This international newsletter aims to promote scholarly approaches to history teaching and learning in higher education. Contributions that report any matters in this field are welcome, including:
- Reports on recent conferences and workshops
- Notes about current trends or emerging issues
- Comments about recently published works of scholarship
- Announcements of future conferences or workshops
- Short accounts of current research projects
- Reports of curriculum development and approaches to teaching
- Profiles of individuals and departments
The newsletter is sponsored by the History Department at Indiana University and is the official newsletter of History SoTL: The International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History.
Special thanks to Sean Brawley, Geoff Timmins, and Andrew M. Koke for their work on this newsletter, and to the contributors: Geoff Timmins, Sean Brawley, Mike Cosgrave, Michael Smith, Ali Erkan, Jeff McClurken, and Jim Groom.
ISSOTL 2009 Summaries
“Blogs, Wikis, and Open-Source, Oh My!: Assessing Uses of Digital Tools in Teaching and Learning”
Jeff McClurken and Jim Groom of University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia
“Wikis and the U.S. History Survey: The Opportunities and Hazards of Creating Historical Narrative in Non-linear Ways”
Michael Smith, Department of History and Ali Erkan, Department of Computer Science, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY
History ISSOTL draft constitution
“What questions do we want the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in the discipline of history to address over the next 20 years”
Notes from a panel session held at ISSOTL, Bloomington, October 2009
By Sean Brawley, University of New South Wales, and Mike Cosgrave, University College Cork
12th Annual Teaching and Learning in History Conference, Oxford, UK, 23-25th March, 2010. Bursaries are available for speakers.
ISSOTL 2009 Summaries
Blogs, Wikis, and Open-Source, Oh My!: Assessing Uses of Digital Tools in Teaching and Learning
By Jeff McClurken & Jim Groom of University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia
Our goals of deploying digital technologies in the classroom include: offering students new ways of approaching their own research, thinking, and writing; helping history students to gain marketable skills; fostering student creativity and adaptability in conceiving of and presenting historical information; and, exposing student work in an on-line environment that opens up the traditional closed system of undergraduate knowledge production by which student product goes only to the instructor.
“Digital fluency” must be central to our expectations for undergraduates. Although the media and educators often talk about today’s students as “digital natives”, we need to acknowledge that for many, their online abilities tend to be fairly narrowly focused (Facebook, SMS, and Google Search). Digital literacy, therefore, is not something we can assume in our students.
Over the last three years, we have offered a variety of technology-enabled learning experiences in classes aimed at enhancing digital fluency. Some include low technology threshold involvement on the part of students: e.g., wiki-based discussions, individual blogs as research logs or reading discussions. Others have been more involved, asking students to create individual wiki- or blog-based research projects, or collaborative substantive and persistent research projects crafted using a “digital toolbox” of open-source or freely available tools and services. We have collected longitudinal evidence of the ways digitally native but also digitally naïve students learned from their experiences using new media by surveying students from these classes (many of whom have graduated). These surveys (combined with anecdotal evidence) provided a useful assessment of the positive effects of digital technology on student learning and facility with digital and historical skills.
[Links to the projects discussed in the presentation can be found at here.]
Wikis and the U.S. History Survey: The Opportunities and Hazards of Creating Historical Narrative in Non-linear Ways
By Michael Smith, Department of History and Ali Erkan, Department of Computer Science, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY
“What’s the Problem?” Randy Bass asked in his seminal essay on the scholarship of teaching and learning ten years ago. The problem in this case was my (Michael’s) ongoing struggle to more deeply engage students in introductory level history courses. Personal experience and years of reading pedagogical literature (Wineburg, 2001, Stearns, et al. 2000, Pace, 2004, Diaz, et al, 2008, inter alia) had shown me that cultivating historical thinking required active learning techniques. Lendol Calder’s pioneering approach to more active learning in the survey (2006) yielded some impressive learning outcomes for me, but I found that only the best students could manage the intense reading load required. When Ali approached me about a collaboration that utilized wikis in some fashion, I immediately thought of Mark Prensky’s argument about today’s undergraduates being “digital natives.” My problem once again became an opportunity for an investigation into student learning.
In 2001 author, consultant, and game designer Mark Prensky argued that students are now so habituated to computer mediated learning that educators needed to adapt their teaching to honor this new media fluency. Those born and raised in the last two decades of the 20th century are “digital natives”; the rest of us are “digital immigrants,” forever a bit uncomfortable with new media. The analogy is a compelling one but does not fully capture the complexities involved in producing (and assessing) significant learning (Fink, 2003) with new media. While Prensky himself has provided evidence of this paradigm shift in learning and its implications for teaching, other scholars are less persuaded by his argument (see Bennett, et al., 2008). Inspired by, though independent of, the Visible Knowledge Project orchestrated by Georgetown University over the past six years (especially the insights of Wesch, 2009; also Long and Holeton, 2009), we have examined the implications of the “digital native” paradigm for teaching and learning in the discipline of history. At the 2009 ISSOTL conference we presented the findings of our investigation from the perspective of a partnership between a historian designing new media learning experiences and a computer scientist who has developed and supported the new media tools.
For this project Michael was interested in how wikis might lead to more engagement and sense of agency on the part of students in an introductory U.S. history course (U.S. since 1865), as well as whether the opportunities for non-linear narrative wikis offered conformed more closely to how students think about the organization of information. Ali’s focus, on the other hand, was more on a network theoretic perspective to study the structure and interconnections of wiki pages in addressing questions such as “Was the topic interesting?”, “Did the students make even or bursty progress?”, and “Did the students linearize information or discover conceptual interconnections?”
The students in two U.S. History since 1865 courses (57 students total) received training in using wiki code (three 50 minute class sessions in a computer lab and follow-up meetings with individual groups as necessary) and doing primary source analysis. They then were assigned the task (working in groups of 3 or 4) of creating (and setting the boundaries for) their own narrative of U.S. history since the Civil War on a wiki. The essence of their narrative had to be primary source based. During class meetings Michael would model (with the students helping) what primary source analysis (including weaving multiple sources together) should look like.
The evidence of student learning we have collected suggests that students at their institutions (and likely the traditionally aged students at most institutions) are digitally “native” only in a narrow sense. Students are not quite so computer savvy as Prensky and his supporters claim. We have found that students are adept at navigating the most familiar digital environments (Facebook, Wikipedia, Google, for example); they are, in a sense, cognitively conditioned to find and organize information in non-linear ways and have an intuitive sense for “surfing” that the “digital immigrants” among us may not possess. But most students haven’t the slightest understanding of how the digital tools they use work beyond their applications, nor have they given any thought to the ways organizational structures can shape information itself. In order for meaningful disciplinary learning to emerge from the use of new media in history classrooms the experience must be carefully scaffolded. The students themselves must become conscious of the ways the organizational choices they make with new media shape both how they learn the material and the outcomes of their final products.
Some projects were extraordinary. Our preliminary analysis of the data we collected (both quantitative and qualitative) allows us to make some compelling, evidence-based claims about the learning outcomes of this experiment, which we hope to do more formally in the coming months. Here’s an example: http://rohan.ithaca.edu/USH/.
History ISSOTL draft constitution
Your comments on the proposed constitution for HistSOTL are welcome. Please send comments to Sean Brawley, University of New South Wales.
International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History Constitution
1.1 The society shall be known as the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History. Its abbreviated title will be “HISTSOTL”.
1.2 The objects of the society shall be to:
(a) recognise and encourage scholarly work on teaching and learning in history;
(b) facilitate the collaboration of historians interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning;
(c) support fellow organisations and individuals interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning;
(d) be an international advocate for the appropriate uses of the scholarship of teaching and learning in history;
(e) act as a clearinghouse for the dissemination of information around scholarly approaches to teaching and learning in history.
2.1 Membership of the society will be open to individuals with an interest in the objects of the society.
2.2 The society reserves the right to introduce a fee for membership and fix terms for valid membership associated with such fees.
2.3 Membership of the society will exist in four forms: (a) founding members; (b) ordinary members; (c) fellows; (d) life members.
2.4 Founding members are members who joined the society before 1 January 2008.
2.5 A member can loose their membership status if, in the majority opinion of the board of directors, the member has brought the society into disrepute.
2.6 A member will be invited to become a fellow of the society if their contribution to the objects of the society is seen to represent an important contribution. Election to this level of membership will be regulated by a duly constituted sub-committee of the society. Election to fellow will require the approval of 70% of the board of directors who participated in the vote.
2.7 A member will be invited to life membership of the society if their contribution to the work of the society has been identified as crucial to its success. Election to this level of membership will be regulated by a duly constituted sub-committee of the society. Election to fellow will require the approval of 80% of the board of directors who participated in the vote. Nominations for this category of membership will not be accepted before 1 November 2016.
3.1 The operation of the society will be managed by the board of directors. The board of directors will be made up of the following officers: (a) Chair of the board (b) Vice-chair of the board (c) Secretary (d) Treasurer (e) Regional Director — North America (f) Regional Director — Europe (g) Regional Director — Australasia (h) Director — publications (i) 2 x members at large.
3.2 At such time as the number of fellows of the society exceeds 20, a fellows representative will become a member of the board.
3.3 Other regional directors will be admitted to the board when a region is able to demonstrate that it has 20 members of the society.
3.4 In the first instance the board of directors will be appointed by the steering committee of the society. Upon the appointment of the board, the steering committee will disband and cease to exist.
3.5 This board will hold office until such time as it has made preparation for and conducted a popular vote for the positions that constitute the board of directors. Such an election must take place and successful candidates announced on or before 31 December 2012.
3.6 The nature and structure of the society’s electoral system will be devised by the board and the society’s constitution will be changed accordingly.
3.7 The board will decide the roles and responsibilities of directors and will notify the membership of these responsibilities before 31 December 2010.
3.8 If for any reason an elected member of the board of directors is no longer able to fulfil their duties to the society and seeks to resign or is removed, the board shall appoint a member from the current membership list who will act in that capacity until the society’s electoral system is finalised.
3.9 The board of directors will have the power to form sub-committees of the board and will have the power to co-op members of the society and other persons in ex-officio capacities.
3.10 All sub-committees will be responsible to the board of directors and will report to the board on an annual basis.
4.1 The society will hold one general meeting of members annually. This meeting will be held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the international society for the scholarship of teaching and learning (ISSOTLl).
4.2 The board of directors will meet twice a year. One of these meetings should be held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL). The other can be held either in person or virtually.
4.3 Provision will exist for the holding of an extraordinary meeting upon the secretary of the board of directors being petitioned by 20 members. Such a meeting will be held virtually.
5.1 The society through the decisions of the board of directors reserves the right to introduce a fee for membership of the society if such a fee is deemed to be in the best interests of the society.
5.2 The fee rate will be reduced for students, the unwaged and those who make representation to the board of directors.
5.3 The board of directors will reserve the right to waive an individuals membership fee if deemed to be in the best interests of the society.
6.1 Proposals to change the constitution will need to be presented to the secretary of the board of directors two months before the annual meeting of members or before a duly called extraordinary meeting.
6.2 Whether held in person or virtually, a motion to change the constitution will require 70 per cent approval by the members who participated in the vote.
What questions do we want the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in the discipline of history to address over the next 20 years?
Notes from a panel session held at ISSOTL, Bloomington, October 2009
By Sean Brawley, University of New South Wales, and Mike Cosgrave, University College Cork
The panel was chaired by David Pace (Indiana) and member of the panel included Alan Booth (Nottingham), Sean Brawley (UNSW), Paul Hyland (Bath Spa), Sarah Richardson (Warwick), and Geoff Timmins (Central Lancashire).
The session commenced with the panelists speaking briefly to the major themes they had identified in preparation for the panel. These were:
1. Historicising SOTL
While the scholarship of teaching and learning is recent, being conventionally dated from the writings of Ernest Boyer, Alan Booth argued that there was evidence of concern with how we teach history long before that. He referred to the innovations in history teaching in the 1960s and to debates in the pages of The Historian as far back as the 1920’s. There is an opportunity for local, national and international comparative studies of the different pedagogic traditions in the discipline. Sean Brawley suggested that it would be useful to look at Boyer’s work as a historian would study any other seminal thinker in the context of his time and impact.
2. Research methodologies
Paul Hyland encapsulated this theme nicely when he asked how might SOTL change our conceptions of the discipline over the next 20 years – how might we move from “decoding the discipline” to “recoding” it. That is, as we understand more about how our students learn history, how might that change our own approach not only to how we teach it, but how might it also inform how we research? He also suggested that where he used “might” he would like to substitute “will” or “should”.
3. Classroom practice
Geoff Timmins spoke about the issues we might address of classroom practice under three headings:
(a) the international dimension – what can we learn from the differing approaches that we adopt internationally?
(b) supply and demand – what do we offer and how well does it match with what students’ needs?
(c) progression and differentiation in our courses. How are we making work more challenging for students as they move through their programmes of study?
4. Involving students
Following on, Sarah Richardson asked who might work on these (and other matters) and raised the crucial issue of how we might involve students in the process. (This proved to be a major theme which came up in several panels, including the Student Voices project in Western Washington, among others.)
After these presentations, a general discussion between the presenters and the audience regarding ideas and priorities for History and SOTL took place.
- Against the perennial backdrop of continual threats to the Humanities, the questioning of its purpose and value and the mounting pressures in many nations on content and curricula, it was suggested that the discipline of History could do much to protect itself and the broader field. History had to be considered as an “educational medium” and more needed to be done to relate the usefulness of historical thinking beyond the study of history. It was noted that academic historians could greatly assist K-12 in ensuring the centrality of history in civics. More generally it was suggested that the group should think about History as Epistemology.
- Discussion returned to the history of university history teaching and academic research and its usefulness when considering a new agenda. The suggestion was made that history teachers at all levels had to reconnect with earlier debates such as those that took place around ethnic and hidden histories in the 60s and re-examine how that generation of academic historians sought to teach in new ways using new approaches. As an aside to this discussion the potential of History to teach “cultural literacies” was considered and also the way new trends in historiography (such as internationalisation/globalisation) could impact on teaching practice.
- The process of teaching history within a SOTL framework was then discussed. What is valid and what is rigorous? How can reward and recognition procedures in institutions help to drive the sorts of changes that improve the learning experience? This discussion provoked some questions about national divides and different experiences, but such distinctions were seen as a strength and an important source of reflection. Further the commonalities were seen to be as strong, if not stronger than the differences. One of the important aspects of history teaching was seen to be the development of the student as historian and this transformative aspect to history teaching was seen to have no national boundary. That this aspect was not well understood and needed more work was agreed by the group.
- Regarding work currently being completed in History SOTL, mention was made of that being undertaken at UW-Milwaukee on the history of the history survey.- an instructive example of historians using their disciplinary skills to explore a teaching and learning issue.
- An important issue raised from the floor regarded the time paucity of academic historians. How would they find the time to engage in SOTL? Further, what really matters? Where can a teaching historian get most ‘bang for their buck’? Mention was made of the work of History SOTL and the History Subject Centre in the UK in providing historians with access to teaching resources; it was noted that identifying and disseminating best practice from the discipline, and also drawing attention to ideas from other disciplines, are important parts of the missions of both organizations. It was noted how closely these organizations are now working.
- Discussion returned to Alan Booth’s earlier observations about the forgotten/hidden histories of teaching and learning in history. To avoid re-inventing wheels, this work was seen to be important. One example raised was earlier work around teaching practice and gender. [It was noted that such work must explore issues that centre the focus on student teaching as well as historian teaching. The idealisation for the past student experience amongst many of us was seen to inform a “folk history” that could be exploited with more evidence-based approaches to the subject. Mention was made of Sofer’s work on Oxford and Perry’s earlier work has positive examples for approaching such themes.
- The question was asked would such work do any more than provide a Geertzian thick description of where we are and what we know. How will such work take us forward? How would it ferment redesign? How will it guarantee student employability? Relatedly, when will we know when SOTL has impact?
- It was observed that SOTL work continues to be undervalued, as more generally exampled by the tension between the popular and the academic, the monograph and the textbook. It was noted as an aside that related to this issue was the question of external perceptions of what history is and this must be taken into account. Tensions between K-12 and University were also noted. Concerns were expressed from a number of countries about the alienation of students from history during K-12 and the importance of academic historians entering the K-12 debate about the best way to prepare students for university. However, it was suggested that academic historians must drive these partnerships.
- A question was then asked about what our students are getting out of our teaching? What’s effective? Are we simply imposing our values with some content we select? These considerations quickly led to a discussion of assessment (in a British and Australian sense), including the value of project based and collaborative assessment tasks. Additionally, the issue of technology and the way many historians use it for themselves and not for their students was discussed. The issue of collaboration also raised its usefulness for historians. A further question raised the issue of whether historians should share more and would this sharing help stretch our influence across the profession. It was certainly noted that this would be a good way to build data for SOTL project work. The applicability of action research methodologies was also raised.
- A call came for the plenary session for history department faculty to spend more of their time looking at the structure of their curricula and for making greater connections with colleagues nationally and internationally. Seeking more opportunities for study abroad connections was cited as one possible way forward.
With time extinguished an engaging and lively session came to an end.
12th Annual Teaching and Learning in History Conference
The Annual Teaching and Learning in History Conference is an opportunity for all those interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning in history to share experiences and learn from current research. The conference is organised by the Higher Education Academy History Subject Centre in the UK which supports the teaching and learning of History at all levels. We are now accepting proposals for papers, panels and workshops on all aspects of the scholarship of teaching and learning in History. Please contact us if you would like more information or want to offer a paper. The conference will also celebrate ten years of the National Teaching Fellowship scheme in the UK. Travel and accommodation bursaries are available for all speakers. For more information please contact:
The report from the 11th Annual Conference can be accessed here.
eBibliography of Pedagogical Literature in History
This winter, the History Subject Centre and HistorySOTL are launching a new, free eBibliography of Pedagogical Literature. The History Pedagogy Bibliography (HPB) aims to provide the international history community with an up-to-date, annotated bibliography of the scholarship on teaching and learning, with specific reference to works focusing on teaching history in Higher Education. The pilot database is currently available here.
The bibliography will offer users a choice of three databases: general works, history-specific studies, and introductory pieces. Users can then create custom, annotated bibliographies on a variety of sub-themes such as assessment, seminar activities and first-year transition.
Collaboration with the wider academic community is welcomed and if you would like to suggest a title for the database, or assist in creating or updating the annotations of existing entries, please contact Melodee Beals, Academic Coordinator at the History Subject Centre.
Although the HPB is an on-going collaboration, the History Subject Centre and HistorySOTL would like to express great thanks to Keith Erekson (History Department, University of Texas at El Paso) for creating the core bibliography on which the HPB is based.
ISSOTL conferece, 2010
This will be held in Liverpool, UK, between the 19th and 22nd October, 2010. It provides an opportunity to meet with fellow historians from different countries and to discuss matters of concern with regard to learning and teaching in history at undergraduate and graduate levels. Liverpool is an historic city that has undergone considerable redevelopment and was given the accolade as European capital of culture in 2008.