Monday, September 16, 2013

Crowdsourcing Projects: Allowing Students to Make Genuine Contributions While Learning History, Research and Writing

Crowdsourcing (“the practice of obtaining needed … content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community”) seems to me to offer great opportunities for classroom teachers—particularly high school teachers because they can provide students with an authentic audience and a real purpose for conducting research and writing. Participating in crowd-sourcing projects allows students to make actual contributions to preserving knowledge.

Here are three good examples—all of which seem to me to provide great opportunities to engage Montana students.

National Museum of American History’s National Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive

This new project is designed to document the transformation of American agriculture over the past seventy years. Recognizing that “personal stories are key in telling the story of agricultural innovation,” “the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is asking the public to help us preserve the innovations and experiences of farming and ranching across the United States.” Thus far, curator Peter Liebhold has collected 40 stories, including ones from Illinois (participating in soil conservation NoTill projects in the 1980s). Hawaii (cowboying in the 1960s), Iowa (plowing with horses in the 1930s) and California (the spinach crisis of 2006). They have instructions on how to participate and plan on adding specific ideas for teachers down the road.

The Living New Deal

 This is a very cool website created by members of the University of California Geography Department to document the ongoing impact of the New Deal. As they explain:
No city, town, or rural area was untouched by the New Deal.  Hundreds of thousands of roads, schools, theaters, libraries, hospitals, post offices, courthouses, airports, parks, forests, gardens, and artworks—created in only one decade by our parents and grandparents—are still in use today. Because these public works were rarely marked, the New Deal’s ongoing contribution to American life goes largely unseen. Given the New Deal’s scale and impact across America, it seems inconceivable that no national register exists of what the New Deal built.  The Living New Deal is making visible that enduring legacy.
The project is great—but Montana is woefully underrepresented with only 9 sites. Luckily, they are looking for volunteers to add information. “In order to identify New Deal public works, we are asking volunteers from historical societies, libraries or any walk of life to help provide information. If you know of a New Deal project in your community, please take the time to photograph and document it. Then send the information to us for inclusion in the New Deal inventory. For tips on being a New Deal sleuth, download our Guidelines for Researchers.” You can find out more about how to get involved in this documentation project here.

Story Project: Celebrating Montana Women as Community Builders 

Looking for something closer to home? This project is part of a larger project to create a new mural for the Montana State Capitol Building--the first in over 80 years. Initiated by the 2011 Montana Legislature with Senate Bill 59 and supported by private donations, the mural will honor the history of Montana women as community builders. It will be installed in November 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of woman suffrage in Montana.    
The Story Project is designed to extend the commemoration’s reach, to raise awareness about the centennial of woman suffrage in Montana, to recognize Montana women’s contributions to the state and their communities, and to celebrate the creation of the Montana Women's Mural in the State Capitol.

How will it work?
The Story Project is inviting people across Montana to collect stories about individual women and women's organizations who have helped shape our communities and state, past and present. At the completion of The Story Project (November 2014, the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage), stories and photographs donated to the project will be offered to the Archives of the Montana Historical Society for use by future generations of researchers.

What types of stories is The Story Project looking for?
According to its website, The Story Project “welcomes stories about a woman or group of women whose type of contributions and achievements will help the artist painting the Montana Women's Mural envision how Montana women built our social institutions: libraries, museums, theaters, parks, playgrounds, schools, shelters, hospitals, labor unions, and social clubs.”

The Story Project has developed a questionnaire to guide participants’ research and storytelling, as well as forms you’ll need to submit information.

If anyone decides to participate in these (or other) crowdsourcing projects, I’d love to hear about your experience—and that of your students.

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