This month’s faculty spotlight celebrates Dr. Anne Lester’s work to innovate HIST 1800 - Introduction to Global History. Lester developed an opportunity for students to share what they are learning while also developing their technology skills with WordPress and Google Maps. WordPress is a web-based tool for creating websites and blogs which enables students to develop writing skills for a variety of purposes and audiences. Google Maps allows students to cultivate a spatial understanding of regions the class focused on, in this case, to become familiar with the vast extent of the Silk Road during the premodern period. Students articulated and published their insights online to share with peers.
Dr. Lester led the students through a process of using analytical academic writing to create research essays focused on different topics throughout the semester and then turn that technical writing into informal blog posts. This process enables students to continue working on their formal writing techniques yet finessing an ability to translate that into conversational pieces that explain historical concepts for a wider audience. Giving students the opportunity to create research-based content for an online blog also helps bolsters students’ ability to think critically when reading blog articles in their daily lives. These valuable communication skills transfer to multiple real workplace scenarios and prepares students for engaged citizenship.
I aided with researching and explaining how to use WordPress, as well as techniques for how to properly cite information found on other websites and blog posts. WordPress is an excellent choice because it is a widely used blogging and website building tool. It also has a robust online help forum that supports students’ ease in using it. After discussing with Dr. Lester the specifics of what she hoped to accomplish, I visited her class multiple times throughout the semester in order to teach different techniques that students would need and to aid in supporting their use of a new technology. In my presentations to the class, I explained the process of creating their own blog site, addressed how to add images and videos to a blog post, instructed them on how to embed maps, and answered questions for the group as a whole. I also worked individually with specific students to help them problem-solve challenges they faced with Wordpress.
From my perspective as a 3rd year Computer Science student, it’s really important to celebrate professors who integrate new technologies into the classroom to make learning more obviously relevant to students’ lives. Digital literacy is a 21st-century skill-set that takes time to learn and practice and I enjoyed seeing students develop these skills in this project. I look forward to helping other professors innovate in their classes in the future.