Monday, April 27, 2009

Lessons Learned

As the end of the semester approaches, contemplating the lessons students have learned is an easy one. Based on student performance throughout the semester, it's relatively easy to determine who is doing well and who thinks they still have all the time in the world and/or already know it all anyway. One student who called themselves stubborn has turned around her attitude; we'll see if performance follows. (Answering the question asked on an essay and/or exam is quite crucial here.)
Several students have worked hard to do well and to learn more. A few have atempted to game the system with varying results.

But what lessons has the professor learned? I've definitely had a truly "light bulb" moment regarding my control - or primarily my lack thereof - over whether or not students want to do well. I can provide them all the tools and assistance in the world short of doing it for them - and that's not doing them any favors in their pursuit of a college degree or in life in general. I've done better this semester at taking a step or two back and letting the chips fall where they may. I've been at this teaching thing since 1985 in some form or fashion (if we don't count playing school until 8th grade if that tells you anything). But, I fear I've discovered students only resent it if you try to help them more than they want it and/or feel they need it.

This is especially important given the sacred trinity of teaching, research, and service. I can better inform my teaching if I take more time to do research, including teaching-related research, and less time overwhelmed by the minutia that can quickly take over my day. Before I know it, all my best productive time is gone. I have done much better this academic year requiring students to use the CMS to correspond about class matters and only checking it once a course day. This is in contrast to feeling compelled to answer it as it comes in - which is obviously very much a misuse of time. It also keeps the email organized so that it's clear what course a student is referring to along with the context (ie related emails) being right there.

I've also balanced some department politics a bit better - primarily by not letting them intrude on my getting my job done. And at least one colleague who lives in a glass house and likes to throw stones had at least one lobbed right back. The biggest joy this year has been a new colleague whom has been everything I had hoped for and more both as a teacher and as a professional colleague. His being involved in tech and blogging (which is how I became aware of him despite our distinctly diverse topical areas of study) is an added plus.

As the semester is winding down, an even busier summer is winding up. As I've discussed before, TAH grants are wonderful things but they also ensure the summer flies by before I know it.

Now to get organized to get done what just has to be done by May 30:

Planning Teaching
Finish textbook ancillaries

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Student Evaluation Season

This quote from a recent Chronicle article says it best:

"They were killing me on my reviews," he told me. It wasn't that his courses were boring or irrelevant — they were just too hard. "So after a year or two, I started giving better grades," he said. "And what do you know? My scores went up."

So, do we focus on doing our jobs helping students learn for the long-term or focus on short-term likability factors (sometimes known as the path of least resistance)?

Labels: ,

Historians and YouTube

Larry Cebula did some exploring on YouTube and was a bit disappointed.

YouTube is like the rest of the internet - it takes some good search strategies (I'm still learning those!), some persistence, some tenacity, and some plain old luck. Your point about tagging is a good start and maybe even a project for students in a digital history class . . .

In teaching 20th century US history, I have found some amazing media material on YouTube. Jack Kerouac reading his work is only one example.

Short clips of various historical vents are also quite useful - especially when there is isn't time to have students of any age watch a 45-minute segment on a topic. In other words, the needles in the haystack are sometimes golden!

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Education Schools Need a Gold Standard"

James W. Fraser asserts in this Chronicle editorial that "Reform of teacher preparation is once again in the air". It only makes sense given the reform measures that are part of No Child Left Behind.

The challenge at the college and university level is a unique one. We have students who think they might want to be teachers but may not be sure. Yet, unlike some other majors in which you can't remain in and/or graduate from that major unless you can PERFORM well in the courses, students expect that if education is what they pick as a major or, as their "fall-back" option, they should be allowed to pursue and complete that major.

Our program has some very good students who care deeply about history and want to share that passion and knowledge with future generations. We have other students who have not done well pursuing other majors, or even began their college career as a history major, that think that "liking" history is enough to teach it. It is only the tip of the iceberg and I struggle with ways to convey that to them.

Having to pass the national Educational Testing Service's Praxis II 0081 Social Studies content test is not the best way to test potential teachers but, so far, it hasn't kept anyone out of the profession that should have been there. In fact, most students who don't pass it on the first try eventually admit that they did not study for it (despite our best suggestions).

How does this connect to the editorial? We need more examples of excellent models to which we should strive to raise the bar at all levels of teacher education. One of the reasons that society does not necessarily hold teachers to higher levels of respect is that so many lower level students opt for this particular major. This situation makes it extremely difficult for the majority of students who work their tails off to do a good job and to educate students.

I'm a former classroom teacher - junior high (even that term is now "historical") and high school for four years - before returning to school because my principal said students and parents complained I made them "write too much". It was a history class, after all. Just pick the best answer from the multiple choice. (The Language Arts (now Communication Arts) had a different outlook, however, given that my having them write meant that students wrote in other classes besides theirs.

The bottom line - we're feeling more pressure to keep enrollment up in these poor economic times. Yet how do I reconcile a student who resists (and sometimes belligerently) my advice that they need to pick another major? Like the PK-12 teachers, I'm eventually graded on their success even if they have trouble writing complete and coherent paragraphs before leaving college. I can't be the only "stop gap" but as long as public education makes it possible to "just keep rolling", we'll not have the solutions available that we need to offer those who work hard a better education and a better future.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Saving Updike's Disks

This Chronicle article examines the challenges faced in all of our human archives - what to do with all of the digital records of our existence. We're struggling with this on the ACERA committee on the federal record level but it impacts us down to teach individual. I kept a journal that was actually too detailed through my late teenage years but the record of my life for more than the last decade are the emails I've sent to my friend I met via H-Net online that have been authored in more than one email program. I've purposely stayed away from Outlook and Outlook Express because of the viruses. But I'm not sure anyone will ever be able to open my Pegasus Mail (if there is any one out there that would ever want to, that is . . . )

The article explores the work taking place at the University of Maryland's Institute for Technology in the Humanities. Furthermore, the author asserts how important for us to know how a particular individual did their writing since it's often no longer comparing and contrasting the rough drafts. With modern writers, how many ideas are on their first generation Blackberry we would already have trouble accessing? We keep records in so many different places, how will we reconcile and understand these multiple inputs?

On another front, I'm enjoying a crisp spring day before it rains on the Easter Bunny.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Future of Presidential Libraries

NARA seeks input into the development of alternative models for Presidential Libraries. Read the Request for Input here
and submit to:

As someone who has visited ALL of the presidential libraries operated by the National Archives and Records Administration and as someone who has conducted both graduate and post-graduate research in seven of these diverse institutions, I think it is important to explain how important location is to each of these institutions and to NARA as an entity.

When President Harry Truman worked within his presidential administration to provide for a presidential library system that would benefit not only himself but also his successors, he clearly envisioned a tangible explanation available for all American citizens to visit and explore. Knowing that not every citizen can afford to visit the nation's capital city even once in their lifetimes, this Missouri native knew that allowing presidents to choose locations throughout the United States for their presidential libraries would allow more citizens from all over the world access to these important components of our nation's heritage.

I disagree with the assertion that a 'central location' would be beneficial. Not only would we lose the character that Texas brings to the LBJ and Bush Presidential Libraries and the Boston metro area brings to the Kennedy Library, we would also lose the expertise that archivists focusing on one collection bring to the table. Their expertise is quite simply essential to not only finding the appropriate records for a particular research interest but in understanding them. While there is a place for supervisory archivists who manage much more diverse collections at the National Archives locations in DC and Maryland and the regional branches throughout the nation, we would lose a piece of our history if we changed our approach to the presidential libraries.

First, I applaud the possibility of asking the foundation to provide more funding for the initial building as well as past legislation to limit the size of future presidential libraries. Electronic records will make this much more feasible over the next few administrations. And, I know firsthand from seeing them myself and from talking to directors of presidential libraries that the presidential gifts collections are sometimes the most cumbersome and physically largest components to manage. It would be a common sense approach to allow the foundation to also oversee the "care and feeding" of these historical artifacts.

Second, presidential museums are often more than controversial, especially during their initial iteration and/or while the president is still alive, but they are an important component of understanding the man from Michigan or the man from Kansas who became president. Having said that, however, it would be a more suitable alternative to separate the museums from the presidential libraries than the move the entire presidential records component to Washington, DC.

Third, if the only option is to move the presidential records to a central location, I would highly encourage NARA to look at locating that 'central repository' in a cost-efficient and climate-controlled atmosphere location in the nation's heartland. The caves surrounding the Kansas City metro area (both Kansas and Missouri) provide numerous possibilities here. Furthermore, this location would be more accessible to more of the nation's citizens, whether they are researchers or just interested members of the public.

Teaching American History grants have provided funding to take teachers and undergraduate and graduate students to presidential libraries across the nation and they continually comment on better understanding "the man" who was president by actually seeing where he "came from". This importance of this tangible component of history needing "place" to actually occur cannot be overstated. Washington, DC, is a wonderful place but also not accessible and much more expensive than visiting the locations where most of the presidential libraries are now located.

As a member of the Advisory Committee to the Electronic Records Archives, I wholeheartedly support the most efficient ways to organize presidential records that are already primarily electronic but also ensuring that all of the nation's citizens have a "people" connection to those records. The digital world has drastically changed my entire life but people are still a key to understanding the world around us.

Finally, and most importantly, presidential libraries should be processed systematically and not primarily through FOIA requests as they are now. Imagine going into a collection of millions of records and having to look for the needles in the haystacks. It goes back to a basic rule of scientific management, handle any particular piece of paper (or electronic record) as little as possible rather than having to go through it several times to figure out whether or not it is relevant to a particular lawsuit. Why do specialized segments of American society get first access to the records? Instead, it should be left to the expertise of experienced archivists to complete the initial steps of the processing of these diverse presidential records before FOIA is allowed to be activated to get at what may be some of the more controversial records.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Kelly A. Woestman
H-Net President and
Professor of History and History Education Director
Pittsburg (KS) State University

Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 04, 2009

TAH Symposium

We had the 4th annual TAH Symposium co-sponsored by H-Net/H-TAH and the OAH in conjunction with the OAH annual meeting in Seattle last week. It went really well. Lots of audience interaction and Sam Wineburg gave a thought-provoking keynote address about how we have to prove to the federal government that we are not a failing program if we want the funding to continue.

We had teachers and curriculum directors talk about what teachers get AND what they contribute. We also had 3 faculty members talk about how the TAH grants have impacted what they are doing. We called that session "The Better Angels of our Nature" and tried to tackle the concept of continuing this interaction even after funding ends. Then, we had 3 people who did not begin life as evaluators talk about how central evaluation is to designing and implementing grants.

Amy at OAH again organized a great Dine Around and all that participated had a great time and great food!

Labels: , , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]