The recently ended 2013 Day of Digital Humanities was a great opportunity for me to take a quick look at what I do in a typical day and how “the digital” intersects with my work.
Being a full-time faculty member at a large community college, my work is first and foremost teaching. This semester, I’ve got five sections (3 “traditional”, 2 online) and in all of them, I’ve been thinking of ways to change up what I’m doing. Many of these potential changes involve digital things. Since the next classes I’m teaching will be compressed 7 1/2 week classes, a rethink is in order, regardless. Here are some things I’m thinking about (subject to change–few of these ideas will be set in stone before the first day of classes and, maybe, not even then).
I really enjoyed using Google Earth in the classroom (see below) and the students seemed to be more engaged with historical data mapped over satellite imagery than they usually are with the maps that I use. This got me thinking about other, more visually dynamic ways to present information. Prezi, of course, is popular, but I can’t afford the amount of Dramamine necessary for me to cope with using it. There are a variety of interactive timeline tools which may be useful as well.
Get the students to talk more
I’ve been teaching, in one way or another, for around a decade at this point and the biggest weakness I have is–without a doubt–encouraging useful discussion in the classroom. Whether it’s because I like the sound of my own voice too much (likely) or because the mass of students are intimidated (or annoyed) by the usual handful of students who do 90% of the talking, it’s something that I need to work on. One key, clearly, is to find ways to ensure that students are familiar enough with material to usefully discuss it.
Exams are terrible
I hate grading them, students hate taking them, and my assurance that they’re the best (or even a good) way to assess students is decreasing every semester. In my online classes, I’ve been experimenting with weekly cumulative assessment as a way to replace exams in a manner that is relatively low-stress, but “high-yield” (yes, I think of student learning as a field full of soy beans). It needs tweaking, but I may be on to something. Or not.
Students, in general, seem to like history, hate history classes
I am, however, teaching a history class, so…yeah. Problem here. Working on it.
Over the past few years, I’ve used both BlackBoard and self-hosted websites as a means of digitally-disseminating information to students as well as for recording grades. This semester, I’ve been using Bb exclusively and while there have been headaches, the students seem to engaged with the material there more than they do on non-Bb sites. Despite my usability concern with Bb and my desire for more open tools, I also have a compelling need to consider the students. I’m still thinking this one over.
Everything changes, all the time. What works one semester may not work the next. What works one day might not work the next. We often have to adjust and adapt to the students to whatever degree that it is practical. If it is the students who must adjust to us, then we must provide tools to support and guide that change. Often, we are in the position of having to not only teach our subjects, but also the skills of being a student. These skills change over time.
These are disconnected thoughts, rather than a solution or manifesto. There are dozens of books about teaching “today’s” students. Some of them are worth reading, if only to argue with.
This ended up longer than I expected. TIme to hit the publish button and get back to work.