February 17th readings…

February 17th readings

          I can see now that using the term ‘readings’ was a mistake; more and more our assignment includes visiting websites and listening to podcasts. But I trust you get the drift.

          Continuing along the lines of merging history with the digital medium, this week’s readings had us visit several websites and get a feel for different ways the medium is being used. The ‘History Matters’ is what I would consider to be a resource website designed for history teachers (and students) at the high school and college level, providing ideas and lesson plans, as well as syllabi and even interviews with teachers on the subject. One particular feature that I liked was a review of over one thousand history websites, including JAH reviews of some of them. This is a website that I would consider to be a very valuable tool for new teachers, although veteran teachers could also pull from it.

          ‘Making the History of 1989’ was a narrower topical site, but still provided the tools for lesson plans and in-depth analysis of a pivotal year. Well-documented and easy to navigate, this site ‘felt’ less referency than the ‘History Matters’ site.

          ‘Smart History’ is a gorgeous site that utilizes multimedia to create a digital ‘web-book’ of art history, a site that the creators hope eliminates the need for an expensive textbook. I cannot say enough about the layout, the innovative navigation, and the imagery. Whereas the other sites had a rather formulaic layout, ‘Smart History’ has a design that really makes it stand out.

          As enthusiastic as I am about the ‘Smart History’ site, and I am as equally unenthusiastic about the ‘History Engine’ website. A collaborative effort by instructors and students, the creators’ objective is to allow students to partake in their education by writing little snippets and plugging them into this site, eventually creating a huge mosaic of history. I find it to be more or less a hodge-podge of efforts that give me a headache to navigate. Granted, I may be a little prejudiced because I visited the ‘Smart History’ site first, but I really do not like this site; furthermore, I don’t think I would ever reference anything from it because I can’t judge the academic prowess of the writer. Yes, every article is vetted by a professor, but the site just feels ‘eh.’ It reminds me of those ‘Who’s Who’ compendiums or massive compilations of poetry or short stories that you can be a part of if you pay $75 for your entry and then pay another $75 for a copy of the book (and yes, if you must know, I fell for the spiel in high school and published an entry and bought the book; it currently serves as a support for a broken shelf in a closet). It is not a website that I see myself visiting in the future.       

          The ‘real’ readings dealt with several topics that touched on intelligent website design, arguing that the more accessible and easily navigated a site is, the ease of linkage to primary source material, and the more open-sourced it is, the greater the impact on the user, and the more learning that is achieved. All argue that the traditional educational models are clunky and outmoded, and have been for some time. Hell, even the arguments against the current educational and classroom design are over fifty years old- critics are quoting McLuhan.

          The key in all of this is intelligent design. And collaboration. And open-sourcing. And knowing the purpose of your creation.

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