Education Rotation

It was a busy start of the year in the Education Department at CHNM.  I worked on data cleaning for the American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) War Dead Database, transcribed Sacrificing Freedom eulogy videos, prepared/uploaded Lesson Plans for ABMC’s new Education Site, and did a content inventory for the National History Day redesign.

Working the war dead database I came to understand that optimizing search and sorting for large data sets involves strategic efforts to ensure proper data importing and input, detailed taxonomies, multiple testing stages and checks for uniform outputs.  My job was primarily searching, sorting and testing cross-browser functionality, but in the process I was able to come gain some insights into how the data set was moved from the old to new system, that could be of benefit if I work on any other data migration projects.  I also was able to get to know a bit more about the different ranks and divisions in the U.S. military.

By transcribing eulogy videos, I was reminded of the importance of accessibility to digital work.  Furthermore, the people in the database entries came to life . The Understanding Sacrifice project works with teachers to develop lesson plans on WWI, by researching individual soldiers and eulogizing them at their overseas resting places.  I was moved by the teachers attachment to their subjects.

I also helped CHNM’s filmmaker Chris Preperato identify selections from project leaders and teachers interviews for the Understanding Sacrifice intro video.  This helped me understand the goals of the project facilitators and see that they were met by the reactions of the teachers.  Teachers were reinvigorated as working historians by doing primary source research on the First World War.  They made lasting connections with the families of fallen heroes.  Perhaps most importantly, they were able to channel the power of place, connect it the lives and stories of individuals on the battlefield, and bring that knowledge back to the classroom with renewed vigor.

In a time when middle and high school teachers are sometimes treated like little more than pre-packaged content distributors and assessors, projects like these seem to make them feel like experts again, with unique experiences to share with students.  Jennifer explained to me how impressed the teachers were that their final lesson plan products were professionally designed and distributed.  When marking up the lesson plans with some html, and uploading documents, I was able to see the great variety of ways that the history teachers approached their lessons, which could be helpful in my own teaching.  However, the painstaking detail to each minute process and attention to national standards, reminded me that a career in secondary education will likely not be in my future.

One of the major takeaways from this experience would be the importance of close collaborations.  Understanding Sacrifice is a collaboration between CHNM and National History Day (NHD).  During my work tenure, NHD had trouble putting together a birthday video for one of their major donors.  On short notice, Kelly was able to step in.  I helped by taping the directors message while Chris was on vacation.  (Note:  the WWII memorial is windy and loud, so if you tape there, be prepared)  Despite my bad audio collection, Chris was able to get together tons of other footage and testimonies and Kelly hired a professional musician to score the video and help with other audio layovers.  I hear that the major donor is really thrilled with his video and shows it to all of his friends.

In sum, I think that the flexibility of working relationships,  i.e. going outside the box with professional development like Understanding Sacrifice and being able to solve partner problems on the fly without huge administrative hurdles, shows how the Education Department at CHNM knows how to make things happen and is dedicated to serving the needs of partners and teachers in unique ways.  It is a model example of how to develop dynamic working relationships and lasting professional collaborations.

First Stop: Education

The first rotation of the divisions here at RRCHNM landed Andrea and I in Education working with Kelly Schrum, Jennifer Rosenfeld, and Chris Preperato. Over the course of eight weeks, I worked with each of these individuals on specific projects. While in education my time was spent assisting with the rebuilding of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) database, Understanding Sacrifice website for ABMC, and organizing of the Folger Shakespeare Library metadata.

American Battle Monuments Commission
Most of my time in Education was dedicated to working with Chris and Jennifer in preparing the reworking of the ABMC website as this had the fastest approaching deadline. My work consisted of checking the new database for errors and comparing it to the old one, testing the new site, comparing the new site from the old one, transferring image files into the new site, and checking compatibility across browsers and systems.

As part of the project, RRCHNM took the database ABMC was working with and completely reworked it to fix any bugs and tidy all the data. This was the largest part of the project taken on by James McCartney and Chris. I was able to help with this process by first going through the database on Drupal and documenting what information was inconsistent with the live ABMC website (which currently held the old data). This was a good introduction into the kind of data we could expect to be working with the rest of our time in education. Additionally, this first task taught me a lot about what James and Chris were doing to rework the data. A lot of the differences I found between the old and new data were good things. In other words, the changes were intentional and reflected that the errors they were fixing were successful.

An enormous part of my time working with the ABMC site can be labeled as testing. With so many changes being made to improve ABMC’s website, there were new aspects to be checked each day. Once the data was complete to Chris and James’ standards, all the testing involved checking the new website. A lot of this work was checking that links were working, information was not provided on the back end while missing in public view, everything was displaying correctly, soldiers were listed in the correct database online (War Dead vs. Korean Honor Roll only), and ensuring there were no general styling mishaps. This work was very repetitive, but extremely necessary. I would sometimes go a long time without finding anything wrong, but once I did, I often found that it was universal (similar profiles shared the same issue). Sticking through and thoroughly checking allowed many issues to be found and addressed before ABMC was shown the site.

Something may be tedious, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
I went in with this attitude. I knew that I would not be asked to do something just to keep me busy. The more issues I found and reported, the more fulfilling the work was.

Understanding Sacrifice
The second largest portion of my time was spent working with Jennifer and Chris on the Understanding Sacrifice website. This website was created to showcase what teachers across the nation had learned about fallen heroes of WWI. The education project is sponsored by ABMC in partnership with National History Day and RRCHNM. I helped Chris transcribe and caption the videos he shot and edited of the teachers giving a eulogy for their chosen fallen hero. Helping Jennifer involved various aspects of the website. I assisted in inputting information for the fallen hero profiles, entering and editing information for the teacher-created lesson plans, and looking over lesson plans for any mistakes.

Working with Chris to create transcriptions was the most familiar tasks I had for this project. As an undergrad at Illinois College, I worked with Steven Hochstadt creating transcriptions of oral histories. However, my experience creating transcriptions for Education introduced me to a new method I will continue to use. After a suggestion from Jennifer, I downloaded the VLC player and learned how to slow down the playback of the audio. Decreasing the speed made doing transcriptions so much easier, I wish I would have thought of it before!

The rest of my time working on the Understanding Sacrifice project had me working with Jennifer to upload content for fallen hero profiles and teacher lesson plans (called activities on the site). I enjoyed doing this because I came in with some html experience, but had not used it in quite some time. Figuring out how to correctly use the code to accomplish the styling aspects asked of me was fun for me. I would have gladly done more of this, but there was only so many profiles and activities.

Shakespeare and Friends
Towards the end of my time in Education, I worked with Kelly to organize and generally make sense of the metadata provided by Folger. The Center has been tasked with revamping the Folger website and have specific requirements for how they would like the data to appear. They provided Kelly with a spreadsheet containing all of their metadata so far as well with instructions on how everything should be shown. In order for James to make sense of everything down the road, Kelly tasked me with organization and clarity.

This task was very difficult for me at first, quite possibly the most challenging one during my time in Education. I think the main reason for this is due to how overwhelming the spreadsheet was to look at. There was a lot going on all at once and terms I had never heard of before. This issue had already been addressed prior to my involvement, though, and there was a tab in the spreadsheet which explained all the terms; this helped me a lot. I created my own tab to work in within the spreadsheet and after three revisions, the information was organized in an easy to understand way with instructions Folger approved.

This project involved a lot of back and forth work while communicating questions and concerns with Folger. Kelly allowed me to sit in on a call with two representatives from Folger with helped my understanding of the project immensely. After that call, the spreadsheet that was once so daunting seemed like a breeze to read and organize. What I enjoyed the most out of this project was being able to be a part of more of the beginning stages and seeing how the “behind the scenes” communications work.

Base What?
My time in Education also taught me how to use Basecamp. Before August, I had not even heard of it. I quickly learned how to log my hours for the fellowship (thanks to Alyssa Fahringer), but I was not aware for a couple weeks into the semester that it was also a project management system as well. Having been on three different projects with Education, I now have a handle on how to use Basecamp to communicate with other members of the project in an efficient way.

Next stop on my tour through the RRCHNM divisions is Research!