As we wrap up the fall semester, I’m beaming with pride for the twenty first-year students in HI 130 – Is there an app for that? Doing Digital History. For the past fifteen weeks, we’ve learned about a variety of digital tools but focused our efforts on the Clio mobile app. Created by Dr. David Trowbridge, Associate Professor of History at Marshall University, Clio uses your smart phone’s location to find nearby historic sites. It is history’s answer to popular apps that lead you to restaurants or shops. Anyone with an internet connection and a little tenacity can create entries and participate in this collaborative venture.
At Illinois College, all first-year students participate in learning communities consisting of a first year seminar that is paired either with an English composition or public speaking course. In fall 2016, HI 130 is connected to Dr. Chris Oldenburg’s CO 101 – Speech Fundamentals, a perfect pairing for test driving digital history methods and engaging the public in our work.
At the outset, my goal was to involve the class in a local history project that would develop research skills, promote civic engagement, and foster a connection with Jacksonville – the students’ home for the next four years. After reviewing a variety of applications for classroom use, Clio stood out for three reasons: first, it’s free and available for Apple and Android. Second, it is highly intuitive and walks students through the process of creating an entry, but it also requires considerable research. Students must cite their sources and entires are reviewed by both faculty and Clio administrators. Finally, Clio was very clearly designed by an educator and features a simple interface for instructors to monitor their students’ progress. It seemed like a win-win-win.
Still, I was nervous about how it would all play out. Would I be able to handle the technology? Would the students’ entries be up to snuff?
We began the semester by taking field trips to the Governor Joseph Duncan Mansion and the future home of the Heritage Cultural Center Museum, and by going on a scavenger hunt around the Downtown Square. We visited Looking for Lincoln wayside exhibits and combed through goodie bags of local pamphlets graciously provided by the Jacksonville Visitors and Convention Bureau. It quickly became clear to the students that the good people of Jacksonville not only love local history, but they bank on historical tourism to bring visitors to town. At that point, the students compiled a list of interesting sites around Jacksonville and got to work conducting research in Schewe library, the Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives, and the Jacksonville Public Library. About halfway through the semester, they completed rough drafts and gave informative speeches about their Clio entries. From there we worked to revise and upload them, and we also began planning public presentations to raise public awareness.
This past week, small groups of students have given presentations about Clio to the Noon Rotary Club, the Historic Preservation Commission, and the Morgan County Historical Society. On Friday, the last group will present to the Illinois College Marketing and Admissions crew. And let’s just say they have done a fabulous job.
I’m incredibly proud of their hard work and willingness to leave the comfort of the classroom to present in unfamiliar venues (thanks to Dr.Oldenburg’s excellent preparation). Our audience surveys demonstrate that they did a pretty decent job selling their product. For example, we found that the majority of folks in the audience had never heard of Clio, but after hearing the presentations, the majority were interested in giving it a try (and more than one student reported seeing members of the audience downloading the app during their talk). Many responded enthusiastically with lists of more sites deserving of entries.
I’m teaching HI 130 again in Fall 2017 and, now that we’re Clio veterans, I am excited to continue working with it and with the community organizations that have been so very supportive. Over the next year, my hope is that members of the community will edit and revise what the students have done so that the next group can better understand the collaborative nature of the app. Clio is ideal for history teachers, history buffs, and anyone simply looking to find out more about the past in their area.
Three months have passed since my last post. The fall 2016 semester has been crazy busy, full of blog-worthy activities but short on time to describe them. To see more of what we’ve been up to, check out Jacksonville, IL on www.theclio.com.