Technology and Student Engagement

This week’s post is an interview with Jennifer Carey whose blog Indiana Jen focuses on the interface of Education, History, and Technology.  As an educator, Jennifer’s style is engaging and innovative.  She has taught on the collegiate level and in the Johns Hopkins program, the Center for Talented Youth.  Currently she teaches at an independent secondary school is Fort Worth Texas.  In the interview below, Jennifer provides insights on several key issues relevant to outreach and education.

Will you tell us a bit about yourself?  How you developed and meshed your interests in archaeology, education, and technology?

I have always been a history buff. As a child, we took vacations to Gettysburg or Yosemite or other areas of historical significance. When I went to college, I did a double major in History and Anthropology. My freshmen year, I did my first dig in Belize and while I knew Jungle Archaeology wasn’t for me, fieldwork had me hooked. I then went off to UCLA to study archaeology. Technology has always been important in archaeology – think about Evans introducing the “new technology” of photography at the turn of the last century.

My technology love developed separately – we had a home computer when most people didn’t own calculators. I was writing DOS before I could compose a paragraph. I’ve always had a habit for ‘gadgets,’ computers, software, etc. It’s an expensive habit 😉

A couple of years ago you were podcasting your Classical Archaeology class lectures to college students.  How were the podcasts received?

I started my podcasting as an experiment and the University largely supported me as they saw it as a potentially great marketing tool. I was primarily nervous that students would stop coming to class. I told my students that if attendance dropped off, I would stop. To my surprise, attendance didn’t drop. In fact, what happened was that my students stopped writing down every word on my PowerPoints, stopped taking so many notes, and focused more on what I was saying and engaging in a discussion – they could always go back to hear what I said. My experience was that there was more *learning*. The really, really good students would often tell me that they put the podcasts on their iPods and listened during their commute or at the gym. I also had a number of students with learning differences that told me that the podcasts helped them to perform better in the classroom.

You are now posting a regular blog Indiana Jen: History, Education, and Technology (not to be confused with another blog called Indiana Jenn).  Besides the obvious difference of lecture based podcasts and briefer topical blog posts, in terms of communication, how are the two different?

Blogging takes more time and planning than Podcasting did. My podcasts were literally just recording my lectures. My blog takes more planning and research. However, it’s also more interactive – which can be great fun (and sometimes a little frustrating). However, if I have a thought or idea as an academic or a teacher I now have a venue for sharing ideas and engaging in communication.

Your work is primarily focused in the academic setting.  Have you done much educational work in bringing archaeology to the broader community?

As I am now out of Academia and firmly in education (teaching history at a private school) my goal has definitely become more expansive. I really like to bring interesting topics to the ‘main-stream,’ which is why I’ll write up stories that I think will interest most people – child sacrifice in the Andes, the destruction of Pompeii, cannibalism of the Donnor party, etc. You’ll notice I don’t write a lot about syncretism in Roman Britain or dialectical exchange of colonial cultures. Ultimately, my goal is to make history less intimidating (it’s not about dates and names and $5 words) and to open people up to broader experiences.

In a recent article Insistent Questions in Our Learning Age (Journal of Museum Education Vol. 35, No. 3) Beverly Sheppard writes about the under utilization of museums by public schools. In archaeology and history, what role do you see museums playing in the classroom setting?

You know, I would wholly agree with this, especially in non-urban settings where museums are far away. “Field Trips” are expensive, stressful, and a logistical nightmare. For example, I teach AP Art History with 11 kids. Sounds like loading them all on a bus and taking them to a museum would be easy. However, I have to find the funds for the bus, track down another chaperone, arrange lunch, make sure our insurance covers it, get them out of their other five class (which could be things like AP Calculus and English), and keep track of them while they’re wandering. Because of these issues, a lot of teachers and administrators “just say no.” This is just a shame – my students experience so much more at the museum – they *see* the objects they’ve been studying, they *apply* what they have learned, and they are exposed to a broader spectrum of information.

I’m hoping that the recent trend of Museums putting their collections online and things like the Google Museum Project can help to bring the experience to the classroom. Still, there is no substitute to the ‘real experience.’

As an advocate for technology in the classroom, what are the new trends that you find exciting?

Here are a few examples that are of interest to me – Cell Phones in the Classroom (my current talk topic), 1:1 initiatives, 3D Tours of Museums and sites, Preservation of Archaeological sites (e.g. the 3D Rome Project with Google).

In Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirkey notes that technology does not create the behavior, rather technology enables a better implementation of an existing behavior.  How do you see that playing out in your classroom and beyond?

You can’t simply throw technology at people and say ‘go’ – you have to teach them to use it properly as well as a digital citizenship aspect.

I teach students from 9-12 grade. I lay down ground rules for behavior online and in the classroom with our tools. I believe that this is an evolutionary process – my younger students are much better at following the rules and listening to input. However, my older students (who have been using these tools for years) live by their own rules and are more resistant to what they see as restrictions.

I believe that educators should not only be saying “Use PowerPoint” or “Make a Video” or “Social Network,” but explain things like digital footprints, Learning Networks, and Digital Citizenship (cyber bullying is pervasive). It will be interesting to see where we are in five years in terms of our online behavior.

You have students create blogs in the classroom.  Has that process been successful in your teaching?

Right now, my student blogs are all set to private, so they do not get a ‘broader’ perspective. However, I have noticed that it gives them opportunities to write, write, write, and write some more – a skill that we all need to develop. They are writing for a public forum, which tends to make them more aware of their words. They also share this information with one another. In some of my classes, this plays out better than others. For example, in my AP Art History Class, my students blog a weekly report on a piece of art. At exam time, they all went back and reviewed one another’s work – so the collaborative aspect is immensely powerful.

What advice do you have to offer anyone interested meshing archaeology, education, and technology as you have done?

It’s all about experimentation – you won’t know if it will work until you try it. Things I thought would be an epic fail – like podcasting – turned out to be an amazing success. Other things that I thought would be amazing – Mind Mapping during lectures – turned out to be an epic fail. However, experiment, experiment, experiment. Also collaborate with your peers – few of my ideas are my own. I learn a lot from others and then implement them as I see fit (perhaps with some modification). Then share your ideas.

You can reach Jennifer via email or subscribe to her blog.

Learning Through Webinars & Podcasts

This week I downloaded a bunch of podcasts from last September’s annual meeting of the American Association of State and Local History.  You can download the podcasts directly from the AASLH web page or through iTunes.  The podcast topics include Web 2.0 Technology and Social Media, Discovering Your Hidden Audience, Creating Diverse Partnerships, and so forth – about 20 in all.  The couple I listened to so far have, in one case been interesting – the Lincoln administration with some interesting comparisons with President Obama – and the other quite helpful in exploring how three different institutions use social media.  The social media podcast illustrates two ways I find this information tool useful.  First, the topical coverage is basic, in this case covering Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and so forth.  Second, the podcasts include case studies that offer insights on how to adapt and apply these tools to my own needs.

Cuts in travel budgets make conference attendance more selective.  To answer this challenge,  more and more organizations reach their membership through inexpensive or free webinars and podcasts of Annual Meetings.  For example, in addition to the AASLH, for the past several years the Society for Applied Anthropology posted selected sessions from their annual meetings as free podcasts.  Will the Society for American Archaeology be not more than just a few years behind this trend?

Free webinars include those sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution such as their Problem Solving With Smithsonian Experts kicking off this week.  The American Association of Museum also offers low-cost webinars, free podcasts, along with free webinars that ultimately end up on YouTube.

All of which raises the obvious – with so much stuff out there, how does one choose?  Here is my take on this point.  Gordon Wiley was considered the last “generalist” in archaeology.  As a discipline, we clearly are quite specialized.  Two decades ago I wrote my MA Thesis on the analysis of flint artifacts from a single site.  I now serve on a committee of a doctoral student who is testing a very specific type of non-destructive spectral technique for fingerprinting flint raw materials.  Specialties are now sub-specialized.  I find that podcasts, webinars, and the like are excellent resources from which I can choose resource information to which I will devote more time.  For example, with social media, podcasts and blogs are very helpful in directing me to specific resources that answer specific questions.

How do these resources answer your research needs?