My final project for History 689 is a website entitled, “Asking Historical Questions: A Guided Learning Activity for College Students.” The site is aimed at college students (although I think it would be suitable for advanced high school students as well) and its purpose is to help students learn how to identify and ask good historical research questions. To do that, the site uses the topic of the so-called “Great Debate” (the foreign policy debate that raged in the US in 1940 and 1941 about whether the US should provide aid to Britain in its fight against the Nazis) to model different strategies to help students move from general topic to specific historical research question.
The project is actually further along than I thought it would be at this stage. I think that’s because I’m using Google Sites to design it and Google Sites is so incredibly easy to use. I have not faced the same technology challenges that I did when I designed a digital project using Omeka. It also helps that both secondary and primary source material on this topic is so readily available. The site I’m creating does not reflect my own historical research so while I am spending a good deal of time deciding which sources to use, I am not constructing my own interpretations of this material. Rather, I am spending most of my time deciding 1) which strategies to include on the site, 2) how to best teach those strategies to students, and 3) what learning activity to include for each strategy.
So far, I’ve completed drafts of the introductory page, and the pages for three of the five strategies (Close Analysis of a Source; Compare and Contrast; Contemporary Connections). I have also designed the activity that accompanies each of those pages. I am currently working on the page that offers students background information on the debate and I think I’m going to try to embed short background from different sites (like an online textbook) rather than write my own. I am about halfway done with the Patterns of Representation page and I’ve begun constructing some of the basic building blocs of the Causality and Change over Time page. That one might present the biggest challenge because I’m trying to get students to analyze events on a timeline in relation to a graph (yet unmade!) that will show public opinion data, and it is going to be difficult to get both of those to show up on the screen at the same time.
I am also planning on making a short animated film about why questions matter, but I’ve been leaving that until near the end because I know I could communicate the same information in another way if I ran out of time to do the film. But I am excited to try it, just as I’ve had fun working on other elements of the site that I’ve been able to embed in, like a quiz and a Google Slides show.
My main challenge–or at least what I worry about most–is making sure that the content is fresh and compelling. I don’t want the site to get repetitive or the information to seems too basic to the students. I think the peer review process will really help with making clear whether there’s content that needs to be pruned or made more sophisticated. I’m also working to make sure the navigation of the site is clear. For example, after students review a strategy they are prompted to go do an activity; that activity appears on a linked Google Form. But I had to make sure that after students completed one activity, they could easily return to the main site and to the next strategy module. So I’ve inserted navigation links in the footer (which appears the page when they access their Google Form worksheets) and I’ve also added instructions to the form to make sure students always know where to go next.
My goals for this week are to complete the remaining two strategy pages and the background page. Then I can focus on the animated film and can decide how much, if any, supplemental information to offer on the site (should I, for example, include a page with additional primary sources on the topic and a bibliography of secondary source?)