Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" Historians Rethink Teaching History at the University Level

Randall Stephens

The History Department at the University of Indiana is reexamining how history is taught/modeled in the classroom. According to a piece in the Chronicle (“A Teaching Experiment Shows Students How to Grasp Big Concepts,” 15 November 2009): “All too often, undergraduate history students make a hash of essay questions . . . They fill their blue books with disconnected strings of names and dates. Or they sketch a plausible argument but leave out supporting evidence.” Do history professor’s expect too much of students who search in vain for a thesis? Does the average student in a history class have much of any understanding of change over time, contingency, or how to read a primary source document?

“Several years ago,” writes David Glenn, “a small group of faculty members at Indiana University at Bloomington decided to do something about the problem. The key, they concluded, was to construct every history course around two core skills of their discipline: assembling evidence and interpreting it.” Glenn goes on to explain some of the interesting assignments and exercises history students at IU are doing in and outside of the classroom.

I buy it. And I hope to implement some of the techniques pioneered by the IU faculty.

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