Website Group Projects in Arts and
Christopher P. Loss, Department of History and School of Education
and education courses often incorporate student group projects as pedagogical
and evaluative tools. Courses in the arts and humanities, however, have
typically been thought of as unsuited to the group project method. According
to conventional wisdom, writers, artists, philosophers, and historians,
for example, hone their intellectual skills best when reading, writing,
and researching - alone. My experience the last two years as the technology
assistant in Brian Balogh's HIUS 316 course "Viewing America, 1945
to the Present" belies this common misperception. As the web-based
student group projects in the course consistently reveal, the history
classroom is an ideal setting for creating digital, grouporiented projects.
structure of HIUS 316 lends itself nicely to a group project approach.
As in many traditional history courses, Professor Balogh and his teaching
assistants lead their students through the scholarly literature on the
history of the second half of the twentieth century relying on classroom
lectures and discussion group meetings. Unlike many similar courses, however,
Professor Balogh also spends time exploring the "Viewing America"
website, which offers students access to a host of scholarly and popular
reading, listening, and viewing materials, including feature film, documentary,
newsreel, and television footage from the postwar period. The contents
of the course are organized into a sequence of twelve week-long website
units. Each unit is constructed around a major theme from the postwar
period (i.e., Civil Rights, Women's Rights, Environmentalism, the Reagan
Revolution) and offers users access to video, audio, and digitized primary
source materials that would otherwise be difficult to provide through
traditional pedagogical techniques. We believe that the "Viewing
America" website offers students a multi-layered learning experience
that literally brings the past to life.
Own Unit (CYOU) Group Project. Because one of the goals of the class is
increasing interactivity with the past through lectures, discussion, and
technology, the Create Your Own Unit (CYOU) group project has emerged
as the capstone event of the course. The CYOU project requires students
to use their emerging skills as historians to identify and design their
own "Viewing America" website unit on some important historical
issue or theme that Professor Balogh has not explored in depth. By encouraging
students to use web technologies in the study of history, we hope they
come away from the experience as teachers of history, with improved research
skills and enhanced technological abilities.
Theme/Event. The projects take most of the semester to research and design.
During the first section meeting, teaching assistants divide their students
into CYOU project teams of approximately ten members. Before teams begin
developing their site, teaching assistants work through the following
questions with them:
- Does the
theme/event fall within the post-1945 period?
- Does the
theme/event complement the other units of the course?
- What makes
this particular theme/event worth studying and understanding?
teams that best answer these questions are the most successful.
and Contents. Once a team has selected a theme/event to investigate in
greater depth, they begin the process of building their "Viewing
America" unit. Because many of the students possess advanced web
design skills and can begin work right away, we do not sort students according
to their technical abilities. In the rare instance when a group does need
assistance, however, TAs direct groups to the technology staff at the
Robertson Digital Media Lab in Clemons Library for help. A completed unit
includes the following principal website components:
- A one-page
summary explaining the relevance of the selected theme/event
assignment of approximately 150 pages
- Review questions
- A primary
source document of the week
and film review
with a selection of primary source materials
- Two or three
links to other internet website locations that contain additional information
relevant to the team's topic
and Evaluation. Teaching assistants chart the progress of their CYOU groups
through informal discussions during section meetings and the presentation
of a formal group report one month prior to the project due date. Teams
submit a web address to their teaching assistant on the day the assignment
is due. Professor Balogh and his teaching assistants then review and grade
the websites online. The most popular CYOU project- determined by student
vote-is then taught by Professor Balogh during the final week of the semester.
of the CYOU project have been impressive. Last semester, for instance,
the winning CYOU website, "Evolution of the Sitcom," was so
sophisticated that Professor Balogh invited several members of the team
to teach a portion of the class themselves. Other winning units have included
"American Family" and "Hip Hop Culture." All the sites
are stored on our server for future reference and/or use as stand-alone
units on the "Viewing America" website. While the website has
allowed Professor Balogh to focus his students' group projects on creating
digital history, I believe traditionally taught history and humanities
classes might also benefit from exploring the educative value of other
variations on the group project method.
NB: The Teaching Resource Center offers a variety services to assist
instructors, including consultations about group project options and other
aspects of curricular design.