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As part of CELT’s work to support effective and inclusive teaching at UK and beyond, a team of CELT staff presented at H-Net’s 2023 Teaching Conference on Tuesday, August 22. The conference theme “Critical Conversations: Teaching and Creating Community in Difficult Times,” prioritized transdisciplinary and multi-level conversations around current challenges facing teaching and learning. CELT team members Dr. Jill Abney, Associate Director, Kate Collins, Faculty Instructional Associate, and Isabelle Blaber, Graduate Teaching Assistant, presented a workshop titled “How SOTL can Inform Teaching Traumatic Histories: Findings from a Holocaust Education Study.”

Their workshop shared initial findings from their Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) research project that explored student engagement and emotional regulation in the context of learning about the Holocaust. Informed by trauma-informed pedagogies, counseling psychology, and Holocaust education, the study examined the emotional reactions of students learning sensitive historical information in a history of war and society course designed to lead students through a focused examination of the making, waging, and after-effects of war and its effects on society on and off the battlefield. The use of multiple surveys asked students to articulate plans for emotional regulation as they learned sensitive and potentially upsetting material. The surveys also allowed students to reflect on their encounter with those topics afterwards.

Initial findings from the study reinforced the fact that students bring different personal experiences into the classroom and respond to subject matter in a multitude of ways. Awareness of these variable responses can help instructors navigate challenging classroom moments. Abney suggested that one significant step to helping  students explore hard histories without evoking dysregulation is to “ask students to listen and engage with survivor stories of individuals from the period. That deep engagement with human voices encourages students to recognize connections between their lives and those who lived through past events and provides students with tangible next steps for using the knowledge they’ve gained.” Furthermore, Abney suggested the importance of encouraging students to use careful and intentional language in their historical inquiries and discussions. That pedagogical strategy helps to build a supportive and thoughtful classroom community – another key factor in exploring hard histories.

In presenting at this conference, Abney, Collins, and Blaber sought to advance the mission of CELT by sharing their knowledge and experience with other educators while learning from others. For more information on their research or similar projects, click here to contact CELT.