Excavating the Present in the History Classroom

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Roxanne Panchasi, Department of History

Project team: Esma Emmioglu, post-doctoral research assistant, and Neal Adolph, Stacey Bishop, and Andrea Walisser, research assistants

Timeframe: January 2013 to December 2013

Funding: $4,500

Course addressed: HIST 235 – Europe Post-1945

Final report: View the final report (PDF).  For survey information/results contact Roxanne at panchasi@sfu.ca

From the final report: "My research assistants and I were pleased to discover that students in History seem to have a very high level of interest in making connections between their understanding of the past and the contemporary world. The students who participated in the study identified this as a central aim of their studies in the preliminary survey administered at the outset of the course (completed by 32/49 students enrolled)." Read more >>

Description: This project examines what students believe about the relationship between “then” and “now” when they enter HIST 235. It seeks information regarding student strategies for obtaining news of contemporary events. It also investigates whether the assignments that encourage connections between past and present accomplish this purpose and asks students themselves what they think about this learning goal. By surveying students before, during, and after the completion of a series of low-stakes, past-present reading and writing assignments, I hope to learn more about my students’ existing interests and skills. I also hope to better assess student learning at the end of the process by asking students to evaluate the assignments they have completed.

The project will proceed in three stages. First, an initial survey will assess student levels of interest in and awareness of contemporary politics and culture, as well as where and how they obtain information about current issues and events. Second, a series of short assignments over the course of the semester will encourage past-present thinking. A rubric will be used to evaluate the desired learning outcomes for these assignments. Third, a final survey and small group interviews will be conducted at the end of the course. Questions will focus on students’ evaluation of the assignments in particular and the value of studying past and present together more generally. The final survey will serve as a tool to revise the assignment series in the future.

Evidence obtained from this study will help to improve the design and support for the assignments in HIST 235. It will also provide a greater understanding of student experiences and expectations regarding the value of engaging the present in the history classroom. Knowing more about students’ interests and knowledge of the contemporary world, where and how they get their information, and what value they place on making connections between past and present concerns will give instructors a clearer sense of what it is that students bring to, expect from, and most want to learn about in their history classrooms.

Questions addressed:

  • What is the level of student interest in making connections between their study of the past and the contemporary world?
  • How do my students learn about contemporary politics and culture?
  • Do assignments designed to encourage students to make connections between past and present in their historical studies accomplish this purpose?
  • How do students evaluate assignments that encourage them to examine the historical significance of more recent events?

Knowledge sharing: Findings will be shared with colleagues at a departmental colloquium or brown bag lunch.

Panchasi, R. (2014, July). Excavating the present in the history classroom. Paper presented at the meeting of the International Conference on Improving University Teaching, Vancouver, BC.