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Archive for October, 2009

Thinking about assessment, textbooks, and Dakota Territory

In Tuesday’s class, we had a visit from Dr. Joan Hawthorne, Assistant Provost for Assessment and Achievement at UND. I must admit that while we learned a great deal about assessment, I am not completely convinced of the value of it. Dr. Iseminger posed a question to us about our future in teaching, whether or not we chose this profession to fill out paperwork. I will say that I did not decide to go into the historical profession and teaching to fill out paperwork most of the time.

We also handed in our textbook evaluation assignment. I feel that the assignment was a worthwhile one, albeit a little long in pagination. We examined several textbooks, considering aspects of attitudes on race, gender, events covered, ideology, and prose, to name a few areas. Textbooks have increased their focus towards women and minority groups and have increased space devoted to images and graphics. This makes them less usable to instructors, but there are options. Brief editions of textbooks are a good option, as they are smaller in size, have a better prose, and are often cheaper, which is great students. My choice would be to use a brief edition.

On Wednesday in North Dakota History, we finished our discussion on homesteading, with Dr. Porter and I “building” a twelve foot by fourteen foot shack and using students to represent five people, a calf, and twenty-four chickens, which resulted in a very cramped place. We then turned our attention to Dakota Territory, including mention of William Jayne from my alma mater Illinois College, who was the first territorial governor. We also learned about the idea that almost prevented North Dakota from becoming a state, as there was a plan to divide the territory between Minnesota and give the rest to other states, with the dividing line along the Missouri River. Fortunately that did not happen, otherwise I would be Minnesotan, which comes with having an SNL alum as a Senator and being in Gopher country for hockey (shudders). It will be a fun Friday, as we will finish our discussion of the territory and I will then head to Des Moines, Iowa for the North Central Region Conference for Civil Air Patrol.

Homesteading in North Dakota

Having populated the state with various immigrant groups, per my lecture on Friday, we turned our attention to those hardy souls who dared to gamble with “free” land in North Dakota via the Homestead Act and other measures. I put free in quotations because given the rules and regulations one needed to follow that Dr. Porter elaborated on today, the land hardly seems free, as there was a considerable investment of time and money needed to improve the land per regulation. Many people failed or gave up on Homestead applications, while others bought land outright, or acquired it through illegal means.

One of the more interesting parts of the lecture revolved around the Timber Culture Act (1873-1891), where persons were encouraged to plant specific trees in order to gain additional land. If you have ever been to North Dakota, we do not have a lot of trees, especially in the western part of the state. Our climate is not good for certain trees, which were exactly the ones the government expected to be planted. Needless to say, fraud was rampant and the failed program was quickly repealed. The numbers were amazing, as farmers would have to plant almost three thousand trees on the land to meet requirements. Many were discouraged, as they came to the area to farm wheat, not trees.

We then briefly turned our attention to sod houses, which offered students some interesting pictures of the good, bad, and ugly of sod construction. While such material provided some advantages, there were also drawbacks. If a heavy rain came along, your walls could crumble, as they were made of dirt. Overall, it was an interesting exploration of farm life in North Dakota. Tomorrow, I hope to both discuss happenings in class, as well as thinking about textbooks.

An exciting last few days

The last several days since my last post have been quite interesting and enjoyable. On Friday, October 16, I lectured for Dr. Porter, who was attending the Northern Great Plains History Conference. The experience was interesting, but I survived, as I was able to deal with notes that were fairly light and hard to read. In class we discussed the creation of the Great Northern railroad and then began discussion on the various groups that immigrated to North Dakota.

Later that afternoon, I live-blogged the colloquium on Teaching and Learning in the Memorial Union for the blog Teaching Thursday. It was a unique experience and one I hope to do again, but it does have its frustrations, as in attempting to record details of sessions the best for the blog while a presenter is speaking. You can read my posts on the speech during lunch, afternoon session one, and session two at the blog. Also, be sure to check out there interesting post regarding cheating this week.

On Tuesday, Dr. Mochoruk visited HIST 551 and we learned about the procedures and committees behind tenure, retention, and promotion among faculty. It was an interesting lecture that provided a great amount of helpful information as far as planning a career in academia.

Wednesday, we handed back exams in North Dakota History and then discussed the first part of the sources of North Dakota population. I finished the lecture today and it went much better. My copies of the notes were darker and easier to read, plus Dr. Porter and I took the time to go over the notes so that I knew what she was writing. Things went smoothly, though the class is shy about engagement with questions and one young lady decided texting was better, but I simply ignored her and moved on.

On a whole the week has been good, but I have to finish an assignment for class, which is always somewhat depressing, but it is what I do. My mother is visiting town this weekend, as my grandmother’s birthday is Sunday and my cousin just had her first child on Tuesday, and despite various complications with the birth and other family members, the week is good. Several of us are going to deflate and laugh by going to see Larry the Cable Guy tonight, which will be therapuetic given the last couple of days. Until next time, keep researching and teaching.

Dakota Territory, Railroads, and Oral History

As I prepare to grade a few exams this evening while battling congestion and a slight headache (No, the exams are not the cause.), I thought I would recap what has happened the last few days. On Friday, we continued our examination of Dakota Territory and began looking at railroads on Monday and how the Northern Pacific Railroad came to dominate territorial and early state politics based on how much land the federal government gave them. This power ultimately led to the development of the Nonpartisan League (NPL), which is my area of focus now, in the 1910s. In addition to the lecture, Dr. Porter and I have been working to grade exams (I am doing the exams) and the students’ first encyclopedia entries.

In class today, we had a visit from Dr. Porter, who talked about oral history, public history, and the many wonderful opportunities in both areas. She also discussed the Oral History Review, the major scholarly journal in oral history, and how a journal goes about handling submissions. It was a very informative talk and I learned about several opportunities that I will attempt to take advantage of in the future. I will have a couple interesting things in the next two days to cover, including live blogging for Teaching Thursday at an upcoming colloquium on Friday and delivering a lecture on Friday for Dr. Porter, as she will be in St. Cloud for the Northern Great Plains History Conference. So, until next time, keep researching and doing history.

Teaching observation-Dr. Mochoruk

Quick Note:  I made an error on an earlier post dealing with North Dakota History discussing the first part of our examination of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, as I did not post it, but saved it as a draft by accident. If you want to view it click here.

On Wednesday, October 7, several of us in HIST 551 attended Dr. Jim Mochoruk’s HIST 103 class, which was an evening class. This was by far one of the best observations I have attended. In full disclosure, I took a class with him last fall and he is a strong lecturer. That the class was in the evening, it was a bit smaller than most survey classes, but Dr. Mochoruk displayed a passion and energy that made the topics interesting. His voice carried well and he utilized the available technology. We explored a myriad of issues, including the conflicts in the colonies and slavery, which Mochoruk made more significant to the students by examining it merely as an economic system, which he was clear to stress that it was not his opinion, as the view was controversial, but brought forth the views held at the time. After class, we met and discussed his teaching philosophy, which was quite informative, as we learned a bit about the philosophy of the department regarding survey classes. Specifically, the department prefers not to use adjuncts for teaching the survey classes. Overall, it was a good evening and was the best observation thus far.

Teaching observation-Dr. Pederson and Dr. Kelsch visits class

Today, three classmates and I ventured to scenic Mayville, ND to observe Dr. John Pederson’s History 103 class at Mayville State University. It was an interesting class complete with a unique learning exercise involving the letters between John and Abigail Adams, where students were asked to either applaud or hiss at certain points. Dr. Pederson then engaged students with various questions, which students answered. Overall, the class was good, despite being held in a choir room. We discussed teaching philosophy with Dr. Pederson.

After a quick lunch, we returned to Grand Forks and attended class, which included a visit by Dr. Anne Kelsch of the Office of Instructional Development, and formerly of the History Department. We had a good talk and learned about exercises she did in class and what her office offered for instructors on campus. Despite the long day, we learned much about teaching techniques and services.

The calm before the exam

Today, we held a short review session for students to help them as they prepare for the midterm exam in North Dakota History. The few students who asked questions were focused on knowing what the essay was on and what the map portion would be like. Dr. Porter took a quick poll of the class and decided to focus the essay on The Fur Trade in North Dakota by Virginia Heidenreich, editor.

Aside from helping a few students to get ready for the exam, I spent much of the day that I was on campus thinking more about Donald Finkel’s Teaching With Your Mouth Shut and Rebecca Leber-Gottberg’s dissertation on problem-based learning in History survey courses. These two works are interesting, as they advocate methods that while potentially useful, seem too idealistic and leave me with a nagging question of how to reach students who are in college simply to get the degree and get the job, but have no real desire to do deep learning. I will discuss this a bit more tomorrow, as I will be both observing at Mayville State University and sitting in class, where we will discuss this further.