NORMAN — Although she's only a few weeks into her sophomore year, University of Oklahoma student Destiny Crowley already feels like she's taking on the role of a researcher.
Crowley, 19, is enrolled in U.S. history, a survey course all OU students are required to take. But unlike a typical lower-level course, the class Crowley is taking focuses less on names, dates and places and more on teaching students to do the work of historians.
“They're trying to make it more well-rounded instead of just memorizing dates,” Crowley said.
Along with American federal government, a civics survey, the history course is one of two lower-level survey courses the university revamped to give students a chance to discover things for themselves. The university launched the redesigned versions of the two classes this semester.
One of the most drastic changes from the way the courses have been conducted in the past is the teachers themselves, said Kyle Harper, senior vice provost and director of OU's Institute for American Constitutional Heritage.
A typical freshman-level survey course is taught by a mix of faculty, adjunct instructors and graduate students, Harper said. But over the past several years, more senior, tenured professors have begun to see the importance of the classes. Under the new model, senior faculty members teach the courses, Harper said.
The format also is different, Harper said. Typically, those courses consist mostly of an instructor lecturing, he said. The redesigned courses will mix lecture with student involvement in a way that university officials hope will give students a better experience.
By exposing students to the excitement of discovering knowledge for themselves early on in their college careers, Harper said, he hopes to see students go on to be better scholars.
“The goal of this was to rethink the way we deliver some of our biggest introductory classes,” he said.
The history course is focused on two research papers students will be assigned to write, Harper said.
For the first paper, students will be given a primary source — a document dating to the time of the events being covered, like a copy of the Mayflower Compact or a newspaper article covering events in the Civil Rights Movement. Students will write a paper based on that source, Harper said.
For the second paper, professors will send students into OU's archives and ask them to do their own research. At the end of the semester, they'll be asked to write a larger paper based on their findings. By doing their own research, students will make a small contribution to society's understanding of history, Harper said.
The civics course places students in a so-called democracy lab, where students will learn about how to engage data and find real-world opportunities for civic engagement.
Crowley, a Russian major from Shawnee, said she's noticed the difference already.
Although the semester is fairly young — “We still have trouble actually passing the sign-in sheet around in class,” she said — the course material seems less abstract.
Crowley said she's enjoyed other history courses she's taken. But she's looking forward to being able to use the university's archives to do her own research.
“It makes the education experience more well-rounded,” she said. “It always seems a bit detached when you're memorizing names and dates and numbers.”