June 19, 2018

HIST 125

HIST 125:  A New Approach to Entry-Level History

HIST 125 is a mandatory course at George Mason University, taken primarily by non-history majors. 

And while the lessons learned in the course provide valuable insight for students, two Professors who have been teaching the class – or some version close to it – for years recognized both the need and the opportunity to radically transform the classroom experience for the entry-level history students.

So Professors Jane Hooper and George Oberle got to talking…

Their thought:  Migrate from the traditional lecture followed by a response paper utilizing a single source document or textbook, to a dynamic, engaging, and research-based education process.  Moreover, Hooper and Oberle wanted their new concept to save the students the cost of purchasing textbooks. 

Then, when Hooper learned about the availability of an Open Education Resource grant through the 4-VA initiative; she jumped at the chance.  “Thanks to the grant, George and I moved from a ‘we ought to think about this’ to ‘let’s do this!’ mode,” explains Hooper.  “We spent a summer completely revising the class.  Our thinking was that rather than delivering students a series of sources pre-selected for discussion, we wanted to guide them through their own choice of evidence, replicating practices they would heretofore only experience through individualized research projects in upper level courses.” 

Relying on Oberle’s background as a research librarian, a resource page was developed which details a variety of digital tools, data bases, and other sites for student use.   (See http://infoguides.gmu.edu/hist125/begin

Next, they revised the course to focus on three modules; calling for each student to develop their own research question – and, thus, helping to cement the students’ ‘buy-in’ to the project and course work.   “Students are now able to guide their own study,” notes Hooper.  “They cover the same material, but with an eye toward some element of particular interest to them.”

The outcome of the course re-design has been consequential.  “Based on my previous teaching experiences, the students in the revised class are unusually engaged and interested in the presentation and use of the course materials; and, more importantly, the quality of their final research papers improved dramatically,” says Hooper.

With the course re-design fully instituted and outcomes recorded, Hooper provided the materials to other faculty, presenting an overview of the course to the Mason History Department.  Hooper concludes, “Everyone was enthusiastic about the course and about the 4-VA program – we’ve planted the seed for further reform!”