Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Erin Devlin, History

The "Active Learning Activities" series will focus on what its name suggests: activities provided by our very own professors to be utilized in active learning classrooms. This post presents Dr. Erin Devlin’s use of “Card Sort” – a collaborative activity involving the collection of various pieces of evidence—to involve her class in an interactive, historical case study.

Setting: Activity utilizing pod groups (10 pods with 6 students per pod), groups reporting out, and a discussion involving the whole class

Setup for the activity: This activity was associated with a textbook chapter read in advance of class. However, students did not do any specific preparation in advance—it was introduced in class. For the first 20 minutes of class we discussed the history of British settlement in the Chesapeake, the cultivation of tobacco as a cash crop, and systems of indentured servitude that existed in the colony. This active learning activity was designed to help students understand the differences between indentured servitude and the system of race-based slavery that developed in Virginia over the course of the 1600s.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: This activity was designed to familiarize students with the codification of slavery in the United States, and to allow them to practice developing an argument supported by historical evidence. Students examined the status of people of African descent in the colony of Virginia from 1619-1710. Each pod was provided with a set of 38 cards to examine and sort. These cards contained historical evidence—court cases, legal statutes, statistics, historic images, etc.--related to this period of study.

On a worksheet, each pod was prompted to answer the following questions:

1. Write a thesis. Were Africans initially seen as slaves serving for life or indentured servants who served for a period of years?
2. Consider the evidence. What evidence supports your claim?
3. Consider change over time. At what point in the 1600s, do we find incontrovertible evidence that Africans were slaves serving for life?

After the activity: After completing their worksheets in their pods, a student from each group was asked to bring a card from their set that they believed provided incontrovertible evidence that Africans were slaves serving for life. Students identified different pieces of evidence. The representatives of the pods were arranged in a chronological timeline with their cards. They were called on to explain their reasoning in chronological order. This large group conversation enabled students to understand the codification of race-based slavery and its development over the time period studied.

Additional comments from instructor: "Students were later tested on this content and their answers demonstrated a depth of understanding and comprehension that students in the traditional lecture course had not. Required a lot of preparation."

For additional examples of active learning from UW Eau Claire instructors, follow this link to our website or click on the "Active Learning" tag located on the right side of the blog.

Tip provided by Erin Devlin

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