Integrating a Digital Project Into a Class: Deciding on a Project

Web storytellingThe new academic year is about to begin—or, in many cases, has already begun. Many of our students (and some of their parents) are experiencing a lot of “firsts” as the fall semester begins.

Perhaps it’s an opportune time for faculty to try some “firsts,” too. Not that professors necessarily should be trying something new, but the fall semester seems a good time for it, if other circumstances line up.

As readers might have figured by this point, I’m trying something new myself this fall: a digital project in one of my upper-level courses. We’ve written about digital projects before in this blog: Jeff’s authored posts on teaching with Omeka and having students draw up contracts for their digital projects.

My plan is to replace a traditional research paper assignment with a class project that will involve constructing a website using WordPress. Students will decide together what the specific content will be (the general content will be “interesting and/or important figures in American political thought”), and how they want to design the site to best present that content. Collectively, they’ll decide who’ll do what piece (with each student taking primary responsibility for one figure). Since the class is small (thirteen students, at last count), we can have one project for the entire class.

I’m hoping my students will glean a number of things from the project:

  • Some familiarity with the person whose work they personally explore, and an introduction to the work of those covered by their classmates
  • Practice in teamwork and in project planning
  • An introduction to technical skills that will be transferable (WordPress is just a vehicle; if students encounter difficulties with it, we’ll work together on strategies for solving them)

I’ve chosen to try this particular project because it seems both manageable and likely to help my students get what I’d like them to get from the course. There’s also a matter of practicality: I’m familiar with WordPress. So, to a certain degree, are most of the students in the course. I’ve been running my course blogs in WordPress for several semesters, and many of the students I’ll have this semester have taken one or more of my lower-level courses—so they’ll at least be familiar with using WordPress as a CMS, and some will have experience writing blog posts. From both content and technical standpoints, the project should challenge them without overwhelming them.

[Special thanks to Kathryn Tomasek, Rebecca Frost Davis, and my small group at the "Integrating Digital Humanities Projects into the Undergraduate Curriculum" Bootcamp at THATCamp LAC for helping me think through my plans.]

Have you tried integrating a digital project into a course? How did it go? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by cogdog]

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