After spending hours and hours reading research paper rough drafts and providing feedback for students, I am now beginning to enjoy the final products. To see the improvements in clarity of writing, depth of analysis and strength of evidence is gratifying. I feel happy and a little sad at the same time. I’m happy for the “light bulb moments” and growth the students experienced as learners but sad that they are not having the chance to become educators with their work.
Historians publish their work and find an audience. History teachers share lessons and insights with classes. Some of us even blog our ideas to a wider audience. My students may certainly carry forward their work into other contexts, but they may not. If they do not, I feel like I have done them a disservice by keeping their work just between us. I have this nagging sense that the experience would be much more meaningful if shared with a wider audience. Unfortunately, the school year is ending.
I am wondering about the value of perhaps floating ideas on Twitter or blogging parts of a draft in progress. Students may be able to share insights with peers and field questions that arise. I should not be the only one helping the writer shape the final product. Perhaps there could be a more public first draft before the rough draft. I am thinking of a form of peer editing but with students reading multiple works with the option to read as many as they would like. This is more a model of a community of learners. Perhaps the final products could be available to classmates as well. No doubt some students may resist this, and it will provide opportunities for students to compare work, but I wonder if those concerns should override the value of collaboration and the opportunity to share the hard work.
As we watched the events in Pakistan unfolding on Twitter (I showed the Twitter feed in class the next day) and saw the tweets about the Bin Laden raid and then the ones about the mainstream media contacting the Tweeter, I realized that journalists are now often the second draft of history. They used to write the first draft, but now people can and will do that themselves with Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Reporters try to analyze and make sense of information from social media, but they are no longer the first voices heard. Historians will have to deal with writing history with this new layer in mind. I wonder if it’s time to add another layer to the work my students do.