February 26, 2014 § 2 Comments
One of my favorite experiences of teaching history in the Scale-Up classroom at the University of North Dakota is watching students who are given substantial freedom to design their own projects tentatively approach the ambiguity that this entails. The Scale-Up
This past week, we finally got to the stage in my Scale-Up class where we began work on our textbook chapters. Each table received a time period (Archaic, Classical, or Hellenistic) and one of 5 or 6 different thematic topics (culture, social history, political history, economics, or military history). Each table was responsible for a single 2000-3000 word section that focuses on a particular issues.
I’ve asked the students to frame their chapters with a clear statement of intent and to then provide an outline that sets out what their chapter will say. The goal of this is to show both me and other groups how they intend to proceed with their analysis. In some places, chapters will overlap. For example, the social history of the Archaic and Classical period offers significant opportunities for overlapping content (at least as imagined by 100 level history students). Likewise, the Archaic and Classical economies could have significant overlap in the hands of generalizing undergraduates. To prevent this, I have suggested that the two groups interact and work to define their own boundaries.
It’s sort of remarkable to see how students respond to this kind of ambiguity.
Most students embrace it with a certain amount of enthusiasm. While intent on doing the “right thing,” they seem to understand that the structure of an argument is as important as the content and structure of the argument. I provide the students with multiple textbooks, a small selection of primary sources, and lots of tips and pointers how to find more sources. For example, I directed students working on the Archaic economy to Hesiod’s Works and Days and nudged students looking at the Classical economy to Xenophon’s Oeconomicus. In other cases, such as Athenian politics of the Classical period, sources are more readily obvious.
In an introductory history course, I’m less concerned about students being “right” (whatever that means) and producing “accurate” historical content, than I am with them developing the confidence to explore a topic in an independent way, to formulate an approach to presenting what they learned, and to write a section of a chapter setting out their interpretation of the past.
It is interesting to note how students respond to this freedom of analysis.
1. Demand Definition. Some students demand that we provide them with more formal definition of their topics. Particularly troublesome to students are the borders between social, cultural, and economic history. While professional historians rarely set firm boundaries between these arbitrary categories of historical analysis, my students struggled to understand what topics might be “acceptable” in their chapters.
Some of this reflects a problematic understanding of such broad and abstract concepts as culture and social history (and my rather superficial explanations to the entire class were unsatisfactory). More important, it speaks to how students in this 100 level history class expect firm divisions within their own classroom experiences and in the production of disciplinary knowledge.
So as faculty and administrators continue to talk excitedly about “breaking through boundaries” and “escaping silos” that define our disciplinary knowledge and ways of knowing, our students continue to look for rigid divisions in disciplinary structure.
2. Putting the Cart before the Horse. At the start of the give students a little list of things that they should do, in order, to write their chapters. Here’s the list:
1. Collect Evidence
2. Concoct a Thesis
3. Develop Outline
4. Write Draft
5. Share Draft
6. Peer Review
7. Revise Draft
8. Submit draft
Despite this list, groups get eager to delve into the writing component of the assignments and will often start to write, get frustrated, and ask for help before even formulating a thesis or establishing an outline. With words staring at them from the page, they quickly become frustrated that they can’t marshal order from their hastily arranged ideas.
Other groups, jump on the first three or four examples that they can find and attempt to force these into order. They then become frustrated when they can’t write a thesis that brings together combine randomly selected bit of information.
Managing student frustrations as they figure out how to push their way through these assignments is my biggest challenge right now. I am impressed by students’ willingness to dive right into a complex assignment, but I wish I was better at managing their energies.
3. Critiques and Revisions. One of the challenges that I’m looking forward to addressing this next week is getting students to provide critical feedback to their peers and taking this feedback constructively as they revise their drafts. Much like the ambiguity associated with the assignment itself, students often want a single body of clear directions in the revision process rather than a conflicting mass of suggestions from their peers. Getting the students to filter the peer reviews and focus their revisions is among the most challenging (and productive) aspects of the class.
So, the greatest challenge now that the chapter writing is underway is managing student responses to rather more open-ended assignments than they commonly experience in introductory level courses. Getting the students comfortable with defining fuzzy boundaries, slowing down and managing their frustrations, and critically reading peer reviews before making revisions are all parts of the same process of getting students to approach problems and tasks independently and with confidence.
For more on my adventures in the Scale-Up classroom, go here.
February 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
Some of my regular readers have complained that I have not written as much about my teaching in the Scale-Up classroom this semester. This is mostly because I’m doing all sort of other things right now, but there are still exciting and baffling things taking place in the Scale-Up room.
For those who are unfamiliar with what the Scale-Up room is and how it works, here’s a very brief summary. It’s a 180 student classroom with 20 tables for 9 students each. Each table has 3 laptops. The tables, then, constitute a group and the 3 students around a laptop computer constitute a pod. The basic organization of my history 101 class involves a short, individual quiz to encourage individual student engagement followed by work in the pod and work in the table. The goal of most days activities is an essay produced by the table and posted to a wiki in our course management system. The objective of the class is to produce a 100,000 word textbook made of shortish contributions from all the tables.
Last spring, my course involved a long, slow feeling out period where I worked to acclimatize the students to the collaborative work environment (and to figure out how best to use the technologies available in the classroom). This worked relatively well in that the final results were satisfactory, but I felt like I could have done more to reinforce certain skills. I discuss the changes I made to the class here and here.
So this semester, I’ve intensified the class by introducing more, longer writing assignments earlier in the semester. I eliminated the individual midterm exam and replaced it with a series of three, 1000-word essay produced by each table. The essays cover the Greek, Roman, and Medieval periods and provide a broad overview of the material in the class while giving the students a good bit of flexibility in how they engage it.
This approach has had three interrelated side-effects:
1. Hard Work. Last semester, I had very few complaints about the class being too challenging. I had chalked this up to my easy going attitude and ability to encourage students to be their best. It may have been, however, that the class was not very hard. This semester, there is a constant low rumble of the course being too challenging. Students have begun to yearn for the warm and familiar experience of lectures and signs of resistance have appeared.
I am interested in determining whether the increased opportunities for student interaction in the Scale-Up room presents better opportunities for concerted student resistance. I am committed to recognizing many common forms of disruptive student behavior (laziness, apathy, disengagement, et c.) as forms of resistance and working both to accommodate these behaviors as legitimate expressions of student ideas without accommodating them entirely. I usually attempt to take student behavior seriously and I am rare to dismiss it as a “student not ready to be in college” or to take offense.
2. Group Breakdown. For example, there has become a relative stark division between individuals in the groups who want to work hard, grasp the material, and produce text, and those who are really into Flappy Birds. I’ve been particular fascinated by students who have just admitted to their groups that they are lazy and will not do the work. While, on the one hand, their honest is impressive. On the other hand, they have made their resistance to the learning process pretty obvious. This has not endeared them to their groups but it does provide me with a clear statement of intent (explicit admissions of laziness are far easier to accommodate than confusion, disengagement, or absenteeism).
Interestingly, the more engaged students in the groups seem far more concerned that “lazy” students will get credit for their hard work than the laziness of individuals within a group will effect the grades of the group as a whole. As a result, I spent a good bit of time reassuring groups that the hard work of some individuals will not benefit their more “lazy” classmates.
3. Late Work. Along with the break down in group dynamics, there has been a slow down in work production. Last semester, my course required relatively little work outside of the classroom. This semester, I have expected my students both to prepare each week for class and to complete group writing assignments outside the classroom. To be clear, this is not an excessive workload for a 100 level class and usually amounts to writing less than 150 words per week and reading fewer than 100 pages.
For the midterm assignment, I have provided weekly feedback on their group writing, but so far it has been a challenge to get groups to present their work promptly or in a sufficiently complete way that I can provide adequate feedback. Some of this is clearly because group dynamics have broken down, but some of this is also a simple act of resistance. In response, I both pushed the students to refine how their groups worked and gave them an extra week to complete the midterm.
Hopefully, I can find a balance between recognizing the legitimacy of student resistance (even if it, frankly, gets on my nerves) and the encouraging the class to perform more consistently.
I’ll update my readers as I move forward.
February 5, 2014 § Leave a comment
This week began my Spring 2014 Scale-Up adventures in earnest. I introduced the class to the first of three units new for my modified Western Civilization I class. Whereas last time I taught this class, I spent the first four weeks discussing historical methods, presenting various kinds of sources, and introducing the students to relatively narrow content areas. This year, I’ve moved in the other direction and dedicated three of the first five classes to a broad survey of Western Civilization with one class devoted to Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages. The last 10 weeks of the semester will involve the students writing more focused studies on various aspects of Greek, Roman, and Medieval civilization so these next three weeks are designed to set the stage both methodologically and in terms of content. Each of these three weeks has a specific exercise that will produce an essay. The three essays will represent a single grade that stands in for their midterm exam
The first of these three broad survey classes involves creating a timeline and essay dealing with some aspect of the Greek world. As we had just spent three weeks exploring how preindustrial societies were so very different from our own, I expected essays that dealt with Greece as a preindustrial society in some way. Floating madly from table to table, I was a bit surprised to see how many groups abandoned thinking about preindustrial societies as a phenomenon and decided to focus their essays on philosophy rather than more traditional political questions.
On the one hand, it is heartening to see students take their own directions and follow their own interests. On the other hand, it is quite strange to see student deviate from the larger thematic structure of the course which emphasized preindustrial societies. It does remind me that, despite my tendency to see our students as little materialists (i.e. “all about the Benjamins”), they retain a strong interest in the life of the mind and want to wrangle with abstraction more than get their hands dirty with the complexities of ancient politics or the economy.
The first time I taught the class, I started slowly and kept work that had to be produced outside of class to a minimum. Most of the outside of class work focused on reading. This year, however, I have set the class up so that class time is dedicated to conceptual and organization work which has to be executed fully outside of class time.
This has prompted more complaints about how the groups are functioning and has shown the logistical challenges of, say, ordering books or balancing individual expectations against the work of the group. The more work that has to take place outside of class time the more pressure there is for the group’s to function successfully.
January 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
Those of you who follow this blog know that I have been working with Cody Stanley on an article detailing our experience working in the Scale-Up (Student-Centered, Active Learning Environment for University Programs) classroom last year. The article was a bit bloated when we first submitted, and we were quite appreciative of the revise and resubmit that we got from the journal where we submitted it.
The result is a leaner and tighter article that has built on its strengths and removed some of the more distracting elements. Unfortunately, this involved me cutting some of my favorite paragraphs that looked at the Scale-Up room as a kind of panopticon where it became easier for the instructors to observe students learning than for the students to observe the instructor teaching. Such is life when wielding the editor’s pen.
Here’s the revised version:
January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
Last night I started my new semester in a Scale-Up classroom at the University of North Dakota. I have tweaked the course considerably this semester trying to do a better job of meeting the student expectations half way. In terms of course structure, I organized the class to ensure greater coverage.
I also did a few things to try to get the students to accept the Scale-Up arrangement. I got to thinking about how I should position myself rhetorically to encourage students to embrace an environments that is likely to be outside their comfort zone. It’s quite remarkable that I’ve read a significant amount of pedagogical material on teaching in a Scale-Up room, and more or less understand the strategies recommended for successful learning outcomes, but I have not read nearly as much about the tactical aspect of class. There seems to be an assumption that students will buy into the new environment because the faculty member has embraced it. This, however, is clearly not the case and many of the conversations with my colleagues who teach in this room suggest that student buy-in, early in the semester is crucial to the class being successful.
So this semester, I decided to be a bit more deliberate with the way that I introduced my class from a rhetorical standpoint. What adds to the difficulty level is that the Scale-Up room is a challenging environment to lecture in. Since there is no clear orientation to the room, difficult acoustics requiring a microphone, and obstructed lines of sight, students have about a 15 minute attention span. So my points had to be made quickly and clearly.
1. This is not new, nor an experiment. Last semester, I led with the position that “this room is an exciting experiment in teaching.” What I got back from the class was: “This is NORTH DAKOTA. We experimented once in 1892. The crops failed. People died.”
So this semester I backed away from the “this is an experiment” and led with “everyone is doing this” hoping to get my class to see that change in education is the norm and classrooms built around the idea of active learning and engagement with the material are far more common than they might expect.
2. Group work is the norm in life. One of the greatest challenges to students in getting students to accept working in groups. Last semester, this was one of the biggest complaints in the class. The remarkable thing was that students rarely complained that their group was dragging them down, but rather that their hard work was giving a lazy student an unfair advantage. While this concern it bizarrely egalitarian, it still revealed a certain hesitancy to see managing group dynamics internally (without getting me involved) as an important part of the course design.
This semester, I went on offense the first day of class, explaining to them that the “rugged individualist,” “lone crusader,” and “personal accountability” were myths promulgated by three millennia of heroic literature that had no grounding in reality. In fact, these heroic myths were a form of escape from reality and since this class was all about gaining skills to make students successful in the real world, we should dispense with mythical preoccupations that we can control our fate and get down to brass tacts.
The world works as groups. Companies are groups. Economies are groups. Democracies are groups. Societies are groups. Markets are groups. Social networks are groups. The most successful individuals in the world are those who can negotiate the experience of working with other people, gain personal benefit from it, and contribute to the performance of the other people in the group. Group work, like the active learning environment of the Scale-Up room, is not some experiment or exception, but the norm in life.
3. This is more fun than the alternative. My final rhetorical move of the evening was arguing that this approach to learning was more fun than the traditional history class. There was some risk here (more in my head, then in reality) that by being open to the existence of a “traditional history class,” I’ve given students the opportunity to imagine a different class and one that has the backing of “tradition.”
At the same time, I’m banking on a general dislike of traditional lecture-style history classes especially among non-majors and an openness to an alternative that might be more entertaining. For the first class, I had the students create a list of rules to organize a society on a deserted island. The playfulness of the exercise opened the door to a larger conversation about the limits faced by almost all preindustrial societies.
The goal is not play for the sake of play, of course. Nor am I aiming for a kind of edutainment where I replace the “sage on the stage” with a romper-room, feel good, group work. Instead, I hope I can systematically reinforce these rhetorical points throughout the semester and to use them to undermine deep set student resistance to an unfamiliar environment.
January 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
Or should I call this History in a Scale-Up Classroom Reboot? Whatever. I’m going to change how I teach my course in the Scale-Up room this spring. I’ve already blogged on this, but as of 5 pm yesterday, I think I’ve managed to rejigger my class to solve some of my pedagogical concerns and some of the more strident student complaints.
For those of you who don’t quite understand what a Scale-Up Classroom is, well, you need to keep reading this blog every Wednesday. And you need to go back and read the last 20 posts on my adventures teaching in the Scale-Up room. Finally, you need to read this working draft of an article that is currently under revision. To summarize in less than 50 words: the Scale-Up room is a large, active learning classroom consisting of 20, round, 9-student, table with three laptops each. The tables are designed encourage collaboration and each feeds a large monitor that will allow the tables to share their work with the class. Scale-Up teaching (with the UP originally meaning University Physics) originated in STEM fields and humanities faculty have only recently ported this kind of architecture to their large-scale teaching needs. As far as I can gather, my class is the first Western Civilization class in a Scale-Up room.
I have made three major changes to my course this semester:
1. Less uncoverage. When I first designed the class, the goal was for the students to write a Western Civilization textbook. Each table would be responsible for a single chapter. At the end of the semester, I would combine the chapters together to produce a survey of Western Civilization from the Bronze Age to the end of the Middles Ages. My approach focused more on historical methods, textual analysis, and writing then covering events, people, or states. This approach – related to the “teach the conflicts” approach in the study of literature – is sometimes called “uncoverage”.
Students did not like it. Groups focusing on Greek history wanted to study Roman history too. Students working in the Middle Ages wanted to learn more about Antiquity and vice versa. Groups focusing on social history wanted to know about warfare or politics or economics. We sometimes complain that our students aren’t interested in history, but after one semester of teaching with an “uncoverage” approach, I can attest that students DO want to learn about the past. While I could have dismissed this interest by saying that it depended upon a traditionalist, narrative approach, I was encouraged enough to hear that students wanted more coverage that I couldn’t resist giving it to them.
This semester, the groups will not only complete 4 general assignment dealing with key aspects of the Bronze Age, Greek, Roman, and Medieval West, but also do more focuses mini-chapters on particular aspects of the Greek, Roman, and Medieval world. This will give them more breadth in their exposure to the past, and also satisfy a pedagogical concern of mine.
2. Repetition is the Mother of Learning. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a strong believer in repeating a set of basic ideas over and over until I feel everyone has learned them. The original design of my Scale-Up class focused on guiding the students through the writing of a single chapter. This allowed me and my teaching assistant to get very hands on with their workflow, organization, writing style, and final product. This process took about 8 weeks and the results were finely-crafted, 5000 word chapters.
Unfortunately, each table went through this process once. Next semester, I’ve paired down the process and sacrificed a bit of the hands-on intervention in the work of the groups, but each table will go through the process of writing a shorter chapter three times.
The work for each chapter will focus on four steps: (1) Discovery: the tables will have to identify and understand primary sources to support their work, (2) Organization: each table will have to organize their material chronologically or topically, organize the structure of their chapter, and communicate with other tables to avoid unnecessarily overlap. (3) Drafts: each table will produce a draft and circulate it to the class. (4) Revision: I continue my crusade to get students to revise their work, refine their style, and avoid simple problems with grammar and proofreading. These four steps will be covered in three, 2 hour classes. This process will happen three times for each table over the course of the semester.
3. Working Together and Working Separately. One of greatest challenges we faced last semester was classroom management. My teaching assistant and I were constantly on the go from table to table trying to help groups with both specific and general concerns across four thousand years of history and across various levels of preparation and performance. SO while one table was struggling to use Linear B texts to present arguments for Bronze Age Greece, another table was trying to organize a section that addressed the social, political, and military significance of Agincourt. This was hard to do and inevitably some tables did not get the attention they needed. This was primarily because some tables surged ahead while others lagged behind.
To deal with this I have divided the class into three sections. For the first two sections, covering the first 6 weeks, each table will work on the same thing and share their processes and results. The goal of this is not only to share the work of tables that find their collaborative rhythm more quickly, but also to simplify what my teaching assistant and I do every class period. Rather than dealing with the massive span of history and the various issues of process, we can focus on process.
The one area where I refused to make any changes is in how I execute group work. The tables will remain stable over the course of the semester. Students will be given few opportunities to opt out of group work, and their grade will largely remain dependent on how they function as a group. I know that students dislike group work and this will prompt complaints, but I remain committed to providing students with a better group experience rather than abandoning group work altogether.
January 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
There is an old Norwegian folk saying that circulates in these parts. This wisdom divides the world into hedgehogs and squirrels.
The hedgehog lives in the comfortable world of a relatively temperate hedge protected from the elements, with a steady diet of grubs, and the secure knowledge that it can simply roll up into a ball to escape its enemies.
The squirrel, on the other hand, lives out on the limbs of trees and has to survive both the summer heat and the winter cold without benefit of the comfortable hedge. To survive winter, the squirrel has to “diversify its bonds” by hiding nuts in various places. If it can’t find its nuts or they’re buried under deep snow, the squirrel will scavenge for any kind of food. At other times, the squirrel has been known to seek out its neighbors and packs of three or four squirrels have been known to take down rabbits, cats, and even small dogs. The point of this folk saying is that the hedgehog live a life of comfort because of the security of their hedge, but the squirrel has to constantly adapt to new challenges. Or something like that.
I am obviously a squirrel and I feel like I live on the precarious and exposed limbs of trees. As a result, I have done all I can to diversify my production this semester. I have no idea whether any of these papers will come to anything and matter, but since I don’t have a comfortable hedge, this is what they look like:
1. 3D Models and Disciplinary Practice in Mediterranean Archaeology. This is a 20 minute paper for Eric Poehler’s Digital Archaeological Practice: A Workshop on the use of Technology in the Field next month at the University of Massachusetts. The paper will consider how the practice of collecting 3D data with photography (trench side structure-from-motion imaging) could impact disciplinary practices. It will continue to develop some ideas that I first articulated in a longish paper that I delivered here at UND in 2010 and then refined a bit for a paper that I gave at last year’s AIA (on YouTubes here), plus some new ideas gleaned from the 3D Thursday project.
2. Teaching History in a Scale-Up Classroom. I learned this fall that the paper Cody Stanley and I submitted to the History Teacher on our experiences teaching in the Scale-Up classroom received a “revise and resubmit”. This was good news since it was the first effort on our part to write something like this. The bad news is, of course, that now we have to revise it and there is an April deadline.
3. Settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th Centuries. I was invited to contribute an article to an edited volume on the Early Byzantine transition across the Mediterranean that evolved from a conference held in 2011 at the University of Cyprus. The island of Cyprus is interesting in that it did not follow some of the patterns seen elsewhere in the Mediterranean. For example, there is relatively little evidence for urban contraction or the construction of fortified places across the island (with a few, well-known exceptions) and recent work at Polis, for example, has suggested that the disruptions associated with the mid-7th century may have been relatively brief and followed by a period of rebuilding. This paper needs a good bit of thought and work and will benefit from the help of my collaborators both at PKAP and Polis on Cyprus.
4. Man Camps at the SAAs. At the end of April, I’m giving a paper on my work with the North Dakota Man Camp Project at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in Austin. The paper is titled “The North Dakota Man Camp Project: The Archaeology of Workforce Housing in the Bakken Oil Patch of North Dakota” and it should draw heavily from our almost-ready-for-primetime article which should appear as an advanced working draft on this blog soon! More than that, I hope to get to do a little research on workforce housing in the most recent Texas oil boom.
The good thing about being a squirrel is that I never get bored snerking around the same old hedge eating grubs, but, on the other hand, maintaining diversity is exhausting! Wish me luck!
December 17, 2013 § Leave a comment
This spring I will once again teach History 101: Western Civilization in the University of North Dakota’s relatively new Scale-up classroom. For regular followers for this blog, you know that this will be my second time doing this and that I documented my first effort at this over last spring. The end result of this effort was a paper with my teaching assistant Cody Stanley that is currently under revision.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Scale-Up room, it is a 180 student room where students sit at 20 x 9-person, round tables. Each table has 3 laptop computers around which students form a “pod” (each table, then, has 3 pods).
While I think that for my first time teaching the course in this new room, it went reasonable well, there were some pretty loud and aggressive complaints. The most shrill and constant were complaints about group work. I’ve decided to ignore these as nothing about the room makes it conducive to individual work, and, while I admire the rugged individualism of the solo-striver, I also see the value in getting students familiar with working together as this is a skill that most of them will need throughout their post-university lives. (It’s ok for me to celebrate student resisting the influence of Taylorism in higher education in one blog post and then argue that students need to develop “real life” skills on another.)
On the other hand, I did listen to students when they thought that my “uncoverage” approach deprived them of learning about periods and events that made history interesting, exciting, or even just a little more tolerable (this is a non-majors class, so for many, we’re aiming for tolerable). The first time I taught the class, I had each table write a single chapter of a Western Civilization textbook (here’s the list of chapters).
The students wanted more diversity in their encounter with Western Civilization, so instead of asking each table to write a single 5000-7000 word chapter, my teaching assistant this semester suggested that we ask each table to write a 1500-2000 word chapter on one aspect of Greek, Roman, and Medieval civilization. Instead of each table covering every aspect of a particular time period (say, the Hellenistic World or Late Antiquity), each table will cover one facet of a rather more narrow time period.
Each period will be divided into three periods: Early, Middle, Late (e.g. Early Middle Ages, High Middle Ages, Late Middle Ages). Each table will then get one aspect of that period: Culture, Religion, Politics, Military, and Social. So, one table will write on Hellenistic military achievements, and another will write on Classical military achievements, and another on the Bronze Age military. For each aspect, I’ll pose a series of questions to provide some guidance for the students as they engage these aspects of each period over a 4 week span of time (leaving 4 weeks at the start of the class for an introduction to the room and basic approaches to studying the past). At the end of the class, we will collate all these short chapters into longer chapters focused on each period.
This effort to give the students a slightly broader coverage will also change the pace of the course. A few weeks ago I discussed the idea of “slow teaching” and pace in the classroom. In general, the first version of my Scale-Up class has a particularly slow pace. Students dug deeply into a particular period and prepared a deliberately organized, written, and revised chapter. There was plenty of time to work through historical and mechanical issues surrounding each chapter. The results were relatively good. The one downside to this approach is the students only produce one chapter, and we did not have a chance to repeat or reinforce the methods that they had developed. I also struggled at times with the rather uneven rate at which the various groups engaged the research, writing, and revising process.
By asking the students to write three small chapters over the course of the semester, I have the opportunity to reinforce how students identify and approach historical problems and compose arguments and analysis. While I haven’t worked out the details for how to use the four weeks (approximately 10 classroom hours) for each chapter (I imagine it will be a truncated version of what I did with each chapter last semester), I can imagine adding aspects to the research, writing, and revision process as we go through the semester so that students engage the material in a slightly more refined way for each unit.
I also think that by pushing the students to move more quickly through the process of writing a chapter, it’ll produce less variation in the rate which groups manage the tasks in the classroom. Groups that struggle to keep up will have more work to do at home.
Stay tuned as I work out the details this spring! For my on my Scale-Up Adventures click here.
November 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
Today will be a hectic Tuesday full of letters of recommendation, grading, teaching, and preparing for the ASOR Annual Meeting at the end of the week.
So, I can only offer a couple quick thoughts on a Teaching Tuesday:
For the last five years I’ve made the final assignment in my undergraduate historical methods course (History 240: The Historians’ Craft) a prospectus for a larger paper. This required students to assemble a bibliography, identify trends in historiography, and establish a historical problem that subsequent research would solve. I asked that each prospectus included a one-page case study that would draw upon primary source evidence to demonstrate how they intended to address a historical problem. This is a fairly standard assignment for mid-level undergraduates in history.
But, it rarely worked for my students whether because of execution of the specific assignment or the preparation leading up to the assignment.
We’re in the process of reimagining our curriculum in the department right now and adding a required class between the 200-level Historians’ Craft and the 400-level capstone. Since part of that class is guiding the students through to writing a prospectus, I’ve removed that largely-failed assignment from my 200-level course and replaced it with a new assignment. This assignment asks the students to identify a primary source that appears in several different historical monographs and articles and to explore how different scholars use that source. Ideally, they will be able to recognize that different scholars approach a source in different ways. The goal of this assignment is to make the students demonstrate between primary and secondary sources. This is a key element in historical analysis. We’ll see how it goes.
I was pleased to receive a revise-and-resubmit from the History Teacher for my paper with Cody Stanley on our work in the Scale-Up Classroom last semester. The paper emerged, in part, from my blog posts on the topic and was written quickly. Our goal was to get something submitted and to get some feedback on whether our ideas and observations deserved wider circulation. Having never written anything for peer-review remotely related to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), I was not particularly confident.
The revisions suggested by the reviewers are almost entirely structural and stylistic. They recognized the hasty composition and a certain amount of bloat that came from trying to say as many things about our experience to as many different people as possible. (This is related to the “throw it all up on the wall and see what sticks” method of argument.) They also suggested that we engage the growing body of scholarship on Scale-Up teaching more thoroughly. Finally, both reviewers seemed to want to hear more about the relationship between the content (an intro-level history class) and the actual mechanics of the course. This is all manageable.
It was great that the journal gave us a deadline for our revisions. This encouraged us to take their request that we revise and resubmit seriously.
But, for now, I need to survive the week.
July 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
As readers of this blog know, I’ve been working on a paper documenting and reflecting on teaching Western Civilization I in the University of North Dakota’s fancy-pants new Scale-Up classroom. My teaching assistant from the spring 2013 semester, Cody Stanley, is my coauthor.
This draft of the paper included some of the results of a survey conducted at the end of the course, a more substantial literature review, and a general tightening of our argument throughout.
I think the article is good, but like everything I write, it is probably trying to do too many things all at once. On the other hand, I think – almost by default – we make some good observations on the changing landscape of college teaching in the humanities.
Any and all feedback would be really appreciated! For more on my Scale-Up adventures, feel free to peruse my weekly teaching journal and various other blog posts on the topic.