What will the future history of today look like? Digital literacy for the next generation.

The network of links stemming from ianmilligan.ca (activehistory.ca alone was too big!). This gives you a visual sense of the power behind hyperlinked information!

We will need to make dramatic changes to history undergraduate curriculums by aggressively implementing digital literacy programmes. This will benefit both our students and the historical profession.

Why? Let’s imagine how a future historian will tackle the question of what everyday life was in September 2011 – today. She will have a tremendous array of sources at her fingertips: the standard newspaper and media reports and oral interviews that we use today, but also a ton of added sources that would help give a sense of the flavour of daily life. Two hundred million tweets are sent every day. Hundreds of thousands of blog posts. Incredible arrays of commentary, YouTube videos, online comments, viewership and readership numbers will all hopefully be available to this historian.

But how will she read it all? Realistically, nobody is ever going to be able to get through all the tweets for even just one day: let alone categorize, analyze, and meaningfully interact with it. She’ll need to use digital tools. We are at a crossroads. This sort of history won’t be the be all and end all of future historical research, but I believe that somebody is going to do this sort of social history. Let’s make sure our future students are ready for it! Read more

Twitter in the Classroom

Many people use Twitter for personal social/professional pursuits: finding links, having communication with a broad audience, self-promoting your blog on making history relevant (“follow us,” we cry). But you can use twitter in the classroom to create a sense of community, facilitate communication out of class, and hopefully open students’ eyes to the enormity of the world and the role that digital communication plays in ongoing events. As a long-term skeptic about the utility of twitter – and somebody who continues to avoid Facebook – I hope to reach the digital skeptic here.

When I first heard of Twitter in mid-to-late 2006, it sounded inane. 140 characters seemed restrictive for text (SMS) messaging, let alone as a means to communicate over the internet. We have e-mail, I probably snidely dismissed, and then went back to predicting the eminent end of Facebook. It wasn’t really until 2009 that I realized I had been wrong. Read more

Step by Step: Zotero

This is part of the ongoing ‘step-by-step‘ series which aims to guide users through online research tools and teaching aids. For Monday, stay tuned to a discussion about Twitter in the classroom.

In this post, I’ll explain to students how to install Zotero on their home computers. As a teaching assistant, I’ve found this to be the most useful technological skill that I’ve taught undergraduates – many have confirmed this by noting how they now use it. The explicit inspiration for this comes from William Turkel’s ‘Going Digital in Two Hours,‘ a fantastic workshop that he ran for York University’s Graduate Programme in History last year. Kudos to him!

Why Zotero? In short, it will properly format footnotes/citations (critical if you’re taking courses amongst several disciplines) and keep a research database in the ‘cloud’ (i.e. you can log in on any computer and it’s all there). For graduate students and faculty working on large documents, it can also streamline referencing and make sure that you have perfect footnotes.

Read more

Laptops in the Classroom

Do laptops have a place in the lecture hall? An ongoing debate has raged over whether they do. At York University, the on-campus newspaper Excalibur noted that many history professors were opposed to the use of laptops in lecture halls, a discussion continued by a large departmental meeting in early January. This has not been an isolated discussion, however. In this post, I hope to provide some background to the debate by noting some of the other sites of discussion, and then break it down into what I see as the two main issues: civility and the role of the professor, as well as learning and the role of technology. Keeping this in mind, I believe that we need to reframe our teaching approach as adult education and adapt to the use of technology. Certainly, there will be times when we should close our laptops and enter into discussion, but this does not need to lead to a blanket ban of technology in our classrooms. Read more