Portfolio Post 5

For your portfolio post, write an essay that responds to one of the questions below, or some similar question or issue that you wish to explore:

  • What are the challenges we face as history educators with presenting the past in the digital world?
  • How have digital tools made it easier to teach about and help our audience(s) engage with the past?

Although archives and libraries have been around for centuries, there is now considerably more ease in accessing such sources. Accessibility is hardly the controversy; in fact, it is imperative to digitize many items and even exhibits in order to remain well-known and relevant. However, all this accessibility presents certain challenges in teaching about the past. As mentioned in Wineburg’s essay on “Why Historical Thinking Is Not Historical,” the plethora of information can often confuse rather than illuminate facts. Without a guide or a set of instructions, a student might as well be looking for a needle in a haystack when it comes to combing through the National Archives’ incredible digital collection. How can, when faced with an advanced-looking search bar, a student find the information he or she is looking for? Outside of the archive and the library, how can a student know if that information is incredibly biased or even real, especially if he or she knows nothing about the subject? There isn’t one lens to view the past through. While it is tempting to lament the elimination of gatekeepers, it’s actually a good thing for everyone to learn to become a gatekeeper of knowledge. Gatekeeping, therefore, means privileging certain sources over others, but hopefully making that distinction based on quality and not presentation. (Simple HTML websites can seem off-putting, but some have more/better information than slickly-designed “user experiences.”) How do you make a primary source book written in slanted cursive seem more interesting than a well-produced TV series (that may not be so accurate)? In the end, the digital world is an extraordinary way to understand the past, so long as the caveats are understood.

Portfolio Post 4

In this activity, write a blog post and reflect on the previous interviews you watched in this module. Discuss how what you learned from the examples of work completed by other students changed your thinking about your final project. What will you do differently based on what you learned, and why?

If there was one common theme in these interviews, it was that everyone is going to overreach with their projects. Whether it’s because you work in the sources frequently or haven’t acknowledged your technological limitations, you will assume that you can do more than time–even more so than ability–allots. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, as projects can always be updated and expanded.

Since the beginning, I only had one goal when it came to the participants/students learning something: a lot of our everyday knowledge of World War II is built upon misconceptions and popular media. Even if my participants can’t retain every single fact or source I provide, my main hope was that they walk away with the sense that this event should be approached with more nuance and even a grain of salt. These interviews made me realize if I want to make sure people learn this message, I have to ask students afterward what they make of the information I’ve provided through the “choose-your-own-adventure” exercise. If they don’t understand that I’m trying to relay that World War II didn’t involve 110% sacrifice and patriotism from every single American citizen–and it’s okay that it didn’t!–I’ll have to think about how my project veered from that goal. Basically, the interviews and the exposure to other projects made me realize the importance of interactivity, as passive learning is rarely compelling and doesn’t remain in the brain for a long time.

Portfolio Post 3

In this activity, think back through what you wrote in response to the previous readings, and discuss a way that you plan to use images and/or film in the work that you do (or might do) as a history educator either as a consumer or a producer. As a consumer, what images/film do you think you might use and how will you use that media to lead your audience to deeper historical inquiry? As a producer, how would you use digital storytelling in a classroom or public history setting?

As you write this blog post, be sure to think back about what you have already written on historical thinking.

As much as I love to consume historical images and/or film, I enjoy producing far more. Something about the idea of finding or pointing out something new in an image or film makes me feel connected to history, where the “past is not past.” (Shoutout to William Faulkner.) When I’ve visited newer museums, videos are an integral part of exhibits. Although the cynical might call this a passive museum experience, I see it as a practical museum experience. In a place like the National Museum of African American History and Culture, there’s only so much room and time for all the viewers to crowd around an exhibit item or noteworthy plaque. A video can be viewed by dozens comfortably rather than by three people breathing down one another’s necks.

If exhibit items are supposed to form a narrative, you might want to connect the dots and make a video of that narrative. Sometimes, a museum exhibit cannot be viewed in the perfect narrative order; a video cannot help but be. Even if someone begins watching a video in a museum halfway through, it usually intrigues them enough to stay until they can restart and watch up to where they had previously joined. If you want to give people an overview before presenting them with niche objects, use a video. Videos are wonderful introductions, the perfect medium for reaching people who might not normally be in your audience. I don’t want a video to do the thinking for my viewers, but I do want it to set a foundation.

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.