Thirty-one years ago, when I first began my teaching career, I often wondered what information students were remembering from my classes. I worried that my students might not ever love history as much as I did. In fact, I quickly realized that the entire class would never develop a passion for the study of history, but I was convinced that many of them would enjoy it, even later on in life as adults. After thirty-one years of teaching at the secondary and university levels, I have lived long enough to have encountered many of my former students in their adulthood and I have been pleased to observe that many of them have retained the inquisitive nature of their youths while continuing to explore the past.
The question for me today is how I can continue to engage students and encourage a lifelong love of history in the digital age. In many ways my task has become easier than ever before. Students come to my general-education history classes at Arkansas State University with iPads in hand and an eagerness to use the devices in the class.(1) By providing course materials as digital history resources, students are able to easily access primary and secondary history resources outside of class, collaborate on assignments, and return to class prepared to engage in meaningful discussions.
Here's how it worked last semester. Digital materials that I had prepared for my class were loaded into an iBook that was then linked to my course in iTunes U.(2) The syllabus was loaded into the course in iTunes U. In addition, links to Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History digital resources were provided inside the iTunes U course along with assignments that I had created using all of these resources.(3) Students responded very positively to the low cost for accessing the Gilder Lehrman course materials and they liked not having to carry a large history textbook in their backpacks. All other course materials were provided at no cost. The course materials were accessed easily using the iPad. Students enjoyed listening to well-known history professors talk about their historical research and discuss books that they had written. Historical essays and primary documents from the Gilder Lehrman site coincided with the course outline, which followed traditional historical eras. Students accessed all of the course materials and completed assignments, all using the iPad.
The iTunesU course page used in the author's U.S. History to 1876 class.
What excited me the most about the class is that non-history majors stated that they enjoyed reading and listening to a variety of historical resources that spanned beyond my brief in-class lectures. By asking students to be prepared during class sessions to discuss the historical information that they had accessed outside of class, even students who may have never participated in a class actively engaged in the discussions. It was a wonderful experience to observe students as they found their history "voices". For some students it was the first time that they had studied history in an interactive environment. Many students had listened to lectures, taken exams, and written historical essays with no incentive to participate in class discussions. In this version of U.S. History to 1876, students were able to overcome their apprehension and engage fully in class discussions.
The best part of the class was the culminating class assignment in which students investigated a historical question and discussed how the question is relevant today. Students used iPad applications such as iMovie or Keynote to create a digital presentation of their historical research and their analysis of the historical question. One student explored the Salem witch trials and discussed women's rights in the contemporary world—a topic she became interested in after viewing Mary Beth Norton's discussion of the Salem crisis on the Gilder Lehrman site. Another student became interested in exploring Benjamin Franklin's views on political and religious tolerance after viewing Walter Isaacson's discussion, also on the Gilder Lehrman site. Yet another student, a journalism major, was interested in politics and the impact of negative campaigning. She explored primary and secondary courses at the Gilder Lehrman site related to the bitter campaigns between Federalists and Republicans of the Adams and Jefferson era and compared those to contemporary negative campaigns. Her insights inspired many of us to think more deeply about the democratic process. After thirty-one years of teaching, I know that the students may not remember very much from my lectures, but I know that students will remember the presentations they created for many years to come.
(1) Arkansas State University launched an FYE iPad Initiative in which all incoming freshmen students were required to bring an iPad to class. The initiative is in its second year.
(2) An iBook is an interactive digital text created using Apple's iBooks Authoring tool. iTunes U is Apple's platform for delivering course content. Course materials from iTunes U may be downloaded onto the iPad and viewed at a later time.
(3) The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History provides digital resources for all eras in the history of the United States and can be accessed at https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era.
Gina S. Hogue is an associate professor of history and Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Services at Arkansas State University.