Dean Hall on a summer day

Dr. David Dennis, Associate Professor of History; Dr. Jessica Pisano, Associate Professor of Biology and Mathematics; and Dr. Rob Lawson, Professor of History, were recently invited to present at the 26th International Congress of History of Science and Technology, held virtually from July 25-31, 2021.

Their paper, “Bringing History into the Lab: A New Approach to Scientific Learning in General Education,” focused on their research in student learning outcomes resulting from the integration of history education with science education through two courses at Dean College: History of Science and Beyond Henrietta Lacks: Race and Medicine in 20th Century America. These courses, which are sophomore-level, general education courses that incorporate both history lectures and hands-on science labs, were developed with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant awarded in 2017.

To assess the teaching model developed through these two courses, the team conducted a blind study of student participants that looked at the model’s impact on learning outcomes, experiences and attitudes towards science and history. Their findings showed that “courses taught using the model significantly improved experiences and attitudes toward science among students who were initially less friendly toward science, and improved experiences and attitudes toward history among students who were initially less friendly toward history,” as stated in the paper’s abstract.

“This continues to be one of the most professionally-rewarding collaborations of my career,” said Dr. Lawson. “We’ve learned that having historians and scientists in the classroom together makes an exciting teaching and learning environment with a measurable impact on students. Furthermore, team-teaching like this helps us as professors and researchers to question our own assumptions and learn from each other. We were honored to share this experience on a global stage with colleagues from around the world at the 26th International Congress of History of Science and Technology.”

Dr. Pisano also remarked on how this project has impacted not only students within the courses, but also her own role as a professor. “My work at Dean includes working with Biology majors and teaching general education science courses,” she explained. “This project, and my continued involved in the History of Science community, helps me better serve both populations of students. I am better able to articulate what it means to do science; the humanistic framework invites conversations about cultural differences within the scientific community. The ongoing professional growth is impactful for me personally and for the Dean students.”

The presentation was part of a high-profile, two-session symposium titled “Pedagogy Beyond Giants and Dwarfs: Using the History of Science to Enhance Education and Promote Inclusiveness.” The panel was organized by Karen Rader of Virginia Commonwealth University (and Vice-President of the History of Science Society) and Daniel Gamito-Marques of the NOVA University of Lisbon.

Dr. Dennis emphasized the impact that the interdisciplinary teaching model has made in the classroom, at the conference and beyond. “The work that Jessica Pisano, Rob Lawson and I put in on the NEH grant continues to pay dividends,” he said. “During the Friday session of our panel, our innovative teaching model received shout-outs from colleagues at other institutions as an example of how to facilitate integrative learning. The conference reaffirmed for me that Dean College remains on the cutting edge of undergraduate pedagogy.”

The conference was organized by the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS)’s Division of History of Science and Technology (DHST), the global leader in promoting the history of science and technology. It was originally slated to be held in-person in Prague, Czech Republic, but was moved a virtual format in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the National Endowment for the Humanities grant project.