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Midterm Reflections

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While I keep a private teaching journal, I thought it might be helpful to share a few reflections now that we’re at the mid-point of the semester. I always give at least one evaluation before the end of a term to assess how things are going for the students and make any necessary pedagogical adjustments while there is still time for such changes to make a difference.

Here are the questions on my midterm evaluation this semester:

  1. What has helped your learning the most in this class so far?
  2. Has anything hindered your learning? If so, what?
  3. What could you and/or your colleagues do to improve the course?
  4. What could the instructor do to improve the course?
  5. Questions? (These can be general or related to content, expectations, skills, technology, etc.)

The responses were illuminating but not entirely unexpected. As a hybrid DH methods/history course, this was a very challenging to plan and is a tricky one to teach. One of the students commented that the “discussion sections feel disjointed at times.” I’ve noticed this as well. I’m not sure there’s much help for it though, given that we’re doing readings in two completely different fields – DH and the history of settler colonialism. Now, we are exploring how several DH research methods may be applied to studying this history, but in order to do that, we must understand the component concepts of each. That means that discussions will probably remain, and may need to remain, disjointed as we address each field and set of readings, in turn. However, some of the other suggestions might help bridge the gap:

  • Spend more time exploring the tools and methods in groups in class. (45 minutes to 1 hour is the amount of time I usually allot to this in our 3-hour class, but it’s not enough and probably needs to be more structured. At the same time, this is precisely why I run a two-hour lab, rather than office hours – to address the need for practice and exploration with an instructor present.)
  • Demonstrations of the tools/methods themselves and then take it the next step further:
    • Demonstrations of how the tools might be used to study the history of settler colonialism. (I expected the students to sort much of this out for themselves and address this question through short papers. Perhaps giving students more time to share their own insights with each other, then weigh in with a few of my own might be a way to address this suggestion while keeping the onus on the students for the critical thinking and analysis this course is meant to develop.)
  • Provide links to the software, programs, and tools in the LMS so students access the correct platforms – an excellent suggestion! I thought I had included the links in the syllabus, but I didn’t. Doh! <Slapping forehead> So this will be a change I implement immediately.

I also need to explain that exploring and trying new things is the best way to learn them and that part of that process is frustrating. A few insights from Ambrose, et. al., How Learning Works should help to explicate and affirm what they are feeling as a normal and expected part of learning. While this fails to resolve the frustration, it does validate it and, I hope, will help students cope with it and persevere through it.

While there is room for improvement, it is also reassuring to know that other things are going well. A number of students wrote that they have enjoyed the readings, class discussions, and found the explanations of difficult concepts helpful so far. Two comments that I will refer back to whenever I’m in doubt of my teaching abilities:

  • “Overall, I am really enjoying the class and appreciate your organization and teaching style.”
  • “These evaluations are very helpful and create a welcoming environment. I really appreciate it.”

As much as my students are stretching, learning, and growing in this class, so am I.

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