Monday, November 25, 2013

Undergraduate Competency for History Students

Dana Hamlin

The History Section of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of the American Library Association, recently announced that the association's Board of Directors approved a set of information literacy guidelines and competencies for undergraduate history students. A project more than four years in the making, these guidelines were developed by a committee of reference and instruction librarians, the majority of whom are subject specialists in history.

One of the members of the committee writes in an email sent to various history- and library-related listservs: "it is [the committee's] hope that the Guidelines will be used by librarians, archivists, and teaching faculty to guide teaching and learning throughout the undergraduate curriculum." Indeed, the introduction to the guidelines states that the document is intended to "provide a framework for faculty and librarians to assess [students' historical research] skills" and to "aid faculty in designing research methods classes, assignments, and projects," among other goals.

As someone who is part of the library/archives world and who has never taught history, I'm really curious about what the readers of this blog think about these guidelines. Are they helpful? Does a set of guidelines like this already exist in the teaching sector? Do you think this document has the potential to aid collaboration between history faculty and librarians?


Randall said...

I could see the guidelines being used in a history methods course. Could be handy to go over with students and speak about how their assignments and readings fit into each section.

I like this in particular:

1.4 Differentiates between serious and credible popular treatments of a historical topic and peer-reviewed, scholarly analyses written by and for historians.

I just marked a paper that used wikipedia,, and

Lisa Clark Diller said...

Thanks so much for drawing this to our attention. We're in the middle of trying to assess our "learning outcome goals" for our accreditation body here at Southern, and having something outside our own department to help measure such goals by is really useful. I think the breakdown of what we mean by these terms is helpful and, like Randall, I can see them being effective in our research methods course.

We could also use them in some of our General Education courses to let students know what we mean by some of our requirements. Sadly, having just finished looking at research paper drafts in two of my courses, I am deeply aware of the need to articulate what it means to find and use appropriate sources. And then to make a meaningful argument out of information. Having a statement like this could possibly be helpful (if our students would read it or pay any attention to it).

We have a great relationship with our librarians and they are hugely helpful in the research process. If we were using the same vocabulary (which is what guidelines like this provide), it would have an even greater impact for our students, I think.

Randall said...

Here's some History/Social Studies Standards for grades 11-12 from the Common Core:

Key Ideas and Details

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Craft and Structure

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.5 Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.8 Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.10 By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 11–CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.

Dana said...

These are just the sort of comments I was hoping for, thanks!

Lisa, I'm happy to hear that the relationship between faculty and librarians at Southern is so good. Vocabulary differences can definitely be an issue; I know we librarians tend to like our jargon! Hopefully the vocab laid out in these guidelines will help improve communication.

Randall said...

Here's an interesting article that appeared in the AHA's Perspectives about ten years ago. William W. Cutler addresses competency-based history teaching.