Teaching Philosophy (click here for past syllabi)

My goal as a history professor is to accompany my students as they transition from the directed learning environments cultivated in secondary school to the undirected learning environments they will meet in their future endeavors. In my classes I develop the analytical, research and communication skills that will provide students with a flexible foundation from which they can engage meaningfully in society and build their careers. In history, this means engaging with students’ historical consciousness (how the past shapes their understanding of the world) and equipping them with the skills necessary to think with history.

I cultivate these self-directed learning skills in four ways. First, I am present and responsive, providing opportunities for significant in-class discussion as well as one-on-one meetings. Second, I bring my students into my own scholarly networks, building connections with local museums, libraries and archives as well as with faculty and students working at other universities. Third, I apply experiential learning pedagogies in most of my classes. Studies in Canada, the United States, and Australia all demonstrate that the past is most meaningful when it connects with family and local community.[1] In teaching history, I try to bring my students into contact with the people and places that are meaningful for the subjects we study. Lastly, over the past several years I have been developing Open Educational Resources (OER) in collaboration with Sean Kheraj (York University) and eCampus Ontario. Together, we have developed the Open History Seminar (OHS), a digital primary and secondary source reader for use in Canadian History classrooms.

These broad approaches to the classroom can be applied in nearly every discipline, yet they have particular import for the study of history. As a history professor, it is also important that my teaching cultivates students’ historical consciousness and, relatedly, their historical thinking skills. Teaching history involves a fine balance between historical narrative and the methods and processes of historical interpretation.

To negotiate this balance in my first- and second-year classes, I’ve drawn upon The Historical Thinking Project‘s six historical thinking skills. By the time students have left these courses, they can apply historical thinking skills to establish historical significance, use primary sources, identify elements of continuity and change, analyze causes and consequences, understand diverse historical perspectives, and carefully judge the implications that the past has for the present.[2] In encouraging students to engage with the processes and practices involved in making history, my courses equip students with a flexible historical literacy upon which they can build in the future.

John Biggs’s Constructive Alignment Theory has likewise deeply shaped how I foster this historical literacy.[3] His SOLO taxonomy (Structure of Observed Learning Outcome) suggests that information must be contextualized before it can be learned. To do this, my courses gradually give students greater control over their learning. In HIS 1801E, our students follow a prescribed and scaffolded research path, conducting basic research on pre-assigned topics with well-bounded parameters and source material. In my second-year classes, students have greater flexibility in crafting their research questions but continue to be bound by subject and research parameters. In my third-year and fourth-year courses, however, students have more flexibility. There, in regular consultation with me, students create their own research agendas, though they are required to shape their research around the course goals and learning objectives. This progression reflects my broader interests in research learning, whereby my courses equip students with the skills necessary for interpreting the past independently.

Teaching and learning are interdependent processes. In my experience, effective teachers are open to learning from their students and changing their pedagogy based on their students’ needs. The Historical Thinking Project and Constructive Alignment Theory are major influences shaping my classroom practice. Effectively applying these approaches in the history classroom equips students with four important tools:

  • a clear understanding of the subject under study
  • a historiographical understanding of how historians have approached their work
  • an ability to work independently and effectively on a research project
  • a familiarity with the tools and methods of the historian

At every level, students should leave history courses with an ability to concisely discuss the course’s geography, chronological narrative, and relationships between societies, cultures and environment. Students need to understand that this information has been selected and crafted based on the assumptions and biases of historians, and that they can evaluate historical work by broadly reading the secondary literature and judiciously using primary source material. Finally, it is important that students leave history courses aware of the power inherent in interpreting the past. Historical interpretation can be used to support and empower communities just as much as it can alienate and destroy. At no point should a student leave a history class thinking that historical interpretation has no consequences for the present or future.

Notes

[1] Margaret Conrad et al. Canadians and Their Pasts (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013); Paul Ashton and Paula Hamilton, “At Home with the Past: Background and Initial Findings from the National Survey” Australian Cultural History 23 (2003): 5-30;  Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelan, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).

[2] The Historical Thinking Project: Concepts, http://historicalthinking.ca/concepts; See also Peter Seixas & Carla Peck, “Teaching historical thinking,” In A. Sears & I. Wright (eds.), Challenges and Prospects for Canadian Social Studies (Vancouver: Pacific Educational Press, 2004), 109-117.

[3] John Biggs, “Enhancing Teaching through Constructive Alignment,” Higher Education, vol. 32, no. 3 (1996), 347-364.


Syllabi from Courses Taught

Huron University College (2020): HIS2204G: Crises and Confederation

Huron University College (2019): HIS4202F: Land, Literacies, and Learning

Huron University College (2019): 2710F: Red, White, Black, et Blancs

Huron University College (2019): HIS1801E: Controversies in Global History

Huron University College (2019): HIS2204G: Crises and Confederation

Huron University College (2018): HIS 3201E: First Peoples and Colonialism in Canada

Huron University College (2018): HIS1801E: Controversies in Global History

Huron University College (2018): HIS4810G: Practicing Active History

Huron University College (2018): HIST 2204G: Crises and Confederation

Huron University College (2017): HIS2710F: Red, White, Black, et Blancs

Huron University College (2017): HIS1801E: Controversies in Global History

Huron University College (2016): HIS4202F: Land, Literacies, and Learning

Huron University College (2016): HIS2201E: Canadian History: Origins to Present

Huron University College (2016): HIS1801E: Controversies in Global History

Huron University College (2015): HIS4202F: Land, Literacies, and Learning

Huron University College (2015): HIS2201E: Canadian History: Origins to Present

Huron University College (2015): HIS1801E: Major Issues in World History

Huron University College (2015): HIS4296G: Special Topics: The Northeast, 1500-1700

Huron University College (2014): HIS2201E: Canadian History: Origins to Present

Huron University College (2014): HIS1801E: Major Issues in World History

Acadia University (2014): HIST 2343: Maritime Provinces to 1867

Acadia University (2014): HIST 2593: History of First Nations in Canada

Acadia University (2014): HIST 2783: Canada since 1867

Acadia University (2013): HIST 2283: Environmental History

Acadia University (2013): HIST 2773: Canada before Confederation

Acadia University (2013): HIST 3383: Canadian Environmental History

Acadia University (2013): HIST 3373: Peopling the Maritimes in the Eighteenth Century

Acadia University (2013): HIST 2783: Canada since 1867

Acadia University (2012): HIST 2773: Canada before Confederation

York University (2010-2011): HIST 4508 – Cultures and Colonialism: Canada, 1600-1900

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s