Saturday, May 9, 2015

Introducing…Niebuhr's Notes!

I was about to start by saying that I completed my final project for my digital history course, but thinking about it, I'm not sure it will ever be done.  I truly hope the site I created will continue to evolve, be added to and become a resource for my future students and colleagues.

I hope you take some time to take a look at Niebuhr's Notes and let me know what you think!

Jessica (a.k.a. Mrs. N.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Unit Fifteen: Tools, Tools and Tools, What Exactly Are tools?

Over the last few weeks I have loved learning about and getting to try a number of different technology tools I could use in my classroom.  For this week’s post I am taking a look at the scheduling tool Doodle.  In order to really learn about it I decided to use it.
A group of friends (5 couples) had been talking about going out for dinner together.  We exchanged a number of emails back and forth but never seemed to be able to settle on a date that worked for all of us.  I decided to give Doodle a try.
It was so simple to set up the event.  Created a name, entered my email and selected the possible dates.  Then I entered my friends email address and within minutes we scheduled a date.  So easy!
I think this tool would be useful for college students, but for academic and social uses.  Coordinating group projects meeting times, study sessions or other event dates.  There are a lot of features available with the Premium Doodle option, but I found the free version to be quick and easy and all I needed.
Another tool I recently used is Brainshark.  It allows you to create online and mobile video presentations.  I used it for another course to turn a PowerPoint slideshow into a video lecture with audio.  It was very easy to use, allowing for pauses in recording (so you don’t have to get it all right in one go).  It’s a big step up from a standard Power Point slideshow and very easy to use.  I think it could be of use to college students as well.

I posted a link to my final project in the last post.  I’ve since added my timeline, but there are still more revisions and additions to make before this weekend!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Unit Fourteen: Big Picture, User Participation Projects and Crowd-Sourcing

Preserving Digital History – When I started the readings for this week, I kept thinking about my family and the photos we take.  I come from a family of big photographers.  Not to suggest we are a particularly talented group, but we do love to take photos.
My father takes photos and has prints made and puts them into albums. I take photos, post a few on Facebook and on Shutterfly and create bound photo books.  My younger cousin takes photos almost exclusively on instagram.  What struck me is that as things are now, as our ages go up, the number of people who view our photos goes down.  Will that always be the case?  Generations from now, will they still have the capability to look at Instagram accounts and Facebook or will the albums or boxes discovered in an attic of my great, great, grandchildren be what people in the future look to when researching the past?  If we are not mindful of how we are saving our digital artifacts we run the risk of them never being seen again.

User Participation and Crowd-Sourcing – Beyond Wikipedia, I was not aware of any “user participation” history sites like the ones we discussed in this class.  I love the idea of being part of bringing history and historic artifacts to thousands of people around the world.  I imaging this could be come a favorite pastime activity!  When searching for a Crowd-Sourcing project website I came across Helping History It’s a work in progress, but has links to tons of sites that you can offer your services to on a variety of topics.

I think there are two huge concerns that need to be addressed: 1) with the ease of saving digital artifacts, do we run the risk of preserving "too much"? and 2) with using crowd-sourced information, do you run the rise of preserving incorrect information.  Without a few more standards and protocols in place, we are in danger of saving so much information or saving the wrong information, that we are unable to use what has been preserved effectively.  

Final Project: Here is a link to my final project.  It is not where I hoped it would be at this point, but I’ve blocked off some serious time to complete it.  I’ve added my DV word cloud project, but have not yet added my timeline.  I feel the section on the Declaration of Independence is pretty solid but I would appreciate any feedback.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Unit Thirteen: Data Visualization

Back in Unit Two I briefly wondered about the amount of information available on the web and how we make sure our students are savvy enough to examine resources carefully and to be sure to know the author, motives, expertise, agenda, etc.  It's one thing to be bale to analyze a resource, but there is another side to the amount of information available - how do we comb through all that is out there and how do we not miss anything?

In our readings this week there was a reference to just how many Google search results come up in a simple search.  I decided to Google my name (Niebuhr isn't the most common name) and see how many results appear and how deep one would have to dig to find this blog.

The results:  "Jessica Niebuhr" resulted in "About 138,000 results (0.41 seconds) and this blog was found on page 6.  Not too bad, I was actually surprised it came up so quickly.

But think about that first number: 138,000 references to "Jessica Niebuhr".  There are quite a few of us "Jessica Niebuhrs" out there so if you were looking for a specific one that will take a while.  In my search I came across information about a volunteer program I ran at my children's school, a product complaint I made on a company's FaceBook page, White Pages and SuperPages listings, home purchases, my position as membership director of our neighborhood pool and a bunch of stuff that just happens to have a "Jessica" and a "Niebuhr" on the same page.  I looked through 30 pages before Google compressed the results.  How long would it take me to get through to the end?  I never came across the VA Department of Education License "look-up" site - something I would consider important identifying information.

This brief exercise got me thinking - 138,000 possible results for me - someone whose name isn't in the paper, no on is writing books about me, I'm not a public figure…with the glut if information out there, how do we possible weed through it all to find the "good stuff"?  And the amount information just keeps growing.

As a researcher, t he idea of even tackling a small topic is completely overwhelming.  How could I get through it all?  What if there was something really good at result 137,999?  I don't know if I would ever get there.  As a digital historian, it drives home the point of insuring appropriate tags and search markers to insure my information is found.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Data Visualization - Word Clouds

My final project is a Unit Plan on the American Revolution.  I wanted to create a data visualization (dv) that would be content area related and easy for my students to understand and use.  I will be including a Word Cloud assignment in my Unit Plan for students to complete, but thought I could create some examples that would provide content information and serve as a guide for their assignment.  I selected the Declaration of Independence and then decided to add the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights as well.  These three documents are known collectively as the Charters of Freedom.  I obtained the text for each from the transcripts available on the National Archives’ Charters of Freedom.

I used Tagxedo to create separate word clouds for each Charter of Freedom and a fourth cloud including text from all of the documents.  I hope that they will serve as a quick, easy to read reference for students to discover important and common themes for the Founding Fathers as they created these documents.

Declaration of Independence Word Cloud

The United States Constitution Word Cloud

The Bill of Rights Word Cloud

The Charters of Freedom Word Cloud

Monday, April 27, 2015

Unit Twelve: Digital Online Archives

This week we looked at a number of online archival projects including an Omega-Based Northern Virginia Digital History Archive.  I posted 5 exterior photos of the local elementary school, Waynewood Elementary School in Fairfax County Public Schools.  I chose the school for a number of reasons (the fact that it is down the street and I'm there daily was certainly a factor) but also because the school will be undergoing extensive renovations, I believe with a starting timeframe of 2015-2016.  I thought it would be interesting to see how the school looked and compare it to the remodeled site.
The process of using the Northern Virginia Digital History Archive was relatively easy.  There is a delay from the time contributions are made until the time the images are posted, understandably, but I would have appreciated the opportunity to review my collection of photos together (to check for consistency  etc.) before posting.  Also, I was only able to add individual photos and not the photos together.  I uploaded them in order of my walk around the building and had planned on adding commentary including some of the proposed changes.  I would have also liked a template or sample entry on the contribution page to ensure I was entering information in a for consistent with the existing items on the site.  SO far it was a simple process.  I'll post an update after/if my photos are accepted and uploaded to the site.

One of my favorite digital archive sites is Forgotten New York, a program of the Greater Astoria Historical Society.  I've never really thought about it objectively - it's strengths and weaknesses, ease of use, etc.  I just loved looking at the photos they have collected over time and had no need to use them.  The site is sometimes slow and isn't always easy to navigate, but the have photos from all over NYC and the Boroughs.  My favorite articles are when they photos old photos next to photos of the same view today.  I've discovered that when looking at current photos (or being there in real-life) I don't always notice the architecture of the buildings, but once I see the current view compared with the older view, those details that make the old building so special really stand out.  Photos are not always available free for public use, as some are sold to help support the costs of the program.  They offer images, books and other items for sale as well as the opportunity to book speakers for your group or organization and tours of selected "forgotten" sites.
My final project is coming along, slower than I would like, but getting there.  The biggest challenge is creating my "digital visualization" project (optional - but I chose it thinking I could work it into my final project).  I am finding it difficult to find reliable information about the American Revolution that could work for a digital visualization and that would be in line with the 6th grade curriculum.  Other than that I have a number of pages that are "works in progress".  My time-line is coming along - looking for photos is my current task on that project - and I my lecture script is coming together, I just need to sit down and record it.  It will be a busy 12 days!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Unit Ten: What is Real and Not Real in the Digital and Real Worlds

When I was three I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for my great uncle.  He apparently thought it was just one of the cutest, most brilliant, most patriotic things he’d ever see because from then on I was showered with “American” themed gifts.  I received American flags, commemorative coin sets, first issue stamps and (my personal favorite) a copy of the Declaration of Independence.  It was one of the ones made to look “real”.  For the longest time I thought it was, and thought how special it was that I got to have my very own copy.  

Eventually I learned it was simply a reproduction, but I remembered how I felt holding it, believing it was real, imagining what life was like when it was first written. Years later, when I began teaching U.S. History, I picked up similar copies of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Gettysburg address, along with reproductions of maps and money for use in my class.  Every time I bring them out my students ask me if they are “real”. I always explain to them the documents they are holding aren’t original, but they are real.  The words were written, those men signed their names to it, and real people lived it.

I can’t bring the original Declaration of Independence to my students, but I can still bring them the real story, meaning, message behind it. Of course there is something to be said for being able to hold a piece of history in your hands - to hold it, smell it, feel its weight - but the truth is most of us will never have that opportunity.  That is why the advances in digital history are so amazing.  Students, scholars, researchers and historians who would never have had the opportunity to travel the world to archeological sites and museums, to hold a copy of the Declaration of Independence or a vase from the Ming Dynasty, can still (admittedly to a lesser degree) experience, study and wonder at these treasures.

Of course it’s not the same thing as witnessing or holding an original, but they are still real experiences with real things.  Every time I travel and read on my Kindle, someone mentions to me how much they love the feel of a “real” book in their hands too much and could never read on a e-reader or tablet.  I love picking up an old, favorite book to read - the smell of the pages, the crinkle of the book jacket, the feel of it in my hands - there is nothing like it…but my love for reading is greater than my love for holding a book.  There are countless stories, lessons, tears, and laughs I would miss if I limited my reading to only books I could physically hold!  I’ll take a slightly “lesser” experience over no experience any day.