Jonathan Rees at More or Less Bunk recently posted about the “uncoverage” model of teaching the U.S. history survey course.

In their 2001 article on the coverage model,  Joel M. Sipress and David J. Voelker describe the traditional approach to the U.S. survey course:

The dominant approach to teaching the history “survey” (as the introductory college history course is revealingly called) has long been a “coverage” model that emphasizes the transmission of knowledge from professor to student. In some cases, this knowledge is little more than a body of factual information presented in lectures and a textbook. More often, the knowledge covered includes a set of themes and concepts to be demonstrated in more analytically sophisticated exercises, such as papers and essay tests. In either case, the coverage model casts the professor (and his or her chosen texts) in the role of historical authority, with students assigned the task of absorbing and reproducing expert knowledge.

As I understand it, the uncoverage model takes the approach of trying to teach students historical skills by focusing on discrete topics or problems and helping them understand how historians deal with evidence, argument, bias, etc.

I’ve toyed with taking the uncoverage approach on a couple of occasions, but I’ve hesitated for several reasons:

  1. One of my concerns is that our assessment data indicate that many of our students do not know the basic facts of U.S. history required to tackle the uncoverage approach. Although assessment and experience satisfied Calder that his own students were not suffering from the lack of coverage in his survey courses, I’m not so confident that our freshmen  would be prepared for this approach. I’m also not sure how I would tackle their deficient knowledge of basic U.S. history.*
  2. Like Calder, I’m also concerned about the effect on history majors looking to teach at the pre-collegiate level, which describes most of our majors. His students continued to do well on certifying exams, which is cause for optimism should I go in this direction. Our students generally do quite well on the U.S. history portion of the PRAXIS, so changing something that seems to work is a concern.
  3. Another question I have concerns the chronological definition of the survey course. Calder’s 10-week survey course is defined as “U.S. History: WWII to Present.” That course would constitute one of our upper-division courses, most of which are structured to cover a limited chronological period.** The Jacksonian class, for example, covers from 1789-1848, while the Civil War class goes from 1848-1877. I wonder how our two U.S. survey courses, which last fifteen weeks and are chronologically defined, respectively, from discovery to 1876 and 1876 to the present, would fare under the uncoverage model.

What do you think about the uncoverage approach to the U.S. survey course?

* To be clear, not all of our students are deficient, but our data strongly suggest  that many of them are.

** Kevin Schultz also noted this point. H/t to John Fea for this link.