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H-Net Teaching and Technology Essays
Series Editor - Steven Mintz

H-Net is commissioning a series of essays on teaching and technology.


RE: An Inquiry Approach to Teaching U.S. History
By Dawn Riggs, San Diego State University

As a colleague who struggles to make the best use of the "abundance" factor provided by the web, it is refreshing and encouraging to be able to share ideas and observations with others of like mind. I am a full time lecturer at San Diego State University (currently on the 2003 job market) and I usually teach US Survey to Reconstruction as a lower division course and also as a specialty for students on a Teacher Ed track. I abandoned textbooks some time ago, frustrated by the very issues McClymer voiced. My teaching philosophy is to allow students to be the historians, and to take their learning experience into their own hands by "doing history."

That said, I have used my own interactive website, made use of many other websites, used film, power points, etc. Students have gone "into the field" to do history including cemetery projects, oral history projects, created teaching modules, etc. Every semester I struggle to find new ways or revamp projects to produce the best results possible. In the end I believe that my methods and philosophy have had an impact on students and how they think about history. My teaching evaluations are strong, students often tell me I've changed the way they thing about the subject and share horror stories of history classes past.

But there is one major drawback: How do I know that it has an impact? Where is my data? How can I legitimately argue that what I'm doing is better than the passive lecture model that I endured (and I do mean endured)? What we must include in this discussion is an active plan to create assessment models. If the work that many of us do is to have large scale impact on how we teach history and the value of this new approach, then we need to produce scholarship that helps our colleagues to assess the impact of their innovations. How often must our profession be bombarded by politically motivated attacks that claim to assess the value of what we teach in our history classes? These attacks are often based on assessments that value a recitation of details and not any depth of understanding or comprehension of our discipline's scholarship. If we are to counter these attacks then we must have the evidence necessary to do so. And we do not.

So, what is my wish list?

1. I would ask that departments who have faculty who are committed to using these resources be given as much access as possible to the resources. As a lecturer (the problems associated with this should be
obvious) I never know if and when I will have a "smart" classroom.

2. I would wish that I could participate in a workshop, forum, institute, etc. that has as its goal this very task. There is an "abundance" of scholarship on assessment. We (historians) do not have to reinvent the wheel, but we do need to refashion it to serve our discipline appropriately. As a lecturer who teaches five classes of
40+ students per semester I do not have the rank or time to seek out
the funding to support such a proposal. When I do have a tenure track position, I will. Right now I would relish such a collaboration.

3. Finally I would like to see the results of this scholarship applied as widely as possible so that the next wave of political finger-pointing at our profession could be met with with real evidence that supports our disciplines changing philosophy on teaching history. At this point all we can do is editorialize in response. We need to prove to the critics that students of history benefit so much more from our inquiry based approach than the "just the facts" philosophy.

Thanks for the opportunity to participate.

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