College Student Is Using Technology to Bring Campus History to Life

For decades, enterprising college students have found unique ways to present their senior thesis. Jacob Dinkelaker, history and archaeology major at Ohio's Wooster College, took a digital approach: he created a website that offers an interactive history of four key buildings on his school's campus. Schools offering Information Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

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Technological Thesis

When tackling his senior project, Jacob Dinkelaker embraced the digital. Besides being a relatively unique approach to take, Dinkelaker actually sees it as crucial to the future of history as a discipline. 'You've got to become relevant, or become a relic,' he told The Chronicle.

Relevance was chief on Dinkelaker's mind as he constructed his project, a website that details the history of Wooster College's architecture. Limited by time, Dinkelaker decided to focus on four of the school's standout buildings: Kauke Hall ('the academic heart of campus'), Frick Hall (the university's original library building), the Ebert Art Center (seemingly not named after the popular film critic) and McGaw Chapel. Each building has its own section on his website, complete with videos, photographs and even architectural drawings that detail its construction.

Despite going through an impressive amount of work, Dinkelaker made sure to keep the project user-friendly. He told The Chronicle he 'went light on the footnotes' in order to engage the average visitor curious about Wooster's history. That visitor will find a lot to learn from Dinkelaker's research; his site chronicles its four buildings through major renovations and transformations, making sure to highlight any historical context that may have been important in their development (for instance, using Vietnam War protests to illustrate growing secularization on campus, which affected the shaping of McGaw Chapel).

Impressive Interactivity

Perhaps the most forward-thinking of all Dinkelaker's innovations was his inclusion of interactive provisions to engage his audience. For instance, Dinkelaker made use of QR (quick response) tags, those strange little black and white graphic cubes that now appear all over the place. If you scan the code with your mobile phone, you're taken to a website that gives you more information about what you're looking at. Dinkelaker tagged each of the buildings in his project with QR graphics, so visitors new to campus would have instant access to his project via their smartphones.

Another way Dinkelaker fosters interactivity: his website offers its viewers several ways to participate in an ongoing discussion via comments. Besides a typical text comment section, interested parties can engage Dikelaker with video responses (thanks to the Web service VoiceThread). Dinkelaker hopes that as user engagement grows and campus figures share their experiences, new aspects of campus history will begin to show themselves.

Present History

Though Dinkelaker's project may have confounded a few professors - how do you grade a thesis that can't exactly be 'turned in'? - one gets the sense he's on to something very important here. New technologies, particularly ever-present smartphones, can make history come alive in a truly engaging way (and one that takes little effort from users!). Relevance is one thing; compelling content's another. With Dinkelaker's work, Wooster's campus has certainly taken a significant step in offering the latter.

Read up on how MIT's challenging traditional notions of history education with their digital Russian Revolution Timeline.

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