Why has industry declined in Keene between 1961 and 2017? And yet–how has Keene managed to retain firms that make ballbearings, printing presses, lenses and tools to make satellites? Two firms that make computerized precision machine tools are employers in Keene, even though other great machine tool makers in the Connecticut River Valley have disappeared–why? Macroeconomic forces, human courage and skill, and some happenstance explain Keene’s turning points, which offer insights into changes in US industry as a whole over these fifty challenging years. Students in IIECON 330: Keene in the Global Economy created multi-media blogs to explain turning points after walking through the plants, meeting with Keene’s working people and managing owners. Each page includes a sound recording of a person in Keene’s industrial base speaking to a student. We would like very much to hear your reactions, so do leave us comments.
Each student made an individual blog designed for the audience of the business community, the rest of the class, Keene State, and their professional and family networks. Each blog is part of the larger project of the course, which is to describe one turning point in Keene’s industrial base. Some of the turning points will be declines, and others will be improvements.
Our course aims to explore the turning points in the industrial structure of the United States by using Keene’s capital goods firms as a case study. Which industries are continuing to create quality products in an environment that creates middle class jobs where people feel appreciated, and where the community benefits?
There is a component of personal transformation in this class. The students are going to be entering the professional world in two or three years. How does understanding of this community change as each student comes to meet the people who make the products, and the men and women who lead the firms? How does this affect the student’s understanding of the type of professional life he or she would like to have?
All of the writing students completed in the course appear on their own unique blog about a turning point. The blog is a working space for their thinking, analyzing, and displaying research “finds.” It is also a product, a portfolio that I used to assess their learning in the course.
Meeting a Member of Keene’s Industrial Community
Students worked in pairs to meet a member of Keene’s industrial community. If this person talked about only one turning point, the students divided up the angle from which they discussed this change. If the person talked about more than one turning point, each student decided to concentrate on one aspect.
Using material collected by students past
Students in previous iterations of this course had collected Sentinel articles, oral history recorded interviews, and printouts about this company. The students met one-on-one with me to become familiar with this material. Some topics had more material than others, and in the cases of little previous findings, I showed the students how to research on Ebscohost and to find a journal article that discusses the competition this business faces from other firms in US or world, or perhaps describes the strengths or weaknesses of the firm’s products.
Each student added a few pages to their blog in addition to research, as follows:
About tells us where the student is from, why he or she is majoring in his or her major, what brought him or her to Keene, and where he or she plans to go from here. What are the student’s passions? Students may mention courses they have taken or other experiences they have had in college or high school which made an impact.
Thinking. In quiet weeks, students added something to their process blog. For example, a quote from the reading that seemed to illuminate the piece of Keene’s industrial history each was exploring, so that the audience could see the firm’s changes in a larger context. Or a reflection on the student’s work and learning: thinking through a complex concept, a theoretical idea or a practical problem; or, making connections to other class material or other classes.
Oral History. In previous years of this course, students recorded interviews with members of Keene’s industrial base. Students in 2017 listened to these interviews as homework, and identify two or three short sections which seem particularly important. Some of the 2017 students conducted follow up interviews using the program Audacity to edit the results. They typed the quotation out on each blog, and upload the snippet of the audio file so that viewers can click on it and hear the voice of a member of Keene’s industrial community.
Quantitative Graph. To situate the turning point in national context, students include one quantitative graph. Such a graph might be profitability at the firm during the time when the turning point took place. Or it might be the productivity of the industry, or the capital investment in the industry, or it might be US vs. Japanese wages at the time, these are all topics which we covered during our in-class lectures.
Photo(s) from the past. I asked each student to locate a photograph for uploading that was not previously available on the internet. Some students used images that I and previous students had already collected. Many students asked the person from the industrial base whom they had met for an old photograph (or two or three) that had meaning to them.
An article from an issue of the Keene Sentinel on Microfilm. I taught students the research skill of unearthing articles from microfilm in Mason Library. While this is tedious, it also has produced some of my students’ most interesting finds. The ability to locate such an article is a research skill that each can add to his or her resume.
Students learned Word press. We went over over the difference between pages (as opposed to posts) and widgets (such as a tag cloud or a list of links that you can use to customize your page and make it easier for a reader to navigate). Students learned how simple it is to add photographs to the site. Once students had created their blog, I posted a link on the course blog so that everyone would have access to everyone else’s writing.
Managing the Blog. I asked students to use spell check and grammar check religiously, but you will see that they did not all heed this advice. Perhaps they would take the corrections more seriously if readers from the public mention to them in the comments section that there are corrections that need to be made. Any comment you make can be deleted by the student, so do not worry that a criticism will make a permanent mark.
Here are some suggestions that the professor provided students to make choices about organizing content: Use categories and tags to organize the posts. These features will allow a reader to follow threads in writing across different posts. Most Word Press themes list the categories and tags in a sidebar or in a tag cloud; build a list of relevant links. The “Blogroll” on your site might list sites with materials useful for students of industrial change. The goal is to establish a set of links for readers seeking pathways into the world of industrial change, decline, and revitalization.