pedagogy

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    Online research projects

    I wanted to share some work from our graduating seniors that showcases alternatives to the traditional research paper.  

    First of all, I am not suggesting that we do away with research papers.  I love the essay form, and love to write it and to teach it.  But over two decades of teaching how to write research papers, I have come to realize that even among our advanced majors many are just not as interested in this genre of writing as I am, and will never write another one after they have finished their capstone course.  So in many of my courses I am developing alternatives, which still involve research and writing but lead to different outcomes.  

    In one sense my efforts have totally backfired: in every case where I have offered alternatives, the students who choose them are the very ones who least need alternatives.  These are students who have already had experience writing research papers in other classes and are eager for new challenges.  I'm not sure how to adjust to this yet and would be interested in your comments.

    But on to the fun part.  I'd like to share two projects.  The first is Karen Lue's online exhibition on the Chinese Nationality Room, which is the first senior honors project ever done in our department that is not a research paper.  Karen went above and beyond and also created a virtual catalog for the exhibition, which is in effect a research paper.  But the intellectual process for her took a different form because she had to go back and forth between her research findings, on the one hand, and figuring out how to turn those findings into a compelling narrative told through visual materials.  The demands of the exhibition format actually made her think differently about the research, which I found really interesting.  The result was that she was able to tell several different, but interwoven stories, in the form of exhibition rooms -- the story of Chinese exclusion in the U.S., of the Pittsburgh Chinese community, of the Chinese nationalist government and its student ambassadors, etc.  In a research paper format some of these stories might have been relegated to "background" or "context" while in the exhibition the figure-ground relationship changes and the stories hold their own weight.  (Again, just to be clear -- I'm not knocking reseach papers.  There are ways to deal with the problem of "context" in a paper, but the exhibition format, because it is a different practice, forces you to think differently.)  Anyway, Karen is still tweaking it a bit but you can see for yourself:

    http://chinese-transnational-room.weebly.com

    The other project I want to highlight is a collaborative project from my Dark Tourism research course by Kaley Kirkpatrick, Liyi Chen, and Jacob Craig.  They all worked together on the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, each studying it from the vantage point of a different type of visitor -- children, international tourists, and local residents.  After they got started we did a class session on ways in which sites of genocide or oppression have been used to try to promote healing and reconcilation.  I threw out a provocation, which was to think about how the Flight 93 Memorial could be turned into a place of reconciliation.  I assumed that the class would react viscerally to this idea as either absurd or offensive.  Much to my surprise the Flight 93 group decided to take it seriously.  They found an interactive online tool called Nearpod used primarily in secondary school education, and designed a session to explore the idea of reconcilation at the site.  Their design presupposes a mediator, someone who goes through the presentation with you in a group setting like a class -- and that is the way we experienced it when we saw their presention in the class.  They wanted to see how this tool would work as a new, more two-way model of interpretation.  As we were going through it in class, it struck me as a potentially very powerful teaching tool, and one that could be used synchronically with audiences in multiple locations who could get into an online dialogue together.

    https://app.nearpod.com/#/?pin=276D7F768259C003424DD60199DD682E-0

     

     

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
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    Colloquium on Methods course

    On March 18, Shirin and I introduced our thoughts for the Methods course we are planning to teach this fall and opened up a lively conversation about object-based inquiry vs historiorgraphically based inquiry. Thanks to Annika for these detailed notes of the conversation, which are attached.

    Please feel free to join the conversation here and add your own responses and suggestions.

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
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    Teaching portfolios: the good, the bad, and the ugly

    We will be holding a colloquium on this topic on Wed Nov 12 at noon.  In preparation I am posting here a PDF containing some responses to questions I asked of three recent PhDs in HAA who got placed on the job market.  This is not a systematic survey by any means but a starting point for discussion.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Graduate Work
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    MLA Report on Doctoral Education in the Humanities

    I attended an interesting dicussion today on the (controversial) MLA report advocating significant structural changes in humanities PhD programs.  Don Bialostosky, chair of English, moderated, and the two featured speakers were Dennis Looney (now working for MLA) and John Stevenson (Grad Dean, Univ Colorado Boulder).

    The report argues in fairly blunt language that the academic job market stinks and will never recover to its pre-crash levels, that  9 years to complete the PhD is way too long, that PhD programs have to move away from the model of "replication" (training students exclusively as research professors) to a model of "transformation" for a variety of careers, that the dissertation itself should be reimagined as more than just a proto-print book, and that single-author books should no longer be made the standard for hiring and promotion.  Many of the changes advocated in the report (incorporating collaborative research and teaching into grad programs, emphasizing public engagement, revising traditional area coverage curricula) are precisely what HAA's constellations aspire to do.  I was therefore surprised to hear that the report, released in Feb., had come under strong attack from several quarters.

    I've attached my notes in PDF form but here are a few of the issues I found most interesting and perplexing in the discussion:

    Reducing time to degree may be laudable, one person argued, but the reality of the job market now is that the most successful students are taking years of pre-docs and post-docs, dragging out the time they spend before they hit the job market so that they can beef up their cv's with publications and even a book contract.  How is someone who steamrolls to a PhD in 5 years supposed to compete with them?  I do know of many people who have used external pre-docs for this purpose, not to speed their degree but actually to lengthen it so they can work on articles and other projects.  Postdocs do something similar on the other side of the degree.  In other words, the incentive structure works against the goal it is supposed to be supporting.

    Similarly, the incentive structure in research universities works against many of the report's recommendations.  Scholars in the humanities who are doing the new sort of work that the report advocates, geared toward collaboration and public engagement, tend to land in nontenured jobs if at all.  Value is still defined by the single-authored monograph.

    Dave Bartholome of the English Dept made the interesting point that the problem of the "contingent" work force in academia is a direct result of the reduction of teaching loads for tenure-stream research faculty.  At Pitt teaching loads for tenure-stream faculty way back when used to be 4-4 for everyone and were reduced first to 3-3, then to 2-2, to make increasing time for research production.  His point is that we lack credibility if we lament the rise of the contigent work force when that work force arose to subsidize our own research time.

    The MLA report is available here: http://www.mla.org/pdf/taskforcedocstudy2014.pdf

     

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Graduate Work
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    Reading chart

    I took the idea of creating a reading chart exercise from an essay on team-based learning at arthistoryteachingresources.org.  I assigned the first three chapters of Assmann's Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt, an accessible but challenging text, for my 1010 course.  I created the chart (attached) and asked them all to fill it out and bring two copies to class.  The class broke into three groups and discussed their charts in the groups, each one facilitated by an undergrad TA (who had also filled out the chart).  I created a "script" for the TAs to lead discussion through the charts.

    The basic idea of the chart was to have them extract two key points from each chapter and then to find an example (of a practice or an object in the contemporary world) to which they could connect one or both of the key points.  So the goal was to help them extract useful insights from the reading and apply those insights to actual examples from a different time and place.

    After giving them time to get started without me, I came back into the classroom and circulated among the groups.  Overall I was happy with the quality of the discussion.  Certainly they were focused, much more so than in a free-floating discussion.  They had all read the text and were very engaged with it.  Asking them to apply the reading to examples of their own choosing also really got them focused.

    One surprise, and slight disappointment, was that their key points were very similar to each other's, as if they had all gone for the most readily understandable points.  By contrast their examples were more diverse.  If I were to tweak the exercise I might ask them to choose for their second key point something that was interesting but not entirely clear to them.  

    I see this technique as very promising.  The chart prompts a more searching, purpose-driven reading of the text.  Discussion in class builds easily on the preparation done before class.  A learning process seems to be set in motion.  It is time-consuming though.  This exercise took an entire class period of one hour and fifteen minutes.  But learning is time-consuming.  My own conviction is that if we are going to assign meaningful and challenging texts, we need to give the students the tools and time to really learn something from those texts.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Undergraduate Work
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    Blog: Experiments in Art History

    That past two days I spent geeking out with folks from universities, research institutes, labs, The Getty, art e-commerce ventures, and other misfits. It was amazing. Among other things, I discovered this fun blog, Experiments in Art History, which deals with teaching with digital tools. It was inspired by a previous THATCamp. Read on (warning: medieval reenactment!).

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge