Digital Media and Technology in the classroom and beyond

Digital Media and Technology has transformed how we teach, learn and present. Robert Reuter introduced us to new media and tools that can enhance teaching and learning during a workshop at the University of Luxembourg. Based on the eight learning events defined by Leclercq and Poumay from the university of Liège, we uncovered online tools that can enhance teaching and engage the students.

Learning and Teaching Events

Most teaching occurs according to the reception – transmission model where the teacher stands in front of the class to transmit knowledge into a rather passive audience of students who simply write down what they are told. The students, and in general the audience, expect more of teachers and presenters nowadays. When we want to understand a new online tool for example, we don’t always ask our colleagues for help. Instead, we turn to the internet to find a good tutorial on YouTube for example. This learning event is called imitation/modelling and is often skill oriented. The third learning and teaching event centring around the teacher’s initiative is called practice/coaching, also called exercise/guidance for specific skills such as writing or presenting which require practice and feedback, trial and error.

Learning does not always start from the teachers, but can also be initiated by the student. Sometimes a teacher only provides data or sources and lets the students explore the information in events such as exploration/procurement or documentation. The experimentation/reactivity method works mostly in natural sciences where students are actually allowed to manipulate and modify the material at hand. Some museums also allow experimentation with tools from the past. One of the most known learning events starting from the student’s initative is creation/confrontation in writing essays or creating original presentations. Finally, debate/animation allows an audience to interact with a speaker and stimulates interaction. The final and most central learning event is the meta-reflection of how you learn, which can be stimulated through writing about your personal experience.

Digital Media and Tools

Directed Teaching

1. Reception/Transmission

Teachers and presenters nearly all rely on a presentation tool while talking to the audience. The most well know tools are PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Presentations and Prezi. Other digital media that can be added to a presentation are YouTube videos, images, and even cartoons. Sometimes the video you need to illustrate your talk does not yet exist, so you need video-creating and editing tools, such as PowToon. You can also design a presentation bearing in mind that the slides will be shared more publicly with tools such as SlideShare from LinkedIn. These tools also offer inspiration to create your own slides.

2. Imitation/Modeling

One main scenario when thinking of digital media to support imitation/modeling is offering instructions to follow a certain procedure. Think of using the Learning Management System of this university, Moodle. The easiest way to demonstrate the use of this online platform are screenshots with additional explination and circles and arrows added with Photoshop. Another way to explain this procedure is through a screenrecording video where you explain while you are performing the necessary steps. Students can afterwards look at the video at their own pace and pause it if they can’t keep up.

3. Exercise/Guidance

Sometimes the students or the audience needs to be familiar with certain key concepts before the lecture or speech even starts. In this case, they need to prepare at home so that the more interesting ‘homework’ or activity can be discussed during the lecture. This teaching method is called ‘flipped classroom’. Certain online learning platforms such as Codecademy or Kahn Academy free up time for more important or advanced topics during class.

Inquiry-based Learning

4. Exploration/Documenting

If students need to take the iniative in their own hands, the teacher should provide the necessary sources and tools. Historical sources that are easily accessible online can be found on platforms such as Europeana and Voyant-tools can provide a preliminary look at certain metrics in text mining, and tools such as Coggle or Mindmeister allow students to create mindmaps containing links to other materials.

5. Experimentation/Reactivity

Experimentation often happens in the labs of natural scientists, but one tool digital historians can experiment with is Nodegoat (see Fabio Spirinelli’s blogpost). Another impressive project that allows for experimentation with sources is Pelagios where students can annotate maps and discover the spatial dimension in their sources and get an introduction into the functionalities of the semantic web.

6. Debate/Animation

Debates can take place on Moodle forums, but also on other social media such as Twitter, Slack, and ResearchGate. Since debate allows participants to gain insight into each others views, this teaching and learning method should be used more often. It also means the teacher can understand how students interpreted the material or course. At conferences the Q&A sessions can spark discussion and lead to new research questions.

7. Creation/Confrontation

The best way to learn is through creation, because it requires higher order thinking, creativity and originality. In history the tool Timeline JS lets students create their own timelines, so that they need to think about the discrepancy between continuity/discontinuity, longue duréé and histoire événementelle, and macro- and micro-history. Tools for creative writing include OneNote and Scrivener, but creating a video using moviemaker takes creative writing to a new level. Often visualisations can communicate results and explore data, where the creativity and decisions of students are central. Visualisation tools include Tableau and D3.js. Finally, coordinating team work in creative tasks requires a certain effort. A tool such as Trello allows teams to create online boards containing lists of tasks and links to material for inspiration.


In order to reflect upon courses students often need to write an essay and send it in at the end of the course. This material then ends up in a filing cabinet, never to be seen again. To engage the public, students could create their own blogs with tools such as WordPress. Blogging makes students think twice before writing and allows for discussion with other readers as well.

Interactive evaluation: quizzing with Plickers

Sometimes the audience needs to understand a key concept before the presentation can continue. One way of testing whether students have actually understood, is to quiz them during the presentation. Several applications already allow people to ‘vote’ or answer multiple-choice questions online with tools such as Google Forms for example. Plickers on the other hand provides QR-codes that can be printed and even linked to the names of students to be distributed during class. The presenter can show a question on the screen (using a screen cast method such as AirDrop for iPhone) and let studens hold up their QR-code in the right direction with their answer towards the top. The application then scans these codes and automatically compiles a small bar chart containing the number of students who answered correctly. Based on the results the presenter can either explain the concept again when less than 25% understood. If 50% of people in the audience answered correctly, the presenter can ask them to explain it to each other. Only if 75% grasps the concept or idea explained, should the lecture continue.


For more information on the eight learning events, see Leclercq and Poumay, 2005.


LaTeX – The Ulyssis Workshop (part 2)

Last time I introduced the very basics of LaTeX after a workshop organised by Ulyssis, which you can find here. As I promised earlier, today I will talk you through the code to insert tables and figures into your text. For those of you who want to really impress their peers, I will also explain how you can format two figures next to each other (which required some serious googling skills on my behalf). But let’s get started with the basics first.

You can add your table within a \part{Title goes here}, \section{Subtitle goes here}, or \subsection{Subsubtitle goes here} of your \begin{document}, but before your \end{document}. There are several kinds of tables, the most basic one starts by \begin{tabular}{c c c} to specify that you want three columns, and for each row you add item & item & item \\ to fill in the three columns. After you added several rows, don’t forget to \end{tabular}.

For your fancy table you \begin{table}[h] right here, but you want it in the \begin{center} and then you can \begin{tabular}{c c c} with some columns, which you know how to fill in by now (item & item & item \\ for each row). After you \end{tabular}, you add a \caption{fancy table}, you \end{center} and finally, you \end{table}. Once you understand the basics, you can make your life easier by creating your tables in a tool such as

Now in order to add figures to your document, you need to add a package in your preambula – the thing that comes right after \documentclass[11pt]{article} at the start of your document. You can \usepackage{graphicx} to insert some fancy figures. Of course you need to save your picture in the same folder as your .tex file, otherwise it might be hard to find. Now you’re ready to \begin{figure} and \includegraphcs[width=0.5\textwidth]{your figure}, where you define the width of your figure, in this case 50%, but you could also set [width=100mm] to include a figure of 10 cm wide. To center your figure you can use the \centering command, and adding a \caption{your figure} works the same as for tables. Again you need to \end{figure} before you start with the rest of your text.

If you want two figures side by side (or even three, but you can probably figure it out if you understand the mechanism), stackexchange comes to the rescue. Because you need a specific type of \caption, you need to add another package in your preambula called \usepackage{caption}. So again you \begin{figure} by \centering both your figures in the middle of the page. But you now split your figure into two \begin{minipage}{.5\textwidth} each taking up 50% of the width of your page. In order for each figure to look spot on, you should use \centering again, then \includegraphics[width=0.9\linewidth]{first image}. In this case the linewidth for each figure takes up only half of the page, so the 90% used here, actually means you have a 10% margin between this figure and the next. In this case, you need the \captionof{figure}{This figure} to add a caption to the first figure. If you want to refer to your figure in the text you can always add a \label{fig:figure1} and inside your text \ref{fig:figure1} so that the number of the figure is always correct, even if you add other figures. Now you need to \end{minipage} number one, and in order for the two minipages to appear next to each other, you need a % inbetween. Now you can repeat the \begin{minipage}{.5\textwidth} process to add one more figure, and after you \end{minipage}, also \end{figure}.

So there you go, the perfect tables and figures to impress any reader! Next time, I will explain how to add your citations and bibliographic references, BiBTeX style.

LaTeX – The Ulyssis Workshop (part 1)

Because I wanted to try a different approach to learning LaTeX, I went to a workshop organised by Ulyssis, a group of KU Leuven students offering workshops to other students. They explained the basics of LaTeX in about two hours, creating a template for a paper in the first hour and explaining BibTex in the second hour of the workshop. During the workshop they helped install an easy LaTeX editor and a team of students was at hand all the time to answer individual questions. So in this blogpost, I would like to share my newly acquired knowledge!

The structure of a LaTeX document always has the same basic elements, opening the document with the preambula, containing all metadata (the hidden specifics of the document itself). First, we specified the \documentclass adding the size of our font [11pt] and the type of document, namely {article}. If we need to import packages to do the fancy stuff dreams are made of, we need to \usepackage{awesomeness} to add some more functionalities and funky features -for your information, there is no package awesomeness for all I know, but please feel free to make one. Of course you can add the \title{Anything you like}, as well as the \author{me!} and the \date{\today} or any other day you like. No one needs to know you started your paper the day of the deadline.

Alright, we have our metadata, now we can \begin{document} by \maketitle and starting a \newpage for your magical automatically created \tableofcontents on a \newpage. Most papers contain an \abstract, but since LaTeX needs some help understanding what you want exactly, you should still \begin{abstract} and after writing your brilliant summary of everything you are about to write, you need to \end{abstract} for LaTeX to know you are done.

Now you need to start providing your table of contents some content. In an article you can divide your text into \part{one, two, three} and add \section{one, two, three} which can exist of \subsection{one, two, three}. You can add \paragraph{With a lot of witty, smart, funny, intelligent text} and even \textbf{bold text} and \textit{italics}. Furthermore you can also create different types of lists, starting with a bullet list by \begin{itemize} containing several \item items untill you decide to \end{itemize}. Sometimes you need to specify the order of your list \begin{enumerate} again containing \item one and ending your \end{enumerate}. Finally, if you want to provide descriptions to your awesome concepts, you \begin{description} adding \item[awesome concept] with your clear explination before adding another \item[greatness] adding your own brilliant definition and bringing an \end{description} to your awesomeness.

Before you go, don’t forget to \end{document} and feel like a professional programmer while you let LaTeX do the work (press run!), typesetting the best paper you ever wrote. Catch up next time for some more on tables and figures sprucing up your text!