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Teaching Statement

In an ethnically and economically diverse setting, I have seen firsthand how history education can change mindsets and perspectives, heal racial tensions by building bridges of understanding, and bring people together across generational lines. Conducting research on best practices in mathematics and history education, as well as teaching at two Kalamazoo, Michigan public high schools and two Research I universities has profoundly shaped my teaching practice and philosophy. Experiencing the power of history to make a positive impact on my students and the community inspired me to pursue my doctorate in the subject because my degree is ultimately not about me but about what it allows me to give back.

As a graduate student, I discovered that Digital Humanities (DH) allowed me to blend my knowledge of basic programming and logic from my mathematics degree with my passion for history. In 2012, I received a Cultural Heritage and Informatics fellowship, which grounded me in digital scholarship theory and practice. The following year, as a Network Developer for H-Net, I was able to integrate my experience as an instructor and my work in DH by teaching the editors of over 100 professional societies how to use Drupal, a Content Management System, for scholarly engagement and publication. Since then, my instruction has focused primarily on DH topics, tools, methods, and pedagogy and employs active learning techniques and critical pedagogical practices, based on the work of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and Jesse Stommel.

I design courses and curricula based on Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s Understanding by Design principles and research-based practices from the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning literature. My courses are designed to foster student engagement with the material and each other using a variety of pedagogical tools. The primary teaching methods I employ include inquiry-based and structured peer-to-peer learning strategies, question- and problem-based approaches in which students actively contribute to developing the questions, multi-modal learning techniques, and scaffolded discipline-specific skill-building exercises. These instructional methods facilitate the development of analytical skills, creative problem-solving, digital literacy, as well as strong written and oral communication skills. In my courses, students do not just read about the subject matter, they learn to think critically, to practice the discipline, whether it be history, math, or an integrated course, as professionals, and to apply their knowledge to diverse, challenging, and meaningful problems.

Based on my experience in building capacity for digital humanities research and scholarship, I employ digital technologies to enhance student engagement, teach transferable skills, and help my students become effective researchers in the twenty-first century.[1] For instance, at Claremont Graduate University, I offered a course entitled, “New Worlds for All: Digital Humanities Research Methods in Settler Colonial Studies,” in Fall 2016. Students in “New Worlds for All” learned fundamental digital research skills, such as building data sets from complex sources, mining and analyzing texts, and producing media-rich online content. In the first week, students engaged with basic text analysis methods and tools to interrogate scholars’ definition and their own understanding of “digital humanities” and “settler colonialism.” In the second and third weeks, two teams of four students created multimedia timelines to conceptualize the historical contexts of the people, places, and eras that saw the birth of a modern settler colony in Algeria. With this foundation, we examined the role that Indigenous communities, settlers, the colonial administration, including the military, and politicians played in the development of settler colonies and crafted original digital scholarly arguments based on a set of provided primary sources. Students then created a structured data set based on an Algerian resistance leader’s memoir from the mid-nineteenth century. Using their new data set, they employed network analysis to uncover the complex alliances that shaped relations among Indigenous communities, settlers, and other imperial powers in Algeria. Throughout the course, students also learned how to use the command line and basic Python programming for text analysis. By the end of the semester, students designed their own websites where they shared each of their DH experiments, as well as a reflection on which DH tools and methodologies are most relevant for their own research. Their websites also include their final papers, which addressed one of the driving questions of the class: “What factors shaped how and why settler colonies formed and developed?” Through this combination traditional research and writing with digital skill building, students had the opportunity to apply what they learned to a pressing question in the emerging field of settler colonial studies and to share their work with a broader audience.[2]

As a scholar of comparative settler colonialism and Indigenous Studies, I am also committed to exposing students to multiple perspectives of the past. History is often presented from an institutional or top-down perspective, whereas, in my classroom, students learn to ask questions about various actors to understand the complex ways in which they interacted to shape the events we study. For example, when I taught twentieth-century American immigration policies in the course “The United States and the World,” my students not only looked at the legislation and politicians’ statements, but also examined how immigrants and prospective immigrants perceived the policies, what actions they chose, and the effects of both legislation and immigrants’ decisions.

What is more, I strive to make my classroom a safe space for students to express their views and ideas openly and engage one another respectfully. At the beginning of the course, I facilitate a discussion of what respect means to each of us and how we can demonstrate respect for one another, especially when we disagree. In a pedagogy seminar I ran with graduate students, we also talked about making space versus taking space, and I presented the concept of stepping forward/stepping back as a way to monitor their own participation and notice when they need to “make space” for others’ viewpoints and when they need to step forward to share their own thoughts. At the end of the semester, a graduate student in the pedagogy seminar reflected, “I can be respectful of ‘taking and making space’ in this group and still be my honest, authentic self. As I shared my experience, strength, struggle, and hope in our seminars I was received with validation and support. … As I allowed [myself] to be good enough … I found a stride that was my own.” Safe spaces are also brave spaces, and I remain committed to ensuring that my classroom provides the security students need to show up, be seen, and take intellectual risks.

 

[1] The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning literature informs my pedagogical decisions as well, Cf: T. Mills Kelly, Teaching History in the Digital Age (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013). As does scholarship on Digital History and the Digital Humanities, Cf: Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005); Matthew K. Gold, Ed., Debates in the Digital Humanities (University of Minnesota Press, 2012).

[2] Applied learning is one of the most effective instructional strategies in the college classroom. My experience of more than a decade in the classroom and as an educational researcher supports these findings. Cf: Lorraine Williams, Mentoring the Adult Undergraduate Learners (PhD Diss, Union Institute and University, 2008), 41; Bryan Alexander and Rebecca Frost Davis, “Should Liberal Arts Campuses Do Digital Humanities? Process and Products in the Small College World,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold. (2012) www.dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/25 (Accessed 28 December 2013); Sheila Cavanaugh, “Bringing Our Brains to the Humanities: Increasing the Value of Our Classes While Supporting Our Futures,” Pedagogy 10, no. 1 (Winter 2010), 132.

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