The posting below looks at an interesting new approach, "class-sourcing," that significantly expands students research, writing, and critical thinking abilities as well understanding of class content. It is by Gleb Tsipursky of The Ohio State University, and is #68 in a series of selected excerpts from The NT&LF reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [http://ntlf.com/about.aspx] The on-line edition of the Forum - like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, February, 2014, Volume 23, No. 2. Copyright ©John Wiley & Sons, Professional and Trade Subscription Content, One Montgomery Street, Suite 1200, San Francisco, CA 94104-4594. Reprinted with permission.
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Class-Sourcing: Student-Created Digital Artifacts as a Teaching Strategy
Students in my class on imperial Russian history faced an unusual final assignment: building a website based on original research on a topic of their choice. The impressive quality of their projects convinced me of the benefits of having students make online digital artifacts as class assignments. I suggest calling this teaching method "class-sourcing," an adaptation of the term crowd-sourcing. The latter describes the creation of digital artifacts best exemplified by Wikipedia.
A related but distinct method, class sourcing involves students building websites, wikis, blogs, videos, podcasts, and other digital artifacts as part of their class activities. As with a research paper, students conduct independent research on a specific topic, and then analyze, organize, and communicate this information. Doing so strengthens their research, writing, and critical thinking abilities as well as their understanding of class content.
Benefits, Benefits, Benefits
Class-sourcing provides additional benefits in comparison to a research paper by helping teach a range of skills relevant to professional and civic life in the digital age. Through class-sourcing, students develop digital literacy, by locating and evaluating digital information; data management, by organizing and curating digital materials, and integrating digital and traditional materials; digital design, by combining textual, visual, and native digital techniques in arranging digital and traditional materials to create overarching interpretations; digital communication, by conveying materials and interpretation to a wide public audience; collaboration, through working in teams; and public presentation. Students quickly recognized these benefits. As one student feedback form recorded: "Working with visual materials both as a teaching tool and as a method of examining [history] both allows and requires a different dialogue regarding the visual stimulation inherent in media and the way those messages are internalized." Another stated that "[We] will approach digital sources differently in the future by realizing that they are a good tool . . . for teaching and learning."
These assignments also position students well for the job market, which values digital abilities highly. One student who intends to pursue a teaching career wrote in a post assignment feedback form: "I am glad that I had this opportunity to use this tool in the academic environment as I had not really considered the teaching potential for this application." Since online digital artifacts have long-lasting lives, students can use these in their professional portfolios and for academic activities. For instance, several students presented on their class-sourcing projects at The Ohio State University at Newark History Research Conference. The skills gained also apply well to civic life, having the potential to assist students in civic activism.
An additional advantage of class sourcing assignments comes from their capacity to improve student engagement and performance. In my experience, having students construct digital artifacts promotes student enthusiasm due to the novel nature of this assignment and the deployment and development of digital skills. This contributed to a constructive classroom dynamic and enhanced comprehension of course content. Moreover, student feedback illustrates that the public nature of the online projects resulted in improved dedication to and performance in this assignment. For instance, one student team reported that their website, compared to a traditional research paper, was "more precise, because of public scrutiny" from a broad online audience.
These benefits, to me, seemed worth the challenge of setting up these nontraditional class-sourced assignments. I found it crucial to devise a thorough prompt with clear guidelines and a grading rubric. To help them I found and organized tutorial materials for students to use in learning how to create websites and Pinterest boards. These forms and tutorials, along with a list of varied student class-sourced projects, are available at my website, and you are welcome to use any materials there with attribution: http://www. glebtsipursky.com/teaching/classsourcing.
Once past their initial concerns spawned by the innovative nature of the assignment, the vast majority of students had little trouble working out the technical aspects of these digital projects. Actually, teams experienced more issues with internal group dynamics, as a couple of students did not engage fully with team activities. Still, even in these cases, students found the teamwork aspect beneficial overall: As one stated, "the group project considerations and challenges 'refresher course' that this had turned out to be is going to be even more valuable moving forward in my career. Coordinating and following up on the various stages of projects and allowing for different styles of work practice is an art as much as a skill." Indeed, having students learn such teamwork skills represents a key goal for my teaching. Furthermore, I structured the assignment so that part of the grade for each student came from anonymous evaluations of her or his team members, which both encouraged full participation by the large majority of students and also negatively impacted the grades of those who chose not to contribute their fair share. In the future, I plan to place a greater emphasis on the need for full engagement by all team members.
Overall, the student teams succeeded in creating a variety of excellent class-sourced projects. For instance, one team from the imperial Russia class devised a website on Bloody Sunday, an event that sparked the 1905 revolution (see Figure 1). They found and integrated together a wide variety of primary and secondary textual sources, images, videos, and links in a well-organized website format. They used these different sources to support and illustrate their own interpretation of the importance of this event.
A team from the course on the history of consumerism assessed the evolution of Super Bowl commercials from 2000 to the present, teasing out how advertisers appealed to social status, emotions, sexual appeal, and humor to market consumer goods.
Pinterest turned out to be an ideal and user-friendly forum to present and analyze these visual sources: according to one feedback form, "Pinterest provides a truly user-friendly environment both for the person setting up the boards as well as for the person exploring the content. Simple controls with intuitive meanings and very straightforward editing processes made this very pleasant work." After my students created the websites, I checked them for accuracy and corrected mistakes, as I would do for any assignment. The clear grading rubric prevented any confusion over the grading of these innovative projects.
These steps constitute the basic level of class-sourcing, but this method has further benefits. First of all, from the beginning I intended to use the class-sourced material that my students created to teach subsequent classes. Indeed, the websites built by my Spring 2012 Soviet history class served well as supplementary readings in my Spring 2013 Soviet history class. I plan to use other class-sourced digital artifacts in a similar fashion.
Drawing on my experience, I contend that class-sourced assignments produce content well suited to teaching others. In fact, these and similar class-sourced artifacts have the potential to satisfy much of the widespread demand among college faculty and high school teachers for free class materials, especially ones available on the internet where our students spend so much of their time. Since faculty guide their creation, these products can be specifically tailored to the needs of teaching and learning, as opposed to crowd-sourced resources such as Wikipedia. Moreover, since faculty check and correct their students' assignments (in other words, undertake a review of these digital products prior to their public unveiling) class-sourced artifacts deserve more trust than crowd-sourced data that lacks such review. Additionally, there can be many digital artifacts dealing with the same topic. By presenting a diversity of perspectives and interpretations, class-sourced materials can offer a fuller and richer portrayal than the cohesive and unified narrative style of either Wikipedia or textbooks. Faculty members can select and assign those artifacts that best fit their pedagogical needs and preferences, supplementing textbooks or replacing them altogether.
Stockpiling Benefits For All
Furthermore, such class-sourced digital artifacts can positively impact our outreach beyond the college and high school classroom to the broader public. Already, the digital artifacts my students created have an impact, as you can see by typing "Soviet History-The KGB" into Google, where my students' website currently appears near the top in the search rankings. Once enough have been created and compiled together in an organized fashion, class-sourced projects could serve as a valuable informational resource for the public, one that can supplement Wikipedia entries with public sources of information reviewed by academic experts.
Efforts to organize these artifacts can start at the level of individual faculty, as I did with my personal webpage, and grow to span departments, universities, and eventually the national and even international level. Faculty can collaborate with librarians, IT specialists, and other internal stakeholders to promote class-sourcing within their institutions. They can partner with schools, museums, governments, businesses, non-profit organizations, and other institutions to create digital artifacts that serve the particular needs of such external stakeholders. In this age of digital technology and tightening budgets, class-sourcing would help ensure that academia stays relevant and demonstrates the value of its contributions to society as a whole.
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