History for the future: Update on the new pre-honours curriculum in History

iStock [michellegibson]
iStock [michellegibson]
In a post from November 2016, Dr Esther Mijers told Teaching Matters about how reforms to the pre-honours curriculum in History, including the implementation of a new training course for first-year students, The Historians’ Toolkit, constituted the most important innovation in teaching in the department since the creation of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology over a decade ago. Here, Dr Mijers tells us how the reforms have progressed and developed.

Two years ago, the History Subject Area introduced a new pre-honours curriculum. Driven by factors such as growing student numbers, changes across the sector and comments from students and examiners, we introduced an innovative and progressive curriculum, which combined the highest academic standards with employability.

The introduction process was not without its hiccups, as was to be expected. However, continuous re-assessment, by listening to our students – in SSLCs, course questionnaires and surveys –  and tutors, was always intended to form part of our changes. As a result of such feedback, our flagship course, The Historians’ Toolkit, was refined. Without changing the rationale or the key content of this crucial first year skills course, the order of topics was re-arranged to correspond better to the deadlines of first year course work, in response to student feedback. We now make sure that essays and primary document analysis are considered earlier in the course, so students are better prepared before the first of their assignments are due, and the rationale of The Historians’ Toolkit is further reinforced throughout the other History courses.

For second year students, we have introduced a follow up skills course, Introduction to Historiography, which follows the same teaching pattern of The Historians’ Toolkit, of lectures, tutorials and study groups, with a similar emphasis on feedforward tasks and progressive topics, which are fed through the rest of the second-year curriculum as well.

We are now preparing the groundwork for an improved third year, with two further skills based courses, and a restructured fourth year, which puts emphasis on in-depth courses which focus on the use of primary material. Honours courses will be separated into third and fourth year courses to ensure the progression, introduced at pre-honours in continued. In addition, we have introduced local grade descriptors which emphasise the distinctions between each year, clarifying expectations to both students and markers. The latter project has been adopted by the other subject areas in HCA, as has the emphasis on highlighting employability.

Esther Mijers

Esther Mijers is a senior lecturer in Scottish History and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology. She arrived in Edinburgh two years ago, having taught at the University of Reading before then.

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