October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: Texas Tides: Digital Learning Consortium

Rachel Galan and Susan Clarke, Stephen F. Austin State University, Ralph W. Steen Library, Nacogdoches, Texas, USA

Abstract

The TIDES (Teaching, Images and Digital Experiences) Program offers a digital gateway to rich historical, cultural and scientific resources held in Texas and Mexican libraries, museums, archives, historical societies, private collections, state parks and wildlife preserves. These resources (photographs, scanned documents and artifacts, video and more) are accompanied by custom-made, standards-based curriculum material and are freely available to teachers, students, and researchers worldwide.

The TIDES Program was developed to make humanities collections of East Texas available digitally and to combine the expertise of cultural heritage professionals with the needs of educators to create a Website with the desired access to TIDES’ digital collections. Phase one of the TIDES program highlighted the need for point of view information regarding Spanish and Mexican occupation of Texas, the addition of sound and video components to hold the interest of K-12 students, available lesson plans for expanded subjects and grade levels, digital resources through the 20th century and more teacher enrichment opportunities. The TIDES Program has expanded to include science, bilingual and culture based resources. Audience specific access to the TIDES image database is in development.

Keywords: education, digital resources, collaboration, multicultural, history, science

Introduction

The purpose of the TIDES (Teaching, Images and Digital Experiences) Program is primarily to increase online access to east Texas related primary resources with an emphasis on history, science, and multicultural resources. Primary user populations include educators, students, and other researchers.  Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU) is facilitating the development of an interdisciplinary learning community through strategic alliances and collaborative partnerships centered on the continuing development of TIDES’ digital resources.

Background

In September 2002, the Ralph W. Steen Library at SFASU was awarded a Texas Infrastructure Fund grant to develop East Texas’ first collaborative digital initiative. The Texas Tides Project made humanities collections of East Texas available digitally and combined the expertise of cultural heritage professionals and Web designers with the needs of 4th and 7th grade Texas history teachers to create a Web site that provides cultural and chronological access to the material that tells the story of eastern Texas. Over an 11-month period, five archives, libraries, and museums imaged over 10,000 items documenting East Texas history from pre-history to 1900 and made them available through the Texas Tides Web site. Texas Tides teacher workshops provided free training on the uses of the project Web site, the integration of primary resource materials into lesson plans, and the development of information literacy skills (Web search strategies and Website evaluation skills). The first phase of the Texas Tides Project highlighted teachers’ need for point of view information regarding Spanish and Mexican occupation of Texas, the addition of sound and video components to hold the interest of K-12 students, available lesson plans for expanded subjects and grade levels, science resources, digital resources through the 20th century and more teacher enrichment opportunities.

In September 2005, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded the Ralph W. Steen Library at SFASU a three-year grant in the National Leadership (NLG)/ Advancing Learning Communities category (http://www.imls.gov). With these funds, SFASU library faculty have initiated the Texas TIDES Digital Learning Consortium (http://tides.sfasu.edu). The TIDES model is being expanded to serve as the framework for helping build successful learning communities for public schools, colleges and universities, and memory institutions. The impetus for the TIDES Program is primarily increased access for educators, students and other researchers to Texas related primary resources with emphasis on history, science and multicultural resources.

In 2005, the TIDES Program joined other cultural heritage institutions in Texas to form the Texas Digital Heritage Initiative (THDI) in 2005. The THDI is a cooperative project to identify, describe, digitize, preserve, and make broadly accessible special collections of history and culture held by libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and other institutions in Texas. In this initiative, the TIDES Program serves as both a regional center for the imaging of East Texas humanities collections and as a model for testing and implementing concepts to help make digital collections useful to K-12 teachers and students.

In response to the IMLS grant, the library at SFASU formed a Digital Projects department in 2006. The Texas Tides project gained administrative support and a staff of three librarians, one technical specialist, one administrative assistant and a staff of 13 student workers. The Texas Tides project transitioned from a project to the TIDES Program with University administrative support.

Information about the TIDES Program has been added to the IMLS Digital Collections and Content (DCC) project. The DCC project contains descriptions of digital resources developed by IMLS grantees. The overriding purpose of this project is to help make National Leadership Grant projects more visible and useable.

Program Growth

The importance of the input and contributions of TIDES’ primary target audience, K-12 teachers, continues to shape the development of the IMLS funded TIDES Program. The initial IMLS proposal outlined the need to develop English/Spanish translations of primary historical resources from Texas Tides collections, add new images and collections (including video), create virtual expeditions, create science related content and collections, and provide additional curriculum materials. The fluid nature of the TIDES Program allows for the addition of new components based on teachers’ needs.

During its implementation, the TIDES NLG Program has uncovered some of Texas educators’ most pressing needs. Texas’ Mexican student population is over 45.3%,

(http://www.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/pocked/index.html) and teachers often highlight the desire to bridge the cultural divide between students from diverse ethnic backgrounds. This need is very pronounced in the communities of East Texas, where some schools (most often elementary schools) have a Mexican student population of over 60%. In addition, teachers report that, while they recognize the potential value of digital resources to enhance student learning, time constraints prohibit their finding and integrating relevant digital materials into their established curricula. The TIDES program is addressing this need by seeking more partnerships with Mexico schools, cultural and natural history institutions. Because East Texas schools represent community centers, wherein students, teachers and parents share a desire to enhance their children’s education, they are essential to laying the foundation for appreciation of cultural diversity.  To be able to teach mandated curriculum in a way that is culturally inclusive, rather than exclusive, educators must have knowledge of the cultural background of the students in their classroom (http://www.allacademic.com/meta/ p63949_index.html). New TIDES-based collections, partnerships, virtual expeditions, teacher expeditions and lesson plans use the digital humanities and natural history collections of TIDES and its partners to draw cultural connections between the cultures that make up the communities of East Texas throughout history and into present time. Recent Mexican partnerships also allowed project staff to pilot a teacher expedition program; elementary, middle and high school teachers accompanied TIDES staff on five trips to Mexico to gather video and photographs of Mexican cultural events and natural history. Participant teachers collected material and helped create new TIDES virtual expeditions, cultural content and trip based lesson plans. Teachers involved with these trips reported a renewed sense of excitement about their jobs and the subject matter that they teach. Interestingly, their students’ enthusiasm matched or exceeded their own, indicating a twofold benefit to such experiences. Several teachers were pleased to note that many of their bilingual students who before their expeditions to Mexico refused to speak their language or talk about their culture felt confident and proud to discuss these things when they saw their teachers’ and their classmates excitement about pending expeditions.

Another need that TIDES teachers stressed is the need to return art to public elementary school classrooms. Many East Texas elementary schools have cut art from the curriculum to save money and make more time available for standardized test preparation. For the second semester the TIDES program has funded an art teacher to teach art based on mandated state curriculum (4th grade Texas history) and art classes that aim to help bridge the cultural divide between the students at TJR elementary. Evaluations and reports from this experience are being used to demonstrate to the Nacogdoches school district the impact art has on student performance. Teachers have reported improved grades, conduct, and attendance for their students involved in the art program. The students were thrilled with their art program and are eager to continue it.

Partnerships with Mexican schools and institutions have grown to include schools and teachers from Monterrey, Merida, Cuernavaca and Yucatan. Last summer thirteen middle and high school teachers from both Texas and Mexico attended the second TIDES Curriculum Development Team (CDT) workshop. These teachers learned about the TIDES program, met project partners, gave feedback on future development and participated in round table discussions focused on the cultural differences and needs of their student populations. The round table discussions were highly successful and regarded by the teachers as one of the most valuable opportunities offered to them through the TIDES workshop. The TIDES CDT teachers continue these round table discussions in the TIDES virtual learning community.

Program growth is also stimulated by the inclusion of the TIDES Program in grant applications for other university departments and the community. The TIDES Program is part of several pending grants including a Preserve America Grant (Brian Bray Historic Sites Manager for the City of Nacogdoches –lead applicant) and a newly funded National Parks Service grant “Capulin Volcano: Examining the Forces that Shape Our World Through Exhibit Design” (Theresa G. Coble Assistant Professor Arthur Temple College of Forestry –lead applicant). These grants draw on the model the TIDES Program has developed for building successful learning communities for public schools, colleges and universities, and memory institutions; the development of virtual expeditions; and the availability of the TIDES CONTENTdm database for providing access to valuable education and research collections. The TIDES Program’s success with educational programming is of particular importance to these projects.

Both qualitative and quantitative information is being gathered for assessment of the TIDES Program.  Qualitative information is being collected through surveys, focus groups and interviews. Both Web site and CONTENTdm statistics are assembled for the Program’s quantitative assessment.  The TIDES CONTENTdm database currently houses over 16,000 items. On average, five hundred items are added per week. When the CONTENTdm database began production in January 2007 statistics showed access to over 98,371,457 individual TIDES images. Item level use of TIDES images continues to grow. In June 229,568 items were viewed and July has already surpassed that number by 100,000 hits. Assessment has been a vital component of the project with feedback from the surveys and focus groups heavily influencing the evolution of the Web site to provide the most user driven product possible.

Recognitions

n January 2006, the TIDES Web site was selected for inclusion on the EDSITEment Web site. Information about EDSITEment from the EDSITEment Website: EDSITEment is a partnership forged in Spring 1997 among the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Council of the Great City Schools, MarcoPolo Foundation and the National Trust for the Humanities. EDSITEment offers a treasure trove for teachers, students, and parents searching for high-quality material on the Internet in the subject areas of literature and language arts, foreign languages, art and culture, and history and social studies. All Websites linked to EDSITEment have been reviewed for content, design, and educational impact in the classroom. They cover a wide range of humanities subjects, from American history to literature, world history and culture, language, art, and archaeology, and have been judged by humanities specialists to be of high intellectual quality. EDSITEment is not intended to represent a complete curriculum in the humanities, nor does it prescribe any specific course of study.

Conclusion

As this program grows the digital learning consortium encompassed in it increases to embrace a more diverse audience. From small beginnings more organizations are affected and the student, faculty and community interests are better served. The goal of the combined resources of the group is to make the entire consortium stronger. The addition of the Mexican resource component and the tying together of the area school systems and the university community are two pieces that will continue to provide expansion and energy to the Tides program at Stephen F. Austin State University.

Cite as:

Galan, R., and S. Clarke, Texas Tides: Digital Learning Consortium , in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/galan/galan.html