AHA : Publications: The AHA Guide to Teaching and Learning with New Media
The AHA Guide to
Teaching and Learning with New Media
To an unusual extent this pamphlet draws upon my own experience as a teacher and researcher. Most of the examples come from my class assignments and from my students’ responses. So I should explain how I became interested in using the web in my teaching in the first place. I am an “early adopter.” I went to a workshop the college information technology director gave in the early 1990s and was mesmerized by the possibilities. Here seemed a way to realize several of my core goals as a teacher. One had always been to change the way my students read. Too often they looked for some single, main point, whether there was one or not. Rarely did they try to put what they were reading into context. But how were they to acquire a sense of context? Thomas Jefferson had a reading desk built that incorporated the idea of the lazy Susan. It had several book caddies. This way Jefferson could consult the works the author of the book he was reading was responding to. His rule, that you should never read a book by itself, was the opposite of my student’s practice. They had little or no sense that they were participants in an ongoing conversation about how and why things happen as they do.
Another goal had been to get beyond the ersatz questions historians routinely plague their students with. I recall taking a course in early modern Europe as a sophomore. One of four questions on a mid-term was: “Discuss the consequences of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.” By the time I got to that question, eight minutes remained of the fifty-minute period. So I scribbled down the obvious in four or five very brief paragraphs. The point, which has rankled me ever since, is that the question had nothing in common with what historians actually do. How was I to give my students genuine tasks? Doing history means having access to all kinds of sources. I could hardly march my students down the road to the American Antiquarian Society and let them loose among its collections.
Looking at a web page for the first time I was swept up in the possibilities. Here was, as a colleague put it, the electronic equivalent of Jefferson’s desk. Here were links to who knew what primary materials. Since that first workshop I have spent years at work and at play online trying to realize some of the possibilities I sensed that first day. I use the phrase “at play” deliberately.