Monday, December 19, 2011

Re-Creating the College Classroom of the Past

I just sent the following email to one of my classes for the Spring.

Hello all,

Thanks for signing up for History 328: US Women’s History since 1870.  I wanted to give you a little preview of my plans for our class next semester because the research projects in the class are going to be a little different than that of other history classes (even for those of you who took HIST 327 this fall).

First of all, in many ways, the general structure of the class is going to be fairly standard.  We’ll have lectures on Tuesdays and part of Thursdays, and discuss readings on Thursdays.  There will be a mid-term and a final based on those lectures, discussions, and readings.

What’s different is that the rest of your grade, roughly 40%, will be based on a series of projects we’ll be working on in groups and as a class.  These projects will be based around researching Mary Washington College classes in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, & 1960s (including course topics, pedagogical approaches, majors, gender stereotypes, technology, and clothing).  As the class lectures and readings look at the experiences of women in the United States in the late 19th and 20th Centuries, our parallel goal will be to understand what college meant to women who came to Mary Washington in the four decades in the middle of the 20th Century.

Each group of 6-7 of you will have a decade to research, using a variety of online and archival sources, as well as interviews with alums from these decades.  Rather than writing a traditional individual research paper, you’ll keep a research blog and  work with your group to create a research site collecting together the information that you’ve found.

Based on those sites, we will collectively decide (perhaps with the help of some alums), which decade we will then use for the final project, a re-creation of a course session or two from that decade.

Now, if this project is not the kind of thing you’ll be interested in working on, you may want to look for another class.  But I hope you’ll each at least be intrigued by the idea and perhaps even excited by doing something that is original, fun, and creative, while tying in to the themes we’ll be discussing more broadly for US women in the class.

Have a terrific break and I’ll see you in January.

Dr. McClurken

I'm very excited about this project, so any suggestions you have for the process, the approach, the research sites, or anything else will be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Fall 2011 -- A new building, a new classroom, a new course

[Picture created using the iPhone app from Microsoft, Photosynth]

The class was the History of the Information Age, the building was Monroe Hall, and the classroom is our new flexible space classroom.  Look for a post on the latter coming in the next couple weeks.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Info Age #4 -- The Documentaries

[Be sure to check out the earlier installments of my discussion of my History of the Information Age senior seminar as well:   here, here, and here, as well as the class timeline and the list of the first set of projects to be placed in that timeline.]

Assignment #4 in this course was the group documentaries on some aspect of the Information Age.  I didn't give the students a great deal of direction, other than to say that they needed to show change over time, that they should be between 5 and 10 minutes, and that they needed to upload them somewhere where they could be seen (they all chose YouTube).  They had about three weeks to come up with a topic (related to the class discussions of the digital age), research, film, and edit the video.

Each group had a basic video camera, and they had access to the editing stations in our Digital Media Lab (with iMovie and Premiere).   Ultimately, only one group used Premiere, one used iMovie, and two used Windows Movie Maker.  
Although they had been given a brief intro to video editing at the start of the semester by DTLT, most of them were going to be doing video capture and editing for the first time.  I recommended that they test out their cameras, video files, and basic editing before they got too far into the process so that they could figure out problems in advance.

They presented the documentaries to the class and they were a great deal of fun.  Certainly, the videos aren't as polished as they would have been if I had spent more time in training them how to use editing software, or if they'd had more time in the semester to work on them (both points the students make in their after-project posts, linked below), but I'm quite impressed with the work they produced and their willingness to throw themselves into the projects.  

What's your take?  What suggestions do you have for future iterations of the assignment?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Info Age Assignment # 3 -- The advertisements

[Though I still need to go back and blog about the first two assignments in my History of the Information Age senior seminar (the creation of our class timeline and the first set of projects to be placed in that timeline), I decided to go ahead and post about this assignment anyway.]

For this assignment, the class split into four groups, each to work on their own fictional advertisement.  The goal of this assignment was to have students explore what went into advertisements in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and/or 1960s.  We read several pieces on the history of advertising as part of our weekly class reading on the history of communication and information, and students did further research before they actually created their projects.  [Some of the ads juxtapose topics that are chronologically out of the time period of the ad style, but I think that actually helped, in that it forced students to do more than just copy previous advertisements.]

Students threw themselves into researching the way that advertising was done in terms of themes, colors, wording, images, stories, tone, even font.  And at the end I think that they learned quite a bit about the difficulty and possibility of communicating in ways that go beyond text itself.

Check them out and let us know what you think.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

History of the Information Age Syllabus 2.0

So, over the last two weeks, the students in this senior seminar on the History of the Information Age have worked with me to fill in the broad outlines of the syllabus.  This syllabus, version 2.0, has the discussion topics and the assignments set, though I still need to sit down with the weekly discussion leaders to decide on the readings for the week.

The assignments include a variety of ways that, as groups and as individuals, students will contribute to the class timeline set up using the Simile Timline plugin for WordPress.  First they'll work in groups to create the events that go into the timeline (a process we discussed as a class last Thursday), their other assignments (again, suggested and/or modified by the students) are as follows:

Part one & two – Select one of the following by September 15.
  • Actually use an early system of communication to convey information (demonstrated to the class)
  • OR describe the process and complications of using such an early system to convey information.  (300-500 words, plus sources, posted to your blog)
  • OR research and discuss the significance of an information technology in the life of a specific individual before 1950.  (300-500 words, plus sources, posted to your blog)
  • OR create an infographic with information about an early system of communication from Parts I or II (with sources, posted to your blog)
  • Individual project – Value is 10% of course grade
  • To avoid overlap, each topic must be submitted for approval by September 15.
  • Project due September 29

Part three – Create your own advertisement/commercial/print ad related to the history of information to be shared. – Group – 10%
  • Due Thursday, October 13
Part four – Make a documentary (5-10 minutes) on topic from this period – Group – 15%
  • Due Thursday, November 10
Part five – 5% – Help improve the timeline – Aspect must be preapproved before work starts on it.
  • A) Work on the overall structure/format/presentation of the timeline.
  • B) Pick any point on the timeline to expand on (with research) – Can take form of video, brief, essay, infographic, oral history, etc.
  • Individual, unless a case can be made for group work here.
  • Due the last day of class, December 8.

As always, questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome.  I'm excited to see what projects the students come up with as they begin to explore the concepts of historically located information and communication through a variety of tools.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Collaborative Course Construction

I'm teaching a new course this semester, a senior seminar on the History of the Information Age.  I've got a great group of students who are interested in the topic, but also in breaking out of the normal senior readings seminar.  I've challenged that format in another senior seminar, Adventures in Digital History (2008/2010 iterations), but this class is a bit different.  ADH is primarily a project based class, where the process of creating the projects is the entire focus of the course.

For this seminar on the Information Age, I wanted to try something different.  I wanted to combine digital history projects with a genuine engagement with  scholarly readings and discussions of themes.  But I also wanted to engage the students in creating the course itself.

So, in late July/early August I created a rough syllabus (version 0.9) here.  It has a rough semester calendar with four broad eras of the "Information Age" -- Print (and its predecessors), Early Networked Communication, Broadcasting, and Information in the Digital Age.  It includes three books I had the bookstore order and will have the students read over the course of the semester.  It includes what I see as the non-negotiable parts of the course:  
"Students are expected to attend all classes, read all assigned texts, post regularly to the individual blogs, participate in class, and help lead two weeks of class discussions.  Students are also expected to contribute to the creation of a public, digital timeline of developments, events, people in the information age and add materials to it all semester."
Participation will be worth 40% and blog posts will be worth at least 10%.  

Here's what I don't know and what I want to figure out with the class over the next 10 days or so.

  • I don't know quite what that timeline will look like yet.  I don't know what will make it on the timeline, how exactly we'll construct it, what we will add to it and how.
  • I don't know what the other 50% of the graded portion of the course will consist of.  
    • I imagine some of it will be material that enriches the digital timeline, but I don't know what that will be yet.  
    • Some preliminary discussion of ideas on the syllabus comments suggests a student interest in group projects, perhaps video recorded oral histories of aspects of the Information Age.  
    • Others have discussed the value of infographics for displaying particularly perspective on trends/ideas/concepts.  
    • It's also possible that they will include formal or informal presentations of their work as part of the graded portion of the course.
  • I don't know which topics the class will want to focus on and for how long.
    • On a related note, I don't know which readings/texts/images/videos we'll be using beyond the three core texts to explore the topics the class wants.
  • I don't know if this will work.  But I've got a group of students who genuinely seem excited by the chance to try, and so I'm excited too.  
More to follow.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Interview on With Good Reason

My interview on the public radio show With Good Reason is up. Host Sarah McConnell and Associate Producer Kelley Libby did a great job helping me to talk about my book and the experiences of Confederate veterans after the Civil War.

Be sure to check out the Companion Feature at the bottom as well.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Professor's Legacy

This weekend I attended a memorial service for one of my Mary Washington college professors, and later colleague, Dr. Richard "Doc" Warner.  Dick had died suddenly a couple of weeks ago while in New York to talk to an editor about the historical novels he'd been writing since he retired.

Dick Warner spent 36 years at Mary Washington, teaching classes in Russian, French, and maritime history.  When I first came to the school as a prospective student he was the one who spent nearly 90 minutes talking to me about the school and the history major.  This was in stark contrast to the other schools I had visited at which I was lucky to get even five minutes with any faculty members; I don't know if he ever realized it, but he was a big reason that I came to (then) Mary Washington College.  [Over a decade later,  when I applied after graduate school for a tenure-track teaching position in the department, Dick told me that he would only support hiring me if I agreed to become chair someday....  Something tells me he's still got a smile and a twinkle in his eye about that one.]

Although a dedicated teacher, his real passion was men's rugby.  He was instrumental in starting the club sport at MWC in the 1980s and was, as one of the participants this weekend noted, the "Godfather of Mary Washington Rugby".  He advocated for resources with the administration and raised money from a wide variety of sources.  He recruited constantly, boldly poaching athletes from more mainstream sports at the school.  He attended almost every match for decades and continued to come to many games, even after his retirement and move out of state in 2004.

I knew most of this before this weekend.  Frankly, you couldn't be Dick's colleague (or student) without getting a major rugby update at least once a week.  But this weekend's memorial service was a powerful sign of Dick Warner's impact, of a remarkable legacy.  At the service, on the rugby pitch that really should be named Doc Warner Field, nearly 100 people remembered his life and his impact on them.  As we went around the large circle, we heard from alumni from the classes of the 1980s to 2011, from people who had traveled thousands of miles or just a few blocks, from teary middle-age men to proud recent graduates, all to pay tribute to Dick.

But the tales that were told of Doc Warner this weekend went beyond that of solely a sport.  Of course there were stories of recruiting phone calls and of conversations about various aspects of a student's rugby game, of the enduring passion and love Dick had for the sport and its players.  But even more powerful were those stories of Dick mentoring students about their classes, working out structured schedules with young men who were having trouble adjusting to the rigorous demands of Mary Washington's courses, introducing them not only to the library, but to the specific cubicle in which they would henceforth be studying.  Several alums spoke to the fact that, rather than being easier on rugby players in his own classes, that he expected more of them.  And that attention to their success as students and as men didn't stop with their graduation.  We heard of countless recommendation letters written, or phone calls to potential employers; we heard of the community of people (students, alumni, parents, friends) bound together ostensibly by rugby, but really by Doc Warner's unrelenting energy and interest; we heard about Dick recognizing former students on the street decades later and remembering key details about their lives.  We heard from Dick's own family about the importance of "his second family" to Dick, of his pride in them and in their successes.  We heard about his generosity, his quiet support of students in financial straits, and his wry sense of humor.

I was talking with other faculty members at the end of the memorial, wondering at the powerful impact Dick had had on these student-athletes.  Few faculty have the kind of impact, inspire the kind of devotion, leave the kind of legacy that he did.  Many of us who teach would be thrilled to have a memorial service to which so many of those we advised and taught came, where there was as much joy and laughter as there were tears and sadness, a sense of a life well and fully lived for both family and work.  It was a fitting tribute to Richard Warner's career and life.