“I hated history in high school, but I loved your class!” Storytelling, the “Smart” Classroom, and Effective Teaching

Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:30 PM
Chicago Ballroom VIII (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
J. Michael Rhyne, Urbana University

Variations of the above quote appear every semester on course evaluations or in sentiments expressed directly to me by students.  That I receive such compliments continues to surprise me, as I do not consider myself much of an innovator in the classroom.  Indeed, though I use technology to enhance my presentations, I consider myself a throw-back, a “lecturer” who has been labeled as “boring” by some students.  In analyzing why lecturing continues to work for me, I have come to several conclusions.  First and foremost, my lectures do not necessarily emphasize factual details, but rather a story or connected web of stories.  Second, I do not gloss over historical controversies and conflicts, quite the opposite, and I unabashedly state my informed opinion.  Third, I try to humanize the past and make it inclusive: I describe historical figures as real people, not monuments on pedestals, and I often emphasize groups or individuals marginalized by traditional narratives.  Fourth, I try to engage students’ imaginations, challenging them to think about what they would have done in a given historical situation, how they would have felt, etc.  Fifth, I routinely incorporate available classroom technology into my presentations, not just as supplemental material but as an integral part of how I tell a given story.  Though my style and methodology may not work for everyone, student and peer feedback has confirmed my effectiveness as a teacher.