Undergraduate Research on the Open Web

For the last two years, I’ve been working with professor Denis Nissim-Sabat in the department of psychology here at UMW. He teaches a course every fall on the history of psychology, and in 2010 we started working on a project to transform the final projects students were doing in the class to digital presentations. Previously, students had worked in groups on particular historical topics of their choosing. At the end of the semester, they would present their work in a collaborative PowerPoint, with each student covering a particular aspect of the topic.

When Denis and I started working together, he decided he’d like them to develop an online site for their topics, with a particular emphasis on exploring how to build a Web-based information resource that integrates new media. (Big hat tip to Jeff McClurken who’s history of technology class projects inspired the approach, to a large degree).

My role in this course has been to introduce the students to UMW Blogs as well as give them advice about finding and using various kinds of media and tools in their sites. I also offer each group up to one hour of “consulting” time with me, in which they come in and work through specific questions and ideas.

Denis, of course, is the one who really lays the groundwork for how to construct a historical research project. And he pushes them to be both rigorous and creative in the development of their ideas and presentations. Over the last two years, we’ve had about 20 projects developed.  Overall, I think we both felt that it was successful, and we’ve also learnt something each time about how to improve it the next time around.

But I wasn’t prepared at all for the email he forwarded to me from the chair of the psychology department earlier this week. It seems she uses a textbook, Serial Murderers and their Victims, that is currently being revised by its author, Eric Hickey.  Apparently, Hickey (while researching the new edition) came across a Google map created by one of Denis’ fall 2010 student groups. The group was researching the History of Forensic Psychology, and they compiled a map showing the location of significant events in the history of forensic psych. Hickey wants to include the map in the next edition. How cool is it that this group of students could end up with their work published in a textbook — all because they not only were involved in an undergraduate research project but because they were required to share that work publicly and openly on the Web.


View History of Forensic Psychology in America in a larger map