At the moment I’m in Salem, Massachusetts, working on a TAH grant for a group of teachers from Wyoming. What’s funny about this is job that it’s the first historical thing I’ve ever done where I am not primarily identified as the historian. I’m actually the tech guy, the one who explains to all of them the wonders of blogging their trip to the greater Boston area. It’s not as if I know nothing about the colonial or revolutionary eras, but I’d probably be the last guy doing this job if it weren’t for the fact that I understand WordPress.
If you know anything about TAH grants, you know that travel grants have a very bad reputation. Send a bunch of teachers on vacation on the government’s dime! Somewhere, Paul Ryan is very upset. If you were standing at the North Bridge in Concord yesterday, listening to the ranger describe the position of the two armies before the firing of the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, you would see the value of place for understanding history. Still, blogging is an excellent way to make sure that there is serious academic rigor to work like this.
Each of the teachers has a blog. [If you want to see their work, you can visit the blogroll at our class blog here. Each name links to the blog of one of the teachers.] We ask them to reflect on what they saw each day on their blog (emphasizing the utility of their information in their classroom) and to read other teacher’s reflections and comment. This is my fifth year doing this and it has so far worked very nicely. In fact, I believe that blogging is one of the reasons that our grants get funded in what has been a brutally competitive TAH environment.
Last semester, I brought blogging to a regular 14-week semester class for the first time, and I don’t think it worked so well. Unlike the trips, where there has been considerable conversation in the comments despite the teachers’ late hours, with graduate students back home comments were like pulling teeth. I really think there is great value in assigning different kinds of writing, so I want to bring a class blog to at least one of my undergraduate courses next semester, but I want to do it right this time.
So, people who use blogs in regular face-to-face 14 week classes, what do I need to know to do it right? Do you just have one blog or do you make every student get their own? How do you get students to read other students’ work? What percentage of the grade should be based upon the blog?
Inquiring minds want to know.
PS Why the picture? My next post here is going to be about graves. Stay tuned.