Designing “Problem Sets” and Flipping Humanities Courses

Jesse E. Hoffnung-Garskof, Associate Professor, American Culture<br />
History, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

What do you do if the science of learning persuades you that students benefit hugely from project-based learning, but you teach a humanities subject that lacks the problem sets around which lectures can so productively be flipped in disciplines like engineering or dentistry? And how do you scale a newly flipped course to serve 60-70 students after pilot runs with 30-40?

HISTORY 335 “Immigration Law” created space for new activities by first adopting a familiar technique: clicker quizzes at the beginning of class encourage students to actually do the readings beforehand. This change freed time for students to work in small groups. Requiring the groups to sit together during lecture was a “eureka” moment because projects started in lecture can wrap up with report-outs during discussion section. The flexibility to plan group work spanning lecture and section was key to scaling up the model.

Like problem sets, carefully crafted activities ask students to put their readings into practice through engagement with new material in authentic tasks. For example, research tools like the Shepardizing function in Lexis Nexis let students identify all subsequent cases that cite a given case so they can trace changes in immigration policies. In about the same amount of time required for a real intake interview, students role play meetings between visa seekers and legal practitioners, including hunting online for appropriate forms.

Colleagues have noticed the “stimulating, collaborative, and inspiring” atmosphere in HISTORY 335, and other history faculty are adopting similar project-based strategies and practices.

Student Comments

“Each class generally begins with our i-clicker questions, followed by a short lecture, and ends with a memorable and relevant activity. This allows us to talk about the material, ask questions, and get to know our classmates.”

“Activities give us real tools for future assignments.”

“We are given a reasonable amount of readings for each week. Each reading is extremely relevant to that week’s topic.”

“Memorable and relevant activities have ranged from research workshops, where we have learned the needed tools to complete our own legal research, to activities where we take the role of immigration officer and decide who is admissible and who is not.”

“The lecture activities helped me to draw connections between the course material and real-life applications and helped demonstrate the reality of the laws for the people subject to them.”

“This model has made our class rousing and dynamic; it is more inclusive and impactful to our learning.”

“Rather than memorizing dates and laws before an exam, which we will forget once we are out of the exam room, we are walking away from his course with unforgettable lessons that we can continue to apply in our lives.”

Above photo:
JESSE E. HOFFNUNG-GARSKOF (Associate Professor, American Culture History, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts)
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