In the weeks ahead, this blog is going to fill out rather quick with posts about history, teaching, and learning. Before that begins, I’d like to take the opportunity to share some basic information about where we are coming from and where we might be headed.
This blog and the larger website are a being developed as a part of the Course Transformation Project of the history department at the University of Texas at Austin. The project is funded by a grant from the UT Course Transformation Program.
Penne Restad and I, in consultation with other history faculty, developed the basic plan for the project. But we have no idea how it is going to turn out. That is by design.
One of our major goals is to re-imagine the way we teach our US history survey courses. “United States, 1492-1865” and “United States Since 1865” are the backbone of the UT history department. These two courses enroll about 4,500 students annually. That’s a lot of students. It’s also a lot of faculty and a lot of graduate teaching assistants. Our goal is to develop ways for these students to learn more and learn better. For us, that means moving away from the lecture format towards more active and collaborative learning, designing a course in which students engage in doing history rather than watching it done by others. We don’t know what that is going to look like yet. We’ve got a load of ideas, but we will be developing, refining, and implementing them over the coming year. Keep posted.
We also hope to foster a broader conversation about teaching and learning history among our faculty, our students, and anyone else who is interested. The issues facing those who take and teach the US survey are far from unique. They resonate across the department and the university. Many, of course, resonate across the field of higher education. From student engagement and success to the paradoxes of systematic assessment in the humanities, from debates about active and situated learning to the existential challenges and exciting opportunities offered by digital technology, from graduate funding and placement to faculty research and retention: we often find ourselves working on contested and congested terrain. It is not always clear which way to travel or whether the paths we forge today will still be viable routes tomorrow. We do think that practicing teachers are in the best position to work out solutions to these complex issues while preserving and improving the quality of student learning. We hope that the history CTP will provide faculty and graduate students opportunities to debate these issues and collaborate on new designs for teaching history well into the future.
With these goals in mind, the first phase of the history CTP creates an infrastructure for sharing information and ideas. It has three parts.
- I am teaching a graduate course called, not surprisingly, “Designing History’s Future.” It has a great group of grad students from history, American studies, and beyond. For the duration of the semester, this is our CTP working team, our brainstorming and barnstorming association. You can check out the syllabus on the tab at the top of the page. The class is always open to anyone who wants to sit in. Come on by.
- We are holding a series of lunchtime workshops to begin building conversations among faculty and graduate students about teaching and learning. Check out the schedule available on the above tab.
- Starting next week, students will begin posting to this blog each week. Posts will be designed to introduce readers outside the class to a wide variety of ideas about teaching and the history classroom.
The second phase of the history CTP, beginning in the spring, will involve building two more substantial and permanent websites. One will house an evolving library of resources by and for history faculty, including ideas about course design, classroom activities, assignment ideas, etc. The second will be website for undergraduate students enrolled in history courses, including the US survey. It will eventually house a rich array of resources, not connected to any particular class, to help students learn historical content, concepts, and methodology.
But more about that later. I’ve got to go finish reading James Gee for this week’s grad class.