Update on Final Project

Having a week to focus on the final project for this class has been enormously helpful. After looking over a lot of digital teaching and learning sites, reviewing projects and videos done by previous students in the class, and meeting 1-on-1 with a classmate, I’m feeling much more confident than I was two weeks ago.

I am designing an online lesson that I will use in a class on the US in World War II in the spring. The website aims to help students learn how to ask good historical research questions (I’ve found over many years of teaching that students are good at identifying topics for papers, but have a much harder time going from topic to research question or problem). So this site uses the topic of the debate between interventionists and anti-interventionists about aiding Britain that raged between 1939 and 1941 as a case study for how to go from topic to research question. Right now I am planning for seven main pages:

  • An introductory page that tries to draw students in and explains the goals of the site
  • A page about why questions are important and what the attributes of a good historical research question are
  • A page that offers background on the Great Debate and gives students guidance on how to learn basic background information about a topic before they begin trying to figure out a question
  • Four pages that offer different strategies for developing questions (this might become five eventually)
    • Developing questions from a primary source (this page uses a photo as an example)
    • Developing questions by comparing/contrasting sources
    • Developing questions by looking at patterns of visual/rhetorical representations
    • Developing questions by exploring causality and change over time


My goals for this site are threefold: 1) I want it be meaningfully interactive; 2) I want it to include lots of different digital elements; and 3) I want it to be reasonably fun for students to use (or at least not boring for them!). I’ve decided to build it using Google Sites, which is incredibly easy to use and makes it easy for me to make interactive. Some elements that I’m including:

    • The introductory page includes an interactive quiz built using involve.me that asks students to assess different research questions 
    • I plan to make a short animated film using Animoto or Powtoon for the page on why questions matter
    • The page on developing questions from a primary source includes a Google Slide show that guides students through the practice of looking at photos and asking questions about them.
    • The compare/contrast page includes word clouds made using Voyant
    • I’ve create a timeline using SmartDraw for the causality page
    • I am integrating a Google Form Worksheet into the site that students will use as they proceed. They will be able to access the worksheet at each activity, to fill out their answers as they go, and to submit it when they are finished.


In the coming week, I hope to finish the compare/contrast page and the causality page. I also plan to begin working on the animated film (I’ve started working on the script, but I’m guessing that this is going to be the most time-consuming of the components of the site). I want to get the whole site drafted early so that I can spend a lot of time revising, improving, and working on the functionality. My partner Kirsteen suggested adding a fifth strategy about developing questions that emerge out of contemporary issues/concerns, and I may design another page devoted to that strategy if I have time.

I was so impressed with the range of different creative projects that students have done for this class. What I took away from me after watching videos and reviewing sites was, first, that these are meant to be teaching and learning sites, so that our planning should be as, if not more, focused on pedagogical issues and what we want to teach students than on the specific historical content. Second, I’m definitely borrowing some ideas from other sites (like the idea of the Google slide show that I saw on the “More to this than Meets the Eye”). Third, I found that I’m most drawn to sites that are relatively focused on a relatively narrow teaching goal (like teaching students about corroboration, or how to analyze editorial cartoons), so I’m trying not to do too many different things with my site. Finally, I’m trying to avoid having too much text in too small a font, which I think is an issue in some of the sites we looked at.  

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