Class Project Overview

The class project, which will occupy most of the class’s second semester and some of the first, is a substantial collaboration between a small group of students and a community organization, on a project of mutual interest. In almost every case the project will be a WordPress website, and while I am in principle open to other types of projects, the circumstances under which I would approve such projects are highly constrained. The point of this class is to create something of lasting value to yourself, the organization, and the community it serves, so that your work endures beyond the temporal scope of the class. The project is worth 45% of your final mark, but this percentage is distributed between various parts of the project. A high premium will be placed on timely, regular progress made towards intermediate goals, to help make sure that these complex and difficult projects come to fruition. Some of you have already been thinking about projects; this is great and you should continue to do so. You will work in small groups of 2-4; in a class of this size there are some challenges to group work, but there are substantial benefits to working together, especially when charting unknown territory.

Collaboration and Service

We should perhaps distinguish between two kinds of working together for this project. On the one hand, you will be working closely with your peers. As a result, you have an additional responsibility to your working group – your lapses affect them too. You’ll also need to be sure to communicate clearly and effectively with each other, both electronically and in person. Be sure that you know what each of you bring to & get out of the project; and how will you hand the project over.

You will also be working together with an organization that will be depending on you. In this respect, you act as emissaries of the University and of the course. You are expected to be respectful, courteous, and responsive.

General Project Parameters

The finished product should be a polished website or other digital artifact which is directly of use to the partnering organization; it should also be an intellectually honest endeavour which takes seriously the historian’s responsibility to tell truths about the past. Your work will, then, be held to a relatively high standard – I’m asking a lot of you. You should therefore take pains not to bite off more than you can chew. Your project should be of a manageable scope, and if it’s more than your group can do on its own, you should be absolutely sure that your partnering organization has resources to devote to the project either while you work on it, or after the class has finished. Here are some things you should not attempt to do:

  • do not design your own web framework. Instead, you should use WordPress, whih we will be learning about together in class. If you have a prior expertise in some other framework or in web design, you should discuss this with me immediately. Past experiences with non-Wordpress technologies have been extremely problematic.
  • do not attempt to tell the story of a major event or historical figure. Do not attempt to create a digital archive of the Holocaust, or a definitive documentary history of the War of 1812, or an oral history archive of the immigrant experience in Toronto. These are areas of interest, not topics for a project. Narrow your subject as much as you possibly can; then talk about it with me and we will narrow it down further.
  • do not strike out entirely on your own. You will need some support from outside – that is one of the main reasons to have a community partner.
  • do not put anything off till the last minute. In a complex project like this you will be surprised at the number of tasks there are to accomplish. In particular, you’ll gain a lot by attacking your organizational tasks as early as possible.

Examples

Previous years’ projects are mostly linked to from that year’s course website. They are all great, so look there for some inspiration. Please note that these sites were made by students with no prior technical experience; if you’re in that category they may look daunting right now, but don’t be discouraged, you’ll learn what you need to in time to make something really cool.

Technical Parameters

If you have no technical background, this may not make much sense to you in the first class, but as the semester progresses you’ll understand more. Here are some of the technical skills you will be using in your project:

Web hosting
I will provide hosting for class websites at hackinghistory.ca.
Theme Development
each of these websites will come equipped with a starter theme with which I have some familiarity. Over the course of the project, you will adapt that theme to serve your purposes. This means you will work directly with:

Style
changing CSS files to give the site a new look-and-feel
Structure
modifying HTML templates to change the arrangement of elements on various web pages
Functionality
installing WordPress plugins, and tinkering with PHP and Javascript code, to get the functionality you and your partner need
Text editing
in order to do all of the above, you should become at least a little familiar with a text editor. Ad described in “Tools”, the Atom editor is the best choice. Later in the term we will also go over various ways to edit code directly from the WordPress administrative interface.

Human Subjects Ethics Review

One of the benefits to a partner is that work done in the service of that organization is exempt from the ethics review process. If however you conduct interviews, etc. outside of the project you will need to comply with the University’s Ethics Review process; cf. also this document. The procedure is not terribly onerous but it does take some time so be very serious about this.

Grading

# The final project will be evaluated based on its success in meeting the goals outlined in the proposal, on the integrity of historical analysis, on the aesthetics of the presentation, and on the satisfaction of the community partners with your work.

Component Due Date Group/Indiv % of Course Grade
Proposal & Presentation 2016-12-06 Tue Group 10
Interim Report 2017-02-07 Tue Group 10
Final Product 2017-04-04 Tue Group 20
Partner Response Group 5

In addition, most of your blog postings in semester 2 will be concerned with your project & your progress on it.

Components

Proposal

The proposal is a substantial group effort which involves the submission of a formal document to me and to your partner, as well as a presentation component. Read more about it on its own page.

Interim Report

The Interim Report is a report back to me and to your partner on the progress you’re making. It will be about 8-10 pages long, and indicate

  • how much of the website content you’ve completed, and whether there are any serious problems that might require you to change your focus.
  • how much of the website design is complete, and where you expect further challenges
  • in what ways you find yourself departing from the plan agreed upon, and why.

Final Product

The Final product is a fantastically intricate and rich historical website, with lots of exciting bits of information presented in a vigourous, interesting, and visually appealing manner.

Partner Response

I’ll ask your partner for feedback on your work, and take that into account in my final grade.