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Teaching with Digital Timelines

Posted by on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 in Resource.

Timeline from Bryan Lowe's "Religions of Japan" Course by Derek Bruff, CFT Director

This year the Center for Teaching hosted a few educational technology working groups for faculty, staff, and students interested in exploring ways particular technologies might meet their instructional goals. One of the groups investigated the use of digital timeline tools, like Tiki-Toki and TimelineJS, that facilitate the creation of online, multimedia, interactive, and collaborative timelines. I had used such tools in my own teaching, having asked my 2010 writing seminar students to create a class timeline on the history of cryptography, and I was eager to talk with other instructors about the potential of student-produced timelines.

Over the course of the year, 19 faculty, staff, and graduate students met at the Center for Teaching to consider various online tools for creating timelines and discuss options for timeline-based student assignments. Several of us experimented with timelines in our courses this year, and two members of the group, Elizabeth Meadows (English) and Bryan Lowe (Religious Studies), along with Bryan’s teaching assistant Jonathan Redding (Religion), shared their experiences teaching with timelines at a well-attended panel this spring at the Warren Center for the Humanities, part of the Conversation on Digital Pedagogy series co-sponsored by the CFT and the Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning.

You can read about Elizabeth and Bryan’s use of timelines in a brand new “Digital Timelines” teaching guide, written by CFT Senior Graduate Fellow Danielle Picard and me. The guide features a number of reasons to use timeline-based assignments drawn from the working group’s discussions, as well as examples of such assignments from instructors at Vanderbilt and elsewhere. You’ll find advice on how to navigate teaching choices that come up when working with timelines (Should students create their own timelines or collaborate on a class timeline? How private or public should a timeline be? How to go about grading student-produced timelines?), as well as some things to consider when selecting a digital timeline tool. Let us know if you find the new teaching guide useful or if you experiment with timelines in your courses!

The CFT’s work this year on timelines is part of our ongoing efforts to investigate teaching practices that engage students not only as consumers of information, but producers of knowledge. For more on the CFT’s “Students as Producers” initiative, see our past blog posts on the topic. Thanks to Vice Provost for Learning and Residential Affairs Cynthia Cyrus, who spoke about one of her “Students as Producers” courses at a 2014 CFT event, for providing funding for this year’s timelines working group.

And thanks to Dani Picard for her incredible work this year supporting the working group and writing the new teaching guide with me. After two years as a CFT Graduate Teaching Fellow, Dani is moving on to other pursuits this summer. She’s been a valuable member of the CFT team, and she will be missed!

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