In this section, Professor Anne McCants shares her insights about facilitating a hands-on humanities course and addresses the concerns of educators who may be skeptical of evaluating student work in this context.
I have a lot of experience teaching hands-on history during MIT’s IAP term in a series of long-running non-credit courses. Teaching 21H.343J / CC.120J Making Books: The Renaissance and Today was my first experience teaching a hands-on course in the regular credit-bearing curriculum. I think for many faculty (especially in the humanities and social sciences where building things is not the curricular norm), the prospect of figuring out how to evaluate student work outside of traditional academic exercises is a daunting one. Indeed, there is often a good deal of skepticism about hands-on learning being too nebulous for a credit-bearing course.
I would strongly encourage other faculty to worry much less about this than many of them do, however. So much learning happens in the hands-on component when it is is well integrated with the reading, writing, and historical materials because of all the time afforded for spontaneous conversation between faculty and students while engaged with the project. So many of the questions related to that work would never even come up in a traditional classroom setting, and the discussions they engender are the ones students are likely to remember most. So unless a student is genuinely slacking off on the project portion of the class, I think evaluation is really not an issue. The educational benefits far outweigh the concern about hands-on work being too abstract to assess.