Assessing my upcoming seminar on the Illicit Antiquities trade, HIST4805b

So I’m putting together the syllabus for my illicit antiquities seminar. This is where I think I’m going with the course, which starts in less than a month (eep!). The first part is an attempt to revitalize my classroom blogging, and to formally tie it into the discussion within the classroom – that is, something done in advance of class in order to make the classroom discussion richer. In the second term, I want to make as much time as possible for students to pursue their own independent research, which I’m framing as an ‘unessay’ following the O’Donnell model.

~oOo~

Daylight: The Journal of #HIST4805b Studying Looted Heritage

Rationale: What we are studying is important, and what we are learning needs to be disseminated as widely as possible. In a world where ‘American Diggers‘ can be a tv show, where National Geographic (for heaven’s sake!) seriously can contemplate putting on a show that desecrates war dead for entertainment there is a need to shed daylight. The fall term major assessment piece does this. You will be writing and curating a Flipboard magazine that ties our readings and discussions into the current news regarding heritage crime.

There are a number of steps to this.

  1. Each week, everyone  logs into heritage.crowdmap.com and puts three new reports on the map.
  2. Each week, a different subset of the class will be the lead editors for our journal.
    1. lead editors each write an editorial that explores the issues raised in the readings, with specific reference to new reports on our crowdmap. Editorials should be 750- 1000 words long.
    2. lead editors curate the Flipboard magazine so that it contains:
      1. the editorials
      2. the crowdmap reports
      3. the readings
  3. This should be completed before Monday’s class where we will discuss those readings. The lead editors will begin the class by discussing their edition of Daylight.*
  4. Each student will be a lead editor three times.

*if you can think of a better name, we’ll use that.

At the end of term you will nominate your two best pieces for grading. I will grade these for how you’ve framed your argument, for your use of evidence, and for your understanding of the issues. I will also take into account your in-class discussion of your edition of Daylight.

At the end of term you will also nominate two of your peers’ best pieces for consideration for bonus, with a single line explaining why.

This is worth 40% of your final grade.

—–

The Unessay Research Project

Unessay‘ noun – as described by Daniel Paul O’Donnell,

“[…] the unessay is an assignment that attempts to undo the damage done by [traditional essay writing at the university level]. It works by throwing out all the rules you have learned about essay writing in the course of your primary, secondary, and post secondary education and asks you to focus instead solely on your intellectual interests and passions. In an unessay you choose your own topicpresent it any way you please, and are evaluated on how compelling and effective you are.”

Which means for us:

The second term is an opportunity for exploration, and for you to use the time that you would normally spend in a classroom listening as time for active planning, researching, and learning the necessary skills, to effectively craft an ‘unessay’ of original research on a topic connected with the illicit antiquities trade. I will put together a schedule for weekly one on one or small group meetings where I can help you develop your project.

For this to work, you will have to come prepared to these meetings. This means keeping a research journal to which I will have access. You may choose to make this publicly accessible as well (and we’ll talk about why and how you might want to do that).  Periodically, we will meet as an entire class to discuss the issues we are having in our research. You will present your research formally to the class and invited visitors at the end of term – your project might not be finished at that point, but your presentation can take this into account. The project is due on the final day of term.

Grading:

Pass/Fail: Research Journal (ie, no complete research journal, no assessment for this project). We will discuss what is involved in a research journal. A Zotero library with notes would also be acceptable.

5% Presentation in class

45% Project

O’Donnel writes,

“If unessays can be about anything and there are no restrictions on format and presentation, how are they graded?

The main criteria is how well it all fits together. That is to say, how compelling and effective your work is.

An unessay is compelling when it shows some combination of the following:

  • it is as interesting as its topic and approach allows
  • it is as complete as its topic and approach allows (it doesn’t leave the audience thinking that important points are being skipped over or ignored)
  • it is truthful (any questions, evidence, conclusions, or arguments you raise are honestly and accurately presented)

In terms of presentation, an unessay is effective when it shows some combination of these attributes:

  • it is readable/watchable/listenable (i.e. the production values are appropriately high and the audience is not distracted by avoidable lapses in presentation)
  • it is appropriate (i.e. it uses a format and medium that suits its topic and approach)
  • it is attractive (i.e. it is presented in a way that leads the audience to trust the author and his or her arguments, examples, and conclusions).”

~oOo~

So that’s what I’m going with. I’m not giving points out for participation, as that never has really worked for me. There will of course be much more going on in the classroom that just what is described here, including technical tutorials on various digital tools that I think are useful, beta-testing some other things, but my thinking is that these will see their expression in the quality of the independent research that takes place in the Winter term.

So Fall term: much reading, much discussion. Winter term: self-direction along trajectories established in the Fall. We shall see.

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5 thoughts on “Assessing my upcoming seminar on the Illicit Antiquities trade, HIST4805b

    1. Hi Sam – thanks. I’m planning on putting some of your materials on the syllabus, too.

    1. I will be asking the students to put them all online (voluntarily), so here’s hoping!

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