Skip to content

‘Finding Your Place’ with the LSLdb

Editor’s note: Dr. Woody Register at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, incorporated the database into his freshman Finding Your Place (FYP) course, which is designed to help new incoming students learn more about the Sewanee campus and get acclimated before starting their freshman year. Here are his reflections on his course. In the photo above, students from Sewanee and other colleges discuss their posters at the Memory Works symposium, October 2022.

By Woody Register, Professor of History and Director of Sewanee’s Roberson Project

The circumstances of this database assignment were unusual: the immersive course structure and curriculum, enrollment limited to self-selected first-year students (who spent the last two years of high school in COVID conditions), the seminar-style arrangement, among others.

The course also incorporated participation in a symposium, “Memory Works,” hosted by Sewanee’s Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation. Students in teams prepared posters on the memorial item they were researching and presented it in the symposium’s poster session.

The key issues for me, however, were affected but not determined by the unusual structure and opportunities of the course: can inexperienced entering students be coached and guided to understand the context and significance of the assignment, conduct archival research, work competently with the demands of the database, produce a poster (something they had never done before), and complete the submission of a memorial item to the database?

That was a lot of work to be accomplished in what amounted to a half-semester, but, in general, the answers to these questions were “yes.”

That said, the process required close monitoring by the instructor and ample time for editing their database submissions and poster. Overall, I will follow this formula more or less unchanged when I teach the course again. We lost one class meeting to the symposium, where the students presented their research in poster form, and we needed that class time. We won’t have a symposium at our disposal the next time. The loss of 2.5 hours of contact left us with insufficient time to master the machinery of the database, but the poster sessions proved rewarding to the students (or so they said in their course evaluations).

Also, we had only one archive session as a class (the archive unexpectedly had to close one of the two days we had scheduled), which compressed the amount of hands-on time doing archival research. We needed that second session to build on the first archive foray. 

What I learned.

First-year students can do this work and learn much from the experience, about institutional history and memory, of course, but also about digital and other methods and strategies of communication. Because of the students’ inexperience, the assignments required a lot of time and energy on my part to build the scaffolding and then to assist them along the way – to lead them to water, one might say. The basic outline should work for more experienced students, who should not need this much support. But whether the researchers are first-year or experienced students, the work — the research, the writing, the preparation, the entering — can be done to the benefit of the student and the database.

Editor’s note: You learn more about Dr. Register’s LSL course assignments on the LSLdb Resources for Instructors page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *