2nd Piece of the Puzzle

In this activity, write a blog post that addresses the following questions:

Now that you have had a chance to think carefully about teaching students or museum visitors about the past, think more about the project ideas you have in mind. Choose one of the possible projects you’ve been thinking about and write a brief response to these questions: How will digital media and/or digital tools be important to teaching my target audience one of the essential lessons I’ll be focusing on in my project? What, specifically, about the digital environment will influence what you do and why?

Since my project will exist entirely online, in conjunction with no particular museum or historical site, I think the hardest part about my project will be people even knowing that there’s a project. However, I feel that, with the Internet being the Internet, it’s better to put something out there than not at all, especially to combat lots of misinformation floating around online. It’s easy for many sites to compile listicles of common misconceptions, so I want to go beyond that and consider why certain misconceptions are misconceptions. For instance, why do we believe that World War II soldiers were universally hailed and given parades upon their return home? Well, adulation of World War II veterans propagates the narrative that World War II was “good” and its generation was “The Greatest Generation.” (Thanks, Tom Brokaw.) Movies and TV (not from the time, but recent ones) also lend to this mythology. In a way, that explanation is more interesting than simply saying, “There were no parades, goodbye.” I want to show historical documents from the time, like the film The Best Years of Our Lives, which–coming out in 1946–is a contemporary view that directly contrasts with how we view the homecoming of World War II veterans 70+ years later. The beauty about the digital world is that I can include video clips (though copyright may thwart some of my efforts), photographs, and textual evidence that can immediately head off criticisms of “well, I saw in Saving Private Ryan…” Viewers will hopefully abandon their misconceptions when presented with evidence, especially when they realize they don’t have any evidence other than the thrice-removed anecdote and terrible period piece film.

I don’t have any fancy plans for my webpage, but I want to do more than a center-justified photo and Times New Roman text underneath it, with some hideous yellow background to match. (Don’t worry, I’m making fun of myself as much as anyone else; I “designed” websites like that in the fourth grade.) I don’t want the webpage to be a gallery of images (that’s too much like my “Price of Freedom” exhibit reboot); I want to present a compelling article with lots of side-links. I want all the misconceptions on one page, then each misconception can have its own page where it presents how the misconception came to be, why it’s false, and the importance of correcting such misconceptions beyond being pedantic.

Portfolio Post 2

In this activity, think back through what you wrote in response to the previous readings. Write a blog post that offers a detailed answer to at least one of the following questions:

  • What elements of historical thinking have remained at the heart of history teaching over the decades?
  • How have history teachers responded to technological change in the 20th and 21st centuries?
  • How have external expectations constrained teaching and learning in history, and how might the digital turn disrupt those constraints?

Because everyone agrees that there should be standards but no one can agree on what those standards should actually be, external expectations can be frustrating. Some external expectations come from local/state/national organizations who set the standards. While some standards are flexible and all-encompassing, the standards vary widely across the states, and one state’s flexible, progressive teaching cannot negate the low standards another state sets. Beyond ideological constraints, there are also monetary constraints. It’s hard to bring in individual pieces of historical evidence for a every student in a 20-student classroom to examine: hence why textbooks are so popular. Textbooks, in the manual world, are the best solution to providing lots of information, despite the fact that that information is usually superficial and rarely sourced.

The digital can really help some of these problems. The AHA has set outlines for historical thinking/teaching/learning, and while this doesn’t negate the standards set by a school or state, it does expose the teacher to new ideas. Now teachers can easily connect with other teachers across the globe, let alone the country and state. Digital also has the potential to make textbooks obsolete, and while I am very excited for that day, I think it’ll be hard for some nostalgic teachers (and textbook manufacturers!) to let them go. It’ll be a process. Turning digital always has to be a process, or the new medium will scare away people. Even kids, who are viewed as more tech savvy than most adults, begin to shy away once the metaphorical “nuts and bolts” of coding are revealed.

As many of the articles in this module stated, teaching has remained the same for a century, and that fact really needs to change. Sure, there are SmartBoards instead of chalkboards, but the messages haven’t inherently changed. We really need to use digital to focus on bringing new ideas and truly revolutionary techniques to the classroom. Individualized attention is more possible with asynchronous courses that involve individual meetings–and maybe, one day, artificial intelligence. Projects that used to be displayed only in a classroom can now be shared on the Internet and receive feedback from unexpected sources. The world is your oyster in the digital world of history teaching, and lots of people don’t even realize it.

Portfolio Post 1

In this activity, think back through what you wrote in response to the readings and viewings. Write a blog post that lists three or four questions about teaching history (in whatever venue you do or might teach) that you hope to answer as the semester proceeds. Then offer some tentative answers to those questions.

After examining three different methods of teaching history (historical evidence, experiential learning, and uncovering), I basically have many questions about teaching history, but, as requested, I’ll examine three in this blog post

1. What is the point of learning history?

I guess I am drawn to answering this question after years of tutoring students asking me the same thing (about calculus, but still). And no, the point is not so you can pass a course and get a job. If I can’t provide a compelling reason for a student to give up his/her free time and energy, I will concede and agree that there is no point to teaching it. However, despite the fact that I am studying history in graduate school, my answer to this question is still a bit nebulous, and–if I know anything about students–I can’t be hemming and hawing, as it proves that I am not only wasting their time but my own. So far, I just have some defensive mumblings about learning from the past in order to better understand the present under my belt, and I know I can do better than that

2. Is there a “wrong” answer in history?

When I was reading about Stéphane Lévesque’s method of experiential learning, I so often wanted to exclaim, “But what if the student comes to the wrong conclusion?” Then I paused and realized how old and repressed I sounded–telling students they’re wrong and only doing that as a “teaching” method is exactly what I don’t like about some teachers. However, despite my desire to prove a point to every teacher who has ever told me that I was wrong simply because I disagreed with  his/her beliefs, I know that there are definitely wrong answers. For instance, I would be horrified if a student cherrypicked evidence to argue that slavery was beneficial for the slaves. That is a very extreme example, but that’s why I think it’s important to establish that there are foundations and why they are important. Conclusions will rarely be so factually and morally wrong, but I do think a lot of conclusions exist on a spectrum, since I think the dichotomy of right/wrong and pass/fail can be unfair. But if teaching, learning, evidence, and experiences are subjective, how can I, as a teacher, successfully argue that there is a “wrong” answer?

3. How can I make history engaging/interesting?

I hate to ask a question that plagues every social media intern (I would know from past experience!) and makes me sound super old and frumpy, but this is the age-old question when it comes to teaching/sharing anything. As I’ve discovered from my time working at the bookstore, with the countless author events I’ve sat through, some subjects are just naturally more compelling than others. World War II spies? People are practically knocking down the doors to attend! An “unjustly” forgotten historical figure? Well, there’s often a reason that this person was forgotten, and if there isn’t, the author needs to make a damn good case why. I’ve just accepted that some lectures on history are more well-attended than others, but in over a year, I still haven’t deeply contemplated why. While even I can’t explain why some of my posts to the Smithsonian Associates page went viral, I need to do more than simply shrug and essentially gamble on the next go. Of course, I’m not willing to stoop to clickbait or outright lying about historical events to make them sound more interesting: if I can’t tell a story without telling the facts, then I’m not a teacher. (Incidentally, this is why I quit the school newspaper at my undergraduate university.) Everyone has different tastes, of course, but I guess the goal is to make someone not only interested but engaged. Subjects can’t appeal to everyone, but they also can’t be inaccessible to everyone. I need to find the right balance so I’m not forcing people to engage when they want to learn about something else but also not giving up on people when my methods are the reason they are losing interest.

P.S. Go back to your blog post from the previous module and add a brief postscript in which you discuss how the ideas expressed in Mills Kelly’s essay on the future of history curricula are (or are not) rooted in the ways historians have approached history teaching over the past century.

Mills Kelly’s essay on the future of history curricula, in a lot of ways, is a rejection of the ways historians have approached history teaching in the last 100 years. Like most modern historians, he is against the boring lecture hall and tests that place rote memorization above critical thinking. However, Kelly goes beyond many “traditional” historians and strongly argues for incorporating digital elements into the classrooms. Unlike people who try technology solely to make history “cool,” Kelly reveals the very practical applications and larger implications of incorporating technology. Luckily, he also foresees the rapid developments in the digital field, and understands that some methods, while they seem advanced and far off, will be arriving at undergraduate classes sooner rather than later.