Thursday, October 29, 2009

Film in social Studies, Follow up.

I have selected two clips to follow in the theme of War Time propaganda, a study in evolution.

The first clip is from "The Best Years of Our Lives."

Find more videos like this on Teaching Digital History

This movie details the struggles and problems faced by World War II vets returning home. Modern culture has portrayed this as the last great war; the war without all those strange problems associated with modern warfare. The best years of our lives tells a different story. Notice the Conversation that the two seemingly uninjured men have at the end of the clip, "That would rehabilitate me." This one line speaks volumes to what was happening on the home front. Psychology had not yet come up with the term, "PTSD," but it would seem that these veterans coming home knew all to well that something was amiss. Further along in the movie one of the men has slipped into almost complete isolation, another is teetering on the edge of alcoholism and the third is struggling to keep his family together.

The second clip is easier to follow than the movie itself. The film, "Flags of our Fathers," by Clint Eastwood, is a tremendously good view of how the soldiers felt about themselves juxtaposed to what the media was doing with the image of, "The American Soldier."

Find more videos like this on Teaching Digital History

These men were painted as heroes, but wanted nothing to do with the spotlight. Again the them of the media presenting the war as something glorious, while the soldiers realize the harsh truth. These soldiers must work to reconcile what they have seen with what the American public wants.

Both films present a story opposite to the propaganda of the time, and also present a very different idea of the propaganda than we see about the wars today. They are somewhat counter-cultural in that they present a different side of the war than popular culture would like to know.

I think that these films might have contributed to the anti-military feelings that many people express today. Both films expose the tragedy of war and what happens when men return from war. Now we rarely focus on the positive things our military men are doing, preferring only to hear of the tragedy that is many soldier's return home. This does, I think, a bit of injustice to those men and women who do beneficial things and return home relatively unscathed. I think we need to, as in all things, remember the whole picture. These films, in the context of WWII propaganda, help us to remember that whole picture. Now we just need to learn to see a more balanced picture of current events.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Film in Social Studies.

The article, "Tinsel Town as Teacher: Hollywood Film in the High School Classroom," uses infuriatingly bad statistical practices. At best we should avoid using statistical analysis on Likert scales, and should never attempt to draw inferences from such analysis. This does not prevent the author of this article from doing that and obscuring the meaningful research that was done. (For example, if 49% of the respondents select 1 and 51% of the respondents select 5, it would not be true that most of the people feel videos to be moderately useful.)

A few things that would have made this study a little better are:
  1. What are the EOC (or comparable tests) results in the classes that use large numbers of movies?
  2. What is the student response to the "film every day" category?
  3. What is the correlation between 1, 2 and the use of supplementary materials?
The other article, "The Burden of Historical Representation: Race, Freedom, and Educational' Hollywood Film" answers some of these questions and provides some more meaningful insight.

The most dominant reason for using Hollywood films in the classroom, from both studies, was empathy. Would it not make more sense to help the students literacy skills in an effort to do this? Students may make a video portraying some aspect of Slavery or write a RAFT that puts the student in the role of the slave. Granted, this can be done within the confines of the video framework, but was not mentioned in either study. Would it not be more meaningful for students to take some time to produce some sort of empathetic product of their learning?

In today's culture, a 1:1 classroom in particular should not be completely reliant on vide, but should also see to explore a wide variety of different online media. Primary sources and meaningful secondary sources about on the internet and provide a medium for students to engage in historical material. Should not we use this material to enrich our students experience instead of a video every day?

A fear that I have with a proliferation of video in the classroom is that it can be non-interactive. Students may come to subconsciously believe that specific things should be watched more than engaged. Take, for example, the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Millions of people watched as it happened, but few seem to still see this as a possible point of contention with China. Carry this thought over to Tibet, which desperately wants to be free, for good or for ill. Why are the "Free Tibet" crowd the marginalized people instead of the norm? I would raise the question: Has video taught us that it is appropriate to not take action against social injustice.

I do not necessarily believe that this is the case, but to echo what the Stoddard article seemed to indicate, video in the classroom does not seem to be enough and should be supplemented with a variety of other resources. To quote John Wensick (which non of you have ever heard of, and that's ok.) "Don't be a one-trick Pony."

When John taught my cohort about using Video during my M.Ed. Program, he repeated that video should never be left to teach itself. If you incorporate video, make sure the students are aware of the historical inaccuracies as well as how to identify such inaccurate portions of other films.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Two Hours later...

I've spent the better part of the past two hours looking at digital history archives. I thought that I might view a few more, but after two hours, I think I've got a good idea of some common themes and thoughts.

Design Features Common with most of the sites:
  • Categorization of Artifacts

  • Presentation of a meaningful and pretty page

  • Pictures associated with many of the links / categories / essays

Accessing the site / artifacts (Navigation):
  • No Login required (nice)

  • click-to-go artifacts and links to digital history

  • Non-intuitive design for re-finding items

  • Very Intuitive design for perusing website

Interpretation on Each Site:
  • Each site offered some level of interpretation

  • Interpretation was, at minimum, based on meaning added by categorization

  • Some sites offered much more interpretation than objects of digital history

Overall, the sites would require, I feel, a good deal of teaching and direction to utilize in a classroom setting. I think the sites, absent of knowledge how to use specialized Google searches, would require a lot of time to find meaningful articles to use in a classroom setting. I think it would be some interesting research to examine how to setup a Digital History Website to be more user friendly. Obviously most of the people visiting these sites will be browsing for information as opposed to looking for a specific item. How can a digital history site manage to attract the casual browser, but engage scholarly search as well?
For example, the Library of Congress site seems more geared to a scholarly viewer, but the Cultural Readings site was definitely geared towards the browser. These two types of visitors will have different approaches and different goals. One (the browser) can help you gain advertising dollars, while the other (scholarly) might help gain admission fees through institutional subscriptions. Which would be better for digital history?

As an added bonus, this post comes with my notes. I took my notes in a Google Doc. There is at least one 'funny' quote. At least, I laughed when I typed it.

Articles: Plantation Readings

Having read over half of the letters from Paul Cameron to his father, I am astounded what the lack of communication can bring. Not that Paul was attempting to not communicate with his father, as the modern version of the phrase can mean, but that Paul and his father, Duncan, had difficulty with the mail system and sending letters back and forth. There are several references to letters not arriving in a timely fashion, as well as letters arriving en masse when they finally did arrive.
This created a few problems. Duncan apparently would have preferred Paul to rent land if at all possible, but Duncan was unable to get that message until he had already agreed to purchase a parcel of land. It also seems that news of poor health was not travelling quickly, and there were concerns over loved ones suffering from health issues.
Duncan, in the one letter in the archive, states, "I wish my [Orange] Street friends could have seen the joy and gratitude expressed by my slaves on my return home." I found this an interesting statement simply because it gives us a glimpse into Duncan's attitude that the slaves enjoyed at least seeing their master return home. I found myself wondering about this phrase. Was this part of the personal propaganda he used to rationalize slavery in 1846 as it was losing popularity with his "Orange Street friends?" Or did he truly believe that his slaves were happy to have a master? Either way, he seems to have viewed the concept of slavery in a similar way that a man who owns dogs might. How often have dog owners said to their non-dog friends, "I wish you could have seen the joy and gratitude in Sparky's eyes when I came home last night." But I digress and read too much into that phrase.
Paul also made an interesting comment about his slaves. Something to the effect of not wanting to loan out any of his slaves to the local plantation owners. Paul is also very concerned about the well-being of his slaves and is concerned in various letters that his overseer, "Lewellyn" is a little too harsh with them. He also makes remarks about the clothing of the slaves being far too thin and of too poor quality. It seems that he is genuinely concerned for their health, but again, I am reading into the letters.
When I came to reading the forum postings based on these letters where the SCIM-C method is used, I find it interesting how the strategy for reading a historical document is scaffolded. Several of the students seem to do as little as possible at first, but if you follow the thread of the students, they begin to blossom in their application of the strategy. This is particularly true in activity III, where the students begin making inferences about the materials they have read. Scaffolding SCIM-C in this way seems to give very strong results.

Now, on to examining various historical collections!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

New Literacies and Social Studies.

The articles for this week were very interesting to me. I've read some Leu research before, and I always enjoy reading the conclusions based on such research, and this article was no different. It makes a lot of sense to start integrating technology into different content areas and using technological literacy as a starting point for creating new standards.
That being said, my favorite article was, "Fostering Historical Thinking With Digitized Primary Sources." I am very intrigued by the concept of targeted software solutions for helping develop historical thinking. It seems to me that such a software can help lay groundwork for developing truly historical thinkers in today's public schools. One student in the study made the comment, "I believe that the past is the past, and we should leave it there" (p. 10). This attitude seems oddly prejudicial and should be almost absent from today's educational system, however, I have encountered similar feelings in my school. Students are not being instructed in the *importance* history, they are just being given general facts and asked to remember them. I think the development of specific software to help students understand how to be more historical in their thinking is generally advisable.
As far as evaluating how students best can interact with the Internet, I think that this needs to be addressed in every class every day. Could a student in a modern high school really and effectively navigate through EBSCO Host or Academic Search Premier? Would many of the students know where to start? I have taught my students how to use some limited academic searches, but they quickly became confused and were not able to scan the pages for relevant details. I wonder if this is due to a lack of Internet skills, or an inability to grasp the new vocabulary? I would like to see a study done on introducing students to new Internet based applications, and how students can learn the new interface.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Medieval Scotland Wikipedia Article

The article Scotland in the High Middle Ages has been edited 594 times. While this is a surprisingly small number of edits compared to some other feature articles, this small number of edits is partially due to the user, “Deacon of Pndapetzim." This use has edited the article 211 times, and is responsible for the first incarnation of this article, which was surprisingly complete.
The completness of the initial article, (created January 6, 2006), indicates that this editor is very knowledgeable about the topic. The original article include Society, Legal institutions, Curch, Culture, Demographics and many different kinds of graphics and maps.
Due to this editor, the article has not gone through many substantive changes in its content, and has been edited primarily for wikipedian standards and grammatical errors. A few editors remarked that their edits were to cure some vandalism (the entire page was once blanked). Most of the substantive changes have occurred because the author seems to have posted the original article from a scholarly paper. It looks like it may have been a survey paper on Scottish Medieval history, as it had sections entitled, "Bibliography" and "References" which were subsequently put into the Wikipedian standard.
The writing of the article is startling bad, I do not mean that the writing is terrible, but for the level of scholarship, I would expect the writing to be better. One such error surprised me so much that I corrected it without thinking. A sentence read, “Scotland in this period, for such a small region of Eurasia, is relatively well studied in this period.” I gasped at the repetition of “in this period,” and quickly edited it out to make more sense. The grammatical structure of the article is poor, with many words and phrases being needlessly reused. This seriously reduces the readability of the article, but does no necessarily detract from the overall wealth of content.
The content is comprehensive and seemingly accurate. Various theories of the development in Scotland during this time period are investigated, and even-handed consideration is given to many of the competing philosophies.
The discussion of this article is very interesting in two ways. The “Deacon of Pndapetzim” only makes one comment, and most of the discussion is about other possible articles. Some of the discussion centers on creating a distinction of “Early, High and Late” Medieval eras, with pertinent articles for each. Some grammatical clarifications are discussed and two ideas are addressed. Sport and borders are addressed as possibly lacking in the article.
When we examine the articles that have been created by, “Deacon of Pndapetzim,” we quickly discover why this editor is probably absent from discussion related to this particular article. He (or she) is absolutely prolific in the creation of Medieval articles. This editor has a significant number of accolades from Wikipedia and an amazingly long history of making Scotland well understood on Wikipedia.
Overall, the article is noteworthy and would be a good place for anyone interested in the Medieval era to start learning.