Why Isn’t There Class on Wednesdays?

One of the distinctive features of this course is that it’s a three-credit course that only has two face-to-face (F2F) hours, on Monday and Friday afternoons. The remainder fo the week is devoted to a variety of online and other activities. So why Intro to History being offered as a hybrid course? (read the Course Mechanics section of the syllabus on this same topic)

The F2F portion is easiest to explain. Unlike our department’s other 200-level courses, HIS290 doesn’t cover a set topic, theme, region, or period, and my role as teacher is less about delivering information (so don’t expect lectures) than facilitating student discussion and inquiry. Expect lots of discussion and reflection activities.

So why not also meet on Wednesday at 1:50pm? The reasoning has changed a bit this time out.

The first two times we taught the course, that midweek third of the class was entirely online: using assigned readings and a departmental webisode series (Past & Presence), students wrote and responded to blog posts, sustaining conversations that ended Monday in class through the week and priming the pump for discussion to resume on Friday. The webisodes also let all of our faculty (and several of our alumni) have a role in “teaching” the course.

Some of that approach remains this year: most weeks, you’ll watch a video conversation involving Bethel history faculty or students, as a supplement to assigned readings, and you’ll comment on blog posts that I create out of your response papers. So we’ll still be able to use the online environment to sustain a wider conversation that bridges what we talk about on Mondays and Fridays.

But not all weeks will function that way. You’ll actually meet all of our faculty (and some of our alumni) face-to-face, so it seemed less important to have the department webisode. And dropping it creates some space for two other kinds of activities.

Twice during the semester, you’ll be working on group projects: in late February and early March, a small digital history project facilitated by Prof. Goldberg, the director of our new digital humanities major; then in April and early May, a presentation on how past is presented in American popular culture. Having no class on those Wednesdays makes it much easier for you all to find time to work together as a group.

Finally, there will be four weeks during the semester when I have you engage in more experiential learning, doing an activity on- or off-campus that helps fulfill our course objectives in a different way. The first of those comes up right away: an interview with a Bethel history prof. (Reminder: you need to schedule that interview soon; it’s one of your pre-semester assignments, due Thursday 2/2 at noon.) Giving up the third class hour each week creates plenty of space for you to arrange those activities in a way that fits your schedule.

Just recognize that all this makes HIS290 a rather unusual 200-level course: much less structured than your typical 1st/2nd year class, it trusts you to manage your time well on your own and to keep up with tasks without a professor hanging over your shoulder. That’s both a great opportunity and a considerable challenge. Let me know if you’d like to talk about strategies to use that time well!

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Why Intro to History?

So why are we having you take HIS290 Introduction to History as part of your History major or minor at Bethel? Some history of History, if you will:

The AC 2nd hallway

For as long as I’ve been at Bethel, we’ve had a History major that emphasizes flexibility. We’ve kept it small while other majors have crept up past 40, 50, or even 60 credits. We’ve taken pains to make sure that most classes are either cross-listed in another field or tagged with gen ed credit. While we wanted to make sure our students had a broad background in human history — you can’t just major in 20th century US history, even if that’s your favorite topic — we accomplished that by creating multi-course, choose-from categories.

Indeed, until 2014-2015, only one course was required for all students: our capstone, HIS499 Senior Seminar. And even in that class, students get to choose almost any topic they want for their research paper. That’s still the case, by the way.

(The History minor was even more flexible: only eighteen credits, and nothing specified except that six of them be upper-division classes. By comparison, a Political Science minor has long required completion of the Political Quest course, just like the major. Many other minors are quite complicated.)

All this was especially helpful for two groups of students: those who wanted to double-major, in particular Social Studies Education students who faced scheduling challenges because of their field experiences and practicums; and those who transferred in one or two years worth of college credits.

Much of that flexibility remains in the latest revision of the major. (And the minor remains unusually open-ended — HIS290 is the only required course.) Indeed, we actually simplified the major by eliminating two categories.

But that does mean that majors now have a second required course. And minors, a first.

Now, that’s still more flexible than most other majors. BTS, English Literature, and Philosophy majors, for example, each require five courses. But I think it’s fair to ask why we think it important to add a required intro course— since that does make things a bit less flexible for students…

In the old regime, students picked one from a set of “Introductory” courses: 200-level surveys of American, Latin American, Asian, African, Islamic, or modern history. The idea was that students would get to meet a History professor early on and start learning the methodology and philosophy of history within the context of one particular field of study.

But two problems kept cropping up:

First, more and more of these courses were taught either by adjunct faculty (whom students would never again take a class from) or faculty from other departments. So the notion of getting to know a History professor early on had gone by the wayside. Second, because all these courses had or tags, the gen ed objectives for the courses left little space for introducing the discipline — not that all the non-majors and non-minors in the course were all that interested in thinking about historical methods.

So we started to notice that our majors (and minors) would arrive in 300-level courses without much idea of what history was or how historians do what they do.

So, if nothing else, you should expect to come out of Intro to History knowing what’s distinctive about history — what kinds of questions historians ask, what evidence they use to answer them, and how they communicate their findings — and what our Christian faith and practice have to do with all of that. And you should feel like you know one professor really well (time will tell if you think that’s a good thing!) and all of us at least a little bit, since the rest of our faculty (and some alumni and current students) will show up at various points in the semester.

But as importantly, you should come out of this course with a much clearer sense of what it means that you’ve self-identified as someone who is interested in studying history. Whether you’re a major or minor in History or still undecided, you’ll spend a lot of time this semester thinking about why you feel called to that field of study — and how that calling connects to other callings: within a certain career, as part of the Body of Christ, as a citizen of a nation and a local community, as a consumer, as a parent. Indeed, that will be the subject of your final essay.

In my next post, I’ll explain why we’re offering Intro to History as a hybrid course…

Your First (Pre-Semester) Assignments

Bethel’s spring semester starts next Wednesday (Feb. 1st), but if you’ve read about our Course Mechanics in HIS290, you know that we don’t actually meet for face-to-face (F2F) class on Wednesdays. So we won’t actually meet until Friday the 3rd.

But we do use that midweek time for non-F2F work. So to get you started well in the class, I’m going to ask you to complete three simple, online assignments no later than noon on Thursday, Feb. 2nd. All three will count towards your Course Participation grade.

1. Introduce yourself

Now that you’ve read about me and our other faculty, tell us something about yourself. Go to the Students page at this site and leave a comment according to the directions provided. This is a pass/fail assignment: as long as you do it by noon on 2/2, you’ll get five easy points towards your participation grade.

2. Take a quiz about the syllabus and schedule

Especially since we’re starting a couple days into the semester, I don’t want to waste a lot of time on the 3rd going over every detail of the syllabus. So instead I’m going to expect that you’ll show up already knowing the objectives, assignments, expectations, schedule, mechanics, etc. pretty well. (Or at least knowing good questions to ask about how the course works.)

To test that you’re prepared for that first F2F meeting, take time before Thursday to visit the course Moodle page and take a 10-point quiz. You can have the syllabus and schedule open on your computer, and you can retake the quiz as often as you want. (Moodle will simply record your best score.) But one way or another, the quiz will close at noon on Thursday the 2nd, so don’t put this off too long.

3. Schedule a faculty interview

The first full week of class, we’ll continue to discuss the nature of history as an academic discipline and start to explore different fields within the discipline. To help you think about those questions — and to get to know our department better — I’m going to have you use midweek time to interview myself or another professor in the History Department. That interview will then be part of the basis for a response paper due on Thursday, Feb. 10th.

I’ll give you more details about that assignment on Friday. For now, all you need to do is go to this Google Doc and sign up for your interview. You’ll find all the faculty members in our department, with their office numbers, fields of study, courses taught in 2017-18 (so that you can start thinking about registration), and days/times available. Choose whichever prof lines up best with your interests.

You can meet individually or in pairs, but once the time slots for a professor are gone, you need to pick someone else. Like the first assignment, this is pass/fail — but it needs to be completed by noon on Thursday, 2/2 or you won’t get any credit.

Welcome to HIS290!

I know you all just started Interim break and we won’t actually have our first class for another week, but I wanted to wish you welcome to HIS290 Intro to History and invite you to start exploring the course long before we first gather. Later today I’ll give you your first, pre-semester assignments.

This is the third time I’ve taught Intro to History, and we’ve got our biggest group ever. I’ll have more to say about the origins and goals of this course in a later post, but right now, just know that I consider it a real honor to be entrusted with the responsibility of teaching the first History course that many of you will take at Bethel! It’s both a challenge and a great opportunity to teach a course that asks such big questions about the nature of the past, how we study it, and what our faith has to do with history. It’s also a chance for my colleagues and me to get to know you early in your time at Bethel, and to help you start to explore the connections between your interest in history and what you’re doing to discern your calling and prepare for your career. (That’ll be the topic of your final essay — which you’ll get the first day of class!)

At this point, there’s not much you need to do to get ready for Intro to History. But here’s how you can get a head start:

1. Explore this website

I’ll post copies of the syllabus and major assignments on Moodle, but primarily you’ll use that site just to upload assignments and check your grades. Everything else in this hybrid course will live here.

I’ll keep updating this site as Feb. 3rd approaches, but already you’ll find an online version of the syllabus, the course schedule, the three books assigned for the course, general guidelines for the response papers and blog comments you’ll be writing throughout the semester, bios of myself and the other people who will be teaching this course, and links to lots of resources. Once the semester gets rolling, this is where I’ll post reading assignments, video conversations, questions for your response papers, selected student work for you to comment on, a few of my own posts as I curate content from around the web, and more.

So take some time to check it out, and let me know if you have any questions.

2. Decide how you want to check in on this blog

There’s a widget in the top-right of every page that lets you sign up to get an e-mail notice every time a new post is added here. Or if you’re accustomed to using an RSS feed like Feedly, you can just type in the URL (intro2history.wordpress.com). Or just bookmark the home page and make a point of checking in regularly.

However you do it, you’re responsible for keeping tabs on what’s happening here. At least early in the semester, I’ll use email to make sure you haven’t missed something, but I’ll start to strip away that scaffolding by mid-February and trust you to find your own pattern to keep up with this blog.

Check out the Course Mechanics section of the online syllabus for a discussion of what to expect when we’re not meeting in face-to-face class, and I’ll keep updating the Course Schedule as we go.