Monthly Archives: March 2006


Today is one of four days of graduation ceremonies this semester at my university. As a predominantly distance-education university, some of our students are rarely, if ever, on campus, and many travel long distances to be present for the graduation ceremony.

Graduands and their families are milling around, taking photographs, celebrating a milestone. As most of our students are distance students, they are also mature students, so there are small children, elderly parents, and all ages in between here for the day.

I love graduation days. I'm not involved in the proceedings, but there's a wonderful buzz and energy around the place. And as I look at the graduands, resplendent in their caps and gowns, many of whom have studied part-time over years, juggling jobs and families and life, their commitment to their own education keeping them going, I think, 'YES! This is worth celebrating!'


Some Middle English fun

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog

A medieval scholar has fun with a blog… Read Geoffrey's advice column, follow the progress of the 'flayme werre' between him and John Gowere, and generally have a hoot! (You can even buy the t-shirts.)

Fyghten togeder we dide, this valet and ich, in Rethel-toune whanne the Frensshe layde waste to yt to letten the Prince Noir from crossinge, and in the melee we were scatterede from the hoste, and we two dide runne like eye makeupe on a televangelistes wyf.

(Not, I should warn, for those lacking a sense of humour.)

Women in World History – online resource

I cam across the blog Edwired today – 'a weblog devoted to the teaching and learning of history online.'

There's a lot of interesting material there – it's definitely worth a look! The blog is written by staff at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

One of their projects (amongst many fascinating ones) is the Women in World History site. This site is:

an online curriculum resource center to help high school and college world history teachers and students find and analyze online primary sources on women in world history. Materials will encourage teachers to integrate recent scholarship and will give students a more sophisticated framework for understanding global women’s history.

The site includes 15 different modules:

For each module, there is:

  • an introduction;
  • a collection of primary sources (usually around 8-12 documents);
  • teaching strategies;
  • information about analyzing the material;
  • a lesson plan (aimed for high school level);
  • a document-based question (suitable for university level);
  • a bibliography;
  • information about the authors;and
  • links to printable versions of the introductory and primary source materials.

The site also contains discussions by scholars about how they use primary evidence (presented in audio files with flash images), and case studies of how academics have used the primary source material from the site in their teaching strategies.


A colleague and I were discussing interactivity yesterday, and noting the very different ways in which learning processes are described as ‘interactive’.

For some people, the notion/experience of ‘interactive’ is more related to ‘interactive multimedia’, for example as it has been produced on CDs over the past two decades or so – i.e., there is a learning object of some type that students can click links on to access additional text, audio, or visual components. There may even be self-test quizzes, or other similar exercises.

In my view, that type of ‘interaction’ is a limited one: it is a basic level of interaction between the student and the learning object, which may or may not (depending upon individual learning styles and the quality of the design of the object) impact on the ways in which the student interacts with – learns, comprehends, understands – the content.

Well-designed interactive learning objects such as these can and do have some value, but they are only a part of an overall teaching strategy.

Interaction in learning can, and should, be so much more than the point and click of traditional ‘interactive’ media. Effective learning occurs when students are actively interacting and engaging with the ideas – exploring, questioning, discussing, teasing apart, thinking through, analysing, critiquing, debating, problem solving, applying, redefining – and this happens most effectively when students are interacting with each other and with the teaching staff involved.

These are human interactions, and while technology can enable these interactions by collapsing distance and time, and enables access to content in a number of different forms, the technology itself neither learns nor teaches.

It is our teaching strategies – the ways in which we ask our students to explore the content and the ideas, and, increasingly, the structure and design of our assessment tasks – that provide a framework for interactive learning.

Online examples

Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative provides free access to a number of online courses, including courses in logic, economics, French, and statistics. The basic courses are open access – instructors from other institutions can also register for access to additional tools and can use these programs in their own teaching.

I had a quick look at the logic course – the presentation of the content material is good, with basic but effective use of applets and short audio/image segements. And while online teaching is much more than presentation of the content, I’m assuming that the additional components that instructors can access include interaction and collaboration tools and strategies. I’ve registered for instructor access so look forward to finding out more.

In the meantime, for those new to how online content presentation can look, it’s worth a visit to the site.

Using the Old Bailey Online database

Given the huge amount of information available online now, I’m interested in ways in which teachers can use existing databases and resources within their teaching.

There’s an interesting post over at Ancarett’s Abode about how she uses the Old Bailey Online database in her teaching.
The Old Bailey Online site is ‘A fully searchable online edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing accounts of over 100,000 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court.’

Ancarett writes:

For the vital aspect of the website for my teaching application is not so much the materials of each individual account or the excellent bibliography, it’s the chance to let new scholars play in a historical database akin to a virtual sandbox. The function of generating reports in tables, bar charts or pie charts allows my students to try out all sorts of interpretive questions on for size: are women more likely to get off charges of murder than men? Are young people accused more often of property crimes or older people? Do violent crime outbreaks correlate to peacetime with the release of soldiers and sailors? The database is an engrossing tool that seems to suggest more avenues of enquiry the longer you tinker with it.

She further goes on to discuss how this activity is used within the limits of the program, and how she related the task of generate and analyzing two statistical searches from the Old Bailey Online database to the rest of the course and the required readings.

I firmly believe that activities using resources such as these enable students to actively engage in the discipline, rather than being observers. In the case of history, it enables history students to become historians. Which is a far more interesting approach, and a more in depth learning process, than many traditional learning tasks.