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Using Digital History in the Classroom

Historians in the News
tags: classroom, teaching, education, technology, digital history



The majority of the essays in the “Teaching w/ #DigHist” series focus on the ways that teachers can apply specific digital history projects to their classrooms. These applications range from single lecture integrations to semester-long projects. This entry will be a little different. While working with teachers in various workshops around the country, I have found that three basic principles apply when using digital history in the classroom. After finding a project, try to 

  1. give yourself time to explore the project; 
  2. localize the project and contextualize it within your classroom; and 
  3. collaborate with your peers to see how they might use it. 

Joseph McKinley/Flickr/CC BY 2.0.

While these are good practices for teaching in general, the relatively decentralized nature and often incredible depth and breadth of digital history mean that a careful, intentional, and collaborative approach is all the more important. As we walk through these guidelines, I’ll highlight a few projects that many of the K–16 instructors I work with found particularly exciting.

1. GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO EXPLORE THE PROJECT

One of the great joys of teaching is finding new resources to share with your students. This is especially true for digital history projects. Yet, I’ve found that the best approach to digital projects in the classroom is a more methodical one. Teachers’ immediate understanding of a project often centers on only one of its aspects, but the project might accomplish more (or less) than they initially think. For example, my first exploration of Voyages focused on the database of 36,000+ voyages, an incredible tool for helping students understand the transatlantic slave trade. Further exploration revealed the maps and time-lapse portions of the project, both of which my students found more accessible than using the data alone to understand the scope and horror of the slave trade. 

Spending time with a project may also show ways that it could go beyond your original pedagogical goal. In a workshop this summer, I introduced a number of high school teachers to Gapminder’s Bubbles, an interactive graph that shows changes in countries’ demographic indicators over time. I use it in my classroom as a way to conduct year-end review and think about continuities and changes. While exploring, one participant shifted her focus to Gapminder’s Dollar Street, which fit better with her Human Geography course. 

Finally, once you’ve found a digital project you would like to integrate into your classroom, be sure to bookmark it in a way that reminds you to return to it when the time comes. I often find myself so caught up in the day-to-day of teaching that projects I explored during the summer and plan to use in future courses get forgotten in the chaos of the academic year.

Read entire article at AHA Perspectives on History

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