Round 1 Teaching Development Grant
The aim of the project was to further the teaching and assessment of skills (both general and subject-specific) for History students at the University of Warwick.
The project's objectives included:
Results of Investigation
The project was centred around the first year core module, the Making of the Modern World which was taken by all History and Joint-degree students in the Department. For 2001-2 this totalled 165 students. The project recognised that skills teaching (both of subject-specific skills and 'generic' skills) for history students is often haphazard and non-systematic because it is assumed to be 'integrated' into all modules. Skills may also not be taken seriously by students because they are rarely separately assessed. The project aimed to tackle both of these areas by course design, assessment strategies and the use of ICT to facilitate delivery.
The module identified a number of key skills (generic skills) which all History students should develop. These included skills in: writing, oral communication, information handling and research, numeracy, problem solving, team work, approaches to learning and time management. Further subject specific - largely source oriented - skills were also identified and integrated into the curriculum. These included areas such as measuring history; disease maps; landscape; primary texts; nationalist iconography; film; memory and memorialisation; fiction; art and modernism; newspapers; popular music.
The module began with a skills workshop that focussed on essential skills such as basic IT, Library, bibliography, writing and presentation, seminar participation, foreign languages, spatial analysis. The students were given a 'skills exercise' to consolidate their understanding of these skills. (see appendix 1) There was a further workshop in key skills during the first term of the module. The subject specific skills were integrated into each week's lectures and seminars. An optional part of the module taken by 40 students in 2001-2 was a 10 week course on 'Computing for Historians' which enhanced ICT and numeracy skills. The course culminated in a final project which was assessed.
A number of assessment strategies were used to consolidate the learning of skills. All students undertook a skills exercise (see appendix 1) which was discussed with their seminar tutors. During the module each student produced at least one 'skills-enriched' essay where they were able to use sources to understand historical problems. (for examples of these 'skills' essay questions see appendix 2). The students undertook two formal exams during the module which used a variety of methods (multiple choice, identifications and short notes, essays) to assess their proficiency. Many students singled out the opportunity to do a focussed piece of work on skills and sources as a key strength of the module.
Three separate evaluation exercises were undertaken. When the students arrived at Warwick they were given a 'skills assessment' questionnaire which evaluated their understanding of their skills base. (see appendix 3 for module questionnaires)
In December 2001, an interim assessment of the module using qualitative questionnaires and focus groups was carried out.
In June 2002 a final assessment took place, this helped to refine the module for the coming academic year.
Use of ICT
The website http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/history/undergraduate/modules/hi153 for the module proved to be an essential tool in the learning and teaching of skills for the History students. It was overwhelmingly singled out as an excellent resource and fundamental support for skills development. The website had included a skills forum which co-ordinated the learning and teaching both of generic and subject specific skills. Its contents had included resources to support the skills teaching on the course and links for further training, particularly the Warwick Skills Certificate which enabled students, if they so wished, to achieve a formal qualification, in part from their work on this course. It was primarily used to support the independent work of students in developing and enhancing their skills but also fed into a number of formal exercises and workshops throughout the year. Unfortunately, the University of Warwick used this academic year to end its license with Blackboard and develop its own content management system and therefore the module was unable to use the virtual learning environment as planned. Therefore some central elements, such as the electronic discussion forum which had been planned to complement the website, had to be postponed.
Future development/lessons learned
Where exactly are the following items and collections housed in the University Library (give floor and as much detail as you can).
2. History Department Website
Locate on the departmental website the following items and give full details:
Write a 100 word synopsis on one of the following articles which can be found via the electronic journals on the library website:
When writing your synopsis please bear in mind the issue of plagiarism - past experience has shown us that it is the practice of taking notes verbatim from texts and then transferring these to essays which has led to inadvertent plagiarism.
4. Bibliographic Searching
Setting out each item correctly following the Undergraduate Style Guide:
Mark on an outline map of the world the following locations: Afghanistan, Argentina, Beijing, Bolton, Chechnya, Mecca, New York, Potsdam, Rwanda, Serbia, Tibet.
Skills-enriched essay questions
Preliminary evaluation - October 2001
The evaluation of 165 students asked them to rate their confidence/ability in certain skills on a scale from 1 to 5. The average scores are charted in rank order below. Surprisingly perhaps numeracy skills received a high rating whilst communication and IT skills were near the bottom of the ranking.
The questionnaire also revealed other skills where students wanted support. These included research and note taking, handling large amounts of information and verbal/argument skills. The course design was modified to take account of some of these requests.
Mid-module evaluation - December 2001
This evaluation was carried out in focus groups and via a more qualitative questionnaire. For a selection of responses see below:
The evaluation demonstrated that the students found the skills training innovative, useful and important. However, there were suggestions on how to improve the delivery of the teaching and learning and these were incorporated into the module.
Final evaluation - June 2002
The final module evaluation included a question on whether students rated their confidence in using skills higher after the course. 87% of responses considered their skills had improved after taking the course. There was wide appreciation of the integration of skills into the curriculum and a demand for skills training to continue into the second and third years of the degree.
Appendix 4 - example of 'task-oriented' skills training top
Associated Skill: Fiction as an historical source
Charlotte Bronte: Born in 1816, she was the third daughter of an Anglican clergyman, who had been born in Ireland (where his surname was Brunty). Bronte settled in Yorkshire, at Haworth Parsonage (which still stands today, and is well worth a visit). Charlotte and her siblings grew up reading the Romantic poets, of whom Byron was a particular favourite (in Jane Eyre, Mr Rochester is a Byronic hero). After a ghastly spell in a boarding school established for the daughters of impoverished clergymen, Bronte worked first as a teacher and then as a governess. In an effort to earn a living without sacrificing their femininity or leaving the family circle, she and her sisters began to publish first poetry and then novels.
Charlotte Bronte published Jane Eyre, her first novel, in 1847, under the masculine pseudonym of Currer Bell. The book, although deemed grossly indelicate by many reviewers, was a smashing success: it was in its third edition by 1848 and guaranteed Bronte both fame and income. She died of tuberculosis in 1854, shortly after her marriage to an Anglican clergyman.
Jane Eyre (1847): Orphaned as a child, the protagonist of this novel, Jane Eyre, lives as a poor relation with her rich cousins, but is expelled from the family circle and sent to a repressive boarding school. She works as a teacher before becoming a governess in the household of Mr Rochester at Thornfield Hall. (The child for whom she serves as a governess is Mr Rochester's illegitimate daughter by his French mistress). Despite Jane's lowly social origins, Rochester falls madly in love with her and proposes marriage. Jane, having fallen in love with him, accepts his proposal. It is all very Romantic, but also rather ominous. Shortly before their wedding day, Jane wakes to find a strange women in her bedroom in the wee hours of the morning:
'...a woman, tall and large, with thick and dark hair hanging long down her back...I never saw a face like it! It was a discoloured face-it was a savage face. I wish I could forget the roll of the red eyes and the fearful blackened inflation of the lineaments!' (Jane Eyre, chapter 25).
Rochester dismisses Jane's experience, attributing it, among other things, to her overwrought imagination: she is, after all, a woman. The wedding day arrives. At the alter, a stranger from Jamaica, Mr Mason, interrupts the nuptials, announcing that Rochester is already married to his (Mason's) sister Bertha Mason, a white creole heiress (who at their marriage had brought Rochester a dowry valued at 30,000 pounds, money derived from slave labour on the family's Caribbean plantations). Rochester explains to Jane that he married against his will and inclinations, and soon found that Bertha Mason was immoral. She (Bertha) subsequently become a complete lunatic (as was her mother before her). In consequence of her violent insanity, Rochester keeps Bertha locked in the top storey of Thornfield Hall. Her escape from her nurse/gaoler, Grace Poole, one night had allowed Bertha to slip into Jane's bedroom: hence the nightmarish vision quoted above. Rochester describes Bertha in these terms:
'Miss Mason was the boast of Spanish Town [Jamaica] for her beauty...tall, dark and majestic. Her family wished to secure me, because I was of a good race; and so did she...I was dazzled, stimulated: my senses were excited; and being ignorant, raw, and inexperienced, I thought I loved her...her character ripened and developed with frightening rapidity; her vices sprang up fast and rank...What a pigmy intellect she had...Bertha Mason...dragged me through all the hideous and degrading agonies which must attend a man bound to a wife at once intemperate and unchaste. (JE, chap. 27).
Rochester begs Jane to live with him despite his marriage to Bertha (divorce is not an option in England in this time period). Jane is horrified at this immoral suggestion, and flees Thornfield Hall to live an independent, but virtuous, existence. Meanwhile, Bertha Mason goes completely off her head, setting fire to Thornfield Hall and throwing herself from the rooftop to the pavement below. Rochester redeems himself morally by attempting to save his deranged spouse despite his loathing for her. He fails to prevent her death, and is blinded, disfigured and partially crippled by the fire. Unsurprising, he becomes quite depressed. Jane learns that Rochester is now a widow and returns to him. They marry and live happily (one hopes or presumes) ever after.
Jean Rhys: Born Ella Gwendoline Rees Williams in Dominica in 1890, she was the daughter of a Welsh physician and a white creole mother, whose ancestry was Scottish and Irish. Rhys travelled to England in 1907, rereading Bronte's Jane Eyre shortly after her arrival. She attended school in Cambridge before working on the provincial stage. (Rhys returned only once, briefly, to the Caribbean as an adult). She lived for a decade or so in Europe (primarily Paris and Vienna) from 1919, was associated with literary modernism, and began to publish works of fiction in 1924. She returned to live in England in the late 1920s, and her works were largely forgotten by the literary world by the Second World War. Publication in 1966 of Wide Sargasso Sea, a rewriting of Jane Eyre from the twofold perspective of Bertha Mason and Mr Rochester, brought her to the forefront of literary attention. Winning the Royal Society of Literature Prize and the W.H. Smith Annual Literary Award, the book was interpreted by critics within three different (if overlapping) frameworks: 1) as a work of British literature; 2) as a study of gender relations or of women's writing; and 3) as a work of Caribbean literature. Rhys died 1979.
Wide Sargasso Sea (1966): The action in the novel begins in 1839, six years after the enactment of the Emancipation Act, by which the British Parliament outlawed slavery in Jamaica. Some of the characters in Jane Eyre are renamed in Rhys's retelling of the tale. Bertha Mason is referred to for much of the novel as Antoinette: Part One is told in her voice and from her perspective. Antoinette's father (deceased by the time the novel begins) is called Cosway and has fathered many illegitimate children with slaves on his plantation, the Coulibri estate. Her mother, Annette, is from Martinique (in the French Caribbean). Cosway had given Annette a female slave from Martinique, Christophine, as a wedding present: Christophine still works for the household after emancipation and Cosway's death, and is a practitioner of obeah (sorcery or magic). Annette remarries, and Mr Mason becomes Antoinette's stepfather. Mason's determination to extract labour from the former slaves of the plantation creates disaffection among the local black population, who burn Coulibri to the ground. Antoinette's demented brother Pierre dies as a consequence of the fire, and her mother goes raving mad. Antoinette is sent to board at a Catholic convent. When she is 17, Mason and his son by a previous wife, Richard Mason arrange Antoinette's marriage to Rochester, an impecunious younger son from England who needs her money.
Part Two is told alternately from Rochester's and Antoinette's perspectives. They travel to the Windward Islands for their honeymoon, taking Amelie, a mulatto servant, with them. Although the marriage gets off to a rocky start, soon they are having steamy sex. But the signs are nonetheless ominous. Still on honeymoon, Rochester receives two letters from Daniel Cosway, who claims to be an illegitimate son of Antoinette's father and a slave woman (and thus to be Antoinette's mulatto half-brother). Daniel Cosway informs Rochester that Antoinette's mother was a lunatic and that madness and sexual depravity run in her family. Rochester is now revolted by his wife, with whom he stops sleeping and whom he begins to call Bertha (go figure). He sleeps with Amelie. Antoinette attempts to win Rochester back through obeah; when this tactic fails, she takes to drink and (according to Rochester) loses her mind. In Part Three, told briefly from Grace Poole's perspective and then from Antoinette's, Rochester removes his wife from Jamaica to England and confines her in his house, which she eventually burns to the ground.
Some essential quotations to ponder (page references to the Penguin edition, 2000):
Some questions to consider: (see also seminar questions in module handbook):
1). Why did both Charlotte Bronte's father and Jean Rhys change their names? Why did Rhys choose to refer to Bertha Mason as 'Antoinette' in her novel? What do these changes tell us about Britishness and its 'Others'?
2). How is race figured or represented in the quotes from Jane Eyre and from Wide Sargasso Sea above? What is the racial identity of Bertha
Mason: white, black, or something else? What factors complicate the assignment of racial identities to creoles?
3). Does Wide Sargasso Sea tell us more about the complexities of British identity in the 1830s-1840s, or in the 1960s?
4). Is Wide Sargasso Sea an historical source? If so, whose history does it tell? Is it a primary source, or a secondary source?Are the skills needed for reading Wide Sargasso Sea historically the same or different than the skills needed to read a document such as the Declaration of the Rights of Man?
University of Warwick