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Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

IU History Learning Project featured in Chronicle of Higher Education

Nov. 18, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The History Learning Project, a project developed by Indiana University faculty members to document and improve student learning in the discipline of history, is the subject of a feature article this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Chronicle article describes how participants in the project have tried to construct every history course around the core skills of assembling evidence and interpreting it, with course work designed to give students frequent practice in exercising the skills.

"Scholars from elsewhere have come on pilgrimages to learn about the department's model, which the Indiana scholars refer to as 'decoding the disciplines,'" the article says. "Last month alone, historians from as far away as Australia attended a daylong workshop in Bloomington, and a member of the Indiana team led a cross-disciplinary session at the annual meeting of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, in Houston."

History Learning project

Chris Meyer

IU Professors Arlene Diaz (left), David Pace, Leah Shopkow and Joan Middendorf are collaborating on a history teaching project to improve teaching and learning.

Print-Quality Photo

The History Learning Project was developed by Arlene Díaz, associate professor of history; Joan Middendorf, adjunct professor in higher education administration and associate director of Campus Instructional Consulting; David Pace, professor of history; and Leah Shopkow, associate professor of history.

The four created the project in 2006 to define the kinds of critical thinking required in college history courses. Using the "decoding the disciplines" model, the HLP conducted extensive interviews with history faculty to define critical thinking in the field of history.

An $80,000 foundation grant from the Spencer and Teagle Foundations' initiative for Systematic Improvement of Undergraduate Education in Research Universities provides funding for three years, with Indiana University supporting the project by providing $45,000.

The project identified seven main "bottlenecks," places where large numbers of students are unable to master basic concepts or perform crucial operations. These obstacles range from misunderstandings about the nature of historical reasoning to discomfort with historical topics that engender emotional conflicts. They involve both writing skills and cognitive processes.

The faculty members undertook to examine not only cognitive but also affective barriers to the clear historical thinking and argument that are a prerequisite to full civic engagement. Working with additional Department of History faculty and graduate students, the group has worked to clarify needed skills, design lessons, create opportunities for student practice and feedback, and create tools for assessing changes in students' skill levels.