Learning in Networks of Knowledge (LINK): Toward a New Digital Tool for Cultivating Historical Thinking
Our roundtable will inherently be exploring "the broad implications of digital technologies for all historical practitioners." The teaching and learning possibilities for wikis in history classes have long been established, from facilitating collaboration to illuminating how carefully we must evaluate the stories we read about the past (in Mills Kelly's famous Wikipedia experiments). In 2008 we began exploring the potential insights into student learning the linking function of wikis might provide. We established it was possible to write software that could produce time-lapse visualizations of networks of student-produced links between wiki pages, pages that were part of a collaborative final project. We speculated that these visualizations have the potential to reveal how and when students are beginning to cross the threshold from understanding history as a collection of facts arranged in more or less chronological order to understanding history knowledge as more web-like than linear. After receiving funding from an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant in 2011, we began developing our own tool for helping individual students recognize the interconnected and often non-linear character of historical knowledge. Our system allows students to tag primary sources according to how the source expresses key themes and sub-themes of the course (these themes are established at the beginning of the term by the instructor). Not only does this tagging process help students to organize primary sources into logical interrelated categories (which can help with paper writing, among other things), but it also initiates the visualization software, which produces an evolving visual of the connections the students are making. This visual both helps the students to see, literally, the relationships they've created among sources and the instructor to evaluate whether students are, in fact, making appropriate connections.
Following David Pace's brief (5 minute) introduction to how the LINK team's work fits into the larger picture of the scholarship of teaching and learning in history, Ali Erkan and Steven Lam will provide an overview of the development of this new digital tool from an "under the hood" perspective (10 minutes). Michael Smith and Matt Klemm, who have each piloted the tool with students in several different classes, will then describe their experiences using this tool, among them the learning outcomes they have observed as students have used the tool, as well as some of the remaining challenges in making the tool ready for wide-scale use (10 minutes). Finally, Susannah McGowan will offer some insights into how best to develop assessment strategies for a tool like this, and what our assessment efforts have yielded so far in terms of measuring student learning outcomes (10 minutes). The balance of the session we expect to be a lively discussion about this project. Over the course of this roundtable we will "directly address teaching challenges and practices", present research findings and discuss how they might be used (and refined) by others, and model classroom use of technological media.