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 (see my “Thinking Like a Historian” handout; see also NHEC blogpost “What is Historical Thinking?“). Of course historical content is important, but even at the introductory level I supplement with many additional materials, often online resources from historical archives available in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. 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, building new courses with backwards design has now become reflexive, probably to my students’ great benefit. I try to think more about what and how students are learning than about what or how I am delivering course content. This is a 180 degree shift for me and it did not come easy, so any successes in teaching and syllabus design I consider to be hard-won. This 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 (see below) as well as lessons absorbed from John Tagg, The Learning Paradigm College and Kathleen Gabriel, Teaching the Unprepared Student (a book I wish someone had handed me when I took this job).
I am serving a second three-year term 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 work to improve teaching at our institution and celebrate best practices in teaching and learning. I teach a workshop for honors students each semester on “Tech Tools For Academic Success.” I have developed a number of faculty development workshops, such as “Meeting Yourself in Cyberspace: Developing an Online Professional Persona” and “Writing Syllabi Worth Reading.”
As part of Worcester State’s efforts to implement and assess a new 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 had the pleasure of attending Fairfield University’s Innovative Pedagogy and Course Redesign IX Conference, where I 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 here organized into a short slide show.