Newsletter – Spring 2013

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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.  Direct inquiries and submissions to the editor.  Not a member of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History? Join the society to be placed on the mailing list.

The newsletter is sponsored by the History Department at Indiana University and is the official newsletter of HistorySOTL: The International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History.

Special thanks to the contributors: Sean Brawley, Ali Erkan, Keith A. Erekson, Andrew M. Koke, David Ludvigsson, David Pace, Michael Smith, and Geoff Timmins.


Nominations to HistorySOTL Boards Extended

“Toward a Survey for Historical Thinking Development”

Developments in Australia

Latest SOTL conferences Information

Help HistorySOTL Add to Its Online Bibliography

Enhancing Student Learning in History: Perspective on University History Teaching

American Historical Society SOTL Initiative

Thoughts on Progression: Expectations of Student Learning


Nominations to HistorySOTL Boards Extended

Due to strong interest we are extending the period for nominations to the central Board of ISSOTL in History and the regional boards until January 31.  Positions are listed below.  If you are interested in being nominated, please send your name, institutional affiliation, and a short (100 word) description of your involvement with the scholarship of teaching and learning to ISSOTL in History to the editor.

Board of Directors — All members are expected to participate in twice yearly discussions of the directions of the organization, either in person or virtually.

  • Chair  — Oversees communications among members and arranges board meetings
  • Vice-chair  — Assists the chair in coordinating activities
  • Secretary — Keeps records of meetings
  • Treasurer — Oversees financial matters for the organization
  • Director of Publications/Editor — Oversees the production of the ISSOTL in History Newsletter with the assistance of the members of the board of directors and the regional boards
  • Regional Directors — Have responsibility for overseeing the activities of the regional boards and participating in the activities of the board of the directors
  • Two at-large members of the board of directors

Regional Boards — All members of these groups are expected to make contact with others on their regional boards several times a year to share information about relevant events or projects in the field and to pass on to the newsletter information about ideas and developments in their region.  Proposed Regions (each needs a regional director and members.  We are very open to the creation of new regions, either through a process of moving into geographical regions not yet represented or through the subdivision of existing regions):

  • Australasia
  • North America
  • Northern and Western Europe (exclusive of the United Kingdom)
  • Eastern Europe and Russia
  • United Kingdom and Ireland

If you have any questions, please email dpace [at] indiana [dot] edu“>David Pace with the subject heading “ISSOTL in History.”


“Toward a Survey for Historical Thinking Development”

Michael Smith & Ali Erkan (Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY)

In many ways, students entering higher education are far from being at a well-defined initial state for learning; their engagement with higher education is profoundly shaped by their attitudes, beliefs, and expectations they bring from earlier stages of their lives.

The Maryland Physics EXpectations (MPEX) survey is a 34-item Likert-scale agree/disagree instrument that probes student attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions about physics. Since its validation, it has captured students’ development (or lack thereof) along these three dimensions. The MPEX has revealed pedagogical flaws in introductory physics courses at numerous institutions and provided valuable information for educators to reduce educational misconceptions.

Despite being specific to physics education, the MPEX instrument is general enough to be utilized in other disciplines. For example, in the context of the NSF sponsored project “Multidisciplinary Sustainability Modules: Integrating STEM Courses”, this instrument is being adapted to the computing domain and is already revealing notable results. There is reason to assume that the adaptation can be made for humanities as well, where the expectations of incoming students are potentially more varied (and perhaps even more “off target”) than their peers in the sciences, especially with respect to their readiness for an analytical approach to history.

The Humanistic Adaptation of the MPEX (HAMPEX) survey is our attempt at adapting MPEX to the humanities (in general) and history (in particular)  and has already been used in two offerings of an introductory history course at Ithaca College. At ISSOTL 2012 in Hamilton we hope to convene an affinity group of historians to discuss this adaptation and complete the survey in order to begin to establish a baseline response. We think that if we can establish the usefulness of this adaptation, we will have an important tool to assess the “initial conditions” of students studying history at the introductory college level as well as observe (through the pre-post delta) the changes in how they approach history. Furthermore, if we can validate the adaptation, we think this tool will be able to assess the effects of novel methods/interventions tried in introductory history courses (and eventually other introductory courses in the humanities).

The development of the HAMPEX survey, the establishment of the baselines, and the testing of the instrument with the students, will allow us to explore the following questions:

  •  To what extent are students in an introductory history course unified in their attitudes, beliefs, and expectations when they begin their studies?
  • If graduating students are indeed mostly unified in their attitudes, beliefs, and expectations, at what point do they converge and what interventions or pedagogical approaches contributed to the convergence?
  • Do history educators have a unified set of attitudes, beliefs, and expectations associated with a conventional curriculum? That is, is it reasonable to assume that there will be a clear-cut baseline from the humanistic community (in general) and panel audience members (in particular)?
  • If there is no clear-cut baseline from the humanistic community, is it possible to detect multiple baselines, perhaps based on demographic information (such as fields, institution, etc.) of the participants?

We believe that the current changes in the academic landscape (in terms of both students and institutions) require us to focus on such instruments for several reasons. First, incoming students have a wider range of readiness for college education than ever before. Second, pedagogical techniques that rely on analysis are ever more important since students need more support in becoming better thinkers (from humanities to the sciences). Third, innovative interventions need to have validated instruments to gauge their effect beyond that of anecdotal evidence. Consequently, we think it is important to explore whether an MPEX derived instrument can be used for all these goals in the context of history (and eventually other humanistic disciplines).

We will announce the time and place of the affinity group meeting as soon as the organizers give us the go ahead.


Developments in Australia

Sean Brawley, UNSW, Australia

Second National Workshop on Teaching and Learning in History

The second national workshop on teaching and learning in history was held on 8-9 July before the commencement of the Australian Historical Association Annual Conference at the University of Adelaide. 50 delegates representing 21 of the 31 Australian universities with a history major were in attendance. Delegates from the History Teachers Association of Australia and the Professional Historians Association of Australia were also in attendance. International guests for the second workshop were Alan Booth (Nottingham), Leah Shopkow (Indiana) and Lendol Calder (Augustana).

The principal objective of the workshop involved updating Australian historians on the Australian standards environment, its international context, and the activities of the After Standards Project since the first workshop at UNSW in April, 2011. To accomplish this goal, a sector and international briefing was provided, followed by institutional reports from six Australian universities, focusing on steps taken at these institutions to prepare for a national standards regime. A centrepiece of the workshop was a report on the After Standards accreditation trial, presenting the results of assessing attainment of selected TLOs based on student work from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the University of New England (UNE) and the University of Queensland (UQ). Since this trial revealed serious problems with the proposed accreditation process, new approaches were suggested.

The second objective of the Workshop was to provide participants with opportunities to reflect on the relationships between tertiary standards, their own teaching practices, and History’s growing body of scholarship of teaching and learning. Institutional reports revealed how the initiation of this discussion at the first workshop has affected teaching at selected Australian universities. A session on Capstones spurred discussion of cumulative, end-of-program experiences, while a new OLT project proposal focusing on History Honours – spawned by the first workshop – was presented to the discipline community for feedback.

The third objective was to showcase international best practice through the participation of international delegates. Sessions included a critique of history “rituals” that impede student learning, the findings of the UK-based “History Passion Project”, and new approaches to introductory history courses. Delegates were thus given another opportunity (free from their administrative and research commitments) to engage with cutting edge SOTL in the History discipline. Theses presentations about international best practices were a particularly valuable considering the project’s finding that meaningful standards must be integrated into all phases of a curriculum if they are to be met by outgoing students.

Australian Historical Association Conference The AHA conference at Adelaide had a substantial proportion of its program dedicated to teaching and learning. As well as a substantial increase in individual papers on aspects of T&L a number of panel sessions were held including a plenary on T&L in history from the vantage point of 2020. Sean Brawley (the pessimist), Alan Booth (the optimist), Leah Shopkow (the pragmatist) and Lendol Calder (the dreamer) provided an engaging and thought provoking discussion of what the future of T&L in history might look like.

Third National Workshop on Teaching and Learning in History

The third national workshop was held in Darwin from 15-18 November. On this occasion the After Standard’s project team was joined by eight delegates to conduct intensive team-based work around the possible options for an accreditation model for the AHA. The three groups were (1) Research project/reflective exercise in capstone experience, (2) Portfolios and (3) Standardised Testing. The reports of each working group will be used to inform the AHA’s discussion around a standards-based accreditation system. As well as a briefing for local historians, the project team also used their time in Darwin to prepare the final report for the After Standards project. This will be made available when complete.


Latest SOTL Conferences Information

The theme for the conference, which will take place at the University of Warwick on 3-4 July 2013, is Powerful Partnerships: Defining the Learning Experience. There are three strands: students as partners; employers as partners and organisations as partners. The call closes at 12:00 on 21 January 2013.

We invite you to submit an abstract for presentation at the 10th annual International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) Conference. The 2013 ISSOTL Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, United States, October 2-5, 2013, focuses on Critical Transitions in Teaching and Learning. International scholars and educators will meet to share recent work and to discuss how our collective efforts will transform the future of higher education. Proposals are due March 18, 2013. Online submission form available.


 Help HistorySOTL Add to Its Online Bibliography

To help keep up to date our bibliography of works on the scholarship of teaching and learning particularly interesting to history, we are asking members to send us citations of books or articles that seem particularly relevant to our shared interests.   Whenever you run across a work that should be included, please send it along to kaerekson [at] utep [dot] edu“>Keith A. Erekson with an indication of where in the bibliography it should be placed (ie, subject matter).  Please do not feel reluctant to share your own publications.



 Enhancing Student Learning in History: Perspective on University History Teaching

David [dot] Ludvigsson [at] liu [dot] se“>David Ludvigsson, ISAK, Division of History, Linköping University

Based on the papers presented at the Uppsala conference in 2010, Enhancing Student Learning in History: Perspectives on University History Teaching (139 pages) has now been published by Opuscula Historica Upsaliensia, vol. 48. The book can be ordered from Swedish Science Press, Box 118, SE-751 04 Uppsala.

In the introductory chapter, David Ludvigsson historicizes History SoTL in Sweden. Publications in the field began to appear with the introduction of lectureships at Swedish universities in the 1960’s. Economic pressures in the 1990’s made it increasingly important to have students succeed in their studies, and so interest in history SoTL has increased in recent years with several Swedish historians participating in the annual British conferences on history teaching and learning in higher education. Progression between undergraduate levels has been a particularly important issue at Swedish history departments, as has been the issue of gender, many historians noting male student dominance on master and graduate levels. However, to this date there have been rather few critical studies on history teaching and students’ learning.

Five studies follow. First, Alan Booth discusses the progress of scholarship of teaching and learning in history. He draws upon two decades of activity in the field and suggests there are still challenges and opportunities, as well as obstacles to overcome. Among the challenges he identifies a number of areas that are in particular need of systematic research, such as how students experience the different forms of teaching now routinely used in history education.

As part of a larger project being carried out at Indiana University, David Pace investigates the bottlenecks to learning among his students in a course on Paris and Berlin in the 1920’s. In his account, he relates his own practical measures to help students surmount known difficulties and analyzes how well these measures work in actually helping the students.

In a focus group study David Ludvigsson investigates student perceptions of history fieldwork. He reports that students were very positive about fieldwork but did not think it indispensable as part of history education. Among positive student perceptions were that they thought experiencing historical space made them understand history in new ways. It made history seem more real, and it made them reflect on the epistemology of the discipline.

Peter Ericsson reports experiences from his implementation of case-method in undergraduate studies. One strength with the method, Ericsson argues, is that it makes students take the perspective of historical agents, thus seeing that the past was filled with real people making real choices. The case-method is well suited to function as an introduction to how historians think when they analyze historical processes. Furthermore, due to the large seminar form, it turns out to be cost effective.

KG Hammarlund argues that students of history should be given the opportunity to develop not only a substantive knowledge of history but also a procedural knowledge. Through three examples from his own teaching, he then discusses how procedural concepts can be made comprehensible to students. Seeing parallels between his own efforts and serious thinking about history education in schools, he ultimately draws the conclusion that history education at the university level has much to learn from history education in schools and vice versa.

Finally, in the afterword David Ludvigsson proposes a future agenda for History SoTL in Sweden.

American Historical Society SoTL Initiative

The American Historical Society has announced the creation of a new program to introduce the scholarship of teaching and learning into the training of history Ph.D. students.  A team includings member of ISSOTL in History, Lendol Calder (Augustana College), Keith Erekson (Univ. of Texas El Paso), David Jaffee (Bard Graduate Center), Mills Kelly (George Mason Univ.), David Pace (Indiana Univ.), Leah Shopkow (Indiana Univ.), and Laura Westhoff (Univ. of Missouri-St. Louis) will work with the faculty at the University of California Berkeley to design a new course giving graduate students training in the field and with the staff of the AHA to design new programs for the organization’s annual meetings in 2014 and 2015.


Thoughts on Progression: Expectations of Student Learning

jgtimmins [at] uclan [dot] ac [dot] uk“>Geoff Timmins, University of Central Lancashire, UK

In considering what might be expected of history undergraduates at each level of provision in their programmes of study, the following examples are instructive.

1. Carole Srole, ‘Building History Skills Tier by Tier’, Perspectives on History, Feb 2008 provides examples of how progression is achieved in developing skills within the history provision at CaliforniaStateUniversity at Los Angeles, both within course units and between levels. A scaffolding approach is featured.

2. History Skills Guide By Level.  The history department at Appalachian State University offers suggestions as to the type of skills-orientated exercises that that might appropriate at the different levels of provision.

3. University of Lincoln has a programme specification for history provision (page 12) which gives learning outcomes expected at each of the three levels of undergraduate provision.

HistorySOTL would be pleased to publicise other examples of the ways in which progression is being achieved in history undergraduate programmes.

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