This post was originally written in February, posted, and then I removed it, out of concerns about 1) how it would be perceived and 2) how it had been written in a moment (moments?) of frustration. I have been persuaded to repost it now, though my concerns remain.
Having done student web site projects (on the history and impact of a piece of American technology) three times now over the last four years, I suppose I should have realized that the specifics of the technological side of the approach (using Netscape Composer and a limited amount of hard coding to build research-based web projects) was getting long in the tooth. What I get is that HTML coding is no longer a relevant/marketable skill to our students.
I’m not planning on teaching the class in which I’ve done this assignment again until Spring of 2007–which both gives Jerry Slezak, my building’s ITS, and I more time to figure this out, but also more time for things to change–yet I still have a number of concerns about completely ditching the old system that may add something to this conversation on Patrick Gosetti-Murrayjohn’s blog (or it may just reveal my own biases).
1) Having to completely ditch something (assignments, guidelines, rubrics) Jerry and I spent an immense amount of time creating does not make me eager to adopt something else brand new (especially from a new company that may not be around the next time I teach the class). The reluctance some faculty have for embracing new technology may partly come from a sense that that technology is constantly something new (and therefore a sense that an instructor will be at square one every time they teach a new class).
[I am aware that I wouldn’t be literally at square one, but it feels like it sometimes. That feeling can be paralyzing (or at least discouraging of new attempts).]
2) I’m not convinced a wiki or a content management system (especially not knowing what that CMS would look like) will meet all of my expectations for what I had hoped the web projects were doing before.
Just so we’re clear on my (perhaps unreasonable) goals, they were (and are) based in the idea that I want to provide students with a chance:
–To learn a new way to present ideas, while adhering to the idea that all serious historical scholarship must be thoroughly cited with footnotes (or endnotes) and a bibliography.
–To learn the components of reliable online sources
–To produce original, available online works of scholarly research that would be intellectually accessible and interesting to other students and web surfers. Ideally these projects would improve—one web site at a time—the quality of information available on the web. I would emphasize that this focus on a scholarly approach is essential to my understanding of the value of this assignment. (And I would add that I think that wikis/blogs are seen by many members of my discipline as unscholarly, at least for now.)
–To create a process imitatible by other disciplines
–To provide history majors with a new skill set that they were not getting within our current curriculum. Ideally this skill set would make them more marketable when looking for jobs or applying to graduate schools. [Although HTML or Netscape Composer skills are less relevant than they were three years ago, certainly I think the ability to think about and present information in the digital realm remains important.]
–To think about what it would mean to write and create for a larger audience than just their instructor.
Now, obviously, some of these goals could be met through a wiki or a blog or a content management system. But, could I count on that medium to be (relatively) stable?
Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way and I should just be focusing on how to get students to think in new ways. Maybe the problem is with my desire to not have to completely rethink my approach every time I teach a class….