The new school year is off and running and after having met with all my classes on the first day I couldn’t be more pleased with my group of students. This trimester I am teaching two sections of Civil War history, which include roughly 9 students in each class. They seem eager to get started and somehow we already managed to touch on the question of what caused the Civil War. Today I will hand out a few documents and ask them to debate the question of whether the Civil War was inevitable.
Most of these students will go on to take my course on Civil War memory next trimester. I had a wonderful experience with both sections of this class last year. We covered a great deal of material between both primary and secondary sources and we capped it off with a memorable trip to Richmond. This year I’ve decided to approach the course from a completely different angle. I plan on having both sections create a website that will explore Civil War memory here in Charlottesville. The major sites in the city and county include the soldier statue on Courthouse Square, the soldiers cemetery at the University of Virginia, and Lee and Jackson parks, which are located just off of the downtown mall. The course will include background readings in a few essential secondary sources and students will have access to archival material at UVA and the local historical society.
I am still debating the kind of platform that will be used for the project, but at this point I am leaning toward Moodle. It isn’t the sexiest site, but it can easily accommodate the wide range of social media tools that will be included in this project. Luckily, I have a few students who are competent with HTML and CSS.
Students will create videos and upload them to Vimeo and/or YouTube as well as podcasts. They will also create their own radio show using blogtalkradio and interview area historians on the significance of the sites. Photographs can easily be uploaded and described on Flickr and PowerPoint presentations can be narrated and uploaded to the Web using Slideshare. I am also playing with the idea of a blog component that will allow students to reflect on the entire process throughout the trimester. A companion page on Facebook may be useful and during our visits to the site students will be able to use Twitter.
I am learing that the biggest hazard in utilizing social media is not having a clear sense of its purpose and how it fits into a department’s broader philosophy. This is a discussion that I hope to continue throughout the year in my department meetings. To me, it speaks to the sharp transition from students simply consuming what they hear in class and read in books to producing their own interpretation for broad public consumption. This project will put students in a position of having to think critically, not simply about what they are learning, but how to present it to others.