Blog Post

Digital Tools and Pedagogy – UB-SIM Workshop

[Feel free to view & download the slides here too:]


Welcome to the University at Buffalo, Singapore Institute of Management workshop on Digital Tools and Pedagogy. An hour doesn’t feel like enough to dig into both technology and how we teach, but we’re going to give it a go. Ideally this will be just the start of a collective, collaborative conversation about how we integrate our teaching concerns and practices with spiffy, useful, exciting digital tools. Here’s what we’re up to today:

  1. Introduction of Topic
  2. Goals for the Workshop
  3. Definitions: Pedagogy & Digital Tools
  4. Thinking Critically & Enthusiastically about Digital Tools
  5. Individual Reflection
  • What makes us enthusiastic about digital tools?
  • What makes us hesitant about using digital tools?
  1. Networking Our Knowledge
  • Padlet – on the web or via the app using this QR code:

Additional Resources

Digital Tools I’ve Used/Can Teach/Have Heard Of


I’ve used Twitter for two semesters of my course and the platform is a major part of my dissertation research. I’m pretty comfortable discussing the uses and challenges of Twitter in the classroom. It’s less daunting than you might think, but does take some patience and preparation.

In addition, this Teaching with Twitter online course is how I got started, but there are lots of other resources out there.

The course has a fee ($400), but there are generous discounts for students & contingent/adjunct faculty (I think I paid $150 for the 6-week course)

Padlet (online corkboard; app or web-based)

Google Slides, Forms, Docs, and Sheets

Slides has an option for students to submit questions via a link, which could be helpful for participation

I’ve used Forms for long surveys, quizzes, and quick questions during class

My classes used Docs for submitting assignments – I can comment and they can write back in real time if they choose

I use Sheets for grading and share student grades via a web app (courtesy of this nifty tutorial)

Keynote slides

Apple only, alas, but very attractive layouts

I supplement with Toolbox for Keynote; paid, but worth it, I think (useful for tracking how many students/participants have clicked a link)

Squarespace (blogging platform)

WordPress (blogging platform; self-hosted and free versions)

Zotero (research organization program)

Zotero has a little bit of a learning curve, but is a flexible and customizable way to compile references, articles, webpages, and notes for a research project.

Zotero databases are sharable, which means users can collaborate with other researchers – definitely useful for faculty or students.

Evernote (note-taking app)

Socrative (clicker app)

Today’s Meet (backchannel/forum/questions app, web-based) (web annotation, good for collective reading)


Learning/content management system

More flexible and inviting than UB Learns, I think.

Also free! Also open-source code, for any coders among us.


Data visualization tool

Sometimes called the “gateway drug” to data visualization 🙂

For Thinking Critically About Technology & Pedagogy

There’s no good app for teaching” (Laura Moorhead, 2014, TED article)

Is it okay to be a Luddite?” (Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris, 2014, Digital Pedagogy Lab)

Are apps becoming the new worksheet?” (Lee Skallerup Bessette, 2017, Digital Pedagogy Lab)

From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able” (Michael Wesch, 2010, TEDxKC talk)

The Digital Era: 50 Years of Technology” (Ben Myers and Erica Lusk, 2016, Chronicle of Higher Education, access available through UB Libraries)

Agile Learning (Blog by Derek Bruff; generally useful and inspirational stuff)

HASTAC (pronounced “hay-stack”; Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory)

Creative Uses for Digital Tools in the Classroom

Professors Assign Students to Post to BuzzFeed. You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next. (Gabriel Sandoval, 2016, The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Twessays and Composition in the Digital Age (Donna M. Alexander, 2017, Digital Pedagogy Lab)

Lying About the Past (T. Mills Kelly; this prof and his students “hoaxed” Wikipedia as a class project)

The Pedagogy Project (from HASTAC)

Business Strategy Game (used and recommended by a UB-SIM instructor, Paul McAfee)

Practical Advice/Resources

Ed Tech 4 Beginners (Neil Jarrett – practical stuff like apps and tools + some ideas for assignments/activities)

Teacher Tech (Alice Keeler – especially good for Google Apps)

This Week in Web 2.0 (Larry Ferlazzo – an ongoing series of recommendations for websites, apps, and cool things on the internet)

25 Awesome Apps for Teachers, Recommended by Teachers (TED-Ed blog, 2015 tho…)

Blog Post

Notes from #aha17: Day 1


It’s 4° F in Denver. So obviously one of the most shared images on Twitter this morning was Jon Snow. This sort of thing might be what led to these shenanigans on Channel 9 News: History Buffs Tweet About Snow, Hilarity Ensues.

It is my intention to write a brief summary of each day at #aha17 (American Historical Association’s Annual Meeting) in Denver – but goodness knows I never finish series of blog posts. So this might just be a one-off thing. Here’s the highlights from today. Readers, beware. Herein lies an excessive number of links…

Personal Odds and Ends:

I was so grateful when presenters shared links to slides today! It meant I could happily toggle between tweeting, exploring the digital projects discussed, and browsing slides and links.

Okay. I give in. I’ll start providing slides before class. (It’s good to be a pseudo-student sometimes…)

#aha17 #gsdh: Getting Started in Digital History

Link to AHA Program

I attended the session on Web Scraping, led by Ian Milligan (@ianmilligan1). If you’d like to browse the slides and links, Ian was good enough to provide all of the materials for the session on his website.

Web scraping, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, means pulling all sorts of basic info off of a website. For instance, if you use a web tool (like on a website like a database of song lyrics (such as this example from Ian this morning), you can run a URL with the web tool and it will extract information like song title, artist, and relevant links from the webpage. This information can then be exported into a Comma Separated Values (.csv) file – pretty much an Excel file with a different ending. That data can then be run through any number of analysis tools (we used Voyant Tools) to study things like word frequency, spikes in popularity, and the context of specific words, people, or places.

For me, I plan to apply similar tools and methods for my social-media based dissertation. We spent some time practicing web scraping social media using Doc Now, which lets you run a hashtag on a given day, pulls all of the tweets and related RTs, and then allows you to export the data for analysis. Super useful given that I’m hoping to analyze upwards of 200 tweets per class meeting this semester…

After the Web Scraping Workshop, we broke out for lunch and “table talks” hosted by faculty and alt-acs who shared their experience in public history, choosing digital humanities tools, sustaining digital projects, and funding digital projects, among other digital humanities (DH) topics.

I attended the informal talk on DH jobs led by Rebecca Wingo who offered helpful advice about what jobs were out there, what degree programs might be most useful, and what additional certifications/experience would be useful for pursuing a DH job. The takeaway for me was a confirmation of the usefulness of George Mason University’s DH certificate program (which I may be looking at in the future) and her suggestion to attend digital history training opportunities to acquire skills and experience as needed including:

For the second round, I headed for the Grading Digital Projects table led by John Rosinbum.  We talked about timeline assignments, rubrics, and citations and – good news for the next round of #hwc111 students – I’m more thoroughly convinced of the necessity of rubrics. So, rubrics coming for Spring 2017 blogging project! Also probably and more thorough and interactive conversation about why and how to cite sources on the web. Spread the news, dear students…

#aha17 #s22: Historical Sources as Data: Opportunities and Challenges

Link to AHA Program

Wowsa. When you attend a #dighist session, everybody live tweets! Which was a great thing because the presentations given by Kalani Craig, Lauren Tilton, and Brandon Locke were brilliant and useful and challenging.

All three presentations challenged listeners to consider how best to reach wider audiences in clearer ways by:

  • Bringing information out from behind paywalled collections (i.e., only available to institutions with money, like Proquest or JSTOR) in legal, but accessible ways through the use of good old copy-and-paste, data compilation, and natural language processing
  • Shedding light on lesser-known, but exceptionally important figures and places in history through network analysis and comprehensive metadata for images and sources
  • Making transparent our methodologies and sources so other scholars can assess and help us grow our process and data can remain reusable.

This session was, I swear, more compelling than I’m making it sound. I highly recommend checking out the projects driven by the presenters for a better sense of how innovative and important their work is:

#aha17 #s31: A Retrospective on Tuning: Where Have We Been and Where Should We Go?

Link to AHA Program

Yup, all the live tweets for this one are mine. Because when you don’t go to a #dighist session, sometimes you’re the only one tweeting. Ah well.

I’m still processing this one. I like the ambitions of the Tuning Project. The idea is to host, coordinate, and focus conversations about what faculty want history majors to be able to do when they finish the degree.

The aim of the three-year project has been to help establish guidelines useful to history departments across the United States and to foster a more natural language surrounding historical skills so students have a fuller stake in course assessments and outcomes. The project is faculty (not admin) driven, it has increased the AHA’s emphasis on teaching, and the panelists today seemed committed to bringing a wider variety of educators into the conversation in the future.

The focus of the project is also shifting from majors to introductory courses, which I (selfishly) think is a great move given that this is what I teach.

I’m not totally sold though. The project itself still requires a lot of explanation – at least for those of us who aren’t really part of history departments. I don’t know that there are a ton of resources or training on site for new college and university teachers to implement the suggested Tuning outcomes in effective ways (though Anne Hyde did note the increasing presence and usefulness of centers for teaching and learning on campuses). I’m also still not certain how much students value the language of transferable skills in general education courses… But then I haven’t really asked how they feel about it. (Maybe I will in the near future.)

It was a thought-provoking session one way or another and I’m grateful for the conversations led by Elaine Carey, Anne Hyde, Elizabeth Lehfeldt and Daniel McInerney in the field of history education.


I finished out the day at the grad student reception (met a Masters student from University at Buffalo and chatted about pre-modern China) and the Twitterstorians/bloggers reception. It turns out that if you hang out long enough, you meet people who recommend awesome medieval Tumblrs, Baltimore tours, and scholars of history teaching and learning. Also they had Denver-brewed beer. Win.

Blog Post

Small Steps Shattering Ceilings

Celebrate the small steps?

I teach ancient and medieval history. Gender equality is not a thing in the civilizations my students and I study. Ever. Women are always at a disadvantage – biologically tied to childbirth, socially valuable primarily as wives who bring property or wealth or labor to a family, and economically dependent due to inequitable inheritance laws and educational/occupational limitations.

But that is an exhausting story to tell over and over again. So I spend the semester trying to convince my students to look for ways that women claim agency and societies as a whole take small steps toward greater fairness. In ancient Egypt, women could initiate marriage and divorce. In Han China, Ban Zhao wrote history and pushed for equal education (at least in the aristocracy). In the Roman Empire, gravestones and graffiti women owned property and had a wider variety of careers than many contemporaries. Women hosted church meetings for Roman Christians and missionaries too.Rome Spring 2016.001.jpeg

According to the traditional narrative of early Islam, Khadijah convinced Muhammad of his prophetic calling. Women gained new rights to inherit and control their own property (one wonders if Khadijah the merchant had a say in this). In medieval Europe, the abbess Hildegard of Bingen wrote soaring melodies, medical texts, and mystical devotions while she led a community of women dedicated to holiness and simplicity.

In the absence of greater transformation, I say, we must celebrate the small steps.

No. Shatter the ceilings.

My students typically reject my careful narrative in favor of a focus on kickass, exceptional the world over. Their blog posts, this semester and in the past, have focused on:

  • Wu Zetian, the first female emperor of China
  • Tomyris, the Scythian warlord responsible for the death of Persian king, Cyrus the Great
  • St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, often credited with ending the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire
  • Matilda, contender for the English throne and mother to Henry II
  • Artemisia, a satrap (ruler) under the Persian king, Xerxes, who led her navy in battle against the Greek navy in the Greco-Persian Wars
  • Joan of Arc, the medieval mystic and eventual saint
  • Cleopatra, ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt and one of the wealthiest, most educated persons of her time. (Quite possibly more educated and powerful than Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, thank you very much).
  • The Trung Sisters, who led Vietnamese military resistance against China in the first century CE.

I think I know why they choose these women over my midwives, laborers, property owners, and holy women. These women are triumphant, inspiring, and terribly alive. They are #unstoppable, #fierce, #girlpower, #nastywomen in the best possible ways. Heck, I want to cheer when I read the celebration apparent in their posts.

My students, understandably and beautifully, gravitate towards stories that defy oppression and seem to offer hope in the midst of their study of broken social structures and massive inequality. They seek stories of radical, rapid success in the hope that these women’s stories signal progress for everyone.

When it’s not enough.

I had hoped to invite them to cheer with me last week as I announced the election of the first female president of the United States. That wasn’t what happened, of course.

As my colleagues and I watched the results of the presidential election come in, I expressed anger and sadness and frustration at the results. Expressed is the wrong word. I burst out in tears and anger as my hope that we would see our first female president was obliterated. A friend, more gracious than me, offered perspective, “But she ran! On the ticket of a major party. And nearly won. That’s a huge deal. Plus Tammy Duckworth, Kamala Harris, Ilhan Omar…” To which I angrily proclaimed (yelled? I might have yelled…), “That’s not enough!”

I didn’t want small change. I wanted big change. Now. Not just the change that brought with it the election of a female president, but (ideally) the sort of change that ushered into power a president who would listen to the diverse group of people who comprised her electoral base.

We can talk about whether or not those hopes were misplaced some other time. (No really, we can – I’m not trying to put you off forever.) For the moment, I need you just to hear: This was my hope. And it hurt like hell when that hope was crushed.

How do I teach this?

I’m wondering now how best to teach the sort of gender-inclusive history that is so near and dear to my heart in this world that is clearly so desperate for big change, not small celebrations.

How do I present triumphant, resilient, energizing female warriors and rulers – but still communicate to my students the limitations of those exceptional people? Because the historical reality is that these women were awesome, but didn’t always creating lasting change for other female-bodied people. Their reigns or battles didn’t usually create conditions in which other women could achieve the same success. [See Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh; only two women (maybe) officially ruled after her in the next millennium before Ptolemaic rule and all the Cleopatras]. They often perpetuated the worst abuses of their class (which included slavery, conscripted labor, taxation to fund lavish spectacles…pretty standard stuff for the ancient world).

How do I tell them about the inequality that pervades history without leaving them feeling helpless and lifeless? Because the historical reality is that many ‘ordinary’ women lived significant, even remarkable lives. Women’s household labor and craft in China made possible the initial silk production that fueled international trade for the powerful Han dynasty in China. Women have steered new humans into the world on a daily basis in every culture since forever. Women navigated ships in the perilous Mediterranean, they created diplomatic ties between nations through marriage alliances, started new religious movements, and staged anti-war demonstrations.

This is what it takes.

Now that my initial anger has (mostly) passed, I want to find ways to leverage the sort of discontent that makes me and my students desire radical change BUT I also want them to understand that, historically, we have proven ourselves a stiff-necked species, slow to truly disrupt the status quo. I don’t love that about us, but I think it’s true. I wish it wasn’t for the sake of my friends and loved ones who are less safe, more tired, rightfully more frightened than me.

I don’t want to assume how silk makers, midwives, ships captains, demonstrators, political wives, rulers and warriors felt about their work or, in many cases, their minority status in work and the world. I want to give them the respect of not projecting my own agenda onto their lives. But I also want to acknowledge that whether or not they felt like they were working for the betterment of women and of humanity, the lesson of their lives – the thing I want my students to know – is this thing that echoes across the writings of all sorts of workers for justice this week:

It takes difficult, constant, persistent, everyday working, living, and being to create greater freedom of movement, economic freedom, occupational opportunities, and inclusion in religious communities for the populations left out of the best things in society. 

It shouldn’t but it does. Also sometimes change happens by accident. And sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. But those are other posts, I think.

I don’t know what this means for my syllabus yet and there are always the limitations of time, institutional expectations, and my own knowledge gaps to deal with. But this is what I’m thinking about. If you’re thinking about that too, leave me a comment or come find me on Twitter. Let’s get to work together.

Blog Post

A Missing Piece?: Historical Thinking Isn’t Just for History Majors

*See update on upcoming discussions of history in general education.

The very timely white paper, “Measuring College Learning in History,” authored by Lendol Calder and Tracy Steffes and sponsored by the Social Science Research Council’s Measuring College Learning Project, is a welcome consolidation of the historiography and key principles of historical thinking.*

Calder and Steffes, with the input of other scholars and faculty in the field of history teaching and learning, distill historical consciousness into five essential concepts and four essential competencies:

A summary of the essential concepts and competencies outlined in the full white paper.

The author’s selections of concepts and competencies reflect the rich debate (which I’ve previously written about here) between scholars surrounding the definition of historical thinking, but handily narrow the focus to the most common and most teachable values and skills of historians. While careful not to suggest too specific a program for teaching these concepts and competencies, Calder and Steffes offer a helpful outline for structuring learning outcomes and assessing historical thinking in undergraduate history majors.

Here-in lies my only critique of the otherwise immensely useful summary and white paper: Calder and Steffes implicitly view the core history concepts and competencies  as the reserve of history majors. They appear to have little concern for how the suggested foci might function within general education history courses.

To be fair, Calder and Steffes point to the reality that not everyone is a history major and that the history major itself is a shifting (and shrinking) institution. They acknowledge the need to consider history’s role in “a moment of declining history enrollments, popular attacks on the humanities, and growing demands that a college education have practical utility and demonstrable economic benefits” (Measuring College Learning in History, p. 41). Beyond that, the authors are also keen to defend the continued benefits of introductory history courses and encourage history professors to work toward including the competencies and concepts in their intro courses (p. 66). In general, though, the white paper is explicitly about facilitating and assessing the learning of history majors.

The omission of concern for history courses conducted for a broader population of students is, obviously, a personal concern for me. I teach a general education survey course in a program that does not have a history major. My students’ exposure to these concepts and skills occurs in three general survey courses (World Civ I, World Civ II, and American Pluralism – essentially the U.S. since 1945). This means I and my fellow instructors have a very limited amount of time (9 credit hours) in which to communicate concepts significant not only to our discipline, but also I would argue to students’ development as critical thinkers more generally. (Calder and Steffes would seem to agree – see p. 63).

The consequence of teaching a general education class and trying to incorporate historical thinking concepts and skills is that it becomes difficult to incorporate all of the core concepts and competencies within a given course in a given semester. At the moment, my course is explicitly focused on two concepts (history as interpretation, the “pastness of the past,” and historical significance) and two competencies (interpret primary sources and construct a historical argument – usually based on secondary, not primary sources). Ideally my counterparts and I would take up carrying aspects to complement one another, we aren’t that coordinated (yet).

My point, in short, is that I think deeper conversations about the role of historical concepts and skills in the context of a liberal arts education – and not just a BA history program – are in order. These conversations are necessary given the greater number of students who take history courses as requirements and electives, as opposed to selecting history as a major, and in light of the continued debate over whether or not history deserves to maintain a place in undergraduate education. To have those discussions, the literature of historical thinking should, I believe, broaden its focus to include a wider variety of courses in which students encounter history.


* The Measuring College Learning (MCL) project also produced frameworks for thinking about core concepts and competencies in Biology, Business, Communication, Economics, and Sociology.

Blog Post

Spreadable Media in the Classroom

I’m getting back into the swing of things with the dissertation this week and my book and website of the moment are Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, 2013).

NYU Press, 2011

The work is aimed at media/culture critics, communication scholars, and businesses (an exceptionally inclusive audience already), and I think there are some significant takeaways for my dissertation (which focuses on historical significance, i.e., value and meaning, in a digital world) and for teaching more broadly.

I especially appreciate the author’s exploration of “sticky” vs. “spreadable” media. According to the authors, sticky content, as first articulated by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point (2002), is created by a particular person or group and then placed in a single location on the web. The creator then makes an effort to attract the presumed audience to this location and counts the votes or views or purchases in order to measure the success of their strategy. Spreadable content, by contrast, is meant to be easily shared on a wide variety of platforms. In the creation of spreadable content, creators cede much of the control over the content’s virtual life to the audience.

Jenkins and Ford sum up the difference:

“Sticky sites often incorporate games, quizzes, and polls to attract and hold the interests of individuals. The participatory logic of spreadability leads to audiences using content in unanticipated ways as they retrofit material to the contours of their particular community. Such activities are difficult for creators to control and even more difficult to quantify” (p. 6).

For me, this resonates with much of the conversation surrounding ed tech at the moment. Some of the current literature focuses on “sticky” methods – How can we gamify our grading structures or activities so they hold students’ interest? If we introduce periodic polls or quizzes in class, can we get students to tune in to us (instead of Facebook) more frequently?

There is, though, also a strain of think pieces, books, and Twitter conversations more interested in “spreadable” methods – How can we communicate content (especially utilizing technology and digital media) in a way that leaves it open to multiple interpretations, remixes, and appropriations by our students?*

As someone who teaches a subject (ancient/medieval history) that isn’t always apparently relevant to students, I think I often find myself using “sticky” methods in the classroom. I give my most enthusiastic performances when students have the least energy, I utilize entry and exit quizzes, and I encourage the use of a Padlet for questions in class so we can take breaks to answer those questions. These are all tactics to attract and hold the interests of students.

I do use some “spreadable” methods as well. The student blogging project is perhaps the best example of this. I try to give students the historical, technological, and methodological tools they’ll need to write their posts and I provide some suggested topics and sources of information. What they do with a given topic or post format, however, is up to them – and out of my control.

That means when I suggested to a group that the best format for their topic might be a BuzzFeed-like listicle composed on our class website…they created an honest-to-goodness BuzzFeed article instead. Or when I asked that they only use Creative Commons/fair use/public domain images, they used GIFs to illustrate their post instead of or in addition to other images. (Do pardon the images not working in some of these posts. That’s a WordPress issue, not the students’ fault.)

Jenkins and Ford note that there is a place for both sticky and spreadable media in the digital world, but their preference is pretty clearly for the latter (p. 8). I think there is room for sticky and spreadable methods of teaching as well, but I want to think a bit more about when each is most effective for communicating content and helping students create meaning and value around their study of history.





*I hearby promise to come back and add examples of these diverse conversations at some later date….

Blog Post

Hey Prof, Is There A Crash Course For That?

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of presenting at the third Dean Hopper New Scholars’ Conference at Drew University as part of the panel, “The Digital Age in the Classroom.” My fellow panelist and I had similar concerns (I love when that happens): What does digitization mean for textbooks in the classroom? How do we balance content and critical thinking skills? How can we leverage new media/mediums for the benefit of our research and our students?

The conversation that followed our presentations was energetic; attendees had great questions for us and offered their own ideas about digital mediums in the classroom. I left feeling really excited about the conversation and deeply appreciative of how thoughtful other history educators are about their pedagogy.

The presentation would not have been possible without the input of my former students. They offered their impressions of the Crash Course: World History series (the subject of my presentation) in an informal survey leading up to the conference and their insights helped me more fully evaluate the potential impact of the Crash Course videos. So, if you are a student reading this: many, many thanks to you!

If you’d like to know more about my preliminary conclusions regarding the Crash Course videos and the digital age in the classroom, please check out the files below. I’ve uploaded a pdf version of my Keynote presentation; the videos used in the presentation are linked below as well. You can also read a rough, written text of my presentation (not verbatim, but close).

“Hey Prof, Is There A Crash Course For That?” PDF of Keynote (Intro Video for Slide 3 and “Alexander the Great and the Situation…The Great?” for Slide 10 – watch to 2:32)

“Hey Prof, Is There A Crash Course For That?” Text Only

If you find these ideas intriguing, if you’re using digital mediums and social media in your classes, or if we met at the conference, I’d love to hear from you. Please do get in touch via the contact form on this website.

Blog Post

LSTS 2: What Are You Trying to Achieve?

(You can read LSTS 1: Best Learning Experiences, Best Teaching Experiences here.)

The third question posed by Neil Haave (see Learning Style, Teaching Style) reads, “What are you trying to achieve in your students in your teaching?” I’m not overly fond of the way the question is articulated; the idea of achieving anything in my students strikes me as very odd. (What instructor, really, has any measure of control over her students’ internal states of being?) However, I think the question at its heart offers an opportunity to reflect on what I hope my students will learn in a given course.

The benefit of having delayed this blog post is that the end of the spring semester has provided greater clarity in terms of my goals for the World Civilizations course I instruct. Students’ exams, their final round of blog posts, and some intriguing Facebook posts to our class group illuminated what students have learned this semester – and what they have not.

I was encouraged to see their collective ability to identify the major themes of the course improve from the first exam. The final blog posts also displayed tighter writing and more diligent citations. And the links, posts, and comments students’ shared on Facebook for extra credit points suggested greater willingness to look for the connections between the past and present. These skills served as neat reflections of some of the course goals stated in my current syllabus, particularly my hope that they become “savvier media consumers” (and producers) through use of the blog and Facebook group.

The exams and posts to both the blog and FB group, however, also revealed two significant areas of concern.

First, most students still struggle with chronology – which is a bit problematic for a history course. Understanding the order of events is essential to comprehending the significance of a given person or event. My guess is that my emphasis on overarching themes and the freewheeling nature of our primary source discussions in class often obscures the order of events – or at least makes chronology seem less important than concepts. My goal for next semester, then, is to strike a greater balance between concepts and chronology. I’m already considering replacing exams with more frequent quizzes (probably multiple choice) to reinforce material, so it should be easy enough to test students’ understanding of chronology within that format.

The second area of concern is more worrisome and undoubtedly requires a more complex solution. In some of the posts on the blog and FB, I noticed a lack of cultural sensitivity – articles or comments that described a particular practice as “weird;” rituals, family ties, or beliefs that were outright condemned. For example, a sticking point this semester was Mongol marriage laws. Within Mongol society in the thirteenth century CE, sons are legally and socially permitted to marry their father’s wives (i.e., their stepmothers of sorts) if the father dies. Students were genuinely puzzled and shocked; this went against their conceptions of who could and should get married and they struggled to understand why this would be allowed. The problem was, they weren’t asking why the practice was allowed within Mongol society at that time; they were considering why it would be allowed anywhere by anyone at all. The context, in other words, was not influencing the questions.

I partly understand their shock, condemnation, and bafflement over the way ancient and medieval people have lived; I have and do experience those emotions myself at times in relation to certain material. And I want to create an environment in which students feel safe and respected enough to grapple with those reactions. I don’t want students to think they all need to share my opinions – or anyone else’s.

However, I do want to encourage them to ask, “Why was it like this?,” before they ask, “Do I agree with this?” There are practical reasons for this. You can disagree with slavery, but that tells you very little about why it was so commonly practiced in the ancient worlds – which in turn leaves you with very little knowledge about why and how to prevent or overturn modern instances of slavery. And, to play the globalization card, learning to respectfully consider the practices and beliefs of past societies is very good practice for respectfully considering the practices and beliefs of present societies in this interconnected, diversified world my students and I inhabit.

Again, I do not want them to agree with everything – but I do want them to understand as much as they can.

The difficulty is figuring out how to foster that particular outcome. I can adjust my material to account for the times when I am insensitive or too quick to condemn and I can be more explicit about that aim on my end. But how best to give my students the opportunity to practice cultural sensitivity? How best to respond to moments, posts, words that lack sensitivity? I suspect I will be wrestling with those questions for years, but it is good, I think, to have these goals.

And for these goals to influence my summer reading list… Would any fellow educators care to recommend good reads about fostering culturally sensitive/compassionate/respectful classrooms and courses?

Next Post:

As I’ve already (at least partly) answered question four, “Why is this important to you?,” in this post, I’ll plan to address question five, “How do you achieve your objectives?” in the LSTS 3 and then I’ll wrap up with the last question, “Why do you use these particular teaching strategies as opposed to others that are available to you?,” in a final post. Ideally the next installment will be up in somewhat less than a month this time…

Blog Post

Learning Style, Teaching Style

I’m preparing to rewrite the “Teaching Style and Practices” page on this website – partly because I think my perspective has shifted thanks to a bit more teaching experience and partly because that page needs a lighter tone (it’s deadly earnest at the moment). Ideally, the content will ultimately serve as a better reflection of my current teaching practices and the prose will be more immediately accessible to both potential employers (who will undoubtedly need to skim the page) and to students who are interested in gaining some insight into my philosophy and methods.

I found inspiration today in the Faculty Focus article, “Six Questions That Will Bring Your Teaching Philosophy Into Focus,” by Neil Haave. Rather than focusing on the history of education or education philosophies, Haave asks readers to think about six questions:

“1. Describe the best learning experience you have had as a student. (This helps to identify how we best learn and reminds us as instructors what it is like to be a student. Maryellen Weimer (2013) recently discussed this in the context of influencing the learning environment.)

2. Describe the best teaching experience you have had as an instructor. Are there any similarities to the learning experience you described above? (This question attempts to link our learning to our teaching.)

3. What are you trying to achieve in your students with your teaching? (This is a big question and may be best initially answered by thinking about it in the context of what you feel is the course you teach with the most success.)

4. Why is this important to you? (This helped me to begin articulating my approach to my discipline in the context of teaching. For others I know it becomes larger than the discipline itself and may link to the personal growth of students and not only their intellectual growth.)

5. How do you achieve your objectives you wrote down for question #3 above? That is, what teaching strategies or approaches do you use in your classes that produce the learning environment or opportunities for your students to reach your teaching objectives? (Hopefully, this has been informed by your answers in questions #1 & 2 above. If there is no apparent connection between this question and your answers to #1 & 2, then this might be cause to pause and reflect why this is.)

6. Why do you use these particular teaching strategies as opposed to others that are available to you? (This is where you start developing the argument or citing the evidence for the value or success of your approach to teaching. Hopefully, you are able to make links to your own learning philosophy.)”

Since my teaching style is still in formation, I’d like to use these questions to focus my own thoughts over the next few weeks – and, ideally, to start a conversation with others (or join one already running). I especially love the invitation to consider the ways my learning style influences my teaching. I think that opens up the opportunity to think about how that experience (and inevitable bias) either serves students well or blinds me to their learning preferences and needs. To that end, my next post will tackle the first two questions and then I’ll take the other four in turn, probably redirecting my attention towards other teaching/student concerns from time to time. If you’re already considering these questions, though, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Blog Post

In Which My Students Create Their Own Rubric

Can I just brag about my students for a second?

I’ve assigned them a blogging project this semester for their long(er) writing assessment. Over the course of the semester, they’ll be asked to work in small groups to compose and submit three blog posts related to the class material. The posts can be about anything relevant to World Civ I – they can create comic strips, write satires, summarize research, give a reflection on what a part of the course means to them, or review films/tv series. In addition, I’ve made commenting on their peers’ posts a part of their overall grade for the project.

The problem with accepting such diverse material is that it’s beastly to grade. I felt completely stymied trying to come up with evaluation criteria when I wrote the assignment over the winter break.

So, during our first meeting on Wednesday, I gave them a rather unconventional assignment: as a class, compose your own rubric for the blog posts and comments plus decide how many points (or what letter grade) each post/comment will be worth. Mind you, this was the introductory class for a compulsory history module that most students are more than a little wary of – and usually professors set the evaluation standards, right? I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the exercise.

It was ridiculously easy and the responses were marvelous. The students, working in small groups, submitted their responses via Socrative. For the blog posts, criteria like “insightful,” “relevant,” “free of grammatical errors,” and “not too draggy” (meaning, as a student explained, engaging, entertaining, not dull) popped up on the screen immediately. Expectations for the comments included “respectful, not aggressive,” “focused,” and “constructive feedback.”

I highlighted the recurring words and ideas on the whiteboard, funneling them into a list of standards for an “A” blog post or comment. Within fifteen minutes, we had a working system of evaluation for the blogging project. The final results looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 6.04.50 PM

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 6.24.02 PM

In the future, I think there are ways to make this exercise even more student centered – maybe by having a couple of students lead the portion where we funnel common ideas into a final list or adding a Socrative exercise for voting on and finalizing criteria. But I’m pleased with the first round and excited to see how discussions, posts, and other class activities proceed with such an obviously thoughtful group of people.