Digital Assignments

I’ve been writing syllabi over the last couple weeks, and while we’ve been learning about various digital tools I’ve been trying to figure out how to incorporate them into my courses.

This serves (at least) two functions.  1, the further the traditional goals of taught history – to critically read primary sources, to put information together in meaningful ways, etc. – the standard list.  2, to get my students to use computers.  The MS Delta is still, in 2014, an internet desert, and large numbers of my students do not have internet at home.  This poses problems.  They can, of course, use the computer labs on campus (when they are working, and open…).  Long story short, many are not as comfortable using technology as they might be.  Maybe should be in the 21st century…

One idea that would be easy to incorporate would be to have my students in my European History course each create a WP blog.  I have often asked students to write journals in which their assignment is to pick out and follow the story of one nation or area.  As the class as a whole works its way through the history of Europe, they each pay special attention to one area – Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, etc.  By doing this online, and by linking the students’ blogs to a common page, they could benefit from each other.  The most obvious is that each will have access to these mini-histories.  As (more?) importantly, they can see each others’ work, and that, to my mind, is what makes digital history different: the ability to replicate and distribute “information” quickly and cheaply.

I would have/help the students sign up for WP blogs, and they would have the blanket assignment to summarize/outline the happenings in their country.  I would probably have them do this individually – it won’t be a big class.  Some weeks their might be little to do: the student who has Russia won’t be busy during the week we study the French Revolution; on the other hand, the French student will have less when we study the Communist Revolution/s.

This assignment has a number of benefits: no journal to lose/hand in and back; the ability to critique and comment on others’ work; most importantly, the ability to learn from each other.  It exercises both their reading and writing skills: the ability to pick out the pertinent information and then summarize it in a clear manner.

There’s no need to justify this assignment – our department is journal crazy.  I’m kind of hoping that if this works – and I see no reason it should not – they will come to me asking how they can get online.  We’ll see…

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