Sunday, April 03, 2011

Cool teaching tools!

Hi all --

So at present I am buried under a pile of really poor essays. Really poor. So poor that I will have to write a post about why differential teaching and learning is good, but that it's very hard to draw some lines: where, for example, is the tipping point between making the good students better and making the failing students passable?

In the meantime, I am occasionally thinking about resources for a re-vamped historical research course. In some ways, I fear for this course. The intention is supposedly to teach students to write a research paper, so that we don't have to teach that as part of the upper-division courses where research papers are now mandatory. There are some who want to teach historiography proper, and something called 'an appreciation for the art of history' in there. If that means teaching big questions in the field and the arguments historians present, I can't see it. After all, I could teach such things, but they would make no sense to students who have never taken a medieval content class. I could teach the history of history-writing, but you know? I just don't think it's as important as actually learning by doing. At some point, we need to know that there is a tradition of historical writing out there, and that ideas of history change from Thucydides to Ranke to Bloch (and I don't have any idea about Americanist historiography). But I'd much rather teach that as part of my content classes than as part of a methods class: "here is a big question for medieval historians -- 'is there such a thing as feudalism/the feudal system?' and here are the major arguments and the people who are making them." In a lower-division methods class, if I'm teaching a paper with an annotated bibliography and/or lit review, then I can set the stage with the idea that historians don't agree and that approaches change over time. How this will all work out when it's a rotating course is going to be interesting.

Anyway, here are some fantastic tools that I think I will be using for teaching methods and in my survey classes, especially:

First, Sharon Howard has posted a tutorial for integrating zotero at the Old Bailey online. How cool is that? the tutorial goes beyond using that site, too! I've been trying to get students to use something like zotero, because they are crap at keeping their bibliographies up to date...

Then there is Wall Wisher, which I found through one of the links on the Old Bailey page. I'm thinking of using that for having students prep class discussions. That, and maybe have them use it for structuring essays and studying together.

There are other cool things linked, too -- I especially like the group assignments in zotero.

5 comments:

Janice said...

We basically have four different courses for majors: the required methods (which is very much like the one you're describing, with assignments on how to develop a bibliography, how to extract information from a census document, etc.) and three others from which they choose one that touch on North American historical questions, European historical questions and a comprehensive survey of historiography.

I think I'm going to adapt (with copious thanks and clear credit, naturally!) something of the OBO Zotero stuff for my own teaching, too. OBO is awesome and these updates only make it moreso!

Sharon said...

I'm glad you liked it! :D

You're both very welcome to re-use and recycle the tutorial. I was keen to write it in a way that would make it useful beyond the OBO (in fact that kind of thing was part of our funding remit). Do let me know if you do use it - I'll be interested to see how you get on with it.

Susan said...

We're currently struggling with our historiography class -- which also has to give students some practice in doing the big research paper that they will do in our capstone course. We're thinking of having some general stuff -- reading and criticizing sources, approaches to history etc -- and then each tailoring the readings to our fields.

And OBO is totally awesome as a teaching tool...

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I'm in a quandary about the tailoring, Susan. On the one hand, I'd LOVE to do that. But if I did, given the fact that the students only read English (and occasionally French), I'd be stuck doing stuff in translation. Pretty much sagas, barbarian histories, annals, saints' lives, and all that lovely Anglo-Norman stuff. That means the papers would be largely rooted in the close reading of big primary sources, but not much else. I feel confident in expanding to source collections like the OBO, because they are in English AND I took sort of a lot of EM coursework: two EM England, one Modern England, Renaissance, and Reformation classes as an undergrad, EM economic history, EM Germany, EM France, and a paper course in EM England as a grad student. I'm not so up on the historiography, but if I have access to primary sources, I think I can get students doing decent projects. They might be closer to what my colleagues do.

But I can't teach archival stuff. I've never done it. I can't teach the sort of heavy-duty secondary source use, question-driven research that some Americanists do. And I am pretty sure that, if I only teach what I feel really confident in, when students haven't learned the right things for my colleagues' classes, it will be seen as my having done a crappy job. Whereas when the students come to me after a class where they have not had to master the sorts of primary sources AND primary source historiography AND close readings that we pre-modern types use as a rule, then it will likely be seen as perfectly acceptable, because 1) not their expertise and; 2) not real history.

I think it's an issue that many pre-modernists deal with. It just means that I feel obligations for more than one reason to try to make sure the students get a broader foundation than the sorts of things I do -- even though I actually believe that what I do is far more transferable than what many modernists do.

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