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. I will discuss the first component in this blog post, and the second component next week.
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, since as class feedback has shown, students are more committed to producing a better project if they know it will be available for a broad audience.
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,” and “Bloody Sunday, 1905” (Figure 1). 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 “The KGB” into Google, where my students’ website currently comes up fourth in the search rankings. For in-depth directions on undertaking this activity and a list of student-created websites, see my personal webpage. 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.
Next week, I will discuss how I have adapted the class-sourced website assignment over the three classes that I have taught it, as well as the broader impications of class-sourced assignments. Stay tuned!