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Civil War and Digital Storytelling

website image, unattributed, lincoln and pinkerton

To what extent can digital tools support history education and foster historical thinking skills?

In Clark County, Nevada, the Teaching American History (TAH) grant for elementary school, Inside American History offers an example of the possibilities. The program utilized digital storytelling techniques to study the Civil War era and to focus on Abraham Lincoln. Christy Keeler, PhD, Clark County's pedagogy scholar, explains the work of 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-grade teachers involved with the TAH grant, "Their assignment was to script a digital story using a R-A-F-T (Role-Audience-Format-Topic) strategy, record it with an iTalk attachment to their video iPods, and edit/embellish their stories using Audacity. Their topic had to relate to the Civil War era and had to be suitable for use in an intermediate level classroom."

With the exception of two group meetings, the five-week course took place in cyberspace, taking advantage of free, open-source digital tools. Websites built with Gmail's free blogging tool, Blogger housed instructional materials and projects. The audio-editing application and Audacity served as recording software. Most teachers enter the program with few or no technological capabilities.

Multiple voices bring the words of Lincoln to life within the context of biography and the chronology of events.

"Because the teachers have iPods, we require them to view vidcasts and listen to podcasts outside of class," explains Keeler. " I receive lots of calls from teachers who would like me to walk them through the technologies. I do a lot of training one-on-on by phone while the teachers work on the computer on the other end. I offer myself as a resource to students in whatever capacity they need."

The persistence and continued development of online learning modules and resources defines a major element of project sustainability. Civil War and Digital Storytelling serves as the main website for learning modules and projects associated with the grant. The site includes lectures on the Civil War era (including discussions of Abraham Lincoln) a module syllabus, detailed descriptions of module assignments (these serve as classroom activities for both K–12 and in-service teachers), slides from class presentations, examples of previous student work, and resources for teachers relating to the Civil War, and technologies used in this module.

Keeler writes, "There are many sample stories posted online including an exemplary story about Lincoln: Lincoln's Pen." Masterfully edited, multiple voices bring the words of Lincoln to life within the context of biography and the chronology of events.

An outside evaluator assesses the program. A content test and pedagogy survey are administered at the end of each module. Seventy-five percent of the teachers in the module are observed in their classrooms several months after the session, and at that time they are asked to present a model lesson. After observing, the evaluator interviews the teacher about the lesson and other teaching experiences using content and pedagogy.

This is but one of eight modules developed thus far as part of the Clark County Teaching American History Grant. In the three-year cycle, 10 separate modules are planned, each with its own content and pedagogical focus and heavy technological component.