My teaching shares three major goals with my research. First, in both, I strive to confront traditional narratives and conventional wisdom. Second, as with my research, I always am willing to experiment with new innovative methods as a means to achieve better results. Third, in my classes I always seek alternative voices – in both subject matter and among my students themselves – as a means to create a more inclusive pedagogy.
These goals are achieved in a variety of ways – as flexibility is a central characteristic of an effective teacher. First, to challenge students’ stereotypes and misconceptions about the world around them, I like to begin lessons with a puzzle, paradox, or problem. For example, in teaching the conquest, I often like to oppose oft-studied European authors with Indigenous authors presenting an alternative version of events. Students must then draw their own conclusions by first studying the evidence and then marshalling it into an argument, whether for a class paper, seminar discussion, debate, mock trial, or historical simulation.
Second, understanding that the most impactful and lasting learning occurs when students are intellectually and emotionally engaged in their study, I constantly experiment with experiential education opportunities. For example, I have constructed student-led projects designed to take on real-world problems; facilitated Socratic seminars, mock trials and debates; hosted guest speakers from the community; and assigned intensive research projects that culminated with visits to relevant historical sites. In a recent class at USC, I experimented for the first time with a Reacting to the Past educational role-playing game. In this game, which lasted four weeks, students played the role of Cherokees or whites involved in debates about the issue of Cherokee removal in the 1830s. To prepare for these debates, students read primary texts from the period, wrote essays and editorials, gave speeches, and engaged in intense debates with their classmates. Students ran the class, with some presiding over Cherokee debates and others participating in secret negotiations.
I believe digital humanities classes are uniquely suited to real-world projects and other experiential learning activities. The use of digital tools and methods allows students to engage with and share their work with the wider community. Learning these tools also provides valuable skills applicable far beyond the academy. More importantly, receiving this training together with critical humanities instruction demonstrates the responsibility that comes with the collection, analysis, interpretation, and communication of digital data.
Informed by research on how students learn best, I also experiment with ways to create a collaborative critical learning environment. This involves first creating an environment where students feel comfortable sharing ideas, asking questions, and taking risks in front of their peers and instructor. In early and mid-term assignments, I make clear to all students my high expectations, but then give them ample opportunity to experiment, gain regular feedback, and then revise their work.
Third, just as my teaching challenges traditional narratives so too does my instruction seek alternative voices in the classroom as a means to prevent the monopolization of conversation by a few dominant personalities. For the latter, I employ a variety of strategies to ensure the voices of shy students, as well as female and minority students, are heard in discussion. These include opening with a ‘round-robin’ question in small group discussions, allowing students the chance to silently think about and prepare a response before accepting any answers, and having student discussions in a large classroom begin small (think-pair-square-share). In addition, I draw lessons from ‘stereotype susceptibility’ research which shows the performance of students of underrepresented groups often improves dramatically when they are given the opportunity to learn in a collaborative, nonjudgmental manner with instructors who clearly demonstrate high expectations for all students. Finally, I pay close attention to representation. A digital humanities course, for example, lacking attention to projects created by and about women could reinforce existing gender gaps in the field.