Final Reflection


It is hard to believe that another summer session has come and gone so quickly. This was a course that I was really excited to take as I frequently teach online and am always looking for ways to use technology to get students out of the LMS and engaged in real, honest history content. I was certainly not disappointed this summer as we explored a variety of ways to integrate technology into our content and lessons. Everything I developed this semester is something that I can use in my classes this fall – that’s a win!

For this reflection, we were asked to write about the following topics:

  • What have you learned?
  • How have you grown professionally?
  • How your own teaching practice or thoughts about teaching have been impacted by what you have learned or accomplished in this course?
  • How theory guided development of the projects and assignments you created?.

This summer I learned so many things. First and foremost, I realized that I have a lot to learn about technology integration. I wish I could take the class again to absorb even more information! This semester was one of those moments where I realized the absolute depth of information out there on technology integration (in general) and at times it felt overwhelming. In this age of overwhelming information, each teacher has to make decisions on what to use and focus on as it applies to their students and content. Technology integration should be purposeful, focused, and driven by their content\students rather than the tool. Otherwise, initiatives will largely be ineffective or unsuccessful.

Professionally, I have truly grown in terms of thinking about how I use technology with students. This summer I realized that I need to spend more time aligning my technology choices with intended outcomes. My grandmother has always loved to say “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In the instance of technology integration, an ounce of planning is truly worth a pound of achievement. Now that I am formally moving into a full-time teaching position at one of our community colleges, I intend to do this technology integration planning weekly.

In terms of theory, I have spent the past few years struggling with the balance of constructivism and objectivism. My instruction is firmly constructivist – it’s student-centered with lots of opportunity for exploration. However, I have worried throughout my career that while my students learn to think independently perhaps they are not getting a strong enough foundation in history. I especially worry about this in my online courses. This semester has given me the chance to explore those themes in greater depth. Rather than being either-or, I now believe that instruction should be a good balance between constructivist and objectivist approaches depending upon need. There are a few tools that allow the teacher lots of flexibility in terms of approach. One of my favorite finds this summer was Versal which allows you to create a number of activities and compile online resources to create a fully integrated online lesson or unit. I plan to create and embed several Versal units into my Blackboard classes this fall in order to achieve a stronger objectivist-constructivist balance for students.

Blog Self-Reflection

I generally love blogging and reflecting on my work, especially in the summer. However, I just could not get into my course blog this semester as I did with some of the projects and activities we did in class. The causes of my blogging apathy elude me. It could be that I am taking 3 classes and teaching 3 classes at once (I’m exhausted) or perhaps it was that there didn’t seem to be much history technology integration scholarship out there. That being said, I did find something to talk about in each blog which I believe had some relevance in terms of history technology integration. Below are my thoughts on each of the rubric segments for course blog.

Content (65/70) – I think this was my strongest area of performance in terms of the blog entries. Each week, I tried to really connect the thoughts I had in the activities with research (or lack thereof) or the course materials. Most of my posts were genuinely personal reflecting issues I’ve had or observed in my career in education. It is the personal reflections that were possibly the most helpful to me in the blogging process.

Reading & Resources (20/20) – Unless my blog post was purely a professional reflection, I always posted references. This is something that I have gotten into a habit of after two years of doctoral courses. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t find more history focused resources on technology integration that were current. However, knowing that this is a significant gap in the literature gives me some guidance in terms of future scholarship.

Timeliness ( 15/20) – Despite my best intentions, I almost never posted before the due date. I needed the week to really process everything going on in the course (theories, materials, activities, etc.) which often meant writing my blog at the end of the week.

Responses to Other Students (25/30 points) – I think there was only one instance where I didn’t get to add responses to other’s blogs. Otherwise, I tried to be diligent about reading numerous blogs and made comments when I felt like I had something relevant or helpful to add to the conversation.

Overall, I think my blog performance was largely proficient this semester. Had I been able to find more rich resources that applied to history and if I had been more timely, I think my performance may have shifted more towards outstanding.


Debriefing the PBL Process

many small light bulbs equal big one

After any new project is complete, debriefing is the crucial step most frequently overlooked by teachers. Sometimes the most important parts of learning lie in the reflections we have after the event, lesson, or unit is over. There are a number of ways to debrief but two are my absolute favorite methods.

First and foremost, self-reflection is my preferred method. Scheduling time to stop and review your work can be hard to do but is necessary. Learning logs like this one make the process easier as one can look back and review thoughts and plans they had weeks or months previously. Things often appear differently in retrospect so recording the process as you go along is exceptionally important.

My second preferred method of debriefing is to collect feedback from others. If I am teaching a class or conducting a training, I want to know what the participants think about what worked and what didn’t. With any project or plan, there’s always room for improvement as we cannot always predict how others will interpret or react to our work no matter how well structured it is. Secondly, having strong peer feedback is important. I am fortunate to have a strong network of social studies colleagues that I can call and ask for help anytime. They are happy to look over lesson plans, instructions, outlines, etc. and point out things that work or need work.

Ideally, a teacher employs both types of debriefing and uses the feedback from both to create a full picture of needs and strengths. Debriefing should never happen just once in the life of an instructional project. Rather, teachers should debrief often and continue to improve practice. I think formative feedback before, during, and after implementation is most beneficial with the before implementation comments coming from peers and the during and after feedback from students or participants.

Overcoming Barriers to Technology Integration


Do you see this picture – you know, the one with the vast black background and two tiny specks of light? Do you know what it represents? It’s the black hole of social studies related technology integration advice when you Google the term “barriers to tech integration in the social studies classroom”

I have addressed this issue briefly in the past. There are simply not many social studies specific resources and ideas online – especially not in comparison to other content areas such as math, science, or English. While we are rich in primary sources and other history-related documents, there is a distinct lack of discussion surrounding integration ideas. When there are research articles or resources out there, they are generally dated and things have likely changed since the time of their publication. Now, I am not saying that technology integration is not happening in history classrooms – au contraire. Rather, I am saying that we, as history, teachers, are not doing a good enough job sharing our successes and failures online.

When it comes to generating ideas for my classroom, I like to search the web to see what other educators are doing. That becomes difficult to do when no one is sharing out there. There is a strong social studies community on Twitter and I wonder why that dialogue is not trickling down into blogs, research articles, and shared\open lesson plans. As such, I think the first barrier to technology integration in history is the lack of resources and sharing in online communities. What should we do? Blog and share more of what we, as teachers, do in our classes regardless of success and failure.

The other struggle I see with technology integration in the social studies classroom is the lack of quality, content-specific resources and tools. This is also something I have blogged about in the past. There are a few amazing resources out there including Mission US and Docs Teach. The Smithsonian Museum also has numerous online exhibits that bring the documents and artifacts that define history to life for students. However, given the lack of national interest in history education, there will never be as many resources generated for us as there are for the STEM subjects.

As I see it, history teachers have two choices. First, we can continue to adapt generic resources (such as Padlet, Google Docs, or Prezi to name a few) to meet our needs as many of us have for some time. The other option is for history teachers to begin to generate online content, activities, games, and resources that utilize technology and share it with the online community. That being said, the content should drive our technology choices, so sharing those lesson plans and integration ideas long with the resources is a powerful practice as well.

If history teachers can commit to freely sharing their practices, resources and stay open to creating technology content that is related to social studies, I believe that black hole of information on Google will eventually be a thing of the past.

Facilitating PBL


Now that much of the design process for this PBL is completed, consideration of  my own behaviors during the project is the focus. In PBL, the role of the teacher and students shifts: student-centered learning takes center stage, so to speak, and the teacher becomes a facilitator rather than the sole deliverer of information. This shift can make many teachers uncomfortable especially when their performance is tied to student performance on standardized assessments. That kind of pressure drives us to control the process which often has the opposite effect on students.

For most of my education career (though not all of it) I have acted as a facilitator rather than a deliverer of content. Teaching online forced me to reconsider my pedagogical practice as it is much, much harder to find ways to lecture in an eLearning format. So there is not a huge shift to make in the face to face realm for me. That is not to say that I don’t have more to learn about skillful facilitation.

As indicated in the definition above, a facilitator makes things easier. That means that as I observe students work, I need to look for problem areas. Where are students deficient skill-wise? What content is harder to learn or understand? What do students need to be successful? Identification of student problems or challenges is the first critical component of effective facilitation.

Determining how to solve problems or support students struggling with an issue becomes the next step for a facilitating teacher. This may involve teacher research, inviting a professional to class, locating support documents, creating support processes or activities, or sharing student examples. Sometimes an act as simple as providing the right feedback to students can help students out of a problem.

As I mentioned previously, though I am used to facilitating, I can stand to learn more about effective practices. The best way I know to do this is twofold: first, to research other’s facilitation methods and\or read books on the topic can often help me reflect on my own practices and improve. Secondly, observing other teachers facilitate student work is immensely helpful. This can be done with colleagues or by watching instructional videos.

I believe that giving students independence through semi-structured learning activities in a supportive environment ensures that they learn – not only content information but skills as well. There have been too many instances where I have watched students wither under continued teacher-centered instruction to lead me to believe that student-centered classrooms are the best way to ensure student growth.

Scaffolding PBL


I had already touched on this in the last journal reflection but I’ll recap how I foresee scaffolding working in my project. Scaffolding is essential in any course regardless of whether or not PBL is being implemented. For students in my classes, it is likely that they have not experienced a PBL unit before and that they are not used to having lots of academic freedom\hands on time in a college course. Thus, structure and support will be essential for students to succeed in this PBL unit. Below is a brief summarization of how I have planned for scaffolding in my project thus far.

Activity Structure: Course activities and assessments are designed in such a way that they build from easier to more challenging. The students begin by completing individual explorations of upcoming content. I reserve the challenging activities for in-class activities where students can have the benefit of peer or teacher support when needed. In general, activities follow the we do – you do format where students are able to see an example of a process before being expected to complete it on their own.

Support Materials: When possible, resources and support documents will be provided to students to help them with course activities. For example, there are a number of helpful websites that provide information on how to take notes or critically read college-level content. For our primary source analysis activities, students will benefit from the use of analysis documents from both the National Archives and the Library of Congress. As we go through the semester, I will college student samples to help demonstrate what mastery looks like for each assessment.

Instructor Support: Most of the in-class activities are student-centered freeing me up to facilitate and support learners when they need it the most. As students explore primary sources or work on writing, I will be able to walk around. observe, and support on an as needed basis.

Institutional Support: At times, there will be topics where students need support that is better provided by someone other than me. For example, I can teach some writing skills but in extreme cases, a student may benefit from the assistance of a writing instructor in the writing lab. My college has a number of student support groups and facilities designed to help learners grow in terms of skills. When the need arises, I will either direct students to these experts or invite those experts into the classroom.

The Advantages: Integrating Technology into History

Teaching history today is far more complicated than it used to be even a few decades ago. The rapid availability of information and multimedia can make even the best traditional lecture look like a modern-day archaeology exhibit. Though the essence of history and its studies has not changed, the process by which information is gathered, learned, and shared has evolved.

The use of technology in the history classroom provides a number of unique opportunities for students not afforded by previous generations due to financial and geographic constraints. A student who has never ventured beyond their city limits can visit the ancient pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall of China with a few clicks of a button. These opportunities have the potential to create a new, digital world in which history can emerge for students. Below is a brief listing of the relative advantages of integrating technology into history instruction.

  1. Engaging: Who doesn’t find playing an American Revolution game far more interesting than listening to a lecture? Integrating relevant technology into history lessons can ensure that students remain interested in the material. These experiences may also serve to maintain student attention later when the content is not as interesting.
  2. Personal Perspectives: Technology provides the opportunity to access exhaustive collections of primary source documents which give students insight into a very personal aspect of the content studied in textbooks and other course materials. Frequently secondary source accounts glaze over the intricacies of events and time periods, tending to favor a summarized approach to the content. Online repositories such as the Library of Congress and National Archives open the door to new perspectives in historical studies.
  3. Practice Digital Skills: Any time students can work with technology or online, they have an opportunity to practice their digital skills as well as appropriate digital citizenship. By utilizing popular Web 2.0 tools (such as Twitter, WordPress, or Google Drive) students can practice digital skills just as professionals do in their daily jobs today. The classroom provides a safe environment by which to engage in this practice and learn new methods students may not have normally explored on their own.

Ultimately, integrating technology into history courses makes the content come alive. Students can explore the people, places, and events in new ways as they see fit making their learning experiences much more customized and personal.


Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Creating Effective PBL Assessments


Assessment is always a touchy subject in education. The stereotypical assessments that come to mind include state or national standardized tests, multiple choice tests, and scantrons. However, assessments in PBL are much more than a simple measure of right or wrong. Well designed assessments help the teacher see how well students understand the material and whether or not they are growing academically. These measures should challenge students in a non-threatening way, align with their work in the unit, and guide their growth.

This week we developed assessments for our PBL units and were asked to reflect upon these assessments as they relate to J.S. McTighe’s key principles of assessment. Below is a list of my intended assessments and brief descriptions on how they relate to these principles.

Weekly Notes: Each student will explore the course materials for each week before we meet in class. They are to take notes on what they learned for use during in class activities. This is assessed as a completion grade but the true purpose of this activity is twofold. First, these notes are taken to ensure that students are exploring course materials before class. Secondly, the notes ensure that everyone has some sort of foundation before primary source analysis begins and that they have something to reference as they begin their analysis work in small groups.

Document Analysis Practice: This is the hard work of the course – learning to analyze and corroborate historical documents to answer guiding questions. Because this is truly difficult work, students do these activities in class in a small group with the professor available when they become stuck. These activities are designed to help them learn the analysis process in a safe environment, essentially scaffolding the research process.

RAFT Writing: Because this project focuses on how everyday people experienced history, working on understanding perspectives is an important learning target. As such, students will write from the perspectives of others about historical topics through RAFT assignments. Again, these are largely completed in class so that students can get the help of the professor or peers when they need it the most.

DBQ Writing: Similar to the RAFT writing, students will practice short document based question writing assignments in class. These are designed to teach students how to construct an argument using historical documents as evidence for that argument. These are also largely completed in class so that when students struggle, there is a support system immediately available to them.

Reflection Blog: The reflection blog gives students an opportunity to put the skills they’ve learned in the classroom to practice on an individual level. In this activity, students research topics related to the course materials of the week and locate 3 to 4 primary sources that help them answer the driving question (what was history really like for those who lived through it?). This is an activity designed to scaffold the final assignment – the anthology book.

Anthology Book: My plans for this assignment are still a bit blurry but the overall goal is for students to answer the driving question for each era studied in class by compiling documents from their blog and creating an eBook that answers the driving question. Students will put the primary sources in context of each era’s reputation through secondary sources and either corroborate, add to, or challenge the narrative. Ultimately, this activity encompasses all of the goals of the prior assignments: content coverage\historical background, source analysis and corroboration, perspective, persuasive argument, and reflection.

PBL & Active Audiences


This week, our professor posed a question to us that I had been worrying about in prior weeks: is it still PBL without an active audience. According to the Buck Institute, having an active audience to view student project outcomes is a crucial component of the PBL process. While I understand that an active audience is part of establishing authenticity, it can pose challenges to teachers or schools who are not in a position to open their doors to the community for a variety of reasons (location, time, resources, etc.) At the same time, I think the meaning of active audience can be stretched to mean many different things in our current age of technology and interconnectedness.

In short, I do believe a unit can still be considered PBL without an active audience because it is not the audience that makes the unit project based. That being said, each PBL unit must have some element of relevance or authenticity to anchor the learning. Otherwise, the work students do loses some of its purposefulness. In lieu of a public presentation, the teacher could have students post their work online for others online to view. For a high school class, creating products intended to teacher younger students might be a motivating outcome. Alternatively, creating an online reference for users who need information could also be a useful outcome. I also think it could be really fun for two classes in two different places (i.e. different cities, states, or even countries) to study the same PBL unit and share their outcomes.

Understanding PBL Through Examples


Exploring several PBL examples in detail this week has allowed me a few lightbulb moments or so about the focus of projects\process. First and foremost, many of the PBL units I discovered were very much inquiry-based and relied on primary source documents. Additionally, the examples were very student driven in that the students were doing lots of exploration and discovering information through the primary sources. Towards the end of the projects, students were tasked with reflecting on the consequences of the unit (i.e.

This realization occurred much to my relief as this is how I generally teach my classes. We do lots of hands-on primary source analysis and use those documents to answer guiding questions. The only major difference is that my lessons are day to day rather than an integrated, structured approach to a single driving question. As such, I think that it is going to be possible to create a PBL that will still allow me to cover material while simultaneously getting depth.

Despite my increasing comfort with some aspects of PBL, a couple of new concerns have arisen. First, most of the topics in the project seem to fall into one of two types – a) the project topic is very narrow (i.e. putting Truman on trial for dropping the atomic bomb) or b) the project topic is exceptionally broad (does history repeat itself?). Normally this would not be a major concern but the timeframes of the example projects (two to eight weeks in duration) do pose issues. This next semester I will be teaching eight-week sections of US History. That means that my students have to learn an entire semester’s worth of US History content in a short amount of time. Spending two weeks on a mock trial for President Truman won’t work for us. As such I don’t know that the narrow focus is a possibility in my classes. I am learning towards the possibility of a broad question we can revisit each session or week that helps us tie major ideas in history together between the eras.

For those curious, below are the links for the sample PBL units I explored: