Yesterday, with only three weeks of classes left before finals, a student asked me for help in another class. My “Do you need help?” – directed at the history research project we were working on – prompted him to unload the stress he was feeling about an asynchronous online science course for which he had never purchased the textbook because of a problem with his financial aid. My heart sank. I knew there was likely nothing that this student could do to salvage his grade in the course. When our class ended, we walked to the Advising Center to find someone who could provide appropriate advice. A short time later the student appeared at my office to say thank you. “I don’t ask for help,” he told me, “Because it feels as though I’m bothering people.” I do not think this student is alone in his fear of asking for help. I belong to a Facebook group for parents of first-year students at the college that my son attends and there are regularly posts asking how to find tutors and advisors or where to locate electronic forms for add/drop. All of these, it goes without saying, are parents posting on behalf of their children. Perhaps they are being stereotypical “helicopter” parents, or maybe they are responding to the stress their children are emitting as they seek to navigate college, like my student, without asking the right people for help. I’ve recently come to the rather cynical conclusion that if a student cannot find a quick answer on the College’s web site, they stop looking. In my experience since our post-pandemic (if that’s a thing) return to mostly in-person classes I see lots of staff throughout campus eagerly waiting to help students, and few students actively seeking out that help that they need. Case in point: Enrollment. Right now, we have several advisors stationed at a kiosk in the main part of our campus to assist students with spring course selection. And yet yesterday I overheard two students in my class complaining that they have no idea what to take or how to finalize their spring enrollment. Somewhere there is a communication disconnect. Perhaps a side-effect of the pandemic is an over-reliance on the internet when a conversation between two humans could quickly and effectively address questions. In the case of my student, for example, he told me that he “could not find” his professor’s office hours listed online so he assumed she did not offer any. We talked through other steps he could have taken: review the syllabus, check the course learning management system for general information, and, of course, write an email to the professor. This experience emphasized to me how important it is to have direct communication with our students, even if we never meet in person. A weekly email to asynchronous online students, for example, can be a simple way to subconsciously remind them how to contact their instructor. Last night I double-checked my own learning management system pages to make sure that students can find me easily if they are stressed. A page with key links – tutoring/writing center, library, mental health resources, etc – should also be a standard component of any online course materials. What is your post-pandemic experience with student-teacher communication? Have you found any particularly helpful, low-stress ways to keep your students in regular contact? Please share.
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This week I had the privilege of being peer evaluated. Although I’m a tenured professor my college requires faculty to continue to follow an evaluation schedule after promotion. Every three years I complete a formal self-evaluation in addition to having a written evaluation by my department chair, and a classroom visit by a colleague. Students evaluate my courses nearly every semester. While some faculty bristle at the idea of peer evaluation, our department has embraced it as a practice over the last ten years. We voted to include peer evaluation as part of our process because we initially saw it as valuable to new faculty as they adjusted to our institution. It’s not uncommon for faculty to join our department fresh from graduate school. Having a colleague review a new teacher’s syllabi and observe their classroom practices can be illuminating to both parties. The same has proven to be true for our long-serving faculty. In my case the colleague evaluating me has been at the college for only three years and teaches in a different discipline (political science). Prior to her visit I shared with her the syllabus and discussed the experiences I’ve had with the students in this course. In this course I’ve struggled with enrollment being low – a widespread challenge at our college as we have returned from the all-remote delivery of the pandemic. This particular course was not offered on campus prior to COVID and likely will return to being an online-only offering in the future. As a result, this semester’s delivery has often been experimental. I spent a few minutes in the class meeting prior to my colleague’s visit preparing the students for us to have an observer. I decided to include them in the planning process for the observation and asked the students for feedback about what form of content delivery had been most successful so far in the course. Together we settled on a plan for how the class would proceed that day and decided that we should ask my evaluator to come prepared to be part of class discussion. While I did not want to burden my colleague with extra work, I provided her with copies of the assigned readings. After more than twenty years of college-level teaching I nonetheless found myself nervous when my colleague arrived to observe. Rather than have her sit in the back like a stranger, I introduced her to my students and asked them to introduce themselves and their research topics – the class being small allowed for this to happen quickly. Since peer evaluation in our department is viewed as collegial and intentionally not intimidating, the nervous tension quickly evaporated. My colleague blended easily into our class discussion as a participant-observer. Peer evaluation offers even seasoned faculty the opportunity to evaluate what happens in their classroom day to day. Engaging the students in planning for the visit provided me with the chance to learn what they think is working (or not) long before formal student evaluations are available at semester’s end. What are your experiences with peer evaluation? Tips for making it less stressful and more rewarding? Please share.
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As a historian I know almost nothing about the British monarchy except what I need to get me through teaching the first weeks of colonial America. I haven’t taught Western Civ in many, many years and somehow I completely avoided British history throughout my own undergraduate education. My increased interest in the monarchy in recent years, admittedly, is founded entirely on the hours I have invested in the Netflix series “The Crown.” When the Queen passed away in September, it took me a moment to remind myself that the deceased was not Olivia Coleman, the brilliant actor upon whom my sympathetic view of Queen Elizabeth II’s life has been built, but instead a woman I knew very little about – a figurehead whose life has been serialized. Historically based (largely fictitious) dramas have an enormous influence over the television-watching and movie-going population and how they view historical events. When “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” came out in 2019 I remember my students being stunned during our casual conversation that Quentin Tarantino had ended the movie with a fictionalized version of a real-life murder. Some felt betrayed by the way history was “changed” for the movie. I reminded them that movies are meant for entertainment and that history as narrative – when it tells the truth – often offers no comfort or enjoyment. Somber images of the Queen’s funeral broadcast world-wide depicted family members in mourning and residents of the far-reaching British Empire offering public condolences. World leaders expressed gratitude for her lifetime of service. In those moments – seemingly made for television – we forget that the Queen as a symbol represents years of British colonial and imperial policies that have been damaging to the societies and economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America. And for that, I feel a bit guilty over the hours I’ve invested in the entertainment value of the fictional version of Queen Elizabeth II versus time spent studying the true history of her reign. If I knew more about British policies in India, for example, would the serialization of the Queen’s life – with all the dramatic flair of a soap opera – truly be so entertaining? Probably not. As much as I love both movies and television, I wonder if the creative minds behind such entertainment need for us as society to remain somewhat ignorant of history so that we will “enjoy” the stories. Don’t get me wrong: I do not believe that there is a giant conspiracy to keep us in the dark about history to sell movie tickets. I do, however, think there is a balance that must be struck between entertainment and the sharing of factual knowledge. Maybe the responsibility for that balance rests solely on me as historian and consumer. Thoughts?
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Recently my Macmillan Community colleague Symphonie asked members to share insights into how they deal with the “noise” present in our students’ lives. How do we, as educators, get through to our students in spite of all the distractions they are juggling? I’ve been thinking a lot about Symphonie’s question as I’ve struggled to get my students off to a strong start in the new school year. For the first time since March 2020 I am teaching the majority of my students in person, and they do seem generally distracted. Just this week I wondered to a colleague whether we as a society have lost the ability to function as members of a group as a result of the long period of near isolation many of us experienced during the recent pandemic. During a recent class meeting, for example, a student put in earbuds and started watching a video on their cell phone as a classmate explained the central points of the homework reading. As class ended, I reminded the distracted student about my “no phones in class” policy. The response was shocking: the student felt it was fine to turn their attention elsewhere because a classmate was speaking and not me, the professor. Later that same day I broke a class up into small groups for discussion. I was bewildered to watch as students sat with their backs towards one another for group work. It was not until I made a general announcement that members should sit facing each other that some of the students repositioned themselves so they could see and hear their classmates. I jokingly asked how they intended to do group work with their backs to one another. No response. Now that we are back on campus en masse, therefore, we as faculty need to make a concerted effort to get students to engage with each other. A colleague in Student Affairs lamented recently that getting students to attend informational meetings for clubs and activities has never been more difficult. To answer Symphonie’s question, I don’t think there is one simple way to cut through the noise but I do believe we have to be direct with our students and tell them what we are trying to accomplish. Yesterday, for example, as my students struggled to get started with their group work I took a moment to tell them how meaningful I believe it is that we are back in a shared learning space. Rather than me lecturing for the entire class I want them to make eye contact, to listen to each other’s voices, and to experience the value of learning collectively. I asked them to introduce their group mates to the rest of the class and to make an effort to know something about each other before they began to dissect our primary sources. I’m happy to report that the students responded in an overwhelmingly positive manner to my plea for interaction. Taking that moment to remind them of the value of a learning community truly seemed to make a difference. Please share your ideas here or with your fellow Macmillan Community members under Symphonie's blog linked in my first paragraph.
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For the past several years – long before the COVID-19 pandemic began – I have taught Black History as an asynchronous, online course. Our department found that demand for the course was strongest among undergraduates from other colleges who were seeking to take the course at a time when it was not available at their own institutions. As a result, we typically filled two to three online sections every semester as well as during summer sessions. As we work to rebuild our on-campus community post-COVID we are offering one section of this traditionally online course on campus this fall. As of now, a week before we begin, this course has 11 enrolled students. As I evaluate what I have prepared from previous semesters I realize that the short (20 minute) recorded lectures that worked so well in an online course now must be modified for in-person delivery. I need to think about when/how students will participate within the course. And I need to consider additional preparation in advance of student questions. Let’s face it: the recorded lecture provides us with the luxury of insulation from on-the-spot queries. I am reminded in this process that teaching online is not easier or more difficult than teaching in person, it is simply different. Perhaps most daunting to me is the enrollment of the course. Is it just me or do other professors feel awkward lecturing to small groups of students? I’m used to lecturing to 25 to 30 students at a time. I feel compelled with this class to emphasize the importance of class discussion – human interaction and debate, including recognizing one’s own role in fostering positive discussion. After a spring semester of “quiet” classes, I’m concerned that students have grown so accustomed to asynchronous learning that they are increasingly reluctant to engage. I’m combing the internet for suggestions about student engagement, especially small groups, and seeking ways that other faculty have worked with their students to overcome their isolated COVID-period educational experiences. Help wanted!
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One of the best parts of summer for me is that I have time to catch up on reading. Oftentimes the choices I make in the summer months are works that I hope to share with my students in some way during the academic year. I try to revisit at least one work of fiction that I truly love. As I’ve blogged about before, consistently my first choice is Pat Barker’s Regeneration (1991), which combines my interest in two areas – the First World War and the history of mental health care. This summer I followed Regeneration with a favorite of mine from high school, The Great Gatsby (1925). My son, an aspiring writer and filmmaker, and I watched the 2013 Baz Luhrmann version and I felt immediately compelled to reverse the screenwriters’ changes to Fitgerald’s masterpiece by re-reading the original text, which never disappoints me. As much as I’ve worked during my twenty-plus years of teaching American history to add diverse perspectives to my US History II survey, there is something timeless about Fitzgerald’s window into 1920s’ white wealth and privilege that I believe still has lessons for our 21st-century students. For this reason I’m planning to reintroduce the book in my spring 2023 US History II classes after a several year hiatus. I’m hoping that my students will find in Fitzgerald’s 1920s’ society themes to connect to their observations of American life nearly one-hundred years later. The Great Gatsby is now available as a free download through Project Gutenberg making it an even more appealing choice for today’s students. I’m considering using Fitzgerald’s work in conjunction with the short stories of Anzia Yezierska (Hungry Hearts, 1920), which is also available open access. I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, the last few times I’ve taught US History II to do less 19th-century history and more 20th in response to students’ interests in the more modern period. An increased focus on the 1920s feels like a good place to start. What kinds of content changes are you considering for next academic year? Have you recently used Fitzgerald’s or Yezierska’s work in a history class? How have students responded? Please share! Happy Summer!
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A few blogs ago I addressed the challenge of discussing Roe v. Wade in the classroom when students have radically different and often deeply personal opinions on the topic of abortion. I suggested focusing on the factual aspects of the history of birth control in the United States and the legal case itself – in other words, separating our personal views as human beings from the teachers/educators who seek to show no bias in their approach. Admittedly, I'm stopped in my tracks this week by the 6-3 decision of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, which – among other thoughts – has me questioning how this moment will impact the way I teach US women’s history. Previously my students have studied what came before Roe – Comstock Laws, Margaret Sanger, the horrors of illegal abortion, the growing acceptance of the use of birth control during the Great Depression, and then the legalization of abortion in 1973. I think as a social historian I like to present forward progress as I teach – my generally optimistic outlook on the world is at least partly to blame. As social historians, for example, we discuss with our students time periods in which members of our society faced a major challenge, we analyze who/which social groups responded to the challenge, we address the political aspects, and we consider how the “problem” was resolved. Case in point: Reconstruction ended chattel slavery but gave rise to Jim Crow laws, which in turn spurred a national movement for civil rights that continues to this day, albeit with changing dimensions and characteristics. We study tragedies such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire to identify ways in which government action was needed to protect our citizens while they worked. The SCOTUS decision to end federally protected abortion rights will no doubt create a new marker in how we teach women’s history. Instead of the pre-Roe/post-Roe narrative that once formed so many class discussions, we must now present a narrative that includes the reversal and its consequences. For many historians of US women’s history this new narrative will be difficult to teach as it requires a reckoning with the many factors that have brought us to this place, including (but not limited to) the rise of the New Right, the growing power of Christian conservatives and the severe backlash against feminism that followed the Second Wave. Some women’s historians will no doubt choose to grapple with conservative critiques of feminists who supported President Clinton despite his personal history of sexual misconduct. The Trump administration – also plagued by accusations of inappropriate behavior towards women – may find its most lasting legacy to be a SCOTUS more socially conservative than the president himself. How will the reversal of Roe v. Wade change the way you teach women’s history? Please share.
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Calling on museum enthusiasts! Given that it’s Pride Month, I thought it would be appropriate to share links to some LGBTQ+ museums and historical sites with you, our History Community. These sites are spread across the United States and are accessible year-round. This is a great way to celebrate Pride Month and learn about the rich, heartbreaking, and triumphant stories of LGBTQ+ folks, past and present. Have you been to any of these locations? Maybe you know of some more sites that I didn’t mention below. You’re welcome to share your recommendations and experiences in the comment section at the bottom of this page!
New York, NY: Leslie+Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art (https://www.leslielohman.org/)
Staten Island NY: Alice Austen House (https://aliceausten.org/)
Brooklyn, NY: Lesbian Herstory Archives (https://lesbianherstoryarchives.org/)
Fort Lauderdale, FL: Stonewall National Museum & Archives (https://stonewall-museum.org/)
Fort Lauderdale, FL: World AIDS Museum (https://worldaidsmuseum.org/)
Chicago, IL: The Legacy Walk (https://legacyprojectchicago.org/)
Pittsburgh, PA: The Andy Warhol Museum (https://www.warhol.org/)
San Francisco, CA: GLBT Historical Society Museum (https://www.glbthistory.org/museum-about-visitor-info)
Los Angeles, CA: ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives (https://one.usc.edu/)
***Explore more sites recommended by the Nation Parks Service here: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/tellingallamericansstories/lgbtqplaces.htm
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Being an educator comes with the responsibility to create space for respectful intellectual discourse, especially at the college level. To do this, it's important to make your classroom an inclusive environment. Below, I have suggested 5 ways you can do this by showing your allyship to the LGBTQ+ community. These tips don’t just apply to the classroom, however. They are also ways to support your LGBTQ+ colleagues to feel welcomed in your shared workplace. Do you have more ways to be a better ally? Feel free to share your own tips in the comment section at the bottom of the page!
Add gender pronouns to introductions. On the first day of class, when everyone goes around introducing themselves and their majors or a “fun fact”, ask your students to share their pronouns if they feel comfortable.
Try not to make assumptions. For example, when asking about someone’s marital status, try to use gender-neutral terms like “spouse” or “partner”. This creates a safer environment for LGBTQ+ folks to participate in casual workplace conversations and discuss some of their personal life if they so choose. Unsure of someone’s gender? Politely ask their preferred pronouns or refer to them using “they/them” pronouns (like I just did) until told otherwise.
Add a bit of decoration. In your office, you can communicate your allyship with the LGBTQ+ community through posters or by displaying the rainbow flag. Whether big or small, on your door or on your desk, you can signal that your office is an inclusive environment for anyone who walks in.
Add your pronouns to your email signature! So simple, yet effective because it shows you care. Not sure how to do this? Here is a link to some instructions: https://medium.com/@cornellgsgic/a-guide-to-adding-your-pronouns-to-5-tools-you-use-every-day-b67c92844601
Include queer history within your courses. LGBTQ+ folks have been present in more than just civil rights. They’ve been scientists, writers, artists, mathematicians, and more. I encourage you to find them within your historical topics of interest. Here are some tools to help you get started:
Alphabetical list of LGBTQ+ Historical Figures: https://www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/publications/best-practices-for-serving-lgbtq-students/appendix-b-lgbtq-historical-figures
“Author’s with Ignored Queer History” by Northeastern University: https://litdigitaldiversity.northeastern.edu/the-ignorance-of-an-identity-authors-with-ignored-queer-history/
“LGBTQ Rights Timeline in American History”: https://www.lgbtqhistory.org/lgbt-rights-timeline-in-american-history/
LGBTQ+ Articles from History.com: https://www.history.com/tag/lgbt-history
LGBTQ History Timeline Reference Sheet: https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/LGBTQ-History-Timeline-References.pdf
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Recently my Macmillan Community colleague Claudia Cruz posted “History of the Word ‘Queer’ and other LGBTQ+ Vocab”. Upon reading this post I was immediately reminded of a heated conversation that took place in my classroom five or so years ago. A traditionally aged college student who identified as transgender used the word “queer” when describing a particular group of women in 19th-century America. As this student spoke, a classmate in his 60s interrupted to ask that the student stop using what he viewed as a “derogatory” term. A brief argument ensued in which Student One contended they had the right to use the word while Student Two conveyed his belief that the historical use of the word made it unacceptable in the classroom. After class I tried to mitigate their disagreement. It was a difficult conversation. I too grew up in the era in which “queer” was viewed as slang and derogatory. In my youth none of my gay friends were publicly “out.” They disliked the word “queer” as it was often hurled at them as an insult. Claudia Cruz acknowledges in her blog that to some degree in the LGBTQ+ community the word remains problematic. “Student Two” who objected to its use in class identified as heterosexual and said he was uncomfortable with the word because he viewed himself as an ally, hence his decision to speak out against its use. The conclusion I drew from this encounter, which has been reiterated to me in dozens of classroom experiences in the years since, is quite simple: language is complicated, especially when it relates to personal or group identity. Students in my Black History class are struggling with this concept this week as they read James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. When I have assigned the book in previous semesters, I’ve noticed that Johnson’s use of the word “colored” throughout the story leads to students using the word in our class discussion and in their writings. Rather than correct each individual students as the word is incorrectly used, I now introduce the reading with the following statement in an email to the class as an effort to force students to think about the change in language use over time: This week's novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, was first published in 1912. In 1912 it was acceptable to use the word "colored" to describe a person who was not white. Today, it is NOT. Please, when you are writing about the book/characters/themes, do not use the word "colored" as a descriptive unless you are directly quoting the author. In 2022 we should use language appropriate to our time: person of color, African American, Native American, black person, brown person, etcetera. The term "colored" stopped being accepted in the 1960s during the post-World War II civil rights and black power movements. You are invited to learn more about this change in word usage in the following piece on the issue from National Public Radio (2014): The Journey From 'Colored' To 'Minorities' To 'People Of Color' : Code Switch : NPR and in a second article from the Chicago Tribune (2020): Column: Why is ‘people of color’ OK but not ‘colored people’? A reading list for white folks - Chicago Tribune Students have been incredibly receptive to this invitation to consider the historical evolution of language. Several have emailed me to say that they appreciate being educated on the proper terminology to use because they want to be sensitive to the way people identify themselves. This experience and Claudia Cruz’s recent blog remind me, once again, that as educators we have a duty not only to help our students learn facts but to enhance their understanding of the way in which words can have positive and negative connotations. We cannot assume that their pre-collegiate experiences have modeled them to speak with sensitivity or with an eye towards historical change. This knowledge, ultimately, can lead our students towards more cooperative participation in our classrooms and society in general.
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Admittedly, I have a difficult time talking with students about our Founders’ intentions when they penned the 2nd Amendment. As a graduate teaching assistant in April 1999 I started paying more attention to gun violence after the massacre at Columbine High School. I knew that gun violence existed before that tragic day in Littleton, Colorado, but in my middle-class upbringing, the random killing of innocents was a topic relegated to “dangerous” urban areas. There was almost no discussion of gun violence in the white suburban community in which I was raised, nor in the town where I lived in 1999. Columbine, however, gave me nightmares. As an educator-in-training, the idea of being a teacher charged with protecting children from the terror of bullets was to me then, and remains today, horrifying. Columbine, sadly, was not an anomaly. According to the Washington Post more than 300,000 children have experienced gun violence at school since 1999. Students are often curious about the intent of the 2nd Amendment when it was ratified late in the 18th century. In a previous blog I wrote about the challenge of discussing Roe v. Wade with a generation of students undeniably impacted by social media and 24-hour news channels with obvious ideological biases. Discussions of current concerns about gun violence inevitably lead to students expressing divergent opinions about individual rights versus the rights of the government. In recent years the sides have become entrenched. Without a doubt, as an educator this topic is only becoming more difficult for me to address in a bipartisan manner. I shudder at the suggestion of arming teachers, for example, because I know that placing a gun in my panicked hands would do nothing to protect my students from the unthinkable. I’m quite adept at avoiding discussion of the 2nd Amendment in class. As a social historian, I touch briefly on the writing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and focus instead on the women and African Americans who were left out of our nation’s early notions of citizenship. I feel ill-equipped to explain the intentions of our Founders so I am constantly searching for web-based discussions of this now controversial amendment to which I can refer students. While I’ve had some meaningful conversations with students about the issue of gun control, I recognize the limits of my ability to remain neutral on this topic. So here are a few resources that might be helpful to those of you, like me, struggling with the horrible fear of school shootings while also believing in our students’ need to form opinions on their own: National Constitution Center’s Interactive Constitution is a great starting point for anyone who wants an introduction to both sides of the argument. The site provides a “Common Interpretation” of each amendment, and then offers a brief essay by experts on opposing sides of the debate. The site also posts video aids to share with students, again focusing on the goal of sharing both “sides” of the debate. Faculty wishing to help students better understand the controversies surrounding this amendment might suggest students check out findlaw.com This commercial site touts itself as one designed for “legal professionals” but also offers concise explanations, with academic references, of challenging legal questions. The section on the Second Amendment contains helpful information about recent court cases that have fueled public debate over the amendment. Finally, suggest that students look at new research on the intent of the Second Amendment. In the wake of racial unrest in recent years, historian Carol Anderson’s work examines the amendment’s troubled relationship to the institution of slavery and control of free people of color in the 19th century. NPR interviewed Anderson in 2021 and students interested in the history of race relations and systemic racism will find her arguments particularly interesting given current debates over policing in the United States. No doubt there are many more resources to help our students wade through the murky waters of understanding the Second Amendment’s historical context. How do you handle this topic with your students? Please share.
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This summer I’m working with a group of faculty at my college to study the assignments we use in courses designated part of our General Education program. This project is part of a grant that allows faculty to evaluate how well our assignments are meeting the College’s “Educated Person outcomes.” In my case I’m assessing a short (4-5 page) writing and research project that I’ve used for many years in my US History II survey course. I’ve said in previous posts that one of the best things about blogging about teaching is that I am forced to constantly reassess my own practices. This grant has amplified the benefits of that experience and helped me to focus on the clarity of my instructions to the students, my personal process of assessment, and the creation of a rubric for this specific project. This project is worth 25% of the students’ course grade. In the past I have found rubrics useful when grading lower-stakes assignments such as Discussion Board posts in online classes because they help students to see how they might improve their future discussion posts while allowing me to grade quickly and (in my view) accurately. I have not previously used a rubric to grade this particular assignment for no other reason than I had not designed an evaluation tool to use. Participating in this grant-funded project has given me the motivation needed to view the project through a new lens and I found the process of writing a rubric instructional in the sense that it forced me to identify exactly what I am looking for in my students’ work and how various degrees of those expectations may be met. In addition to assessing the students’ submissions using my newly minted rubric, I am using this opportunity to compare student work across different modes of instruction. I will be comparing work submitted by an in-person class that met in a traditional 15-week semester this past spring with that of a fully online course that is part of our summer intensive offerings (6 weeks). I’m interested to see if there are significant differences between the overall quality of work submitted in the two different time frames and modes of instruction. I’m excited to share my findings in the coming months. What’s on your teaching and learning agenda for the summer months? Please share.
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A leaked draft opinion that appears to set the stage for the reversal of Roe v. Wade has all eyes focused this week on the Supreme Court. In the coming months, no doubt, there will be an increased effort by both sides of the abortion debate to build a narrative that favors their viewpoint, especially as discussion mounts about creating a federal law. Abortion is a difficult topic for class discussion in the friendliest of times. Now with the debate about individual rights and women’s health front and center, we as historians need to help students identify sources that separate fact from rhetoric. This task is easier said than done. As anyone who has ever sought information about the history of abortion online knows, a web search on the topic opens up a minefield of misinformation and partisan viewpoints. Nonetheless, we should not ignore the uncomfortable topic out of fear that our students will disagree with each other. Rather than focusing on current events and talking-heads on 24-hour news stations, suggest that your students go back to the era in which the Roe decision was made. In other words, help them to seek out the historical context for the decision rather than debating the case with today’s political divisions. Most history teachers already embrace this approach when we cover Brown v. Board of Education as part of the post-World War II civil rights movement. We recognize that the case’s history sheds light on the blatant inequalities in American education in the 1950s and its argument in front of the Court invited a discussion of what “the founders” had intended when they wrote the Constitution. At a racially diverse community college like the one where I teach, the Brown decision often strikes a nerve with students who cannot imagine a time when they would not have been allowed to share space in a classroom. We don’t ask the students to draw battlelines between the two sides but to look at the facts (unequal buildings, teaching credentials, classroom supplies) and then to study the ruling itself. Roe v. Wade can be discussed without the vitriol if we help our students focus on the factual components available to us. Studying the Comstock Laws and Margaret Sanger’s campaign to open birth control clinics is a great place to start. Help students to locate statistical data on the number of maternal deaths by illegal abortion in the era before Roe. Help them to identify problems with the available information and why cases would have been unreported/undocumented. Ask them to evaluate who controlled that narrative and why. Finally, consider with your students the ways in which media outlets covered discussion of the case before the decision as well as reactions to the decision through newspaper and journal articles from the time period. Allowing our students to investigate the context of Roe v. Wade will help further their understanding of why the case remains important to our modern-day society and how it continues to shape public discussion about women’s health and history. My hope is that their knowledge of history will guide them in their future decision-making.
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It took two years of hide-and-seek but COVID finally caught me. Since March 2020 I’ve had my academic life upended by words like pivot, remote, and asynchronous. Somehow, through all of the classroom changes and content delivery modifications, I’ve remained healthy. Earlier in the Pandemic I suggested in a blog that faculty ask students to share their COVID stories as a way to record history as it happens. What was their experience? How did it impact their lives or their families’ lives? This blog, then, is my entry to the historical record. I’ve tried to do everything “right” during this pandemic. I’ve listened to scientists, I’ve continued to mask in stores and public places even after mandates ended. I got a second booster shot when I was eligible. Yet despite all my thinking, over-thinking and handwashing, there was nothing I could do to prevent COVID from visiting my home. After a couple days of a stuffy nose I decided, out of an abundance of caution, to stop in to our campus testing center before my 10am Tuesday class. It was only a matter of minutes before all my plans for the week ahead were canceled. A sense of fear and dread set in: while I felt ok overall, the knowledge that this virus has killed more than six million people worldwide had an immediate psychological impact on me. I was fortunate to have a mild case of COVID – a week at home, a couple boxes of tissues and a lot of Netflix hours later, I was back on campus teaching the following Tuesday. Though I wish I could say definitively that my students missed me … the closest I can come to an assessment of their feelings is that they were genuinely concerned about my health when I returned. They asked lots of questions, which led me to conclude that we as a society are far from “over” the stress of this pandemic and we are certainly not finished talking about it. Earlier this week news outlets broadcast images of airline passengers cheering the end of the mask mandate as if we as a society could claim victory over this silent killer. My students, however, when faced with discussion of the virus with someone who had recently suffered from it showed only concern. One asked if I wanted them to start masking in class again, in spite of the end of the mandate on our campus. As much as we seem to be bombarded by data about numbers and cases, there are still many people who have never experienced the virus in their own homes and who continue to harbor intense anxiety about how it could negatively impact them or their family. I’m grateful that my college is continuing to actively engage in on-campus testing. My positive test that Tuesday morning led me to test my asymptomatic son, who also turned out to be positive. Our access to testing, thankfully, kept us from our weekly visit to my severely compromised father who resides in a nursing home where spread of the virus was previously been catastrophic. As a historian I know that this pandemic will eventually morph into something similar to the yearly challenges of influenza. Until that happens, however, I will continue to encourage my students to engage with their intellectual discomfort about the virus: ask questions, read and study the data, and get tested. And most importantly, continue to feel empathy for the emotional and physical struggles of strangers. Sharing our personal experiences from this historic time is a great way to recognize the common struggles of human beings in the 21st century.
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Good digital platforms support all the efforts you’ve already put into your history teaching. So how is Macmillan Learning doing this with ACHIEVE? Select one super short video that speaks to you.
5 Reasons Why Achieve is Different in 1 Minute.
Teaching Students to Think Like Historians with Primary Sources
Improving Student Preparedness with History
Assignable Skills Tutorials & Reflection Activities for Students
Instructor Activity Guides in Achieve for History
Using Analytics to Identify Student Barriers
For a deeper look at Achieve for History, you can also meet with Stephen, your learning solutions specialist for history.
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