The University System of Georgia has awarded Georgia State University’s Department of History on the downtown campus with the Regents’ Award for Teaching Excellence by a Department or Program, recognizing innovative and engaging efforts to transform teaching and learning in the department’s curriculum.
The nomination packet was submitted by Jeff Young, Rob Baker and Jared Poley, who have worked together to include data visualization, in addition to the incorporation of the Reacting to the Past (RTTP) teaching and learning concept in history courses, and redesign of U.S. history and world history courses.
These efforts have resulted in an increase in student engagement, and a reduction in DFW rates – the rates of students who either earn grades of D or F, or withdraw from the course.
The Regents Award for Teaching Excellence by a Department or Program is designed to showcase an outstanding department or program that promotes, supports and recognizes excellence in teaching and in service to students.
In survey courses such as in world history and Georgia history, students are assigned projects requiring them to make and use maps as part of assignments.
Through these assignments, they learn to use ArcGIS, a geographic information systems tool, and Tableau, a widely-used data visualization program, to make sense of historical datasets, including petitions to southern courts and legislatures on the subject of race and slavery, data on lynchings in the U.S., census data on American population and economic growth, records of early modern plague outbreaks in Europe and Asia, and data on global refugees in the 20th and 21st centuries.
By learning how to work with large datasets, history students are learning data science and analysis skills that they can apply across many disciplines of study and many career fields outside of history.
The History Department’s redesign of U.S. history and world history survey courses have also made a significant impact at Georgia State. The online versions of the courses have become the gold standard for the department, and instructional modules form the foundation of the core curriculum, widely adopted by Atlanta-campus faculty.
Teaching methods aiding in reducing DFW rates include early feedback on low-stakes assessments, and interactive and effective digital tools connected to a bank of over 130 learning modules in U.S. history and hundreds more for world history.
Instructors can organize the modules in any way to custom-create a course to support and facilitate critical thinking, including short videos, readings, quiz questions and interactive materials.
In 2016, the History Department received an Endeavor Challenge grant from the RTTP consortium to incorporate RTTP into the curriculum. The concept consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. Class sessions are run entirely by students; instructors advise and guide students and grade their oral and written work. It seeks to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual and academic skills.
Reacting roles, unlike those in a play, do not have a fixed script and outcome, so while students will be obliged to adhere to the philosophical and intellectual beliefs of the historical figures they have been assigned to play, they must devise their own means of expressing those ideas persuasively, in papers, speeches, or other public presentations; and students must also pursue a course of action they think will help them win the game.
In qualitative surveys, students reported excitement about RTTP roleplaying, and responded that in addition to history, they learned soft skills such as teamwork and leadership.
Earlier this year, Barnard College, the founding institution of RTTP, recognized the History Department as a leading institution in the use of the concept to teach history and leadership. Read more at https://provost.gsu.edu/2019/02/07/georgia-state-takes-the-spotlight-for-incorporating-innovative-reacting-to-the-past-concept-to-teach-history-and-leadership/.
To learn more about how Georgia State is making a difference in instructional innovation, visit the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) at https://cetl.gsu.edu.
– Jeremy Craig, Communications Manager, Office of the Provost