To Smarthistory in the Large-Lecture Humanities Class

I’ve posted about how I see my work with Smarthistory as an act of doing public art history, and how the process of working collaboratively for smarthistory has encouraged me to rethink how I teach and how I research (and publish). Well, I am always looking for ways to transform my large-lecture humanities class of more than 200 students. The class has become an obsession. I just can’t seem to be satisfied no matter how many iterations of the class I teach. What causes this dissatisfaction? A few things actually. (1) The number of students. I love to teach, and I love to have students actively engaged in activities. A class of 200+ students makes this challenging, but not impossible. Yet most of these students are freshmen and they are expecting small, intimate classes. Plus, the class is a GE class. Needless to say, most walk in on day one with clearly formed assumptions about the class. (2) The work load. I’ll just provide one statistic. In Spring 2017 I had over 3,000 emails from students in this class. Enough said. (3) The material. A humanities survey by its nature covers an immense amount of material: history, philosophy, art history, theater, music, and more. This specific class covers all this from approximately 30,000 BC to AD 1300. I get anxious every time I think about this, so I can imagine how students must feel.

These are the top three aspects of the course that can make it unwieldy and overwhelming. They are the reason I transform the class, or at least aspects of it, every. single. semester. This requires an immense amount of time to rethink aspects of it, but I can’t help myself. I love to teach, and I want students to enjoy the class. I want rigor, but I want interest. I want them to leave the class and know they can do something with what they’ve learned.

In this second maternity leave, I’ve had time to think (again!) about how to change this class. A pedagogy grant application has encouraged me to think big about what I can do. And I have some ideas. One is to make the class a team-based learning class. I plan to do this for Fall 2018. The idea I want to sketch out briefly here is how I plan to smarthistory in the classroom come Fall 2018.

I am abandoning the textbook. It has been a long time coming. In its place, I will have carefully selected readings, largely primary sources, and short videos or podcastst. I plan to make the videos and podcasts over the next 6-8 months. They will be based on the smarthistory model. I will meet with colleagues to walk through a primary source, to discuss why the Carolingians matter, to address how I (or someone else) begins a research project, or how to make connections between literature and art. They will be conversations. They will be collaborative. They will provide different opinions and models. They will be colorful (or so I hope). They will be different.

They will also take a lot of time, but I think they have the potential to shake up my classroom. In lieu of coverage, the videos/podcasts will highlight the major points I want students to take-away before they come to class and apply these ideas.

I am excited, and for this reason I will have a series of blogposts that are basically me processing how to do this come Fall 2018. Here’s to change!


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