Civil War Memory Class Goes Digital

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.

Let me know what you think.

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation if you are so inclined. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

6 comments… add one

  • chris meekins Aug 27, 2009

    My first thought is – lucky students.

  • Jim Beeghley Aug 27, 2009

    Kevin,

    What a cool idea. Actually rather than Moodle you could probably do all of this in a wiki. All of the sites that your students will be unloading to have embed codes that could please the end products into the wiki. Just a thought.

    My 11 year old daughter’s Civil War Sallie project (http://www.civilwarsallie.com) is using these tools to teach others about the Civil War and I think what you are proposing is a really cool idea.

    Jim

  • Matt Donnelly Aug 27, 2009

    Kevin,
    I used Moodle in my Microsoft Office class last year and found it worked far better than I could have imagined. It should work for the needs of this class.

  • Mike Aug 27, 2009

    Excellent Idea!

  • Larry Cebula Aug 29, 2009

    Excellent! Teaching students to present their research digitally where everyone can see is so much more valuable than having them fill a bluebook with hurried handwriting.

    In my new job as coordinator of a public history program I am wrestling with platform questions myself. I want to create a single web destination where the regional history investigations of my students will appear. But what should it be? Blog, website, Omeka database, wiki, Google map (which I am leaning towards…), Flickr group, or . . . ?

    Keep us updated. Will the Moodle site be behind a password?

  • Kevin Levin Aug 30, 2009

    Larry,

    Thanks for the thumbs up. I hadn’t thought of Omeka so that is definitely a possibility. My only concern in using that as a platform is the learning curve. I will have to look into it. I haven’t made any decision on privacy issues, but I tend to lean on as much access as will not distract from the building process. Of course, once it is completed it will be made available to the general public. I am hoping that it will be useful to both students of the Civil War as well as a tool for tourists.

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