Class summary: thoughts on Calder

Well, this class is finished and I am not certain what the students might takeaway from it. I can imagine that they have developed good analytical habits, and some of them might indeed employ then in constructing a good argument. But I’ll never know. Years ago the museum guy John Falk talked about “will have learned” moments, when you take something in, but don’t realize it until much later (making that value difficult to capture in post-experience surveys), when it occurs to you that you “have learned” a thing after all. I will not know that they’ve learned anything until they make a good assessment or argument sometime later in their lives. I’d like to think that in a subsequent history class they will be so much better equipped to write reviews and essays. But let’s face it—these were not history majors and all took this class as a requirement—none of them are going to have a history class ever again.

Also, I hope they learned a little something about world history in the first half of the Twentieth Century. (I had an assessment on that, but don’t need to discuss it here.)

Their final assignments were good. I gave them the evolution document I gave in the first week, and told them to analyze it. This time, I instructed them to analyze it using the questioning, connecting, sourcing, and inferencing tools they have worked on this semester. And I had them chose a primary document from the semester to analyze it alongside (so they could make connections, etc.) Most of them chose James Orr’s Fundamentalist pamphlet “Science and the Christian Faith,” which seems like the natural, if unimaginative, one to go with.

The problem is that they didn’t do any of that. Granted, they did not do what they did in the first week and handled the documents in a perfectly detached manner. But they did not question, connect, source, or infer. They simply compared and contrasted: essentially, “Kurfees said this, Orr said that. The end.” This makes me worried that the habit-formation did not take.

 

This was my first fully online class and I think it went well enough for an online class. But I am not happy with this form. So many times I needed to intervene immediately in a student’s thinking process in a way that would help the entire class. The pace and timing of that intervention online makes the whole idea pointless. No one picks up on what is going on. That needs to happen right in the classroom, where everyone can see and where extemporaneous discussion can reinforce and expand on the initial intervention. So count me among those who believe that teaching is truly effective in an intimate, hands-on, in-person environment, and less effective online.

Also, Google+, as a platform for face-to-face video conferences, is terrible. Terrible. I don’t know why, but … well, it’s technical stuff that I don’t understand, but it just wasn’t working. Next time, I am using Skype (which worked fine when G+ failed.)

 

As for my own takeaways on the Calderite structure of this class…here are a few things.

Despite my ambivalent feeling about the results, I am more convinced than ever that snapping students’ intellectual and cognitive approach to history into place is a necessary first step to any history education. Not until they get it should they be permitted to go on to other methodological and interpretive steps in the process of history education. More on this in another post.

Calder’s instructions for the workshop assignments, that I copied into my syllabus, if delivered alone and online, are entirely confusing to the students. They don’t really understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. (They are so habituated to essay-writing that the concept of turning in something other than an essay, is, well, inconceivable.) This might be alleviated by in-person instruction. It also might be alleviated by better instructions from the professor. To this end, for the class I am now teaching (Spring semester, same class), I am issuing weekly tutorials on what is expected, and why, from the assignments.

Indeed, I did not have a very holistic view of where Calder was going with the “cognitive moves” when we started. But I get it now, and can thus better explain the individual parts of the process.

I only used part of Calder’s uncoverage formula. (I did not, for instance, do the Zinn/Johnson comparison, because I do not like that approach.) To get at narrating and interpreting I assigned prompt questions for a discussion forum posts. As you know, that did not work at all. I am completely reworking my expectations for discussion forum posts and better integrating into my instructions the disciplinary expectations for the work produced there. I am also working the “5 Cs of historical thinking” closer to the center of what they do. I really like the “5 Cs” as a set of basic disciplinary rules that they need to know at the beginning of their careers as historians.

Anyhow, all these changes have been made in the current version of this class I am presently teaching. Yes, I’m doing it again. This time it is a full 16 week course so they’re getting more reading, but each unit is stretched out over two weeks, and they’re getting two new units on African anti-colonialism and the Pacific War. The first week (their initial approach to the Kurfees document) went about as disastrously as the last time. (If this state ever produces another competent evolutionary biologist, I’d be surprised.) But with the revisions in place, the initial work on the first workshop assignment has been so much better.

Next week is when they combine Kanzo with Kanto. I told them that they will receive a Big Zero if they claim that the Japanese massacred Koreans because they had not embraced Christianity.

We’ll see how that goes, but I am not going to detail this class here like I did the Winter session version. Lucky you.  

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