What does it mean to be successful in a history class? Is the goal to memorize facts, understand consecutive events as a narrative, or to be able to synthesize seemingly disparate events in order to relate them to the present? What is the higher level critical thinking that should be expected of a history student and how is it achieved. In my experience, and based on the conversations we have had in class, it seems that history classes in higher education continue to rely on teacher centered instruction, independent study, and traditional forms of assessment such as multiple choice tests and essays. None of these things are inspiring, engaging, or transformative.
In previous blog posts I made arguments for possible changes to this paradigm. In Lying about the past, I referenced T. Mills Kelly’s book, and his philosophy of getting the students to “move some shit,” make history, even if that includes making up false histories. I continued that theme in Make history to learn history, suggesting that digital story telling and the creation of digital narratives offers many benefits for providing engagement and ownership for students. Collaborative learning and mobile technology included the previous blog ideas and added the idea that collaboration, especially in tandem with mobile learning applications can provide an opportunity for students to assume responsibility for their own education, build meaning with their peers, and even get help from their peers and instructors.
This week I wanted to make an example of a learning module that addressed the problems I previously described. To begin with I looked at The Systematic Design of Instruction (Dick, Carey, & Carey, 2009). It is an instructional systems design book that describes a step-by-step way to create educational materials and programs. I used their model for designing instructional strategies. “An instructional strategy describes the general components of a set of instructional materials and the procedures that will be used with those materials to enable a student mastery of a learning out come “(171). Their guide is as follows:
“Summary of Learning Components…
- Preinstructional activities
- Gain attention and motivate learners
- Describe objectives
- Describe and promote recall of prerequisite skills
- Content presentation
- Learning guidance
- Learner participation
- Entry skills test
- Follow-through activities
- Memory aids for retention
- Transfer considerations” (178)
For a preinstructional activity I presented a video that is both amusing and relates to the telling of history. It is designed to get the students engaged and motivated in the assignment to think more about how history is presented. In part 2 there is another video. While the first video is a really poor description of a historical event, the second one is a complete fake. It is however based on real events. Learning guidance is given as to why this fake account of history has been presented, and the learning objectives are established. In part 3 a collaborative assignment is presented which allows the students to choose their own subjects and make their own videos. In part 4 feedback is provided by the other students, and individually they are required to write a short reflection on what they have learned, or what they still have questions about. A criticism of this design may be that there is no entry skills test, pretest or posttest. It is assumed that students will be at the appropriate level to participate in these activities. In addition there is no assessment beyond what the students produce and their reflections.
By using this module, or some version of it I believe it is possible for a student to have an engaging, personalized, authentic learning experience of which they can take ownership. In addition it has designed to use technology that students already have, and infrastructure that already exists. Beyond that it can be done outside of the classroom at anytime. Generally when we are taught history it is in a situation where in which a professor, or a book feeds us information that we are meant to consume. History is presented as a series of facts that we are required to remember for the test, and then soon forget. A passive involvement with any subject (history or other wise) cannot create meaning, and it cannot create a transformative experience. Students need to be active participants in their education, and they need to create things based on their instruction to develop critical thinking skills. Students should not be relegated to being consumers of information. Students should be producers of information in order to truly learn.
- Dick, Walter; Carey, Lou; Carey, James O. The Systematic Design of Instruction. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2009. Print.