Dr Courtney Welch – University of North Texas
Dr Welch is a faculty member in the Department of History at the University of North Texas.
The instructors in the History Department of UNT, provide learning opportunities for their students that are designed to encourage personal responsibility through class time discussions or critical writing components to stress curriculum that is focused on public policy, historical issues or international conflicts – in order to encourage that these students not only understand these events and their impact on humanity, but they also “listen” to different points of view and use their critical thinking skills to explore their own ethical and civic judgements.
For several semesters in my History 2610 courses (of which the Fall 2016 section was selected for these questions) I have incorporated a writing component that is focused on the impact of the American Civil War on Franklin county, PA (Unionist) and Augusta county, VA (Confederate). Because the University of Virginia has created a website filled with primary sources material on these two counties – the students have a treasure trove of information in which to answer their paper questions about their section. I separate the class into thirds and have the student sign up to study these counties on one of the follow selections: Pre-War, War Years, or during Reconstruction. The research questions will provide the students an opportunity to explore ethical dilemmas in the context of a national and regional conversation – especially about slavery and reconstruction. Students will analyze the choices that those residents made and how those choice reverberated throughout the late 19th century in America.
- After years of teaching, I have found that the challenge of incorporating a student’s personal responsibility into a course requires that this personal responsibility must be stressed often and presented in various formats in order to reach all of the student’s learning styles and personalities.
- It has been my practice to offer multiple opportunities to the students in various forms: discussions, book reviews, directed questionnaires, think-pair-share exercises and test essay questions. Then the students can use their critical thinking skills to express themselves personally in a safe learning environment.
- Even though I encourage classroom discussions, this is an activity that is not comfortable for some students, especially in a class of 125 plus students! Therefore, to begin to “train” my students that their opinion is important and can be expressed “out loud” . . . I start with encouraging the student talk to one another . . . on the first day, I ask them to tell the student beside them their first historical memory. This starts the breaking of the ice and establishing a “shred” of rapport with the class that allows for learning to respect others when more controversial ethical discussions are conducted later in the semester.
- Another aspect of personal responsibility is for the students to learn that tasks must be completed on time. Time management! Therefore, with the Civil War paper project mentioned previously – the students are informed of this project on the first day of class. This empowers the student to make their own decision about time management and their work ethic.
- I have found the Edsitement educational website to be very helpful with ideas and lesson plans on specific humanities topics. It is funded through the National Endowment for the Arts and has information and ideas that would be applicable to several disciplines.