Historical Research Workshop

11/8/2013: 

So I didn't exactly go through this couse step-by-step, but I thought I'd post my final results.  I purchased a theme, Carton Pro, from a WordPress developer and tinkered with it until it looked like this.  In retrospect, one of the great things about this course was that it gave me the confidence to make the leap from WordPress.com to WordPress.org.  Figuring out how to locally host something and then move it over to a server was the scary part. Thanks guys! 

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I teach a class introducing UC Berkeley undergrads to library / online / archival resources and the craft of historical research.  I wanted to help my classmates prepare for writing their 30 to 50 page senior thesis by giving people a space to practice and develop their research skills.  Instead of stressing out and waiting until the last minute to hammer out a paper, this class focuses on steady progress (and sane habits!) through weekly research journals posted to the course blog.  

A major feature of the course is building a "community of research."  Each week students practice both their written and verbal skills by discussing their research process with people who are not experts in their field (i.e. French history, 19th century America, etc.).  A big component of being in this community of research is engaging with peers' journals by asking probing questions, sharing experiences, connecting them to resources, and offering morale.  

The class has gone fairly well thus far with a basic Wordpress.com site.  However, while the in-person discussion between students grows fairly organically, the online engagement tends to be student-to-teacher, rather than student-to-student.  I think some major tweaks with the presentation of content could really encourage next semester's students to peruse and comment on their fellow students' journals.  Making their peers' work more visible / accessible could also add that extra bit of peer pressure that causes them to take pride in their work.

Wishlist for my future Wordpress site:

  1.  a footnotes plug-in.  How the heck can I harass everyone about proper Chicago Style citation if they can't even use footnotes in their research journals?!
  2.  two column feeds that would filter by category: one for students research journals, one for course announcements / facilitator posts.  This will make the site more accessible to visitors who are interested in seeing how the course is run.
  3. some way to view all the students' posts for the week at once (i.e. a pinboard or graph of truncated journals).  
  4. a gallery of recently posted images (i.e. browse the old newspapers, pictures, and charts that people attach to their journals)

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