November 21, 2014, BY Heather Johns

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Welcome to "Cool Classes," a regular feature that highlights the interesting, intriguing and unexpected in Bucknell University's course catalog.

What class? EDUC 350: Higher Education in the United States

Who teaches it? Professor Joe Murray, education

"In addition to learning about the history of the American higher education system, students learn about research methods used by higher education historians and apply those methods to their own investigations of specific aspects of Bucknell's institutional history.

"For many students, it's their first time making use of the University archives — and their first attempt to learn history through direct examination of historical artifacts. Because their chosen topics are personally meaningful to them, it also helps them to see immediate value in the study of history.

"I want students to have an understanding of the unique culture of American higher education that is rooted in an understanding of its historical evolution.  

"I also want them to understand history as a way of studying the past, through interpretation of evidence, rather than simply as a set of facts to be memorized.

"Students are often struck by the muddiness of the research process. They are usually frustrated initially, but then they'll have an 'Aha!' moment, where they'll see connections between concurrent events that might at first appear to be unrelated, or they'll draw insight from a handwritten note in the margin of a formal report.  

"Once they recognize that construction of the historical narrative depends on their own capacity for inference, they begin to feel much more empowered as learners and to view history as a work in progress."

"If we refuse to draw conclusions from imperfect evidence, the quest for certainty becomes an exercise in futility. On the other hand, if we are unable to recognize the tentative nature of our conclusions, we close our minds to the opportunities for future learning that new evidence presents."

Learn about more courses offered by the Department of Education.