Student Achievement Assessment Committee
During the 2003-2004 academic year, the History Department began to implement last year’s initiatives, including 1) encouraging faculty to use the course syllabus template to make syllabi more comprehensive and consistent; 2) administering its new student evaluation form; and 3) attending to our new learning objectives. The History Department underwent its first “Program Review” during the 2003-2004 academic year. As part of our Program Review Self Study and in response to earlier assessment reports, we conducted a review of—and drafted guidelines for—our research seminar, History 480, and have begun a systematic (seven-year) review of the curriculum.
Departmental Response to 2002-2003 Assessment
1. Proposed Guidelines for History 480
In response to ongoing problems with the research seminar, Ed Danziger and Leigh Ann Wheeler, co-chairs of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (UCC), distributed special student evaluation forms to 480 students and assessed a sampling of 480 research papers. [See Appendix A] We discovered that expectations for these research papers varies widely and decided that clarifying the purpose of the course would help us accomplish a number of goals:
a. Coordinate the many new faculty members who have joined the ranks of 480 instructors in the past few years
b. Coordinate our curriculum with our revised learning outcomes and new student evaluation forms
c. Prepare students more thoughtfully for careers in teaching, public history, law, business, etc.
d. Advance the curriculum review schedule laid out in our Program Review Self Study
e. Respond constructively to the program weaknesses identified in our Annual Assessment reports
f. Serve our students who have requested this, not only informally but also on the special evaluation forms we distributed
To clarify the purpose of the course, we developed a set of “Proposed Guidelines for History 480,” and revised them in a series of discussions with the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, the Executive Committee, 480 instructors, Nancy Patterson (our liaison with the College of Education), and the Department as a whole. [See Appendix B]
2. Experimental, Discussion-Based Courses
These courses were developed as part of an initiative funded by a Success-Challenge grant submitted by Rachel Buff and Rob Buffington. Buff and Buffington designed intro-level classes that focused on skills and themes (more than content and chronology) and used discussion (rather than lecture) as the primary mode of instruction; they then mentored several graduate students instructors—all taught the same syllabus to classes of 35 undergraduate students, meeting regularly to plan classes and share ideas. The History department found these courses very effective, if costly. Efforts to use History 694 A & B: History Workshop, taught by Rob Buffington and Scott Martin, to train graduate student instructors to teach at the college level did not substitute for the direct mentoring experience of the original “Experimental, Discussion-Based Courses.” As a result, this model will be revived in Fall 2004. Leigh Ann Wheeler will mentor three graduate students (Sheila Jones, Seneca Vaught, and Jennifer Potocnak) who will teach discussion courses based on her syllabus for History 205V, “Early America: Thinking Critically About Values in History.”
New and Ongoing Assessment Activities
The department continues to evaluate papers written for the History Research Seminar, History 480. As noted above, a sampling of those papers for 2003-2004 indicates inconsistencies in instructors’ expectations, especially regarding library research, historical argumentation, use of primary sources, proper citation, and, generally, the nature of the final product.
Summary of Review of 480 Papers Compared to Department Learning Outcomes:
1. Most projects dealt with historical development in their own or other cultures.
2. Fewer than half of the projects demonstrated an ability to think about the past historically by identifying and critiquing historical interpretations and analyzing issues in historical context.
3. Less than one-half of the papers satisfactorily demonstrated an ability to select and use evidence from a variety of appropriate sources, including primary sources. Most, however, did not make an argument deriving from primary sources, but instead wrote “reports” that used primary sources as illustrative or anecdotal material.
4. More than half of the papers demonstrated an ability to communicate clearly, if not always persuasively.
5. Fewer than half of the papers demonstrated the ability to recognize and develop connections between historical issues and life outside the classroom.
6. Fewer than half of the research papers demonstrated the ability to think critically and argue effectively by critiquing their sources and/or using sources to build an argument.
7. Many papers did not include proper citations or bibliographies, making it difficult for readers to assess their research base.
Next year, we will distribute the “Proposed Guidelines for History 480 Papers” to all instructors and post it on the Department web site. In addition, we will examine the Student Evaluation data for 480 courses and continue to collect and evaluate 480 papers.
Comprehensive Review of the Curriculum
Beginning in Fall 2004, we will extend our curriculum review to 100-level courses. Our strategy is to create teaching groups made up of instructors of HIST 151, 152, and 180. Each group will be convened and facilitated by a member of the UCC—when possible, one who teaches in the field. Eventually, our plan is to bring the groups together to share teaching experiences and discuss the goals of 100-level courses generally to help us think about—and become more deliberate about achieving—the goals of our curriculum while preparing students for the work we expect of them in upper-level courses, including HIST 480. The following year, we will work with 200-level courses, and so on. We anticipate that these discussions will be fun as well as useful. Ideally, they will culminate in a set of guidelines for courses at each level.
Proposed Guidelines for History 480
In an effort to bring some consistency to our undergraduate research seminars while coordinating them with the Department’s learning outcomes, we suggest that all 480 students write a research paper that:
1.Begins with an effective introduction that states a clear thesis
2. Uses proper historical citations (Turabian or Chicago style rather than MLA)
3. Builds and defends an argument (rather than simply narrating a story)
4. Supports the argument with primary sources (rather than simply using primary sources as illustrative material
5. Contextualizes the research with relevant secondary sources
6. Discusses the interpretations found in secondary sources
7. Reaches thoughtful conclusions that explain the historical significance and contemporary relevance of the research
8. Provides an annotated bibliography
9. Has been revised at least once (but preferably several times) in consultation with the instructor and peer evaluators
10. Uses library research (rather than just assigned course materials or web sources)
11. Includes an oral presentation(s) before the class and instructor. This may be accompanied by an abstract of the paper distributed to class members.