Last year, as some of you may remember, I taught Pennsylvania History for the first time.
At Messiah College, the Pennsylvania History course attracts a cross-section of students–history majors, public history students, and non-history majors seeking a “pluralism” general education credit. Part of the course employs the so-called “coverage” model. In other words, we “cover” a significant swath of Pennsylvania history from William Penn to the present. The other part of the course is skills based. Students learn how to do an oral history, they gain experience in doing local history, and they make contributions to our Digital Harrisburg Initiative.
Last year I was very excited to get the students engaged in “active learning,” or, as we historians call it, the “doing” of history. Unfortunately, not all of the students in the class had the same level of excitement. While some students participated enthusiastically in an oral history project and a digital exhibit using Omeka software, other students preferred to consume their history by listening to me lecture. My student evaluations were fine, but several students wanted me to know that they did not appreciate the “skills” dimension of the course.
I am teaching Pennsylvania History again this semester. Students will still be “doing history.” I kept the oral history assignment. I dropped the Omeka assignment and added a couple of local history assignments that will require students to explore historical records related to Harrisburg.
As I think about how to get my students connected to the more “active” dimensions of this course, I found David Gooblar’s piece at Vitae to be very helpful. Here is a taste of “Why Students Resist Active Learning“: