#History: Historical Thinking in 140 Characters

Last February I blogged about the possibilities of integrating Twitter into the history classroom. Six months later, I did just that, using an honors seminar, Women, War, and Revolution, as my pilot.  Since the pilot, I’ve introduced it into a few more classes with positive results.  The honors seminar was selected as a pilot for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the Honors Program at AWC  is comprised of a close cohort of students who take GE courses as a cohort and participate in co-curricular activities together. This created a safe community of students. Second, I wanted to see if students who are accustomed to submitting fully developed responses to questions would benefit from expressing their ideas with the brevity required of Twitter.

Here’s how I did it while maintaining a safe, and academic, course environment.

First, I did not use Twitter. Rather, I turned the discussion board into a “Twitter feed.” Few of my students use Twitter, and because I wanted them to come up with different “handles” each week, I opted to use the discussion forum instead of having students Tweet live. I also wanted to encourage students to experiment within the safe confines of the classroom (both online and in person), without the threat of Twitter trolls or other outsiders interfering.  This was especially important due to the course content, as students were reading articles about women’s involvement in 20th and 21st century movements, including those still in progress.

Within the discussion board, in this case Blackboard, I created weekly discussion forums with a twist. Students were assigned readings and  provided with a prompt from which to craft a response. The more structured the prompt, the better! In other words, rather than”Tweet something about the Sandinista Revolution,” students were required to respond to the prompt below.

sandinistaprompt Example “Twitter” prompt for “Women in the Sandinista Revolution” module in Women, War, and Revolution class

As shown above, students were required to create a unique handle (@SomeoneOrSomething) related to the topic. Students could adopt a persona and tweet as someone  involved in the war or revolution, or create a handle that described their perspective. Within the discussion board, their handle was in the subject line, and their Tweet was in the post field. Students were encouraged to create hashtags for the tweets and I directed them to http://www.lettercount.com to check the length of their tweets.

Obviously, the discussion board does not provide the anonymity of Twitter, as students can see who Tweeted what, but for the purposes of the class, that was fine. Incorporating the Twitter feed into the face-to-face part of the class by pulling up the feed and projecting it on the screen also held students accountable for taking the assignments seriously and was a great opportunity to wrap up each module. However, I did learn that I needed to change the deadline to the night before class met, rather than the day the class met, as even honors students procrastinate! There are often three to four students who posted after class, rather than prior to the class meeting. I also wasn’t consistent in reviewing the Twitter feed in class each week, which is something I remedied in later courses.

What I found was, in general, students were more engaged in the material. They were forced to be creative (can we force creativity??) and to think critically about what they read in order to express their understanding of the material. Student evaluations indicated that they found the assignments to be fun and thought-provoking.  It also required me, as an instructor, to carefully craft prompts that would work.

This semester I am using the twitter strategy in an upper-division Modern Latin America class at SDSU-IVC and just started a modified assignment in which students write their Tweets on the whiteboard at the beginning of class. More on that to come…

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Embracing Technology: 2016 Yuma County Teacher of the Year Awards


Last night I was honored to received the Yuma County Teacher of the Year Award in the College Professor category.  Below is the text from my two minute acceptance speech:

“So, a veteran, a high school student, an athlete, an immigrant, and a snowbird walk into a history class…no, this isn’t the first line of a joke, it’s what happens every day at Arizona Western College. Their backgrounds and life experiences couldn’t be more different, they have diverse goals and various majors, and they may be sitting in a classroom or logging into Blackboard, but they all chose to enroll in AWC and they are my students, the reason I am standing before you this evening.

I can’t begin to express how honored I was to be nominated by one of my students for the AWC Teacher of the Year. I would like to sincerely thank the Educational Foundation of Yuma County, Yuma Rotary clubs, and my colleagues at AWC for selecting me for this prestigious award.   I am humbled, yet proud to represent the faculty of Arizona Western College. This award is beyond a personal achievement for me, but also represents the dedication and respect that Yumans have for education and educators.

I chose this profession out of my enthusiasm for learning about history and a desire to help others achieve their educational goals. Like many of you, that passion was ignited by my own teachers, from Kindergarten to Grad school. The greatest satisfaction I have is when a former student tells me they have passed their citizenship exam, requests a letter of recommendation for grad school, or tells me that they have decided to become a history teacher. YES! We can make a difference, one student at a time.

As mentioned earlier, the AWC Teacher of the Year Award includes what I believe to be the greatest reward: the opportunity to award a Presidential Scholarship (free tuition at AWC for one year) to a student of my choice. My scholarship recipient, Ernesto Duarte, was unable to attend this evening, but I’m certain that he will be sitting among you in the future because his goal is to become a high school history teacher. Thank you, the K-12 teachers of Yuma County, for growing future Matadors so that we, at AWC can return the favor and develop the next generation of educators!

Finally,  to my family, Joe Cardenas, my students, and my  colleagues at AWC, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

The theme this year was Embrace Technology as evidenced by the photo at the top of this blog. Yuma county has a population just under a quarter of a million and, due to its location in the desert southwest and its agricultural economy, there is a high unemployment rate and, subsequently, a high rate of poverty. However, Yuma schools have embraced innovation and technology, from K-12 and into college.  In K-12 schools, grants have allowed schools to purchase Chromebooks for students so that they can use e-textbooks and other resources.  As they transition to college, students from Yuma schools are comfortable using technology, but they may not have access to computing devices at home once they lose the Chromebook, iPad, or other netbook supplied by their high schools. Although I am not advocating free devices for all community college students, programs that allow students to rent devices by semester might help to improve access so that as an institution we can embrace technology and support student learning at the same time.


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Adelante! Wired and Inspired

Technology is ever-present in our lives today, so it is no wonder that it has been increasingly incorporated into higher education. At the beginning of my career, my access to technology in the classroom was limited to a television with a VCR and an overhead projector for transparencies. Students took notes with pen and paper, exams were administered in class using blue books, and all classes were face-to-face. I can safely say that I used the same technology as my college professors and, at least in the discipline of history, the only things that had changed technologically in the previous fifty years was the transition from film projectors to VCRs and the slow shift from typewriters to word processors and computers. Within five years of leaving grad school, I had the ability to connect my laptop to a projector and screen PowerPoints, although few other things had changed. Since then, new technologies seem to emerge monthly, so that adaptability to technology changes is a new expectation of college professors. This weekend I attended a history convention and I was struck by the fact that many of the presenters employed no technology or did not use it appropriately, illustrating the digital divide between those of my generation (Generation X) and those of previous generations.

Adopting new technologies takes time and effort, and I can understand the reluctance of educators to do so, however, I believe it is work well spent. Not all technologies are relevant to all disciplines, so recognizing the applications and limitations of various technologies is important. One insight that I gained that inspired me was the versatility of some technologies, such as Google Docs and discussion boards.  Both technologies can be used in innumerable ways, limited only by the instructor’s or students’ imaginations.  I’m inspired by the way these technologies allow for collaboration, building group dynamics, and developing communities of learners beyond the four walls of a classroom.

A second insight that I have gained in studying technology integration in higher education that inspires me is how technology encourages students and instructors to shift places. For centuries, professors have been the content experts in their fields, while students have been the novices. With so many new developments appearing, Millennials and Generation Z are in the position to introduce professors to technologies. Two weeks ago I had students give presentations in an online course and, in addition to the PowerPoints and Prezis, I had one student create a Wix website and another use Ease.ly, a presentation tool for creating infographics.  Allowing students to use technology that I am unfamiliar with enriches the class and exposes me to what’s new.  We, as educators, must humble ourselves and accept that we may not be experts in everything, and that’s ok, as long as we are open to experiencing change.

I chose a career in higher education because I assumed that adults would be self-motivated learners (Knowles, 1980) and that teaching would be, I dare say, somehow easier. This idea of andragogy, or the method and practice of teaching adult learns, as different from pedagogy, is much more complicated than simply teaching self-motivated students. However, these differences are inspiring. For instance, getting to know my students’ motivations for enrolling in one of my history courses challenges me to tailor content for different groups of students. According to Knowles (1980), adult learners tend to be task-oriented, and learn best when they understand the real-life applications. In history, this orientation can lead to deeper understanding of the causes and effects of historical events. Working with primary sources and encouraging students to consider how history relates to their own lives and experiences makes the study of the past relevant to the present and future.

I have been incorporating technology and andragogy into my teaching over the course of my career and will continue to do so in the future. My focus has shifted, however, from simply finding ways to teach adult learners to using technology and active learning strategies to engage students and encourage them to participate more fully in the learning process. For example,  I recently began having my students work in groups to write their exams, encouraging them to reflect on the chapters studied for each unit in formulating questions that best represented what they had learned. As mentioned earlier, I encourage students to use new technologies to collaborate and share research presentations.  Over the past four months I have been exposed to technologies that I had never heard of before, and discovered new applications for those that I had some familiarity with, inspiring me to think about how each might be used within my own face-to-face, hybrid, and online classes.

Knowles, M. S. (1980). MY FAREWELL ADDRESS…ANDRAGOGY–NO PANACEA, NO IDEOLOGY. Training & Development Journal, 34(8), 48.

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Cheating the Learning Management System? Ethics in the Online Environment

SafeAssignMy parents instilled in me the old adage “Cheaters never prosper.” Later, one of my bosses quipped, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying!”  I  believe that most of my students were raised to adhere to the former philosophy and act with integrity, however, not a semester passes that I don’t engage in at least one conversation with a colleague related to ethics in the online environment. The most recent discussion was related to a student who plagiarized a paper that was about—yes, you guessed it—ethics! The professor uses SafeAssign, an online plagiarism detector, for all assignments, yet the student still chose to submit a friend’s paper.  Wolverton (2016) found that “helpful” friends lending papers to roommates aren’t the only players in the online cheating game, but that several companies have been established to assume students’ identities and take a class for them, often guaranteeing results.  The growth of online education and the growing use of learning management systems (LMS) across all delivery modalities carries with it the potential for tremendous growth in the online cheating industry.

At my institution, each class is provided with a course shell, whether it is delivered face-to-face, as a hybrid, or fully online.  I require all weekly assignments and research papers to be submitted through the LMS.  Students also take weekly chapter quizzes in the LMS and, in the hybrid and online classes, exams are administered online as well.  With so much coursework being completed through the LMS rather than in the classroom, unethical behavior that goes undetected is a very real possibility. My greatest concern in the past had been plagiarism, but like Bates (Laureate Education, 2013d) I often found it easy to spot plagiarism based on a shift in writing style or familiarity with the material being  “cut-and-pasted,” especially if it was lifted from course readings or resources. Plagiarism detection programs, such as SafeAssign, TurnItIn, and Grammarly provide one means of ensuring against passing off someone else’s work as one’s own, however, they can’t detect whether original work is that of the student or an imposter.  Garza Mitchell (2009) noted that there continues to exist a pervasive distrust in online learning. Students offering to take online classes or complete online work for other students, and companies selling cheating services poses yet another threat to the validity of the online learning environment.

The sustainability of LMS technology is institution driven. Bates (Laureate Education, 2013d) noted that although there are cloud-based LMS options, institutions must fund and maintain technology that is implemented. Much like brick and mortar facilities require ongoing upkeep after they are built, technology requires an initial investment, followed by maintenance and updates or upgrades.  Institutions may choose to license a basic version of an LMS, customize it, or add additional features, such as TurnItIn.  One of the concerns many institutions are facing now is declining enrollment, which in turn results in declining revenues. Updates to technology, as well as technology support may be restricted by lack of funding.

As we move into the third decade of online learning, it is safe to say that learning management systems are here to stay. More and more faculty are teaching online and online enrollments continue to grow. Cheating happens in all classroom environments, but the anonymity of the online environment makes it easier to hire an imposter to take a class. Until technology to detect such imposters is readily available, we as instructors need to be aware that it is happening and use incidents of cheating and plagiarism as teaching opportunities and continue to promote ethical behavior.

Garza Mitchell, R. L. (2009). Ethics in an online environment. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2009(148), 63-70. doi:10.1002/cc.387

Laureate Education (Producer). (2013d). Sustainability and ethical considerations [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Wolverton, B. (2016). Professors set up fake class to study online cheating. Chronicle of Higher Education, 62(17), A17.

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Using Technology to Create Presentations that Engage Students


One of the “Inside the White House” presentations created by a student using Prezi.

We’ve entered the homestretch of the semester and Spring Fever is in the air.  Spring Break is nearly upon us and that means that final papers will be due in all of my history classes. Although students are provided with a term paper prompt, the themes are broad in my women’s history and world history courses, while my U.S. history students have each been assigned different couples for their “Inside the White House” profiles. Rather than keep each student’s research between just the two of us, I like to give students the opportunity to share their research with the class through visual presentations. In days gone by, this meant bulky presentation boards and props; today, using technology, students can create and access their presentations online, then present in class or through an online discussion forum.  Although students have many options to choose from, most choose to use Microsoft PowerPoint or Prezi.

Both PowerPoint and Prezi allow students to communicate their ideas through words, images, and sound. Students research and write a term paper that is submitted to me, then create a presentation that is intended to share what they learned in their research.  This requires different skills than simply reading a paper to the class: students must reflect on the entire project and select a few key points they wish to share with the class. They also must use technology to create the presentation.

PowerPoint and Prezi can be used to engage students by providing a creative means to communicate what they learned to the class. PowerPoint is the ubiquitous presentation software and most students have at least some familiarity with it. Using slides to create a linear presentation allows students to organize their ideas, incorporate text and images, as well as video.  Prezi, on the other hand, lends itself to storytelling and is more interactive. Presenters can zoom in and out of frames, and embedding video, audio, and images is easy. Safar (2015) noted that most students dread presentations, but creating and presenting with Prezi is an enjoyable experience, alleviating some, if not most, of the anxiety surrounding public speaking. After watching student research presentations over the course of the last fifteen years, two issues continually arise: too much text (that is also too small) and small images.  There’s not much a presenter can do to remedy these using PowerPoint, however, with one click, they can enlarge text or zoom into an image with Prezi. For students in the audience, PowerPoint or Prezi presentations are engaging and activate learning through visual stimulation. Presentations are perceived as more professional and formal, therefore students pay attention and are more likely to ask questions of the presenter.

There are several ways to assess student learning using PowerPoint and Prezi technologies. For the presenters, I use a rubric, evaluating the presentations for content, mechanics, and aesthetics. I also consider how well the students demonstrate their understanding of the assignment and their subject. The rubric is made available to students when the project is assigned, clarifying expectations for the finished product (Reddy & Andrade, 2010). Audience members are also assessed for engagement and learning through activities such as brief writing assignments and feedback cards. Depending on the class size, I may divide the class into groups of five to eight students and assign, for example, groups 1 and 2 to complete presentation feedback cards for each other, focusing on what they learned from the presentations and what the presenter did well.  I review the feedback cards before distributing them to the presenters. At the conclusion of each presentation day–sometimes presentations run for more than one class period–students are assigned a reflection paper.

Although I sometimes miss the days when a student would show up to class with a homemade stovepipe hat and proceed to discuss Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, requiring students to create multi-media presentations using technology has improved the quality of presentations while engaging students in learning. Students need to learn presentation skills for whatever profession their future holds. As much as I hate to admit it, many of my  students may never crack open a history book after they leave my class. However,  I can rest assured that they leave my class having learned a marketable skill that is transferable to nearly every field.

Reddy, Y. M., & Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation In Higher Education, 35(4), 435-448. doi:10.1080/02602930902862859

Safar, D.H. (2015) Educating with Prezi: A new presentation paradigm for teaching, learning, and leading in the digital age. College Student Journal 49(4), 491-512.

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Exploring the Regions of the World with GoogleEarth

GoogleEarthA couple of years ago, I took over teaching World Regional Geography from another history instructor who was burned out with the class. After my first semester, I could see why: grading stacks of map exercises that included coloring in and labeling maps and answering questions about both the maps themselves and regional issues was tedious. I also began wondering whether or not the skills learned using the map workbook were applicable to the digital age in which we’re more likely to use GPS than the Thomas Bros. map to find our way around town. I consulted with the adjunct faculty who teaches both world regional and physical geography and he told me that GoogleEarth, along with the online geography lab, were what he used in class and for homework assignments. He sent me over a few resources and I was immediately hooked on GoogleEarth.

GoogleEarth can be downloaded for free, which is a tremendous advantage. Uses can create a GoogleEarth account or link it to an existing Google account, giving them the ability to save their work and access it from multiple locations. In addition to mapping functions and the ability to add and subtract layers, such as political boundaries and cities, GoogleEarth includes additional features, including global awareness topics and photos of locations. These additional features allow for more creative uses of the technology for class assignments and projects than merely labeling maps.

While students can easily download and install GoogleEarth on their own devices, most institutions do not allow software to be downloaded onto faculty or computer lab devices by individual users. At Arizona Western College, a software request is required each semester for the classrooms where it is needed. Even if I am teaching in the same class, the computers are wiped clean at the end of each semester (other than the basic office suite and browser), so I need to ensure that IT has enough notice to install GoogleEarth on the instructor console and on either the laptops or desktops students will be using for the class. This semester I ran into a glitch when an older version was installed, prohibiting students from logging in so that they could retrieve or save their work. I took an additional 10 days until everything was updated. GoogleEarth is a large program, so limited bandwidth or slow internet speeds can slow it down. Other than those technical glitches, once it is up and running, students experience few problems.

I have at least one GoogleEarth assignment per region that is completed during class. Since we begin with North America, I usually have students practice by creating a GoogleEarth Tour (recording) of their life: they pin 5-10 sites, from cities they have lived in, schools they have attended, and places they have visited; they record the “tour”; then they share their tour with a partner. Another sample assignment is a “Caribbean Cruise,” visiting at least four ports of call and including at least one “Ocean Awareness” and one “Global Awareness” issue. Wilkening and Fabrinkant (2013) found that regardless of how much time users had to work with 3D Geo-browsers, including GoogleEarth, most tend to simply pan in and out, relying more on the 2D features than the 3D features. One way to introduce students to the 3D features is with the 360 Cities feature, which allows users to stand on the ground and experience a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. Students who have never even been to Phoenix can stand on the malecón in Havana, Cuba and enjoy a panoramic of El Morro y la Cabaña. Even if the 360Cities feature is not available, students can view photos of El Yunque National Park, Puerto Rico; or using the Gigapan Camera feature, explore the SS Antilla Shipwreck in Aruba. More than images and maps, world regional geography is the study of globalization and diversity and how these impact the people and environment of twelve regions. GoogleEarth allows students to explore issues that impact different parts of the world, from civil wars and natural disasters, to deforestation of rain forests and dead zones in coastal waters. In the Caribbean, students can monitor the Millennium Development Goal progress in Haiti, understand the causes and effects of pollution in Kingston Harbor, Jamaica, and see what is being done to protect the leatherback sea turtles in St. Croix, all from GoogleEarth.

Designing meaningful learning experiences using GoogleEarth takes time, however it is more interactive than the traditional mapping exercises and helps students develop a deeper understanding of the world in which we live.

Wilkening, J. and Fabrikant, S.I. (2013) How users interact with a 3D geo-browser under time pressure, Cartography and Geographic Information Science, 40(1), 40-52, DOI: 10.1080/15230406.2013.762140

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Bloggers Delight

Since I began this blog about integrating technology into the history classroom back in January, I have acquired a new-found respect for those who put themselves out there in the “blogosphere.” In the past I had used blogs to provide materials to students in the absence of a learning management system, but the comments were disabled, so they were pretty one-sided.  I also made the blogs private so that they weren’t searchable–only my students knew the URLs for the blogs. I’m not one to get into Twitter or Facebook flame wars, and many of the blogs I read would inevitably have trolls stirring things up, so I was turned off by the proposition of putting myself out there and publishing things that might invite people to post inappropriate comments or put me in the position of having to defend myself.  This has been an enlightening experience, to say the least. It has been an educational adventure creating and maintaining my blog while subscribing, reading, and posting comments on others. I even had a couple of likes from strangers!  In addition to the interactions with classmates, I found the RSS feed to be a great tool. I subscribed to everyone’s blog and then some! I’m looking forward to continuing to write blog posts over the remainder of the course and maybe, just  maybe, I’ll continue to blog away into the sunset.

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