Guest Post: Social Media in the American Religious History Classroom

Today's guest post comes from John L. Crow, a graduate student at my alma mater, Florida State University, in American Religious History. John's interests lie in theosophical movements, but this post engages the question of how to use social media effectively in our classrooms.--Kelly

Social Media Tools for the Classroom

John L. Crow

We have all read the news about the ever expanding presence of Facebook and other social networking sites. Terms such as “Classroom 2.0” and “Social Learning Network” have been batted around within the larger discussion of how these tools can assist in the classroom. Yet, for religious historians, many of these tools are less than helpful. However, one relatively unknown tool actually could be of use to classrooms and add an interactive way to look at historical periods. is a social networking and group collaboration website that allows users to interactively create timelines. These timelines can be consist of any event at any time period. Each timeline entry contains a title, description, plus a place for an image and a URL. Signing up for the website is free and the timelines can be created and collaborated by any number of people. As an example of what can be shown, I have taken the static table from Appendix I of Mary Beth Norton’s In The Devil’s Snare, the cases heard by the court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692, and rendered it as an interactive timeline here.

One can zoom in and out of the timeline and begin to see the gaps in activity, the clustering in trials, accusations and executions. The timeline makes the intermittent nature of the trials more apparent than a table.

The interactive and open nature of the platform allows anyone to transport time based data to a dynamic, interactive chronology. Classes could share in the creating of timelines, cooperating in populating continuities that collectively illustrate time periods under study. The particulars of events or the overlapping and interrelated aspects of history become visually and animatedly apparent. The best part is that an instructor can create a blank timelines, have students sign up for free accounts and then they can create the timeline entries as parts of assignments and as study aids.

Social networking is a presence in classrooms, regardless if we like it or not. The persistence of laptops and smart phones allows instant access to Facebook and other sites., though, allows for a more constructive use of social networking, one that engages the students and enhances the possibilities of their comprehension of the complex and dynamic nature of American religious history.


Anonymous said…
Great post! I fear, perhaps, that you aren't going far enough! You've made us all aware of a useful site, but I think its existence raises a host of questions about the way we use social networking sites like Facebook as ways to create educational sub-networks to take advantage of web applications. It's a bit of a slippery slope that reveals the disconnect between the goals of social networking and the needs of the educational community. I said some of that here in my post "Social Networks & Collaborative Teaching Sites"