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Identifying, understanding, and explaining historical forces in relation to these themes dominates my teaching. Helping students understand the past in terms of institutions, structures, and worldviews is a key focus. This approach not only gives students the tools to think critically about the past, but will help them be able to think more incisively about the present and future. Students should see how their surroundings are shaped by these "invisible" forces and how historical change is a mix of short and long, structural and personal, causes.
The building blocks of historical thinking are primary sources, which I incorporate into teaching as much as possible. This includes texts, but also multimedia sources including images, music, and videos. In both small and large teaching settings, I try to remain flexible and open to the most effective practices and classroom activities to stimulate student engagement. In smaller settings, I rely on dynamic classroom organization (shifting in one class period from small groups of 3-4 to full section discussions), problem-based activities, and close reading of primary sources. In larger settings, I use traditional lectures combined with multimedia presentations and directed assignments to encourage collaboration and student accountability.
In 2016, I co-taught one of the University of Wisconsin-Madison History Department's first online (for credit) courses. Online teaching is now a permanent part of the landscape of higher education; addressing the medium's limitations and capitalizing on its strengths will require a lot of of effort and experimentation. As the slides below illustrate, the teaching team structured this course with three goals in mind: to facilitate personal student-teacher interaction, to encourage student collaboration, and to leverage the advantages of the digital medium, especially in terms of presenting material. The primary tools we used included Google Docs for writing assignments, message boards for a-synchronous discussions, Ultra video-conferencing for "virtual" office hours, and live study sessions conducted over Ultra.
We presented the course material in a variety of formats to gauge student reception. These included the native Canvas interface, CSCR (Case Study/Critical Reader), and Candela. We included dozens of PDF scans of scholarly material, video, audio, and image sources embedded in Canvas, and journal and newspaper articles accessible online. To accommodate student access and reduce costs, readings were entirely PDF or online based.
The teaching team's experiences with this course formed the basis for our venture into creating an open educational resource (OER) based on multimedia primary sources in U.S. foreign relations. We titled this project Voices & Visions to emphasize the multimedia dimensions that digital tools allow teachers to bring into the classroom.
The Canvas homepage allowed instructors to customize student orientation to the learning software and provide students with videos of their instructors.
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