December 07, 2009
By Maddalena Marinari
We need your feedback! The American Historical Association is considering the possibility of creating a “History Syllabus Wiki.” This new wiki would be a place where history teachers could come in and submit and tweak syllabi for different history courses.
This initiative is meant to provide history teachers with a reliable and valuable source to consult for ideas on how to get started with a new course; revamp a course; or just to get a sense of which books, movies, and assignments seem appropriate for a specific course level (i.e. survey, upper level, or graduate colloquium). This type of resource could be particularly beneficial for historians and teachers who are at the beginning of their academic careers or for professors at all levels who are invited (or forced) to teach a new course in their departments.
In a recent search on the web, we could find no wiki that has syllabi for a specific discipline such as history. There are, however, other sources for syllabi. Many universities have Syllabus Databases, especially those with Centers for Teaching Excellence, which very often provide access only to syllabi used on that campus. Quite often these are only open to members of the university community, thus making it difficult for outside users to search for options or ideas on how to teach a specific course. Moreover, most of the material that these databases provide tends to revolve around how to create a syllabus, offering online guides that tend to emphasize student-centered learning.
Many resources online offer individual lesson plans for use in the classroom (see lesson plan resources highlighted on the AHA blog). An excellent example is the History & Social Studies section of the EDSITEment web site. The lesson plans offered here are highly detailed and planned out, offering links to resources on many other web sites. These lesson plans could be even better utilized if worked into a syllabus and made available through a syllabus wiki.
A few academic organizations offer fairly extensive syllabi in the discipline they represent. Two, in particular, stand out: the databases of the American Academy of Religion and of the American Political Science Association. These seem like the kind of discipline-centered syllabi sites that could be usefully constructed here.
There are also a few research engines for syllabi, but they have general research criteria, making it difficult to search syllabi by topic, area, or time period. Unfortunately, one of the best resources for finding syllabiin the discipline, the Center for History and New Media’s Syllabus Finder, has been disabled by a change in the Google API.
It was also difficult to assess to what extent these tools are successful. Judging from the number of institutions (from research universities to community colleges) that offer databases and other materials related to the creation of syllabi, they are in pretty high demand. It also appeared that more than one discipline is engaged in a debate to determine what a good syllabus is and that this debate has intensified in the last decade.
Because of the collaborative nature of the this type of technology, the wiki would not only represent an excellent addition to the already existing database and search engines, but it could become a forum in which users would be able to comment, give feedback, make suggestions, and ask questions about the syllabi posted there.
We would love to know your opinion about this idea and to hear your suggestions about what sort of categories or prompts might be useful in this type of endeavor. Feel free to leave your comments here or to send your thoughts and suggestions to Robert Townsend. Let us know what you think!