As fellows in the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, my cohort and I will spend the better part of this year working within the three divisions, engaged in hands-on work with the tools and projects CHNM produces.
We’ve begun our foray in the educational projects division of CHNM and as I described in my introductory blog, the content and materials created and maintained in this area are expansive. Projects like Children and Youth in History, Popular Romance, History Matters, and others, are built with commitment to open access content and resources in history education. And these efforts consistently earn awards. The American Association for State and Local History recently recognized CHNM’s Teachinghistory.org with a 2013 Leadership in History Award of Merit.
But how do we evaluate the impact of the work that we do? As we assess the resources required, apply for funding, and think about site maintenance, this is a question that we frequently revisit in the digital humanities. I took the opportunity to sit down with Kelly Schrum, director of educational projects at CHNM and director of Teachinghistory.org, and Jennifer Rosenfeld, associate director of educational projects at CHNM, to discuss impact and their vision of work within the Center.
As they explained, impact may be measured in terms of reach: How many people utilize the resources CHNM provides? Who are they? Teachinghistory.org (launched in 2007 with funding from the U.S. Department of Education), for instance, is a free, online resource for K-12 teachers. The site receives more than a million unique visitors and 100 million hits each year. According to an independent evaluation, the majority of visitors to the site are K-12 teachers, but its resources are also accessed by librarians, homeschoolers, public historians, curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teacher educators.
The growth of Teachinghistory.org, as Rosenfeld described, relied on a combination of substantive, relevant content and a commitment to building an audience. What CHNM has found is that when one teacher finds the content useful, they share it. And in turn those educators recommend it to others. In fact, of those surveyed, 88% of respondants indicated that they were very or extremely likely to recommend it to a friend and over a third learned about the site from a colleague. 98% of users said they found what they were looking for and more than 40% found more than expected.
Impact can also be described in terms of scope. Teachinghistory.org provides a wealth of primary and secondary source materials as well as multimedia content (averaging 5 terabytes of bandwidth usage annually). These are not merely databases of digitized sources, however. The site also provides guides on how to use primary sources, lesson plans, instructional videos, history quizzes, teaching strategies, and examples of best practices. An important aspect of this content is that it allows for many ways of teaching history. Teachers are able to utilize these resources in part or whole as they structure their teaching.
CHNM is committed to creating resources that teachers can share and integrate into their classrooms in multiple ways. As Schrum and Rosenfeld shared with me, we create digital content with many audiences in mind. For example, the Teachinghistory.org homepage features a video called “What is Historical Thinking?” Interestingly, Dr. Schrum and Rosenfeld have noted that not only do teachers use it, but also professional development coordinators and museum educators conducting teacher workshops. The Center endeavors to craft content in a way that shapes the experience of users and lends itself to flexibility of application. To this end, emphasis has been placed on producing resources that connect teachers to digital tools, website reviews, and strategies for effective teaching in history classrooms.
Impact may also be assessed by the degree to which the content shapes and promotes new teaching strategies. CHNM demonstrates a commitment to promoting professional development for educators. For example, CHNM created a guide for developing successful professional development partnerships with museums, historic sites, and libraries.
Further, the Center offers two online, asynchronous professional development courses for teachers – Virginia Studies in the fall and Hidden in Plain Sight in the spring. Not only do these courses engage teachers with content in new ways, but teaching practices and tools are also addressed. Dr. Schrum and CHNM Graduate Research Assistant Nate Sleeter described the impact of this type of teaching programming in a recent article in OAH Magazine of History [extract available here].
As a CHNM fellow, a key aspect of my experience here has been learning about the behind-the-scenes work that is required to develop and maintain the range of projects at CHNM. As someone new to the field of digital history, I was curious about key differences between analog and digital teaching with no real idea of the varied tools and resources available here. What I’ve learned from this exercise is just how much reflecting and revising is required in order to maintain a responsive, living resource, and how broad the impact of these resources has been.