Courtesy Nixdorf at the English language Wikipedia

Well, it has been some time since my Willoughby training at Dickinson on how to use various technologies more effectively in the classroom. Not all topics, like 3D printing, were relevant for the courses I teach, but I learned about more methods and media than I can possibly wrap my head around at this point. For now, I am integrating just a few items, primarily in my First-year seminar on utopias, so that I can extend my learning curve over a number of semesters and begin to see how the technologies effect learning and the workload for professor and students.

The easiest of the technologies to introduce is the blog. When teaching in London a few years ago I used the blog extensively as a way to extend the conversation beyond the classroom. At first the dialogue did not happen organically. But through some repetition, instruction, and prompts, the quality of the posts and comments dramatically improved. Students learned how to write texts (and I view the blog primarily as a way to teaching writing and critical thinking in a new medium), post still and moving images, embed walking tours of the city with Google Earth, and more. In my current First-year seminar we are learning the basics of posting, tagging, and commenting. This weekend the students will have their first audio blog, in which they use Audacity to produce a podcast, which they then post with some minimal text to the blog.

We will also be working with video projects near the end of term. Students will practice with iMovie and Audacity to produce a multi-media final project. For their training session, they will use still and moving images from an upcoming field trip to Eastern State Penitentiary to produce a video blog. I think it is important that students have an introduction to these technologies, but my chief intention is to strengthen writing and thinking. For a video project, one has to master more than the technology. Storyboarding teaches students to organize their thoughts, think about what is most critical to their story, and imagine their audience. Without thoughtful content and a connection with the audience, we simply have visual candy. That is not the point of these exercises. By using digital media, I hope to get students to practice serious writing (their scripts) more and thereby improve their writing in general. The assignments also have students improving research and analytical skills.

I’ll let you know how the projects turn out and give you an update at the end of the semester about the time commitment for students and for me.

How do you use technology in your courses? Russian history is an easy venue for using Google Earth and maps, Twitter, blogs, and GIS. I’m hoping to use the latter in my Soviet history course next semester. If any readers have used GIS in their classrooms, please let us know.