The Class I want to Teach

This semester, I’ve been enrolled in a course on college teaching, as well as doing the Graduate Engagement Certificate out of the Office of Engagement. Both experiences have me thinking hard about what type of teacher I hope to be, and also what kinds of courses I’d like to teach. This idea, although requiring a lot resources, time, and energy, would be the ultimate course for me. Let me know what you think.

The topic: Local Cultural History and Heritage. I want to teach a class that would incorporate things I enjoy, think are valuable, and want to convey: archaeology, history, digital humanities, community engagement, and developing an appreciation for community spaces and heritage. I’m going to pretend that this course is offered at MSU, for simplicity’s sake. The course will be on the small end, maybe 15-25. It will survey the literature on cultural heritage, public archaeology, public history, etc. It will work within the confines of a larger digital humanities type of project: the establishment of an interactive and historical city map. This map would provide detailed GIS information about the history of spaces within the City, probably divided by city block.

Such a course would require partnerships across the University and community. University wide, we would partner with a course on Geographic Information Systems: my students would research and create content, while the GIS students would work within the framework of the interactive map to manipulate this data so that it fits within the framework. They would work in groups: something like 2 from my course, 2 from the GIS course.

The research would be done on block-by-block units. Each student group would research a different block, and create the content for those areas: my students working on gathering historical data, GIS students inputting it, both providing interpretation. Admittedly, I read about a professor who was doing this, I think in Richmond, VA. What I want to do, however, takes this towards community engagement, not just for analytical research.

These groups would not stop at four students. The community would also be incorporated into the project. Residents of the neighborhood would be asked work with us, visiting archives, studying their past, providing interviews about the neighborhoods. They would work beside us at each step, learning the power of the past, while we would learn about cultural heritage development, as well as something about the community in which they live.

The final product would take many, many years. Most likely an entire career. I would work neighborhood to neighborhood, so that completed projects could happen more rapidly (So, for example, take Old Town and finish that, then move on to Groesbeck, or something). This way, these neighborhoods could utilize the information for school groups, or whatever.

This class would also have a companion piece: a summer field school. The data collected by students would result in a fantastic overview of these neighborhoods, and potentially identify a number of potential archaeological sites. A field school would allow another opportunity to work with the community, as students and residents worked together to excavate the site, reemphasizing the power of discovery through very tangible means.

Please let me know your thoughts. I am curious if any of you have heard of similar ideas, have any suggestions about how it could be made better, or think it’s just an unobtainable dream…

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/phunk/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  • a new blog post on the class I hope to teach someday: http://bit.ly/dAgkdF let me know your thoughts!
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • a new blog post on the class I hope to teach someday: http://bit.ly/dAgkdF let me know your thoughts!
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • a new blog post on the class I hope to teach someday: http://bit.ly/dAgkdF let me know your thoughts!
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • ashheck

    As a student affairs professional and grad student, I can say that this is the type of course that would really appeal to functional areas in student affairs on campuses. I think often the critique in my field of academic coursework is that not enough is done to show students the tangible relationships between what they are learning in the classroom to the world outside of it. Your proposal would be an excellent link between theory and practice, and also would given students hands-on practical archaeology experience that would help them to determine not only if your field is a course they should major in, but also if career interests could come from it. Further, by engaging the community, you increase students' understanding of the context of their college; it gives more meaning to the place they are spending 4+ years, which the service learning literature says not enough students gain.

    I think if one area could be fleshed out more, it would be the community involvement piece. How will you build those relationships? Make community members who might not give a hoot about their hometown history buy into your project? How would you educate them about what you do, and support them as they work with your students?

  • This is one of the many complicated parts of engagement work. Obviously, community engagement isn't worthwhile if there is no perceived need by the community for the engagement work. Establishing this need will require some leg work before hand. Approaching local historical societies, government agencies in cultural affairs, or local school teachers may be a way to establish these relationships. There may also be ways to build on previously established relationships between the University and the community, so that no one has to reinvent the wheel. Establishing these ties can inform you of a couple things: if understanding the cultural heritage of an area is a high priority in the community, or if an assessment project could be developed to determine if it is something the community is interested in doing.

    There will always be people who don't care: the hope is that they will begin to realize through your work with them, or with their neighbors, that there is a good reason to care. As for educating and supporting them, this is part of the entire process: they will be learning about this research the same way the students are. I could certainly envision workshops where methods and research concepts are taught to those community members who volunteer. Again, partnering with a historical society might provide more community-based instruction for these workshops.

    Thanks for your comments!

  • i think it's a neat project idea, terry. i'd wonder about the community participation though. in particular, renters and people who don't feel a connection to the community. what do you do when they say no thank you to participation?

    i'd also like to see a specific plan to involve local school kids – there's a whole section of local history in elementary school. Those kids could be doing the interviews of their families. that would be so cool!

  • If people don't want to be involved, they don't have to be. Some students may very well not have community partners, or do a different distribution of the community among the groups.

    Local school kids would be a fantastic addition. I like it. Added. You could also envision coordination with school teachers to establish lesson plans to be affiliated with the website, so that others can utilize it. Thanks for the comments!

  • exactly! i am all for making connections between school kids and higher-ed. when you do actually teach this class, you can find the state social science curriculum standards online, so you can show teachers exactly what you can help them check-off on their requirement lists. You can usually meet some other standards from English along the way too.

    http://michigan.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-28753_3868

    Also, if the local teachers are busy, you could connect with a faculty member in Social Science Ed., and s/he could have students create the lesson plans to go along with your website.

  • Thanks for the link. Partnering with a university prof of education would definitely be something I'd look into.

  • ashheck

    As a student affairs professional and grad student, I can say that this is the type of course that would really appeal to functional areas in student affairs on campuses. I think often the critique in my field of academic coursework is that not enough is done to show students the tangible relationships between what they are learning in the classroom to the world outside of it. Your proposal would be an excellent link between theory and practice, and also would given students hands-on practical archaeology experience that would help them to determine not only if your field is a course they should major in, but also if career interests could come from it. Further, by engaging the community, you increase students' understanding of the context of their college; it gives more meaning to the place they are spending 4+ years, which the service learning literature says not enough students gain.

    I think if one area could be fleshed out more, it would be the community involvement piece. How will you build those relationships? Make community members who might not give a hoot about their hometown history buy into your project? How would you educate them about what you do, and support them as they work with your students?

  • This is one of the many complicated parts of engagement work. Obviously, community engagement isn't worthwhile if there is no perceived need by the community for the engagement work. Establishing this need will require some leg work before hand. Approaching local historical societies, government agencies in cultural affairs, or local school teachers may be a way to establish these relationships. There may also be ways to build on previously established relationships between the University and the community, so that no one has to reinvent the wheel. Establishing these ties can inform you of a couple things: if understanding the cultural heritage of an area is a high priority in the community, or if an assessment project could be developed to determine if it is something the community is interested in doing.

    There will always be people who don't care: the hope is that they will begin to realize through your work with them, or with their neighbors, that there is a good reason to care. As for educating and supporting them, this is part of the entire process: they will be learning about this research the same way the students are. I could certainly envision workshops where methods and research concepts are taught to those community members who volunteer. Again, partnering with a historical society might provide more community-based instruction for these workshops.

    Thanks for your comments!

  • i think it's a neat project idea, terry. i'd wonder about the community participation though. in particular, renters and people who don't feel a connection to the community. what do you do when they say no thank you to participation?

    i'd also like to see a specific plan to involve local school kids – there's a whole section of local history in elementary school. Those kids could be doing the interviews of their families. that would be so cool!

  • If people don't want to be involved, they don't have to be. Some students may very well not have community partners, or do a different distribution of the community among the groups.

    Local school kids would be a fantastic addition. I like it. Added. You could also envision coordination with school teachers to establish lesson plans to be affiliated with the website, so that others can utilize it. Thanks for the comments!

  • exactly! i am all for making connections between school kids and higher-ed. when you do actually teach this class, you can find the state social science curriculum standards online, so you can show teachers exactly what you can help them check-off on their requirement lists. You can usually meet some other standards from English along the way too.

    http://michigan.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-28753_3868

    Also, if the local teachers are busy, you could connect with a faculty member in Social Science Ed., and s/he could have students create the lesson plans to go along with your website.

  • Thanks for the link. Partnering with a university prof of education would definitely be something I'd look into.