The Process IS the Outcome

At the midpoint of the academic year, many minds on campus turn towards assessment. And as they do, many other minds turn towards complaining about assessment. In turn, the poor suffering souls who serve on university assessment committees sigh deeply, say goodbye to family and friends, and trudge down the road to martyrdom. At least, this is the way it usually goes, more so when you allow a group of academics the opportunity to kvetch about it; to hear us talk,you’d think that we’re being asked to eat puppies while listening to Ted Cruz sing power ballads. Continue reading “The Process IS the Outcome”

Higher Ed Reformism: The View from the SLACs

Hey, look! It’s another sloppy, vague op-ed on how to “fix” higher education. It must be a day ending in “y!”

POdBaboon

This time, it’s Steven Pearlstein, writing in the Washington Post to tell us how universities can do some “tough things…to rein in costs.” And the usual suspects are all here: administrative costs, “cheaper, better general education,” and–of course–getting those slacker faculty members to give up their summers off (HA), their esoteric research (HA HA), and light teaching loads (HA HA HA). Pearlstein’s essay is a mess, and it richly deserves the criticisms it’s already getting (Matt Reed’s Inside Higher Ed rebuttal is excellent). But lost amidst the admonitions to toughen up and work harder and cheaper is the same element that plagues so many of the lazy prescriptions recently on offer from various Dons who know exactly how to fix us: They do not know who we are.

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An Argument for Continental History

If you watch sports regularly, you’re probably familiar with the concept of “East Coast Bias.” Teams from places New York, Boston, and Washington, DC, can seem to dominate the coverage among sports media outlets, while West Coast teams, because their games are on so damn late for east-coasters, play second fiddle. The phenomenon was more pronounced before our internet-saturated age, back when we depended upon newspapers for the box scores and west coast games always finished after the papers went to press. But the bias lingers. This past season, ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball featured the Yankees and Red Sox approximately 6,325 times–which was odd, given that the old and overpaid Red Sox stunk on ice, the staid Yankees were where fun goes to die, and the games were a 4+ hour death march through innumerable pitching changes and play stoppages. Yet, we are told, ratings dictated the matchup. These two sports markets love their teams, which to the rest of us seems like an incredibly sad cry for help. Continue reading “An Argument for Continental History”

There Are No Independent Variables: Pedagogy and the Dismantling of Structures

When I took the research and methods seminar in my undergraduate History major, one of our texts was E.H. Carr’s What Is History?, a profoundly important and trenchant work, but also one I was nowhere near intellectually mature enough to appreciate. In subsequent years, I’ve circled back to Carr when I’ve taught my own methods and historiography seminars as well as in my own epistemological knocking around in the corners of our discipline. In addition to being a historiography geek of the highest order (I read it for fun, y’all!), I’m also drawn to the ways in which a deeper connection with historiography and, more essentially, the theory and philosophy of History, intersect with pedagogy and student learning. In this vein,Carr’s arguments have been on my mind lately, as I’ve been working on several projects that touch on historical issues that still echo urgently today. Carr’s book isn’t perfect, but as a gateway drug to thinking about history, the historian, and their deeply vital interconnections, it remains an essential read. History, for Carr, is “a continuous conversation between the historian and his [or her] facts, an unending dialogue between the past and the present” (p. 30). In other words, the stuff that happened in the past isn’t by itself history. History is when that stuff–which is promoted to the level of “historical facts” by the historian–gets processed and interpreted. The stuff that happened, yet didn’t make this cut, remains in the ephemeral realm of just plain old “facts.” A pithy example used by Carr nicely illustrates this distinction. Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon: THIS IS IMPORTANT. Julius Agricolus the small-time farmer crosses the Rubicon: who gives a shit? (I took some liberties with Carr’s phrasing.)

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Launching the Great Student-Blogging Experiment

At the beginning of the summer, as I settled into planning for this fall, I made the decision to jettison the traditional research paper assignment–which had heretofore served as a capstone project–from my upper-level History courses. If you’re interested in the thought process that led to that momentous decision, I blogged about it then. After a summer of planning, and a few weeks of implementation, I feel even more strongly than I did then that I made the right call. I’m convinced that replacing the 15-18 page, double-spaced, works-cited-appended, immaculately-cited-in-Turabian-style research paper with an ongoing, curated digital project will lead to better work from, and better learning by, my students. Continue reading “Launching the Great Student-Blogging Experiment”

Getting Medieval with Team-Based Learning

Last fall, I began teaching a section of my department’s Medieval World course, a prospect which made me equal parts nervous and excited, as I discussed here. I’m pleased to report two related developments. First, the class wasn’t a dumpster fire (Huzzah!). The student evaluations was overwhelmingly positive, the quality of work and discussion was significantly higher (and I’ve got rubrics to prove it!), and my D/F/W rate was a fraction of the average for 100-level courses. So the early returns look promising. Second, I’m now teaching the course every fall, at least for the foreseeable future. So I’m one week in to the second iteration of Gannon’s Medieval World History Extravaganza (come for the global focus, stay for the bad jokes!), and feel like I’m at a point where I can meaningfully reflect on the pedagogy I’ve used to make the course (at least thus far) a successful one. Continue reading “Getting Medieval with Team-Based Learning”