Category Archives: Teaching and Learning History in the Digital Age

Digital Pedagogy: Learning From Others

Watching others talk about the projects they have worked on showed me that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but there are a couple similarities that exist among them all. The first is to be specific about what I want the project to do. Nate Sleeter described how he had one idea in mind for the content of his project, but as he did research he had to narrow it down in order for it to be manageable. Jeri Wieringa and Celeste Sharpe, however, wanted their project to teach students how to be better writers. They also had an issue with the scope of the project, both for the students’ understanding as well as their work as students completed the work. Both of these examples show that having the proper mindset about what the project is going to accomplish allows me as the developer to implement the best practices for success.

Another commonality I found was how much the students interact with the sources. A few of the projects seem to be in conjunction with an official course, which allows for more opportunities for dialogue than in an exhibit format. The issue I have in designing exhibits is that there are no assignments, so it is more difficult to gauge how effective the materials are in teaching the content. One of the things I can do is provide visitors with a mixture of types of sources (videos, photos, text) to showcase the different information that exist, and to ask questions about the material. As I design and develop my projects, I can find these types of sources early in the process, which I can then use to plan the scope of the overall content.

Sixth Piece of the Puzzle

For my project I will be focusing on how video games utilize history, folklore, and pop culture within the games. There are a number of genres that lend themselves to this: from Sid Meier’s Civilization series to Call of Duty. My project will highlight some of the ways developers have used history as a means for entertainment. The project I built for the previous course was a brief history of video games in general, and I am debating whether to add a second exhibit within that site or creating a separate instance of Omeka to build this particular project.

Digital Media in Presenting History

Digital media has become such an ingrained part of American culture that historians are now able to utilize it in presenting the past. The prevalence of smart phones and mobile Internet access allow a large part of the population to get immediate answers to their questions. We as historians can play a significant role in how people are looking at the information they find. Teaching how to look at a particular piece of information from a historical perspective can allow people to judge how it plays a part in the story being told.

ThereĀ  is so much information at people’s fingertips through the Web, it becomes necessary to differentiate between historical context and complexities. Using media to compare how different time periods view a particular event. As an example, the American Civil War is one event that has had numerous films produced about it from the earliest use of the medium. A film produced in the mid 20th century is very different from one in the 21st century. Looking critically at the content and presentation in both films can provide insight into not only the Civil War, but also the time is was made.

The role of digital media within history can have a huge impact on how we teaching it. Not only can we find a large source base for research, but new tools allow these sources to coalesce into a coherent narrative of the topic. Educators can provide content in ways that text alone cannot, using visuals like film and photos alongside text to provide a clearer sense of the topic. With access to the Web being readily available, it is easier than ever to walk through how historians find and use sources in their work.

Fifth Piece of the Puzzle

I found a blog post by fellow GMU student Trevor Owens from a few years back about the historical elements within the game Fallout 3. If you do not know what Fallout is, you can find more detailed information here. Owens does a good job of describing Fallout and how there is a way to ‘do’ history within the game’s mythology. I have come across several people talking about how history has seeped into games, and at this point I am considering including this aspect of gaming into my project. To be honest, I am currently having trouble finding specific examples for comparing board games and their electronic counterparts. I may simply have not found the right keywords to search, but since I have found sources such as this one I am considering changing my idea to include of them within the project.

Fourth Piece of the Puzzle

While my project at this point focuses on comparing board games with electronic versions of those games, the games have crossed into other media as well. Below is a clip from the 1985 film Clue. The film is a comedy based on the game of the same name, and shows how the entertainment industry looks to things that are already familiar to the public. The same is true for the video game industry, which is filled with sequel, remastered editions, and games centering on characters from previous consoles.

Film in History

Paul B. Weinstein’s class assignment about having his students review films as part of his history course is a brilliant idea. One of my own undergraduate professors did a similar exercise, and it does help students to question what they see in these types of films. It allows them to start thinking about topics historically, and how they are also a product of the time period it was made just as much as the material being described.

Since I design for exhibits rather than a classroom, my approach to using film has to be slightly different. People going through an exhibit do not have the time to sit and watch a 2 hour movie, so I will need to select specific scenes from the movie to play on monitors. Copyright issues are also an issue with a public exhibit, further complicating which films I could use, so selecting the right film to use is critical. I would play the clips alongside key questions about them. The rest of the exhibit will need to fill in the gaps that are cut from the overall film, but the goal of the clips is to show how the topics in the film have been discussed at different times.


Second Piece of the Puzzle

After discussing my idea with Dr. Kelly, I have decided to expand my project into some of the precursors for video games. The direct predecessor was pinball, in that the games were the first widely successful coin-operated games, and the pinball arcades were the first place video games were widely used. My main concern in choosing pinball games as a subject is that they are currently nowhere near as popular as video games, so making the project relevant to more people would be difficult.

My other thought is to see if there is any research into card and board games that have an electronic version that is popular. The best example I have of this is with gambling – video poker – but I want to focus on games that are played for fun rather than money. I have played a version of Scrabble through Facebook, so I know they exist. My main issue is whether I should focus on this transition as the project, or the earlier physical games and use the electronic version as the ‘why is this important today’ part. Once I figure this part out, I can then decide on how I would teach the topic.

History of History Teaching


There are a few elements that have remained constant in the teaching of history stemming from the late 19th century. The most established is that of ‘Historical Thinking,’ where the act of doing history is more than reciting a list of facts and dates, it is the telling the story of what happened. One of the issues with teaching this concept is that teachers of history already know how to do this, and struggle with showing all the bits and pieces that go into creating the story (the types of sources, where to find them, creating the story from the pieces, etc.).

The main thing that has changed over the last century is access to sources and information. The World Wide Web has allowed information to come out of the back rooms of libraries and museums and into people’s homes and office. The act of finding a primary source has become infinitely easier, and historians are now able to use those sources in brand new ways. The creation of online exhibits, using 3D printers to make replicas of historical objects, creating videos and uploading them to YouTube, the list continues to grow. These types of activities provide opportunities for teachers of history to break out of the mold of simply reciting facts, and to have history become an active part of the learners’ experience.



First Piece of the Puzzle

My project for the last course centered around a brief history of video games paired with a forum for people to share their experiences. For this course I would like to delve into the history aspect of that project. The main difference is that the previous project was a superficial look into the past highlighting the major developers and games, whereas now I want to ask why arcades and home gaming has become such a huge industry. The nature of this type of research is not solely a historical one, in that it also involves some sociological research and is a modern subject that is still evolving, but the roots of this industry goes back into the 1950s.

My main problem in teaching this to students is that the subject is only really interesting to those who are a part of the video games circle, and making this history relevant to those outside the gaming community will be difficult. It is also relatively unknown to them as well. One of the things I can highlight within the project is that modern games and companies are branching out, most notably Blizzard making a Warcraft film based on its MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game.