Welcome to the seventieth issue of The LTO Best Practices. Each month, the Learning & Teaching Office will be spotlighting a timely topic in education.
After many months of construction, the 4th floor of the library, housing Ryerson’s Archives & Special Collections, has finally reopened. To celebrate, we have a guest post from Alison Skyrme, Special Collections Librarian, on "Engaging Undergraduates with Primary Sources."
Check out our page of Teaching Tips handouts for more downloadable documents on a variety of teaching topics.
Primary sources are often used by graduate students and advanced researchers, but can be compelling teaching tools for undergraduates as well. Visiting archives and special collections departments can be intimidating for students, but by introducing them to primary source materials in the classroom, modelling research methods, and having them work in groups, students can become more comfortable working with different types of information sources, improve their research skills, and benefit from interacting with unique and engaging source materials.
Digitization has expanded access to primary sources, making it easier and more convenient to include this material into your teaching, from slides to assignments. This issue describes some ways you can introduce undergraduate students to primary sources and expand their understanding of research.
Primary sources are documents that were created during the period the researcher is studying. This includes not only traditional paper documents, such as letters, diaries, news articles, and government records, but also other sources of information like films, photographs, television footage, recipes, advertisements, political cartoons, recorded talks, and even household objects.
Research has consistently shown gains in student achievement when primary sources are integrated into the curriculum (Fry, 2010). A three year study developed by a research team at the Brooklyn Historical Society found that undergraduate students that took part in a class program that included structured pedagogical sessions centered around primary source material performed better in their courses overall than those that did not, and developed critical and analytical research skills (Anderson et al.). The students in the study reported that hands-on access to the primary sources had a profound effect on them, and that the course content they studied became much more relevant through interaction with the primary sources (Anderson et al.).
Interaction with primary sources engages student researchers, and allows them to develop an understanding of the time period in question. Primary source research also provides students with an opportunity to take an active role in learning. They are required to use analytical thinking and interpretation skills to fill in contextual information that may be missing, and to tie theoretical or generalized historical concepts to actual events, people, or experiences (Library of Congress). Students have the opportunity to draw their own conclusions, recognize contradictions, and realize how sources can be used, in and out of context, to support different, sometimes conflicting, theories.
Here are some ideas for integrating primary sources into your courses:
To help ease undergraduates into working with primary sources, consider the following tips:
Looking for some inspiration? Here are a few undergraduate assignments that Ryerson faculty created using primary source material in the Ryerson's Archives & Special Collections:
"The LTO Best Practices" is produced monthly by Michelle Schwartz, Instructional Design and Research Strategist at the Learning & Teaching Office of Ryerson University.
Do you have any thoughts, suggestions, or best practices that you would like to see appear in this newsletter? Please send all submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to including your contributions in our next issue!
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