LEADR, the Lab for Education in and Advancement of Digital Research, is a joint, forward-looking, student-centered venture of History, Anthropology and MATRIX. The cutting-edge lab opened in Old Horticulture Building, home of the History Department, in August 2014. Its director is Brandon Locke, who shined in a search conducted in spring 2014. In LEADR, undergraduate and graduate students are developing innovative digital and web-based projects in collaboration with other students, faculty, and specialists in digital technologies and design.
At MSU and across the US, History coursework instills in students skills in critical thinking, research, information management, and writing. Historians have not, however, engaged students adequately in ways to research and analyze data with new digital technologies and to present conclusions in digital formats. We remain wedded to having students write essays and essays alone. Such exercises are necessary and valuable creative endeavors. But the development of skills in data mining, with new technologies for data analysis, and in web-based presentations is critical in this day and age. Digital competencies give students “value added,” making them more appealing to employers and graduate schools. Digital projects engage students in active learning. They introduce them to cross-disciplinary collaboration and new platforms for creative expression.
The lab is modeled on REAL classrooms designed to enable lively interaction, enhanced learning, and increased faculty-student engagement. The lab is a space for “flipped teaching” in which classmates work together on in-class assignments and collaborate on projects. It features prominently in a redesign of our major for which we are proposing internship options and courses featuring new web-based projects.
- Research-Teaching Synergies: LEADR brings to the classroom what many of our cutting-edge faculty’s research is lauded for nationally—the application of digital approaches.
- Bolder by Design: LEADR responds to Bolder by Design and its new articulation, Bolder by Design. Bolder set goals to “enhance the student experience by continually improving the quality of academic programs,” “expand opportunities for engaged learning, including research, internships…, use of technology, and active learning,” and “more closely link the undergraduate experience with the world of work through internships on and off campus.”
- Equipment/personnel: Thanks to a large grant from the Office of the Provost, LEADR has computers, specialized software and equipment that students and faculty do not have a present and need for advanced digital projects. Brandon Locke, the director, is assisted by three graduate assistants from History and Anthropology.
Our desire is to help students live in the digital world, navigate streams of information, and make sense of the large cultural data flows. To do these things we must equip them with appropriate knowledge. We must invest in the kinds of interactive, collaborative, cutting-edge and experiential spaces that allow for 21st century skill development.