OER and Exploring Pressbooks

Cover of the Healing and Reconciliation Through Education Pressbook.
Cover of the draft Healing and Reconciliation Through Education Pressbook.

I recently starting working with Pressbooks as a way to develop an Open Educational Resource (OER) about residential schools and the history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

For folks not familiar will Pressbooks, it is a publishing platform that you easily create ebook and print-ready files for printing physical books.  In Ontario, eCampus Ontario has a dedicated Pressbooks instance for folks at universities in the province who are looking to develop OER and open textbooks.   The platform is extremely user friendly, and if you’ve used WordPress you’ll find the navigation and content entry system very similar.  I love the idea of using digital tools to create accessible, open access material for students to use in the classroom.  I also think there is a ton of potential for archives to work with historians to provide primary source material for this type of project.

We’re still very much in the content development phase of this project; but it has been really interesting to think about ways to illustrate the unique history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School site in connection to the larger residential school system.  This is a history that the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre have been collecting and discussing for decades. It’s also a history that has become past of my daily work for the past eight years, either through archival practice or educational outreach programming. The development of OER content has the potential to deliver this history in new ways and to expand the reach of this important work.

I’m also really seeing the benefit of using a platform which supports collaboration.  I’ve been able to bring in a number of conspirators  co-authors to this project and we have been able to jointly develop content and design. I also like the flexibility a digital platform provides – hyperlinks, embedded audio-visual, and photographs are some of the obvious advantages.  In the case of our project we’re also embedding primary source material held by the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  It is allowing us to directly connect learns will archival records, archival photographs, and documents which are central to telling the history of the Shingwauk site.

I would love to hear what other public history and Canadian history folks are doing with Pressbooks, OER software, and open textbook development. What are you working on? What resources do you wish existed to support your students? 

Art + Feminism in the Soo

Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit A Thon written in blue of yellow background. Poster.

Last week I helped organize an Art+Feminism edit-a-thon in Sault Ste. Marie, OntarioArt+Feminism is a “campaign improving coverage of cis and transgender women, feminism, and the arts on Wikipedia.” This year marks the fifth year of the Art+Feminism initiative and since 2014 edit-a-thons have taken place around the world, improving over 11,000 articles in the process.

The event organized in the Soo was focused on increasing content on Wikipedia related to Indigenous folks and Northern Ontario artists.  We had a small but enthusiastic group who spent the day editing, laughing, and talking gender.  I was inspired by the effort everyone put in to learning new skills and improving Wikipedia.  Our work even garnered some media attention – local journalist David Helwig covered our work and the new articles created as part of our day.

I love the spirit of community that can be fostered during edit-a-thons.  Many of the participants were folks who I had edited Wikipedia with before and it was great see their progress as editors. We also used this Art+Feminism event to celebrate the successes of our community – the majority of the edits and new pages created were about people we knew, had met, and admired. Two of the new pages were about Algoma University alumni and two new pages were about artists who had worked with the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.

This locally driven page creation reminded me of why I love Wikipedia – it has the power to shape narratives, uplift voices, and can be a collaborative/community work space.  Editing Wikipedia also has the power to act as an education tool – teaching folks about collaboration, clear writing, citations, and narrative building.  The more I engage in editing Wikipedia with students and community members the more I am encouraged by the results. Editing Wikipedia combines a huge range of skill sets and can change the way we think about the past and community success.

Fridays by the Fire

Wood burning fireplace at the Old Stone House

Last week I was an invited speaker to the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site’s Fridays by the Fire series.  This series runs January to April on Fridays and invites local folks to have lunch in the ‘summer kitchen’ room of the Ermatinger Old Stone House while listening to a speaker.  The name of the series comes from the fact that the centerpiece of the room is a fireplace (pictured above). The series’ speakers cover a range of community perspectives and focus on various historical topics.

My talk was focused on the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) and the legacy of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.  This talk was a variation on some of the introduction discussions I provide when offering site tours of the historic Shingwauk site.  The emphasis was really on explaining the long history of residential schools locally, the changing landscape of the Shingwauk site, and on-going impacts of residential schools.  I also touched on some of the cross-cultural work that is being undertaken by Algoma University and its partners. To close off the talk I discussed the power of community archives in shifting narratives and the history of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association.

For me these community based outreach opportunities are extremely important.  It is a form of outreach that is all about meeting people where they are.  For example, a number of the participants were regulars at the Old Stone House but had never visited the SRSC and weren’t aware of the public programming we offered.  This talk also allowed me to field some of the myths around local history and to promote ongoing initiatives of the SRSC.  As an added bonus, the talk was recorded by our local Shaw TV station and will have extended reach through that programming.

I am grateful for Ermatinger Clergue staff member Will Holingshead and his willingness to collaborate between our organizations.  I really do love the ability of cultural heritage organizations to help and uplift each other, I think that collaboration is so important.

S is for Signal-boost

Woman speaking into a megaphone

This post was partially inspired by Claire Kreuger’s alphabet blog series on colonialism and reconciliation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about signal-boosting as a form of activism recently.  This has in part come from conversations around what work settlers can engage in following the verdict which found Gerald Stanley not guilty in the shooting death of a twenty-two year old Cree man, Colten Boushie. For folks looking for resources on that particular topic I suggest The Keyboard Warriors Handbook to #JusticeforColten and the Idle No More Discussion Guide: Justice for Colten Boushie. There is a lot more to be done than simply signal-boosting this issue. I would suggest folks think about how they can support communities and engage in meaningful work around this cause.

What is signal-boosting?

I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that the Oxford English Dictionary has a definition for signal-boost: “Share (another person’s post or other online content) with one’s own followers or friends on social media so as to raise awareness of an issue, event, etc.”  Essentially signal-boost is using your place of privileged to amplify the messages and voices of others.  It is often discussed in the context of uplifting the voices of marginalized and emerging scholars, activists, and community folks.  Signal-boosting can be a way to gain public awareness of an issue, garner media attention, or generate community support for a cause. It’s about moving causes from the fringes into the public eye and bringing issues into mainstream conversation.

Why signal-boost?

For me signal-boosting is part of doing the work. It is about being part of communities I care for, supporting those who need it, and leaving space for marginalized folks to speak.  Signal-boosting is also about listening.  It is about bolstering the voices and experiences of oppressed communities and using my privilege as a white able-bodied settler to uplift the work of others. I may not have much of a platform but I do have online communities and personal networks who I can share material with.

Signal-boosting can also be a way you can engage with an issue even if you aren’t physically able to march, protest, or attend rallies. It is a way folks can help with a cause they care about even if they are not physically or mentally able to handle front lines activism. For more on the topic of supporting a cause while facing illness I recommend folks read “How To Help The Cause When You Need Help Yourself” by Carrie Cutforth. I love her argument that, “If the only thing you can do is retweet when you are too unwell to do otherwise, you have taken part.”  Sometimes activism means prioritizing your own well-being and doing what you can.  Signal-boosting is important and meaningful work and taking it up as a call is worthwhile.

Pitch to the Platform

Knowing your platform is an important part of signal-boosting.  For example, there is a good chance your audiences between Facebook and Twitter vary greatly.  Personally, my Facebook tends to be a space for family and friends whereas my Twitter account is more professional and far reaching.  Additionally, each site has its own algorithm and understanding what works best on each platform is important.  Photo heavy, personal stories do better on Facebook. Whereas text only posts can still have a wide reach on Twitter if they are linked to the right group of folks.  Learning about hashtags, joining groups of like minded folks online, and reading up on outreach trends can all help you signal-boost.

Do you signal-boost? Do you have advice to folks engaging in signal-boosting as activism for the first time?

Photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Facilitation and Building Public History Discussion Spaces

A circle of coffee cups on a wood table.

Facilitating meaningful discussion can be hard.  Many of us have facilitation success and horror stories from the seminar room, a larger classroom setting, or a community outreach program.  Engaged conversations can be a powerful way to learn and provide a sense of shared learning, build on collective intelligence, and allow for diverse viewpoints.

The Art of Hosting argues that facilitating conversation is an art and that it takes practice and work to become skillful at helping folks work together.  I also love their philosophy that a host is someone who “ignites and holds the space for conversation.” This idea situates hosts as part of a group and not a leader of conversation and discusses facilitation as form of participatory leadership.

This facilitation philosophy also appeals to me because it draws on the important idea of building physical and intellectual space for discussion.  Making sure physical and intellectual spaces are welcoming and as barrier free as possible can be crucial in establishing room for open dialogue.  In just simple things like making sure an appropriate amount of time is set aside for discussion – don’t rush participants or the group as a whole.  Discussing challenging, divisive, personal, or emotional topics often require more time.

Recently, in a presentation Jessica Knapp of Canada’s History Society remarked that public history is all about relationships. I couldn’t agree more. At their core many public history projects are about building and maintaining relationships with others. Long term community discussion and fostering long term community conversations is all about relationships.  It means meeting people where they are at, building space to share stories where folks are respected and heard, and making room for communities to co-create and learn together.  It also means understanding that people come to discussion spaces on uneven ground, that power imbalances all real, and that reflecting on what brought us to a space can help us move forward.

Some of my favourite community based experiences recently have included participating in Thinking Rock making sessions, where community members are engaged in hands-on making projects. The facilitation style of the folks at Thinking Rock is something I greatly admire.  Similarly,  in the past few years I’ve had the chance to work with 4Rs Youth Movement and their framework for cross-cultural dialogue and building spaces for critical conversations is fantastic. The work of 4Rs emphasizes that dialogue takes “time, space, and care” and that “the activities or facilitation methods themselves are not impact without intentions, approach, and goals carefully thought through.” (p. 14) What you are attempting to accomplish through facilitation and discussion matters.  Why are you having these community conversations? Are they merely a check box form of consultation?   Or are you actively listening and letting community responses guide your work?

Creating space for discussion takes time and effort. Participating in community discussions and working in existing collaborative spaces is a great way to start to learn about what facilitation styles appeal to you and an easy way to start thinking more critically about dialogue spaces.  What are your go to facilitation strategies?

Additional reading:

Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Graphic Art, Comics, and History

coloured pencils on left hand side of a grey background.

Some days it is really obvious why I love my job.  This week as part of doing lecture and class prep I spent some time revisiting my favourite history themed web-comics, graphic novels, and graphic arts projects.

My drawing skills are pretty much nil. But I love the idea of using graphic arts as a way to interpret history, communicate history beyond the academy, and challenge historical narratives.  Historians who can draw and decide to disseminate their work via comics amaze me.  I also love historian/artist partnerships that show a shared appreciation for historical narratives and art making.

Graphic novels have been shown to encourage reluctant readers while building vocabulary and a they have a lot of power as educational tools for both young and mature audiences.  Graphic arts informed by history are a great example of creative public history, outreach, and finding ways to reach audiences where they are.

I have written about a few of the below elsewhere, but they are still so good that I couldn’t resist sharing again. In no particular order here are some of my favourite graphic representations of history:

    • Hark! A Vagrant and essentially anything created by Kate Beaton.  Beaton’s humorous approach to Canadian and international history tickles my funny bone.  I particularly love her Prime Minister focused comics, French Revolution series, and anything she does relating to the Bronte sisters.  Bonus – if you have kids Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony book is adorable.  It includes a strong female character and a farting pony that kids love.
    • Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical Poster Project by the Graphic History Collective.  This project provides alternative narratives relating to well known events and highlights the experiences of Indigenous people, women, and under represented groups.  The posters and their accompanying essays are fantastic educational resources that show how graphic history can be used to challenge mainstream narratives.
    • Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown. Originally created as a serialized comic (1999-2003) and later published as a graphic novel Brown’s work focuses on Riel’s relationship with the Canadian government, the Red River Resistance, and Riel’s death.  Brown’s work includes a foreword, index, and end notes and is a great example of comics being used as a form of biography and historical scholarship.  The novel reached best-seller status in Canada and saw general success in the mainstream publishing market.
    • Maus by Art Spiegelman. This Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experience during the Holocaust.  All of the humans in the story are depicted as animals. The Jewish race is drawn as mice and the Germans as cats. The comic is a graphic representation of the oral history that Spiegelman’s father shared with him.
    • Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss.  Another biography style graphic novel.  I’ve added this one to the list not only because of its historical context but because of how beautiful the book is.  It was a delight to read and I could spend ages just looking at the images.

Photo credit: Photo by Kelli Tungay on Unsplash

Canada Wide Wikipedia Edit-A-thon Reflection

Women yelling "[Edit] Cdnhist on green and purple background

It’s been a bit over a week since the Canada wide Wikipedia edit-a-thon that was organized by Jessica Knapp and myself.  As the dust has settled I’ve thought a bit about how the event went and ways in which future events could be improved.

Event Successes

I was thrilled with the level of participation we saw throughout the course of the event.  When we came up with the idea we had no idea who would participate or how much interest there would be from the Canadian historical community.  It was great to see people participating from across Canada and from so many different backgrounds. The event resulted in 12.9K words being added to Wikipedia, 259 total edits being completed, over 36 editors contributing, and 60 articles being edited.  It was also fantastic to see participation happening across Canada by university students, faculty, community groups, and high school students.  I was also presently surprised by the number of regional hosts that volunteered without explicit outreach from Jessica or I.

During the event organization stages Danielle Robichaud suggested using the Programs and Events Dashboard.  For anyone organizing an event in the future I would highly recommend using this platform to setup the event.  I might eliminate the use of the Wikipedia meetup page in future events and just opt for using the Dashboard.  Not everyone who participated signed into the Dashboard, but using it allowed us a much easier way to capture stats for the event then manually tracking everyone’s contributions.

I also had my undergraduate public history class participate in this event as part of their coursework.  I couldn’t be happier with how this in-class activity went.  The students were engaged and actively editing.  A few created new pages but a lot of the work that was being done was adding citations and cleaning up existing text. We also had a lot of interesting discussions around authority, who has the power to create history and what different people think is ‘important’ history.  I’d definitely consider using Wikipedia editing again in the classroom and would encourage instructors to use the Wiki Education resources to build assignments, track classroom participation, and provide resources to their students.

Food For Thought

I think it would be great to have more class groups involved in this type of event.  In order to facilitate that involvement I think doing outreach to specific faculty and teachers earlier would be beneficial.  For the case of faculty doing this outreach prior to them developing the syllabus for their class might be best. I think also providing faculty with suggestion of how to setup their classroom activities would be hugely helpful.  Similarly, reminding local hosts that they can apply to have the IP Account Creation Cap temporarily lifted during the event can help make things go smoother on the day of the edit-a-thon.

We created a Slack channel for this event in case anyone needed one-on-one support during the event.  Though a good way to provide that chat functionally the channel wasn’t used and could likely not be bothered with in future cases.  The #EditCdnHist hashtag on twitter worked well for promoting the event and also for facilitating some day of discussion.

Building in a couple of people to help with event follow-up and article cleanup is crucial.  For this year’s event I’ve been slowly working on this.  This follow-up involves things like reviewing the draft articles that were created, improving the articles that were created by new editors, and fixing formatting.  In some cases this work has been slightly hampered by some editors not signing into the Dashboard and having to spend some additional time search out what they worked on.

Did you participate in the #EditCdnHist event?  How was your experience? What could be done to make future events more successful? 

Design Skills: Posters and Outreach

Wooden bench in fall with leaves on the ground. Poster text reads "design skills for public historians"

One of the side projects I’m working on has had me thinking a lot about self-promotion and employment skills.  This thinking has been primarily around what emerging public history professionals should know when they go on the job market and how they can build the strongest resumes and cover letters possible.  Unsurprisingly this line of thought has also inspired me to consider what skills new professionals are bring to the workplace.  I’ve also been doing a lot of outreach events recent and thinking about marketing techniques.

So about those pretty graphics. Online promotion, creating physical flyers, and designing attractive graphics is a huge skill set.  Not every heritage organization is lucky enough to have their own design or communications person.  In smaller organizations with minimal staff one person is responsible for everything from event design, to promotion, to facilitation.  So how are your poster making skills? And how can you build basic design skills without breaking the bank?

Public Domain Images Are Your Friend

Don’t recreate the wheel or steal other people’s work. Seriously. There are a ton of places online where you can access public domain images to use in social media promo or other design projects.  One my favourite go to sites is Unsplash a website which hosts high resolution public domain images created by photographers. These images often work great as stock photos and are also available to remix and reuse as desired.  Check out “made with Unsplash” examples for ideas on how the images could work in promotional material.

I also love Old Book Illustrations, which is a collection of public domain illustrations that have been scanned from out of copyright publications.  The site specializes in Victorian and French Romantic images, they are available as raw scans to download or in a variety of resolutions.  I also particularly love that this site provides information on creators, where the images came from and the techniques used to create the image.  If you’re looking for historical images I would also suggest checking out library and museum collections to see what public domain scanning projects they have started.

Other sources I use for public domain images: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr Commons and the aforementioned archives.

Yay For Templates!

Poster design takes practice.  Knowing where to place images, how large text should be, and how to make everything eye catching takes work.  There are some horrible posters out there and chances are we’ve all been guilty of creating at least one – too much text, an image that is a bit blurry, or just a bad colour combination.  Using templates can take some of the guess work out of this. Most word processing programs include poster template if you’re looking for something basic.

Canva is an online drag and drop design program that comes with a lot of templates for social media, presentations, flyers, and other formats.  You can signup as a free user to access a number of the templates, images, and fonts.  They also have a subscription option for folks interesting in using their resizing tool or accessing additional templates.  This program is really easy to use for beginners who aren’t looking to invest a lot of time into design.

PosterMyWall is similar to Canva in its use of templates. It is a simple drag and drop design setup with an emphasis on building attractive promotional images. I’ve found this site particularly helpful if you’re looking for a event flyer inspiration or templates. I haven’t used it for social media graphics but it looks as though that is an option as well.

Training Options

At minimum I’d suggest that folks should gain basic photo editing skills.  This can be using Photoshop, GIMP or another open source editor of your choice.  Being able to crop, alter file sizes and formats, and alter the colour of images can be easy first steps to building your skill set. Want other design skill ideas? Allana Mayer wrote a great series of posts about how heritage organizations can use public domain images to create print-on-demand products.

There are also more and more design workshops popping up locally.  Check your local employment centre, library, or entrepreneur group to see if they are offering any introduction to design or introduction to online promotion workshops.

Outreach, Performance, and Introversion

I’ve been doing a lot of outreach work recently. For example, this week I’m running education sessions for over 180 high school students.  In most cases the students are visiting in groups of 40-50 to learn about residential schools and the Shingwauk Indian Residential School site. In instances I’m co-teaching these sessions with a residential school survivor and in other cases I’m running these sessions solo.  I’m also teaching a public history course this term which has caused me to think a lot more about instruction styles and engagement.

Recently Myron Groover wrote a series of tweets that discussed the idea of teaching as performance.  I’ve embedded a few of Myron’s tweets below but I would encourage folks to read the whole thread.

The idea of teaching as performance really resonated with me. I enjoy teaching and I enjoy outreach work. But to be honest I often find it outright exhausting. I’m an introvert and having to constantly be ‘on’ while doing outreach can be really draining.  When I do K-to-12 outreach programming it’s often delivering a variation of a lesson I’ve done hundreds of times, however just interacting with students for extended periods of times can be tiring.

One of the challenges of doing outreach work with K-12 and post-secondary students is the limited amount of time you’re spending with them.  What material students know prior to me talking with them varies greatly and I often tailor my plan for a session based on the first 10-15 minutes with the students.  Reading and getting to know my audience is particularly important in the situations where I’m talking about residential schools.  The material that we’re covering can be triggering and sensitive in nature and I want to make sure I’m providing a supportive space for students to learn in – while being aware of the need to shift gears depending on how students are reacting to the material.

Over the years I’ve developed personal practices to help with the performative nature of instruction sessions.  These include:

  • Whenever possible I’m trying to not book more than one school group a day.  Wrangling a bunch of students who are on a field trip can be hard and scheduling more than one group in a day means the second group ends up getting a tired version of me that isn’t quite on my best game. I realize I’m extremely lucky in that I get to set my own outreach schedule and that this is a luxury that might not be possible for many people.
  • I also try to schedule time immediately prior to and after the instruction session for me to decompress.  I use the time before to do any last minute prep and room setup and the time afterwards to reorient myself.
  • If I have high school students for more than one hour I need to incorporate hands-on activities. This is in addition to audio-visual materials and guided discussion.
  • If I have an elementary school group for any length of time I incorporate hands-on activities.
  • I have a roster of backup activities to turn to just in case a) the group is particularly restless, b) I’m sick/need to give myself a break c) The group works through the planned activities quicker than anticipated.

What techniques do you use to help cope with the performative nature of teaching and outreach?

Rivers Speak Community Play

Rivers Speak Logo reads "The Rivers Speak, Gigdoowag Ziibiik, Les Riveres Parlent"
Rivers Speak Logo

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Gigidoowag Ziibiik (Rivers Speak) Community Play.  This fantastic project was the culminating event of Thinking Rock Community Arts‘ efforts to engage community members in story telling and art making.  Since 2013 Thinking Rock has involved over 1500 individuals in hands-on making and storytelling with an emphasis on reflecting on local rivers and waterways.  This initiative also worked to create spaces for cross-cultural conversations and involve both Indigenous and settler communities. 

The Rivers Speak play included over 30 cast members of all ages and was held on the traditional pow wow grounds of Misswezhaging (Mississaugi First Nation).  This community art project was a joy to see come to fruition.  The play was based on the stories, oral histories, and memories collected by Thinking Rock since 2013.

The play intertwined settler and Indigenous perspectives on water, community, and family — it followed Marie (settler) and Ira (Indigenous) community members who lived locally but passed away within recent years. The play was guided by two local elders and the narration was a mixture of English and Ojibway.  It also included audience participation components – for example the audience walked through an outdoor living stage and were invited to participate in a round dance at the end of the play.

It was an extremely powerful experience to participate in as an audience member and it was beautiful to see such a nuanced story come together based on community narratives and memories.  The work undertaken by Thinking Rock is a great example of community engaged history, community arts and participatory story building. I’m looking forward to seeing what projects Thinking Rock tackles in the future.