One of the great things about being a professor is that you have great latitude–indeed, almost total control–over the shape of the course content, assignments, and means of assessment. It is a great responsibility but almost a tremendous privilege.
Among the classes I teach here at Northwest University is our two-semester Church History course. Because it is a General Education history elective and is recommended for our ministry students, the course has a good mix of students…and every now and then, even a few history majors! Understanding, therefore, that we have a lot of non-specialists in the course, I am trying this semester in “Church History I” to make the material accessible and engaging to all of those enrolled.
One of the major ways I am doing this is through our upcoming end-of-the-term project. Students have had to select a historical topic (person, place, idea, etc.) and do some research during the semester. They are then required to write a 10-page research paper OR develop a creative means of sharing the material. In advance of the students turning in their final semester work, they will be presenting a thumbnail sketch of their findings and an introduction to their projects next week in class. I’m excited to hear what they’ll have to share.
Some of their project ideas include:
- A series of blog entries (imagine that) laid out and written about some of the “Doctors of the Church” (Augustine, Aquinas, et al.)
- A scrapbook detailing some of the major themes and events of the life and ministry of St. Francis of Assisi
- A possible film documentary about the life of St. Athanasius
- A pop-up book about Thomas a Kempis and the Imitation of Christ
- A lecture and Powerpoint presentation about the roles of women in the early Church
- A group of songs written from the viewpoint of someone in the Fourth Crusade
- A possible diorama (!) detailing the martyrdom of Polycarp
- A research paper about John Wycliffe
I am well aware that the writing of a traditional research paper–while an important exercise in its own right–is not the best way for every student to engage the material. By being flexible and letting them decide the format their work will follow, I hope students will truly be able to make Church History their own…and carry it with them after they leave. We’ll see!