Walking before I run: a basic outline of tools for my course.

I’ve decided on the categories of tools around which I’ll build my course. I’m trying to think like a student, so I’ve put everything into simple terms. In eight, two week lesson plans we’ll cover:

  1. History bootcamp: what are primary and secondary sources, how do historians use evidence and language. 
  2. Words: Analyzing texts with both close and distant reading (Voyant, Ngrams).
  3. Pictures: How to locate, evaluate, and analyze images on the web.
  4. Timelines: How to build robust, explanatory web-timelines (Timeline JS, Dipity)
  5. Exhibits: How to curate an web-exhibit (wordpress or omeka)
  6. Numbers: How to work with numbers to understand the past (IPUMS, Gapminder, Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database)
  7. Conversations: How does social media shape how understanding of the past?
  8. Maps: Using GIS to plot the past (MapStory or Harvard’s Worldmap project). 

Likely not in that order. 

Going down the GIS rabbit hole. . . with data viz on the side.

I decided to go with MapStory over Google’s MapsEngine for teaching introductory GIS to my students. Maps Engine is stupid-easy to use, but lacks the MapStory’s change over time features. The disadvantage of MapStory is that I need to learn QGIS and possibly teach it to my students for them to get the most benefit from it. 

MapStory facilitates learning QGIS with strong links to lesson plans scattered about the web on using QGIS. Still, as I’m already on the hook to teach myself R and statistics with SwirlStats, I jump into yet another subject matter with some trepidation. 

On a non-digital note, I just got The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge by Manuel Lima out of Hennepin County Library. As I think about how to train my students in visualizing the past, it’s useful for me to look to those more expert than me in the visual world. I’ve only played with the book, but can already draw some preliminary conclusions, none of which I suspect are original but are nonetheless necessary to developing future lesson plans: 

  • Representing data in visual formats that explain or enhance our understanding of the past depends on the quality of the data. For example, most of the trees in this book are from Europe or the U.S., great but insufficient for a full understanding of how tree visualizations have been used in world history. The graphics of the trees are stunning with even medieval manuscripts in HD picture quality. Still, I’ll need to be clear to students that the seductive beauty of data visualizations shouldn’t be taken as enhanced accuracy. Pretty isn’t better, necessarily. 
  • Much of understanding historical data visualizations relies on an understanding of symbolism. Everyone can understand a family tree is not literally a tree. Yet, moving beyond that minor example to how the symbolism of data visualizations constrains and illustrates causal relationships will require some thought. Data, even prettily displayed in familiar metaphorical representations still requires a robust understanding of what we often associate with more literature-based concepts: metaphor, simile, and allegory.
  • Data visualization holds the promise of showing historical connections heretofore buried in spreadsheets or narrative notes. We can actually understand the past in a fundamentally different way now. How to convey the idea to students that what we know about the past may radically shift as we apply digital tools to history requires further thought. 

Safe home. 

Not the musical montage, high action part of teaching.

Today I worked on learning the programming language R in SwirlStats a bit more. 

I pondered if I need to get institutional review board permission to talk to students about the antipoverty pedagogy. 

I committed to attending a Poverty Institute (weirdest pairing of nouns I’ve seen in a while) that will be two days in October at a Twin Cities university. 

I thought more about what digital history tools (mapstory or google mapsengine, wordpress or omeka site) I want to focus developing lesson plans on. 

There are days when teaching flashes, thunder rolls back the ignorance, apathy, and fear that stalks our students, and the vanguard’s call leads us all to a better tomorrow. Today was not that. But still, I count it a win. 

Safe home. 

Should sites about poverty be well-designed?

A reading day.

A recent report on developmental education in MN that has a bit of data on poverty.

Also, these videos that address interventions faculty use to help first-generation students at Heritage University in Washington.

And I’m bouncing around an ancient site, Communication Across Barriers, that has wonderful information hidden behind a 10-year old site design and slow server.

Just starting to think about the info from these sources, but right now I’m contemplating website design and poverty. To the extent that people take web design as a proxy for intelligence, seriousness, credibility, or resource abundance (of the organization) to what degree do old or ill-designed website shape the reception of the information contained in them? Communication Across Barriers is a great example: smart people posting valuable resources, but the site looks largely as it may have in 2007 when it was copyrighted.

(Oh, I just used the waybackmachine of the Internet Archive: I was right, exact same site design).

A silly and petty thing to notice, really, but I’ve been thinking about how design and data visualizations shapes our reception of information and perception of its importance.

Safe home.

In which technology opens doors and wastes time.

Because I know that a big project requires organization, I’ve put together a project management document using Zoho (and Indian web service with email, CRM, project management, etc. . . patterned on google but paid and without advertising). The project management document in zoho is not shareable, so I’ve exported it to google docs as an spreadsheet. See it here.

A colleague told me yesterday, “You’re trying to cram a sabbatical into a summer, good luck.” She was sincere, both in her work estimation and encouragement, yet it reminded how much workflow and efficiency will matter for this project. 

For example, I’m trying to decide if this blog is better on wordrpess.com, which has limited functionality but no upkeep, or if I should host it myself, allowing me to use all sorts of plugins but also requiring maintenance. As I compile resources, often links to web pages or documents I create, should I embed those documents here, or share their origin database, say in Zotero? I follow digital historians on twitter and across the blogosphere, and there appears to be no common or best practice. So, I’m going to do what takes the least time, a practice that will likely be less elegant but leaving more time for other things. 

Next up, reviewing some of the literature on poverty and pedagogy I’ve already compiled, and reviewing the digital history tools I know exist.

Safe home. 

The danger of big projects. . .

So my previous posts have sketched my summer project as a narrative. But I can’t work based on paragraphs, so I’m using a project management tool from zoho.com. For those who don’t know, project management is one system for ensuring any project gets done. It breaks down the project into categories based on what needs to be done, when, by whom, and in what order. Any organized mind would define the same categories, project management just gives you a format, and perhaps more usefully, well-designed software, to make the organizing easier.

 A staffer at Normandale’s institutional research office trained me on project management in a couple, short sessions, and I immediately saw the value for my scholarship, teaching, and service work. Much of project management gets used on huge projects, like building university parking ramps, but the basic ideas inform any project. 

I find that using project management software helps me sequence what I need to do, and keeps me realistic in my timeline goals. For example, I can’t create tests for me course until I’ve first researched the sources, developed my digital history skills, and created the course design principles. If I’d known about project management in grad school, I dare say I would’ve complete my dissertation faster and with less static with my advisor. 

I’ll try to share the spreadsheet version of my project later. I don’t think zoho allows for linking to their website to share that way. 

 

 

Free is better. Why I’m giving away my course.

Part 4 of this project isn’t terribly exciting, but it holds the most promise. After I’ve created anti-poverty-course design principles, built a course based on those principles using free primary and secondary historical sources, and incorporated a panoply of digital history tools into the course lesson plans, I want to bundle this course and give it away under some type of create commons licensing. There have been a variety of efforts to collect and publish syllabi, which might help researchers and intrepid faculty willing to mine others’ syllabi for nuggets of androgogical gold.

I’m not interested in mining syllabi for research, Continue reading “Free is better. Why I’m giving away my course.”

The hubris of a digital historian. . .

Writers spill way, way, way too much ink writing about the future of education as it relates to computers. I’m not going to rehash all debates or research on digital education except to say three things:

  1. Technology does not equal progress forward for humanity. Witness the history of weapons, or, say singing cats videos. If you’d like to read someone who understands this and writes about education, see Hack Education. (Hat tip @Trianglemancsd for sharing)
  2. Students demonstrate uneven penetrations of knowledge about technology. Older does not equal clueless, younger does not equal skilled.
  3. Technology skills do help get students jobs.

Given theses issues, how do I as a teacher work to ensure digital technology benefits my students, rather than act as barnacles on their career ships?

Continue reading “The hubris of a digital historian. . .”

Books cost money too. . .

Text books cost too much money. Everyone but book reps and some professors say so.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics charts the costs of textbooks through its Consumer Price Index. In the last ten years, the indexed cost of books has gone up around 260 points.  Imagine if a cup of coffee cost $3.40 in 2004 and now cost $6.00 in 2014. Outrageous, I know, everyone knows it.
Continue reading “Books cost money too. . .”

It can’t wait for a sabbatical. . .

When I tell folks what I’m doing this summer, they say, you should wait for a sabbatical to do that. But my students are drowning, and I don’t know if I can save them, but I can give them a fighting shot at swimming to safety on their own if I go now. It can’t wait. This is my blog about how to build a better (world history) course. I write in the hopes that others will see my work, help me, and perhaps consider how to help poor students succeed in their courses. And, if I write my thoughts down, maybe they’ll be better thoughts than when they’re tangled up in my head.

This is not a blog about feelings or inspiration: I have both, as do you, but we don’t need better feelings or more inspiration, we need better tools to teach our students.

I’m increasingly distressed at the failure of my poor students. These folks can be train wrecks as students. They often come from un-supportive homes, have uneven or limited access to technology, they are ignorant of college as an institution and ignorant of how to navigate institutions in general. I can see their failure and I know it’s historically rooted. Responses to poverty tend to be condescending (poor dears) or systematic (let’s create a scholarship fund), neither of which I find useful.

After years of teaching poor students at four and two-year schools, I started asking colleagues: “If I could do one thing to help poor students succeed in my classroom, what would that be?” Most folks suggested additional resources (buy them tablets, pay for college), which I can’t do. Others suggested pointing out resources my college already has, which is sound, but insufficient. You see, most students drive to college, walk to the classroom, finish the class, and drive to work or home. Car- class – car. Continue reading “It can’t wait for a sabbatical. . .”