By Jonathan Lee
On August 5 and 6, the AHA held its second annual Texas Conference on Introductory History Courses at San Antonio College. The conference, which was established as a space for instructors of introductory history courses in the state to meet with each other and explore innovations surrounding teaching and learning history in informal networks, built on discussions and initiatives from its previous gathering in August 2015 at the University of Texas at Austin. The 60-plus attendees represented a diverse group of history educators from four-year, two-year, and dual-credit programs.
In Texas, students pursuing associate in arts, associate in science, associate in arts in teaching, and all bachelor degrees are required to take six hours in American history. World and Texas history also are prominent features on many college campuses in the state. A key focus of the conference was on the contributions introductory history courses make to the general education competency requirements in public institutions of higher education in Texas. In particular, the conference sought to further discussion on how introductory history courses can contribute to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board core competency outcomes including critical thinking, communication, social responsibility, and personal responsibility. Also prominent were conversations about how instructors could and should assess the coordinating board’s list of common student learning outcomes for introductory history courses.
The conference opened with a panel discussion involving instructors from a variety of institutions on the purpose of introductory history courses. Panelists discussed how their approach to teaching and learning had changed over time, and how they approached the issue of assessing what students are getting from those courses. Attendees also heard talks from Ricardo Romo, president of the University of Texas at San Antonio and former history professor, and representatives from the coordinating board including Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Parades, from Humanities Texas, and from LEAP Texas (Liberal Education and America’s Promise), a state organization promoting high impact practices and assessment of the state’s core curriculum. All attendees participated in the first breakout session—“My Goals, Their Goals, Our Goals”—where small groups explored the issue of commonly shared student learning outcomes and then chose other breakout sessions on a variety of topics such as building assignments based on primary and secondary sources, best practices in dual credit, and issues particular to specific introductory courses such as US, world, Texas, or Mexican American history.
The second day focused on more hands-on activities. Many attendees chose to participate in assignment charrettes where they’d submitted assessments from their classes in advance and spent most of the morning in small groups presenting their material and receiving feedback from others. The rest of the attendees participated in workshops about creating robust assignments led by Dan McInerney from the University of Utah and the Degree Qualification Profile project, Randi Cox from Stephen F. Austin University, John Bezis-Selfa from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and Penne Restad from the University of Texas at Austin.
The conference provided a valuable opportunity for history educators in the state to come together to discuss issues surrounding teaching and learning in introductory history courses, particularly the challenges of assessment and the value of introductory history courses in contributing to general education competencies. Two issues in general stood out. One was data from the Coordinating Board of Texas that showed higher rates of student success in introductory history courses in dual enrollment courses versus courses taught strictly for on-campus college students. This raised questions on how to interpret the numbers and what to do in order to address any larger problems they represented. Another noticeable issue that arose among faculty participating in the assignment charrettes was the inability to develop a consensus as to what constituted an appropriate assessment for an introductory course. Most attendees agreed that there is a need for continued and fearless conversations about developing large and common frameworks for assessing student learning outcomes, something these conferences have only just begun. Nevertheless, attendees were energized by the discussion and were enthusiastic about continuing to talk with each other throughout the year and to meet again next August.
Jonathan Lee, professor of history at San Antonio College and recent coordinator of the college’s Honors Academy, co-chair of the Social Studies Team for the Texas College and Career Readiness Standards, and member of the AP World History Redesign Commission, was a member of the first team of AHA Tuners.
Additional resources from the 2016 and 2015 conferences, including program details, audio recordings, and presentation slides, are available on the AHA’s website.