Getting started with Xerte

Xerte is a pilot tool to create online learning objects to teach others about historical topics. It offers numerous and diverse potentials, which include embedding audio and video tracks; creating interactive maps; zooming in and out an image and linking it to a web page or a separate slide; creating quizzes and surveys; and generating online bibliographies, among others.

I used Xerte for the first time when trying to create some sample activities to use in class, which should stimulate and enhance students’ ability to undertake further research on a specific subject (http://xerte.lncd.lincoln.ac.uk/preview.php?template_id=9).

Even though in the context of our project ‘Making Digital History’ Xerte2 will be used directly by students to create digital arfifacts as part of their assessment, in this experimental phase I also tried to use it as a tool for class activities, as I believe this will make students progressively more familiar with this tool and its potentials.

Xerte’s interface is quite clear and it is not excessively complicated to navigate. However, not all the functions are as straightforward to access as one would expect them to be, and this might generate some frustration. The fact that Xerte opens up a broad range of possibilities with which one can play, might be a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it stimulates parallel and transversal thinking, creativity and multi-disciplinarity; on the other hand, it might encourage over-ambitious projects which, in fact might be very complex to ‘translate’ into digital activities. Xerte is flexible only to an extent and this is important to keep in mind when planning new activities.

It took me only a couple of hours to build this sample, including searching for online sources and web pages to link to the different contents, and familiarizing with a tool which I had never used before. Although incomplete and therefore very rough, this sample will hopefully give an idea of the different approaches that students can adopt when creating their own projects individually and/or in groups.

Xerte also encourages interactivity, which

  • stimulates reflection and thinking across time and space
  • puts sources in dialogue
  • supports comparative approaches
  • stimulates new questions and lines of analysis
  • helps developing communication and organizational skills

Planning a coherent structure and creating different types of activities is a stimulating and challenging exercise, which also contributes to the development of further transferable skills such as independent study, time management, problem solving, digital skills and, in most cases, team work.

Dr Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo

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