New technology vs new pedagogy.

One of my struggles has been helping students learn digital historical tools when I have only recently taught myself those same tools. For example, I’ve designed or modified others’ lesson plans using voyant tools for distant reading or ArcGIS for historical mapping. I had a google maps engine lesson plan that I’d used for a while. . . and then google tweaked its interface and my lesson plan went down the toilet. So I learned ArcGIS instead.

None of these technologies are difficult to learn and all of them have a huge skills/jobs/I can do something amazing! payout. Still, if it takes me an hour to learn a digital tool, that’s an hour I’m not grading, or participating in a discussion, or thinking about how to improve a lesson plan. Teachers, like creative types everywhere, must balance the acquisition and mastery of skills with the practice of those skills (for which we are paid).

In short, any minor, new technical skill I must acquire pulls me away from teaching, and that has meant long nights, and frequent moments of “this lesson plan is good-enough technologically” reflection. This pull between learning the new and relying on the old is a constant for professors, but I feel it more acutely as I’m trying to embrace digital history as a pedagogy.

Courage and time.

I’ve been off this blog since late July, which is both total cowardice and the nature of privileging actual teaching over writing about teaching. To the three folks who follow me, sorry.

To begin again, I’m still working on my four-part project, a world history course that:

  1. uses an anti-poverty course design principles I’m creating (current iteration is here)
  2. uses digital history so that students might learn both history and job skills at the introductory level
  3. uses only sources that are already free to students, such as OER or library databases for which they have access.
  4. bundle the course and give it away under a creative common license.

I’m succeeding in getting students to use digital history tools, but I’m concerned that my formative assessment is so poor or the bar is so low that I’m not optimizing their learning.

I’m only partly successful in my online classes with my anti-poverty course design principles, largely because I haven’t figured out good workflows for closed captioning and I’m making up lessons as I teach. For most teachers that’s fine, including me, but I know that poor students can’t offramp and onramp for lessons as easily, so just-in-time teaching isn’t optimal.

I have stuck with nothing but free resources, but connecting students to those resources has proven a challenge (future post alert).

I’m nowhere close to bundling this course. This summer is realistic.

I’ll be posting more courageously again, sharing what’s working and what’s not.