The NYU teaching workshop last week was all about teaching with technology, and while we talked a lot about the pros and cons of online teaching, we didn’t really move beyond blogs/blackboards as teaching tools. I’m relatively new to teaching with online components – this semester is the first time I’m using a blog for student posts instead of blackboard – but I’ve been thinking about how to change some of my standard classroom exercises to include online components.
First, the blog. I should say that I hate Blackboard, which is what both NYU and the U(C) used. The message boards are clunky, threads are hard to follow, and the interface is so user unfriendly as to be non-intuitive. This term, I’m trying a wordpress site for student responses, and so far its working pretty well. I’m asking students to read each others’ posts before class, to link back in their own responses, and to tag each post with three or four key ideas. I’ve also been pretty upfront with them about the pedagogical intentions of these tasks – this is all new ground for me, but so far I’m pleased with the results. I think some of them are skeptical of something from “their” world – blogging – being used in academia, but they all seem pretty game to try.
Now, other social media. This is a pretty unformed idea, but on Friday I was following the live tweet of Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library. Now, as a murder mystery fan, I was thrilled with this project – especially how the tweeters (twitterers?) adapted the voice of Miss Marple. I’ve seen similar approaches to history, like the now infamous (among historians, at least) Facebook news feed of the Hundred Years War. I’m also a really big fan of this series of youtube videos explaining historial events/eras. I know some teachers who have their students put together their own historical videos – which I think is a great way of engaging students who are interested in history, but who aren’t necessarily equipped or inclined to write research papers, but I was thinking about how these live tweeted/facebooked events might translate into a classroom setting as well. One of the exercises I’ve been playing around with recently is something I borrowed from my exams at Trinity. We were asked to argue for or against certain major events (the Easter Rising, the Battle of the Boyne, the siege of Limerick) as turning points in Irish history. I really like the idea of having students do something similar at the start and end of the class – identifying what they think are turning points in the history of the United States, the Atlantic World, or American immigration. The idea is that at the start of the class, this exercise gives me a baseline for student knowledge, and by the end, they’ll be able to use the designation of turning points as a way to make arguments about their interpretation of American history. I think it might be fun to combine that with the live tweet history/facebook news wall meme. I’m all for encouraging students to get creative with their relationship with history, and I think it would be really interesting to see how students characterized historical actors in the parlance of the present.