Brian Hosmer, Associate Professor of Western American History at TU, took a new approach when assigned to teach “History of Oklahoma,” a block course offered through the History department.
“My idea was to change this from just a discussion of Oklahoma history to an opportunity for our students to meet and learn from all kinds of organizations in our town that are doing history work,” Hosmer said. The class, instead of focusing on lectures from Hosmer, is primarily composed of guest speakers involved in historical work in the state and local area and field trips. Guest speakers have included visitors from the Tulsa Foundation of Architecture, Voices of Oklahoma, and others. The class has also done a walking tour of Oklahoma architecture.
For the final, instead of a paper or cumulative exam, students create projects. Hosmer wanted the “students to produce something that’s useful to them, and maybe even useful to their family.” Each project is tailored around the student’s area of interest, so Education majors may be creating lesson plans on history topics, whereas other students may interview grandparents to create an oral history.
This style of teaching differs from Hosmer’s usual style. In other classes, the guests or field trips might supplement his instruction, while in this class, he is the supplement.
The idea behind this change was to show “that people are doing Oklahoma history every day in every community and to connect students to that.”
“In our world, it’s difficult for historians to explain why history is important and students often see it, understandably, as a description of people and places from a long time ago that don’t have anything to do with my life,” Hosmer said. “And so teachers like me struggle to make the connection between history and where we are now.”
Even though people may use history in their arguments because they realize its persuasive power, Hosmer said it’s difficult for teachers to communicate that power in the classroom.
“This class is part of my larger effort to think more deeply and differently about history. In this case, what i’m trying to do is tell students that history work is taking place in their town, in their community, every day”.
While he acknowledges this style of teaching is not suited for every topic — doing this with a topic like Medieval History might be difficult — Hosmer saidhis fellow professors seem interested in the new class structure. However, relying on guest speakers and field trips involves relinquishing some control, which he said can be difficult.
Although The Collegian was not able to get in touch with any students from the class, Hosmer reported that they all seemed excited. While the quality of the guest speakers and field trips was variable, he believed, based on the students’ response papers after each class, that they enjoyed the new format.