Flipping an American Culture/History Course

Michael Witgen (History, American Culture and Native American Studies) did not set out to “flip” his class.  He was inspired by colleagues to find some way to integrate technology into his 300-level History course, History of the American West.  Working with the Michigan Education through Learning Objects (MELO3D) community, Professor Witgen and his GSI team created a wiki for the course that, along with a coursepack, served as the course syllabus and textbook.  

 

Students’ First Exposure to Course Content

Each week of the course has its own webpage, which gives students access to the readings and study questions for each class session.  The course “readings” are primary source artifacts from the American West, ranging from images of maps created in the 1700s to letters from Noah Webster to YouTube videos of Daniel Boone cartoons.  The study questions serve as guides for students as they explore the pre-work for the class.

Student Accountability for the Pre-Work

Professor Witgen leverages two mechanisms for holding students accountable for engaging with the pre-work: pop quizzes and social pressures/peer accountability, as the students are expected to be prepared to contribute to small group discussions of the class readings in the face-to-face class session.

Face-to-Face Class Time

At the beginning of class, students are instructed to get into groups of 4-5 students and come to consensus on answers to the study questions listed on the course website.  Students are expected to use evidence from the primary sources to support their arguments.  Professor Witgen circulates among the groups during their discussions.  He then facilitates a large group discussion to hear the range of positions students have arrived at in small groups, adding brief (2-4 minute) “riffs” about important points.  Students are expected to represent the position(s) of their group at least once during the term to earn the participation component of their grade.

Assessment of Student Learning

In addition to the pop-quizzes and class participation requirements, students write three papers (5-10 pages) interpreting and synthesizing the primary source material for each of the assigned topics.  The papers are expected to answer all of the study questions for the assigned topic in a coherent argument presented with supporting evidence from the assigned primary sources and any additional research the student undertakes.  There is also an independent research assignment for the course that tasks students with finding “a historical event, person, or experience and explain why and how you think this subject is important and or meaningful in its particular historical moment, and now in the present day.”  The explanation can be presented in a traditional 12-15 page research paper or by creating a website showcasing the independent research.

Perceived Outcomes of the Flipped Classroom

Professor Witgen has noted multiple changes in how students interact with the course content and with him since flipping his class.  In particular, he sees students “acting as historians” in the small group discussions, in conversations with him during office hours and in their writing assignments.  He also notes that more students come to office hours to have conversations to try to understand the course content; there is generally increased student engagement with the course.

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