Some Thursday Teaching Notes

I rounded out another lecture for tomorrow, this on the particulars, complexities, triumphs and problems of the Progressive Era at the turn of the 19th century. After that I dropped into Bill Caraher’s blog and read a bit on his latest pedagogy, including the ideas of a slow archaeology part I and part II (which is great, and good to think about in our hyper-drive digital 21st century world). This, in turn, induced me to reflect just a bit on teaching this week at North Dakota State University.

The lectures I deliver, at least this semester at NDSU, are American History 1877-present. The class text is The American Promise: A History of the United States, by Roark, et al., (New York: St. Martin’s Press, Fifth Edition, Value Edition, 2012). The text itself is accessible, both in its prose and price (Amazon.com has the value edition listed at $48.38 with free shipping). Considering what I paid for required course materials during my 1999-2002 undergraduate training in history at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, this ranks up there with sensibly priced text books, even over a decade later in 2014 (presumably text books would cost more today than in 1999 — presumably).

I co-lecture (or lecture every 2nd or 3rd week) with Dr. Angela Smith, the powerhouse Public and Digital Historian within NDSU’s Department of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies (some of Angela and her student’s work linked to here). On Tuesday evening I led a non-mandatory review session with the students to prep them for their exam yesterday, Wednesday. The key to successful reviews are manifold: presenting the material in a repetitious but non-open-mouth-breathing kind of way.

Perhaps the most damaging thing a history lecturer can do is deliver history the way the stereotypical high school coach was charged with teaching history; that is, reading for 50 minutes directly from the textbook (which, in turn, reflects just how important American public school systems think of the teaching of history — sigh). Impressing the historical record into the minds of freshmen and sophomores requires the lecturer to revisit the knowledge, and rehash it in several ways. I’m also interested in what students are thinking, yet this can be difficult to extract from a reticent demographic. Of course, the more students become familiar with the lecturer, the more (in theory) they’ll feel comfortable in speaking up and out about their thoughts.

In the mean time, it is always interesting to figure out ways of gauging success. To do this I had the students who attended the review session sign in on, well, a sign in sheet, and at the semester’s end this will be compared with students who did not attend the review session. In theory, students who attended the review session will do better than non-attendees (in theory, right?).


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