Teaching in Higher Education Competency Portfolio (History)

Tracy Penny Light, Ph.D.

Department of History /Office of AVP-LRI

University of Waterloo

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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.

My 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 provided.

History (Interpretation)

History 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.

Historical Memory

Historical 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.

Historical Lens

The 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 Competencies

  • Demonstrate Content (Discipline) Expertise
  • Critical Analysis (Thinking/Reading)
  • Research Skills
  • Presentation 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 objects.

    History Research Project
    This learning object was designed with Jane Forgay Liaison Librarian for History, to help students learn how to effectively do history research.

    MERLOT History Portal
    I 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.

    Curriculum Vitae
    My CV provides examples of my research in history as well as my research in the field of educational technology.

    Domain Competencies for Teaching in Higher Education - History (Chickering and Gamson, 1991; Ramsden, 2003; Saroyan and Amundsen, 2004; Shulman, 1986)

  • Demonstrate an Ability to Transform Content Knowledge into Instruction
  • Use Teaching Methods that Prompt Thoughful and Responsible Learning
  • Share your Passion (through Interest and Explanation) of the Discipline with Students
  • Encourage Respectful Student/Faculty Contact
  • Engage with Students at their Level
  • Promote Cooperation/Collaboration among Students
  • Promote Active Learning
  • Provide Prompt and High Quality Feedback
  • Emphasize Time on Task
  • Model Effective Presentation Skills
  • Communitcate High Expectations
  • Respect Diversity

  • This electronic portfolio was created using the KML Snapshot Tool™, a part of the KEEP Toolkit™,
    developed at the Knowledge Media Lab of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
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