Games and pedagogy (part n)

A good friend tipped me off to Entry Denied an online game? exercise? demonstration? that contrasts the immigration stories that some of us grew up with, with US immigration policy today.  The overabundance of question marks in the previous sentence is because the interface looks like a game, or a choose your own adventure book, but the overall message – that my great great grandfather, E.M. Waldron (who ended up being the contractor for Newark’s city hall and cathedral, and driver for Eamon DeValera when he visited New Jersey) would be denied entry under today’s immigration guidelines – is a decidedly policy one.  Moreover, it’s a policy lesson designed to teach the user a lesson – that current immigration policies are unfair, or at least wildly limited in light of historical ones.

So, does this count as a game? As pedagogy?  I think it might as both, but I’d be really interested in a broader discussion of games masquerading as teaching tools masquerading as policy tools. 

100 Years of Isis

For those history of science types out there, I just finished working on a project with David Hubbard, Anouk Lang, Kathleen Reed and Lyndsay Troyer for the (now completed) IVMOOC on the History of Science Society’s journal, Isis.  We ended up with a visualization that tracked changes in authors’ locations from 1913-1937 to 1988-2012, and also mapped the dominant themes in Isis article titles from 1913 to the present.  There’s probably still a lot to do with the history of the journal, but I think we made a pretty good start.

100 Years of Isis8567870268_40c9dd6c70_c

Famine news in Indian Territory

The map I use as a header is one of my favorite nineteenth-century images, because it shows transportation networks, both across the Atlantic and within North America.  While it’s instructive to see the various stops that information made as it crossed the ocean, moved up and down the coast, and into the American interior, the best thing about the map, for me, is that I can do things like this:

Cherokee Advocate citation network 3

Pedagogy, performance and the MOOC

Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) is a term that’s always struck me as a little tongue-in-cheek, aiming for hyperbole before we’ve even figured out the best ways to use them.  I also think that the term is useful because it’s fun to say – I’m taking a MOOC at the moment on strategies for information visualization, and simply being able to say “IVMOOC” on a daily basis has made the process that much more fun.  I suppose somewhere on the internet there’s always a flurry of discussion around things like digital pedagogy, but that flurry has been intersecting with my life quite a lot of late – most recently in Thomas Friedman’s piece today about the ways in which MOOCs produce celebrity professors.

I think that Friedman is right that MOOCs are more or less here to stay, and that while schools, professors and students are still figuring out how they can work best/better, the MOOC revolution has come.  Where I ran into trouble was this paragraph:

We demand that plumbers and kindergarten teachers be certified to do what they do, but there is no requirement that college professors know how to teach. No more. The world of MOOCs is creating a competition that will force every professor to improve his or her pedagogy or face an online competitor.

The somewhat flip suggestion that people with advanced degrees who teach in colleges haven’t been “certified to do what they do” seems a little straw-mannish to me.  At least on paper, many terminal degree programs, from DFAs to PHDs include some measure of pedagogical training – or at least the possibility of pedagogical training for those who think they might want to go into teaching.  In many places, though, this training is “hands on” – through positions as graders, TAs or course instructors.  We’re meant to learn on our feet gradually (at my institution, at least), first by figuring out how to fairly grade undergraduate essays, then in the relatively structured environment of the recitation section, and finally in classrooms of our own.  So the training is there.  Friedman is right, however, that many institutions don’t give the kind of directed pedagogical training that we get with regards to our research. (This isn’t true in all places, and I’d venture a guess that most PhD programs have some mechanism for pedagogical training, even if it’s not formally built into the curriculum).  Those of us who want more vis-a-vis pedagogy are  free to find it, but we mostly learn by watching and doing, and then go out and do, to be watched, by a whole new generation of students.

I’d also venture that what Friedman is talking about is as much about presentation as it is about good pedagogy.  Understanding how to tailor a syllabus to a class full of students with very different learning styles is, I think, a sign of a good teacher, but that probably doesn’t translate particularly well to the filmed MOOC environment.  On the other hand, people who are professional performers know that it can take an awful lot of work to learn how to project charisma, confidence and character on stage or film.  Whether we like it or not, students consuming MOOC material seem as likely to react positively to that as they do to the actual content of the course.  This isn’t to say that I think that all academics need acting lessons, but only that things are a little more complicated than what Friedman is calling for in that paragraph.

Quick Note: SEA2013 (or, if that tag’s taken, SEA13)

I’m just back from the Society of Early Americanists’ 2013 meeting – which, like NAVSA 2012 was a fantastic series of interdisciplinary panels.  I’m always amazed by the degree to which we historians use the same language as scholars of literature, but often use it to mean such different things.  Fantastic papers by NYU Atlanticists Jerusha Westbury, Dan Kanhoffer, Kate Mulry, Jeppe Mülich and Mairin Odle were seen, alongside equally wonderful ones by Mike LaCombe, Melissa Gniadek, Lauren Klein and Molly Perry, and a whole panel on the process of creating digital archives which I’m very excited to get into sometime soon.

I think, though (aside from the amazing company) my favorite parts of the conference were the conference were the panel on early Georgian foodways, featuring some fantastic locally grown food, and the live-tweeting phenomenon of the whole conference.  The idea of putting my first impressions of a paper out into the inter-ether is, frankly, pretty terrifying, but I was quite impressed by the number of people who catalogued their conference experiences as we went along.