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18 Posts authored by: Sonya Tiratsuyan Employee

This article was originally posted and written by Katherine Jewell on on March 28, 2018.

In my last post, I explored how to employ social reading in the online classroom using Perusall, Padlet, and other digital tools.


In that application, my main goal is to ensure students are reading critically. By that I mean not just scrolling through a textbook, but actually engaging with it. I want them to consider the implications of what they are reading, and to think about how different points connect across the chapter. I want them to see how I pose questions to give some shape to their summary of events and to see how various interpretations might emerge. By putting the textbook into their own words, I’m hoping that they retain the material and apply it in other assignments.


In that application, the tool has been useful for giving me a glimpse into how the students are processing information. I can see where concepts begin to breakdown in their understanding, or how they apply contemporary metaphors and analogies to what they have been reading.


In my elective, however, I have different goals. While I’m still looking for students to do critical reading, I have two other goals. The first overlaps with my survey and online environment: I want a tool to ensure students are actually doing the reading. As is often the case, I have visions at the beginning of a semester of the engaging activities students will pursue, but they fall behind in the reading and that engagement breaks down. Students skim the reading or don’t do it at all, and I’m left having a conversation with only the students who have read, or having those students carry the load in group discussion. Like it or not, this is a reality that I must grapple with as an instructor.


The second is to go further in the kind of engagement students have with readings at the elective level. I want them to come to class having identified the argument(s) of an article. By having them engage with other students IN the actual reading, prior to class, my goal is to begin class discussion from a position at which we can begin to engage with the argument. Often times class time is spent coming to a decision about what a scholarly article or chapter (or book excerpt) actually said, rather than engaging with the ideas presented and critiquing them in light of other course material. My goal is to have students — sometimes helped along by those who have a better sense of where the argument is in a piece — come to class with that groundwork laid.


I am hoping see students highlighting sections of the reading that they think demonstrate the argument, or follow up sections that develop that argument further. Right now, I need a better way to explain this second goal to students, and to set them up with the tools to identify scholarly arguments. I am hoping that the work we have done so far in the semester will help with that goal. Evidence so far suggests I may not be successful. In the first social reading at the elective level, the first goal was much more front and center. I showed the students Perusall’s analytics feature after only 5-10% of the class opened the reading. I now need to figure out the “carrot” to accompany this “stick” of accountability. Follow-through in assignments and discussion is where my teaching abilities will be tested — and hopefully, I’ve assigned readings that will be relevant and useful long after students leave the classroom.


Be sure to check out Part I of Katherine's post, Social Reading and the Online Classroom (Part I of II).

This article was originally posted and written by Katherine Jewell on on March 4, 2018.

In an April 9, 2017, article in Salon, Martin Harris explored the potential implications of the rise of social reading and story creation. He proposed, “Our stories are going social and, as new platform technologies remake the reading experience into something increasingly interactive, we now must ask what we’re giving up in the bargain.”

With crowdsourcing of books and other social interactions regarding reading changing the creation of stories, the “quiet empathy of solitary styles,” he explains, could disappear. Social networks and the ever-present possibility of sharing over a text could reshape the reading experience fundamentally, with other audiences or connections always present.

Harris raises this cautionary tale that points to issues that also arise in the college classroom. I am not alone among my colleagues to remark upon students’ difficulty with engaging with long texts. Without any strong evidence base we nevertheless speculate about whether social media platforms are creating different expectations for textual engagement, perhaps even weakening students’ abilities to concentrate in solitude over long, technical readings.

But social reading may also present possibilities for the college classroom. By catering to how students are accustomed to engaging over texts, social reading has the potential to identify areas of student confusion; help students prepare more effectively for class; learn how to read textbooks, dissect primary sources, and identify arguments; and create engaged online spaces. In this post, the first of two, after reviewing a few tools that are available, I’ll explore how I’ve been using social reading in my online survey. In the next, I’ll discuss my use of social reading in an in-person elective.

Social reading could be performed using any number of existing tools. File-sharing in real time via Google Docs or Dropbox would allow multiple students to read and comment on (or edit) a document simultaneously. Uploading a pdf with an attached discussion would allow students to engage with the text and others as they read, with students submitting questions for discussion in class. Crowdsourced tools such as Padlet enable students to share their own links, images, documents, and summaries and comment, enabling for conversation over documents and images in multiple ways.

In my own courses, I’ve used the Padlet method above, particularly to facilitate informal conversations about books read. (I’ve had students “cast” with modern actors the characters and historical figures of various memoirs and historical novels we’ve read). It provides students with a familiar-feeling space to engage over texts that are sometimes hard to parse or connect to their own lives.

Most recently, I’ve been using the tool Perusall in my online and in-person classes. Perusall allows students to converse over a text in the side bar, ask questions (and upvote questions and useful answers). Unlike the other tools, it also provides useful algorithms and rubric-based auto grading to assess the quality and quantity of student contributions.

In my online US survey class, I went through the textbook and insert discussion questions to have students put the events into their own words. I’ve also incorporated short Bedford Document collections to help students read and analyze primary sources and create historical analysis. I’ve been gratified to be able to have this glimpse into how students are processing these historical questions. I am still trying to figure out how to identify particular areas of confusion that might not come though their questioning while also allowing space for students to figure out the information in their own words, informally. But the algorithms for evaluation have been useful in assessing student understanding, and I see the potential for the tool to not only replicate the in-person classroom, but also better identify student learning and improvement.

In the online survey, I see the social reading area as a stand-in for the in-person classroom. They receive information (the lecture/textbook), and discussion questions to help them process the information. They then apply their knowledge to primary source discussions. For longer, formal assessments, I ask reflective and thematic questions to tie the information they looked at across chapters. They also write a creative paper that uses three documents from the various readers to construct a narrative of change over time about some aspect of American life. I’m still reflecting on how I can craft these assignments to take best advantage of the social reading platform and connect to the conversations had there — that’s the next step!


Be sure to check out Part II of Katherine's post, Social Reading and Identifying the Argument (Part II of II).

Originally posted on August 17th, 2017 on

With the debate on how to approach Confederate history growing, W. Fitzhugh Brundage discusses what he believes to be the best course of action.


You might also like A Monumental Debate by Sue McCormack.


Originally posted on November 18, 2015 on


Possible assignment challenge: ask students to examine the similarities of fear of refugees from World War II compared to refugees of the present day after reading this article.

In politically-charged and tenuous times, it seems America craves comic relief via Facebook memes.


A decade ago, it didn’t look like Barack Obama and Joseph Biden had all that much in common. Two men from different generations. One a longtime Washington hand; the other a relatively new arrival to politics. Then in 2007, they became actual rivals during a rough Democratic Presidential primary. But fast forward to the end of the Obama presidency and they’ve developed a strong partnership. And that, as Vice President Biden might say, is a big deal. The duo has shared milestones both big and small, from winning two presidential elections to sharing a pair of matching friendship bracelets that nearly broke the Internet. Whether they’re talking shop in the Oval Office or golfing together on the White House lawn, Obama and Biden share a heartwarming rapport. So as Obama helps Biden prepare to celebrate his birthday on Nov. 20, TIME looks back at some of the pair’s most magical moments together. —Cady Lang


Originally posted on TIME

Originally posted on November 8, 2016 on TIME.


The political divisions throughout the U.S. haven’t always been so black and white (or red and blue). TIME’s electoral history maps dating back to 1824 shows how some elections ended in a landslide, while others were surprisingly close.

Originally posted on September 30, 2011 on Here and Now.


Associate professor of history at Washington State University Matthew Sutton debates a New York Times opinion piece depicting Christian apocalypticism as a driving factor in shaping conservative political thinking.

Originally posted on November 10, 2016 on TIME.

Since it’s inception, the electoral college was designed to balance the interests between highly populated and less populated states—but the biggest political issues exist between the north and south, as well as coastal and middle states. Controversy surrounding the reasons why the electoral college exists isn’t anything new—since its founding era, the electoral college has been stirring up political elections.

Originally posted on October 3, 2016 on WCVB.


Kenneth Greenberg discusses Nat Turner’s controversial place in history.



Originally posted on October 9, 2016 on The Boston Globe.


With a 40 year career in academia focusing on the slavery era and the rebellion of Nat Turner, it’s safe to say professor and historian Kenneth Greenberg is an expert. The renowned academic discusses the debated new film “The Birth of a Nation” and his thoughts on Turner’s revolutionary acts.

Originally posted on September 17, 2012 on


Brown University historian Robert O. Self explores how the concepts of nuclear families and “family value” ideals have changed over time, through presidencies, and throughout various social movements.


Originally posted in May 2005 on History Matters.


Exploring American Histories co-author Nancy Hewitt shares what sparked her passion for teaching history, her goals, what she hopes students take away from their courses, and more.

Originally posted on September 13, 2016 on


200 years after his death, slave rebel Nat Turner has grown to be a powerful symbol in the anti-slavery and anti-racism resistance. His Bible, which is believed to have been with him when he was hung, is currently on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History.

Originally posted in The Journal of American History.


Professor Suzanne McCormack discusses her positive journey through adopting technology into her history courses to engage and educate community college students.

Originally posted on October 20, 2016 on Process: A Blog for American History.

Community College of Rhode Island History professor Suzanne McCormack shares her thoughts and challenges on teaching history in the digital age in this short interview.