Digital Inflection and History 319: The Rise of Modern America

In the fall, I am teaching two courses. One, a public history practicum course, will include significant play with digital tools. This seems natural to me because I have long required blogging and content development for digital environments in my public history courses. I have a clear vision of what I want the class to accomplish, which digital tools might be helpful, and how I can integrate both teaching and experimentation into the course.

I have found it much more difficult, in my nine years as a professor, to integrate digital tools, or public oriented projects into my more traditional courses.  I’ve spent some time these past two weeks thinking about just that. I think the key issues are class size (45 students), class composition (this is a mid-level course that fulfills general education requirements, so not all students are history majors), and the necessity of meeting University and Department defined undergraduate learning objectives.

After spending two weeks in Doing Digital History, however, I feel empowered to make some small changes. I’m convinced that creating a digitally inflected learning environment will enhance student learning, particularly in the realm of critical thinking and historical writing.

For my first foray into this realm, I am going use History Engine to modify the traditional, semester-long research project. History Engine is, essentially, an encyclopedia of local history narratives produced by students. Unlike Wikipedia assignments (which I also considered), History Engine allows students and professors to exert a bit  more control over the final product, posting them to the public site only after they are complete. Further, while site users can rate posts, they are not subject to an open,communal editing process.

As I do in my graduate public history courses, I have divided the History Engine Assignment into a series of steps. Students will generate a short annotated bibliography and a review essay before writing the final, more informal, narrative for History Engine. This process will allow them to think about issues of audience for various forms of historical production.