Teachers as Historians, Historians as Teachers
The Shared Learning Experience
I'm the director of outreach and education of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia, and our center is squarely located in the College of Arts and Sciences, not the School of Education. And I think that's probably an important element in describing all of the work that we do in outreach as ideally a bridge between historian and practitioner, academic content and best practice.
A Feedback Relationship
The historians ideally are prompted to really think through their own craft, think about their teaching of a topic, as well as their knowledge of a topic, and that the practitioners or the teachers or the educators see themselves as maybe not the same experts as the person in front or the person with, but as experts nonetheless. And so, this sort of collegial relationship over time is built, so that it's not me, the student, listening to you tell me something and I write it down and we all walk away, but rather a conversation.
And maybe for me, at the heart of all successful TAH projects or other outreach projects, is that sense that good professional development is a good conversation, one that is provocative on both sides and leaves as many questions as answers, and then continues.
. . . good professional development is a good conversation, one that is provocative on both sides and leaves as many questions as answers, and then continues.
The most valuable of the projects lead teachers down a path in which they're not just participating and attending, but they're actually engaging in and creating something new. There's some sort of transformation. And I think in looking at lessons learned over time that that transformation at the beginning is very personal.
It's that sort of personal transformation that I bet you'll hear from a lot of TAH projects. Teachers who leave and they're high-fiving each other and they feel great about it. Historians who leave and say, "Wow, I had the greatest audience ever, and they were engaged and they asked questions."
So, my lesson learned I guess to start with, would be that the personal transformation happens first. That then affects the practical transformation, which then affects the student learning. And it's a much larger process than just sort of the 'sit and get' professional development that a lot of teachers are used to.
Teachers as Researchers
Emotional Involvement as an Inspirational Bellwether
One of the digital projects that we have at the Center for Digital History is the "Television News of the Civil Rights Era, 1950 to 1970," and essentially this was a warehouse of eight-millimeter and 60-millimeter film discovered by two telephone stations, national TV affiliates, in the Roanoke area, about six or seven years ago. And they came across, what I imagine to be this huge storeware full of old, yellowed boxes with the narrator's notes on it and the grease marks.
And what our folks did was go through and section out particular clips that had anything to do with civil rights and a local or a state-wide, regional emphasis. And, so you can imagine now this digital archive of hundreds of video clips, digitized video clips, that are provocative and ask a ton of—it brings a ton of questions to mind, but there's no historical context to it. There's no interpretation. There's no annotation. There's no footnotes. It's just raw material, raw primary source material.
So, the Roanoke TAH grant was structured and framed around the idea that a cohort of teachers would work with a University of Virginia historian to better understand civil rights and Virginia history, then develop their own, very intentional, first-person research questions on that digital archive, and then spend a year investigating their answers. Doing research, primary research. Doing secondary research. Essentially, creating a multimedia research product that answers their questions and is then folded back both into their classroom and into the community, to better educate the Roanoke area about their legacy of civil rights based on this original footage.
So, we saw that go through a full, probably 14-month process, and the teachers who participated were drastically affected. But, even more importantly, they created material that was historically valid, that was meaningful in terms of the historical dialogue, but also could be used in their classroom for teaching and application.
So, to do something like that was incredibly immersive for the teachers and heartbreakingly, painfully difficult, because as soon as you add that first-person element, it was actually the teachers who extended it to the point where it was almost too much. But isn't that what learning is? It's when, "I can't stop because it's so important."
. . . as soon as you add that first-person element, it was actually the teachers who extended it to the point where it was almost too much. But isn't that what learning is? It's when, "I can't stop because it's so important.
And then we asked them to sort of unpeel what they did and think about how they might do similar things with their own classes and students. So, that's sort of the bellwether of that immersion.