Today was a little different at the University of Dayton. Instead of regular classes, there was the Stander Symposium, a one-day conference-style day of classes where undergraduate and graduate students present their own research. Admittedly, yesterday, I didn’t really know what to expect. Today, I saw posters sharing science research and I spent the afternoon listening to history students present their research. After all, in true conference fashion, you go support your friends, or in this case students.
It was really cool.
Students were asking good questions and sharing their thoughts about important issues. Other students were hearing about research, attending talks they wanted to go to, hearing what their friends were doing, supporting their friends, and gaining practice doing all this in what can feel like a high stakes, high pressure format. And there was lots of good learning happening.
I went to a panel about how to use a variety of primary sources to teach high school history students about the mid-19th Century Irish potato famine. It was great to hear students talk about how a biased source isn’t necessarily a bad source, about how to carefully consider the background of a source so you see different perspectives on an event, and how you can still construct a historical narrative from these sources. It was great! I asked them what they learned from this project. They said they learned that biased doesn’t mean worthless, that subtext exists and matters, that getting multiple opinions is good, and that history is a constantly evolving, dynamic field. These are fantastic.
After that, I went to a panel of history majors presenting the current state of their capstone projects. There were lots of really good papers on some really cool questions that I hadn’t considered as much. They too all had a brief section on the historiography of their research question–focusing on anywhere from 2-6 scholars and separating them into schools of thought.
The Stander Symposium was great for a lot of reasons:
- It encourages the fantastic gains described above, and the presenters are all over Bloom’s Taxonomy.
- It gives us a break and shakes things up 2/3 of the way into the semester when that break and shake up are very helpful and appreciated by everyone.
- It challenges the primacy and domination of a textbook or professor in our classroom.
- It shows students that human knowledge is still growing and developing.
- It shows students that they can be part of this growth of knowledge.
- It models the ideas of Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach (my reflection on it or a link to it on Amazon): that all of us in the classroom (and academia) are approaching the subject and sharing our insights to gain better knowledge of the subject–in my case, some approximation of the “historical truth” or an understanding of “the past and past peoples.”
- It shows professors that students are not idiots. Our efforts are not futile, and education is a long game. Given time, resources, and encouragement, students can produce some fantastic results. So we need to give them the time, resources, direction, and encouragement to do these things. Project-based learning, which was on display at this symposium, has a lot of value to it if done well, and part of that is actually sharing the results widely.