Assessing Historical Thinking in a Gen Ed Classroom: Notes from the Field
The most casual glance at the AHA Perspectives or the Chronicle of Higher Educationconfirms it: Assessment is here to stay. Yet our wide-ranging conversation about assessment has all but ignored general education classes. This is remarkable, considering that gen ed courses are where most faculty spend most of their teaching time and where they reach the lion’s share of their students. Although campuses across the country report shrinking numbers of History majors, the most influential attempts to shape our profession’s approach to the assessment of historical thinking remain insistently focused on majors.
This panel explores the challenges and benefits of assessing historical thinking in classes aimed primarily at non-majors. Taking the US Survey as our focus, we offer three case studies: an urban community college, a teaching-intensive four-year university, and a R1 flagship university. What kinds of skills and content should we offer gen ed students? How can we balance discipline-specific learning outcomes with the need to reach large and diverse student populations? How, in a gen ed setting, can we best reconcile the often competing expectations of Departments, Administrations, and professional rubrics like the AHA Tunings Project? If these questions resist easy answers, they also demand our attention.
Joseph Stromberg (San Jacinto College-Central) focuses on tensions between accountability and autonomy in “Ritual Compliance.” In order to comply with the general education outcomes mandated by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SJC-C has adopted an institutional portfolio approach to assessment that uses common, discipline-specific assignments to measure competency. But faculty have shown limited support for rubrics, which can impinge on academic freedom. These problems are compounded by an economy of scale: Volunteers from multiple disciplines struggle to manage hundreds of assignments, many of them in unfamiliar fields.
Robyn Lily Davis (Millersville University) draws on her experience with the AHA Tunings Project to try and reconcile the project’s Core Discipline with her University’s emphasis on career skills and graduation credits. Toward that end, she has banished multiple-choice exams in favor of writing assignments. If this shift in assessment aligns her with the Tunings Project, it also marks a departure from her Department’s traditional pedagogy and institutional culture.
Catherine Kelly, Jennifer Holland, and Matthew Pearce (University of Oklahoma) reflect on the assessment challenges that arise for faculty and graduate student teaching assistants when a department mandates placing undergraduate research at the center of the US Survey. Incorporating insights from both the lecture podium and the discussion section, they discuss their Department’s attempts to reconcile tensions between skills and content on the one hand and faculty autonomy and departmental coherence on the other hand.
Bob Bain (University of Michigan) who has written widely on teaching history and served most recently as the faculty lead on the Big History Project, is singularly well-qualified to serve as respondent. Together, he and Anne Hyde (Colorado College, Faculty Director of the AHA Tuning Project) will help shape a fruitful and collaborative discussion between the panelists and audience.