Now that the first offering of Teaching Hidden History has finished, it’s time for me to reflect on the pilot course and think about two of the biggest lessons learned.
The value of open communication
This was invaluable on several fronts. First, on the instructional side, coordinating between two campuses and five instructors is no small feat, but open and frequent communication (email and Skype primarily) was key. We all wanted to be on the same page every step of the way, and so there was constant effort to keep lines of communication open and to check-in with each other frequently . On a week by week basis, we divided the instruction based on each instructor’s strengths and experience. Nate, Regan, and I went through each final project together, assessing them based on the rubric, talking through each component of each student project, and the progress we saw each student make over the course.
We tried to fold this into the class environment from the start by talking about how this course was new and an experiment in hybrid, collaborative history courses. The technology aspect was something we addressed early on, too. The 4VA telepresence rooms were quite different from the small classrooms typical of most graduate level seminars, and the final project was a digital history education module. To set the tone, we told students that we were all in this experience together, that teaching and learning with technology was inevitably going to run up against some technical hurdles but that we could all clear them together. And, by and large, I think we succeeded. By being honest with students and responding quickly to issues when there were technical difficulties, we avoided a good amount of student frustration along the way. Maintaining frequent and open communication isn’t easy, but I think it was the glue that kept everything together and well worth the effort.
The value of process
Teaching Hidden History was a course that we had the rare opportunity to take from idea to pilot over about a year’s time. It was a great learning experience for me to have the time and space to develop the course with Kelly and Nate, and later Regan and Mark, at this stage of my own education and program. Putting readings, discussion, and pedagogical frameworks into practice with students is a whole level up from crafting a syllabus for a hypothetical future class. From the beginning, we wanted the course to focus on the process/practice of historical thinking, on reflection and iteration rather than pushing out a standard research product. That led to some challenging questions: how do we breakout the final project over 8 weeks, and allow for self-reflection along the way? How do we model the collaborative and cooperative work of digital history? How do we assess process and development?
The compressed 8 week time span was a challenge–I think we all had ideas about what more we could do with a few more weeks. The final project presentations, though, were the most illuminating for me in encapsulating the work each student had done over the course. What stuck out most to me were the reflections on choices made: where to trim, where to focus, and how to frame the topics for their particular audience.
Like any good project, the course opened up more questions about how these lessons learned can be carried forward into future iterations of this and other classes. It’s a good place to be in, and I look forward to our continuing reflections and work on this.