Teaching and Learning History

Class-sourcing History: Teaching Students, Serving the Public, and Staying Relevant

By Gleb Tsipursky posted 07-17-2013 12:20:55 PM

  

We search constantly for ways to teach students better, to serve our discipline, profession, and the broader public more fully, and to stay relevant in this digital era. I would like to propose one strategy that has the potential to advance our collective capacity on all of these fronts: a new method of digital humanities-informed teaching and learning that I term class-sourcing. This concept adapts the term crowdsourcing, meaning the outsourcing of tasks to a wide group of volunteers, for instance the organization of information best exemplified by Wikipedia. A related but distinct process, class-sourcing consists of two elements, namely having students and faculty create online digital artifacts that organize knowledge, subsequently publicizing, and conglomerating these creations for the benefit of a widely diverse audience.

Class-sourcing involves having faculty give class assignments where students make publicly-accessible online digital artifacts, such as wikis, websites, blogs, videos, podcasts, visual images, and others. These projects aim to report on class to a broad audience in a visually appealing fashion. This component of class-sourcing advances our ability to teach students about history while conveying the skills of a liberal art education. Similar to a paper, students conduct independent research on a specific topic they chose, analyze the information they find, and organize and communicate this data, which strengthens research, writing, and critical thinking, as well as historical understanding. However, online digital artifacts provide additional benefits, as they advance our ability to teach students digital literacy skills relevant to professional and civic life in the modern digital age. A related advantage of class-sourcing comes from the capacity of digital artifacts to improve student engagement and performance, due to the novel nature of this assignment and the deployment and development of digital skills, which creates a constructive classroom dynamic and enhances comprehension of course content. Additionally, the public nature of the online projects results in improved academic performance.

My proposals emerge from my own experience asking those in my classes to create websites on Soviet and imperial Russian history based on original primary source research. These students produced websites on a variety of topics, such as “The KGB,” “Bloody Sunday, 1905,” and “Thaw-Era Films.” From the very beginning, students expressed enthusiasm over these assignments. They have impressed me with their commitment and the quality of their final product generally exceeded my expectations. Furthermore, these digital artifacts have a clear impact, as you can see by typing “Soviet History KGB” into Google, where my students’ website currently comes up fourth in the search rankings. In-depth directions on undertaking this activity and a list of student-created websites are available here.

After my students created the websites, I checked them for accuracy and corrected mistakes, as I would do for any assignment. Then, I assigned the best examples among these websites as supplementary readings to students in my subsequent classes.

Drawing on my experience, I contend that this assignment produces content well suited to teaching others, the second essential component of class-sourcing. In fact, these and similar classsourced artifacts have the potential to satisfy the demand among faculty and high school teachers for free class materials, especially ones available on the internet where our students spend so much of their time. Since faculty guide their creation, these products can be specifically tailored to the needs of teaching and learning, in comparison to crowdsourced sources such as Wikipedia. Moreover, since faculty check and correct their students’ assignments, classsourced artifacts deserve more trust than crowdsourced data that lacks such evaluation. Furthermore, there can be many digital artifacts dealing with the same topic: by presenting a diversity of perspectives and interpretations, classsourced materials can offer a fuller and richer portrayal than the cohesive and unified narrative style of either Wikipedia or textbooks.

Once enough have been created and compiled together in an organized fashion, classsourced projects would serve as a valuable informational resource for the public. Such efforts to organize these artifacts can start at the level of individual faculty, as I did with my personal webpage, and grow to span departments, universities, and eventually the national and even international level. Faculty can partner with schools, museums, governments, businesses, non-profit organizations, and other institutions to create digital artifacts that serve the particular needs of such external stakeholders. In this age of digital technology and tightening budgets, class-sourcing would help ensure that history stays relevant and demonstrates actively the value of academic contributions to society as a whole.





#competencies #rubric #SoTL #assignments #students #learningoutcomes #BA #assessment #disciplinecore #AA #survey
1 comment
276 views

Permalink

Comments

07-20-2013 10:47:55 AM

Gleb, this is excellent. I like the approach about class-sourcing and the collaborative projects. Thank you for sharing your ideas, materials, and student work. How did the students respond to working in teams? For the students who had never created a web site, was there any resistance?