History of Higher Education: Students Making Sense of Primary Sources by Designing Asynchronous Learning Activities

Saturday, January 8, 2022
Grand Ballroom Foyer (New Orleans Marriott)
Kelly Schrum, George Mason University
Sophia Abbot, George Mason University
Chase Catalano, Virginia Tech
The history of higher education is a core course for higher education preparation programs in the U.S. The Council for the Advancement of Higher Education Programs lists it as one of five required knowledge areas for bridging practice and theory. Notable is that faculty who teach this required graduate course are rarely trained as historians or have a background in history. The result is frequently the conveyance of a higher education history that lacks nuance, criticality, and utilization of primary sources and historical narratives.

For example, the Land-Grant Agricultural and Mechanical College Act (1862), also known as the Morrill Act, and the second Morrill Act (1890) are commonly credited with expanding access to higher education, including support for several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). History of higher education synthesis books, often used in these courses, repeat this interpretation and focus on the resulting expansion of disciplinary curricula beyond the liberal arts to include agriculture and military training. Recent scholarship on the Morrill Acts, however, has explored the ways in which they were also used to reinforce segregation and the extensive appropriation of Native American lands as part of implementation. Introducing students to the complexities of this historic legislation and the wealth of relevant primary sources helps complicate students’ understanding of the expansion of higher education and appreciation for historical thinking.

The collaborators submitting this poster include two faculty members and a doctoral student engaged in research on teaching and learning the history of higher education. One central goal for this project was to infuse a nuanced, complex understanding of the history of higher education along with experience engaging in historical thinking skills into a single course for higher education graduate students. In fall 2020, two graduate history of higher education courses -- one at George Mason University and one at Virginia Tech -- implemented a shared assignment. Each student researched and developed a digital, asynchronous learning activity exploring the historical context of a contemporary higher education issue. Students examined primary and secondary sources, learned digital skills, and challenged themselves to create interactive and engaging asynchronous learning activities. They then completed activities created by peers.

Our research supports existing scholarship around the power of engaging students in the process of creating history, especially digital history, to teach content and historical thinking skills. Students learned to analyze primary sources and examine them within a broader historical context while practicing digital skills and creating an interactive learning experience for other students. Importantly, students in the two classes--one taught by a historian and one taught by a higher education scholar--equally developed historical thinking skills and practiced primary source analysis within this assignment.

This poster will share student experiences with this project, including visuals from learning activities, feedback to classmates, and follow-up interviews. The poster will include links to student-created digital projects as well as free digital resources for teaching the history of higher education in the U.S.

See more of: Poster Session #3
See more of: AHA Sessions