History isn’t the most dynamic of fields. Compared to, say, an English or Science class, the content we teach rarely evolves. To make the class engaging, then, I search for new ways to make students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate what we learn. In the “famous figures Facebook” assignment, students create a social networking profile for a historical figure.
I ran this assignment as part of my “Building a Nation” unit in Modern World History for 10th graders, covering revolutions, nationalism, and the Enlightenment. There were two components to this project. First, students were asked to choose from a list of monarchs, philosophes, and revolutionaries from the period. Then, they researched essential biographical information and the historical significance of their chosen figure. After that, we presented the assignment (rubric included in linked handout): to create a fake Facebook profile for their chosen figure.
This assignment was just a new spin on getting students to understand the various political and intellectual forces at work in Europe from the 16th century on. Specifically, we wanted students:
- To accurately communicate their subject’s views on government, liberty, revolution, and/or the enlightenment
- To consider the pros and cons of these views by evaluating them from the perspective of another historical figure or figures that we studied
- To familiarize themselves with using technology as a medium for expression and as a professional tool
Student engagement was very good in this assignment. I gave the kids one or two sessions in the computer lab to do research and create the profile. The best students were able to creatively and amusingly simulate a conversation on the profile wall between their historical figure and his/her contemporaries; the worst ones still had biographical information but merely included inane comments and lolspeak that didn’t show much depth of thought. As with other cases, this is where showing exemplars can help the students to understand the difference between superficial and thoughtful, authentic analysis. Having students peer-evaluate rough drafts of their profile could also help mitigate this issue.
The biggest issue was technology infrastructure, much of it outside my control. First of all, the two online tools for creating a fake Facebook profile – Fakebook and MyFakeWall – struggled under loads of 20+ students using them at the same time (since I did this activity, MyFakeWall is defunct, which is just as well since Fakebook was more reliable anyway). So I ended up offering students the option of using a Word or Powerpoint template to do the same thing.
It would have been great to make the activity more interactive by allowing students to pose as their figure and the make wall posts on their classmates’ fake profiles – this would be like a Web 2.0 reimagining of the staple “Impersonate an Enlightenment Philosopher” history class activity that is so popular. My students are especially social and enjoy verbally processing with their classmates rather than just creating products for the teacher – expecting that their work and skills will be exposed to their peers motivates them to do better.