Another day, Another blog,

November 12, 2007

File this under shameless plug. My fiance and I, in part inspired by this course have started a new blog. Posts at Firstpast.org, will explore the history of children’s non-fiction literature. You can see the first few posts. The first post explains what its all about, the second analyzes a few images from children’s books about curie and Albert Einstein, the third post takes a quick look at kids books about Osama bin Laden. If you like what you see consider adding it to your daily feeds!


If They Use It, They Will Fund: Life Cycle for Expert Search Portals

November 11, 2007

There is no way around it, it will take substantial effort to keep Playing History viable for the future. This is a common feature for expert search style tools. The good news is that all sorts of groups already do it, including CHNM‘s History Matters. There are substantial costs, while there are strategies for off setting those costs the bottom line is that if it is useful and used it will become something worth funding and maintaining for the future.

Cost: Links break: In the ideal situation this site links to some 3000-5000 games, these links will need to be checked and updated over the entire life of the project. There are of course some tools for automatically checking them, but often sites will also change their content, requiring at least someone to check the links on an annual or bi-annual basis.

Mitigating that Cost: It might be possible to connect with a publisher to publish editions of a dead tree version, one might be able to roll the limited money related to the books into biannual refresh of the project.

Another option: As the site becomes more of a community it will be possible to involve power users from that community to contribute content. On the most basic level, giving users the ability to flag broken links would reduce the need for checking them, beyond that power users could recommend and review games they have found and used.

Unlike an archival, or web article style project. These types of projects are often concerned with preserving their projects for the ages. At least for the time being, I am not. At least initially there really wont be that much of value to save. The site will function more as a web portal, and the content is really at the end of the link after your search on someone else’s server.

With a bit of TLC it would be very reasonable to keep such a site operational for 7 years, at which point if it was successful, lets say tens or hundreds of thousands of users, it would warrant further investment to migrate to PHP 15 or whatever were up to then. If it is not successful I am sure someone will have built a better mouse trap and the world will continue to turn.


How Research Databases Changed My Life!

November 11, 2007

Does anyone else remember the joy of the first moment when you realized what Proquest’s Historical New York Times does? Sitting in a library resource presentation, the librarian clicked in the little search box and in a few seconds was searching the entire full text of the hundred some years of history of the New York Times. Not only is it a fantastic way to kill a weekend, as a historian interested in twentieth century America its a indispensable first stop for almost any research project.

In particular, these sorts of databases provide a amazing platform for jump-starting projects. For a specific example when I first started exploring children’s books about Marie Curie and Albert Einstein I made a brief virtual stop at the OCLC’s Worldcat. From their advanced search pane I was able to search for the keyword “Albert Einstein”, and only English language juvenile literature. I could then sort and search them, (This was one of those moments where Zotero would have been a godsend) but most importantly the OCLC counted them for me. When I did the same search for Marie Curie I found, much to my surprise that there are more children’s books about Curie than Albert Einstein, or for that matter any other scientist. By switching Juvenile to non-Juvenile in my search perimeters it was easy to see that this is exactly the opposite of trends in books about scientists for a adult audience. (Yes I know “Adult Audience” is a clumsy term, it is really too bad that ‘adult biographies’ sounds like something that would be bought at an adult bookstore)

With about half an hour of work I had acquired information about over a thousand books, cataloged the information, and was already brimming with questions all because of the amazing aggregate power of Worldcat. Now this was by no means definitive, and I did end up spending 7 hours paging through the 19 editions of the H. W. Wilson Company’s Children’s Catalog on a upper floor of an obscure library finding out which of these books were recommended to libraries over the last hundred years, but I may not have had the impulse to do so if not for the quick and easy search power of Worldcat.

In short both examples demonstrate the way the research database has transformed how we start projects. I will post a few more links with some other ideas for ways things have changed tomorrow!


How Much Will It Cost!

November 4, 2007

As I have thought about this project it has become apparent that there are several different levels on which it would be possible to proceed. I decided to post them here to bounce them off an audience. Below I have laid out what I would do with grants of varying sizes. Does this look like a good use of money?

Cost: Just About Nothing
This scenario would require me picking up a bit more knowledge of PHP and MySQL. I would start to catalog games in a database and then build a PHP front end for the site. It may well be that there is something ready made that I could bend to fit my purpose. ( I don’t know that much about Drupal or other CMS tools those could well be the way to go). From there I could manipulate Google’s custom engine to search the games sites directly and the contents of the site itself. Many of the more flashy features, a “Games Backpack”, a portal for games developers, integration with state standards, would all have to wait till the site received more funding. The only expense, outside of my time, would be to register the domain and host the site.

Cost $50,000
With $50,000 things would probably be very similar. Most of the money would go toward contracting out the design and site layout to a web designer/programmer. The goal here would be to build a stable and attractive site with a database backend that I could then populate with information on the games that I aggregated. Any money left over would be spent on interns, or a graduate assistant to help me aggregate the content. Hiring a designer would both improve the quality of the site and also rapidly increase the speed at which the site could be operational. By contracting out the web design I will be able to focus more on the content, improving the quality of both.

Cost 150,000
$150,000 would allow me to develop more of the features I initially laid out. Here I would consider hiring a web designer/programmer to work full time for a year, and then use the remaining money to hire interns or a graduate assistant to aggregate the content. Ideally, with this much money I could spend most of my time evangelizing the tool, working to build our user community making the project attractive enough to acquire additional funding to extend Playing History’s capabilities.

Cost 300,000
With 300K I would hire the same people that I did in the 150k scenario, but I would hire them for an additional year. This would allow us to spend much more time integrating user feedback and rolling out more of the stages I discussed earlier. In all the scenarios the goal would be to work toward acquiring additional funds to extend, expand, and add additional functionality.

Those are rough outline of how I have been thinking about funding the project. So, doe it sound feasible? Are there big things I am leaving out?


Term Paper 2.0: Reinventing The College Essay Via Wikipidia

October 26, 2007

I just got out of a great session at Educause that I thought would add another wrinkle to earlier discussions of the value of Wikipedia. The two speakers Andreas Brockhaus and Martha Groom, had students in a environmental biology class write or significaltly edit Wikipedia articles in lue of a traditional essay assignment. (The full power point from their presentation is online.) The assignment is remarkibly similar to what CHNM’s Jeremy Boggs does with students in his History 100 seminar, what can I say, great minds think alike!

The power point does a decent job and is relativly self explanitory, if you have a few minutes it might be worth your attention. But here were her findings.

The Good:

“Students gained perspective on the value of credible sources, and complete citations
Peer review became a more purposeful effort; good critiques more highly valued
Students invested more in their work, felt greater ownership, and experienced greater returns for their efforts
Products were generally better written than typical term papers”

The Less than good:

“Too much choice led to some poor postings (which were deleted)
Timing — Publishing once at the end of course
May be better to publish in stages
Posting deadline with at least one week left to course
Students needed extra guidance to create high quality articles in encyclopedia style
More instructor time required to shepherd students through entire process”

The Verdict:

I think its an amazing idea. Take for example one of the products, an article on deforestation during the Roman period. It’s a very solid piece of work, and the best benefit of all, class work has an impact: Google Deforestation Roman and its the number one hit. Just think of the possibilities!


Playing History:Hacked Screen Shot

October 7, 2007

Playing History Screen Shot

Here is a quick mock up of a individual games page for Playing History. (Click on the image to see it at its native resolution) Everything isn’t perfectly lined up but you get the picture.


Playing History For An Audiance

October 7, 2007

So far I am calling my video games resource for teachers “Playing History.” As I am imagining the resource there are four potential audiences, and each of the audiences would enter the picture at different stages, and each would have unique needs.

K-12 History Teachers
The primary audience is Teachers. As outlined in my use case the primary goal of the resource is to make it as easy as possible for teachers to find game content and associated lesson plans to use in their classrooms. The initial stages in building the tool will all focus on building a useful tool for teachers. It will be necessary to gather together and review a large amount of games to build up enough content to make it worthwhile to visit, aggregating games that crisscross the history curriculum. The site’s content and development would at this stage mirror History Matters. Once the site has enough content to get off the ground the project would start to target the early adopters, teachers in ning groups like next gen teachers groups on yahoo teachers, and Google certified teachers. Those interested would be able to join the project in a collaborative fashion, adding to the content by reviewing games. With the early adopter teachers on board the next target would be district Academic Coaches/Curiculm coordinators.

Academic Coaches/ Curriculum Coordinators
Curriculum Coordinators work with teachers to develop their districts curriculum, in larger districts there is a director for each content area and in smaller ones a single director manages content of all the disciplines, in either way their job description sets them up as a way to connect teachers with resources and develop the classroom. In the second stage of development Playing History would target Curriculum Coordinators through conferences (like ASCD), and professional development events. This phase would also role out a separate interface for coordinators, one that allows them to send resources to the teachers they support both within the site’s canvas and also through existing communication networks like email. As the site grows and gains attention and users it will become a useful place for the third audience Developers.

Educational Game Developers
There is a growing community of educational games developers, but sadly there is no easy portal for those developers to get their games to teachers. Once Playing History has acquired an audience for teachers it can function as a portal for developers to expose their games to a wide audience of educators interested in games.

Educational Researchers
Finally the resource could eventually become a interesting nexus for educational researchers to further plan and develop new projects. By providing a common ground for developers and teachers to connect and discuss each others work the site would be full of interesting information for projects. In the fourth stage of development Playing History would offer a portal for researchers to track the success of different approaches to educational games and better survey the needs of classroom teachers.