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.

What is a module in Teaching Hidden History?

The module that students enrolled in Teaching Hidden History will create for their final project are based on modules that are currently part of an online professional development course for educators, Hidden in Plain Sight. Hidden in Plain Sight began four years ago with funding from the Virginia Department of Education with the goal of providing a high-quality online course that emphasized historical thinking. Teaching Hidden History, with funding from the 4-VA initiative, will expand on these goals. Students from Mason and Virginia Tech this summer will create their own “Hidden” module — select their own topic, conduct research, and upload their project onto the Teaching Hidden History course site.

The modules are designed to not only teach historical content, but also to make visible how historians approach evidence. Specifically these modules explore how objects — even everyday objects like a dishwasher or an old rusty nail — can be considered historical evidence and connect to important themes in history.

Module Components:

The Main Object: Each module begins with an object. Users are asked to consider the object carefully and form a order generic viagra online hypothesis about it might relate to a larger history. Teaching Hidden History students will select their topic and object by carefully considering how they fit together. Also important will be crafting a project with a reasonable scope to complete by the end of the course.

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Resources: Once the Hypothesis is submitted, the user views a series of 10-12 resources. Resources introduce students to a variety of primary sources that relate to the overall themes of each module. Maps, prints, posters, handbills, personal letters, songs, and diary entries model how larger historical narratives are constructed within the framework of the module’s content. Each resource also features narrative text – a brief paragraph explaining the source and how these sources relate to the overall topic. Students in Teaching Hidden History will be responsible for researching their topic using tertiary and secondary sources and finding the resources and writing the text to relate their history behind their object.

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Rethink: After viewing these resources and reading the narrative text, users are presented with the main object again along with their original hypothesis and asked to reflect on how the resources informed their understanding or changed their thinking in the Rethink section. The objective is to encourage thinking about thinking — how does our understanding or perception change when we encounter new evidence? For their module, Teaching Hidden History students will craft these questions with the goal of encouraging users to think about the how, not just the what of history.

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Connections Essay: Finally, a Connections Essay (300-500 words) provides an overview of the historical topic and how the main object relates to this history. Users can compare their own understanding of the topic with the expert researcher. On the same page as their essay, Teaching Hidden History students will upload a list of the secondary sources they used along with a brief annotation explaining the book or article’s historical argument.

Over the three years I’ve taught Hidden in Plain Sight, the course has received very positive feedback and it has been wonderful to work with teachers who are eager to explore history and historical thinking with their students. Our hope is that Teaching Hidden History will be similarly meaningful for students and I look forward to learning new things about how we can use technology to facilitate the teaching and learning of history.