Manifesting Active Learning

Last week, Dr. Jason Farman from the University of Maryland shared his “Manifesto for Active Learning” on ProfHacker and I offered a few additions.

As Assistant Professor of American Studies and Distinguished Faculty Fellow at the University of Maryland, College Park, Farman shared the ways in which he approaches teaching groups of students from diverse backgrounds – with an equally varied set of interests and goals.

Farman’s manifesto suggests learning should include

  • multi-modal experiences: lectures, discussion, online, IRL, visual, reading, and doing (!)
  • awareness of and making space for learning styles and personality types in the classroom
  • thinking holistically about the environments in which students live … OR the contexts that inform their opinions, behaviors, and integration of knowledge
  • and how they can flexibly apply what they’re learning in the classroom to everyday and work experiences
  • integrating and encouraging use of technology – in keeping with the ways students ALREADY engage with ideas and peers in digital spaces; welcoming unfolding discussions
  • acknowledging and celebrating effort and growth in perspective, rather than merely “grade” performances

Below are the pieces I would add to the manifesto, which I shared in the comments section. I believe active learning also includes:

  • allowing and working through conflict
  • tracking and assessing change and progression of thought, skills, and data analysis
  • integrating moments of vulnerability into learning

I wrote:

Excellent snapshot of the confluence of technology, communication, and learning styles in contemporary classrooms! My additions to the manifesto are conflict, iteration to assess change/learning, and vulnerability for an engaged learning experience.

My best courses* have featured a combination of lectures, discussions, and
tutorials/practicals – but individual classes in which I could flesh out, then moderate opposing perspectives (disagreements) have been most productive. Working through conflict allowed us to highlight some of the key points and cultural values we’ve attached to the topics; we can problematize these perspectives as a group, as well, meaning we can unpack them in detail. I also used mid-class flash debates or polling to allow students to hash out their views as they are integrating theory.

I often think of our classroom experiences as akin to ritual (we come together regularly, we perform certain tasks, we confront myths and beliefs, we emerge “changed”). We can couple that collective experience with the individual processes of change in perspectives that may occur over a term. Tracking particular perspectives offered moments of best engagement: one reason I love teaching introductory Anthropology and Sociology courses and seeing critical lenses calibrated in discussion! I’ve used documenting opinions early in a course and then re-evaluating them at the middle and end to see whether and where our thinking as a group and individuals has moved. Bringing a similar approach with more rapid intervals could actively demonstrate engagement with course
content and open opportunities to wider applications (i.e. capturing lessons from media discourse, history, sport, entertainment, etc), as well.

Finally, I’ve seen vulnerability (though hard to quantify!) impact planned lessons and the import of class experiences in many ways. The students willing to offer a “less than right” opinion or admit they may not have considered their perspective fully often triggered nuanced discussion. Vulnerability seems to offer chances to capture powerful learning moments and discover gaps in knowledge through discussion, often something I need to address as a teacher-researcher (and lifelong student!), and interrogate my own existing views. Thanks for sharing your manifesto!

*”best” based on regular attendance, student evaluations, and student performance

Do you have any experiences or opinions about active learning – either as a lecturer and teacher or as a student? Let me know in the comments or join in the discussion at ProfHacker – and get more “tips about teaching, technology, and productivity” while exploring the challenges of working in contemporary academic environments. Discover more of Farman’s work at his website – including his syllabi – or @farman on Twitter.

Historically Speaking: Transcription, Collaboration, & Crowdsourcing

Last week, Forbes’ contributor Nathan Raab wrote about transcription, collaboration, and crowdsourcing for his Historically Speaking blog. I’m quoted in the piece that focuses on the ways institutions like the Smithsonian and the National Archives are “using technology to engage the public in the discovery and preservation of its own history.”

Nathan interviewed me about my role in the development of narrative strategies and understanding engagement with the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers Transcription Center. In our discussion, I highlighted

  • the potential for collaboration between institutions serving as stewards for history and culture,
  • the ways in which we are actively making knowledge more easily accessible and available for (re)use, and
  • the fantastic stories emerging around the collections, as well as the motivations transcription participants are sharing with us

Here’s my part of the discussion from the blog post:

“Technology is opening doors for people to learn and explore and create an understanding of the world around them.” said Dr. Meghan Ferriter, who consulted on the project at the Smithsonian.  “There are a lot of people doing related and overlapping projects, but nobody’s connected all of the pieces yet.”

You can already see the ball rolling.  Ferriter notes that many organizations have to start work from scratch, but the Smithsonian is working on changing that.  She tells me, “In my role as Research Associate, I am in essence creating a series of recommendations that can be used here at the Smithsonian and elsewhere.  This is… something of a strategic plan. We are aiming to share best practices around the world.”

Click through to the full article to learn more about the landscape of crowdsourced participation in transcription – that is, “Americans taking part in the discovery and preservation of American history.”

Summarizing Outcomes: Expeditions & Explorers Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

This post summarizes the outcomes and experience of the June 21 Expeditions & Explorers Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, co-hosted by Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) and National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) for Field Book Project materials.

We believe the event helped to advance freely available knowledge by harnessing the power of the GLAM-wiki relationship. As a reminder, GLAM stands for Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums and the cultural heritage collections that they steward. The advancing elements of the Expeditions & Explorers event were:

  • catalyzing diffusion of knowledge through article creation,
  • interlinking of existing articles, subjects, and categories,
  • sharing and highlighting the accessibility of GLAM resources, including finding aids and digitized texts and images
  • uploading Smithsonian Institution collections images to Wikimedia Commons

These tasks serve to improve Wikimedia projects, Wikipedia, as well as GLAM-Wikipedia relationships in several ways.

First, it offered participants a dynamic experience for experienced and inexperienced editors and civilian and museum professionals to bring a variety of skills and knowledge bases to play in unlocking the power of the crowd.

Secondly, the event activities were focused on learning, playing, and working with cultural heritage and scientific materials. This included an exclusive special collections tour and curated discussion and exposure to electronically available resources which allowed participants to understand the diversity of and relationships between Smithsonian Institution collections.

Finally, participants shared their experiences with others through social media; highlighting the ways in which they were having fun, while working on and exploring Wikipedia and the new transcription center. This can only encourage other to participate in future events.

Event Goals
The event was a success in relation to all of the stated goals. Here are several examples of specific ways in which the five goals were achieved:

1. “To encourage inexperienced editors and show them how they can contribute to Wikipedia” 

Event participants included five new, inexperienced editors. Our event focused on showing them how they can contribute to Wikipedia

  • through an editing tutorial
  • helping them establish a Wikipedia user account
  • providing best practice tips
  • encouraging open discussion of how, when, and why to perform certain tasks on Wikipedia – as with this slide from the best practice tips



2. “To improve a selection of Wikipedia articles related to scientists and expeditions”

  • We identified five existing articles about scientists and expeditions and asked participants to improve these articles.
  • We also identified four expeditions and scientists who were not represented on Wikipedia and asked participants to help make articles for them.
  • This resulted in expansion of seven existing articles and creation of four new articles, as well as wikilinking between existing and new articles, for a more robust web of knowledge

Updated Articles:

  1. Theodore Roosevelt
  2. A. S. Hitchcock
  3. Mary Agnes Chase
  4. Edward Palmer (botanist)
  5. Edgar Alexander Mearns
  6. United States and Mexican Boundary Survey
  7. Edmund Heller

Newly created Articles

  1. John Alden Loring
  2. James Eike
  3. Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition
  4. Cleofé Caldéron

3. “To make Smithsonian-held materials more openly linked”

  • Within our Expeditions & Explorers to-do list, we provided Smithsonian Institution resources and electronic records
  • We linked at least 15 Smithsonian Institution materials within and to at least nine articles.

4. “To test a new transcribing tool to make our field books more findable and useful”

We invited participants to test the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers Transcription Center and also gathered feedback and discussed the tool with participants

5. “To increase awareness of the research resources freely available through libraries, archives, and museums”

  • We believe we achieved this goal not only through the pre-event work in providing resources for articles and the during-event work of editing from specific GLAM resources,
  • But also by tweeting about and sharing progress on our event goals during and after the event, with further reports to follow

See posts by my fellow edit-a-thon facilitators Carolyn Sheffield and Effie Kapsalis for perspectives and observations on the edit-a-thon; the Field Book Project blog and the SIA Bigger Picture blog, respectively. The next steps for my analysis include moving through the work to explore the collaborative production of knowledge occurring around these materials – then developing the next Wikipedia edit-a-thon event.

Remember, you can always participate in Wikipedia edit-a-thons remotely – many events are happening daily and “anyone can edit,” so please join in and help build knowledge where you can.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons (public domain, held with SIA)

Smithsonian Institution Transcription Center in Beta

We launched the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers Transcription Center Friday 21 June as a collaborative, crowdsourced process that aims to bring digitized collections out from archives and museums. We are inviting our SERIOUSLY AMAZING audiences to help us unlock their stories by transcribing and reviewing their contents – to make them more accessible, searchable, and open.

This is another outstanding opportunity to make webs of knowledge and learn about the connections between collections. Please jump in and help where you can!

**UPDATE** (14 October): The Transcription Center is fully back in business with new features to launch shortly – while many projects have been moved to completion, there are still plenty of pages to transcribe and review. Join the community of digital volunteers!

Findings in Ft. Huachuca Valley
Leonhard Stejneger details the findings of a biological survey in the San Francisco mountain region in 1889.

My role has involved advising on use for communities of practice, understanding crowdsourcing capabilities, and developing coherent narratives for the pieces – rather than technical development – but I welcome feedback on usability, design, and any other “would be nice.”

Feel free to transcribe and offer feedback if you have thoughts to share! The service is still in beta and we are constantly integrating what we learn from users. Thanks for allowing me to share this successful first step in our transcription process – more to follow…

Editors Unite: Expeditions & Explorers

On Friday, I was pleased to co-host Expeditions & Explorers – a Wikipedia edit-a-thon bringing new and experienced editors together with focus on materials from the Field Book Project.

Below are the slides I used to introduce a few of our participants to editing on Wikipedia.  Rather than a pure “How-to,” the slides reflect “How to think, plan, and execute your edits.” I welcome feedback and suggestions – send me your best practice tips for editing on Wikipedia!

This Wikipedia edit-a-thon was a smashing success! We created four new articles, fleshed out existing articles, introduced new people to the Wikipedia project, exchanged a lot of best practice tips and resources. We also had an amazing lunch, courtesy of grant money from Wikimedia DC (thank you!). I hope the participants enjoyed themselves, developed skills, and learned more about the scientists and expeditions. A more detailed review of our work is in the works, so watch this space…

The Field Book Project is a joint Smithsonian Institution Archives and National Museum of Natural History initiative that is focused on preserving and digitizing field notes from scientists and researchers. The overall mission of the initiative is “to create one online location for scholars and others to visit when searching for field books and other field research materials.” Also find more information from Smithsonian Institution Archives.