Tona Hangen


My approach to teaching history, especially introductory surveys, is “uncoverage” rather than “coverage,” a concept I owe to Sam Wineburg and other scholars of the new historical pedagogy. In my experience, many students come into history courses with a negative attitude towards history learning—not surprising if their previous experiences have all been about memorization, regurgitation, and “all those dates.” In contrast, I emphasize that history is a process and an argument about the past, not a well-defined body of knowledge to be assimilated. I try to uncover the skills and cognitive processes that historians do and to assist students in developing their historical thinking skills (see also my “Thinking Like a Historian” handout; see also NHEC blogpost “What is Historical Thinking?“).

This is always a balance between content delivery and process learning through practice and authentic assignments. Even at the introductory level I supplement with many additional materials, often online resources from historical archives available in digital form, to illustrate the kinds of sources that professional historians work with and which make up the evidence from which historians narrate the past, and to give students opportunities to try their hand at puzzling out the past. See here for more on how I use digital history in the classroom. Even more importantly, I involve students in making history themselves right from the start, in doing what it is that historians do, so that they are participants in the process. Learning is not a spectator sport in my classroom.

Although I knew little about it before I showed up at Worcester State, I have adopted the principles of  backwards design when building new courses. I try to think more about what and how students are learning than about how I am delivering course content. This is a 180 degree shift for me and it did not come easy. A gradual turnaround is evident in my syllabi from 2007 to now and the orientation of my current courses around student learning outcomes (SLOs, in our university parlance) rather than “professor teaching objectives.” I credit our Center for Teaching and Learning’s many pedagogical professional development sessions, as well as lessons absorbed from Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, Understanding By Design,  John Tagg, The Learning Paradigm College and Kathleen Gabriel, Teaching the Unprepared Student (the latter is a book I wish someone had handed me when I took this job). For details on my strategies for course and syllabus design, see here.

I have served multiple terms on the Advisory Board for Worcester State University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, and from 2010 to 2013 I served as Assistant Director of the University’s Honors Program. Through both of these programs, I worked to improve teaching at our institution and celebrate best practices in teaching and learning. Examples include a workshop for honors students each semester on “Tech Tools For Academic Success,” as well as a number of faculty development workshops given at my home institution and elsewhere, such as “Meeting Yourself in Cyberspace: Developing an Online Professional Persona” and “Writing Syllabi Worth Reading.”

In 2017-2018, I used a grant from an Open Educational Resources initiative at Worcester State to create an open-access professional development website for introductory-level instructors in History and Political Science, particularly those teaching online or blended/hybrid courses (we use a Blackboard platform).

As part of Worcester State’s efforts to implement and assess its general education curriculum, I’ve participated in initiatives focused on integrative learning, assessment, and best practices in higher education pedagogy, which have definitely enhanced my own classroom practices and helped me approach my university committee work with an interdisciplinary perspective. In Fall 2014, I participated in the MSC Multi-State Assessment Collaborative, building on my work in 2013-2014 as a University Assessment Fellow. In June 2010, I was part of a WSC team attending 3-day workshop at Roanoke College, titled “Institutionalizing Integrative Learning: Faculty Development, Course Development, and Assessment.” In June 2009, I attended Fairfield University’s Innovative Pedagogy and Course Redesign IX Conference, where I first learned about the concept of integrated learning and how it can apply across a thoughtfully designed course, or within a major, or across a student’s whole four years through curriculum design. My notes from that conference are organized into a short presentation.

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