A COPLACDigital reflection by Chiquita Howard-Bostic

The course, “Social Chronicles” included 10 hours of service, synchronous online classes, justice-oriented oral history research, digital history, and fluencies in web design. The model of "Social Justice Chronicling" is a new form of student-centered social justice history (the synergy of the symbolic frame of student’s service goals, the mission of the organization, the digital time capsules, and the experience maps).

Our students matched themselves perfectly with organizations. The two student teams volunteered at the Life Enrichment Center in Georgia and Immanuel’s House in West Virginia. The Life Enrichment Center provides adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities the opportunity to engage in meaningful life experiences within a community in Georgia. Immanuel's House offers spiritual care, support, and worship opportunities in a community in West Virginia. The learners conducted oral history interviews at these sites combining a creative synthesis of ethnomusicology and sociological theory. Then, each team used multiple digital tools to design a final webpage chronicling and archiving the social justice histories and traditions of the two organizations. The two instructors and students from Georgia College and Shepherd University partook in a digital real-time exchange of knowledge. We engaged students’ unique service experiences to seek justice and to take service learning to the next level.

The course merged digital history and social justice education to teach principles of fairness, ethics, and equity. It was packed with layers of social activity, social experiments, and several digital tools to master. The music, symbols, and sociological imagination imposed upon us all allowed each student and faculty member to connect during the social chronicling process. Students sang and played their own instruments. They also analysed symbols from photographs taken at the sites. We all applied these unique perspectives as history was chronicled. A pedagogy called “Social Justice Chronicling” surfaced during the course. The success of our pedagogy, “Social Chronicles,” was attributed to the course design. We provided students with a fully scaffolded set of readings, assignments, service-related tasks, and lectures. Each module overlapped another but a combination of pace and energy allowed for the flexibility needed for students to meet our learning objectives.

The experience of “chronicling” was a personal and political process. Personal and historical perspectives centered the organizational missions and learners’ own related life experiences. The process became political in the end. A social justice movement as a teaching pedagogy ia a real exploration of meaningful dialogue with multiple populations. The students’ need to evoke social change was a political statement displayed through the pedagogy. The pedagogy truly represented a learner-centered model and a new type of digital history-infused service-learning experience. In that light, the course design overcame three core challenges known for service learning projects: (1) merging curricula, (2) reaching all learners, and (3) quality assessment. First, the service-related academic content was embedded into the curriculum by establishing specific on site assessments that aligned with learning goals in the course. Second, the service hours connected all learners to the service locations, and lessons were valuable and transferable. The online service-related reflections were both lasting and positive for each student, instructor, and the community members impacted by the engagement. For example, a student wrote a song for the participants to sing and shared the lyrics and performance with the students in the class. She repeated the song to encourage us to memorize the song and sing along. The song was empowering! Third, requirements to post findings publicly lightened faculty concerns about objectively assessing student learning during the service engagement. As students shared their ideas with the class, they were encouraged to post what they felt most comfortable or passionate about documenting.

The synchronous online sessions included moments that were spiritually vibrant and empowering beyond description. The transparency and willingness to explore traditionally uncomfortable content was unbelievable. Learners and the faculty remained vulnerable enough to connect past, present, and personal experiences as we developed honest relationships. No ideas or experiences went unnoticed, as they were all webbed into the learning process. The classroom space also spawned unique opportunities for conscious and unconscious growth. The effect of proximity via our faces, expressions, and sentiment in the online setting was equally remarkable. The presence of each participant was known, and afterward, it was missed. I remember attempting to end a class early. The students gestured no thank you and continued to talk. This learning process with a social and centered purpose made each lesson worth remembering and holding on to. Each online session came alive via students’ volunteer-based stories connecting social justice advocacy at a local organization to the lives of everyone attending the session.

Likewise, responses to the reading material and conversations were multidimensional and academically powerful. Over time, the dialogue became more about student posts of symbols and moments from the service experience. For example, a digital image of the warm hands of a homeless man holding a cup of coffee at Immanuel’s House, or documenting a conversation about the purpose a welcome song at the Life Enrichment Center. We became entrenched in each organizational culture and life experiences that matched these missions. For example, a personalized blog image of a student’s walking feet symbolized openness and feeling connected to the organizations. Similarly, a learner represented the lotus flowers’ bloom in darkness to symbolize her perception of hardship and ways that people can bloom and evolve during adversity. The class capitalized on life’s challenges rather than being defeated by them, and we focused our dialogue on bridging successful outcomes even during difficult times. During the sessions, the relational bonds grew an academic community of caring—which was relatively surprising for a class held online. I can still taste my tears and my heart still beats in the rhythm of the pain encountered by my peers and those in the community. The emotional attachment was unpredictable but it framed the class experience.

The absolute best moment of the class occurred during the final presentations, which represented none other than a heightened love and respect for the course and the represented communities.The goals for community empowerment aligned perfectly with the digital history project components. My students showed the audience how digital history assignments can capture symbolic understandings of organizations and they articulated their support of disadvantaged populations during the learning experience. In the digital time-capsules timelines students captured sound patterns and images to document history during Immanuel’s House spiritual services and the Life Enrichment Center activities. They also described their use of digital tools such as TimelineJS and Google Fusion in effort to preserve history and to make new memories for future servants in the community.

The final “Social Chronicles” site has left us with energy we need to make a difference. Spread the word to educators: “chase new visions and layer pedagogies in ways that make learning fun, creative, and memorable.” Apply the new pedagogy, Social Justice Chronicling.

Headshot of Dr. Chiquita Howard-Bostic

Chiquita Howard-Bostic is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Chair of Sociology and Geography at Shepherd University. She taught "Social Chronicles" for COPLACDigital in the fall of 2018.