Friday, January 4, 2013

Dispatches from the AHA in New Orleans (3)

In this dispatch, Erin Bartram and Mary Sanders team up to report on a Thursday afternoon panel on "Tuning the History Curriculum."

After I (Mary) picked Erin up at the airport yesterday, we started playing our favorite AHA game: “Guess the Historian.”  We looked for what John has already referred to as the “uniform”—khaki pants, blazer, anything made out of tweed.  (Our conclusion thus far has been that the female variant of the species of “historian” is harder to spot in the wild.)  We checked into our non-conference hotel (where all the jubilant Louisville fans were staying) and immediately went in search of beignets.

This morning, we headed over to the one of the panels in the Workshop on Undergraduate Teaching, “Tuning the History Curriculum: The Vision and the Reality.”  We’re both interested in talking about undergraduate teaching because, let’s face it: many graduate students often end up being the primary face of teaching to undergraduates.  Frequently, we are the ones who grade their papers, answer their questions, and try to guide them to a greater understanding of the skills that historians use and the topics that we love.  Erin had read about the Tuning Project, but the project itself hadn’t been open to graduate students, so we were interested to see what it was all about.  John Savagian, from Alverno College in Milwaukee, impressed us with his emphasis on creating measurable learning outcomes with the participation and investment of the students themselves.  He provided us with a handout that shows how Alverno’s institutional goals are translated into discipline-specific, course-specific, and student-specific outcomes.  John Bezis-Selfa, from Wheaton College (MA) described the Tuning Project itself, including the difficulties of using data collected by a variety of sources with no uniform goal in mind.  The last two presenters were Liz Lehfeldt (Cleveland State University) and Ken Nivison (Southern New Hampshire University).  Both spoke of the ways that the existence of the Tuning Project has already helped them in their attempts to rethink departmental curriculum in the face of increasing institutional pressures.

The question and answer period indicated the diversity of the audience: there were faculty members from community colleges, top-tier research institutions, liberal arts schools, and non-U.S. universities.  We were struck, though, by something that seemed to be missing: Where do graduate students and adjuncts fit in the tuning process?  Because of the emphasis on long-term curricular development linked to specific institutional goals, it makes sense that the primary actors in the project itself are tenure-track faculty.  Still, we hope that the project will consider incorporating, at least in an observational sense, senior graduate students and adjuncts who are also concerned with the same issues.