Julie Golia and Robin M. Katz 2014-05-27 13:03:04
TeachArchives.org is an educational resource that espouses a new, innovative method of teaching with primary sources in the archives. Launched in February 2014 by Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), the site is designed for a global audience of archivists, librarians, teachers, administrators, and museum educators. The website offers in-archives exercises and best practices for teaching in the archives, as well as reflections from educators and extensive documentation of the award-winning educational project that made TeachArchives.org possible. TeachArchives.org is the product of Students and Faculty in the Archives (SAFA), a three-year grant at BHS funded by the Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE). From 2011 to 2013, SAFA partnered with eighteen faculty at three neighboring colleges to bring more than 1,100 early career college students to the archives. While SAFA worked primarily with first- and second-year college students, the resources on TeachArchives.org can be used with students from middle school through undergraduate and graduate levels. An Innovative Teaching Philosophy TeachArchives.org encourages archivists and instructors to move away from a “show-and-tell” model and to model the nuanced skill of document analysis for beginning students. The website shows that visiting the archives simply to expose students to primary sources, while admirable, is not a specific enough objective to make for a successful learning experience. Instructors should be able to craft and articulate specific learning objectives for each visit. TeachArchives.org also focuses on item-level document analysis, and shows that more time with fewer documents (the fewer the better!) Makes for a richer, more in-depth analysis. Most of the exercises featured on TeachArchives.org ask students to work in small groups (usually three to four students) over the course of one to three visits to the archives. Collaborative group work allows students to puzzle through difficult passages or handwritten documents together, to draw on diverse skills, and to build class camaraderie. TeachArchives.org also encourages archivists and teachers to eschew generic document analysis prompts like “What is this document?” or “When was it created?” as these do not necessarily apply to many primary sources. Instead, instructors should shape the prompts given to students to fit each individual document used to best model the tailored, unique process of document analysis. The “Articles” module of the website draws on three years of in-archives teaching experience to lay out detailed best practices for this new pedagogical approach. TeachArchives.org walks users through defining their visit objectives, choosing appropriate primary sources for their teaching needs, designing effective in-archives handouts, providing thoughtful facilitation during visits, and much more. These best practices show how great pedagogy often centers on logistical planning. An article titled “How to Make Logistical Decisions” poses and answers seven essential questions—from “how will my students get to the archives?” to “how should the documents be arranged?”—that should be answered when planning an archives visit. TeachArchives.org also shares an empowering way to teach students about the care and handling of original documents. Instead of presenting these procedures as “rules,” which can come across as punitive, archivists should talk about care and handling as stewardship. Students learn to see themselves as valued researchers who are part of a long tradition of caring for our cultural heritage, and to feel a proud sense of responsibility for the security and preservation of primary source documents. Based on experiences during the SAFA project, TeachArchives.org also makes the case for deep and lasting collaboration between archivists and instructors. Archivists bring essential expertise to teaching in the archives and deepknowledge about their collections. They often have more experience teaching document analysis to a diverse group of students. The website abandons the notion of archivists as mere service providers and shows that more collaborative partnerships result in better learning experiences for students. Teacher-Tested Exercises The fourteen in-archives exercises featured on TeachArchives.org are based on class activities developed for the SAFA project during the 2011–2012 and 2012–2013 academic years. Project staff collaborated with partner faculty to develop these activities, helped them tweak and revise the lessons each semester, and worked with the professors as they produced a final published version on the website for others to utilize. All exercises include a detailed agenda, any handouts used, a full list of citations, and digitized versions of select collection items. They also address how to provide context and what to do with students before, in between, and after archives visits. The exercises cover a range of topics (from vaudeville to urban development to the cultural history of garbage) and use a variety of formats (such as maps or photography). Because of the strengths of the BHS collection, the objectives of the SAFA courses, and the sesquicentennial, many of the exercises are focused on the Civil War, slavery, and freedom. Instructors teaching near BHS can contact the archives to schedule a class visit and then conduct TeachArchives.org exercises at BHS with all of the same original materials. Teachers outside New York City can utilize the sixty digitized collection items as reproductions during in-class versions of the exercises. By sharing these sample curricula, TeachArchives.org allows other archivists and educators to see the teaching philosophy in practice and to learn to apply similar models and pedagogical design in different contexts. For example, in “Civil Rights in Brooklyn: A Scaffolded Approach,” students first study a single document and then move up to studying the whole folder from which it came. This model could easily be used with different archival collections or applied to another course’s learning objectives. “Impromptu Speeches in the Archives” teaches educators how to have students analyze three items in the archives (any documents will work!) And then deliver in-archives presentations about their findings. Evaluators: TeachArchives.org Works Over the course of the three-year grant that made TeachArchives.org possible, independent evaluators observed the SAFA project and collected evidence of student engagement, student performance, student skills, student retention, and faculty learning. They found that students who visited the archives were more engaged with and excited about their coursework, showed improvement in certain academic skills, and in some cases, achieved better course outcomes and retention rates than their peers. Moreover, evaluators observed that the eighteen faculty participants became more thoughtful and effective instructors as they employed the project’s teaching philosophy. TeachArchives.org also features articles written by faculty who participated in the SAFA project reflecting on their experiences, growth, and lessons learned. These professors hail from departments as diverse as English, history, fine arts, architecture, and communications. They discuss how well-designed archives visits improved student engagement, and they offer concrete advice about how to incorporate deep primary source analysis into large survey courses. One English professor describes how incorporating original documents into her American literature course enabled students to compare the material artifacts of early printed slave narratives with the anthologized versions they had read in their assigned textbook. A photography professor reveals how primary source analysis is, perhaps unexpectedly, an effective strategy for teaching fundamental design skills to her advertising students. Documenting a Robust Instruction Project TeachArchives.org includes extensive documentation about the SAFA project, including detailed explanations about the one hundred–plus class visits to the archives, the professional development program designed for partner faculty, and the summer research fellowship created for select undergraduate students. This section also includes official reports to the US Department of Education and a full list of presentations and publications associated with the project. This “Project” module provides archivists with big-picture and nitty gritty answers to questions about what SAFA staff did and how they did it. Archivists interested in implementing similar programs (or even just aspects of the SAFA project) can find guiding advice as well as practical details. A “Useful Tools” page lists the many free solutions (such as SignUp Genius) that were indispensable in running such a robust program, collects the resources that we created for the project (such as our Google Forms–based online call slip), and answers many FAQs that archivists may have. Spreading the Message It is our goal that TeachArchives.org will inspire and help archivists to teach more effectively with primary sources. We are eager to hear feedback about site content, and we would be thrilled to help implement similar programs elsewhere. Do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.