Professor Jason Young, Department of History, LSA
As a new member of the LSA History department in the Fall of 2018, Professor Jason Young was assigned to teach History 260, a course with a traditional structure of lectures and recitation sessions. His goals were to show students what historians do and help them see that the skills they master in a history course are easily transferable to other aspects of professional life. These skills include working with large amounts of data, critiquing that information, and “speaking back to it”. To meet these objectives, he partnered with several campus organizations in the design and implementation of a series of digital scholarship or research projects. Additionally, Professor Young carved out a unique role for his teaching assistants as the primary facilitators of the projects.
A primary component of the course is the three History Lab projects. In the first project: Eat, Pray, Love -- Annotating American History, students identified three documents related to everyday life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. They needed to find a primary source about food or food culture, a document that explored religious or spiritual beliefs, and a third one related to human relationships. Students annotated each of the documents with a partner and wrote a brief reflective essay describing their experience.
For the second project in the series, the class curated an online exhibit featuring historical artifacts that illustrate or illuminate various aspects of American history from 1765-1865. Students each chose an artifact from a collection curated by Special Collections librarians. The librarians included items that were compelling but also accessible and approachable. Through this assignment, students learned that creating exhibit labels involves a significant amount of intellectual work and discipline.
In the final History Labs project, Mapping American History, students used Social Explorer, an online mapping tool, to create visualizations of various data sets, telling a story about the causes of the Civil War. Since so much of the information students consume on a daily basis is presented in this format, Professor Young wanted them to experience the research skills involved.
A key factor in the success of these projects was Professor Young’ decision to dedicate two lecture sessions to the Special Collections librarians so they could introduce the assignment details and related technology. Librarians also visited recitation sessions throughout the term so that students could work on each assignment in a low stakes setting. Additionally, they created a Course Guide to serve as the students’ primary resource -- a quick reference guide of all support information for the assignments that was available through the Canvas course site.
The emphasis in the learning objectives on contributing to the creation of information helped frame the assignments and motivated students. The design of the assignments invited students into a role as knowledge producers and co-producers rather than simply recipients or consumers. Although initially students expected a traditional course, in general, they found the work interesting.
Finally, the Special Collections librarians chose pieces that really resonated with students. As Professor Young commented: “Historians, of course, like these sorts of dusty artifacts but I saw students get excited too and take a very active role in choosing the materials they wanted to focus on.”
Traditionally, the format for a course like History 260 is one where content is presented in lecture and then revisited and summarized in recitation. In this instance, however, the GSIs were the primary facilitators of the History Labs projects. This difference put them in a role of expert, utilizing their field specializations, experience and skills in research techniques. Additionally, all the assessments were done by the GSIs, using a framework constructed by Professor Young and the librarians. When discussing his view of the assessment process, Professor Young emphasized that it was important to let students “live in the difficulties” but also to reassure them that their grade would be based on their “good faith” participation in the process. In his words, “If you’re doing it, you’re doing it!”
The course design and implementation was a collaborative process that involved a campus network of expertise, or “institutional intelligence”. Professor Young initially worked with members of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) as a participant in the Large Course Initiative (LCI). The LCI is a faculty learning community that focuses on key pedagogical challenges and opportunities in large courses. As his work progressed, Professor Young worked with Special Collections and Digital Pedagogy specialists in the Library as well as learning consultants in LSA Technology Services to fine-tune the assignment details and schedule staff and spaces for the class visits during the semester.