This post is long overdue, mostly because I have been wrestling with these thoughts for a while. Without necessarily revealing what my project will be (that will be the next post), I want to talk about the use of digital tools in pedagogical projects. A challenge for me has been thinking about using digital tools beyond creating a website. How might we use digital tools to help teach more effectively? What might more effective even mean? How might digital tools inform better pedagogy? Will digital tools work more effectively in the classroom or outside it? How can digital tools help students get the most of out of a course? How might the use of digital tools change the way we teach and think about history? The American Historical Association has been hosting sessions in its annual meeting on the importance, relevance, and feasibility of digital pedagogy in the classroom since 2016. Indeed, digital pedagogy has been important to scholars for over a decade (including of course at MSU).
One thing I often think of when thinking of digital pedagogy is the ways in which the latter might influence access to and analysis of primary sources. As a discipline, history is bound by primary sources and the challenge has often been finding new sources and analyzing them. This is especially true of smaller, local archives whose material is often not that easily accessible. Yet, this is often the most exciting material since it points to hitherto unknown stories with possible regional, national, and/or international ramifications. For instance, I research the Detroit River, in specific, the history of dredging the river from 1865-1930 in an effort to offer a new environmental history. One of the most important actors that archival research has shown are the Lake Carriers Association—a lobby group of commercial ship owners who wanted the river dredged to make sure it was a viable shipping channel. Before the river tunnel was constructed in 1910, the Detroit River was an important thoroughfare for commercial shipping. All of the archival material of the Lake Carriers Association (LCA) is housed at the Bowling Green University Libraries. It is a little known and a little explored archive which is actually a treasure trove. The materials of the LCA are “local” in that they pertain to Great Lakes shipping, yet they have important national and international ramifications because they inform foreign policy of the United States government. There is a plethora of maps, newspaper articles, and correspondence which would make for very interesting primary source analysis. I often think, how might we incorporate these newer materials into teaching? The intersections/ influences of digital pedagogy on the ways in which we can teach history differently and/or better are very exciting to me.
One way might be to use more scanned primary materials to help student conduct more granular analyses. Another way might be to fundamentally rethink how we design course websites. Could they do more than just house materials? What if the course website were to be thought of as the primary mechanism of interaction? Not as an instead of the classroom but as a quasi-classroom? How might the architecture of a course website be designed to cater to be a classroom outside the classroom? How might that affect the way we think of assignments, course lectures? I don’t have answers to these questions. At least not yet but they are some of the guiding questions of my project about which you will hear more about in the next post.