History: Analyzing How Context Shapes Content

Title: Analyzing how context shapes content
Authors: Marti Lybeck, Gita Pai, and Tiffany Trimmer, History Department, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.
Discipline / Field: History
Submission Date: May 20, 2014

Abstract: The History Department has selected the General Education Student Learning Outcome (SLO), “Explain how content is shaped by the context in which it was created” for assessment in all sections of HIS 101 and 102.  For historians this learning outcome means making a persuasive argument about was a particular source allows them to understand about the historical setting in which it was created. Our main goal was to encourage students to analyze the primary source and explain why its author chose to write in the way he did during his historical context-influenced lifetime.  In this way, students would not merely describe the historical setting; instead, they would think critically about how context informed the actual primary source and why its author wrote in a certain manner and expressed certain arguments.  Our observations revealed that many students had difficulty in comprehending the author’s strategies that were specific to the historical context. Most students who could understand strategy relied on the easiest of strategies only: the author’s appeal to emotion and in use of vivid detail.  Their analysis was mainly rooted in present-day values, i.e. “slavery is bad.” In addition, many students could not make use of their understanding of the relevant historical context in a way that explains an author’s arguments and strategies.

Analyzing how context shapes content – Full Report and Appendices

Nursing: Learning About Nursing History

Title: Freshman Seminar in Nursing: Learning about Nursing History
Discipline(s) or Field(s): Nursing
Authors: Elizabeth Devine, Susan Fontana,. Florence Selder, Laurie Glass, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Submission Date: January 30, 2007

Executive Summary:

The one hour class period in which nursing history was taught in Freshman Seminar in Nursing was the focus of this study. The short-term, lesson-specific goals for the lesson were [a] that students will identify 3 major themes that capture the ways in which the nursing profession evolved, and [b] that given exposure to nursing artifacts, students will discuss form and function of these artifacts as they relate to technology and the work of the nurse. The short-term, general course goal addressed in this lesson was that students will complete assigned homework as evidenced by their participation in class discussion.

The lesson plan included various interactive methods to address the three themes that have undergone change as the nursing profession has evolved overt time. These themes are [A] the Identity of the Nurse, [B] Nursing Service/Practice, and [C] the Work of Nursing including the technologies used in nursing care.

Activities included a homework assignment, short lecture and guided discussion on the themes that used the homework assignment and involved passing around historic artifacts, a small group discussion of a job description of bedside nursing in the 1887, and small group activity in the Nursing Historical Gallery where students discussed artifacts and ways in which the work of the nurse has changed over time.

After obtaining informed consent, two cohorts of students enrolled in Freshmen Seminar in Nursing were studied. Data were collected using non-participant observation. The lesson plan was revised based on data derived from observing the first cohort of students. Based on 0 to 10 scales, where 0 is strongly disagree and 10 is strongly agree, the average across scores for student being attentive, responsive, and understanding of the concepts addressed, the average scores from two observers were as follows.

  • For the whole class lecture/guided discussion the means were 8.5 for Cohort One and 9.5 for Cohort Two.
  • For the small group discussion of a job description of bedside nursing from 1887 the means were 6 for Cohort One and 9.8 for Cohort Two.
  • For the small group work in the Nursing Historical Gallery the means were 9.8 for Cohort One and 10 for Cohort Two.

During the lecture/guided discussion part of the class, using homework-based activities allowed the content to be addressed in a more interactive manner than when lecture was the primary mode of content delivery. The small group discussion of a job description of bedside nursing from 1887 was the weakest part of the lesson. After observing the first cohort of students, this activity was simplified and it was much more successful with the second cohort of students. The activities in the Historical Gallery were characterized by excellent participation and thoughtful discussion in both cohorts of students.

Links to the lesson plan and the materials used to each it:

Women’s Studies: Civic Engagement and Exploring Gendered Ideas about Leadership

Title: Teaching Civic Engagement: Exploring Gendered Ideas about Leadership in Women’s Studies
Discipline(s) or Field(s): Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies, Business, Education, History, Political Science, English
Authors: Lauren Smith, Ellie Schemenauer, Rebecca Schrum, Zohreh Ghavamshahidi, Mary Emery, University of Wisconsin – Whitewater
Submission Date: October 29, 2009

Executive Summary: With this lesson study, we wanted to foster critical thinking about male-centered ideas of leadership and challenge students to imagine leadership and leadership styles in more inclusive ways. In addition, we wanted to explore ways of empowering students to move from understanding social issues to understanding their own responsibility and capacity for civic engagement, particularly by addressing the difficulties women students have in imagining themselves in leadership roles.

The group invited three women leaders, two in politics and one in education, to speak to a total of five different Introduction to Women’s Studies classes.  We helped the students come up with a series of questions to address to their visiting speaker, and members of the group were available to observe each class.  In addition, we asked students to respond to a series of pre-lecture and post-lecture questions.  The group met several times before and after each lesson to discuss plans and observations.  The most useful data we found, however, came from the pre- and post-lesson discussion boards.

Our findings were sometimes surprising and multi-faceted.  For example, when asked to cite examples of good leaders in the pre-speaker discussion board, these women’s studies students named mostly men.  This dynamic was especially pronounced for male students, the large majority of whom didn’t list any female leaders at all.  We also analyzed the pre-lesson discussion board for the masculine and feminine qualities associated with leadership.  We found that students were slightly more likely to associate leadership with qualities we identified as masculine than with qualities we identified as feminine.  Men were less likely than women to describe leadership in feminine terms and more likely than women to have a hierarchical vision of leadership. Pre-lesson questions about the students’ own capacity for leadership also yielded interesting gendered results.  While both male and female students were relatively positive about their own leadership capacity, women were most likely to qualify and contextualize their positive responses and men were most likely to reply with definite positive or negative responses.

The post-lesson discussion board also yielded interesting results.  When we asked students whether their ideas had changed as a result of the lesson, relatively few students were willing to say that the lesson had changed their perspective.  Many students responded with what we classified a “no, but . . .” response.  These students would qualify their negative response with details about how their thinking had in some way been affected, enhanced or modified.  Self-reported changes were once again gendered.  Both in relation to their thinking about leadership qualities generally and their thinking about their own leadership capacity, women were much more likely than men to report some change in their thinking as a result of the lesson.

When the group analyzed the discussion board for evidence of change beyond self-reports, the results were complicated.  The shifts we saw in the student discussion did not necessarily go in the directions that we had predicted or planned for, nor were student changes in thinking necessarily more feminist.  In addition, the qualitative changes in thinking were different depending on which speaker the students had seen.  Three promising threads emerged in the conversation, however:  speakers’ strength and ability to endure adversity, explicit conversation about gender, and the “down-to-earth” qualities of the speakers.  Each of these suggested to us the emergence of a more complicated and more feminized vision of leadership.

Students’ changes in attitude about their own leadership capacity were especially unpredictable.  We had assumed that women students would see themselves as more capable of leadership after the lesson.  Instead, all the students tended towards more specificity when they described their own abilities as leaders.  At first glance, this would suggest that students were less likely, rather than more likely, to see themselves as leaders.  After analyzing and discussing student responses, however, the group felt that student post-lesson responses showed greater sophistication, a more realistic idea about what leadership might involve, and a more thoughtful consideration of the questions than had been shown in the pre-lesson discussion board.

Overall, the lesson study was extremely useful in providing information both about student attitudes and about student learning processes.  The students clearly benefitted from the guest speakers we brought in.  They expressed enthusiasm about and engagement in the lesson.  Though the learning evidenced in the discussion board was often unpredictable, it was also profound.  Student thinking showed greater complexity and sophistication, as well as more depth and awareness around gender issues—even when the students did not arrive at conclusions we might have predicted or desired.  We also gained valuable insights about students’ gendered ideas about leadership and differing attitudes of male and female students on this topic.

History: The Gilded Age

Title: Lesson Study: The Gilded Age
Discipline(s) or Field(s): History, Political Science, Economics
Authors: Kathleen Thomas, Robert Zeidel, Kam Zogorski, University of Wisconsin – Stout
Submission Date: June 2, 2008

Executive Summary: Our learning goals revolve around students’ struggle to learn about strikes and government regulations because of their preconceived notions about unions and big government. We want students to understand why Americans supported an expansion of government regulations at the turn of the 20th century, especially why the middle-class initiated and drove these reforms in pursuit of “modernity.” Therefore, we begin with the problems of the Gilded Age. Here students learn about the extreme wealth disparities, high mortality and injury rates in the workplace, poor public health, violent reaction to strikes, high unemployment rates, and corrupt urban machine politics. We constructed our study around an interactive lecture with a primary document discussion group activity that was graded for historical interpretation (i.e., an explanation of why these events happened at this particular time and are still relevant for us today). We found that students’ preconceived notions of immigrants are their biggest stumbling block, but when we have them focus on their reactions to low wages, lack of workers’ compensation, etc., they are able to anticipate Progressive Era reforms. Students enjoyed and seemed more engaged when asked to respond personally; they were most frustrated when asked to apply the reading terms from the textbook and to stick to the historical context. Individual reflection followed by group work seems to minimize these frustrations. However, finding the time in or out of class to cover the topic, reflect, then discuss (and grade homework) was still problematic.


Links to lesson plan materials:

Links to the study of the lesson:

Next Phase: The Progressive Era.
These are historical documents used to connect the Gilded Age problems to the Progressive Era reforms: