I see it’s been a couple of months since I last posted. Academic life has intervened–teaching three courses, including one completely new, and serving on an administrative search committee, among other things. The Digital History course is almost over; the students give their final presentations Thursday to their classmates and community partners. After seeing the “dress rehearsal” last week, I feel confident enough to say that the presentations are going to be better than respectable. The students have done a great job, in fact.
It’s been a challenging and different course to teach for me. I am used to doing either lecture-focused courses or research/methodology seminars where I spend quite a bit of time in one-on-one guidance of student research, although they work on their own to do the research and writing, of course. But this course was a rather different animal. In my DH course I have followed Jeff McClurken’s advice to give students the space to write their own contracts and figure out how to do their projects. They gave updates in class, and I met with the groups on a few occasions, but they have been working on their own for a good deal of the semester. Both groups ultimately chose to use Omeka for their projects, and I resisted the impulse to look at their sites until last week. I was a bit nervous when I first peeked, but I need not have been.
Not only have the students risen to the occasion, they have done so without the frequent assistance and hand-holding that students often ask for when I ask them to use a new technology. I’ve helped with a few problems, but generally they have figured it out themselves or used the documentation. I find this to be an interesting phenomenon. It isn’t that the students in this course began the semester any more tech-savvy than my other students (other than the one CS major). Some had used WordPress, but few had any experience with the other tools we learned, and no one had even heard of Omeka. So perhaps it was the nature of the course itself that emboldened the students to become problem-solvers. Whatever the reason, I like this!
The next time I teach DH, I hope to be able to get a computer lab for one of the two teaching days each week. I reserved a lab for several days, and it was quite useful. Students didn’t always want to bring their laptops to class, and one only had a desktop, so the lab worked well for trying tools. I also want to develop a two-part course. The first part will be an Introduction to Digital Methods, which will focus more on learning and experimenting with various tools, and have a couple small digital assignments. The second part will be an Advanced Digital Methods similar to what I did this semester (just like me to start with the advanced course!). That way (in theory, anyway) one could get a group of students who already had some familiarity with some of these tools, and they could devote more time to planning, researching, and constructing their projects.
Next post will be about the student presentations, complete with links. The History Department at Fredonia ended up getting a domain from Reclaim Hosting (which I highly recommend) and creating public sites there for the students to use. More on all this next time.