Universiteit Leiden

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Innovative teaching in History

History lecturer Giles Scott-Smith is enthusiastic about the new pitch-to-peer programme (P2P), for which students have to make an original, creative assignment and evaluate one another’s work. This is part five in a series of articles about lecturers and innovation in teaching and learning.

A poster or video, not a paper

His students first watch a film or documentary in their own time, after which they are given some questions to answer. They have to incorporate the answers in a creative work for which they can choose the form themselves. This could be a blog, a book, a slideshow, a poster or a video, for example. They then post the result in an online learning environment and discuss one another’s work online and in class.  

Blog

At the start, students often opted for a blog, probably because it most resembles the familiar paper or powerpoint presentation, but they have to use a different creative form for each assignment. Scott-Smith uses the new online system for the Global Cold War programme for bachelor’s students of International Studies and for The Rise and Decline of American Empire, an elective in the Master’s in North American Studies.

Refreshing

The feedback is very positive.  Students appreciate the freedom, the flexibility, the challenge and the interaction. Among the advantages Scott-Smith mentions is that students learn to evaluate one another’s results and that their creativity is really put to the test. ‘They create some very interesting works. Contact via the online platform means that they exchange new ideas and they produce some refreshing commentaries. They learn to interact with one another in a new way, and that continues after the assignment.’

Support

He would definitely advise fellow lecturers to use P2P, even if they are currently very satisfied with their own teaching methods. ‘It doesn’t in any way detract from what you are doing now. It simply improves what you are already doing.’ You can use the online programme in whatever way suits you. It is user friendly and there is good support within the university. ‘You’re taking a risk, but it’s worth it. I also think students appreciate having new challenges.’ Scott-Smith himself enjoys a challenge. ‘It’s not particularly inspiring doing the same things year after year.’ One difficulty was making the assessment transparent. What are the requirements that a poster has to meet, for example? ‘I’ve developed a scale for the assessment, so that students know exactly what they have to do.’

Tip

‘Use new techniques. That works well for everyone.’

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