Like many of you who teach history, I am always looking for new ways to convey the subject to my students. The move toward e-textbooks offers an exciting opportunity to expand the traditional textbook in a way that takes advantage of new digital technologies, including the community-building potential of social media. The possibilities are limitless, but unfortunately we have yet to see much. The large textbook companies such as McGraw-Hill and Cengage have done little more than to place their textbooks online. Supplemental materials that can enhance the text are limited. What we have may alleviate future back problems for today’s students, but they do little to advance pedagogy and historical understanding.
We are currently working on an e-textbook on the Civil War and Reconstruction. The project includes a dynamic text and a simulation that is based on The Valley of the Shadow. In the simulation students role play characters from either Franklin or Augusta County. They interact with other characters in chat rooms while responding in real time to local and national news. The idea is to give students a sense of the contingency of events and a sense of how the war impacted local events, families, and individuals.
The textbook is being written by Gary Gallagher and Joan Waugh and provides the necessary context for the simulation. Instructors will have the freedom to use one or both aspects of the e-book. The two together is a powerful combination that will hopefully leave students with a much more sophisticated understanding of the period as well as an appreciation of how those events were experienced on a local level.
Yesterday we interviewed and filmed Gary and Joan for videos that will be used both in the text as pop-ups and at the end to expand on certain issues and prompt students to think further about what they’ve read. This was my first time doing this kind of interview and it was incredibly draining. You have to anticipate answers, have follow-up questions ready, and maintain eye contact throughout. It was a great deal of fun. Today we finish up our film shoot at UVA with a more conversational style between the two authors. In addition to conducting the interviews I am working on a wide range of supplemental materials for the textbook. Tonight it’s back to Boston.
We are hoping to have this project wrapped up by 2014. Additional books that are lined up include a survey of American history to 1877, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Colonial Era. Of course, I will keep all of you updated on our progress.