Medieval Cities of Europe: Click, Tweet, Map, and Present
By Kathryn Reyerson, Kevin Mummey, and Jude Higdon
The History Teacher, Volume 44:3 (2011)
Introduction: During spring semester 2010, a long-standing upper-division lecture course, Medieval Cities of Europe, 500-1500 CE, underwent a course transformation. Our goal was to address specific challenges with student engagement that we had experienced in the course in the past; our overarching strategy was to introduce technology into the course to allow students additional opportunities to engage with the material and get feedback. This course had been taught since the late 1970s to student audiences of between 40 and 60, but in the last decade, the course began to attract greater numbers of students, over 80 in some cases. The course format was the traditional lecture without discussion sections or small group exercises, taught with an instructor and a reader/grader. Because of the numbers of students and the increased enthusiasm for alternative learning opportunities through technology in the classroom, the instructor applied for a Course Transformation Grant sponsored by the Offices of information Technology in the College of Liberal Arts and the Digital Media Center at the university of Minnesota. The instructor, along with a graduate student who would be the reader/grader, an undergraduate, and two educational technology consultants, worked as a team for nine months to produce a plan to transform the course. The course transformation included a small budget for technology support, but obviously precluded any major investment in software or “Hollywood-like” multimedia development. The course transformation team looked instead for simple, existing technologies to facilitate transformative learning experiences in the classroom.
The transformation was intended to create more opportunities for active learning, increasing student engagement in the course lectures and in the subject matter of medieval cities. A particular goal was to limit “lights out, heads down” disengagement and distraction during in-class films. One of our goals was to provide students with new ways to master the core course concepts, such as the reality of the negotiated topography of medieval spaces, and we were interested, to the degree possible, in increasing the efficiency of the course and reducing the administrative overhead.
We introduced four technology-enhanced activities to enrich the traditional lecture format: clickers; Twitter reflections on class films; a map exercise; and group presentations on medieval urban topics. The lectures were accompanied by PowerPoint images designed to encourage student questions and discussion. The course was supported by a Moodle website that served as a central repository for the knowledge assets of the course. The site featured PowerPoint formats and templates, links to other medieval internet sites, video instructions for the Twitter exercises, as well as video instructions for the map exercise, and specific bibliography and guidance for each of the five in-class presentations. Below, we discuss in detail each of our four major interventions.