Academic journal article Teaching History: A Journal of Methods

New Guidelines for SoTL in History: A Discipline Considers the SoTL Turn?

Academic journal article Teaching History: A Journal of Methods

New Guidelines for SoTL in History: A Discipline Considers the SoTL Turn?

Article excerpt

The last decade has included significant milestones in terms of the relationship between the discipline of history and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Such developments offer an instructive opportunity to reflect on the state of the field within history and suggest that SoTL, while currently holding a limited and inconsistent position in terms of practice among historians, provides a promising opportunity for growth as history educators increasingly reframe the teaching and learning of the discipline around the skills of historians. While historians have discussed the teaching of history since the founders of the American Historical Association (AHA) claimed at its first meeting in 1884 that "few of the American universities give as yet any adequate historical instruction," the AHA's Tuning Project reflects new, concerted efforts to define the discipline in terms of "the distinctive skills, methods, and substantive range of [the] field." (1) The Tuning Project's establishment of "Core Competencies and Learning Outcomes" in 2013 and its revision of the document in 2016 reflected the challenges of establishing a clear consensus regarding what students should know and understand after completing a history major. The Tuning Projects focus on core competencies in history did not include any overt references to SoTL research. However, the efforts of the AHA, as the oldest and most prominent professional organization of historians in the

United States, to articulate the essential nature of the discipline and discreet learning outcomes for students of history was important for SoTL researchers. In addition to emphasizing inquiry skills rather than knowledge for five of the six learning outcomes, the Tuning Project articulated the specific ingredients of the history classroom that inform the questions, methods, and evidence of SoTL research in history. (2)

At the same time, historians acknowledged the challenge of assessing such learning goals, and in 2016, a special section of The Journal of American History focused on the current state of assessment in the field. Anne Hyde, who chaired the Tuning Project Leadership Core as then-chair of the AHAs Teaching Division, penned "Five Reasons Why Historians Suck at Assessment." This essay identified the substantial obstacles toward getting historians to embrace assessment as a key ingredient in teaching and learning. Hyde noted that historians frequently perceive assessment as not part of their responsibilities as teachers, disagree on learning goals in the classroom, and, in part due to a lack of expertise in educational assessment, struggle to assess the sort of learning often valued in history courses. Finally, Hyde explained how historians often associate assessment with the larger context of unpleasant and seemingly irrelevant academic and cultural politics. While a number of the essays in the section reflected the perspective that, at best, the efforts of historians to develop valuable approaches to assessment were a necessary hazard if only to keep others from imposing their assessments on historians, Hyde and others acknowledged the potential of rigorous assessment as a "shared set of tools" to improve curriculum and instruction. (3) Rather than what two of the authors lamented as "reflexive hostility to assessment," such exploratory efforts to better measure student learning in history classrooms are increasingly perceived as, according to Scott E. Casper and Laura M. Westhoff, "surprising opportunities" and "forces for positive change." (4) As an endeavor focused on identifying problems, collecting evidence, and sharing conclusions related to pedagogy, SoTL research is especially well-suited for assisting individual instructors and departments of history in the creation, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination of meaningful assessments in the discipline.

Most recently, the AHA appears to have endorsed this argument. In January 2019, the AHA Council approved and publicized "Guidelines for the Incorporation of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in the Work of the History Profession. …

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