Critical Pedagogy & Experiential Learning: Experiments in Active Learning in the History Classroom

This session will take place at the 2020 OAH Annual Meeting | Conference on American History in Washington, D.C. Read the full abstract and speaker information here.

With the conference theme’s focus on inequalities, our case studies will highlight different methods (from sensory-driven to service-oriented) of engaging students in discussions of identity and power in the past. Dr. Seth Blumenthal will offer a model for incorporating serving learning in the political history courses to engage students in contemporary issues and activism in modern America. Dr. Kera Lovell brings the history classroom home, offering an exercise on family recipe reenactments to engage immigrant and first-generation college students in discussions of 20th century American history. Dr. Walter Greason, Dr. Ansley Erickson, and Dr. Julian Chambliss each offer different digital modes of teaching and learning that teach students how to inform diverse publics while creating empathic connections to different historical subjects. With an expansive background in grant-funded experiential learning projects, Dr. Greason sheds light on using immersive simulations, digital and physical, when teaching African American history. In working with graduate students, Dr. Erickson offers insight on how to use experiential learning assignments such as the creation of digital exhibits and blog posts to train graduate students on ethical challenges within the field. Finally, Dr. Chambliss discusses his work on the Urban Visionary Project—a semester-long digital timeline assignment allowing students to explore shifts in academic and cultural narratives on urbanization over time. Each panelist will offer their best tips for implementation, highlighting specific strategies for encouraging creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking that will enable audience members to walk away with a clear idea of how to adapt projects to their own classes.

Julian Chambliss: My goal is to demonstrate how timeline projects can be used as a tool to foster greater engagement in the classroom. For the Urban Visionary Project, students were asked to consider how an academic researcher fits within a broader framework of urban transformation we have discussed throughout the semester. This kind of project calls on a variety of skills. First, we worked closely with librarians on multiple sessions designed to expose them to archival material they could utilize in their timeline. Finding and evaluating additional sources based on this starting point forced students to go deeper and provide context. Identifying relevant facts and narrative that they would use to create the timeline was also a key element of the process. Some students wanted to make the project a simple linear narrative about the scholar, while I emphasized an effective timeline would contextualize the problem and incorporate the researcher work and its transformative impact into the narrative. In this process, the student researcher was forced to engage with the researcher’s scholarly work specifically and attempt to understand the ideological problem the research sought to address. - A student at Michigan State University on Michael McQuarrie

Kera Lovell: I aim to demonstrate that food-based historical research exercises are a fun tool to teach students how to historically contextualize and analyze their own family histories. A final project option in my US history and American Studies classes has allowed students to use a family recipe and an oral history interview as key primary sources that will serve as the basis for a historical research project. This project-based assignment requires students to teach some aspect of their identity and history through a recipe, reenacting and analyzing it live or by video for their peers. While in Hawaii, the project aimed to teach students to embed their own identities and experiences within larger historical narratives of industrialization, immigration, consumerism, and sexism, in Utah the project became part of a larger discussion of how the senses—smell, sight, taste, smell, touch, and feel (empathically)—offer different ways to teach the public about history. The exercise has been particularly successful in engaging first generation, international students, and women, along with traditional learners by encouraging them to take advantage of their own geographic locations, research interests, and social backgrounds to personalize the project.

A student at Honolulu Community College shares her mother’s recipe for Mochi Chi Chi Dango as passed down for generations in her Japanese American family.

Since the turn of the 20th century, scholars have increasingly argued that traditional methods of teaching can reproduce inequality in the classroom, often marginalizing non-native English speakers and first-generation college students (Supiano 2018). Increased demands for more collaborative, interdisciplinary, and interactive modes of teaching and learning have helped draw attention to experiential learning as an opportunity to engage and retain marginalized students (Yeh 2010). Experiential education can function as praxis of critical pedagogy by centering students in the development of a more socially just world (Breunig 2005; Itin 1999). Our panel also offers insight into the limitations of experiential learning. As stressed by historians in the Age of Trump (Berry 2017; America Inside Out, 2017), ongoing racist tensions at public history sites are important reminders that the past is still deeply connected with the present political climate. Our panel opens a conversation on how interactive and experiential modes of teaching and learning histories can center marginalized voices of both the students and the actors within the historical narrative.

Taken together, the panel aims to invite a discussion with the audience on alternative modes of teaching that re-think traditional methods of experiencing the history classroom in ways that can not only center marginalized voices in the past, but also unsupported students and faculty in academia’s present.

Posted: March 17, 2020
Tagged: Conference, Previews, Pedagogy