Introduction: A letter in support of my probation file.


I have wanted to teach history since my sophomore year in high school. My path to Normandale ran through three degrees in history and a variety of teaching experiences–from a six-week class on religion in Madrid, to Spain, and to a year teaching at a Catholic university on the south side of Chicago. I arrived at Normandale in the fall of 2009 to teach a single, 9-credit course. As I demonstrated my competence and the college grew, the department needed additional world civilization courses taught. Within a year, I was teaching full time and participating heavily in campus activities. In the Spring of 2013 I successfully applied for and was hired as an unlimited full-time instructor in history.

Experience in the History and Political Science Department

As new faculty in 2009, I sat on the Evaluating and Assessing Student Learning committee and functioned as a de-facto assessment leader in our department, which at the time included history, political science, and philosophy. From my early advocacy for the use of assessment, I learned that not all differences of opinions can be resolved, only managed. In fall of 2011 I began as the Social Science division’s assessment leader, and partnered with Kurt Burch (our department leader) in creating and executing three assessment projects on writing, the influence of poverty on learning, and students’ abilities to recognize a thesis.

In 2013, I attempted to offer a women’s history topics course, which received strong support from my departmental colleagues, but failed to enroll sufficient students. I also submitted a Latin American history topics course that was approved by AA & SC. David Rayson subsequently revised my proposal from a topics course to a 2000-level course, which was approved by AA & SC.

As part of my service to the department, I wrote the assessment section of our 2011 program review. As the current chair of the department, I will write two sections of our 2015 program review and am responsible for assisting my colleagues in producing their own sections, then editing and publishing the program review online.

Turning to partnerships with external groups, for the past four years, Normandale has hosted a regional History Day event in partnership with the Minnesota History Society (MNHS). I served as a judge for each of those years and am the history department liaison with MNHS this year.

Perhaps my greatest service to the department comes in the form of my own professional development. Since 2007, I have invested increasing time, money, and energy in teaching myself the tools and pedagogy of digital humanities. As I developed personally, I brought those skills and new resources to the department for their consideration. In response, the department has served as a sounding board for my efforts. For example, the department and others came to a dry-run presentation for a conference paper I prepared for the Bucknell University Digital Scholarship Conference. I benefited from their feedback and the participants learned about how digital humanities works in history courses. .

My work in digital humanities ranges from publishing on digital humanities in a forthcoming book on the subject from the University of Minnesota Press, attending digital humanities week-long institutes, twitter chats with other digital humanities scholars, and attending single-day trainings on a particular tool (such as web GIS or the content management system Drupal). As I learn new skills, I share them with my colleagues and my students. I am scheduled to attend a summer institute this June in Canada focused on the use of R, a software for statistics and graphics.

Campus service

My service to the college falls into two categories: titled work on teams and committees and ad hoc service in response to college or state needs.

Titled work: Since 2011 I have I have held two leadership positions at all times. From the Fall 2011 semester to the Spring 2015 semester, I was one of the Social Sciences and Library assessment leaders. Between 2011 and 2013 I chaired first the Bookstore Advisory Committee and then the Academic Technology Advisory Committee. Beginning in Fall 2013 I worked as the campus leader for our Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), coordinating faculty development with five division leaders. As the CTL leader, I also sat on Team Learning, the steering committee for faculty development at Normandale. I am presently serving as the chair of the History and Political Science Department. During Spring 2015, I served on a hiring advisory committee for the Director for Faculty and Instructional Development at the MnSCU central office. I also acted as an official reviewer for the National Endowment for Humanities Digital Humanities Startup grants.

Ad hoc work: I presented at Inver Hills Community College’s one-day summit on textbook affordability in October of 2014. In September of the same year, I presented to the Realizing the Civic Mission of MnSCU conference at St. Cloud State on an anti-poverty course design. I have led two roundtables on poverty and education for Normandale, one for faculty development days and one for the Luoma Leadership academy. I advised the Normandale Foundation on crafting their Finish Line Scholarship proposal and have presented to the Minnesota State Senate Bonding Subcommittee on the importance of renovating our College Services building. I have presented at least once at every Success Day since its beginning, on topics such as humor, twitter, photography, business history, assessment, and education technology. Similarly, I have presented one session at every Normandale Writing Festival on topics such as grading student writing, social media writing, and writing jokes for professional purposes.

Please note that while I maintained my service to the college during the 2013–2014 school year, I stepped back from external activities as my family welcomed our second child in October of 2013.

Goals for future work

Over the course of the next five years, I wish to deepen my own understanding of digital humanities and further incorporate it into my courses. I will likely need more training, whether self-study or formal coursework, during a sabbatical project. My commitment to digital humanities lies hand in hand with my commitment to giving students vocational skills at the survey level. As part of my focus on students in poverty, I wish to develop a wider andragogy routed in cognitive psychology, specifically positive psychology that facilitates greater success amongst students in poverty. This development will take the form of attending conferences, working with community groups, and possible research on education and poverty. During these next years I wish to fully implement my equity andragogy course design principles for all my courses. On a department level, I wish to shepherd the history department into a more engaged presence on campus.

In the next ten years, I wish to help develop a teaching community of digital humanities instructors at Normandale and around MnSCU that could eventually lead to offering a digital humanities certificate. I want the history department to produce graduates and programming that engages the wider college community. I remain open to non-teaching opportunities in administrative or instructional support roles.

Jack Norton
March 2016