Teaching History by Example
The University of Waterloo's Competency Portfolio Project emphasizes the need for students "to learn in ways that help them deal with a range of contexts, many, if not all, unique"
(Bowden and Marton, 1998) and be able to demonstrate that knowledge in
a variety of learning contexts. This means that faculty members need to
model desired competencies for students in their teaching. For history,
it is important that students learn - not just about the facts - but also about how historians really do history. In other words, we need to teach them about what it means to be a historian.
"...I go beyond simply articulating my learning goals for them..."
In my own practice, this has translated into a much more skills-based
approach to my teaching. This should not be taken to mean, however,
that I see history courses as being just about skill-building. I
believe that by helping students to see their own competence in history
they will be able to transfer their knowledge to other learning
contexts. In order to foster this change in students' behaviour I go
beyond simply articulating my learning goals for them in terms of the
competencies that they will develop in my courses to encouraging
(and, in fact, requiring) them to reflect on how they can use their
knowledge (both content and skills) in other learning contexts (in the
workplace, in their community and in other academic courses). You can
find examples of student reflections in methods that prompt thoughtful and responsible learning.
approach to teaching history, I believe, translates into a more
powerful learning experience because it encourages students to view
learning as a life-long experience, rather than just a course-based
experience. Below you will see the professional and discipline-specific
competencies that are part of teaching excellence in higher education.
Links to examples of how I model these competencies for my students are
is all about interpretation - multiple interpretations, in fact. This,
though, is often difficult for students to understand because the
history that they have been exposed to in textbooks suggests that
history is a linear narrative - that the "truth" is "out there" and
that it can be found. While this positivist notion of history is
outdated, it is typically how history is still taught in elementary and
secondary schools. Historians in the 21st century, however, view
knowledge as something that is constructed - that history is shaped by
the social context in which it is being remembered. This post-modern
view of history focuses on the notion of interpretation and that there
are multiple interpretations of the past - that there is no one "truth"
to be found. Interpreting history, and historical thinking is a skill
students need to practice. Students need to learn how to think
critically and analyze sources in order to interpret the past.
Similarly, they need to critically analyze existing interpretations in
order to understand how they contribute to our knowledge and
understanding of the past. This is hard work, though, and Sam Wineburg
has called this kind of thinking "unnatural." My courses, therefore,
combine a focus on "process" and "content" as I provide opportunities
for students to practice this skill initially in a supported way, but
eventually on their own. This ability to interpret the past or "do
history" can then be transferred to other contexts.
memory refers to the way in which the relationship between historical
events and their location in time and space influence the process of
historically remembering and recording those events. We can think of
representations of the past as being constructed by those remembering
events in the time in which they are remembered. While this process
affects those "who were there" it also affects historians'
interpretations of the past. How historical "truth" is constructed is
central to the notion of historical memory.
notion of historical lens refers to the way in which we view the past.
This is often connected to particular historical methodologies and
approaches such as feminism, post-modernism and Marxism. But it is also
connected to our own individual experiences and as historians, we must
be aware of how our own views of the world impact how we read and
interpret the past.
Discipline-Specific CompetenciesDemonstrate Content (Discipline) ExpertiseCritical Analysis (Thinking/Reading)Research SkillsPresentation Skills (Oral/Written)
Camp Cloe Case Story
In my work in educational technology, I have designed and implemented a
number of instructional design and technology workshops. Camp CLOE
brings representatives (instructional designers, faculty and students)
from Ontario universities and colleges to learn how to design learning
History Research Project
learning object was designed with Jane Forgay Liaison Librarian for
History, to help students learn how to effectively do history research.
MERLOT History Portal
am the Co-Editor of MERLOT History and we designed the History Portal
as a way to engage historians with the MERLOT collection in a way that
was meaningful to them.
My CV provides examples of my research in history as well as my research in the field of educational technology.