A Pedagogical Ode to Google Docs

Well team, I’ve made it to Easter Break after my first post-sabbatical return to teaching, and if my silence on the blog has been any indication, it’s been busy. The sabbatical was obviously good for thinking about research and book stuff, but what I hadn’t anticipated was that the end of my sabbatical would also push me to reassess the ways that I teach. More specifically, it prompted a reexamination of the preparatory work that I do before seminars, and raised questions about the relationship between the amount of time I spend prepping and the extent to which my students benefit from my prep. Lately, I’ve been doing less prep myself and using various types of Google tools—Docs, Forms, and Sheets, mostly—to make students more responsible for their learning. Here’s how and why: Continue reading

Making Students Lead Discussion: Three Methods

I wrote lots of recommendation letters for students this summer, probably because last year was the first year that I taught students in their final undergraduate year, and many of them are looking for or have recently found jobs. I always die a little inside when I read or hear the word “employability,” because I think it’s a jargony term that seems to reiterate the point that a university sells a degree to its customers, the students. I do not think that education should be viewed as such a service, but neither do I think that it’s responsible to entirely eschew discussions of marketable skills that students can mention in their pre- and post-graduate job searches. Not all of them will become professional historians, and given the state of the academic job market, that’s okay! I spend time at the start of each term, in class and in my syllabi, explaining why I think it’s important for students to participate in class discussion. One of my key points is that a student’s class contributions are something that I can and do mention in my recommendation letters. Having spent the summer writing letters for recent graduates I know that I’ve mentioned their contributions in every single letter I’ve written. Lately, my feelings have gone beyond believing that students should participate: I think students should lead discussion. Continue reading

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