Pedagogy Series 2: “In the Archives” themed Honors First Year Writing, Part I

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By: Amy Chen, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow, and Kate Matheny, IT Technical Specialist I


First Year Writing at UA

The Division of Special Collections and Digital Services collaborated to provide Honors First-Year Writing classes (English 103) with information pertaining to how best to search and discover material contained in Acumen, the University of Alabama’s digital repository.

Amy Chen, the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in charge of instruction in Special Collections, previously worked with Brooke Champagne, the Assistant Director of First-Year Writing, to provide Champagne’s students with the opportunity to use special collections holdings in their research during Fall 2013 and Spring 2014.Brooke’s project — and two of her students — were profiled on Cool@Hoole’s inaugural Pedagogy series over December 2013 and January 2014. Additionally, Brooke and Amy’s partnership over the 2013-2014 academic school year became the subject of a forthcoming article for Kate Theimer’s edited volume on pedagogy for her series on Innovative Practices in Special Collections and Archives.

But when Brooke and Amy decided to broaden their concept of introducing first year students to archival research to all honors first year sections during Fall 2014, rather than the one or two sections they previously targeted in the previous year, they had to redefine their learning objectives. The Division of Special Collections does not currently have the reference or instruction staff to provide in-depth research assistance to so many students simultaneously. After all, these sections are only one set of students the Division serves; we also work with students from ten other schools and departments! For this reason, Amy and Brooke decided, with the help of First-Year Experience Librarian Sara Whitver, to have students browse digital surrogates instead.


Acumen interface

Using digital special collections did take away students’ ability to interact with objects from history directly and to learn the process of researching in a special collections environment; however, using digital surrogates allowed more students to have training on how to access these unique materials and integrate them into their current and future research projects; plus, using Acumen would allow students to work in their own time from the comfort of wherever they had internet access. Now, students would not have to learn what they could — and couldn’t — bring into the reading room or the difficulties involved in searching through an unprocessed collection.

Changing course to include Acumen, rather than a trip to the reading rooms of either the W.S. Hoole Library in Mary Harmon Bryant or the A.S. Williams III Americana Collection in Gorgas Library, meant that Amy needed to contact Kate Matheny, Outreach Coordinator for Digital Services, the unit of the University Libraries dedicated to digitizing special collections material and maintaining the infrastructure of Acumen. Kate would be the best person to teach students how to use Acumen since she and her colleagues were the ones charged with building and maintaining it.


Example slide from Kate’s presentation

Thankfully, Kate agreed to teach these students how to use Acumen and collaborate with Amy, Brooke, and Sara. So, during the summer of 2014, the four of us met to determine the best way to approach the coming semester. Check back on Tuesday to learn what we decided to do!



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