Podcast #63

Ileen Devault is a historian in Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School. In this episode she talks with us how about how she shares teaching responsibility with her students by having them lead discussion of topics using primary sources. In the process, they learn about archival research, they bring fresh energy into the classroom, and perhaps most important, they learn to think like historians.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:49 Welcoming Ileen Devault. Teaching professors to read primary historical sources. College freshmen often think history is just a set of facts. “I’m going to be very good in this class….” You do need to know some facts.

7:22 Thinking like an historian. This is different for intro courses vs. major courses. Unfree Labor: Servants, Slaves, and Wives.

10:59 Historical documents also break up the class and wake up the students. Spending 15 minutes in a 50-minute class using a primary source.

14:49 A letter from an indentured servant. Students presenting historical documents in class by writing questions and leading a discussion. Crowd-sourcing the lecture.

21:55 One person speaking in class vs. many voices. Keeping the stakes low and the motivation shoe on the proper foot. Trying to keep adrenaline low in the classroom. The professor doesn’t have to talk all the time. Learning to become more relaxed.

25:33 The first college class Ileen taught. Not doing things perfectly the first time. Needing to teach a class three times before you know what you want to do with that.

29:06 Teaching history in a labor relations school. Creating a focus on students in a culture of lecturing. At the beginning of discussion section students write down answer to a quiz question on the reading. This jump-starts the actual discussion. Students initialy complained about a weekly reading quiz, but by the end of the semester their evaluations show students appreciated it, and their papers are better.

36:01 Non-goal-directed tasks can support better learning. See Sweller (1994) “Cognitive Load Theory, Learning Difficulty, and Instructional Design” in Learning and Instruction, Vol 4, pp. 295-312. Ileen is a huge hit on Rate My Professor. Using quotations from primary sources on paper assignments. Reading all the papers, grading sample papers, and supporting the TA’s in their grading decisions. In other words: actually training TA’s. Edward’s way of doing that. Using a very loose rubric.

43:30 The joys of teaching at different levels. Getting into deeper philosophical issues: what is freedom? Does it even matter? Edward on putting the big philosophical question right up front.

48:54 Ileen’s teaching mistakes. Trying to cover everything and get everything in the exact right place. “There wasn’t time for me to say everything.” Not being a slave to structure.
Doug’s mistake of talking twice as fast to cover the material. A student pays Edward a compliment: ‘I don’t have to work so hard in your lectures.’

54:12 Thanks and signing off.