Erin Bartram

doomed to distraction

Thinking about teaching 5: priorities, people

So, it’s almost the end of June, the point where academics (at least those on a semester system) go “OMG school starts two months from now what have I been doing with my life?!” I had big dreams about fixing/changing my courses for the fall, and now’s the point where we get real about what’s possible. I decided it might be good to set one or two big goals for each course and work towards those, leaving other things for later.

In the U.S. survey courses, my two goals are

1A) Figure out if there is a different way to present my flipped lessons that ameliorates the problems my students have, the frustrations with accessibility that I have, all while keeping the things that I like about the setup. Essentially, can I build some sort of e-book that my students can use, take notes on, but can’t just cut and paste? Currently, the lessons disappear when class begins, and my students readily admit that without that pressure, they wouldn’t keep up. I used to do quizzes in class to check, but I hate that and think it’s a waste of time. Yet I’m unwilling to abandon some external motivation to “keep up,” because without it, a flipped classroom simply doesn’t work, as we know from teaching a hundred discussion sections where students didn’t read. Lots of higher-ed activists would argue that if I can’t motivate students to keep up without this external motivations, I’m not doing my job. I would point out to them that if internal motivation to do what we know we should worked, society would be different and we wouldn’t all do Grafton Challenges all the time. N.B. No, I do not want to have my students buy an existing eBook, because that’s a ripoff, nor am I comfortable shifting them over the the American Yawp, which I love. My lessons make the argument I want to make about American history. I hope it’s not wrong to want that kind of control and structure in my teaching. 

1B) Come up with a new project. The ones I’ve done before – on Wikipedia, on 19th c. newspapers – aren’t working as well at UHart as they did at UConn (different culture, no access to Early American Newspapers, smaller classes). I have some ideas I might float out there soon for consideration.

In women’s history, my two goals are:

2A) Reconfigure the first few weeks of the semester. I had an introductory day with a little Joan Scott, a little Judith Bennet, an excerpt from Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like a Feminist (a must-read), before moving into articles and book chapters. The first article we read was actually a chapter from Kathleen Brown’s Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs. That sequence didn’t work, for one major reason: understanding women’s history is much easier than understanding gender as Scott explains it, and it was unnecessarily confusing without providing the foundation for understanding Brown that I had intended.

2B) Rethink the papers, and by “rethink” I mean “replace.” I don’t mean that I’m giving up on the concept of paper writing, but I do think we need to be realistic about the fact that writing papers in history is a distinctly different skill, and since almost none of my students are history majors and have no training in that kind of work, I am thinking of different ways for them to explore and express what they’ve learned about change over time.

Three pieces of writing I’m chewing on as I think about these goals: Michael Evans’ consideration of active learning fails, (though I manage to fail with way less technology to blame), Kevin Gannon’s discussion of student blogging, and Debra Schleef’s piece on public student writing and identity, along with Jeff McClurken’s encouragement of public writing from our Hypothes.is discussion.

1 Comment

  1. Regarding 2A: have you looked at Sonya Rose’s “What is Gender History?” I don’t know if you’ve considered and discarded it already, but if not, maybe there are some excerpts that could replace Scott.

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