Humanities Matter!

Ran across this powerful statement by Cathy Davidson and Christina Katopodis about why humanities is essential to higher education, and what faculty can do you ensure students come tot he humanities classroom, and leave better prepared.

Changing Our Classrooms to Prepare Students for a Challenging World – Profession

A couple of thoughts about this:

  • Much of my job includes supporting faculty who are doing digital projects with their students. They see the value, or are at least willing to try it out! Davidson  and Katopodis have a quote that rings so true to me: “Students need to unlearn years of being taught that they aren’t experts or innovators.” I see this nearly everyday. Students want clear, specific, rubrics and goals. They want to know exactly what the professor expects. While I don’t disagree with the need for clear goals, what I see is students doing exactly what the professor wants, not knowing/wanting/caring to decide on their own what needs to happen. This isn’t the students’ fault. It’s a problem with grades and with an education system that rewards sitting in a seat and spitting back what you’re told.
  • Skills mentioned in the article are exactly what we do in these projects:

    “working effectively in groups to solve problems together; reading and interpreting complicated data, events, and texts; undertaking original research; and understanding and making sense of ambiguity (the gray areas).”

  • Students struggle in these areas, as I mentioned above. Students frequently dislike doing group projects, and they definitely struggle with gray areas. I am surprised how difficult it can be for them to work with primary sources — the staple of historians.
  • We often hear how students would prefer to write a paper/essay. They know that drill and it’s easy. Working through primary sources and data is complicated. Digital projects also mean a non-linear method of writing, and this can be difficult to learn.
  • The authors’ suggestions of ways that humanities courses can foster these skills. Techniques like letting students talk at the beginning of class as opposed to the professor starting can be so effective in shifting the learning responsibility.
  • I welcome the idea of having students help set the agenda of the course. What do they want to learn?
  • Often, when I do evaluations of digital projects, students feel like they “learn more” through tests and papers. I find this fascinating, and we are digging deeper into this. Professors feel the opposite about the same projects. My hypothesis is that students are looking at content learning as the value, rather than the skills.
  • I will also more carefully incorporate the technique of reflection at the end of a course. Ask students what they’ll remember, what they learned, what questions they might have.


More skills mentioned by Davidson and Katopodis:

  • people skills,
  • communication skills,
  • critical and interpretive skills,
  • collaboration and
  • project management skills