A teaching philosophy in practice

My field nowadays is the digital humanities; I started my academic life as an archaeologist. In between, I’ve taught in continuing education, distance education, secondary education to troubled students, and started a business. My philosophy of teaching has evolved continually as a result of these disparate experiences.

I was attracted to archaeology by the hands-on nature of the field, by the materiality of it. I became interested in distance education and continuing education for how these two modes opened up academia to broader audiences than a standard undergraduate experience. Working with troubled teens (students whom the system had otherwise failed), I saw both of these strands come together in a program that offered a hands-on experience leading to a vocational diploma. Starting a business taught me that I had to relearn everything I thought I already knew. I recount these experiences to explain where I am coming from.

I first encountered the idea of ‘uncoverage’ in a blog post on Profhacker by Mark Sample. This phrase neatly encapsulates what I have come to believe. In Sample’s post, he defines ‘uncoverage’ by contrasting it with how we normally use the phrase in course syllabi: “…this course will cover the evolution of American public life from the publication of the Federalist Papers to…”. In the race to cover everything on the syllabus, we necessarily end up covering in the sense of ‘protect or conceal, to hide from view’ (Sample, citing Wiggins and McTighe 106). We do not teach understanding; rather we slip and slide over the top of the deeper issues that make these topics worth studying in the first place. For Sample, ‘uncoverage’ then is a kind of digging downwards, to reveal the assumptions and principles that we would normally cover. There is an obvious connection here with archaeology. In archaeology, one begins with the most recent layers and works backward, peeling away the events that form a site, understanding their associations and connections both in terms of breadth and depth. In the same way one would plan an archaeological excavation backwards from the idea ‘what do we wish to learn from this site?’ I implement backwards-design philosophies into my classes: in order to uncover that which is important, what must students understand as a result of having been in this course?

My ambition in every course is to teach for uncoverage. This has the effect of making my research and teaching two sides of the same craft. As a craftsman, I want my work to be visible, public and appreciated. My students therefore are both objects of my craft, and independent craftspeople in their own right. I seek out opportunities for my students’ work to become visible as together we work through the implications of digital media for historical understanding. Digital history is public history: therefore my students’ work is never conceived of as being done for an audience of one. As I tell my students, ‘we’re working without a net, folks: everything we do, we do in public’. I have published papers, articles, blogs and projects with students as a result.

I have blogged my own teaching and research for five years now. I am committed to open access, making not only my process but also my data available to the wider community. Not every experiment results in success; indeed, the failures are richer experiences because as academics we are loathe to say when something did not work – but how else will anybody know that a particular method, or approach, is flawed? This idea that it is ‘safe to fail’ at something, that sometimes what we try just might not work, is something that I try to foster in my classes. If we try something, it does not work, and we then critically analyze why that should be, we have in fact entered a circle of positive feedback. This perspective comes from my research into game based learning. A good game keeps the challenges just ahead of the player’s (student’s) ability, to create a state of flow. Too hard, and the player quits; too easy, and the player drops the controller in disgust. If we can design assessment exercises in a class that tap into this state of flow, then we can create the conditions for continual learning and growth (see for instance Kee, Graham, et al. 2009). What is more important is that these can be tailored to an individual student’s abilities. Why should assessment in a class begin at 100 points and then work downwards? Why not begin at zero and allow the student to rise?

My approach to teaching has changed over the years, and it will no doubt evolve in the future. What I hope to make a constant though is a commitment to celebrate in public the excellent work that my students do, whether that is sharing their blog posts on Twitter, to finding opportunities to publish with them, to finding collaborative projects with the wider community. By teaching for uncoverage, and by exploring the affordances of digital media for historical representation and analysis, I am able to marry the strands of my own evolution as a student, research and teacher, into the best opportunities for my students.

Putting the digital into my humanities


I teach one of the History Department’s core courses in historical method, HIST2809: The Historian’s Craft. This class has a large enrolment of typically 120 students. Instead of surveying the many different ways historians write history and do historical research, I focus instead on cultivating a deeper understanding of the reflexive nature of historical work, so that when students encounter a new possible method or approach they do so with a critical understanding of not just what the approach offers, but also how it delineates what it possible to say or uncover. I emphasize that historical work is not done in a vacuum, but is done within a community of practice.

To support this teaching, I created a WordPress powered website that I extended with the Buddypress plugin. Buddypress allows for the customized creation of a social network platform – a HIST2809 Facebook, if you will. Then, I ‘gamified’ this space by creating ‘achievements’ that students could work towards, with their progress being visible to other members of the classroom. This approach was written about by Nick Ward in This Week in FASS:

‘I wanted students to have more opportunities to practice the ‘craft’ of being an historian, beyond the formal assessments in the class. Obviously, I could’ve assigned weekly exercises, but that would’ve gone against some of the spirit of what I was trying to inculcate in my students-that being an historian is about being part of a community, that there is joy and surprise and discipline in being an historian, and that most of all, one has to want to do these things – to that end, the achievements system was entirely voluntary (but with a healthy dose of competition).’

In this gamified approach, the students started at zero and tried to collect as many points as possible.  All participants would get a small bonus to their participation grade, proportional to the number of points they’d collected. Some of the game challenges included transcribing lines of ancient papyrus, learning the rhetorics embedded in computer code, completing tutorials on logical fallacies, learning some Latin, and participating in online crowdsourcing history projects (including HeritageCrowd.org, Graham’s own experiment in crowdsourcing local cultural heritage knowledge).”

As a result of including participation in the running of some of my own research projects into the achievements system, some of my students became involved in community digital history projects. One student is now a lead author on the writing of a regimental history for one of Ottawa’s military units. Another student became a co-author with me on a case study of the project to crowd-source local history.

An ancillary use of technology in this class is my virtual excavation project in the Carleton Virtual Campus. This excavation is designed to make ‘real’ the metaphors of archaeology. Through interaction with this virtual excavation – where it is safe to make mistakes – students get the chance to explore how archaeological knowledge is created. This excavation is still in a prototype phase, and so it hasn’t been fully incorporated into this course yet. It represents another facet though of how the careful use of game-based elements can enhance one’s teaching and learning in class.

(I also presented my approach to gamification to my colleagues at an EDC brown-bag lunch. As a side note, I used ‘Prezi’, a piece of online presentation software that uses as its dominant metaphor the idea of ‘zooming’ into data. This is in stark contrast to Powerpoint, whose dominant metaphor is the 35 mm slide. I use both pieces of software in my classes to highlight the ways the media we use structure the stories we are able to tell. There is no ‘right’ way to interact with digital 1s and 0s. In a way, we are all disabled in this regard.)



FYSM1405a Digital Antiquity

I have been teaching a first year seminar for two years. In the first iteration of the course, which was then subtitled ‘digital history’, I sought to explore a variety of digital media with my students to explore how these media structure our understandings of history. As part of that course, I partnered with the Council of Heritage Organizations of Ottawa to use their Ottawagraphy website to tell stories about Ottawa’s history. One of these students later became a co-author with me on the case study on crowd-sourcing local history. Another student is now a co-editor with me on a project to crowdsource the illicit trade in antiquities, heritage.crowdmap.com.

In the second iteration of this course, subtitled ‘Digital Ancients, Digital Moderns’, we focused more on ancient history and archaeology, and how both digital media and ‘traditional’ media create ways of understanding and patterns of power. One of the semester long assignments in this class was to write the Wikipedia. We looked at how Wikipedia articles are subject to a channelization effect, where the earliest structure of an article sets the stage for all subsequent alterations. My students selected an article related to ancient history consisting of only a single paragraph, and then set out to improve it. One such page is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycenaean_pottery . Wikipedia pages now come with ratings, and as of March 2012, the consensus view of this page is that it is ‘well-written’ (in Wikipedia’s page rating shema). That first year students can be responsible for setting what is the de-facto Western memory bank for everything is a shocking experience for these students!

In the second part of this year’s course, I have partnered with the Museum of Civilization on a project to make ‘the Hidden Museum’ accessible to the public via augmented reality. As a result of some postings on my research blog, curators at the Museum contacted me to see if there was a possibility to partner. They opened up their storerooms to my students, and we began a project to create three-dimensional models of artefacts, using free software. The students ended up selecting a series of models related to Mesoamerica. The students then used Lulu, a print on demand service, to create a book which they are in the process of augmenting with smart-phone based augmented reality software (Junaio.com). In this way, they provide a ‘magic-eye’ like experience or pop-up book experience and liberate these museum pieces from the storerooms, providing a new way for the public to interact with them. The students also considered the ethical implications of displaying museum artefacts this way. This experience will be recounted at this spring’s Canadian Archaeological Association conference in Montreal as a case study. The museum curators and I have written a SSHRC application for a much larger study built on some of the themes related to this student work. Should we be successful in winning the grant, I intend to provide opportunities for these students to continue participating in the project.

Our work in this class was written up in the Charlatan Newspaper, Carleton’s Student newspaper, in January 2012.



This year I have been teaching a graduate seminar in our public history program on digital history. http://dhcworks.carleton.ca/history5702/ The entire course is designed around the exploration of the historiographical issues implicit in digital history and the use of digital tools for historical research (the two are not necessarily the same thing). There was a wide range of ability and affinities for digital media amongst the students enrolled in the course. A significant worry for the students from day one was, ‘what if the project/tool x doesn’t work?’ For these students, my concern with making a project ‘safe to fail’ was paramount. I wanted to demonstrate to them that digital history, as public history, is as much about knowing what doesn’t work (and why) as it is with achieving any set result.

The course also was funded by the NiCHE, the Network for Environmental History. They wanted to know whether or not augmented reality was a feasible approach for telling environmental history in Canada. They provided funds allowing us to purchase some smart-phones and data-plans. In conjunction with an exhibit on the urban forest of Ottawa at the Bytown Museum, the students began exploring the ways history could be told in-place using geo-location and augmented reality. I had them chronicle their journey from being digital neophytes to the completion of the project (April 3rd). They did this on a group blog hosted by the Digital History at Carleton platform (a web-space for digital research and collaboration). Each time they posted, I have retweeted to my followers the location of their posts (~ 700 digital humanists, archaeologists, and online education professionals). As a result, important connections have been made between individual students and practitioners in the field, opening up new research avenues.

I encouraged each student to develop an individual project that would further their major research essays. The resulting panoply of projects and the discussion surrounding their implementation and implications, has made for an incredibly rich seminar. Some students are using interactive fiction platforms (Inform7); others using text-analysis (Voyant Tools) or topic modeling (Mallet) software; some are creating 3d models of artefacts from a museum perspective while others are using data mining of Youtube and Twitter. For me to support these projects has necessarily meant working hard to understand how they work, their possibilities and their perils.

I also hosted a Google+ hangout with PhD students and faculty in digital history and archaeology from the UK and the United States. I wanted the students to experience first-hand one of the hallmarks of the digital humanities, its ‘big-tent’ philosophy and its philosophy of ‘hacking as a way of knowing’. The openness of that experience was something commented on by everyone that week in their blog posts.

Independent studies

I am a thesis advisor for a student interested in exploring issues of power and identity in the Greek Bronze Age. We developed a methodology for him to study these power relationships through social network analysis using the open-source platform Gephi (http://gephi.org). He has been blogging his research approach ( http://zackbatist.com/ ) and has made very important connections with practitioners in the field, which he has been able to draw upon as he applies to graduate school. I’ve taken him to a digital humanities ‘unconference’, and he is helping in the planning of an unconference to take place at Carleton next fall.

I am also a collaborator on Jennifer Evans’ ‘Hate 2.0’ project that looks at online hate. I have been training a student funded by the I-Cureus programme in data mining and analysis to support this project. ( http://dhcworks.carleton.ca/onlinehate/ ).

So why are you sharing this?

Well, lord knows I’m not the best teacher out there – but I want to be better. How are you using tech in your classroom, to support your digital humanistic mission? Where are the flaws in my approach? Where are the strengths?


Kevin Kee, Shawn Graham, Pat Dunae, John Lutz, Andrew Large, Michel Blondeau, Mike Clare. ‘Towards a Theory of Good History Through Gaming’ Canadian Historical Review 90.2 (June 2009). Pp.303-326.

Mark Sample. ‘Teaching for Uncoverage’ August 23, 2011 http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/teaching-for-uncoverage-rather-than-coverage/35459

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. (Prentice Hall, New Jersey: 2005).

HeritageCrowd.org: crowdsourcing cultural heritage

I have a small summer project running, using the Ushahidi and Omeka platforms for crowdsourcing local history, called HeritageCrowd. I have two Carleton University undergraduate students, Guy Massie and Nadine Feuerherm helping me with this; we’re blogging the experience here. Please check us out; comments & critiques (and submissions, of course!) are most welcome.

Guy writes,

This project, headed by Professor Shawn Graham and students Nadine Feuerherm and Guy Massie at Carleton University, rethinks the way that people share and interact with local history and heritage. Through the use of a number of technologies such as text messaging, voice mail, and the internet, we will test the possibility for creating a database of local history knowledge by asking for contributions from the community. This type of approach is known as “crowdsourcing,” and while it has been used to gather information about ongoing events such as the violence following the 2008 elections in Kenya, it has yet to be used in this way in the area of heritage and local history. The contributions made to the project will be stored and displayed on a website for the public. On our ‘stories‘ page, students and researchers can do further research on the items contributed by the public, creating exhibitions and other digital stories.

In the same way that the Memory Project is working to record the stories of veterans from the Second World War, we believe that there is an untapped resource in the historical knowledge of members from the community. The different ways of contributing to this project mean that anyone with telephone or internet access can share what they know about a place, event, building, or other topic related to local history. Our goal is to create an automated method of storing and digitally curating local heritage and history. In this way, our research hopes to benefit rural areas, and other regions of the world, that may otherwise face obstacles in attracting interest and attention about local history from the larger public.

This project is funded by a Junior Research Fellowship, and will make extensive use of the Omeka and Ushahidi web-based platforms. It will use the Upper Ottawa Valley as a “testing ground” for the project, and in particular the Pontiac MRC region in Western Quebec.


Practical Necromancy* Begins With Latin

In my previous ‘Practical Necromancy’ post, I made the argument why we should toy with history, using the Netlogo agent based modeling environment.

Let me tell you today what happened when I introduced the idea of simulating the past to my first year students. The phrase ‘digital history’ does indeed appear in the title of the course, yet a significant proportion of the class told me during the first week that they were technophobes, that they could post an update to Facebook, but don’t ask them to do anything more complex! You can see how this is a wee bit of a challenge.

The solution though presents itself when we remember the benefits of simulation:

Benefit #1: Crystallization of one’s own thoughts on history. If I can’t express it, I can’t code it.

Benefit #2: To critique the simulation, one has to perform a close-reading of the code, a prime historical skill.

Benefit #3: Seeing where what did happen fits into the realm of then-possible outcomes; a way of assessing the impact of Caesar’s decision not to cross the Rubicon as it were.

I firmly believe that one of the most important benefits of learning to program is that it provides the discipline necessary to engage closely with texts, to take them apart to understand what the author, the programmer, intended to happen. I built my lesson around Benefit #2, but to ease them into the idea, I introduced them to Chapter 1 of Wheelock’s Latin Grammar.

Why Latin?

I’m no Latinist. But even a glancing familiarity with the language (or with any language’s grammar, for that matter) helps to put the student into the correct mindset for dealing with code. Grammar forces us to look at syntax and construction, and how elements combine to create meaning.

The meaning of a word in Latin depends on its function in the sentence. That meaning is signaled by the combination of a root word and a stem. The verb ‘to praise’ has as its stem laud ; the first person in the present tense is indicated by the addition of –o : laudo I praise; I am praising; I do praise.

We spent a considerable portion of that first day working through Chapter 1 of the Latin grammar. The average Canadian student these days has no knowledge of how grammar actually works, so we had a bit of remedial work to do. The idea that word forms change with meaning, that the structure of a sentence – which words modify which others – can be deduced from the forms of the words even when you don’t know what the word actually means was a bit of an eyeopener.

And programming is rather like composing a sentence in Latin. In Netlogo-speak, you have ‘primitives’ that fit together in particular ways (like when in Latin you put a feminine noun with an adjective, the adjective takes a feminine ending to show agreement with the noun); you put these together into a single unit of meaning, called a procedure. In Latin and English, we’d call that a sentence.

We then looked at the ‘Termites model that comes bundled with Netlogo. I hid all of the code related to setting up the world and its displays, and had them concentrate on the main run-time procedures. I showed them how to recognize an ‘if…then’ type construction, and how to know where a procedure started and stopped. Then, I ask them to scan the code, and sketch out which procedures came first, any loops they encountered, to follow that through to the end of the model. They were to highlight any bits of code they didn’t understand.

Of course, at the end of the exercise, lots of the individual bits of code were highlighted, but as a class, they were able to develop the flow chart of how this simple model works. They’d begun the process of learning how to close-read the code of a simulation. And if you don’t know how the pieces fit together, how can you trust the results of the model? If you don’t know how the pieces fit, how can you know what it means?

Let me conclude with some remarks by Alun Salt on my last post:

[…]One of the benefits of computer models is that reading code requires close-reading which is a useful historical skill. Yes it is, but my gut reaction is why learn close-reading for history by examining code, when you could close-reading for history by examining historical texts? The gut is not noted for its large number of brain cells, and this example demonstrates why mine is no genius. Close-reading for code should be simpler. It should be unambiguous and lacking the complexities of meaning that words in historical text have. It’s an easier way of learning the skill that you can then take into more complex situations effectively making a shallower learning curve.

Having examined the way the code is written, my students are now looking at what the code produces, where it breaks down, and what emerges when you let thousands of individuals, interpreting the same instructions under different circumstances, interact. As one student said, ‘It’s kinda creepy’.

(Image cc Beinecke Library. This post cross-posted at Play the Past.)

Wikiblitz: Student Perspective

We had a great conversation this morning on the students’ perspective on the Wikiblitz assignment. We began by going over the article, and noting all of the changes, deletions, additions, and omissions that had occurred in the five days since we last looked at the article. In the spirit of the Heavy Metal Umlaut video I used Jing to make a short video showing how the page evolved from its one-line birth in 2005, to what we see today.

I’m no filmmaker.

But it was instructive to see how the interests and early structure that emerged in the article’s first few months have set the skeleton for all subsequent revisions. Once a structure emerges, it seems it takes a lot of energy to over-rule it or otherwise make substantial changes. The article we blitzed is about a particular place, and we noted how political history about the place was quickly expunged (but leaving a section on first nations land claims in the area).

So – a class that earlier in November had a significant number of students who felt there was nothing wrong with Wikipedia as a resource for their university level work, still like it and will refer to it, but understand now how it generates knowledge and the limitations of that knowledge. And they all promise never to cite it as a basic resource ever again.

We shall see, eh? But in general, a good experience and one that the students enjoyed doing.

Some student observations:

‘The fact that many of the changes made by the class were reverted [by other Wikipedians] means that even an ‘any one can edit’ site like Wikipedia is in fact conservative and resistant to change. Why is that? Perhaps its because people take ownership of particular pages… I also thought it was quite amazing how the anti-vandalism bot reversed some of our changes…this feature designed to preserve the presentation of fact has the effect of preserving misinformation as well…’

“The fact that the people writing and editing Wikipedia pages could in fact be just like us – first years with little in-depth knowledge – is actually rather frightening…’

I tabulated the content of my students’ feedback:

Gist of comment # of mentions by students
ease of use 1
the way Wikipedia ‘self heals’ 3
lack of professionalism 3
content is contested 5
fact that it is ‘in public’ compels professionalism 1
authority lacking – these people could be just like us! 2
futility of trying to improve articles 2
where do wikipedians get their sources? 1

The Wikiblitz: Exploring the meaning of Wikipedia in a First Year Digital History Seminar

Context: FYSM1405a is a first year seminar designed to give students an understanding of how historians can create ‘signal’ in the ‘noise’ of the internet, and how historians create knowledge using digital media tools. Given that many students when doing ‘research’ online will select a resource suggested by Google – and generally one within the first three to five results – this class has larger media literacy goals as well.

The first section of the course looked at the sheer mass of historical materials available on the internet, asking, how do we find our way through all of this? How do we visualize or otherwise identify what is important? The structuring readings during this module were reflections by the seminal author Roy Rosenzweig (founder of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University). We also looked at how the ‘doing’ of history was itself an ‘unnatural act’, in Sam Wineburg’s felicitous phrase. This led to a second module where the students explored the idea that we never observe the past directly; we are always building models to fit what we ‘know’ into a system of explanation. In digital work, these models are explicitly written in computer code. Understanding how the code forces a particular worldview on the consumer is a key portion of becoming a ‘digital historian’. Computer games are another kind of model of the world; historical computer games are some of the best selling games on the market today. How do they represent history? Can we subvert or challenge these representations?

A consideration of gaming and an ethic of ‘playing’ with history led to the current module focussed on crowdsourcing history. Wikipedia is, in a certain sense, a kind of game where competing visions of common knowledge vie for dominance. We looked at simulations of termites as a metaphor for how crowdsourcing can create knowledge (the termites interact in a world with the simple instruction ‘pick up a piece of wood when you find it; put it down when you encounter another piece of wood’. From an initial random scattering of wood chips, a single pile emerges in the center of the world.) We looked at the history of Wikis more generally, and that of the Wikipedia itself specifically. I created the image at right to help the students situate when it is appropriate to consult Wikipedia (and when to cite it; the difference between using it as a tertiary source, and a primary source for a particular argument where it advances or illustrates the argument in some way).

The Wikiblitz assignment: To understand how the process of knowledge creation actually works on Wikipedia, by improving the article related to our local region. This assignment was partly inspired by the UBC SPAN312 2008 semester long experiment in writing collaboratively on the Wikipedia (for an analysis and post-mortem on this experiment, see http://bit.ly/13VZmJ ; other similar projects are listed here http://bit.ly/aWhq4p ). Two short videos were prepared for the students showing them the mechanics of how to edit a Wikipedia article.

Instructions to students: Examine the article. Identify areas that are logically weak or poorly written, or areas that are otherwise incomplete. Using a pseudonym, log into Wikipedia and make a substantial improvement to the article. Email me with your pseudonym and a brief description of the changes you made. All changes are to be made within class time.

Follow Up: During a subsequent class, the students will review how the article evolved during their blitzing of it, and the subsequent changes made by the wider Wikipedian community. They will be asked to reflect on how much of their contribution survived the interval; why did those parts survive? Why did some parts get reverted or deleted? How does the Wikipedian community deal with citations and points of view? Their reflection will be written before the class discussion, taking the form of a short paragraph, and will form the jumping off point for the class discussion.

Part one of this assignment – the wikiblitz itself – was conducted on November 26th 2010. Part two – the reflection and discussion – will take place on December 1st 2010. On December 1st, the students will be shown a time-lapsed video illustrating how the wiki page changed over the course of the blitz and the subsequent week. They will then be given the prompt to take 15 minutes to write down their reflections on their experience creating knowledge on Wikipedia. They will then share their observations with their seat mates to either side, before sharing with the class as a whole. Their written reflections will be taken in for grading as per the rubric (noting that the majority of the points concern their actual engagement with the Wikipedia page).

Rubric for this assignment

3 2 1
Blitz Editing Major contribution made Minor contribution with several corrections made throughout the text Minor edits only
Wiki Style Observed Wikipedia’s house style English is generally correct, but NPOV is not observed English is problematic
Sources Cited appropriately Citations problematic No citations
Reflection Knowledge creation Reflection shows deep thought on how knowledge is negotiated in a wiki Reflection shows some awareness of how knowledge is created Reflection shows little awareness beyond the student’s own point of view

Total points: /12

Desired Outcomes
The students should see how knowledge creation on Wikipedia is as much about style as it is about substance; how Wikipedia constitutes a kind of peer-review; how the ‘neutral-point-of-view’ (NPOV) provisions lead to particular kinds of rhetoric and judgments regarding knowledge credibility and suitability.

Thoughts on the Shadow Scholar

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, there is a troubling piece written by a fellow who writes and sells papers for/to students. Which got me to thinking: shouldn’t text analysis be able to solve this?

Here’s my thinking: I’m willing to bet every author produces unique combinations of words and phrases – a concept that Amazon for instance uses to improve its search functions (“statistically improbable phrases“).  As the ‘ghost writer’ points out, most of the emails he gets from students are nearly illegible or otherwise atrocious. So – what if at the start of a school year, you sat all of your students down to handwrite a couple thousand words, any topic.  Writing by hand is important, so that you get that student’s actual genuine writing. Scan it all in. Perform text analysis on it. Obtain a ‘signature’ for that student’s style. Then, when students submit their papers, analyze them again and compare the signatures.  Where the signatures don’t match within a certain range, bring the student in to talk about their work. Chances are if they didn’t write it, they probably haven’t read it either…. Repeat each year to account for developing skill and ability.

Perhaps I’m naive, and text analysis isn’t at that level yet (but I’m willing to bet it could be…). If the problem is a student submits someone else’s work as his own, then maybe if we had a clear signal of his own true work, all this latent computer power sitting around could be brought into the equation…?

Just a thought.


My zotero assigment

Inspired by what many others are up to in their classes (and in particular, Prof. Fernsebner; but see also Brian Croxall), I had my first year seminar students use Zotero to create a group library related to digital history & the local history of the Ottawa region. Below are the instructions I gave them:

Add 5 references to your personal zotero library with annotations; transfer those references to our zotero group online bibliography.

  1. Download and install Zotero in Firefox.  If you do not have Firefox installed on your machine, click on the Firefox link to obtain it. It’s free!
  2. Review the help videos for zotero on our course website, and on the Zotero main page.
  3. Sign-up for Zotero Groups at zotero.org/groups/
  4. Search Groups for ‘1405a-digital-history’. Click on ‘Join Group’. This will send me a short note saying that you wish to join the group. Once I ‘approve’, you’ll have a new ‘group library’ on your ‘collections’ screen on the Zotero interface in Firefox. At the top you’ll see ‘my library’. To copy an item from one collection to the other, find the item you want; click and drag it to the other folder.
  5. Now, find some resources/references concerning digital history, and the history of Ottawa & the Ottawa Valley / Outaouais! You should begin by asking yourself – what aspects of this course have I found most interesting so far? Key words might be things like ‘digital history’; ‘digital humanities’; ‘history GIS’; ‘serious games’… and so on.  Look at the ‘readings’ section of our course website. Did you know that Google allows you to search for similar resources? Try it out: go to google.com, click ‘advanced search’, click ‘more’ and put the link in the ‘page-specific tools’ box.
  6. Collect your resource, and annotate it by clicking on the ‘Notes’ tab in the zotero interface. Things to think about when creating your notes:
    • Who wrote this? Is this person credible (ie, do they work for a reputable institution? Are they well-known? What do others say about this person? Can you even find the person’s name?)
    • When was this published or posted? Was it in response to some wider current in society? (for instance, something published on terrorism in October 2001 might have a very different tone/point of view than something published in August 2001)
    • What kind of historical questions or problems could this source be useful for?
    • Are there any obvious flaws in this resource?
  7. Tag the resource using descriptive labels, under the ‘tags’ tab. (This will allow you to search and create subcollections based on these labels. Use as many as you’d like.)
  8. Transfer your citations to our group library.
  9. IF SOMEONE ELSE has already uploaded a source that you wished to contribute, please find a different source. So you’re better off completing this assignment ahead of time, rather than at the last minute.

And here is the rubric I’ve used to grade their submissions to the group library:

Zotero Group Library Joined? No (no points) Yes (1 point)
# of unique items added to the group library One or two (1 point) Three or four (2 points) Five items (4 points)
Quality of annotations (see instructions, #6) A random assortment, with no obvious connection to the course demonstrated or little reflection on utility (1 point) Some randomness, but also some awareness of why the sources are valuable, and in what way (3 points) Resource obviously connected to the class, and annotations show reflection on the utility or appropriateness of the resource (4 points)
Annotations are tagged with descriptive labels No tags (0 points) One or two resources are tagged (.25 points) Three or four resources are tagged (.5 points) All five resources are tagged (1 point)

So far, so good. But one thing I didn’t count on, was that I can’t search by user-who-added-items in the group library. This has been a major time sink, in that regard. I have to click through each record in the group’s library page on the web, noting the resource, who created it, and when (since some students appeared to have added to what others submitted).

So while overall I’m happy with how this assignment panned out – I wanted them to learn to use Zotero, and in terms of the basics, that’s what they’ve achieved – I think I could’ve planned this out better.  Aside from the technical difficulties in retrieving what each student submitted, there’s the more important question of whether or not my rubric does what I wanted it to do. And there I think it falls down – “connection to the course” should’ve been defined a wee bit more rigorously, for instance.  I was imagining ‘connection’ meaning, a connection with the issues raised in our readings – but many students simply took that to mean, ‘he talked about enigma machines once, so this website on the mechanics of the enigma machine therefore is a good resource to collect for digital history’. Well maybe it is, maybe it isn’t: but since I didn’t spell out that I wanted them to spell out the connections… well my bad.

So. A good assignment to teach a useful skill, but as for fostering anything deeper, I think my instructions & rubric let me down. Lesson learned.

Building Inclusive Academic Communities: Case Studies in History, Classics and Archaeology

In the UK, the Higher Education Academy has various subject centers for promoting excellence in teaching and learning in higher education, including one for History, Classics and Archaeology. Recently, Kimm Curran and Lisa Lavender from HCA put together an edited volume of case studies (which included my own modest contribution on my oral examination experiment a few years ago at Roehampton U). I can’t find the volume on the website, which I suspect is just an oversite; the contributions are all enormously interesting, and I recreate the table of contents below:

  • Teaching Core Skills in History via WebCT: Quizzes (Max Jones)
  • Embedding Time Management Skills (Alan Greaves)
  • Divide and Grid (Helen Kaufman)
  • Using VLEs to Improve Student Learning in Large Humanities Courses (Max Jones)
  • Weblogs and module journals in History (Matthew Ward)
  • Blended Learning in the Delivery of Skills: engaging the distant learner (Sam Riches)
  • Does Inquiry-based learning increase student engagement? The case of a first year history survey course (Jamie Wood & Alex Ralston)
  • Group debates as a form of assessment (Fiona McHardy)
  • Using the Oral Examination for Promoting Undergraduates’ Learning in Roman Archaeology: A New Lecturer’s Improvised Experience (Shawn Graham)
  • A Thousand Years in One Semester: the application of good practice to design, teaching and assessment in an historical survey course (Rosemary Gill)
  • History and Employability (Steve Caunce)

The HCA Subject Center is also calling for papers for a conference on archaeological education:

The Higher Education Academy’s Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology and the Council for British Archaeology have joined together to host a joint conference on Archaeology in Education in September 2010.

We are now asking for conference proposals that address aspects of teaching archaeology at any educational levels from Key Stage 1 through to PhD, and in any context from the avocational to the professional.  Conference proposals might be for either formally delivered papers, or a proposal to host a workshop based around a specific issue for discussion or activities.   In particular we would like to see proposals that focus on teaching and learning issues and how they can be addressed, and/or case study examples of specific learning.
To register an interest in attending or to make a proposal, please send your name and affiliation (if any), the title of your paper or workshop and an abstract of 100 words to Lyn Hughes at archea@liverpool.ac.uk

Also worth checking out is the session proposal for TAG2010:  Should students design their own curricula?

The Subject Centre is proposing to hold a session at TAG 2010, this year held in Bristol. The sessions will be called ‘Taking Ownership of the Course: student involvement in the archaeology curriculum’ and it will explore whether students should be actively involved in designing their archaeology curriculum? How important is the experience and age of teaching staff? Are there benefits that students bring from their recent experiences of learning?

Recent discussions at TAG, and elsewhere, have revealed tensions between what lecturers would ideally like their students to know about archaeological theory, and how students would like to learn about theory. Sometimes, these different opinions can be framed in terms of the difference between acquiring a depth of knowledge or an intellectual history, on the one hand, contrasted with a desire to be engaged in a debate or difference of opinion to stimulate interest, on the other. Lying at the heart of the matter is the ever-expanding nature of archaeological enquiry, the increasingly restricted time available to students to give to their studies, and a modular system for the university curriculum that tries to balance directed learning and student choice.

At a national level, the funding councils that support universities have asked institutions to encourage greater student engagement in their learning. The implication of this desire is that students are not particularly engaged at the moment, and if they were more were engaged, students might benefit more from their university education, and express higher levels of satisfaction with their time spent at university.

It seems appropriate to explore this idea at a student conference like TAG, and papers and discussion will reflect on the tensions in designing an archaeology curriculum, the possibilities, benefits and problems of student engagement in its design, and effective strategies by which students might become more knowledgeable about engaging with their learning environments.

To contribute a paper, please contact Lyn Hughes at archea@liverpool.ac.uk

TAG website http://www.bristol.ac.uk/archanth/tag/index.html

The entire website (both the Academy and the various subject centers) are well worth exploring for anyone interested in pedagogy & practice.