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Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008

IU history faculty and Campus Instructional Consulting receive grant to improve student learning

April 7, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Four Indiana University Bloomington faculty members have been awarded an $80,000 foundation grant for a three-year project to document and improve student learning in history.

The grant comes from the Spencer and Teagle Foundations' initiative for Systematic Improvement of Undergraduate Education in Research Universities. Indiana University will support the project by providing $45,000.

History Learning project

Photo by: 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

Grant recipients are 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 History Learning Project (HLP) 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.

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 Spencer and Teagle Foundations grant project will explore strategies to get past two significant bottlenecks:

  • The ways that undergraduates learn to analyze primary sources, a particularly important step in the development of historical reasoning.
  • The creation of original and persuasive written arguments.

The faculty members anticipate examining 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 will clarify needed skills, design lessons, create opportunities for student practice and feedback, and create tools for assessing changes in students' skill levels. The lessons will be evaluated and revised, as appropriate, in the second and third summers of the project.

A first project team will prepare and teach 100- and 200-level courses to get students ready for more advanced work. The team might, for example, create a strategy to help students understand how the same primary document or image could have had a variety of meanings and a rubric for evaluating the extent to which this skill had been mastered by students at various points in the semester.

A second team will work in the department's small, upper-level writing-intensive courses, because of the crucial link between argumentation and writing in history. With the assistance of the Campus Writing Program, the team will devise criterion-based rubrics for judging student success in marshalling evidence in support of their own written arguments across the semester.

The Spencer and Teagle Foundations

The Spencer Foundation was established in 1962 by Lyle M. Spencer. It received its major endowment upon Spencer's death in 1968 and began formal grant making in 1971. The Foundation has made grants totaling approximately $250 million. By Spencer's direction, it investigates ways in which education, broadly conceived, can be improved around the world.

The Teagle Foundation was established in 1944 by Walter C. Teagle (1878-1962), who gave the Foundation a broad mandate, "to advance the well-being and general good of mankind throughout the world," mentioning many areas of concern and possible recipients of its support.