Dordt College News

History professor finds unique methods for engaging students

March 8, 2011

“It is every day that great learning happens at Dordt College…but it isn’t every day that the broader world takes notice,” said Erik Hoekstra, Dordt College Provost. Hoekstra is referring the national attention that Dordt History Prof. Paul Fessler received in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a national news publication based in Washington D.C. Fessler was highlighted in an article discussing best practices in active learning.

The article pointed out that while the cost of higher education can be great, students are dropping out of colleges and universities not because of the cost, but because of a lack of motivation and interest. Traditional classes and lectures can be boring. Fessler, like many Dordt professors, has found innovative ways to engage students in his classes.

The following is an excerpt from the article.

Paul Fessler, a professor of history at Dordt College, in Iowa, devoted the last month of his Western-civilization class to a game set amid the French Revolution. The sessions were heated and involved, and it soon became clear that the semester would end before several key issues could be resolved. Fessler offered to extend the class. Instead students volunteered to come 30 minutes early for the remainder of the semester. Fessler was floored; his class started at 8 a.m.

"Every student felt a strong personal investment in their roles," explained Nate Gibson, a student in the class. "We read more in the weeks of the game than we had at any time before in the class. We plowed through the game manual, our history texts, Rousseau, you name it. We spent hours writing articles. I spent several all-nighters editing my faction's newspapers, and the other editors did, too. It had become more than a class to us by that point. The early-morning sessions were the only way to honor the sacrifices that everybody had made."

The full article is also available for viewing.

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