Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When Your History Assignment Fails

Richard Bond of Virginia Wesleyan College (and co-editor of From Jamestown to Jefferson: The Evolution of Religious Freedom in Virginia, a great book on religion in early Virginia) describes what he has learned from history lessons that have not worked.

In this piece in the recent Perspectives in History he discusses:

1. An assignment in which students used Wikipedia to cheat.

2. An assignment in which students doing a role-playing game found it impossible to empathize with the Ku Klux Klan.

3. An assignment in a "History of Piracy" course in which students found it difficult to employ the skills of "context" and "contingency."

Bond concludes:

Learning from the above has been humbling, forcing me to realize that no matter how much time I spend on an assignment, there will remain problems that I have failed to consider. Yet, as most know, failures are opportunities, especially in classrooms that are designed to be student-centered. Assignment goals can be made explicit, and conversations can be had between students and professors about how to improve learning. Demystifying and diagnosing such failures can help students to improve their own work; not only can they see such failures are part of the educational process, but they can also think through how to overcome them, certainly a marketable skill. Happily, sometimes spectacular blunders lead to serendipitous results, and so I hope to keep failing, repeatedly, in the years to come.