Disruptive Pedagogies: Reimagining Classroom-Based Approaches to Student Learning
Richard Bond, Virginia Wesleyan College
Tracey-Anne Cooper, St. John's University
T. Mills Kelly, George Mason University
On November 2, 2012. Anant Agarwal, president of edX, wrote in the New York Times that he “like[d] to call  the year of disruption.” It might seem that he was right, since whenever one turned to either the popular or academic press, the “disruptive” potential of technology was being fetishized as finally upsetting the antiquated form of college and university education that has existed for centuries. While newer technologies can result in exciting innovations, such as the democratization of learning more broadly across the globe, these changes come with a potentially steep price. Such gains, for instance, should be achieved by scaling-up class sizes, by suggesting that all knowledge can be acquired through passive learning experiences, and by targeting professors as reactionary proponents of a failed system.
Such screeds are all too common and all too wrong-headed. Instead of letting others imagine professors as the champions of outdated traditions who are simply waiting to be disrupted by the encroaching forces of technological innovation and scaled-up curricula, let’s actually highlight the ways in which some of us are performing critically important disruptions of our own – in this case, in the classroom. Our panel, Disruptive Pedagogies: Re-Imagining Classroom-Based Approaches to Student Learning, is seeking to challenge the hollow jargon used to describe our future and wrench it back into our own teaching and scholarly hands.
This session will highlight four projects and assignments that different historians have used to disrupt traditional and staid formats of history pedagogy. Presenters will highlight the ways in which they challenged their students to approach being a historian through a different type of assignment and will connect their pedagogical work to the emerging field of the scholarship of teaching and learning. Participants will explore the broad learning goals and the process of teaching the following: how to create and disseminate a hoax to practice history in a “remix culture”; how to craft fictitious primary sources supposedly produced by a nineteenth-century cult in order to explore historical complexity and contingency; how to produce a novel that explores competing historical perspectives following the late Roman Empire (the final product is available through Amazon); and how to create fictitious historical commodities in order to interrogate Sidney Mintz’s famous “never commodity” theory. The roundtable will also consider how, in all cases, students reported not only a higher level of general engagement with historical material but also a greater appreciation of what it meant to think historically.
By championing these unconventional avenues into the often static and inflexible methods we too frequently use to train students to be amateur historians, professors might be able to do a little disrupting of our own. Not only might we be able to challenge the pervasive claim that online education will prove superior to a truly comprehensive four-year classroom experience, but we might also work to reimagine our history curricula in exciting new ways to better teach our students the discipline of history.