The end of the semester is approaching fast, so I put together another Teaching Tip on The Last Day of Class, and how it could be either the culminating event of the semester or a transitional moment to future learning. I also added some others I had finished earlier in the semester, including Effective Practices for Large Classes and Effective Use of PowerPoint. If you want to see all of the Teaching Tips, go to my Teaching Tips page.
If you are in the Boston area, you know that the Boston Marathon bombings and the events following have greatly disrupted life for many people here. As I write this, the search continues for the second suspect in the case. Thankfully none of my students were directly effected, but many had connections with the people and communities involved. Even if no one was directly affected, events like this can trigger responses to past traumas, so it is more important than ever to stay alert and investigate if students seem to stumble in their coursework.
Huston & DiPietro (2007) studied faculty responses to the 9-11 tragedy, and shared a few useful conclusions about reacting to collective tragedy in the classroom:
• “The general conclusion, from the students’ perspective, appears to be ‘do something, just about anything.’”
• “An instructor’s response need not be complicated, time-intensive, or even personalized.”
• “A repeated issue that appeared in students’ comments was that they appreciated an instructor who responded in a unique and humane way, so faculty should not feel pressured to homogenize their responses.”
• BUT there was student dissatisfaction with those who chose to acknowledge “that the attacks had occurred” and then say “say that the class needs to go on with no mention of opportunities for review or extra help.” According to Huston & DiPietro, “Relatively few students found this approach helpful (36%), and an almost equal number found this response unhelpful (41%).”
If you would like to read the complete study, you can find it at:
• Therese Huston & Michele DiPietro (2007). “In the Eye of the Storm: Students’ Perceptions of Helpful Faculty Actions Following a Collective Tragedy.” To Improve the Academy, 25: 206-224. http://www.podnetwork.org/resources/pdf/In_the_Eye.pdf.
Also, students may be looking for ways to help. Here are a few resources in case they ask:
• Trumbull, Mark (Apr. 17, 2013). How to help after Boston Marathon bombing: Relief funds spring up. Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2013/0417/How-to-help-after-Boston-Marathon-bombing-Relief-funds-spring-up
• White, Martha (Apr. 17, 2013). Boston Marathon Bombings: How to Send Help (and Avoid Scams). Time. http://business.time.com/2013/04/17/boston-marathon-bombings-how-to-help-and-avoid-scams/
• WUSA (Apr. 17, 2013). FBI: More Than 2K Tips About Boston Marathon Bombing. http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/255019/158/FBI-More-Than-2K-Tips-About-Boston-Marathon-Bombing
Finally, people always look for a reason for an event like this, and the uncertainty surrounding it can be particular distressing. In his response to this tragedy, our President (Dr. Richard Wylie) advised us “to be little kinder and gentler and to recognize that we all seek love and understanding to conquer adversity.” Good advice.
It has reached that part of the semester when the students have begun to realize that their voices are important and they are starting to contribute to the course materials. Hurrah! This is always my favorite moment of the semester. My two examples are Jim asking, “Why are the horses of the Indians called ponies?” I don’t know, so we theorize for a while. Is it because whites are referring to Indian horses in a diminutive way? What is the word origin of “pony?” Is it native American or Spanish? It sounds like it might be. No, it comes from French for “foal,” implying that ponies are smaller. That is confirmed by Shetland ponies and Welsh ponies. Interesting! Between that class and the next, I bone up on horse lore, and discover that at least three tribes developed their own breed of horse. The Chickasaw developed the Chickasaw Horse (ancester of the Quarter Horse), the Cayuse developed the Cayuse, and the Nez Perce developed the Appaloosa. The Indian “ponies” were a few hands shorter than those of the Americans and a couple of hundred pounds lighter. They were less prone to medical problems and very hardy. They were fine for working cattle in Florida until the Texas cattle were imported, and there were not large enough to handle them. Indian ponies were developed from the Spanish Barb (which also contributed bloodlines to the British Thoroughbred, and hence the American as well). The horses of the Americans were faster in the sprint, but less hardy than the Indian ponies. So… good question there! The next one was when we were looking at the paintings of George Catlin. We were looking a painting of a meeting between Americans and Indians, and wondering what was holding up the tent.
It seemed nothing was holding up this tent. Emily speculated that they had put together two tipis and opened up the side. I noted that there was no tripod to hold up though. The students speculated that there were ropes on the other side but to me that seemed unlikely. We had a tipi on our property when I was a kid (an anthropology student was working on his dissertation and never came back to pick it up, which was just fine with my brother and I). Then a few days later, I found this photo of the Treaty of Ft. Laramie (1868):
Very similar! And exactly like Emily thought — two tipis put together. So in class the next day we compare these and talk about how much larger the tipis in the painting are and Emily again pointed out that Catlin was not exactly accurate in his paintings, especially the early ones. The example she mentioned was his early painting of a Piankeshaw man, whose arm seemed about 50% longer than it should have been. Good call. Our belief now is that Catlin just left out the other two poles so it would be a better composition.
I’m teaching American Indian History this semester, a course I’ve wanted to teach for years. The down side is that it is an elective topics course that fulfills no general education requirements so I wasn’t sure I would get anyone signing up. After drop & add, I had eight students and was delighted to discover that the reason they were in the class was that they were very interested in the topic. I’ve been teaching freshman history surveys for a long time, so I was used to having to provide motivation for the class. Having personally motivated students is a real treat!
There are no tests or quizzes (unless people don’t seem to be doing the work, in which case I’ll have to put those back in). So far, almost everyone is doing the work. Each week they read about 150 pages and write a reflective essay of a thousand words or more. They turn that in on Sunday at 5:00 pm, so I can read them and give feedback and prepare for the classes where we’ll discuss their readings on Monday and Wednesday. Each student takes turn being a “leading voice” in class, meaning that they have responsibility for one of the chapters and will help lead the discussion in that chapter. We have five books that we are reading:
Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar Nunez (2012). Chronicle of the Narváez Expedition (Norton Critical Editions). Ed. I. Stavans, Tr. D. Frye. W.W. Norton & Company. 256 pages. ISBN-10: 0393918157
$13.13 on Amazon
Axtell, James (2001). Natives and Newcomers: The Cultural Origins of North America. Oxford University Press. 418 pages. ISBN-10: 019513771X
$19.95 on Amazon
Seaver. James E. (1826). A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, who was taken by the Indians, in the year 1755, etc. Howden: R. Parkin. 179 pages. This book is a public domain PDF and is provided to the students through Gullnet, the local name for the Jenzabar LMS.
Brown, D. (1972). Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the Northwest. Holt Paperbacks. 512 pages. ISBN-10: 0805086846
$11.56 on Amazon. I also allow the students to use the older paperback versions (originally published in 1972).
Dog, Mary Crow (2011). Lakota Woman. Grove Press. 272 pages. ISBN-10: 0802145426
$10.17 on Amazon
Writing the reflective essay was new for almost all of them. A few started by writing opinion pieces without evidence, but are now providing evidence for their arguments. Often those essays were also poorly organized, and they have improved with practice. Others were skilled writers but wrote detailed summaries of the pieces and came to class exhausted because all the reading was on new material and there was too much of it. Now they are starting to be more selective about the sections they comment upon and approaching the work as free writing and therefore finding it easier to do. All of them are now describing what they found surprising or confusing or confirming in the readings, which allows me to assess their level of understanding and what I need to do to customize the class for them. I’ve also told them to go looking on the web (including Wikipedia) or at the library (ok, that won’t happen!) if they run into something they don’t understand or want to know more about. Some of them are starting to do that, and include those in their reflections. The word count on the reflections are starting to come up as well. The lowest so far was 700 words, the highest was over 4,000.
Because the class is so small, the discussions are large group discussions. I toss out divergent (open-ended) questions to the students and try to get them to talk about this as a group. Some of them took to this method immediately; others seemed more used to lecturing and wanted me to tell them what to write down. After five weeks of class, all of them are starting to think for themselves, and I encourage them to do so. I see my role primarily as teaching them how to read and think critically, which I do by questioning their understandings, by modeling careful reading of the texts, and by sometimes instructing them on particular skills (looking for the evidence, using specific technology, etc.). Occasionally I’ll occasionally expand upon the conversation by bringing new material into the conversation (comparisons with other historical lessons, bringing in material from my own reading of other texts, or playing audio or video of native Americans expressing their opinions, giving advice, or remembering their past).
At the mid-semester, I gave a stop-start-continue, which is a classroom assessment that takes about ten minutes. I asked them to give me feedback on the semester and tell me what they wanted us to stop doing, what they wanted to start doing (in case they had particular hopes for the class that had not been realized) and what they wanted to continue doing. Here’s the results. After typing up the results, I talked about them with the class the next week. I was really pleased that everyone liked the format of the discussions. I held my ground with the thousand word minimum on the reflective essays, because frankly any less really doesn’t give me much idea about what they have and have not done. I definitely agree with the use of more video, because our readings have been valuable but in the colonial period they give us only an outline of the Indians because they are mostly written by Europeans. I mentioned the danger of reading current beliefs back into the past, but noted that we had already seen a lot of continuity among the indigenous peoples of North America (beliefs about spirits, food ways, tribal structure, marriage patterns, dances, burial rituals, and the like) and because we will see similar continuity among the oral histories and beliefs of modern native Americans, we could have some confidence that we would be seeing the Indians better by listening to today’s Indians. The interest in New England Indians also made sense to me, so we’ll do more on that. Next class the students will investigate the original inhabitants of their hometowns, the tribes they belonged to, and what they might have been like. I’ve also been putting together a GoogleEarth KMZ on native Americans, and we’ll add to that at the same time. That KMZ, by the way, has been very useful in illustrating where Cabeza de Vaca journied, where native villages and early colonies were located, and in the first weeks demonstrating how early humans might have come to North America and where we have evidence of early habitation. On days we couldn’t hold class because of the snow, I used screen shots like the one below to illustrate the virtual lecture web pages I put together on the LMS. THis one is the area around the early English settlements of Jamestown and Roanoke. Green circles represent native settlements, red triangles are English colonies, and white diamonds are tribal organizations.
The Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education or POD is the national organization for faculty development. It has been around since 1976 and has several thousand members. It is also my favorite organization, as everyone there is interested in teaching and learning and the annual conference (usually at the end of October or early November) is a great way for me to re-energize.
One of my roles in POD has been first as the official Historian and more recently as the Chair of the History Committee. One of the recent successes of the committee has been the digitization of a large portion of the POD Archives. The Archives include past issues of the POD Network News, the POD Quarterly (an excellent but nearly forgotten publication from 1979-1980), and our annual book, To Improve the Academy (TIA), as well as past conference programs and records of the Board of Directors (the Core Committee). The Archives are located in Lincoln, Nebraska, which is not the most convenient location for visitors (I may have been the only visitor from outside Lincoln in the last 15 years!). To remedy that, the History Committee began a program to digitize the Archives in partnership with UNL’s new Digital Repository initiative. It proved to be very successful. Paul Royster was our contact at the UNL Library for that project, and he hired Elisabeth Maurer, a graduate student in History, who did a fantastic job digitizing much of the collection. We now have almost all the POD Network News scanned in (there were a few missing), along with the first seventeen volumes of TIA and all of the POD Quarterly. This past month (January 2012), the POD Digital Repository had over 5,000 full-text downloads, most of which were articles from TIA.
The most downloaded articles this past month were:
Discussion Method Teaching: A Practical Guide: (291 downloads)
Not Another Inventory, Rather a Catalyst for Reflection: (288 downloads)
Mark Braun put these cases together back in 2001. They are still wonderful examples of how one can use the web to teach one’s students. In addition to the data, Mark managed to convince his colleagues into acting out some of the parts in the cases. It was all done very inexpensively. All it took was Mark’s time (which is worth something, but he gave it freely) and a digital camera. Explore these Pathology cases, if you have a moment. His main page can be found at Infectious Disease Tutorial. Enjoy!