Week two:

For me, this week’s readings jumpstarted my thinking about the projects we will be generating over the course of the semester. While we’ve spent some time talking about the organization and structure of webpages in other classes, I’m looking forward to taking it a step further and testing out these ideas.

There are a lot of examples of poor web design available. (My bank has a particularly terrible webpage.)  However, identifying poor design depends on how users evaluate them. I complained about this last semester, but in celebration of a 150 year history my alma mater put together a very pretty and very ineffective timeline that showcases images and content. While it’s “pretty” and “showcases information” – it is also useless. Users can click on the highlighted events to view images or read content, but the experience ends there. There are few links to sources or lengthy descriptions and there’s no opportunity for additional interaction with historical content or other users. A redesign of the site would take into account the arguments in this week’s reading: form AND content matter. As Norman argued, an attractive and pleasant user interface improves the experience of users- but so does intelligent and careful design (Elish and Trettien).

What does it mean that people evaluate aesthetics rather than content or effectiveness in using web pages (Web Credibility)? It means we have to think carefully about how we put pages together- so that they are both pretty and useful.

This week I commented on Sara’s Blog and in my own comments below.

Collaboration

The collaborative emphasis of this week’s readings (and our discussion of digital history/humanities this semester) has been one of the most attractive features of work in this field. It serves two of the major concerns I frequently face as a scholar – one, it broadens the field of study – making use of more hands and minds to cast a wider field of study – and two, it centralizes critique and conversation in a way that encourages participation of multiple voices. 

Working on a small subject field, with resources scattered in various repositories that are frequently overlooked for categorization or consideration- digital tools and curated digital archives have unlocked a great deal of the hidden histories of people with disabilities. Placing these conversations in public, accessible spaces increases the participation of minority voices. Beyond that, it locates me in a conversation with scholars that challenge my thinking and encourage me to consider my role in the process. 

Unfortunately, as I read this week, I was struck by the lack of collaborative digital deaf studies resources. Deaf studies as a field makes use of digital tools – they encourage collaboration, as a rule, but other than a wiki project proposal a few years ago, I haven’t seen any major efforts to cultivate scholarly discussions outside of walled institutions.

We have a digital journal, I’ve mentioned before: the DSDJ, but looking at the resources this week, I thought about the process of peer review that could occur. If videos were uploaded in smaller pieces, commentary were available on the page- enabling participation and dialogue with community members using technology like vialogues – this could make the peer review process more engaging and result in stronger works. I’m thinking of more efforts that could be made to enhance the use of the DSDJ as a tool and a resource – it might be worthwhile to send them an email and see if they could do something similar for at least one article per issue.

Teaching History

This week’s readings were cause for reflection for me. I thought a lot about the ways in which I constructed my courses (and my use of powerpoint). For the most part, I taught the way I learned – with a coursepack of readings and sources, with five page papers and tests that asked you to recall “facts”. But I started to think also about how I had deviated from that – asked my students to take opposing positions and debate their interpretations, required them to make “mashups” of newspaper articles that tackled particular content/concepts, and encouraged them to use digital/analog media to represent change over time. I measured whether or not this was effective by the depth of our discussions as much as their scores on essay questions.

But more than instilling a degree of teaching anxiety, the readings got me to consider more broadly what it means to teach/learn/do history.

Rather than a process of ensuring that students can fill in enough Scantron bubbles to demonstrate that they “learned” something, I liked how Kelly described the act of engaging students as a “tension” , as something that “destabilized their assumptions” (in chapter 1). (Similarly, Wineburg, writes, that historical teaching teaches us “to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our own brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in history into which we’ve been born.” 498) Learning can be remarkably uncomfortable and it can also be challenging and fun. The AHA article reached this point as well- that its less about teaching students what to think, and more about teaching them how to think.

Reformulating teaching practices from these positions forces us to reconfigure how we use the classroom and what sources we use. Rather than approaching “the web” as a barrier teachers have to reach across to impart knowledge to students, “We can think of the web as the untextbook” (AHA “Abundance”), something that destabilizes a rigid teaching approach and encourages us as scholars to consider useful and effective means to develop historical skills/thought in our students. Perhaps the internet presents an obvious, if not superior, means of doing just that- as McClymer states in the introduction, “On the web there is no scholarly filter.” And as the examples presented by Kelly demonstrate, students should develop the ability to assess and use the abundance of information available.

If nothing else, I agree with Kelly here: “The best way to use digital media to teach them to see history as we see it is to create learning opportunities that make it possible for our students to do history—to practice it as we practice it—to help them make history, using their own creative impulses, rather than simply giving us what they hope is the correct answer to a question we have posed.”