Teaching Hidden History Part II

The second iteration of Teaching Hidden History begins this summer with 10 graduate students from George Mason University and Old Dominion University. Anthony Pellegrino, professor at the College of Education and Nate Sleeter, graduate student in the history department will co-teach the course at Mason. Just as last year, each student will create an online history learning module that promotes iterative and reflective thinking. Each module will be based on a single historical source and will teach the history “hidden” behind that source.  Students will research the scholarship behind their topic, find eleven additional primary sources that will relate their history, write narrative text to put these sources in historical context, and craft questions to foster historical inquiry.  Students in this iteration will also explicitly study and reflect on the role of collaboration in hybrid learning. Students will also research copyright for all of their sources with the goal of publishing their modules publicly.

Student Reflection: Alison Hight on Reconceptualizing her Research to Create an Online Module

Alison Hight recently completed a master’s degree in history with a certificate in public history at Virginia Tech. Since then, she has spent two years teaching undergraduate courses in European history at Tech. Alison’s research focuses on the construction of cultural memory, heritage, and nationalism in modern Britain.

I was extremely happy to be part of the first iteration of the Teaching Hidden History course. I saw many values and benefits from both an academic and a broader professional perspective.

Academically, I may have been in a unique position when I began the class, as I had already finished a terminal master’s and had been teaching undergraduate classes for a year. Though most of the students in the class were in the midst of big projects in their respective programs, I had already gone through the entire research process and had completed a master’s thesis. For me, though, this is what ended up giving the class so much value as I was able to build on my MA research and consolidate the sources and ideas that go along with that. In developing my module, I then was able to focus fully on the actual presentation of my research and how to effectively develop a succinct, yet engaging narrative. Constructing that narrative around objects made the process that much more challenging. So for me, this class really helped me process and consolidate my research and then essentially convert it into an accessible story. While I realize the class is geared around teaching history, I found it to be an exercise in public history more broadly, as the project seemed to blur the lines between classroom and exhibit.

Even more broadly, I found the collaborative nature of the class especially fascinating. So often in the academic world (and I suspect, even beyond), we become pigeonholed in our respective departments and universities, and become used to the particular people and ideas within them. The collaborative aspect of this course meant that those perspectives were automatically broadened. I really enjoyed interacting with students and faculty at another institution, and becoming exposed to the different ways they approached research and teaching. Plus, the topics of the projects the students at Mason did were vastly different from those of my VT colleagues, so it was great being the intellectual beneficiary of topics I didn’t otherwise have a lot of exposure to. Moreover, I personally benefitted from the virtual collaboration because I happened to be in DC for one of the class weeks and was able to go to the Mason meeting and not miss anything, which was convenient.

Overall, I really enjoyed the course, and hope it continues to be offered, perhaps collaborating with even more schools. The benefits it had for my research, public history skills, and broader professional networking made it an exciting and innovative opportunity.

THH On the Road Again

In the last month, we brought the news of Teaching Hidden History to a wider audience with presentations at two conferences: the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy at Virginia Tech and a conference entitled Crossroads: The Future of Graduate History Education at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

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Presenting at the Higher Education Pedagogy conference at Virginia Tech.

At the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy in February, Kelly and I had the opportunity to present with (and finally meet in person) our collaborators from Virginia Tech, Dr. Mark Barrow and Regan Shelton as well as two Virginia Tech students, Faith and Alison, who took the course last summer. Our session provided the opportunity to talk about the collaboration across campuses and share some lessons learned. Alison and Faith also presented their excellent projects from the course. Alison’s module connected a Scottish tartan to the nineteenth-century origins of Scottish nationalism, and Faith’s explored the interactions between U.S. women missionaries and Korean women. The two students also shared what they learned from the process of creating a module — both commenting that the challenge of presenting their research in this form made them consider these topics in new ways.

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On March 12, I got the chance to attend Crossroads, a conference that focused on the future of graduate history education. Part of a panel called “Delving into the Digital,” I presented an overview of the course and some lessons learned especially as they related to the theme of the conference. My presentation emphasized the skills that Teaching Hidden History taught students, skills that history graduate students will need as they look to enter the workforce. The modules that students in the course created were a manageable project for a course, and a practical way to learn these skills. By creating online history modules, students had to learn how to teach with digital tools and how to think critically about audience — skills that will only become more important for graduate history students to acquire. Finally, I discussed the central role of collaboration to entire process, and how practicing and reflecting on collaboration gives grad students yet another skill for the future. The panel was very well-attended and featured a great discussion around using technology to engage with audiences beyond the history classroom.

Both these conferences were excellent opportunities to discuss Teaching Hidden History, talk about the positive results of our collaboration and the 4-VA initiative, and compare notes with scholars and educators from across the country about innovative ways to teach digital skills, historical thinking, and pedagogy.

Teaching Hidden History at the AHA

On January 8, Celeste Sharpe and I had the wonderful opportunity to present a poster on Teaching Hidden History at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta.  The session was well-attended overall, and it was especially gratifying to talk with a variety of people interested in creating digital projects that emphasize pedagogy in higher education.

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Celeste Sharpe and Nate Sleeter at the 2016 AHA Annual Meeting to present a poster on Teaching Hidden History.

Our poster included an overview of the project, including the role of the 4VA initiative in providing a chance to collaborate with Virginia Tech.  We also featured an interactive component, encouraging visitors to submit their “hypothesis” on how of a series of objects might be used in teaching and then a chance to “rethink” their hypothesis after they had reviewed the poster.  We also included two slideshow presentations available to view on laptops. One displayed the THH students’ final projects and the other presented the backend of the THH website to demonstrate how students constructed their learning modules.

We also answered several questions from attendees who were interested in the 4VA initiative and how it supports collaboration among public universities in Virginia. Overall the poster session was an excellent chance to highlight the potential for collaboration across institutions and demonstrate how web-based, “real world” projects can support student learning and reinforce best practices for teaching and learning.

Nate Sleeter talks with an attendee about the THH project.
Nate Sleeter discusses the learning modules created by students in the Teaching Hidden History course with a conference attendee.

THH: Off and running

The Teaching Hidden History pilot course began on May 26 and in less than two weeks the first group of students will present their modules to the class.  Both in person and online we’ve had great discussions about what goes into an effective module — what kinds of objects can be best used to tell a “hidden” history, how we can model historical interpretation and even historiography through online modules, and how these specific questions lead to larger issues at stake when teaching, history, and technology intersect.  The projects themselves show an impressive range. We have modules from the Revolutionary War all the way up to the twentieth century.  While most the projects deal with U.S. history, we also have global approaches including one that examines the origins of Scottish nationalism through the embrace of the tartan as national symbol and another that explores the connections made between Korean women and American female missionaries.  The students are also considering a wide range of audiences for the project — while some are addressing college undergrads or upper-level secondary students, others are considering a more general public audience who might visit a museum or a historic site.  Since the original Hidden in Plain Sight was created for K-12 teacher professional development, this exploration of new audiences for these modules brings up interesting possibilities. One theme the class has discussed in depth is how to make historical interpretation visible to students as well as to visitors to sites of public history.  What these modules attempt to do is make the work of the historian more visible, to show that the past is being actively interpreted rather than consisting simply of the passive gathering of historical facts.  Given this goal, as one student remarked the main object around which each module is based “has to do a lot of work”. This is a challenge that the Teaching Hidden History students have embraced and the instructors are greatly looking forward to how the projects turn out and what reflections the students have on the entire process.