Impact: University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

AM Impact customers are those who have purchased perpetual access to the complete AM portfolio, empowering them to access numerous benefits, including exclusive discounted pricing. Ideal for supporting collection development in a range of subject areas, the award-winning digital primary source databases are supported with a user-friendly cross-searchable platform and tailored support.

The AM Engagement team spoke with Professor Tamara Chaplin from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign to discover how they have used their recent Impact Customer status to maximise user engagement.

Dr. Chaplin connected with the AM Engagement team in July 2021, when she attended a webinar (previous AM webinars can be viewed here). The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is an AM Impact customer, so they had full perpetual access to all core AM collections of online primary sources. Their status as an Impact customer also entitled the faculty at UIUC to tailored and dedicated course support from the Engagement team. 

After discussing the different digital collections with our experts, Dr. Chaplin immediately realised the value of the primary source content for her undergraduate students in her fall class HIST 258A World War I and the Making of the Global Twentieth Century

HIST 258A encourages students to explore the ways in which modern warfare “continues to shape the world” by interrogating a range of different primary sources and examining the historical legacy of World War I. Students learn first to “interpret and develop arguments about a predefined set of primary documents within a given historical context” and later to be able to “craft clear, cohesive and evidence-based historical arguments in writing” through essays as well as “discussion posts, quick-writes, debate notes, journals and annotations”. 

Given Dr. Chaplin’s focus on providing a curated set of primary sources pre-selected for her students, HIST 258A was the perfect opportunity to employ an AM course alignment.

Course alignment

Course alignment is a service provided by the dedicated Engagement team at AM, supporting the integration of an institution’s digital resources into their faculty’s courses. A member of the Engagement team works in close collaboration with faculty, examining the course syllabus and assessing its learning outcomes, before matching each teaching topic to primary sources relevant for that week.

“There’s no single brush stroke approach to course alignment,” says Dr. Laura Blomvall, Engagement Manager in AM’s Engagement team, “we realise that each individual and each institution’s needs are different, and we want to be able to respond to those needs in a bespoke and tailored way.” (Watch the Introducing Course Alignment video to find out more about course alignment services and the difference they can make to faculty members’ teaching preparation). 

In creating a week-by-week course alignment for HIST 258A the Engagement team was able to utilise the many resources that UIUC has access to. Resources included First World War Portal which gathers primary sources from multiple libraries and archives covering international perspectives and personal narratives of the conflict, and Socialism on Film, a collection of socialist and communist-produced films from the 20th century sourced from the British Film Institute. 

The course alignment was then sent back to Dr. Chaplin before classes started so that she could make any adaptations that were necessary in order to utilise it in class preparation.

I am so grateful to the fantastic team at AM, especially Dot Kelly and Xavier Snowman, for their help in providing access to such terrific primary source materials...this was a rewarding and enriching experience for me and my students.

Tamara Chaplin, Associate Professor of Modern European History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Bespoke engagement for faculty and students

As well as creating a week-by-week course alignment for HIST 258A, Dot Kelly and Xavier Snowman from the Engagement team at AM also led a virtual seminar for the class. The seminar was split into two parts. The first focused on introducing the First World War Portal and relaying how to find and examine relevant primary source material. In the second half, the students completed some preliminary analysis exercises using the primary sources and the metadata available to them.

During the seminar, the students learned the skills required to navigate through digitised sources, were introduced to the selection criteria and curation involved in creating an online primary source collection, explored the different pathways into the material, and browsed and filtered search results using advanced search and Boolean operators. 

Then, the students began to interrogate more closely several pre-selected primary sources, such as a Portuguese poster with pro-German propaganda, digitised from the Imperial War Museums. Analysing the primary sources, the students answered questions such as: 

  • What is this primary source about?
  • Where is it from?
  • What was the intended audience for this primary source?
  • What is the primary source attempting to communicate?

Supporting the learning objectives of the course, this virtual seminar was designed to introduce students to the range of primary sources that they could study while learning how to begin “interpreting and developing arguments” using primary source material.

I owe both of you my sincere thanks for taking the time to join my classes. You are a marvellous resource for us!

Tamara Chaplin, Associate Professor of Modern European History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Impact on student engagement

At the end of the HIST 258A course, Dr. Chaplin said that the students “found [the First World War Portal] incredibly useful and interesting and cited it in their work” and those who continued to use the collections after the seminar “found really great images and newspaper articles” that they would not otherwise have had access to. 

The impact of the course alignment and virtual seminars run by the AM Engagement team could also be seen in the UIUC usage throughout the fall semester. Between August 2021 and December 2021, online page views increased by 175% compared to the same period the previous year, while total user sessions increased by 241% from 540 sessions to 1,842 sessions.

Figure 1 Graph showing usage of AM collections at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign between 01/08/2021-31/12/2021

The First World War Portal also saw a significant increase in use; online page views increased by 4,403% and sessions increased by 5,066% compared to the same period in the previous year. Usage of the portal was highest in September, with a large peak in sessions and page views on the day of the AM seminar.

Figure 2 Graph showing online page views of First World War by month at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign between 09/01/2021-31/12/2021

However, usage was significantly increased across all months of the fall semester, suggesting that students continued to access and use the collection throughout the course.

Plans for the future

Dr. Chaplin intends to run the class again in the fall semester of 2022, utilising the First World War Portal again but building more structured guidance for the students around the digital collections. “The key with successful learning is repeated engagement,” she told the Engagement team when discussing plans for the 2022 class, “knowing what I know now from last semester, I can think about how we can upgrade and improve upon what we have already accomplished.” 

To that end, Dr. Chaplin intends to include a number of smaller assignments spaced throughout the entire semester that utilize the First World War Portal archives in order to allow the students to build digital information literacy skills that endure: “What happened this past semester was that they got exposed to the digital archive, tried it out and those who were successful using it, and those who couldn’t navigate it easily tended to drop it when working without supervision. 

I am currently brainstorming ways to increase independent research skills, for example by having students work in teams to accomplish short tasks based on a specific historic event or issue before breaking away to complete assignments on their own.”

The skill acquisition of finding information is so crucial

Tamara Chaplin, Associate Professor of Modern European History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

About the author

Tamara Chaplin is is an Associate Professor of Modern European History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research and teaching centres around contemporary France, with a focus on histories of sexuality and the media. Recipient in 2014 of both the Provost’s Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the LAS Dean’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, Dr. Chaplin teaches courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels on modern France, sexuality, human rights, social theory, World War I, media, and popular culture.

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