Creating Indiana's first digital social studies textbook is a great résumé builder for a bright student who aspires to someday head the world's largest museum and research institution.
"If I become the secretary of the Smithsonian, I hope to make the cultural and historical resources as public as possible," says Heidi Noneman, a Whitinger and Bold Celebration Scholar studying chemistry and anthropology (archaeology option) with a history minor at Ball State. "I want to understand artifacts from a cultural and chemical perspective and make that information more accessible. This career goal involves working closely with youth programs and educational agencies."
Eight students from a variety of majors—including public history, English education, telecommunications, and Spanish—developed the digital textbook last fall in a semester-long immersive learning class through Ball State's Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry. They were chosen for the project through an application process requiring an academic résumé, two letters of recommendation, and an interview with the faculty mentor, history professor Ron Morris.
The digital textbook was presented at Indiana Landmarks in December and was being tested in five classrooms around the state in February. It will be available in the Apple and Android app stores this spring.
Crossroads Connect, an interactive application for tablet computers, introduces fourth-graders to Indiana's past through text, video, music, games, timelines, self-test quizzes, and responsive pictures and captions that engage all types of learners. The app meets state curriculum standards and provides multiple perspectives on Indiana history, including those from women and ethnic groups largely excluded from most books.
"At the beginning of this project, our student team didn't have a clear idea of what we wanted to create," Noneman says. "After examining the current teaching methods of Indiana history in fourth-grade classrooms, we determined that the paper texts fell short of providing a quality education to students. Paper texts offered static material, were cost ineffective, and catered only to visual learners."
In digital format, the software and content of Crossroads Connect can be updated quickly and efficiently, providing the most current historical knowledge and theory. Links to cultural and historical databases of supplementary information around the state are available throughout the text.
In developing the digital textbook, the students received guidance from the faculty mentor, but unlike a traditional class project, they had complete autonomy over the experience.
"Working as part of the student team in an immersive learning project felt much more like a job in which we chose our own goals, deadlines, and methods of learning," Noneman says. "This learning environment provided practical career training and allowed us to create a tangible product for use in Indiana schools."
The students worked with community partners such as cultural and historical agencies, government officials, and elementary school teachers throughout the state. These professional connections are likely to benefit their careers.
"It was a great networking opportunity for me," Noneman says. "These interactions provided an accelerated timeline in which we began drawing from all of our classroom knowledge and applying it to the creation of the textbook."
Noneman's career goals include working as a museum curator and performing chemical analysis and preservation of artifacts somewhere like the Museum of the Rockies in Montana. She realized she could combine her passions for museums and chemistry after visiting labs at Ball State and the Smithsonian Institution during high school.
Her work on Crossroads Connect included writing, editing, and research. She learned professional skills from the faculty mentor such as how to properly and efficiently conduct historical research and how to navigate the formal permissions process when obtaining resources from state and federal agencies.
The experience also enhanced Noneman's collaboration and communication skills—critical in the professional world.
"It was interesting to work with such an array of majors, but it presented some challenges," she says. "Working toward a common goal and addressing deadlines while dealing with multiple perspectives provided a valuable lesson in compromise."
On a personal level, she achieved her goal of sparking a passion for history in youths by providing intriguing ways to engage with the subject, rather than just viewing it as impartial bystanders.
"Becoming a published author before receiving my bachelor's degree is not only a great résumé line," she says, "but a great source of pride for me to say that I helped teach Indiana fourth-grade students their history."
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