database project

Reading –Thursday:  Downey, all; Winston, Intro

 

Part I – Print (and its predecessors)

 

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

 

Week 3 — Week of September 8

— Topics:  Newspapers, Magazine, Books

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

            Thursday: 

 

Part II – Early Networked Communication 

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

 

Week 4 — Week of September 15

— Topics:

Reading — Tuesday:  Winston, 19-66

            Thursday:

 

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

 

Part III—Broadcasting 

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

 

Week 5 — Week of September 22

— Topics:

Reading — Tuesday: Winston, 67-146

            Thursday:

 

Week 6 — Week of September 29

— Topics:

Reading — Tuesday: 

            Thursday: 

 

 

 

 

Part IV – Information in the Digital Age

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

 

Week 7 — Week of October 6

—    Topics: Early Computers

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

Thursday:

 

Week 8 — Week of October 13

— Fall Break — No class Tuesday, October 14

— Topics: Networks and the Internet

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

 

Week 9 — Week of October 20

— Topics:

Reading — Tuesday:

            Thursday: 

 

Week 10 — Week of October 27

—    Topics: Web 2.0/3.0/18.0

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

            Thursday:

 

Week 11 — Week of November 3

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

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

            Thursday:

 

Week 12 —Week of November 10

— Topics:

Reading — Tuesday:

            Thursday:

 

Part V – Looking forward

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

Week 13  — Week of November 17

— Topics:  History of Digital History and Its Future

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

            Thursday: Winston, 337-342

 

Week 14  — Week of November 24

— Topics:  Infographics and the Rise of Visual Literacy

Reading – Tuesday:

— Thursday — Thanksgiving — No Class

 

ALL PROJECTS DUE BY DECEMBER 1

 

Week 15  — Week of December 1

— Presentations?

Reading — Tuesday:

            Thursday:

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

 

Inspirations for this class and syllabus include:

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Graduation: Reflecting on Arcs

UMW’s graduation was last weekend and with it came my department’s reception for graduating seniors and their families.  Now, I’ve been clear about my affection for graduation itself:

And, frankly, the department reception is even better.  It’s low key, everyone’s happy, even relaxed.  I really enjoy talking to the parents and students.  It’s a chance to brag about our great students to an audience who is thrilled to hear about it.

This year, though, I had three conversations that I’ve never had before.  First, I talked with two parents that I had met four years ago on the day they first brought their son to school.  We had a wonderful conversation about history, about the liberal arts, about their son’s academic interests, and about my own research (which overlapped with his own interests).  He wasn’t part of that initial conversation four years ago, but his younger sister was. Instead, his parents told him about the conversation and he contacted me about getting in to my First-Year Seminar on returning American veterans throughout history, which we were able to do.  Since then, he took another class of mine and just completed his senior thesis with me on the relationship between Grant and Meade during the Overland Campaign.  [Plus his sister ended up coming to UMW and taking my women’s history course last fall.]  So, the conversation I had at the senior reception with their parents brought us all back full circle.  We had the chance to talk on the first day they left their son at UMW and on the last day before his graduation.  There was an arc to that relationship that felt so right for all of us.  Frankly, I wish there were more of these stories of having four years to know students and their parents, to follow the arc of a student’s career in a way that doesn’t happen often enough.  I wonder if there are ways we might engineer more of these longer connections.

The second conversation was with parents who I’d never met before, but my mother had.  Earlier this semester, my mother, an elementary school teacher in Albemarle County, and I realized that I was teaching a student that she had taught in Kindergarten.  So, at the senior reception, I had the chance to meet this student’s parents and we had a wonderful conversation about the arc of that story as well.  As the student said when she first found out, “That’s amazing! My education begins and ends with McClurkens!”  It was a lovely reminder that we get students who are products of 13 years of contact with earlier teachers, of the many ways that those previous experiences affect them, and of the ways that parents remember those teachers too, sometimes more clearly than the students do.

The third conversation was with a student who was graduating just two years after he graduated high school.  I met him at a banquet for prospective students 6 months before he started at UMW and have been his adviser for two years.  Not surprisingly, a student who manages to finish a college degree in two years (with one of those semesters spent abroad) doesn’t need much advising, but it has been a pleasure to work with him and to meet his family.  Even in those two years he has grown immensely as a scholar and a person, something I was able to see as he was incredibly successful in a class with me this semester.  Meeting his family I could talk about that transformation and how glad I was to be some small part of his experience at UMW.

All three of these conversations at the receptions were good reminders that strong connections with students can (and maybe should) begin before they start here, of the role that parents can play in supporting their students, and of the many longer arcs of relationships that exist in our worlds that seem to be typically defined by the year or even semester.

 

 

 

Changes

tl;dr version: Jeff got a new job.

As of May, I will have been chair of the Department of History and American Studies for six years.  In that time, I’ve published a monograph, been promoted to full professor, published several articles/essays, presented at over 40 conferences and workshops, was a part of the team of professional term paper writers and served on countless committees and review boards on and off campus.

But I am particularly proud of my department over the same time: over 1/3 of my colleagues have been awarded tenure, they have published 5 books (and counting), 35+ scholarly articles & book chapters, & 30 reviews/short essays served on 45 professional organization committees, including as book series editors/members of editorial boards, as conference program or book prize reviewers, & as officers (including two presidents) of professional organizations, they have presented at hundreds of conferences, and served as at least as many committee years. We have established a program that has a two-semester methods class and integrates concepts of digital identity and digital fluency more deeply than any other history and American Studies program I have seen.  We have created 45+ new courses in that time and we contribute to 12 majors and minors, including new programs in Women’s & Gender Studies, Museum Studies, Urban Studies, Social Justice and Digital Studies.  I don’t pretend that my tenure as chair resulted in this amazing productivity of these teacher-scholars, but I do know that I’ve worked as chair to help support and serve them in that mission and I’m proud to call them colleagues.

I am also incredibly proud of our students.  We have an amazing set of History and American Studies students with a track record of creating rich digital projects, a decades-long streak of student winners of the campus writing contest, Phi Beta Kappa membership, earning departmental honors, publishing senior theses, and of students going on to graduate school (70% do within 5-10 years) and finding terrific professional positions.  Perhaps more importantly, they are thoughtful, smart, engaged people, many of whom are already making contributions to their chosen fields.

All of this is to say that I’m in an awesome department, one that I’ve been honored to serve as the chair of for the last six years.  But it’s also time to move on, if not from the department, then from my chairing of it.  If you read my blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then you know that I’ve been particularly passionate about the intersection of teaching and technology for over a decade.  I’ve been offered an opportunity to follow that passion and at the school that I continue to cherish.

As of May, I will step down as department chair and begin my new job as UMW’s Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation.  This new position is a half-time teaching position, so I will still get to work with students in my classes each semester.  But the rest of my time will be focused on the ways that technology, teaching, and research intersect and lead to innovation at UMW and beyond.  Specifically, I will be working with the directors of UMW’s terrific Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (Mary Kayler) and the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (Jim Groom).  [A privilege since both have been making me and many other UMW faculty look cutting-edge for years.]  I’ll also be collaborating with IT, Speaking Center, Writing Center, Library, Events, and Student Affairs to get the new Information Technology Convergence Center up and running.

I’ll also have the following responsibilities*:

  • Lead strategic planning to ensure excellence and impact of innovative use of technology to forward the teaching and learning mission of the University;
  • Partner with faculty and staff to develop and prioritize initiatives;
  • Oversee continuing development of UMW’s distance learning program, with a special charge to help address critical enrollment needs;
  • Serve on the President’s Technology Advisory Committee;
  • Seek out grant and development opportunities for UMW and its partners in these areas.

I am incredibly excited to take on this new position and to be able to build on the excellent work that Mary Washington’s faculty, students, and staff have already done in this area.  Look for more here in the weeks and months to come about the process, potential, and progress in this new position for me.

—————————–
*In some ways, I’ll also be expected to talk even more about the work that is happening at UMW and elsewhere in the field of the digital liberal arts and digitally enhanced pedagogy.  So, I plan on taking up my writing for ProfHacker again (that’s a public commitment Jason and George….) and look for more posts here as well.  I also see my service on the new THATCamp Council as fitting in with my new expanded role here at UMW.

Century America: A Course about the Past Done with Tools from the Present (but What’s Its Future?)

http://centuryamerica.org Century America Main Project Site

http://centuryamerica.org
Century America Main Project Site

This post is my contribution to UMW’s Digital Scholarship Institute discussions.

I should start by confessing that I originally proposed four different ideas to talk about for my week: a nascent digital project on a poisoning case in a mental institution with Pinkerton detectives, as well as my courses on Digital History, the History of the Information Age, and this course, Century America.  Mary Kayler wisely advised me to pick just one, and so I chose Century America as the best combination of unique approach and sufficient work done to have something to talk about.

So, what is Century America?  I’ll let Bill Spellman, Director of COPLAC, introduce it. [This is from the Chronicle of Higher Education.]

“Century America,” launched by the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, is a digital-humanities project in which undergraduates on nearly a dozen campuses will produce a website documenting daily life during World War I.

 

The project combines the virtual and the local—engaging students in exploring and mastering digital tools and resources while delving into the histories of their own campuses and communities. By semester’s end, the undergraduate researchers will produce a web-published product that will provide narrative and photographic overviews of campus and community life during World War I. The project will also document the impact of the global influenza epidemic of 1918-19 on those communities. This final product, accessible online, will make contributions to historical understanding locally and nationally.

 

Using distance technology, student researchers on the 11 campuses will collaborate with one another and be guided by academic mentors—Ellen Holmes Pearson, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and Jeffrey McClurken, chair and a professor of history and American studies at the University of Mary Washington.

 

Students enrolled in the online seminar will blog about their progress, learn to create digital maps, integrate timelines into their work, and practice digital presentation. That approach to collaborative learning blends the traditional benefits of a liberal-arts classroom, high-impact undergraduate research, online teaching of digital skills, and the technical proficiency necessary for historians in the digital age.

 

The “Century America” program receives generous support from the Teagle Foundation of New York.

The ultimate goal is to have each student create a site about their own school and that school’s community’s experiences during the Great War and the Influenza epidemic that follows, but within a framework of a larger overarching site (built by the four UMW students who are part of the class).

As you can see from this introduction and from the syllabus (which will give you a good sense of the structure and the assignments), this is an unusual course.  Some have called this a “distance mentoring course,” but I like to think of it as a small, private, online course (especially to contrast it with the Massively Open Online Course).  It is being taught by faculty from two different schools, and with students from nine different public liberal arts colleges. [We began with 14 students from 11 schools, but two students had to drop out because of other commitments.]  It takes advantage of various distance-learning technologies/systems (Skype, Bluejeans, Cisco Movi-Jabber, and MCNC) to enable students in three time zones to have the same kind of powerful interactions with faculty and with each other that UMW and other liberal arts institutions pride themselves on.  Most online course are larger and/or asynchronous.  We meet together as a group in real time, 1-2 times each week, even as we are spread across the country.  I’m not aware of any other course that brings together students from so many different schools to create a digital project together, especially one that provides both support and autonomy to build those projects.

In terms of opportunities for the students, they have access to the expertise of two faculty members not at their institution, as well as many other resources from the various schools (including help from UMW’s DTLT), they have a chance to be part of a project that weaves together nine different local histories of schools and communities during the Great War with an overarching national narrative.  They have the chance to see those different community histories through the eyes of people who are deeply interested in those communities because they are a part of the modern version of that community.

The distance learning aspect represents the biggest change for me, having never taught online before.  In some ways it’s more challenging than face-to-face classes: the video-conferencing technology isn’t perfect and it’s not easy for multiple people to talk without some pauses.  It’s challenging in that it’s hard to read body language or to see people getting ready to talk or any number of cues that can be easily recognized by experienced teachers in the classroom.  It’s also more challenging because the casual conversations that we typically engage in as faculty before and after classes simply aren’t there.  So, getting to know the students as people is more difficult.  Still, Ellen Holmes Pearson and I have worked to engage with students on their blogs and via Twitter (the class hashtag in #HIST1914).

Dealing with students at different schools also has raised other issues, including differing student expectations, differing tech support levels,  and differing research environments.  We’ve tried to address those with clear guidelines, assignments aimed at building tech skills, support from the UMW students in the course (building on the concept of tech mentors), and lots of discussions about archival research, citation, copyright permissions, and many other topics that you can read about in the syllabus.

The finished drafts of the projects are due April 3 and they look like they are going to be phenomenal.  [See links off of here to check them out.] I believe that they will serve as a resource for some time to come for the public to use.

I think that the course has the potential to serve as a model for one way that liberal arts institutions can engage in online learning without giving up the core values at the heart of what we do.  However, I’d like some help in thinking through:

  • How can we replicate this process with other classes?  [In other words, can we scale production of these classes, even if we want to continue to keep them small?]
  • How can we replicate this process without the resources of hire-behinds and/or a technical infrastructure for videoconferencing?
  • Who this approach should be aimed at? [Both in terms of students and in terms of faculty who might be able to participate.]
  • What lessons can be learned from this for hybrid or face-to-face courses?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Moving on Over

Blogger to WordPress

After nine years on Blogger, I’ve ported all my posts to here. I moved because I’m working to consolidate my digital identity at http://mcclurken.org/ (as part of UMW’s Domain of One’s Own project) and because almost all of my blogging in the classroom has been oriented around WordPress.  It was time to move.

So, if you’re still following me on Blogger, please switch your feed to the new site (http://techist.mcclurken.org/feed).  [And look for a new post here with some news in the near future.]

 

 

Moving over

In the near future, this will be the new site for my blog, Techist, which for years has been on Blogger.  Since the rest of my digital world is on WordPress it makes sense to bring that blog over here too.  As soon as I port the posts over to this site, I’ll move to this space.

My Contribution to the James Farmer Lecture Hall Dedication

I was honored to be asked to be part of the dedication of the large lecture room in Monroe Hall at UMW in honor of Civil Rights icon James Farmer, who taught in that room for nearly 15 years.  Here is the text of my remarks with some of the clips I shared with the audience.

—————————————————————
James Farmer Lecture Hall Dedication, November 15, 2013


Thank you all for coming. It is indeed an honor for me to be here today, to be part of this ceremony. And it’s certainly appropriate for me, as chair of UMW’s department of History and American Studies, the department that James Farmer taught in for many years, to say a few words here today.

But I have another perspective on Dr. Farmer as well. Twenty years ago this fall, I was starting my senior year at Mary Washington College, and, once a week, for nearly three hours, I had the privilege of sitting in this very room, listening to James Farmer tell nearly 100 of us about the Civil Rights movement and about his role in it as part of his Introduction to Civil Rights course. As a history major I had heard about the movement in several of my classes, but there was something fundamentally different in hearing those stories come to life from someone who had been there, someone who had physically and emotionally suffered for the cause in which he believed.

As a history major who had every plan of going on to graduate school to become a professor, a scholar, an historian, a teacher there was something deeply powerful about hearing from a living legend who was simultaneously, clearly human as well. He was self-deprecating and open about his personal struggles: discussing, for example, how he dealt with his jealousy of “Martin’s” fame (that first-name reference itself a casual, not ostentatious, but constant reminder to us of his ties to the other leaders of the movement) or his wondering whether he made the right decision to stay in jail with other protesters arrested in Plaquemine, Louisiana instead of paying the fees and being at the 1963 March on Washington.

Even if I hadn’t already been aware of the unique experience that I and my classmates were going through, it would have been brought home to me when I got my paper back with his comments on it. My paper was on Lyndon Johnson’s varied stances on Civil Rights over the years. I won’t bore you with the details now, but I was proud of the nuanced story that I had written, working in many primary sources, but especially using LBJ’s autobiography, written after he had stepped down as president. [In retrospect, given what I know now of primary sources and about Lyndon Johnson, I bought into LBJ’s retellings of his own story more than I should have.] When I got the paper back, Dr. Farmer had simply written, “Interesting. This is not the version President Johnson told me when I was in the Oval Office.” Now, I’d had professors tell me that I needed to think more critically about my sources before, but none of them could cite actual interactions with the people in question to make me do so.

For this and so many other reasons, my time in James Farmer’s class, my time in this very room with him, was transformative, so much so, that when I had the chance to come back to teach at Mary Washington I jumped at the opportunity to find ways to remember and honor him, for his service to the Civil Rights Movement and for his service to nearly a generation of students at this school. I’m not alone in that. Tim O’Donnell taught a First-Year Seminar on James Farmer, as do an interdisciplinary group of faculty led by Craig Vasey; my colleague Jess Rigelhaupt taught an oral history class in which the students interviewed many of Farmer’s colleagues during his time at MWC.

But I’ve been asked to show you a bit of work that students in my digital history courses have done to honor James Farmer. Now, in talking with my students who were working on these projects, I told them about my own experiences in Farmer’s class and about his many gifts as an orator. They decided that they wanted to make it possible for others to not just read Dr. Farmer’s words but to be able to hear him as well. The 2008 iteration of my digital history course found and digitized Farmer’s 1994 appearance before the Federal Election Commission. There are many excerpts of that testimony with him talking about his first exposure to racism in 1923, him discussing his views on affirmative action, him revealing the ways in which Gandhi’s non-violent approach was an inspiration to him. But I want to share this clip of a poem that Farmer himself wrote.

 “When I Stand Tall”

In the mid-1980s television station WNVT came and recorded 13 of James Farmer’s class lectures. In 2012, working with our Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, students digitized those lectures, transcribed them, and made them available for anyone to see.

I want to share two clips here. The first clip is actually a trailer made for the site by the students in the class to draw people in to watching the full lectures.

In the second clip Farmer talks about what he saw as the successes of the Freedom Summer.

Please check out these two sites for more videos of Dr. Farmer’s FEC testimony and class lectures.

So you can see that through the work of UMW students everyone can hear James Farmer’s words, can hear him tell his stories, can come to understand why we honor James Farmer today with a room in which people will regularly gather to hear from faculty, from guest speakers, from politicians debating the issues of the day, and from students presenting on their own research, perhaps on the Civil Rights Movement.

It is indeed right and appropriate that today we honor James Farmer in this way, in this room in which he touched so many Mary Washington students’ lives.

It is indeed right and appropriate that we designate, that we consecrate this place where the Civil Rights movement came to life through the resonant voice, the wry humor, the deep intelligence, and the raw emotion of a man who had lived through the movement, had changed the movement, and had been changed by it

It is indeed right and appropriate that we celebrate and recognize the life and teaching of James Leonard Farmer, Civil Rights leader, hero, and educator.

Thank you.

C-SPAN Lets Me Talk about My Last Project

C-SPAN’s BookTV did a short interview with me about my book as part of their C-SPAN Cities Tour of Fredericksburg that appears this weekend.

Considering that the book came out four years ago now, I’m glad I remembered as much as I did about it.  The interviewer from C-SPAN, Christy Hinton, did a nice job framing the parts of my office that were clean and the nice cover of my book in the background.  More importantly, she edited my responses down to a reasonable summary of what the book is about.

Sharing my teaching and learning

I’ve been fortunate lately to have a number of things come out recently featuring my teaching and research.

1) In October my US History in Film class was recorded by C-SPAN’s American History TV as we discussed the 1939 movie Gone with the Wind.  It was a wide-ranging discussion of the movie as a flawed secondary source about the Antebellum, Civil War, Reconstruction eras in the South, as well as its role as a primary source for the 1930s perspectives on that past.  

I did an introduction and conclusion, but the bulk of the class was the students delving deeply into the interpretations, implications, and lessons of the film.  They did a terrific job.

[I’ve gotten a number of nice responses from people who watched it, but the best was from an 87-year old Holocaust survivor who wrote me that GWTW had been her first exposure to American History.  She then told me that she was inspired to learn about the actual historical background of the time.]

You can watch the whole class here.

2) A couple weeks later, I did a talk for the Fredericksburg Area Museum on the Coming of the Battle of Fredericksburg as part of the celebration   C-SPAN came to that as well and you can see that talk here.

3) A few weeks after that, I was the moderator for a great series of talks about the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg by George Rable, Susannah Ural, and Frank O’Reilly.  They put up with my unorthodox introductions and gave great talks which can be found here.

4) Finally, UMW did a nice profile of me and my teaching for the main page of the website.  It’s overly generous, but I appreciate it just the same.

Incorporating Digital Literacy into History Methods Courses

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

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

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


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


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

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



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