I would be reluctant to summarize the hour of quite thoughtful, sometimes a bit tense, but genuinely engaging conversation at the first faculty lunch seminar for the history course transformation project.
Here are a few points that were made about what we believe about teaching. And a few questions that they prompted.
We believe that our discipline is important. But we don’t have a systematic way of demonstrating its value–or a succinct way of stating it. How can we enable students to experience our discipline’s significance to their lives?
We believe the narrative is important. It is, among other things, the vehicle that holds the drama, magic, and art of teaching itself. How can we retain the narrative and also impart an appreciation for the distinct signature of our discipline?
We believe learning the skill of evaluating evidence is important. It is one of the central characteristics of the historian’s craft. Yet, the way the group discussed their uses of primary sources, I think this is much richer than a single stroke of the signature. What do we ask students to do and know when we ask them to “evaluate” and “analyze”?
We were silent on a number of complicated topics. I don’t take this to mean that we are actually without beliefs about them, but they are worth similar consideration.
The role of students: What are their legitimate obligations and expectations? Does the Internet—detractor, subverter, and rich source—require new ways of learning and teaching history? Can we make it work better for us? The mark of success: How do we know we have succeeded? Are there assumptions about teaching we should revisit? And, perhaps most important, how can we go about rethinking specific parts of the process of teaching history in ways that will be useful to a wide variety of teaching styles and at the same time preserve the personal idiosyncrasies that make courses memorable?
I hope that this conversation will continue to be as intense, conflicting, multiple, and exploratory as it was Friday.