Academic Proposals, Presentations, Research

SHEAR 2013 Paper, “Spaces of Reform: Transatlantic Quakerism, the ‘Insane,’ and Publicizing Humanitarian Advocacy”

Society for Historians of the Early American Republic banner, courtesy

Take a cue from Mark Cheathem (who I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to meet while in St. Louis, but who posted his paper in advance of the conference), I thought I’d post the paper that I presented during the Sunday Morning session entitled, “Illness and the Institution: The Relationship between Health and Reform Asylums.”

(Have a look at the entire program, which had a number of terrific sessions that I really enjoyed and from which I learned a lot).

Now, I wasn’t as expeditious as Mark was at getting my paper out to the world in advance of its grand unveiling bright and early Sunday morning, which I’ll attribute to a case of “last-minute-fine-tuning/revision-itis” – a really nasty scourge. In any event, I really enjoyed getting the chance to share my research in this type of venue and get good feedback and questions from the audience. Moreover, the mix of senior scholars and graduate students at the conference was really nice and I was great to talk with and get feedback from experts in my topic about potential sources, further questions to consider, and directions to take.

Kathryn Tomasek of Wheaton College live-tweeted our session and I was interesting to go back and see her take on my paper and major points. She also had a number of good follow-up questions and suggestions for me after our session, which I greatly appreciated. (P.S. Sorry I wasn’t able to embed the image of her tweets directly into this post; unfortunately, I was foiled by the technical sophistication of Storify, which has a pretty cool interface, but doesn’t play nice with WordPress shortcodes. Sigh.)

Thanks again to Jamalin Harp for putting our session together, to James Watkinson for presiding, and John Murray for commenting and providing such useful synthesis and critiques.

Academic Proposals, Historical Thinking, Research

Churning out new assignments!: “Introduction to Historical Research and Presentations”

There are two major exciting things about this post. Firstly, I’ve actually written something new! In order to accomplish this lofty goal, I thought I’d return to my approach of sharing new assignments that I’ve developed. Secondly, I figured out how to embed a Google Doc in WordPress! Hopefully this embedded document will show up for everyone whether viewing it on or through an RSS Reader.

This most recent assignment, which I’m discussing with my students tomorrow, has the ever-so-pithy title of “Introductory Historical Research and Presentation Assignment: Rome and the Middle Ages.” This assignment shares some commonalities with others I’ve posted before, most notably my “Crap Detection” assignment, as it aims to get students thinking critically about their sources and evaluating the authorship to understand how that aspect inherently shapes the nature of the content.

However, this assignment’s emphases are slightly different as I’m hoping that it will help students to explore research databases, begin to understand and use Chicago Style citations and bibliographies, and gain an understanding of historiography and how historians can approach the exact same topic from a variety of perspectives. Moreover, I hope that by giving students freedom to choose their topics within the broader time period of Rome and the Middle Ages that they’ll have a greater investment in their topics, which will make researching and presenting on them more compelling.

So, let’s see if the second exciting element of this post works. Below, you should see the embedded Google Doc of the assignment.


Any suggestions or thoughts on how I could revise or add to this assignment to better emphasize the skills I’m working to have my students develop? I haven’t yet made photocopies, so I can certainly incorporate any expedited feedback! (However, I probably will have made the copied by the time you read this, so if you have suggestions along this line I’ll gladly take them nevertheless and incorporate them for the future).

Academic Proposals, Presentations, Research, Technology

THATCamp returns to Texas!

Transport plane takes off on test flight, Cons...

An image suggested by the auto-recommend image feature on, which is coincidentally a mode of transportation that I will not be taking to Houston, TX, if I am selected to participate in THATCamp Texas in mid-April. Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

So, once again, this space finds itself neglected while all manner of other developments take place. However, for at least this evening, I’ve found some material that I wrote already that I thought I’d re-post here and kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.

Back in the summer of 2009 I attended my first THATCamp meeting, which was held in Austin, TX. This meeting was the first THATCamp that took place away from the George Mason University campus. It was a really great event and I got to connect and talk with a lot of smart, creative, and thoughtful people — in fact some of the connections I forged there have been important sounding boards and resource providers via my Twitter PLN in the intervening time. If you’re interested in any of that ancient history, I posted a wrap-up of the session back in 2009.

All that long-winded background serves as a segue to mention that THATCamp is returning to Texas in April 2011, and will be meeting in Houston in the middle of that month. I found out about this via the History Department at UT-Arlington, so I thought I’d go ahead and attempt to make a return trip given the relative proximity and the need to remember how relatively pleasant Fort Worth’s climate is, which a visit to Houston will always do.

Below, for your collective edification, (and this is where the borrowed content comes in), I’ve posted two of the responses I wrote in my application to the conference. I’m hoping to get good news come mid-March!

I work full-time as an upper school history teacher (teaching World History and U.S. History this year) at an independent school in Fort Worth, TX. Additionally, I’m in my penultimate semester of coursework as a PhD student in transatlantic history at the University of Texas at Arlington. In both my professional teaching capacity and in my work as a graduate student, I have a great interest in incorporating technology to help further research, organization, and analysis. For my own research, tools like Zotero and Filemaker Pro have been vital in helping me cull and synthesize my research, and I’ve sought to help students experience that same phenomenon in their own work. Moreover, I believe that the range of digital tools available (many great ones that are free) can help students engage in the critical intellectual activity of reorganizing information in meaningful ways. The other exciting thing about incorporating technology into the study of humanities is that I’m constantly discovering new tools and pushing myself to be a better student, teacher, and thinker.

I attended the Austin THATCamp meeting in August 2009, which I found really valuable for the networking and exchange of ideas that came out of that evening. I was excited to see that THATCamp is once again back in Texas and I find the unconference format really engaging and more profitable than the more traditional sit-and-get formats.

This year, my hope is to connect with other educators and discuss the challenges of getting students to engage in technology in a risk-taking and creative manner. I’ve noticed more and more over the past few years that there’s a large disconnect between the popular cultural discourse of “millenials” and their tech-savviness, and the reality of how many students are fairly tech-phobic when it comes to new programs, resources, or unfamiliar platforms. I’d like to discuss what pedagogical approaches, assignment structures, particular resources, or other strategies people have for getting students to become more willing to embrace risk and willingly challenge themselves to learn and master resources with which they are unfamiliar. Moreover, I think it’d be interesting, given the likely academia-heavy audience, to learn what colleges and universities expect of entering students in terms of tech-knowledge. Gaining a sense of these expectations I hope will allow the conversation to address the issue of how secondary school teachers (and secondary schools more generally) can help students become more confident and resourceful in navigating and employing the ever-changing landscape of technology.

On a final note, one of the things I liked most about the application/registration form is that it lacks the intimidating formality of many other conference and workshop proposals. While I understand that the decentralization of the un-conference format makes this much easier, I nevertheless think that making the barrier to participation less threatening can do nothing but encourage more people to attend, who will presumably share more ideas, thereby benefiting the conference as a whole.

Also, I really liked the snarky prompts. If more applications could have vaguely snarky prompts, the world would also be a better place.

Academic Proposals, Social Media, teaching, Technology

ISTE Follow-up and MixedInk Session Recap

I returned from Denver last week having had a whirlwind two days at the ISTE Conference in the enormous Denver Convention Center. Although I didn’t catch the major keynote addresses in person or manage avoid all downtime by jam-packing each of my days with sessions from morning until night, I did have a good time meeting with people whom I’d only corresponded with via Twitter before and swapping ideas in person using more than 140 characters for most of our exchanges. I also saw a few presentations, notably Howard Rheingold‘s talk on “Crap Detection,” that I particularly enjoyed and helped me cement some of my ideas about the importance of emphasizing critical thinking, research, and evaluation skills in my own teaching — something about which I hope to post in the near future.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the session that David Stern and I put on about how MixedInk can be used in the classroom (for the official program description, see this link). While I’d done a small poster presentation at UT-Arlington last fall, the ISTE Conference was undoubtedly the largest venue at which I’d presented — a fact about which I was both a bit nervous, but also very excited. However, once the session got underway, I quickly realized that presenting at a conference was very much like my everyday job — teaching about new concepts, methods, and content. David and I were fortunate to have a receptive, attentive, and eagerly participatory audience who engaged with our question and posted good responses to our prompt about the value of technology in the classroom. This group asked good questions and offered interesting suggestions about how to use MixedInk — a few of which I’d never considered before, which made it particularly nice to get to learn something from the participants.

So, I’m now able to add a few ideas to my list of uses for MixedInk in the classroom based on the suggestions that attendees. A few of the most interesting were that MixedInk could be used within a school setting, but beyond the classroom to get feedback from the student body about suggested school policies or classroom rules. This use shares much in common with the original vision for MixedInk, which was established as a tool for public political participation. Therefore, this suggestion essentially uses that framework and applies it within a school setting. While time and access to the website would likely be the challenges to successfully establishing, for instance, a public forum developed to draft a suggested off-campus policy, I nevertheless can see MixedInk working well within this context to help students feel connected to the rules which affect them on a day-in, day-out basis.

Another idea was that MixedInk could be used as an individualized, yet collaborative tool for note-taking. As I read this suggestion, MixedInk would serve as the centralized place for all students to take and then post their class notes. Once this step was done, each MixedInk project would serve as a collective repository for other students to consult to see whether they gleaned the key ideas from the day’s lesson or missed something vital. While I like this idea, and think that there’s a lot of good potential and pedagogical value with crowdsourced notes (a la Brian Croxall), I’m not sure that this use fully takes advantage of MixedInk’s remixing functionality. Perhaps if the notes were over an in-class debate, or the assignment was to watch a debate and then synthesize a response about which side was more convincing and why, this approach would have more applicability, but I think the assignment, and its end product would have to be carefully considered to make using MixedInk valuable in this context.

Additionally, we also got some nice feedback (presented in reverse chronological order) in the midst of our presentation via the Twitter backchannel:

So, all-in-all, it was a successful outing with a great audience that provided some thought-provoking suggestions about MixedInk’s use that I hadn’t considered. The experience also made me excited about the potential for presenting in the future, so I’m in the midst of browsing around online checking out various Calls for Presentations. If anyone has suggestions about good conferences that are similar to (but undoubtedly smaller than) ISTE, I’d love to hear about your experiences there and which ones were good places to present and/or hear interesting presentations. Thanks again to David Stern for presenting with me, and to Vanessa Scanfeld, MixedInk co-founder, for getting me involved in this proposal initially.

For reference’s sake, I’ve included here the PPT presentation we used, as well as a few documents that MixedInk has produced about how their website can be used in the classroom.

Academic Proposals, Social Media, Writing

ISTE MixedInk Session: And the topic is…

Well, the day is finally upon us. Dave Stern and I will be presenting on using MixedInk in the classroom at a Bring Your Own Laptop session at 1:30 Mountain Time today.

After the Google Form poll that I conducted asking participants to vote for what topic they’d like to write on, we had a majority for something dealing with “The Value of Technology in the Classroom.” So, as I’ve done many-a-time before, I wrote an essay question that we’ll share with the participants this afternoon. However, if anyone attending wants to get a head start on brainstorming, or if anyone not in attendance is desperately curious to know what I came up with (and how could you not be?), I thought I post the question here.

To what extent do you agree with Georgetown University professor David Cole’s characterization of the effects of technology in the classroom?

“I’ve barred students from using laptops in my classes for two years now, and it has manifestly improved student participation and the level of engagement and discussion. And no wonder — allowing students access to the Internet is like putting several magazines, a telephone and a television monitor at each students’ seat and inviting him or her to tune out and browse, talk or watch TV anytime their mind starts to wander. It is corrosive of an engaged classroom.”

Don’t worry — it’s not graded and no additional research is required. If you’re following my Twitter stream, or that of MixedInk, we’ll get out the link for the project this afternoon so those of you not at ISTE can feel free to jump in and contribute to our project remotely. We’ll look forward to hearing from you!

Academic Proposals, Technology

ISTE Arrival and Acronym Overload

Finally the day is nearly upon me. Months after having submitted a “Bring Your Own Laptop” proposal and learning of our acceptance, I’ve finally arrived at the Denver Convention Center and will be presenting on MixedInk in the classroom with MixedInk co-founder David Stern on Wednesday afternoon. I’m excited about the presentation (and the fact that we’ve got 125 people registered to attend!), and also having the chance to get a sense for the conference and its rhythm by attending a variety of sessions tomorrow.

Because I arrived relatively late after an extended odyssey on Denver’s public transit from the airport to the convention center, the activities for the day seem to be winding down, so I don’t think I’m getting a great sense of the level of activity and intensity that’s likely to prevail during the big sessions and keynotes. I’m a bit daunted by having to work my way through the astoundingly thick program guide and having to make decisions about what to attend, which is one of my tasks for the evening.

However, I’m also excited about having some networking opportunities and getting the chance to meet and hear from people who’ve I’ve followed on Twitter and on blogs during the past eighteen months or so. Already I got the chance to make a face-to-face contact with Russ Goerend, a teacher from Iowa who I’ve followed and corresponded with online during this past year. In fact, Russ even wrote a blog post on my behalf during this past year. Tomorrow will hopefully continue to be productive both in terms of attending sessions and in terms of meeting people who I’ve only known through their writings — both the extended and the 140 character varieties.

So, now I’ve got to head off and hunt down food, my far-flung hotel room, and work on putting the finishing touches on our presentation by refining my thoughts and experiences on MixedInk. David, my co-presenter and I, decided to put the topic for the hands-on portion of our presentation to a vote (via Google Forms), and it looks like we’ll be writing on something about the value of technology in the classroom — surprising, right?

Here are the results for the statistically-inclined:

Oh, and one final note on the other part of this blog’s title: Acronyms…they’re everywhere here. I’ll try to create some type of photo essay illustrating their prevalence, but in the meantime you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Academic Proposals, Technology

“Congratulation, and welcome the 2010 ISTE Conference…”

I’m not sure I ever mentioned this on my blog (probably as a way to prevent any intellectual espionage from taking place thereby dooming our chances at acceptance), but Vanessa Scanfeld, the co-founder of MixedInk, and I submitted a proposal for the 2010 ISTE Conference about using MixedInk in the classroom. After a few months of waiting for the various proposals to be reviewed, I learned earlier this month that our session, which is in the “Bring Your Own Laptop” division, was accepted and that our session is tentatively scheduled for June 30. This came as exciting news that was also opportunely timed to coincide with the start of college acceptance season, so I too was able to enjoy the thrills of being able to put on my new ISTE sweatshirt and brag about how only 29% of applicants in the BYOL division were accepted. How élite!

In any event, I’m quite looking forward to participating in the conference, though this will undoubtedly be the largest event of this type that I’ve attended and certainly my larger than my previous foray into conference presentation at the UTA Active Learning Conference.

Here’s our presentation proposal/description:

This hands-on workshop will provide attendees with the opportunity to experience what it is like to be a student engaged in a collaborative writing assignment. Participants will work together to (1) write short submissions, (2) remix language and ideas to create new, improved versions, and (3) rate to help determine the group’s best piece.

MixedInk’s collaborative writing platform has been used by the White House, Congressional offices, news agencies, and others to enable public participation. This session will demonstrate how the same process applied in the classroom yields a relevant, interactive learning experience that advances 21st century literacies.The session will include a brief introduction to MixedInk’s software and a hands-on collaborative writing segment. The session will conclude with a conversation distinguishing MixedInk from other collaboration tools, exploring various classroom applications, and discussing implementation.We explore how the structured process of writing, remixing, and rating encourages students to take creative risks, provides unique exposure to a range of peers’ perspectives and writing styles, requires critical analysis and evaluation, provides an opportunity for teamwork, offers a venue for constructive criticism, and teaches the complex task of recognizing and synthesizing compelling concepts.

As a result of the session, participants will understand:

* how MixedInk’s software can be used to engage students in writing and improve student learning across subject areas

* how MixedInk’s process differs from other collaborative writing opportunities in the classroom.

* effective techniques for structuring a collaborative writing project

* how to launch a collaborative writing project and guide students through the process

* ways to evaluate student performance in a collaborative setting
* potential outcomes of implementing this process in the classroom

In my next post I’ll have a follow-up about what I’ve done with MixedInk in the classroom recently and some additional things I’ve learned about how its implementation is made more effective and compelling. Until then!