Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. The Teaching Points series investigates the role of alcohol, drug, and pharmaceutical history in the classroom.
When I first started teaching in 2009, I assigned my class a research project. With absolutely no classroom experience beyond my own, I naively assumed that students just kind of knew how to do research, and I quickly grew frustrated with the poor results. From that point on, I decided to forego “independent” research entirely in my classes and instead to focus on providing a “guided tour” of the material, providing students with textbooks, articles, and/or primary sources and requiring a mix (over the years) of exams, quizzes, analytical essays, and/or source analyses. Unable to spend sufficient class time explaining the research process or troubleshooting issues, I reasoned that the efficacy of a research project in a survey course would always be undermined by my students’ limited exposure to proper research methods.
In subsequent years, I continued teaching under this assumption. But, coinciding with my transition to a PhD program at Albany and my TA responsibilities, I also increased my efforts to explore how others instructors taught their survey courses, and I continued to make adjustments to my own teaching based on knowledge gained at conferences and in professional journals, newsletters, and magazines. I encountered two appealing strategies. The first is the idea of the flipped classroom, where the activities that typically take place in a classroom and those activities usually occurring outside the classroom are flipped. The second are strategies that stress digital literacy (a topic covered recently on Points by Stephen Siff) to help future citizens confront the information dump that they see every day online.
Combining these two strategies, I thought, would provide the ideal model for teaching real-world “research skills” during class time. On this forum (so long ago) I dreamed of one day flipping my classroom, but I lamented the prep-time required—particularly for a doctoral student and later an adjunct. I could, and did, adjust for prioritizing digital literacy, but the flipped classroom remained just that, a dream.
Then the pandemic came, and everything changed.