Monthly Archives: May 2013

Dickinson College Commentaries Video

Dickinson’s Marketing and Communications Office has produced a very nice short video about Dickinson College Commentaries, highlighting student involvement in the project. Thank you to all who helped make it, especially Connie MacNamara, who put it in motion, and to the featured students, Chloe Miller and Jimmy Martin.

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Message to the Dickinson Board of Trustees

19th-century scientific apparatus once used in college science laboratories.

19th-century scientific apparatus once used in college science laboratories.

The Dickinson Board of Trustees was in town for one of its annual meetings last weekend. In addition to a farewell to our extraordinary President Bill Durden, who is moving on after 14 very successful years, there was the usual slate of committee meetings and so forth. I was given the chance to speak to the committee on academic affairs for a few minutes about academic technology. MOOCs have been much on their minds, and were discussed at length at a previous meeting I did not attend. Rather than address this macroeconomic issue that is in important ways out of our control, I gave them a faculty perspective on what’s going on currently with academic technology at the College. Here is what I said:

Among faculty there is a growing realization that the internet, technology, and social media are not just things that distract our students, give them short attention spans, and allow them to do superficial research for papers—though the internet enables all of those things. New digital tools can actually help us do our jobs better, help us teach and do research more effectively. But how, exactly? That’s the question that hangs over all the many discussions regarding technology and education in a liberal arts college setting. The answers are discipline specific, and vary even from class to class in a given subject. But I think there are three broad benefits. In the liberal arts college environment, academic technology can

  1. Develop students into public scholars. Podcasting, blogging, and collaboration on faculty-led projects puts students in a situation where the audience is now not just me. I become the coach, not the judge. This has powerful benefits for the teaching of writing. My own experience with podcasting is that the initial drafts of the scripts are in a traditional, stilted academic style, but the second drafts involve massive re-writes and improvements, into a style that more closely approximates the kinds of writing they will have to do after college. It’s the best way to teach writing that I know of.
  2. Show publicly what the liberal arts can do. Traditionally, what the liberal arts does has been behind closed doors, very cut off from public scrutiny. In the age of $50k tuition it’s more important than ever to share the products and innovative teaching methods openly so people can see them. What liberal arts students learn to do is contextualize, analyze, and present information. These are things the internet really needs, and we can provide, a real social benefit that is consistent with our mission.
  3. Enhance collaboration and sharing among scholars. This is a true revolution, and I have experienced it over and over again with my own project, the Dickinson College Commentaries. People from all over the country and the world have come forward to contribute to this project. It has attracted everything from Oxford professors to freelance app developers to grad students, undergraduates at other institutions, high school teachers, amateur enthusiasts, and even a lieutenant in the US army. The kind of public impact one can make with a quality website in some cases outstrips–is of a completely different order than–what one can do in a print scholarly journal. Which is not to say that print is going away or is irrelevant.

The Dickinson-based projects listed on the DHAC website are doing these things in various ways. We are among the most active liberal arts colleges in the country in this realm, which is reflected in our winning the Mellon grant. But there is a lot more to develop. The Mellon grant allows for a postdoctoral fellow, and this will be extremely helpful in nurturing new projects and pedagogical techniques that will arise organically out of what we already do. Not all faculty are heading this way. These kinds of projects are often not viewed as earning promotion and tenure; we were all trained to go after the print publication above all; and of course there is widespread distrust of distance learning, and awareness of the downside of social media in terms of decreased attention span and focus for detailed academic work. But when it comes to doing things that genuinely enhance our mission, we have great support from our Academic Technology unit, and I think with increasing faculty leadership on these issues digital technology will be more and more seen by faculty as the great intellectual opportunity that it is.

–Chris Francese

House Divided: Summer 2013 Plans

Summer 2013 plans for House Divided include the creation of an audio archive of Abraham Lincoln’s  selected writings, a series of short, instructional videos featuring Prof. Matthew Pinsker teaching key documents from the Civil War era, increased alignment with the Common Core Standards for Social Studies literacy, and the launching of Dickinson’s first open online course.

House Divided screen shot

Since its public launch in 2011 at the start of the Civil War 150th anniversary, Dickinson’s House Divided project, directed by Prof. Pinsker, has experienced more than 500,000 visitors and over two million page views across its network of two dozen websites.

Its research engine contains 11,000 public domain images and tens of thousands more historic documents and records.  The other related sites, such as digital classrooms, special exhibitions, and blogs, have evolved from this vast main resource (see Index Page). House Divided also maintains a significant presence on social media, including a Twitter following now approaching one thousand.  Prof. Pinsker will carry out an ambitious expansion this summer, thanks in part to the digital humanities grant the College received this year from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation.

Matthew Pinsker

Across the House Divided network, its target audience remains K-12 and undergraduate classrooms, but the site also spurs a steady stream of requests from authors, journalists, genealogists, Civil War buffs and others.   “The next challenge, beyond simply editing, refining and expanding the content,” says Prof. Pinsker, “is to find ways to relate the site to what is called the Common Core. These are nationally developed state standards for reading and math that have been adopted just in the last few years by 46 states.”  The Common Core standards for social studies literacy emphasize close readings of primary source documents–an approach that fits perfectly with the nature of the House Divided Project. With help from the Mellon Digital Humanities Fund Pinsker plans to transform House Divided into one of the nation’s leading web-based Common Core resources for Social Studies and English teachers.

Dickinson College theatre professor Todd Wronski will prepare in August 2013 a series of freely available podcasts for Abraham Lincoln’s selected writings.  Wronski will become in effect the “voice of Lincoln” for the House Divided Project. He has already recorded a podcast of Lincoln’s 1859 autobiographical sketch. The recording was recently used as part of a Common Core-aligned lesson plan that features several components of the House Divided Project, including a Dickinson History Department course on the 1860 election that was filmed by C-SPAN and relied heavily on a close reading of the sketch.  This post offers a model for what is intended for 150 of the most significant Lincoln documents, including his most quoted letters and speeches.

Civil War digital classroom screenshot

With funding from the Mellon DH initiative a team of consultants at the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History, led by independent filmmaker Lance Warren, will help the Dickinson team create a series of short, instructional videos featuring Prof. Pinsker teaching key documents from the Civil War era (including many of the same Lincoln documents developed in the Wronski audio project).  Warren and his documentary team have already created a series of such short instructional videos with Prof. Pinsker (including a virtual field trip to Gettysburg) that can be accessed here. These videos helped support a summer 2012 online professional development course that House Divided created with Gilder Lehrman.

Building on this experience, Pinsker will expand that partnership to launch Dickinson’s first open online graduate course in summer 2013.  The videos will be used as the base instructional material for quiz-taking by auditors and also as freely available online resources for English and Social Studies teachers who want to “flip” their classrooms when teaching the Common Core.  An example of how that might work can be seen here, with a video-based teaching unit on the Emancipation Proclamation. 

As part of this effort to launch Dickinson’s first open online course, two Dickinson students will participate in shaping and evaluating the course materials and curriculum History 800, “Understanding Lincoln.”  Dickinson will  offer full graduate course credit for up to 100 eligible participants, and then free access to others who simply want to follow along.  The Dickinson students will work closely with Pinsker in June 2013 to refine and test various course content and assessment materials; help support the initial launch of the course in July 2013, and contribute significant research and analysis to a planned pedagogical article by Pinsker about the experience of online liberal arts learning.

Meanwhile, House Divided also continues important digitization and transcription work on major printed sources from the Civil War era, such as the illustrated periodicals Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly Magazine and from many other leading period newspapers and books.