Digi-History


History in the age of digitization and the Internet: New challenges for historians

Posted in Digi-History by Tapio Onnela on the August 1st, 2008

I Introduction

 

Historical knowledge is based on work with documents, books and artefacts left behind in the past. These ‘leftovers’ are analyzed and interpreted by historians whose findings are then disseminated to the academic community, and to the wider public, in a variety of ways.

 

Digitizing, and the use of the Internet, have, however, brought major changes in their wake. Digital source materials, on-line archives, databases and library catalogues, as well as learned journals and books in electronic format, are all novelties offered to the academic community, coupled with new communication technologies and e-learning tools.

 

They are inevitably affecting the way history is taught, and how research is carried out, at the university level. In addition, social software, like wikis and blogs, enable on-line communities to be created having the potential to change the way we produce and distribute scientific information within contemporary society.

 

Although our environment is destined to become ever more digitized and the internet ever faster, with technology playing an ever-greater role in everyday life, the internet remains a relatively new phenomenon. The services and resources it offers are still not exploited by universities as well as they could be. The transformation of institutional structures is very slow. It is especially so in older, conservative and rigid structures like universities, particularly in the field of history.

 

Because history is so important it will be a pity if the new tools and possibilities offered by the digital revolution are not used in teaching and researching history as much and as intensively as they could or should be.

 

They are too important to be left only to the ‘hard sciences’ and to the commercial world. What is of prime importance is not the technology itself but digitized content, and communication between people within the institutions. Technology should be regarded merely as an enabling tool which people use to get things done. It should be used for helping people inside and between organizations to form new co-operative ways of teaching, of learning and of doing research.

 

This is particularly important if we want to foster greater co-operation between European universities. Digitized content and communication technology are the most valuable and cost-effective tools to promote co-operative teaching within universities.

 

II Opportunities and Challenges

 

Until recently archival research in the field of history was a slow and laborious process. Physical contact with the documents was considered both essential and worthwhile. Feeling history in your hands and perhaps encountering, by accident, something totally different to stimulate further research, was a key aspect of the historian’s craft. And yet, for ages we have only been accumulating, storing and retrieving information.

 

In some ways digitizing is just another format. Nonetheless, the computer and the internet have certainly changed the way we read books. Enormous quantities of books are being scanned and digitized. Their texts are available not only in libraries but everywhere. Access to books and articles on the internet, whether through Google or Amazon, seems endless.

 

Digitized information certainly makes the work of the teacher, researcher and student a lot easier. For the historian the benefits of this are clear. For who does not want books, journals and primary sources available at any time and in any place? It is like a dream come true: to have all knowledge, past and present, in one accessible location.

 

A huge internet library is being created, but a library different in character from the one we have known up to now. In traditional libraries we use paper copies of books, but the digital world contains not only copies of books (and journals) but also endless bits and pieces, strings of words, that give you the information you need.

 

Search engines like Google and Yahoo treat the book not as an independent item but as a commodity immediately linked and connected to other books on the same subject. If all published books were on the internet then every reference and every footnote would be directly traceable. Moreover, the giant internet library contains not only books but also digitized paintings, drawings, photographs, maps, films, music and much more.

 

In the richer parts of the world there are lots of well-stocked libraries with millions of books and journals at the disposal of students and staff. And it is in these areas that the plans for a universal internet library have been made - and sometimes commercially financed. Such projects include Google Books and the Google Library Project to scan as many books as possible in collaboration with a number of famous libraries.

 

Such accessibility is of immeasurable value, as too is the content. Ideally, to be able to look at government papers on your computer without being subject to censorship and to see and read the critical studies from elsewhere, will offer a different way to study the history of your own country, or indeed explore any other subject. If you want to study the primary sources of a special subject you don’t want a selection that is made for you. You want to make that selection yourself. But that is only possible if access to all the information is unlimited and is easily accessible by everyone.

 

Free access to information, however, is not without its costs, and choices will be made in what will be published on the internet and what will not. Many important books will be left out because they are under copyright; others are rare and necessitate special treatment. Lots of books are being commercially scanned and made available, but in very costly collections. The ideal ‘universal’ internet library will not be, for some time to come, a generous, ‘fluid’ database, but a mix of interfaces and repositories, some open but others closed for anyone who does not have access or money.

 

Moreover, those needing to access materials in languages other than English may be at a disadvantage. For example the funding available for digitizing French libraries is tiny compared with what Google and others in the UK and USA are able to provide. Whilst The Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris is involved in an important digitizing project, it is extremely modest compared with Google’s digitizing of five major US libraries, including the Library of Congress, as well as part of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. And yet within Europe, as in the wider world, there are many countries which currently have limited library facilities. For them this digitized library, even under such limited conditions, seems a huge step forward. All of a sudden information from elsewhere is available. The teaching and research possibilities are enormous.

 

For the researcher in history the opportunities presented by the digital world are immense. Ideas are connected in new ways, archives are presenting their material differently whilst the virtual museum offers yet another encounter with the past. However, digitization and global education markets also have a very direct effect on the learning and teaching of history through the opportunities offered by e-learning.

 

Certainly e-learning tools are the most cost-effective means to promote co-operative teaching in the universities, although co-operation should be very practical, and organized bottom up, from the grass-roots level, not top-down. They create opportunities for diversifying teaching by presenting the opportunity of forming co-operative international teaching groups, especially for more-marginal sub-disciplines or for rare subjects of more-specialized historical interest.

 

Moreover, whilst the study of history is mainly based on national traditions, e-learning can illuminate different historical traditions. The possibility of dealing with materials in several languages and covering different historical traditions is a great stimulus to critical thought in the study of history. E-learning offers the potential to create new interpretations of history independent of national traditions and thus provide transversal content for analyzing history.

 

Student mobility can also be improved by giving students opportunities to study in an international context with increased flexibility - offering to people-in-work better opportunities to attend history courses. The overall conclusion is that history can no longer be taught only by traditional

face-to-face methods, especially when international co-operation is desired.

 

Yet, however banal it may sound, the rapid advance of new technology brings fresh challenges to the historical sciences. To some degree these challenges stem partly from the conservative nature of history, both as teaching and research, and partly from the non-conservative, perhaps ‘revolutionary’ nature of ICT. For example, the main obstacle preventing e-learning methods becoming a normal part of teaching practice in universities is prejudice against on-line teaching - along with the absence of supportive structures, the limited knowledge of e-learning methods, and a lack of examples of good practice.

 

Some of the most important problems which history has to solve in dealing with digitization and e-learning are these:

 

   Overcoming prejudice against the implementing of new technologies for the purpose of historical teaching, learning and research

 

Historians tend to be conservative in practice and suspicious of new approaches. Interestingly, changes in form rather than content seem to provoke the most suspicion.  The transfer from paper to PDF format, for example, sometimes mobilizes an opposition which usually praises the good old days when decent young people used to read books and didn’t waste time in front of some satanic screen.

 

One of the tasks of those historians who are not afraid of the new technologies and wish to promote them is to explain in a reasonable way that ICT is not going to kill the use of books and sources but in fact will do the opposite. It is going to make them more accessible and more adaptive to the brave new digital world.

 

   The problem of what is worth digitizing

 

This is quite a big question. Digitization has recently provided huge amounts of source material in the form of on-line archives, databases, library catalogues, electronic books and scientific and semi-scientific journals. One of the main challenges is how to save students and sometimes tutors from getting lost in the electronic jungle. However, major questions emerge about what is worth digitizing in the first place.

 

Historians sometimes prefer to upload under-exploited documents which seem to them more interesting than more-mainstream sources. This approach raises the potential danger of transforming rather marginal material into one of prime importance due to the fact that it is more accessible. For this reason documents and sources should be published on the internet with proper descriptions of their origin and the ways they can be used in historical research.

 

For instance one can upload a rather peculiar document from the Archive of Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding a funny case of hunting dogs which crossed the Bulgarian-Yugoslav border in the 1950s and remained on Yugoslav territory. For the common good it would be helpful if such interesting information was accompanied by a short note telling the reader that whilst this is a document of minor importance it can, nonetheless, contribute to a better picture of everyday life in the border area.

 

   Making the content more important than technology

 

Content, ideas and the opportunity to communicate with others, should be in the foreground - not the technology itself. Technology should be regarded merely as a valuable tool for getting things done. It should be used for helping people inside organizations, and between organizations, to form new co-operative ways to teach, learn and carry out research. Historians have to adapt the technology to the needs of their discipline, not the other way round.

 

III Communication

 

When it comes to disseminating their research, historians will increasingly be faced not only with new challenges but also with new opportunities offered by electronic forms of publishing. Whilst scholarly journals in particular are turning to publishing on-line, often still accompanied by the distribution of paper copies of the journal issues, the incremental phasing-out of paper in this area is obvious.

 

While printing-on-demand or just-in-time production of books stored in electronic form has not lived-up to high initial expectations, improvements in this area might increase the market share for scholarly work that finds limited readership and thus might not go into print in paper form. These electronic publications, however, hardly exploit the many opportunities electronic publishing offers except for reducing the cost of production and shipping.

 

Publication of historical findings, whether on CD-ROM, DVD or on-line, may well make use of the enormous advantages that hypertext and hypermedia have to offer. Writing could be tailored to an audience that increasingly adapts to different reading habits: to students and a broader readership that grew up with the World Wide Web and are used to organizing non-linear information. Sources supporting a scholar’s arguments and theses may be incorporated more fully in such publications. The wide-spread digitizing of documents already allows for the addition of facsimile images, pictures and graphs, as well as audio and video files, thereby transforming a scholarly text into a visual experience, thus helping the reader to better follow an author’s reasoning.

 

In addition, historians may take this a step further and fashion hypertext/hypermedia publications in a way that would allow for non-linear reading by creating an environment that lets the reader explore aspects beyond the author’s immediate intentions. Departing from linear writing, historians might develop pools of information consisting of a number of short narratives that are supported by multi-media evidence and clustered around a specific topic or using a systematic approach. Such clusters should permit linear reading to avoid too strong a compartmentalization but might also be read in a non-linear manner.

 

This might be enhanced by allowing co-publication of additions to such clusters by colleagues, or even forums to provide readers with an opportunity to discuss and challenge the author’s main findings or thesis. This would change the traditional form of a publication from a static, black-on-white, argument into a dynamic process that would constantly reshape a ‘book’ and would provide for a continual discourse reconstructing the past.

 

IV Conclusion

 

Within the arts and humanities, many researchers and teachers, including historians, currently prefer to close their eyes to technological change. And yet engagement with the digital world is increasingly unavoidable. Indeed it is potentially transformative. As we have outlined, new technologies offer significant challenges both to the historian and to the history student. They also offer considerable opportunities from which the field of history has much to gain if it chooses to exploit them fully.

***

This text has been written for Cliohnet2 booklet by the Cliohnet2 Working Group ”E-learning and Digitization in History”:

Sofia Ling, University of Uppsala, Sweden 

Rita Rios, University of Alcala, Spain,

Bertine Bouwman, University of Utrecht, Holland,

Claire Langhamer, University of Sussex, UK,

William Aird, Cardiff University, UK,

Carla Salvaterra, Universtiy of Bologna, Italy,

David Sephton, Primrose Publishing, UK,

Tapio Onnela, University of Turku, Finland

Dimitar Grigorov, Faculty of History, Sofia, Bulgaria

Michael Wala, Universität Bochum, Germany

Adrian Marinescu, University of Pisa, Italy

 

External feedback on ehlee course

Posted in Digi-History by Carla Salvaterra on the April 3rd, 2008

As I promised in our meeting I asked our colleague in Padua, dr. Cristina Zaggia to send me the chapter of her doctoral dissertation that has dealt with the ehlee course.
After explaining and contextualising the course she points out 5 elements that she evaluates as good practices that could be extended to other e-learning experiences and even outside the online context:

1. the work of course planning: net-working on the online platform among teachers from different traditions has helped to reflect on learning oucomes and teaching methods more in depth that in any other traditional context where there is little team work in working on teaching and learning.

2. the explicit reflection and publication of learning outcomes and expected competences has helped students in finalising their time and work towards the expected results. This has helped students to self evaluate their progression and better understand why eventually they have had success or partially/completely failed to achieve some goals. This explicit focus has however the disadvenatge that students have not understood or given the right importance to unforeseen results. there are some suggestions on this point.

3. Students have appreciated the strong coherence of the course and have appreciated the materials the learning and assessment methods as far as they where finalised to the goals. Good point is the continous assessment. Critical point the checking of workload not overall but situating it in the timeframe of the course.

4. Good point thet the course had two assessment methods that complemented each other

5. Good point is the internal7estrenal evaluation of the course and the revision and changes in the course planning and materials between first and second edition.

This is a summary of the feed-back, what do you think we could incorporate in our guidelines?

best carla

Elearning: planning E-learning history Courses

Posted in Planning E-learning history Courses by Tapio Onnela on the March 10th, 2008

A GUIDE TO PLANNING E-LEARNING HISTORY COURSES

This booklet is based on discussions in the Cliohnet2 Working Group E-learning and Digitization in History.  It incorporates the findings of the eHLEE-Project, reflects the practical experience of the Group’s members and takes into account the issues of the Tuning Process.

INTRODUCTION: WHY E-LEARNING?

Since the 1990s there has been a vogue for e-learning in most disciplines of higher education. It has become obvious that history is among those disciplines where e-learning has not been widely adopted. It is equally clear that, in certain situations, e-learning offers great advantages and is especially relevant in the study of history.

Digitization and the emergence of a global education market spawned by the Internet have consequences for the humanities too. Technological developments will force historians to adopt new methods in carrying out research, in distributing their findings, and in teaching history. It is now generally understood that there is a need for both traditional methods and new methods, and that ICT and computer networks can greatly enhance opportunities for historians. They will not make old universities obsolete nor replace traditional teaching methods. It is a welcome sign that attitudes are changing because e-learning history is too important to be left to the technicians and to relentless commercialism.

There are many situations where the use of information technology is extremely valuable and where a good case can be made for it. This is especially so when international co-operation is involved between people or institutions. E-learning technology offers us possibilities to re-organize teaching and learning in a different way. It gives teachers more flexibility in their work and it allows professionals to work together regardless of geographical or national boundaries. It can create new interpretations of history independent of national traditions. E-learning can make national historical traditions more transparent by giving access to different traditions, and by providing transversal content to the subject area.

PLATFORMS

In order to use e-learning there is a need for ICT-tools. If your institution plans to introduce e-learning, a long-term strategy needs to be formulated concerning the platforms to be used. Choosing a platform is a crucial decision. Changing platforms cannot be undertaken lightly.

E-learning platforms can be either ready-made Learning Management Systems (LMS) or they can be individually designed and specially built. Learning Management Systems are required if you need complete control and management of courses, of groups of students and of their administration.

Commercial platforms offer stability, which is essential for a large-scale operation. Ready-made commercial Learning Management Systems (like Blackboard and WebCT) are expensive and have restricted access, but they are generally reliable and they provide valuable support services. The use of commercial platforms always implies passwords, restricted access, tight control and substantial costs.

Any attempt to produce a course for an unlimited audience, however, demands a different solution. It calls for an open-source platform. But this is not cost-free, since its maintenance tends to remain the responsibility of the local institution using the application.

Open-source platforms (like Moodle) can be modified as needed, and there are moral
grounds for going non-commercial and for networking with peers. When
choosing an open-source platform, organizations have to learn the skills
needed to ensure proper maintenance. This requires both institutional decisions and the allocation of resources.

At the same time, there have been major instances of university-led projects developing platforms of their own. In-house platforms facilitate co-operation between end-users and developers. The better a teaching portal can be customized to regular teaching, and to administrative tasks like student registers, the more it will be used at all levels.

Aside from Learning Management Systems, other possibilities should be considered, such as Flash, PHP/MySQL programming language, wikis, podcasts, blogs, etc. ICT can be developed jointly in institutions by combining e-learning with other types of forum already used in the institution, such as notice-boards with live teaching.

In the end, e-learning is about shared collaborative learning and teaching. Innovations in communications technology present us with a far wider horizon than we have previously experienced.

ADMINISTRATION

From an administrative point of view e-learning provides a structure for virtual campuses and other new forms of institution for teaching history. It creates opportunities for institutions to co-operate at both national and international level in teaching activities as well as in research projects.

Where learning is being done co-operatively, e-learning permits the range of courses offered to be expanded. It also enables historical topics to be included which the home university cannot justify, since study groups can be much larger by combining students from different universities or even from different countries. It also creates opportunities to distribute research results effectively.

E-learning enables courses to be developed on the basis of team-work and opens up new possibilities for the division of labour in the creation of courses.

Course planning can take into account the possibility of re-using parts of courses across university platforms. E-learning courses can be re-used quite easily – either as they are, or modified.

Where there is a multiplicity of e-learning activity there is a need to connect the LMS to centralized administrative systems like student registers and user data-bases.

Tutor training needs to be considered, and course planners need to be kept fully informed of its details.

In order to get lasting results financial resources need to be directed at the basic level of the departments involved, namely to teachers and to course-planners.

MATERIALS

Nowadays a lot of history sources, and resources, are freely available on the internet. Governments publish their official documents, libraries scan and digitize their old and rare books and students from all over the world are allowed to use them. Students should be taught to use these sources as research material. However, much important material for the study of history has not yet been published on the net.

Some e-learning history courses are based on materials that are presented to students in campus-based surroundings, like an electronic bookshelf. In this way the materials are protected from ‘invaders’ outside the campus. Access is only possible via logins and passwords. E-learning courses can be seriously hindered by the uneven accessibility of digital and digitized collections. The same applies to the access to databases.

Other e-learning history courses are based on freely available materials on the Internet. Students are encouraged to search for material on their own, to find and collect the materials themselves. One of the course objectives can be: how to identify, select and evaluate the right sources that are there somewhere on the world wide web. Students have to learn how to comment on, and criticize, these Internet resources just like the printed ones.

LANGUAGE AND INTERCULTURAL ISSUES

In e-Learning courses for history, language and intercultural aspects play a very significant role. They are often closely related.

The question of language needs to be considered from a number of angles:
* The language of the platform, including menus, help files, and whether it is all accessible in another language
* The language of students in the home country
* The language of students from other countries who may wish to follow the course
* The language of the main texts, especially the sources
* Whether the main texts and sources should be translated, and if so into which language or languages.

Where students taking part in a course are from different countries, the language ability of the individual student will have a big impact on the time it takes to read and understand the instructions, to read and understand the quoted texts and source material, to prepare and write their answers to questions and to contribute to on-line discussion groups. All this must be taken into account when developing the course and deciding the students’ work-load. Students working in their mother tongue will need far less time than others, especially those whose language skills are not so advanced.

While e-learning breaks down the barriers of space and time, it can also create a new barrier: that of language. In some multilingual countries there is great sensitivity about which language is used on a course. Its choice can cause problems for those who speak it less well, even if they are of the same nationality. With the widespread use of English as a lingua franca, the tendency is often to provide a translation into English, at least of the main texts. Consequently the choice of language can affect and severely limit the number of students who enrol on a course, or who stay on a course..

PEDAGOGY

E-learning provides history tutors and students with the possibility of creating multicultural, multi-regional and international learning communities. It allows virtual mobility, so that students living in different parts of the world can all learn together. It also facilitates co-operation and the exchange of knowledge between people and institutions. On-line courses provide a way of studying in an international context without leaving one’s own university.

When designing an on-line course, content is more important than technology. Technology should always be subservient to content. At the same time e-learning should find ways to work with new software and new communication technologies. This requires collaboration between the planners of the content and the technicians.

The pedagogical basis of e-learning is the process of learning. What is taught is not the most important part, neither is the process of teaching. The most important part is what is learnt and the process of learning. Learning is more important than teaching.

In order to exploit e-learning, students are assumed to have basic computer skills. The tutor of the on-line course must be ready to help and support students, especially at the beginning of the course.

The training of planners and tutors is also very important, because their role in an on-line course is not the same as that of the tutor in a traditional face-to-face course.

E-learning does not mean students merely downloading a set of static materials in html or pdf format to be studied in the traditional way. It is very important that courses include interactive tools that allow both synchronous and asynchronous communication by means of e-mail, chats, discussion forums and video-conferencing. Materials should include links, photos, images, hypertexts and multimedia resources. The planners of on-line history courses should assume the responsibility of searching for these materials on the Internet, just as tutors select the bibliography, the sources and the materials that students have to study and analyse in face-to-face courses.

It is also very important that they make the mental leap from being consumers of web-based information to being creators and producers, because appropriate materials are not always available for each course.

The planners and tutors of the on-line courses should also be responsible for finding ways to motivate their students. They should create activities that help the student to understand, practise and fix in their minds the concepts that they have learned, and to develop different kinds of skills. The group dynamics of learning are very useful for this. Students must feel that they are not alone. They learn through studying the content, in contact with their fellow-students and with the help of their tutors. Group activities should rest on every student’s individual work, and not be based on simply dividing the tasks between the students. Assignments should encourage them to participate, should awaken their interest, and should support the work of both the individual and the group. They should develop the learning strategies and assess the students and what the students have learned.

The most appropriate tasks and assignments for history e-learning courses are:

* Reading material that includes links, photos, images, hypertexts and multimedia
resources.
* Reading e-books, e-papers, e-articles, etc.
* Watching films and documentaries.
* Using computer games.
* Writing essays & study diaries, and contributing to blogs and wikis.
* Searching for, and analysing information in digital archives, museums, libraries and journals, in databases and repositories of video and audio files, etc.
* Synchronous and asynchronous discussions (chats, discussion forums and video-conferences). It is quite easy to transfer the discussion from the physical classroom to the on-line one, which has the advantage that the discussion could be developed in an asynchronous way. Students and tutors must remember that e-learning is not chatting but discussing, using a scholarly netiquette.

To do all this properly involves a significant workload. It is vital that course-planners take account of this when scheduling the work. They should be conscious that the rhythm of learning varies with each person. Students too should be aware of the importance of scheduling their work within the time allowed. If they get behind this could adversely affect not only their own learning but also that of their fellow-students.

Because of this, there is a need to limit the number of students involved in a virtual history course. A large group of students could be divided into smaller groups, though that also requires extra time and effort on the part of the teacher. The workload for students and tutors quickly becomes too heavy.

ASSESSMENT

The criteria for assessment must always be transparent and must always be fair. On-line courses offer new challenges and open up possibilities for new procedures for carrying out assessment , particularly formative assessment.

In-course assessment.
Where work is directly-assessed electronically, e-learning courses allow rapid in-course assessment permitting formative feedback on what are fundamentally summative assessments.

Peer assessment
Peer assessment, with direct access to course work submitted on-line by the student, can promote both collective and reflective learning

Self assessment
Through path assessment students can undertake diagnostic self assessment to monitor personal progress. Further, with electronically accessible assignments, students can engage in extended comparative analysis and reflective self-assessment through the consideration of the work of their peers.

Plagiarism monitoring
E-learning allows for the automatic screening of work to detect plagiarism. These procedures may, if desired, be purely regulatory. However, with student access to the results of plagiarism-detection on work prior to final submission, monitoring systems can assist in teaching good practice.

QUALITY ISSUES AND PRACTICAL TIPS

Quality as a tool to promote Diversity and Transparency
An International e-learning course in history offers the opportunity of linking together different teaching and learning traditions by maintaining and enriching differences in a coherent and transparent way. This is one of the main added values that e-learning can bring to the teaching of history. In order to achieve this, due weight needs to be given to quality issues at the planning stage.

The connection between historical research and historical teaching/learning is very important and should be kept in mind when planning e-learning activities. E-learning and the use of the Internet’s resources can greatly enhance our perception and experience of the diverse nature of historical narratives and of how historical knowledge is built up.

In order to ensure that networking produces positive benefits it is necessary to ensure

* the transparency of the course and its integration into the different contexts
* the relevance of the e-learning activity for the programmes of the different
universities and for their overall goals of citizenship and employability
* the virtual mobility of students and staff

Common understanding of quality and explicit shared policy
In planning an international e-learning course in history the different partners should agree among themselves and with stakeholders on a common understanding of quality, and identify their various roles and responsibilities, taking into account the following:
* Quality as fitness for purpose: does the International course unit fully exploit the possibilities of e-learning and international networking in order to promote goals that are strategic for all partners, and are they relevant for the teaching and learning of history? Is there a common and shared understanding among the partners and stakeholders of the values to be promoted?
* Quality as fitness for purpose: have the processes of planning, production, and delivery of the international course been organized so as to make best use of technological resources, the know-how of the different partners, the resources, and the network management?
* Quality assurance and enhancement: is there a system of management and co-ordination to assure that useful information is collected and made available, that the processes, phases and responsibility are clearly identified and monitored during the course, and after its end, for internal and external evaluation, and that the course aims, content and management are open and flexible in order to facilitate the follow up of evaluation and any upgrading and changes that may be necessary?

Quality in course planning, production, start-up, execution and evaluation
Describing the processes in a transparent way can help to identify the quality aims and the key questions.

These are the processes and key aims and recommendations that we have identified from our experience of producing an international 5 ECTS e-learning course in history within the eHLEE project.

Planning the course
1. Identify clearly the educational context in which the course unit is offered. How does the course fit in with the programme outcomes and requirements of the different institutions? How is it integrated in the students’ curricula? Which is the target group for the course?
2. Identify the relevant expertise and teaching/learning resources of the different institutions. How can students best benefit by being exposed to an international environment and to different traditions? And how can they best profit from expertise not available in their own institutions?
3. Decide learning outcomes and describe them in terms of competences that can be strategic for all the different institutions and at the same time are compatible and are easily integrated into the curriculum. Formulate them clearly in a way that can be easily understood in the different traditions.
4. Formulate learning outcomes in terms of generic and subject-specific competences, and consider the Tuning reference points for history.
5. Select content material that is challenging and motivating, and that is best suited to the learning outcomes, organize the course structure in order to maintain differences and integrate expertise, resources and existing libraries and materials.
6. Decide about linguistic skills, and other course pre-requisites. Take into account how you can profit from a multilingual and multinational environment.
7. Decide about teaching and learning methods, assignments, assessment methods and criteria that can best help students to enhance the agreed competences and that are at the same time varied to reflect different traditions, and explain them clearly to students. Ensure that choices are clearly understood in the same way by all the staff and students involved. Take into account the Tuning reflections on teaching, learning and assessment methods.
8. Plan workload carefully. Keep in mind the different assumptions about workload in the different teaching and learning traditions. Take into account different academic calendars and overall student course workload in the different contexts at a given time. Consider using the Tuning planning form for an educational module and the Tuning form for checking workload for an educational module.
9. Choose a platform that supports the agreed approach to materials, structure, teaching, learning and assessment methods and that it is easy, available and manageable for everyone. Choose the platform or media by taking into account which media can substantially facilitate co-operation with other universities in sharing results and resources in an open teaching and learning environment. Take into account future course re-use with different partners, accessibility and usability issues.

Production of the course
Decide and divide
1.    Decide how the LMS will be managed and assign responsibilities about uploading of materials, organizing course structure and different levels of course administration.
2.    Divide and share responsibility in the production of materials, identify the different roles of staff (teachers and tutors).
3.    Divide responsibility for adapting materials to the platform or media requirements

Identify
1.    Identify responsibility for co-ordinating the production of materials
2.    Allow enough time to balance workload, to integrate different approaches, and to test materials properly.
4.    Identify responsibility for fine-tuning the materials.
5.    Bear in mind that you will need a final editing session, especially if you use both a local language and an international support language.

Starting the course
1. Information and recruitment:
ensure an adequate entrance level for students, with clear information about pre-requisites.
2. Enrolment:
ensure that the administrative procedures in the different universities fit in with the virtual mobility requirements. Ensure that students understand how they will ‘move’ among different institutions in the virtual environment.
3. Testing:
students need time and support to explore the course area and understand the course structure and methodology, and are prepared to work in an international environment. The Study Guide is a useful tool to introduce students to an unfamiliar environment and to foresee special orientation activities and assignments.
4. Students need to be motivated and be offered support in their motivation.

Delivering the course
1. Tutors need to be selected and adequately trained. Tutor training is best achieved through shared training and building reciprocal trust and co-operation in the course planning and preparation.
2. Support and counselling is needed for students and tutors both for matters of content and technical problems.
3. Attention to different calendars and time zones is needed.
4. Criteria for assessment and grading must be discussed and shared among different tutors and staff members, and must be published and applied in a coherent way.
5. Whenever possible students should be assessed by more than one staff member in order to guarantee that the final result reflects both the local and the international assessing and grading cultures.
6. Students have to know in advance how the grades will be assigned and how they will be translated in the different grading systems.

Evaluation of the course and feed-forward
1. Students opinions and study questions should be collected throughout the course, and at the end, with quick and easy questionnaires; overload should be carefully avoided.
2. It is very important to collect information on workload and on the students’ perception of relevance and achievement of the learning outcomes and competences.
3. Internal evaluation of the course unit should take into account both the international and the local dimension. If possible it should be combined with external evaluation.
4. External evaluators are best involved from the start of the course planning.
5. It should be clear how and when it is possible to update the course according to the results of evaluation.
6. Consideration should be given to how the experience gained by staff, tutors and students can be disseminated within the institution (e.g. by involving institutional stakeholders in evaluation) and how the course experience can be built on.


COST IMPLICATIONS FOR E-LEARNING COURSES

Before starting an e-learning course you need to think about the following resource implications:
Hardware: is there a need for new computers?
Software: is all the necessary software available to produce the course?
Platform: What platform will be used? Costs for open-source platforms and commercial platforms?
Copyright issues: do you have to pay fees to copyright holders?
Training: do you have to train teachers or tutors?

FURTHER READING
* Digi-History blog: http://cliohnet2.blogspot.com/

* E-learning History. Evaluating European Experiences ed. by Sirkku Anttonen, Tapio Onnela and Henri Terho, Department of History, University of Turku, 2006. http://ehlee.utu.fi/publ.htm

The booklet was written in 2007 by members of Cliohnet2 Working Group 5: E-learning and digitization in history: Rita Rios, University of Alcala, Spain, Bertine Bouwman, University of Utrecht, Holland, Claire Langhamer, University of Sussex, UK, William Aird, Cardiff University, UK, Adrian Marinescu, University of Pisa, Italy, Carla Salvaterra, Universtiy of Bologna, Italy, David Sephton, Primrose Publishing, UK, Tapio Onnela, University of Turku, Finland

New Methodologies?

Posted in New Methodologies? by Bertine Bouwman on the May 19th, 2007

Does the use of digital source material necessitate the creation of new methodologies for historical research and teaching?

Source Selection

Posted in Digi-History by admin on the May 19th, 2007

Historians have access to a vast range of source materials through the digital medium, yet digitalization programmes generally necessitate some degree of selection. Libraries at least digitize those collections which are the most used books and manuscripts to protect them from damage. What are the criteria for choosing which materials to digitalize and what role should historians play within these decision making proceses?

Materials

Posted in Materials by Bertine Bouwman on the May 19th, 2007

If you are planning an e-learning history course you do need (source) materials. Would it be a good idea if the Clioh-working group should provide a list of useful internetsites? If yes, do you have suggestions for your subject, your country, your period of research?