Ditch the Textbook: Now what? An Experiment with StoryMap JS

In a recent post I mentioned that I was planning to ditch my textbook for my large-lecture humanities class. Instead, I am going to make podcasts and videos, and assign primary sources for students to use before or during class. It dawned on me recently that another great option would be to use StoryMap JS to introduce some material as well. I have noticed that students have a challenging time locating where events or larger trends are occurring. They struggle to make connections between places too. I’ve used StoryMap JS in some of my other classes, but usually for assignments that I ask students to create. It was thinking about one of my other smaller classes that made me pause to consider how I might use it to introduce some ideas to students before they come to class. How could I take my old lecture notes and create a short, brief introduction to the topic that foregrounded spatial relationships? StoryMap’s tagline is “Maps that tell stories,” and I began to think about ways I could use it to introduce, say, the prehistoric period. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I could map the different places I wanted to briefly address to really show them that the development of agriculture occurred slowly and across the globe. I tire of reading the same ol’ narrative in textbooks, so I can imagine how students must feel.

So I did it. I transformed that first lecture of 90 minutes into a short StoryMap story that centered on food (my inner foodie was delighted). I could still include images and any important information, but I could better locate where all this was occurring in time and space. I specifically chose examples that moved us around the world. I added in links to recent articles that students could read (like about Facebook’s recent censorship of the Woman of Willendorf). It is still like a textbook in some ways, but in a more dynamic fashion. I kept the tone conversational (thanks, Smarthistory!). I tried to focus on the big picture. I could connect the material to the present day in a variety of ways.

Yes, it involved spending more time than I’d like. But once it is finalized (soon), I think it will provide another way to generate student interest in the material and to “mix it up.” Podcasts and videos will also be great, but they will take more time and planning. I plan to draw on existing ones, but for a lot of material there aren’t good ones that are short and to the point. Or they just don’t exist.

What are some other ways that you’ve ditched the textbook?

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