Digital Media in the Classroom with Dr. Lezlie Knox

Dr. Lezlie Knox is a historian of the Middle Ages and professor in the Marquette History department. You may have seen some of the cool posters she’s posted around about her Black Death (HIST 4212) course on the Bridge. The two student projects we’ve highlighted, Katherine Stein and Cara Caputo’s, were products of Dr. Knox’s course. Dr. Knox has also assigned them in her World and the West (HIST 2001), Medieval Survey (HIST 3210), and Renaissance Italy (HIST 3220) courses. Since Black Death was the more recent course she taught, I asked Dr. Knox to explain what she assigned her students. For their first digital assignment, students were asked to use one of three tools — ThingLink, TimelineJS, or MyHistro — to “create a digital representation of the spread of the Black Death. Maps of this event are ubiquitous, but also problematic. We explored why that is the case and then took on the challenge of creating their own.” For their independent projects, students were asked to use any digital media tool to “explore a pandemic of their choice.” As Dr. Burrows and Dr. Dempsey have said in their interviews, assigning digital media projects can really change the way students learn. On how using digital media changes the way she teaches, Dr. Knox said “I could ramble about different formats for learning or reaching out to a generation that goes to video before text, but more critically what I have seen is that creating digital media makes students less consumers of information than its creator. Students are fairly comfortable at summarizing research in a written form — there can be more agency with a digital application.” Using digital media comes with some risks, however, since technology can fail. This is a particular experience Dr. Knox had in her Black Death course. “One of the best things that happened in my course was that one of our apps failed! When we were prepping the class and assignments during the summer MyHistro was a fabulous option for bringing together mapping and images. It was straightforward, had good support, and seemed to be in for the long haul with EU [European Union] funding. That EU funding ends about a week into the students working on the project and they were no longer able to incorporate images. This was a very ‘real world’ kind of situation which required the groups working with it to adapt on the fly and come up with other approaches.” One of the many perks (or side effects) of assigning digital media projects is that students learn how to adapt their ways of thinking, change the way they are used to conveying information, and learn about the new and exciting tools that are being created for a new generation of thinkers and creators.

Coming up soon, we will highlight one last project from Dr. Knox’s class which uses Google Earth to map the spread of polio in New York.