Tag: Knowledge community (Page 1 of 3)

I am Open (and so can you!)

The book cover for Stephen Colbert's book I am America and so Can YouFor the next few weeks, I will be taking a history course, something I thought I would never do again after I finished my dissertation. Shawn Graham is teaching an online digital history course at Carleton University and has opened it up for non-matriculating students.

The entire design of the course is fantastic for open learners. Rather than just allowing us to watch from the rafters, Shawn has set up a Slack team and is active in the channels. Shawn asks that students blog for the course and use github to keep a record of their progress in the coding exercises. The course readings are all openly accessible and Shawn has asked that the students use Hypothes.is so that their reading notes are open (you can find them in the Hypothes.is stream with the tag hist3814o).

For the first week, Shawn has assigned a set of readings on the concept of open notes research within history and the humanities more broadly. Open notes research is more commonly practiced in the sciences. Jean Claude-Bradley was advocating for the concept in chemistry as early as 2006. Open notes science improves reproducibility and verifiability of results, and it also opens up the vast array of information that is gained during research but never published.

Open notes research has been slow to catch on, and it doesn’t take long to brainstorm possible objections. Publications are the coin of the realm in academia, and sharing your research notes could possibly allow someone to scoop your ideas. However, I agree with the readings that Shawn has curated and his push during this week of the course that open notes research is the best practice. Clearly, as I am writing this blog, I feel that sharing my thought processes helps me to clarify my thoughts and develop my understanding of my research. Sharing our reading notes with Hypothes.is and collecting our code in GitHub take this a step further. We’re thinking, reading, and experimenting (coding) out loud.

I am taking Shawn’s course, because I want to see how he uses Slack, and because I think the course design is fantastic. I’m already a convert for open notes research and have blogged about it repeatedly hereherehere and in many other posts. This site as a whole is an argument for open notes research and the related ideas of getting rid of disposable assignments and empowering students to contribute to a broader knowledge community. However, I did enjoy the week’s readings, especially Caleb McDaniel’s post that turned me on to open notes research a few years ago. I look forward to joining in for the exercises next week (this week everyone was learning MarkDown and Git). Most of all, I want to encourage any readers in the ed tech world who have not taken a digital history or digital humanities course to at least poke around Shawn’s course to see the wonderful overlap between that knowledge domain and the current ed tech focus on digital literacy and citizenship.

Paying the Price

In reading chapter three of Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Paying the Price, I was struck by the deep resentment that the Pell Grant garners. Like every other form of welfare promoting social mobility, the Pell Grant has been weaponized as a redistributive, unearned, golden ticket that allows people to skip to the front of the line while carelessly spending the hard-earned dollars of the working class. Obviously this is a straw man characterization, but I think it accurately echoes the core narrative identified by Arlie Hochschild in her study of Tea Party Republicans.

My habit has long been to dismiss such a characterization as the critique of mean-spirited, irredeemable people, but this is extremely counterproductive. I still don’t agree that we should do away with the Pell Grant or other forms of welfare, but I need to and can do a better job engaging in respectful conversation around this narrative. Until we can find common ground with those who feel left behind and cheated by the system, there can be little progress. As an educator, I need to be able to engage with people and convincingly argue for several fundamental points that I can no longer take for granted:

  1. That the highest quality public education is an inalienable birthright of every person
  2. That public education is an obligation of the government
  3. That government investment in education is economically productive. That is, for every dollar spent, more than a dollar is generated
  4. That a student has a right to maintain dignity while receiving welfare and shouldn’t be asked to pass drug tests or justify food expenses
  5. That teachers should be respected as important contributors to society and paid accordingly
  6. That education is about growth for each student rather than arbitrary standards of proficiency
  7. That education is allowed to be fun and actually works better when it is
  8. That enabling students to flourish requires asking them their goals

These eight headings are not defitive or exclusive. They are simply a managable starting point. If I can effectively articulate these points and engage people on them, we may be able to find common ground on student aide and educational policy more broadly. If not, states like mine may continue to defund education at all levels.

In an editorial in the Oklahoman this morning, OU Provost Kyle Harper provided hard numbers for the relative lack of support for OU from the state:

The University of Connecticut, a public flagship very similar in size to OU, receives about $16,500 per undergraduate student from the state, whereas OU receives around $6,200 per undergraduate from state appropriations. Our tuition and fees are also 22 percent lower, yet we offer an equally high-quality educational experience and achieve nearly equal rates of student retention.

As Kyle notes, “We have been doing a lot with a little,” but we need to reach out to Oklahomans and talk with them about why education is important. We cannot take it for granted that people already want to have the best schools; rather, we have to help restore that esteem for and pride in educational systems.

Through chapter three, Sara Goldrick-Rab has been particularly effective in her treatment of the first four points. Thus far the book seems like a really useful reference for both quantitative and qualitative evidence on the simultaneous importance and insufficiency of student aide. I hope that it will also provide a proscriptive argument for how we can move forward.

Digital Note-taking in the History Classroom

One of the projects I’ve been most excited about this semester revolves around an effort to teach history students how to take notes using an online database. The central point of my own digital history project, Situating Chemistry, is that we as historians should be sharing notes, both to accelerate historical research and to model our practices for students. For this course project, I have built a Drupal database specifically for upper level undergraduates to take notes on primary sources related to Spanish colonial history.

I posted a while back about the original conceptualization of this project. Now, we have an operating site:

Screenshot of Spanish Borderlands

The students in Raphael Folsom’s Spanish Borderlands course read primary sources on a weekly basis. Rather than taking notes on 3×5 index cards as we did when I was a kid, the students take the same type of note in the Drupal system. They fill out some basic bibliographic information about the source, write a short summary of the source, and then take a note about an interesting facet of the text.

Screenshot of the Add Note Card form.

Once the student has completed their note card, they can duplicate it and take a new note on the same source without having to reenter the bibliographic information.

There are several reasons why I like this project. The first is that it puts primary sources and note taking at the center of the course. Rather than focusing on lecture or textbooks, students are doing the practice of history.

Secondly, it teaches students how to take notes. Raphael can give formative feedback on the note cards themselves and share best practices. Class time can also be used to discuss the ontology of historical evidence and the epistemology of critical reading and constructing valuable notes.

Screen shot of the CardStack in Spanish Borderlands

Finally, when it comes time to draw on the notes, students can draw on the total Card Stack: the pool of notes for a given source, a set of sources, or even all the sources in the system. They cite each other as the originator of a thought about a source, emphasizing the communal construction of understanding about a historical event. They also cite the original source itself preserving the bibliographic practices at the center of traditional historical practice.

Developing skills is a key part of upper-division courses, but one that can be a bit opaque for history and other humanities courses. We have students read, but actually modeling note-taking and the synthesis of source material can be difficult. This project centers students in the making of a digital resource and the remolding of history into an open and collaborative practice.

Please note: For more information on some of the technical crafting of the site, please read Digital note-taking, part 2. Currently, the course site is behind a login wall to give the students some time to get comfortable, and give us, the designers, some time to work out the kinks. It will be made public later in the semester. 

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