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Teaching #NOLA with Tumblr

Image Credit: Edouard Marquis, “Creole Women of Color Taking the Air,” 1867, Louisiana State Museum

Seeing everyone polish off their syllabi and check attendance rolls reminds me I’ve been meaning to share my experience using Tumblr as a course blog.  The fall semester is almost here (already for some) but is it ever too late to innovate?  Or get started on the spring load?

Below are some notes on my time teaching “AFRS 215: Black Women in Atlantic New Orleans” as a Consortium for Faculty Diversity Fellow in the Africana Studies Program at Bowdoin College.

AFRS215 was a small, undergraduate seminar meant to fulfill the college’s Intermediate Seminar requirement for students majoring in either Africana Studies or history, or both. As a result, one of the objectives of the course was to teach students to assess and create historical narratives while critiquing the role constructions of race, gender, and sexuality played in the making of those narratives. Students enrolled in AFRS215 learned these skills while exploring the complex lives of women of African descent in the city of New Orleans.

As part of their participation and discussion grade, I required students to make regular contributions to a course microblog hosted at Tumblr. Once a week, students created at least one text, image, audio, video, or link post that demonstrated “a substantive and critical analysis” of the readings to be discussed that week. Extended commentary was welcome but not required as the post itself could be the comment. This was especially the case with audio, link, and video posts. Students were encouraged to ‘reblog’ posts created by their classmates and found elsewhere on Tumblr. Reblogs could count towards the one post per week requirement as long as the reblogger engaged the original post and provided their own “substantive and critical analysis.” In addition, I added course material to the Tumblr before each class, often posting the images, primary sources, and links I would use in lecture that day.

By the end of the semester, the AFRS215 course Tumblr was an impressive resource with New Orleans vibrant history and culture as source material. With the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina generating discussion across the country, the AFRS215 course Tumblr was also a timely and productive way for students to enter the conversation and practice historical and media literacy at the same time.

Browse the original AFRS 215 course Tumblr archive here.

View a sample Course Tumblr Assignment Sheet (RTF) here.

Although the Fall 2010 class has moved on, instead of retiring the Tumblr I’ve allowed it to remain live and active as a collaborative venture in digital publishing and archiving. The Fall 2010 AFRS215 Tumblr continues as The New Orleans Course Archive (http://nolacoursearchive.tumblr.com). The original cohort of students will remain members and are welcome contributors. Students in my future courses on New Orleans will also be asked to join the microblog and required to contribute regularly, building on the product created by the Fall 2010 class.

Tumblr is a fun platform to work with and easy to use with students.  More than that, I’m looking forward to exploring New Orleans history and culture with my past, current, and future students, and seeing what we can create together.  I’ll keep you posted.