From the Center for History and New Media

This post is part of a December 2013 presentation at the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference in Manchester, NH.

As I prepare to return to the Advanced Placement U.S. History classroom after an eleven year hiatus as full-time librarian, I have been exploring and experimenting with the links, software, web tools, and content of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM). Located at George Mason University in Virginia, the Center maintains digital archives, develops software, and organizes professional collaborations such as THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) and One Week | One Tool, a summer institute where participants build an open-source digital tool for the humanities community. Further, in a team effort with the Stanford History Education Group, the RRCHNM has developed Teachinghistory.org, a popular educational clearinghouse that profiles free, quality tools and websites useful in history education. While the Center offers much for teachers, some things are newer and more useful than others. And while I’m not an expert in any of the products listed, in the following links I highlight what I consider to be the best, as well as a thing or two that might be avoided. RRCHNM content is organized into three categories: Collecting and Exhibiting, Research and Tools, and Teaching and Learning.

Collecting and Exhibiting

OmekaOmeka and Omeka.net
“Omeka is a next-generation web publishing platform for museums, historical societies, scholars, enthusiasts, and educators. Omeka provides cultural institutions and individuals with easy-to-use software for publishing collections and creating attractive, standards-based, interoperable online exhibits.” — http://chnm.gmu.edu/omeka/ My rating: ✓+ | My reasons: I did not install Omeka, but found Omeka.net to be easy to use and useful for uploading and organizing classroom materials and documents. The templates, while simple, look clean and can be customized with plug-ins and changes to the header. Numerous meta-data fields for uploaded files could be better described, but the fields needn’t be fully completed for use with classroom materials. Used for a class project, Omeka could give students lessons in curatorial thinking. Other uses might include an art class exhibit or maybe a student eportfolio. Here’s a basic tour of Omeka.net and here’s a site by teachers for teachers. I started this site in no time at all.

Research and Tools

ZoteroZotero
“Zotero is an easy-to-use yet powerful research tool that helps you gather, organize, and analyze sources (citations, full texts, web pages, images, and other objects), and lets you share the results of your research in a variety of ways.” — http://chnm.gmu.edu/omeka/ My rating: ✓+ | My reasons: While it’s like delicious, which allows for tagging and bookmarking of online information, Zotero is much more powerful. Whether you use Zotero stand-alone software or the Zotero browser plug-ins for Firefox or Chrome, storing and managing digital sources is easily accomplished, as is sharing sources privately or publicly. It’s not only useful for manually cataloging websites and PDFs, but Zotero can use meta-data within online documents to automatically store source info. In research databases like those from EBSCO and Gale, for example, Zotero captures bibliographic information with one click. Here’s a small shared Zotero collection that I just started. 2-minute video overview. 3-minute video tutorial. 14-minute video tutorial.

ScholarpressScholarPress
Want to use WordPress to manage your class, publish research, or collaborate on a conference presentation? ScholarPress develops a variety of WordPress plugins for academic and educational uses, bridging the gap between technology and pedagogy.” — http://chnm.gmu.edu/scholarpress/ My rating: ✓- | Here’s why: While ScholarPress promises to be a multi-course learning management system, complete with calendars, discussion forums, grade books, and lecture note modules, it currently seems to be unsupported and incompatible with new WordPress BuddyPress plugins on which it runs. Its current name (or former name, if it’s no longer supported), is BuddyPress ScholarPress Courseware.

AnthologizeAnthologize
“Anthologize is a free, open-source, plugin that transforms WordPress into a platform for publishing electronic texts. Grab posts from your WordPress blog, import feeds from external sites, or create new content directly within Anthologize. Then outline, order, and edit your work, crafting it into a single volume for export in several formats, including—in this release—PDF, ePUB, TEI.” — http://chnm.gmu.edu/anthologize/ My rating: ✓+ | My reasons: It does exactly what it claims to do. Easy to use and useful for making ePub files divided into book chapters from your site’s content. Great for handouts or larger documents for iBooks. Here’s a screenshot sample.

SerendipomaticSerendip-o-matic
“Serendip-o-matic connects your sources to digital materials located in libraries, museums, and archives around the world. By first examining your research interests, and then identifying related content in locations such as the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), Europeana, and Flickr Commons, our serendipity engine helps you discover photographs, documents, maps and other primary sources.” — http://chnm.gmu.edu/serendip-o-matic/ My rating: ✓+ | My reasons: After extracting keywords from your research collection, the search tool presents an interesting reflection of your sources. It never fails; there’s always something in the results that makes you wonder about its connection. Consequently, Serendip-o-matic offers the serendipity of an old-time search in the stacks, where stumbling across something unexpected, interesting, and perhaps useful made for a nice distraction and sometimes a good source. Full disclosure on this rating: I was part of the team that launched the tool in July 2013. It’s now in its second release.

Teaching and Learning

TeachinghistoryorgTeachinghistory.org
“Teachinghistory.org (National History Education Clearinghouse) is the central online location for accessing high-quality resources in K-12 U.S. history education. Explore the highlighted content on our homepage or visit individual sections for additional materials. Return often for new content and to join in the vibrant conversation about teaching history.” — http://chnm.gmu.edu/teachinghistory-org/  My rating: ✓+ | My reasons: The vast site is divided into four categories: Teaching Materials, History Content, Best Practices, and the Digital Classroom. The homepage addresses the historian’s work and includes videos on developing historical thinking skills. This documents-based approach to studying the past is further illustrated and expanded in the site’s lesson plans, teaching guides, and directory of primary sources. Within the Digital Classroom section, visitors find tool reviews and strategies. Of those presented, I found these to be of greatest potential use in the AP U.S. History classroom:

  • ThingLink“Make your images come alive with … video, notes, or even music from YouTube.” Annotating documents and images is made easy, as is sharing. Here’s a sample of mine and a better one on interpretations of the Boston Massacre.
  • Lucidchart“Lucidchart provides the easiest and most powerful flowchart software in the world. Create professional diagrams and flowcharts to help you communicate visually.”  Useful for things like tracking cause/effect, chronology, diagramming essays, charting continuity and change, flow charting. Here’s a sample and video promo.
  • Padlet“We give you a blank wall. You put anything you want on it, anywhere. Simple, yet powerful.” Useful for virtual discussions, group research, and group brainstorming. A sample from APUSH teachers.
  • Zoom-in Inquiry – In this video a history teacher illustrates the teaching/learning technique of “zoom-in inquiry,” where students are led through a primary sources piece by piece in order to build a full understanding of the full source.
  • Dipity“Dipity is a free digital timeline website. Our mission is to organize the web’s content by date and time. Users can create, share, embed and collaborate on interactive, visually engaging timelines that integrate video, audio, images, text, links, social media, location and timestamps.” A good review tool. Here’s a sample.

 

One Week | One Tool: Bit by Bit

Much has already been written about One Week | One Tool and its creation, the  Seredip-o-matic search engine. Brian Croxall and Mia Ridge  masterfully chronicled each day of the week and also reflected on ideas such as trust, unity, ego, and teamwork. And Jack Dougherty and Amrys Williams eloquently added their own important details. I nonetheless feel compelled to write my thoughts about One Week. As a non-programmer and as the team member with the most limited understanding of code, I had wondered — and worried — about what role I might play in the creative hackathon. Initially intimidated by the process, I was happy to quickly become engrossed in the project as group members galvanized around Serendip-o-matic and focused on individual responsibilities.  Once in my assigned role, I found myself fully immersed in the digital humanities, even though I wasn’t fully digital.

LayoutWhile much of the team talked in language involving “pull requests,” “forking,” and “jQuery,” my language strictly concerned Serendip-o-matic’s purpose, responsiveness, and appeal — the vocabulary and ideas of why and how it worked, and how to promote it. While I did write some rudimentary HTML and made a GitHub “push,” user advocacy, product description, and public relations occupied nearly 100% of my time.

My responsibilities, and those of the other eleven participants, came together mid-day on Tuesday. Following a Monday brainstorming session about tool ideas and a subsequent crowd-sourced popularity contest on IdeaScale, the full group took Tuesday morning to debate our choices. After eleven possibilities became four, and then four became one, attention shifted to team building.  Meghan Frazier, who had on Monday stepped up to guide our brainstorming session, emerged as co-project manager with Brian. They then facilitated division of everyone else into two teams: Development/Design and Outreach. For me, Outreach was the only possibility. Psyched to have a clear role, I began to feel less intimidated by the process. Further, once on my team, I soon became too busy to worry any longer. The train was leaving the station, its destination was Friday afternoon, and it was time to move.

On Wednesday afternoon, once a product name, tagline, and domain name had been selected, outreach work became increasingly focused on communication and user advocacy. Jack, Outreach leader, guided Amrys and myself in drafting press release language, choosing pages and writing copy for the Serendip-o-matic website, growing a media and public relations contact list, and sharing user impressions with Dev/Design. Marathon sessions of wordsmithing were combined with web searches for news outlets and blogger info, which were combined with evaluating Serendip-o-matic’s performance and feel. In one way or another, these jobs basically continued until Mia, Dev/Design leader, announced on Friday afternoon that her coders (Scott Kleinman, Scott Williams, Eli Rose, Amanda Visconti, Rebecca SuttonKoeser) and designer (Amy Papaelias) were ready to go.

DinnerSerendip-o-matic was born on Friday around 3 pm at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University. It’s now available to all — teachers, students, scholars, or those who simply want to browse. The tool works well and is useful and unique enough to impress Dan Cohen, Founding Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America.  The tool came from a talented group of programmers who worked immensely hard with little sleep. Yet, as Amrys mentioned in the Google Hangout interview during Friday’s live launch, it’s also the result of a full community that came together with the common goal of advancing the digital humanities. At CHNM hangs a sign that reads, “Building a Better Yesterday, Bit by Bit.” The programmers clearly did this. But even the work that wasn’t fully digital, did, bit by bit, contribute in the end. Serendip-o-matic, therefore, really is the product of something resembling a digital humanities “barn raising,” a community effort where everyone rolls up their sleeves, pulls together, does what’s necessary, and builds something good.

Immensely proud of my team’s creation, I thank the National Endowment for the Humanities Division of Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities, One Week | One Tool director Tom Scheinfeldt, and the great people at CHNM for giving me the opportunity to help launch Serendip-o-matic.

Quiet in the Library

lamp_and_bookSince reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I’ve been thinking about creating more quiet spaces within my library. In the book, Cain says, “We also need to create settings in which people are free to … disappear into their private workspaces when they want to focus….” She lists people like Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak who “need extra quiet … to do their best work.” I think trying to meet such needs by providing isolated areas for concentration and independent work makes sense. It seems like the right thing to do.

My Ideas for Quiet
But, because carving out private workspace is difficult, especially in small school libraries and within those designed as an open and collaborative learning commons, I wonder what other librarians might have done. I’ve thought of a couple ideas that I’ll be working on this summer: My desktops are up for replacement and I’m taking that opportunity to substitute Chromebooks, which will allow computer users to move around more freely and find more isolation. I’m also converting a small virtual learning room within the library to a silent room, where all students will be able to work.

Other Ideas for Quiet
While I count myself among those who consider noise to be part of the new normal in a school library, I appreciate the message of Susan Cain’s Quiet. If you value quiet and have made changes to your library, I’d be interested in learning what you’ve done. Or, if you’re just considering change, I’d also like your ideas. Please share by leaving a reply.

eBooks, Print Books, and Library Space

ebook_surveyWhile this recent BBC story about the San Antonio Library’s all-digital branch describes an eBook advantage for underserved and rural patrons, some reader comments highlight a persistent attachment to print. Even as large urban libraries embrace digital collections and even as digital check-outs increase, print doesn’t seem to be losing. In fact, as the story points out, in one remodeled New York Public Library branch, “far more books will be visible than ever in the past.”

This situation–the growth of both digital and traditional book collections–is ongoing in school libraries, too, and mine is no exception. In my library Kindles are circulated and a digital book-on-demand approach has been in place for two years. Yet, circulation records show that students prefer print. Clearly confirmed in a 2013 survey I conducted, where two-thirds of respondents showed a fondness for print books, it seems that my students mirror others around the nation. In a broad-based January 2013 survey, the Scholastic company found that kids read electronically, but when possible they grab old-fashioned books.

For me, because my library is small, the idea of scaling back space dedicated to print in order to expand student work space is attractive. Given student preferences, though, this seems impossible. Are other libraries in the same situation or are some school libraries experiencing a different trend? What are other librarians doing regarding space needs and book needs?

My Cancelled MOOC

escape_keyIn a story that looks at MOOCs and academic acceptance elsewhere in higher ed, the WSJ reports that a Coursera course was recently called off “due to technical problems.” As one of the participants in the cancelled course, I’m left questioning the value of MOOCs as substitutes for other courses. While this was my only experience with Coursera, and the course lasted less than a week, it seemed to me that most of the problem had to do with course design. I consequently wonder if this is indicative of other MOOCs and about the extent to which learning is impaired by course design limitations. In the course, entitled “Fundamentals of Online Learning: Planning and Application” (yes, ironic), some 41,000 students were, first of all, all expected to use a Google spreadsheet for initial grouping. The spreadsheet continuously crashed, leaving students confused and in disarray. A couple days later, once the grouping was resolved by signing up through a discussion forum instead of through Google, it then became clear that the group forums also hadn’t been fully thought through. Their rationale was unclear and their navigation was hard to follow. And because participants were told to first submit assignments to their forum before officially submitting to the instructor, this glitch significantly hindered student progress. While I know that MOOCs are new and experimental and that thousands of asynchronous users represent a massive strain on infrastructure, I also know that massive enrollments give MOOCs their name. If the “technical problems” that shut down Fundamentals of Online Learning exist elsewhere in other MOOCs, even if they plague just some parts of some other courses, then completion of some MOOCs might be representative more of perseverance than real online learning.

Photo credit: Michaela Kobyakov