Spotlight on Assessment

History Program

            Through the process of program assessment, the History Discipline has developed new teaching strategies and reformed our core course curriculum, based on assessment data collected during the first several years of implementation.  We recognized during the process of creating Program SLOs, for example, that while we had introduced our majors to the concepts of historical method and research, they did not have a firm understanding of historiography, which our discipline defines as the ongoing conversation that evolves over time between historians.  Mastering historiography is a skill essential to developing an advanced research project in our history capstone.  The history faculty acted by adding a new Junior Seminar in Historiography to our core curriculum, beginning in spring 2014.  The new course aligns our core to create a more efficient and hierarchical learning structure to assess our SLOs, while highlighting the research strengths of our faculty.  As a result, this spring, two students from a recent section of Junior Seminar went on to create presentations for the Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference, and one of these students won an award for best paper.

            Additionally, program assessment has been valuable in identifying areas of strength as well as challenges in our summative and formative course offerings.  After several years of data collection on two of our SLOs that assess student’s ability to critically analyze secondary sources (mainly written by historians studying an era) and primary sources (documents produced during the era one is studying), we found that majors who had taken the history capstone course had difficulties creating suitable historical research questions.  Such questions are essential to formulating and executing an advanced research project.   As part of our action, individual faculty agreed to design a distinctive strategy or strategies to teach students how to create appropriately rigorous research questions, as part of their critically analyzing secondary and primary sources.  We further identified innovative strategies for addressing this pedagogic challenge.  Through program assessment, the history faculty have been able to improve actively our commitment to excellence in undergraduate education at CMU.