Triennial Review

I’m frantically assembling the paperwork for my first, post-tenure, triennial review which is both a year and about a week or so late.

In do so, rather hastily, I’ve learned three things:

1. I can still list all the significant things that I’ve done in less than 3 full pages of my CV.

2. My records are a mess, and I have no way to “prove” most of the work that I do on a daily basis. 

3. Writing reflections on teaching that is long enough to capture what I think about (and sometimes write about here on the ole bloggeroo), but not too boring or, worse, preachy for my colleagues.

Here’s what I wrote:

Over the last three years, I’ve tried to be more innovative in my teaching. I have abandoned my one regularly taught class, History 240, and continue to tinker with my History 502: Graduate Historiography class by adding and removing readings and trying to keep the course synchronized with recent trends in historical methods and theory. My major effort, however, was revising my History 101 class in preparation to teach this course face-to-face after a several years of teaching it online.

When I last taught the class in a classroom, I taught the class at night, in a single two-and-a-half hour block. The class tended to enroll well, but student engagement was low, retention was poor, and, frankly, the level of analysis, argument, and writing was disappointing. While my first reaction is always to blame “the kids these days,” I soon decided to think a bit more critically and historically about my approach to teaching. My approach to re-thinking this class did not derive from the latest, greatest, teaching trend, but from the history seminars of the late-19th and early-20th century. In these classrooms, faculty and students drew upon a limited library of primary sources and reference works to produce historical arguments that that they then shared with their peers and the faculty leader.

The development of a Scale-Up style classroom on campus in 2013 provided an opportunity to translate the concept of the seminar to the scale of an introductory level history course, and in the Winter of 2013, I began to teach History 101 in the Scale-Up classroom. At the time, I was the only humanities class in this room on campus, and, far as I can discern, I was the first history class to teach in a large, active learning style classroom in the US.

The Scale-Up room contains, 20, 9-student tables and this arrangement allowed me to convert my lecture class to a series of concurrent, if low-level, seminars focused on producing new (if banal) historical arguments and knowledge. Each 9-student table produced three, 3000 word, contributions to a notional history textbook. Each student in the group purchased a used textbook, and the 7-9 textbooks at each table created a basic research library that could be expanded with web resources and an open-access podcast textbook prepared for my online history class. After a series of individual and small-group writing assignments designed to familiarize students with the structure and expectations of historical writing, organization, and argument, each table received a topic, some recommendations on sources, and a series of short assignments designed to lead them through the writing process. Thesis statements, timelines, outlines, drafts, peer-reviews, and final versions of each chapter ensured that each table approached the writing process in a systematic way and had opportunities to both offer and receive critique.

I found that teaching in the Scale-Up room produced a much higher level of student engagement, retention, and regular attendance. Students continued to be concerned that “group work was kinda bogus,” but despite these protests, most students embraced the challenge of working, thinking, and writing together. The final chapters were tidy representations of historical argument and writing, and immeasurably superior to the product of similar assignments in my previously lecture-based History 101 class.

For more on my teaching in the Scale-Up room see the attached article (that was rejected) and some syllabi.


One Comment

  1. David Pettegrew January 28, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Bill, have you posted the article to your blog? I’m interested in reading more as I plan to completely overhaul my western civ class next year


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s