In Mills Kelly’s thought provoking series of posts “The History Curriculum in 2023” what resonated most with me was his characterization of history education in 2013 as still essentially passive. Prof. Kelly explains that his accumulated experience with how history is taught in the English speaking world has led him to conclude “how history education negates the creative potential of students.” In an effort to address this lack of active learning in history education at the undergraduate level, Prof. Kelly proposes four ways those teaching history can engage students’ creativity and make use of the digital spaces that young people already inhabit; he terms these “making,” “mining,” “marking,” and “mashing”. Prof. Kelly notes that young people increasingly use the web as a place to create rather than simply retrieve information. Sometimes referred to as “Web 2.0,” this shift in what the web means for people who use it, argues Prof. Kelly, necessitates a shift in how we engage with students and prepare them for the world of 2023. These digital creations can take any number of forms including digital storytelling and digital exhibits, making use of data visualization tools such as Google n-gram, and creating mash-ups of multiple online sources to craft a historical argument.
I completely agree with the need to have students actively creating historical pieces. My own background in special education makes me especially partial to the notion that students have to be actively engaged in learning. As an educator, I have long been in the camp of constructivism which embraces the idea that learning is actively constructed by the learner rather than transmitted from teacher to passive student.
For my own project for this course, I have been thinking of ways to have students create digital history projects — using primary sources and available for public audiences. I think the overwhelming challenge in this is how to include enough supports so that beginning undergraduates — students who are not yet history majors in a senior capstone course — can create a historical argument. Rather than a fully developed argument in the form of a twenty page paper, I’m thinking along the lines of Prof. Kelly’s mashing. Per our class discussions, I feel like clear articulation of the assignment’s goals will be key and I’m looking for different ways to express the kind of historical thinking I want to see students engage in using plain language. Given all this I’m really looking forward to class and discussing our ideas for projects in an effort to work out some of these thornier problems.