If you’re looking for digital sources to integrate into teaching history at various levels…
- Teaching modules on teaching U.S. history (several options here: Teaching American History, developed by schoolteachers in Virginia; and Exploring U.S. History, with modules on the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries; History Matters, an online U.S. history survey; and The Object of History, featuring artifacts from the collections of the Smithsonian)
- Primary source-heavy interactive websites on topics ranging from the end of the Cold War to women in world history to the French Revolution
- If you want your students not merely to read sources but to learn how to think and work like historians, try Historical Thinking Matters (which focused on developing student abilities to read critically and construct narratives) or DoHistory (an experimental site based on the diary of 18th century midwife Martha Ballard).
(George Mason isn’t the only university working in this area. See a similar site at the University of Houston.)
❧ Be sure also to bookmark the National History Education Clearinghouse, which has materials for elementary, middle, and high school teachers — including lesson plans, teaching guides, “best practice” documents, website reviews, and more. The site’s blog regularly passes along suggestions from teachers who have integrated digital tools into their teaching.
❧ One George Mason-developed tool that you might want to experiment with is Omeka, a content management system that effectively lets you (or your students) curate your own digital museum exhibit. If you’re also pretty fluent in coding, go straight to Omeka.org for full functionality, but if you want a stripped-down, easy-to-use version, start with Omeka.net.
❧ A great way for students to participate actively in historical scholarship is by taking part in crowdsourcing initiatives like the U.S. National Archives’ Citizen Archivist project, where volunteers can transcribe documents like presidential records, suffrage petitions, and fugitive slave case files.
❧ If you want to host your own website (or perhaps a course blog), we highly recommend WordPress, the free service that hosts AC 2nd. (To see another application of WordPress, see the digital history project Bethel at War, 1914-2014, being developed by two people from our department.)
❧ You can build relatively simple assignments that let students organize historical data on a map or timeline. Import a simple spreadsheet into Google Maps Engine for the former (the “Lite” version is free and available for non-commercial use) or into the Timeline widget (from SIMILE) or Timeline JS (KnightLabs) for the latter.
❧ If you want to read more in-depth reflections that draw on the burgeoning field of scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), check out Teaching History in the Digital Age, by T. Mills Kelly. (If you don’t want to buy the book in hardcover, you can read it for free online.) He organizes the book around five skills: Thinking, Finding, Analyzing, Presenting, and Making.
(While he’s writing principally for postsecondary teachers, Kelly emphasizes that “what we do starting in Grade 13 is not really that different from what happens beginning around the fourth grade. The sophistication of the problems posed and the sources assigned are greater, but the issues we grapple with when it comes to helping our students learn about the past are not that different…. For this reason, I hope that the questions raised in this book will be useful to anyone who teaches history, but especially those teaching Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate courses in high schools and those teaching history at the college level.”)
❧ Finally, the following resources are probably most useful for grad students and professors, but might also be of assistance to those teaching high school (especially AP courses):
- ProfHacker is a blog on teaching and technology hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education (unlike the Chronicle itself, it requires no subscription)
- The title of the blog Teaching United States History pretty much says it all. Currently being shepherded by one of our alumni, Ben Wright (more recently the recipient of a PhD in History from Rice University), TUSH features regular posts on many aspects of historical pedagogy (much of it relevant to fields other than U.S. history).
- Many college instructors now integrate Wikipedia editing into assignments. If you want to find out how, go to — where else? — Wikipedia, which has a whole set of resources available for educators. It’s not quite as clear how well this would work at the high school or middle school levels… (Incidentally, the aforementioned Prof. Kelly is perhaps best known for creating an assignment in which his students at George Mason intentionally created a fictitious biography at Wikipedia.)
❧ And please feel free to leave your own suggestions for digital resources in the Comments section below!