Humanities Librarian Priscilla Finley and Su Kim Chung, Head of Special Collections Public Services lead a history department faculty retreat in UNLV Libraries Special Collections Reading Room.
On January 12-13, 2016, Su Kim Chung (Special Collections Head of Public Services) and Priscilla Finley (Humanities Librarian) joined forces to offer an innovative faculty retreat in the Special Collections reading room. The retreat served as a pilot project that focused on inspiring UNLV history faculty to create more assignments for their students that utilized Special Collections rich resources on Las Vegas and southern Nevada history. Funding for the retreat was provided by a generous donation from the Libraries Advisory Board.
During the application process, six history faculty were selected based on how well their course descriptions and needs matched existing collections. Over the course of the two-day retreat, Chung and Finley provided an in-depth look at our collecting strengths and web site so that faculty could learn how to access information about our collection materials. They also reinforced UNLV's Transparency in Teaching Project by reviewing the transparent design template created by Dr. Mary-Ann Winkelmes, Coordinator of UNLV's Instructional Development and Research. Simply put, transparent design involves clearly articulating the purpose (skills and knowledge), task, and criteria for success of a student assignment, and has been shown to increase student success in a number of studies. Faculty attending the retreat were required to follow the assignment template in drafting their Special Collections assignment.
Dr. Andrew Kirk, Professor in the UNLV History Department, digs into archival boxes during the second day of the Special Collections Faculty Retreat.
The small group size of the retreat allowed for plenty of focused discussion that provided faculty with valuable insight into how their colleagues designed assignments, and inspired them to try new ways of engaging their students with primary source materials. Another interesting discussion focused on the different levels of archival research skills that undergraduates need in order to successfully complete assignments in history research methods classes and seminars. The need to scaffold different levels of archival skills in their various assignments over the course of a semester was an important take-away that came out of the discussion.
The Special Collections reading room was a hive of activity on the second day of the retreat as faculty selected a variety of manuscript collections to explore, and spent the greater part of the morning and afternoon digging through boxes. At the end of the afternoon, the group gathered together to discuss their findings, and share drafts of their assignment ideas. Themes considered early in the assignment design section the previous day such as peer evaluation, visual analysis, and self-reflection, had found their way into a number of the faculty assignments.
Following the retreat, faculty fine-tuned their assignments, and submitted their final drafts. Some required students to use our digital collections, while others required students to visit Special Collections in person, but all will increase undergraduate usage of our historical materials on Las Vegas and southern Nevada. Faculty members were universally enthusiastic about the retreat, with one noting "...This was one of the best teaching and learning experiences I've had at UNLV. It was a model for how to encourage creative collaboration resulting in concrete products benefiting both faculty and students."
With such an enthusiastic response, Chung and Finley hope to hold another workshop prior to the fall semester. Stay tuned!