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H-Net and the Classroom: H-Teach

Sara Tucker, Editor H-Staff and H-Teach
Washburn University

Robert Wheeler, Editor H-Teach and Director, Center for Teaching Excellence
Cleveland State University

H-Teach and its Audience

Most of us take teaching very seriously and like to do it expertly. H-Teach is THE H-Net meeting place for all history teachers and concerned colleagues from associated disciplines. Redolent of a faculty lounge, H-Teach permits discussion of shared experiences and teaching problems. The posts are serious, helpful, and supportive. Since rank and other professional trappings are invisible over the Internet, ideas are valued not because of eminence of the poster, but because they improve classroom importance and help students learn better.

ISSUES RAISED

A. Classroom Practices

A recent discussion has raised plagiarism (especially when aided by a website full of student papers) as a continuing problem in the definition and requirements for student research papers. Another thread investigated the best way to integrate map testing into history courses. In the course of one discussion, list members were asked to post the guides they distribute to students about their grading standards; and to describe the activities they use to break the ice on the first day of class.

Often members will try new ideas out and report the results. The collective advice is especially useful for those early in their careers who confront teaching their own courses for the first time and need to benefit from the lode of experience H-Teach's members comprise. Thus vigorous discussions of various forms of testing succeeded not in discrediting any one approach, but rather in acquainting new instructors with the relative merits and disadvantages of each.

Members also seek or post advice on specific teaching resources: which texts, supplements, videos, novels, cd-roms and websites work well in what situations. H-Net and its various lists have collected the best of these suggestions and placed them on its website linked through H-Teach's homepage. Similarly, various "how to" handouts are also compiled, offering examples of well-tested grading checklists, plus directions on "how to" take class notes, study for exams, and write book review and research papers.

List discussants also study questions centering on graduate history education. Most recently, Post Modernism has been analyzed vigorously and intensively, clarifying for even the most skeptical list members why many of their colleagues see this very difficult approach as a crucial part of today's professional history training. Similarly, list members have contributed ideas on whether graduate foreign language requirements still make sense, and on the best ways to teach students historical methods.

B. Beyond Traditional Classroom Methods and Concerns

Since many practicing historians were trained as researchers but not as classroom teachers, some of our more practiced subscribers have introduced others of us to new forms of what is currently called active learning. We have learned not only the pedagogical basis of the approach but also classroom exercises and organization which further the technique. Our members tell us that they and their students have benefitted greatly from this thread.

Such new developments as the delivery of classes through distance learning are discussed both in the abstract and in practice. Topics covered included course content, ownership of intellectual property, and technical problems. Many commented that a number of new techniques of pedagogy are especially complicated by the professor's inability to be in the classroom with most of his students.

Also, since more non-traditional students are present today than in the past, history teachers have created new ways of helping them learn. Our discussions have been characterized by compassion focused on the practical difficulties facing students who work, have families, and have to balance other trying circumstances which intervene in their attempts to concentrate exclusively on course work. Similarly, list members have several times held long exchanges about both the legal and practical complexities of dealing with the special needs of disabled students.

Technical questions about both computer equipment and software are often best discussed on H-Net's specialized H-MMedia list, but H-Teach also posts a number of queries on the best ways to integrate multi-media, computers, and the Internet into courses. Recent threads have clarified how to create and monitor traffic for class email discussions and, then, how to grade the resulting contributions; how to obtain and produce class computer-based media resources; and how best to use the world wide web. Of course, since the posts are all archived and can be searched by keyword, a teacher can quickly find just the recommendations needed for any topic including technology.

In the near future, H-Teach list postings will be adding some new features. These will include book reviews and article abstracts which succinctly summarize the applicable content of the work and summarize its relevance to list members. Also, we will soon begin a series of website reviews, aimed at evaluating some of the most useful websites from the teaching point of view.

C. H-Teach Web Resources

With the revolutionary growth of the Web, H-Teach's editors are also committing increasing amounts of time towards building their own website, and towards making sure that it serves as a reliable starting point for available teaching resources everywhere, but especially those on the Internet. Thus we have available, or are developing, lists of commercial teaching resources providers (text and multi-media) and how to contact them (including electronically); connections to various specific H-Net lists' syllabus and course assignment collections; links to other sites which deal with pedagogical and practical aspects of distance learning, collaborative learning, etc; homepages of historians currently teaching Internet-based or Internet-enhanced courses; connections to other educational sites of interest to list members. H-Teach's website will act as an electronic bookshelf where anyone can learn or improve their knowledge about teaching from many perspectives. Ultimately, downloadable map, photo and video materials will be available.

D. The profession

Members confront a number of important professional issues they need to discuss--e.g., the conversion of the academic year from quarters to semesters, questions of faculty legal liabilities, merit pay, the effect of downsizing on higher education, and the like. Recent threads on the use and misuse of adjunct instructors received much attention. Here those from all sides of this vital issue explain their predicaments. At the least the discussion exposes the reality of life among the part-timers to many with more secure positions. At best it proposes solutions. On another front recent news of cutbacks in Ph.D. programs sparked a lively conversation about the size of graduate programs and about what responsible faculty should tell current and prospective graduate students about the likelihood of employment.

E. H-Teach in Perspective

Mark Kornbluh (now chair of H-Net's Executive Committee), H-Teach's founding editor, launched the list in August 1993, making it one of H-Net's oldest discussion lists. Its appeal was soon obvious: by 1994 it had 525 subscribers; as of July 1996, 1,260. Traffic is always brisk: even during North American summer and holiday lulls, hot topics generate numerous posts each day. Its current editors are committed to maintaining this tradition, while also working to build up a web presence of equal interest.

Sarah Tucker is in the Department of History at Washburn University, Topeka, KS 66621. zztuck@acc.wuacc.edu

Robert Wheeler is in the Department of History, Cleveland State University, 1983 East 24th Street, Cleveland, OH 44115. hteach@math3.math.csuohio.edu

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