July 9, 2019

Steering World History from Flat to Multi-Dimensional

Teaching a class titled “Introduction to World History” was daunting 25 years ago — developing and navigating a wide-ranging curriculum.  Today, teaching that same class presents all new challenges as the myriad “sources” found by students on the Internet can often send them off course.  That same Internet rabbit hole faced 4-VA OER Course Redesign grantee Dr. Sheri Ann Huerta: Identify appropriate events to form the hefty narrative of the curriculum, research openly-available and credible materials, locate engaging, interactive resources to support each lesson, and organize the results in a user-friendly digital architecture. Untold hours are needed to accurately research the options.

Yet, Huerta saw an opportunity to do something even bigger with her project, noting, “I wanted to create analytical modules that facilitated learning by developing incremental training in the key critical thinking skills, utilized by historians, which also serve to develop savvy consumers of information in our digital age.”

Huerta began her efforts by scanning a wide variety of sources for consideration of inclusion in the course materials — everything from existing textbooks and primary source books to “Films on Demand” and the Adam Matthews databases. She also visited databases of art museums, signed up for appropriate history and teaching pedagogy listservs, and consulted with subject matter experts at Mason — Dr. Jane Hooper and Dr. George Oberle.

“The redesign focuses attention on students developing a personal ‘historical voice’ of world history informed by primary sources rather than relying on the limited story told in textbooks or lecture-test style delivery,” notes Huerta. “By shifting the focus from memorization to interpretation, the course connects well with the goal of applying critical thinking skills. By evaluating sources of information for accuracy and reliability and working more in small groups, students develop a heightened awareness of multiple perspectives and diversity of thought in the classroom—skills that help create informed global citizens.”  Huerta collaborated with GMU’s History Librarian Dr. George Oberle to structure the course to “gradually identify and develop key career-ready skills: evaluation of sources; teamwork and collaboration; written/oral/digital communication of ideas; professional communication; and developing persuasive, evidence-based arguments.”

Not surprisingly, the students greatly appreciated that the redesigned course makes use of eco-friendly digital materials accompanied with a significant drop in the cost of course materials—from $137.50 to $7.00. More importantly, students showed an appreciation for the inclusion of accounts from voices often neglected in broad historical narratives – including women, persons of color, and non-European/non-US American cultural groups.

“This project was multi-faceted and difficult, however with the help of my colleagues and the 4-VA@Mason grant, it was very worthwhile for the course and our students,” concluded Huerta.