Students rule in Jeffrey McClurken’s history classes.
His creative and tech-savvy charges have a say in everything from the syllabus to assignments and provide insight on the new and innovative courses taught by the associate professor and chair in the Department of History and American Studies.
McClurken, an expert in Civil War history and a sought-after presenter on digital learning, says the experience is just as beneficial for him as it is for the students.
“I am inspired by and driven by those interactions with students,” said McClurken.
That’s just what happened in a seminar two years ago. When students questioned the technology behind communications and how the Internet affects the way they think and learn, McClurken put them to work designing a History of the Information Age course.
They co-wrote the course syllabus with McClurken, even providing input on assignments and topic areas to cover.
“We not only learned the content, we also learned how to create an educational path for ourselves, how to think critically about educational design and ultimately how to learn on our own,” said Kyle Allwine ’12, now an admissions representative at UMW.
McClurken’s work, like his classes, exists at the intersection of history, teaching and technology and blends his interests in the traditional and the digital.
He blogs for the Chronicle of Higher Education on teaching and technology, is the website review editor for the Journal of American History and is chair of the President’s Technology Advisory Council at UMW.
For McClurken, himself a 1994 Mary Washington alumnus, new technology goes hand-in-hand with the liberal arts’ traditional focus on critical thinking, research methods and writing skills. The ability to write for multiple audiences and to adapt to new situations – skill sets from a digital world – build on that liberal arts foundation.
“We have had a long-standing reputation for developing students as thoughtful researchers and writers,” he said of the Department of History and American Studies. “What we have done in the last five years has really developed the notion of digital fluency as a core competency.”
Beyond his department, McClurken has played a role in UMW’s new digital studies minor, the work of 40 faculty and staff members from across campus, including nine academic departments.
“It is a genuinely interdisciplinary program,” McClurken said. “It provides a curricular framework for a lot of the amazing and innovative work that Mary Washington faculty are already doing.”
McClurken often takes his expertise of technology and history to a larger audience, from lecturing on C-SPAN about the Civil War Sesquicentennial to presenting at international conferences about undergraduates as digital scholars. This year alone he is presenting at eight conferences, including the American Historical Association’s annual meeting and the annual gathering of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. One of his class sessions recently aired on C-SPAN’s American History TV.
“Those opportunities to talk to larger audiences are to me opportunities to share the joy of what I’ve learned in the classroom and to reveal what we do as historians and scholars and academics,” he said.
For McClurken, his experiences stem from and lead back to his students and his fellow faculty.
“I’m able to do these things because I have students who are willing to trust me and go along with these ideas and because I have colleagues who are supportive of these kinds of innovations.”