I read “Strange Facts in the History Classroom: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wiki(pedia)” by Christopher Miller, “Is (Digital) History More Than an Argument about the Past? (Spring 2012 version)” by Sherman Dorn, and “Waiting for Web 2.0: Archives and Teaching Undergraduates in a Digital Age” by Jeffery McClurken.
Miller’s article discussed how he taught a class at the undergraduate level based on Wikipedia. He had students look at encyclopedia and Wikipedia articles, write papers and give presentations on them, as well as do outside research to see how accurate both entries were. His goal was to teach his students about the creators of history, as in those who write and contribute to the historical narrative through historical sources. Although his first experiment with this class did not necessarily work out the way he thought it would, Miller did successfully instill within his students that history as a discipline is not entirely the truth, there are different factors that influence it. I liked his idea in theory about teaching his students about history and trying to make it accessible and easily understood, which requires brevity. This project is interesting and does give us a comparison of how Wikipedia compares to encyclopedias, but how both are still not ideal because they cannot provide the larger picture. Although he used digital tools to teach this class, he and his students soon realized that the digital tools were not at the center of the class. Building skills such as critical thinking was what they still focused on, which is a critical part of any history program. This at least helps to prove that digital sources only expand the ways that students think critically, not replace them.
Dorn’s article focused on access to digital archives and resources. He discusses how students now have more and more primary source material to research and utilize. Dorn also discusses how digital history sites can help create a more historically literate society, where children in elementary schools could have a better knowledge about history because their teachers would know more and have more access to the kinds of resources that would make it easier for them to get a full historical picture, rather than limited views that were taught to them in high school or in an intro history class, which is as far as many teachers get unless they majored in the subject.
Professor McClurken’s piece contained one of my new favorite sentences: “The world of teaching archival research in a digital age is not all flowers and sunshine.” I have to say it isn’t flowers and sunshine on the learning end either. Digital archives can be very helpful and amazing, but can also be very frustrating to use. Something I liked that Prof. McClurken addressed was the pay wall, where if your school cannot afford or chooses not to buy access to a particular repository, students suffer. Many of my friends writing their thesis this semester probably will agree when I say we hate this aspect. Going to a small school means limited resources. I had to ask friends at other larger schools to get some of the secondary source literature I needed because their schools have the funds to purchase more access, which means more material. I thought Prof. M did a really great job explaining the complexities of using internet resources in the classroom and where improvements can be made.