When a Historian and an Undergraduate Student Plan an Introductory Course Together: Three Workshops and How the Class Responded

Published on June 22, 2021

Raeann Au

 Over the course of this past year, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Dr. Dominique Marshall in designing three activities for the winter term of a first-year Canadian history course, as part of Carleton University’s Students as Partners Program (SaPP). SaPP is a pedagogical program in which students and professors work together to develop course content. It promotes student engagement in learning, both in the partnership between the student and professor and for the students of the specific course. I was inspired by my own university experiences as a third-year history major. I wanted to develop activities based on discussion exercises that I had particularly enjoyed because of the topic, activity, or usefulness in my general university experience. As such, my three activities focused on citations, historical empathy, and the ethical dimension of history.

 However, online learning required that I adapt these activities from in-person interactions to fit online discussion forums. On the one hand, this did allow for Dr. Marshall and I to use digital resources that may not have otherwise been included. On the other, the success of the activities in engaging the students was very much reliant in the discussion group members being timely with both their own posts and their responses to their peers’ work. Based on feedback I received in a survey at the end of the course, this varied from group-to-group with some having very engaged participation and others falling short. This is not dissimilar to what happens in regular discussion groups, however, there is not a TA present to help facilitate discussion and encourage their students to participate. Furthermore, the added stresses of the global pandemic on students should not be overlooked.

Workshop 1: Citations

 While there is often more forgiveness and leeway for first-year history students, in later years there is the expectation that students can correctly format footnotes, in-text citations, and bibliographies per the professor’s chosen style guide. However, in my experience, proper citations remain a mystery to many university students as the assumption is that they will teach themselves this crucial skill. As such, I thought it pertinent that one of my activities focus on this tedious but important skill. To incentivise the students and have them do more than an academic integrity workshop and perusal of a style guide, the goal was to tie practicing formatting citations with researching for their final project. Instead of creating bibliographic citations from random sources, students were encouraged to find a book and a journal article that could be used for their final essay, and to include their formatted citations in a collective bibliography shared with the entire class. Additionally, the students were encouraged to review the citations generated by other students and check that they were properly formatted. By including peer review in this exercise, students could also learn how to properly format citations by teaching each other and recognizing common mistakes. While this was not the most exciting activity, the majority of students realized the importance of the exercise not only for their success in this specific course, but more broadly in their university experience.

Workshop 2: Historical Empathy

The historical empathy exercise was inspired by my own experience in a discussion group where we transformed a primary source (which had been translated from 15th century Russian) into our own words. The activity was refreshing not just for the creative aspects, but, because it allowed me to step into the shoes of a historical figure. Dr. Marshall was particularly helpful when developing this activity as I was more unsure of where to draw the line between clear guidelines and creative freedom. The exercise we designed had students find a primary source document produced during the Second World War and relating to the social group they had chosen to research for their final project. They were then to write a short letter – as either a real historical figure or an imagined one – and a brief reflection on their critical and creative process. Based on students’ responses, most favoured this exercise because of their ability to imagine themselves as a figure in history, while considering the context and motivation of primary sources in a new way. These sorts of activities which encourage creative writing in regular history classes are more than just a fun break from writing research essays. The combination of critical and creative thinking needed to understand the historical context of primary sources while also interpreting their meaning is a way to bring history to life and a different way for students to approach and understand primary sources.

 Workshop 3: Ethics

My final activity sought to engage students in a discussion of the continued impacts of settler colonialism by focusing on a discussion of ethics and history. I used The Historical Thinking Project’s activity, “Ethical Dimensions of History,” to develop questions based off of Elsie Paul’s interactive digital book, As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder. The idea was for students to consider the relationship between history and the present day, the long-term consequences of historical injustices like colonialism and institutionalised racism. The activity encouraged students to carry-over their critical thinking and study of the past into their daily lives outside the digital classroom. The students were very much interested in the selected readings from As I Remember It and appreciated how using this source allowed them to learn more about Indigenous history from an Indigenous perspective. Since this source combines textual, audio, and visual elements, many students found it to be a more interesting source than a typical textbook.

By working with Dr. Marshall as part of SaPP, I was able to pass on some of the most important skills and lessons I have learned as a history major and university student. Dr. Marshall supported me in the development of my ideas for these activities and the more equal partnership that we cultivated because of this project showed me how important the student experience is to pedagogy. The experiences of upper year students offer significant insight into how introductory courses can be improved upon so that successive students have the necessary technical and critical thinking skills to be successful throughout their university education. Student engagement in the context of a stressful pandemic, where school is online and courses often asynchronous, is more important than ever. I strongly encourage that other post-secondary institutions develop and highlight similar programs as there is everything to gain from increased student engagement throughout the learning process.

Raeann Au is a fourth year History major at Carleton University and will be a FASS Student Ambassadors come the fall. Raeann has worked as an undergraduate research assistant with Dr. Marshall and Dr. Therese Jennissen on their project, Oral Histories of Activists in the Disability Rights Movement in Canada (1970-2020), as part of Carleton’s I-CUREUS program. As part of the FASS Summer Research Internship and supervised by Dr. Danielle Kinsey, Raeann is currently researching the portrayal of race, gender, and settler colonialism in children’s animation movies – specifically Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire and DreamWorks’ The Road to El Dorado.

Related Articles

You can now read the latest issue of Historians' Corner - The CHA's Digital Newsletter, issue #2.6

You can now read the latest issue of Historians' Corner - The CHA's Digital Newsletter, issue #2.6

The sixth issue of the CHA's digital newsletter- Historians' Corner, in 2021 is now available online. Pleasant reading!

Graduate Student Scholarships for Studies in the History of Ideas

Graduate Student Scholarships for Studies in the History of Ideas

Applications OPEN November 30, 2021 to March 1, 2022 The Robert and Moira Sansom Ideas Foundation was established in 2013 with the intention to create a Graduate Student...

Latest from Twitter

RT @Tenzier: Let your friends and colleagues know about the @CndHistAssoc's PHG Canadian Political History Book Prize competition - eligibl…

View all Tweets

Contact Us

Canadian Historical Association
1912-130 Albert Street
Ottawa, ON, K1P 5G4