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Report for the End of the Day

The Day of DH draws to a close and thus so does this small experiment in blogging on my activity for the day.  It was good to have this day to bring the course website, which I have worked on here and there since August, up to a certain level of completeness.  It’s not done yet, and that’s fine, since (1) the fall semester doesn’t begin for another three months and (2) the format allows/encourages fiddling even when the semester is underway.

But for now, here’s what I’ve got, in the meaty parts of the site:

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 4.57.27 PM

To the right of the spiffy little slide show (kind of a beauty pageant for ancient and medieval architectural history) are a series of buttons with materials that are “internal” to the class:

syllabus: links to a pdf of the old-fashioned, four-page, paper syllabus

calendar: ditto

assignments: will list/explain course assignments within the website page, allowing links to tools, helpful websites, and other web-based resources for student use on particular assignments

glossaries: to be built up through the semester, these will probably be Thinglinks (see “Greek” for an example that works right now) that act as visual glossaries and study aids for discipline-specific vocabulary

images: lots and lots of study images, snatched via Google Images (with the “labeled for noncommercial reuse” filter), organized by subject sections.  Voted Most Likely To Experience A Broken Link, but time will tell.

gradebook: like syllabus and calendar, will link to a pdf that shows students (who register for the service & provide a PIN) their grades and standing in the class.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 4.57.31 PM

To the left of the “History in the News” box that will be changed up when I run across relevant items of interest, more buttons, but these “external” to the class:

facebook: links to my “virtual office” that students can elect to join

voicethread: links to the menu of voicethread presentations that are a required part of the course

maps: links to a series of maps I worked up through Google Maps Engine* that show all the sites we visit in class, meant to be a teaching/learning tool on its own, to study both settlement patterns and also the patterns of historical interest in ancient/medieval cultures.

That is where the project comes to rest now.  Just about everything can still stand a little more attention, either for basic structural work or at least a little spit-shine.  Another important matter to address is how to put these tools in the hands of students and encourage them to take the reins through their study, assignments and other coursework.

Stay tuned!

*I recently ran across articles that suggest that the Google Maps Engine might be on its last legs; this is not just a concern for this particular tool I want to use for the class, but generally speaking, reminds us that all this great stuff that lives on a cloud somewhere is only as secure as the servers and programs and updates and further support that go into the programs that run them.  And suddenly those 35 mm slides and paper-copy syllabi look pretty good again.


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Building a Class Website

Now, I am no expert here.  I am just a prof with 15 or so years behind me, in the generation of folks who have seen the digital revolution up close and personal.  The fact that I went to college as a freshman with a typewriter and left grad school on my second or third laptop says a lot.

The digitization of everything has opened great new options for teaching but also posed some headaches.  On the plus side, the fact that I no longer have to sort slides in a tray prior to every class meeting is a huge win; the can’t-miss-’em monuments exist in handy PowerPoint slide shows that are three or four clicks away.  On the negative, I was never sold on laptops and other keyboard-enabled note-taking devices in class, and recent studies have backed up my suspicions.  They are bad.  Students will continue to use the oldey-timey technology of pens and notepaper in my classes, even if they have to do it through weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So, I am trying to be pretty thoughtful and selective about how to manage the class through online resources (make no mistake, this is not an “on-line class;” we still meet in a room, three times per week).  Most of what happens here, I think, can be divided into one of two categories:

  1. digital delivery of traditional materials: links on the website open PDFs of traditional course materials (calendars, assignments, etc.)
  2. all-digital format: pages on the website have active elements, e.g., thumbnail images that link to big versions of the image for study purposes, a calendar that includes links to study materials

One of the concerns I have, and which requires this split approach, is the threat of making too much of a big deal about the technology and allowing it to get in the way of the material.  I resist the Celebration of the Gizmo.  I also recognize that the myth of the “digital native” is just that; I’ve had plenty of students with personal tech issues and don’t believe that all students will cotton to an all-digital class. There’s also the matter of my university’s readiness to adapt fully to the potential of these resources; central admin will still require a PDF version of a paper syllabus to file in the provost’s office.  And if I have to generate one for him, why not just keep everyone on paper?  Students are notoriously bad about reading this document that is full of serious and important info.  Are they more or less likely to absorb it in digital or paper form?

I’d love to hear from others who are depending more and more on electronic devices to facilitate their teaching.  In the meantime, I am trying to be very selective on the course site to turn to digital options when they truly promise to facilitate my teaching and my students’ learning; otherwise, we will stick with the tried and true.