Syllabus (Spring 21)

HST271: Modern China

(Prefer a Word file? Sure! Link to file: <– click there and save a copy)

Instructor: Dr. D’Haeseleer

  • Contact me!
    • e-mail: (I respond within 24hrs to e-mails which warrant a response, usually after 12pm Muhlenberg time).
    • Google Chat Room HST271
    • Canvas website
    • Make an appointment. Check my Google Calendar to see my availability and make an appointment.
      • Here’s a video tutorial that walks you through the process.
      • Here are written instructions: how to add someone else’s calendar (using an e-mail address)
      • Schedule a 15 min. appointment, and fill out this form in advance. This helps me to use our time in the most effective manner.
  • Digital learning assistant: Rachel Bensimhon


The syllabus is long. There are certain things I need to include by college policy. Take your time reading through it, and annotate with (in the group HST271) with your questions, requests for clarification, or suggestions for improvement.

Table of Contents

Class meeting time

This is an online course, and can be taken almost fully “asynchronously”,* which means you never have to be online at a specific time. I offer weekly video meetings, and I strongly encourage you to attend these, because a lot of your questions will be answered here.

  • Thu: 3.30pm-4.45PM (Muhlenberg time)
  • Find the link to the session on the SECRETS PAGE on Canvas.
    • (Don’t share the link beyond our class: let’s avoid “Zoom bombing” and other unpleasant behavior)

*Please see course requirements described below: I require two mandatory check-ins via video or voice-only.

Get Stuff* Done Club

(You may replace this with a slightly stronger term if you are so inclined😉. Just keeping it SFW [Safe for Work])

  • Wednesday: 2-3 PM
  • Thursday: 2-3PM

Please note: Changes and cancelations to to the regular scheduled Get Stuff Done Club times will be announced in the Daily Course Announcements and in the Google chat room.

What is it? Other professors have Office Hours, I used to have “Drop-in Tutorials“. This Club is similar: it’s your exclusive access to my time! But in these pandemic times, it’s also hard to create community, so I’ve created a space where you can hang out, meet fellow students from my other course (it’s all modern China this semester!), and ask questions, debate, collaborate, or just work quietly. There are breakout rooms: update your Zoom desktop app to version 5.3.0 or higher, or use ChromeOS: version 5.0.0 (4241.1207) or higher, and you can move between breakout rooms at will.

  • 1. History Geeks space: for all your questions, discussions, and just geeking out about history. It doesn’t even have to be about Chinese history, but if it is, I can help out with questions you may have.
  • 2. Projects/collaboration space: if you want to discuss a project with some like-minded colleagues from the class for a Show and Tell project.
  • 3. Quiet Study Space: Maybe you need to pretend to be in an important meeting to get quiet time from your room- or housemates, or you just enjoy some quiet company, or the sight of others working hard on their project gives you the accountability you need to Get Stuff Done.
  • 4. Tech and Digital Lab: for all your technical and digital learning issues, tips and tricks: share, learn, create!
  • 5. Meet the professor: Use this room for your 2 mandatory meetings with me this semester, or make a separate appointment. Up to three students per gathering, if you are a bit scared of meeting me alone (you shouldn’t be! I don’t bite). You can also use this space for a private conversation with me about other things.

I will be in the main room to answer questions and direct traffic, and will hop around between rooms as required/requested. you can use the get stuff done club to ask me questions, to talk through ideas, and do pretty much anything that is connected to the history of East Asia. Hop in briefly or stay for the full hour.

About the course

Course description

This course covers the history of China from 1600 until the present. China’s last imperial dynasty, the increasing impact of Western influence, China’s collapse, and the development of the Communist state are some of the topics we will examine in readings, documentaries, and through your musings in blog posts and “Show and Tell” projects. How did one of the greatest empires of the premodern world come to an end? Why was the communist revolution successful in mainland China, and how is the Chinese Communist Party still able to hang on to its power and even increase it, when most other socialist and communist regimes have crumbled? And how does China’s past help us understand its present position in the world?

Course goals

At the end of this course

  • you will be familiar with the major events in the history of China since 1600,
  • you will have a good understanding of the main ideas, theories and concepts developed and used by modern historians to study modern Chinese society.
  • you will have acquired experience in using primary source materials, such as documents in translation and images: how to interpret them, which questions to ask and where to find answers, and how to place them in the historical context.
  • you will have developed basic analytical skills as a historian and will be able to engage in informed and critical discussions about modern Chinese history.
  • you will have improved your written (and maybe oral) communication skills by presenting your ideas in blog posts and small research projects, aimed at generating discussion, showcasing your newly acquired knowledge, and through reflecting on your learning process.

Course unit instruction

This class is scheduled as a mostly asynchronous online course, and the workload is calculated to be approximately 6-8 hours per week, making it equivalent to a course that meets for 3 hours per week. Instructional activities for the course include discussions through student websites, conferences with librarians, our DLA and the Writing Center and instructor, distributed across the semester. This will add up to the equivalent of the “fourth hour of instruction” of a face-to-face class.

I strongly encourage you to attend the weekly gathering on Thursdays at 3:30 PM. (They will likely not last the full 75 min.)

All about the grades

Course Requirements

More specifics for the assignments below. All assignments must be attempted to pass the course.

There are five big modules covering the history of China from 1600 to the present. You must engage with activities in all modules, but you have a few “free passes” for some activities, and there are small extra credit activities throughout the semester. That should give you flexibility to work around projects and due dates for other courses, or personal circumstances.

  • Exploration: weekly posts and peer feedback, 50%
  • Show and Tell: four projects to share insights, information and what you learned during a module, 40%
  • Reflections: on the course and your learning, 10%
  • Extra credit: to supplement “Exploration” tasks to the full (i.e. 50% of final grade), after that, 3% of final grade (i.e. 53% of grade)
    • These will be calculated separately from the Canvas Gradebook, you can always check in with me to see how you’re doing on extra credit.
  • Two mandatory meetings with instructor (video or voice-only), either individually or in a group of maximum three students: pass/fail

Due dates

  • Weekly posts: due by Thursday
  • Peer feedback on posts: due by following Monday
  • Show and Tell projects:
    • March 5
    • March 26
    • April 9
    • April 30
    • May 19
  • Reflections:
    • March 12
    • April 16
    • May 19

Late work and extensions

Due dates are important for you, and for me: I space them so that you have enough time to complete the assignments and work with the feedback on earlier assignments. Due dates also help me to stay (more or less) on top of the feedback throughout the semester, so it can be prompt. Missing due dates means you are crowding your submissions closer together, and I may not be able to turn around work as soon as you would like, or in a timely manner for you to apply to the next assignment.

I understand that life and personal issues can get in the way. Therefore, all assignments have a built-in 12hr extension. After the extension expires, you can make up some of the lost points in the “Explorer” tasks with that week’s extra-credit tasks. For the “Show and Tell” and “Reflection” assignments, I am open to extending due dates, but I need you to communicate with me, so I know what to expect, and (more importantly) when. If you notice that you will be unable to finish a particular assignment by the due date, you can request an extension in advance, by email. Make sure to give me a new deadline which fits your schedule better. I will confirm this new deadline in writing within 24 hours.

If you fall ill suddenly, or are otherwise unable to submit your work by the due date due to circumstances beyond your control, you may not be able to ask for an extension in advance. In that case, let me know as soon as reasonable. If this is part of something bigger in your life, get in touch with the Dean of Academic Affairs or the Dean of Student Affairs, and if appropriate, the Health Center. They can help you to coordinate care to see you through a rough patch. I do NOT need to see documentation: I trust you’re not making things up.

If you routinely miss due dates (small tasks and large assignments alike), I will check in with you in a private chat (video, email or text chat), so we can address what the underlying problem is and how I/the College can help you. This does not mean you fail. It only means that I really care about your work as a student and your wellbeing as a human. To help you find the right balance, we need to communicate. Under other circumstances I’d make you a cup of tea in my office, but unfortunately you’ll have to supply your own beverage of choice this semester for these meetings.

Remember that you can make an appointment with me, or we can talk during the Get Stuff Done club about anything that connects you to the course: from questions about assignments, to interests, intriguing finds to share and geek out about, to needing a sound-board for ideas and a pep-talk to get you back on track.

Incomplete Grade

Please check the College policy. Note that YOU must request an incomplete grade for the course, I cannot initiate this process. you will fill out a form, and you can only request two incomplete grades per semester.

An Incomplete will only appear for a brief while on your transcript. Once you get your final grade, a small asterisk will appear after your grade, but otherwise it will be as if nothing happened.

Grading guidelines

Instead of focusing on grades, please focus on learning. Good grades will follow when real learning happens. If you are learning new things, and communicating in clear and concise language what you are learning, you’ll do well in this course.

  • A = strong, exceeds expectations, the result of independent work beyond consistent engagement with course materials and the Learning Community
  • B = good, meets expectations, the result of consistent engagement with course materials and the Learning Community
  • C = weak, does not meet expectations in several areas, and is the result of inconsistent engagement with course materials and the Learning Community
  • D = very weak, does not meet expectations in many areas, the result of limited engagement with course materials and the Learning Community
  • F = unsatisfactory, does not meet expectations, the result of almost no or no engagement with course materials and the Learning Community

Your work is open for revision and rewriting, based on feedback, new insights, comments and general growth, until May 19 (11.59PM). You can rewrite and revise until you get an A if you choose to do so. (If you put in the extra time and effort, it will show in the final product!)

If you follow along in Canvas with the percentage points, the grade scheme I use is the standard one:

A: 100-90/ B: 89-80/ C: 79-70/ D: 69-60

Useful information


Recommended, but not required:
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. Third ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.
  • Chen, Janet Y, Pei-kai Cheng, Michael Elliot Lestz, and Jonathan D Spence. The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014.
  • Crossley, Pamela Kyle. The Wobbling Pivot China Since 1800 : An Interpretive History. Vancouver, BC: Crane Library, 2015.

If you get the recommended Search for Modern China textbooks, try to you get the third edition. All other materials will be provided through the course website, or Trexler Library e-reserves. For students on campus, some optional materials may also be on reserve in the Trexler library as physical copies.

Language of instruction

The entire course is conducted in English, all materials are provided in English and all your work will be submitted in English.

You may consult materials in other languages, and use those in your work, with proper referencing to these sources. We can work together on how to put references in an English language paper to Chinese primary and secondary sources, for instance.

Professionalism and participation

The success of this course depends on your professionalism and thoughtful participation in this Learning Community.

Count on 6-8 hours of engagement with course materials, peers, and the instructor as well as library assistants, Writing Center and our DLA, and the Zoom meeting. Plan your week so this course gets the attention it deserves, bearing in mind the rhythm of the course as laid out in the third video in the Orientation module.

While it is technically possible to do well in this course without attending a single Zoom session, I do not recommend it. You will not be working alone, whichever way you choose to take this course: you will engage in building a community of learners through tasks and assignments, and through helpful interactions, for instance:

  • Asking/answering questions in the Google chat room, or the anonymous Typepad
    • If you have a question, there is a high chance another student has the same question!
    • If you know the answer, jump in! You may get there faster than I do.
  • Sharing what you learn beyond insights in the course materials, for instance by sharing concrete tips and tricks about your blog or digital project, either in the Google chat room or as a blog post.
  • Acknowledging others’ work, for instance by leaving a little thank you note if an insight or use of a digital tool inspired you, even if you’re not doing it as an extra credit task: think about what would make you feel like a million bucks…
  • Talking through ideas in the weekly sessions on Thursday, and helping others shape their ideas through discussion
  • Setting a good example for others by sharing high quality work, and providing feedback

Electronic devices best practices

“Wait, you gotta be kidding. This is an online course!”

Hm, true, but here are the basics:

  • Use a large screen device like a laptop or desktop. Why?
    • Don’t ruin your eyesight, old age will eventually do that for you anyway! (ask an optometrist)
    • Some software doesn’t work well with tablets or phones, because they work on different operating systems (e.g. Android vs. Windows, or iOS vs. Mac OS)
    • Remember “Professionalism”: a small handheld device may not be useful to take notes, and you won’t be able to work comfortably on it.
    • If you have financial constraints preventing you from acquiring a suitable large screen device, please contact the Dean of Students. We have resources to help you!
  • Tips for successful engagement with an online course:
    • Designate specific time for your work, and turn on “Do not disturb” (or turn off Notifications)
    • Bear in mind that the 6-8hrs you budget for this course per week refers to focused, concentrated work. Don’t sprinkle Instagram and Tiktok scrolling through it, unless you’re looking specifically for course-related materials. (And set a timer when you go in there, chances are you get distracted otherwise!)
  • Be focused during video conference sessions:
    • Focus on the conversation. Take notes, bring a question, express a connection with material from the previous week. Set yourself a small challenge like this for every video chat, and you will have a way into the conversation.

What if class is canceled?

I designed the course so it can for a brief amount of time run on its own, or be taken over by a colleague. In case I get seriously ill and am out of action for more than 2 weeks, we’ll have to figure out a plan B, I’m afraid. That’s the unfortunate reality of the pandemic. I’ll do my best to not get ill, by minimizing physical proximity with other humans, washing my hands, wearing a face mask, and getting a vaccine when it’s available. I hope you do the same!

Accommodations for disabilities and special needs

To ensure that you get the most out of this course, I welcome accommodations if you have a disability or special needs. The College strongly encourages you to make arrangements with the Office of Disability Services, which then legally entitles you to certain accommodations and levels of support. The process to get fully tested and an accommodation plan set up is lengthy, so please get in touch with the office as soon as you arrive on campus, or even earlier. You do not have to disclose your disability or special needs to your instructors (including me). You can help me be a better and more inclusive/less excluding teacher by telling me specifically what I can change to support your learning. Past examples of changes I made include adding presenter notes to images on slide decks, creating handouts for lecture structures, flexibility with deadlines (with mutual agreement in advance of the deadline) and specific seating arrangements, if we were to find ourselves in a classroom. I hope to learn from you how to create a truly inclusive classroom.

(The college’s official language:)

Students with disabilities requesting classroom or course accommodations must complete a multi-faceted determination process through the Office of Disability Services prior to the development and implementation of accommodations, auxiliary aids, and services. Each Accommodation Plan is individually and collaboratively developed between the student and the Office of Disability Services. If you have not already done so, please contact the Office of Disability Services to have a dialogue regarding your academic needs and the recommended accommodations, auxiliary aides, and services.

Financial hardship and basic needs

If you are experiencing financial hardship, have difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day or do not have a safe and stable place to live, and believe this may affect your performance in this course, I urge you to contact our CARE Team through the Dean of Students Office for support. Their website is You may also discuss your concerns with me if you are comfortable doing so.

Academic Integrity Code (AIC) and academic (dis)honesty

I consider it my duty to uphold academic integrity and to teach my students how to do this. I will not hesitate to forward a case to the Dean’s office if I suspect dishonesty. In this course, this will mainly concern references (“citations”) to sources, and not reading carefully through the checklist in the Declarations used to collect your points for the Exploration block of your grade. I will always give you feedback on your work and a chance to correct any issues before doing so. If, however, you do not make the required changes, or in later assignments still do not heed the warnings, I interpret your behaviour as disrespecting the Academic Integrity Code, and will report the case to the Dean of Academic Affairs. The penalty varies on the seriousness of the offence, but you will at the least receive a 0 for that particular grade component.

Muhlenberg College takes academic integrity very seriously, so please read in detail and with great attention through the College’s policy. May I in particular draw your attention to this sentence: “The College puts the burden of responsibility on students for knowing what plagiarism is, and then making the effort necessary to avoid it.” (Emphasis in original. Source: Muhlenberg College “Defining Plagiarism”)

Course schedule

Check this webpage

Details of the assignments


Weekly posts and feedback: 50%

The “Exploration” is an important component of your grade, because it also includes “Participation” – in an almost fully asynchronous course, participation takes a different form, and I gauge it through the level of your engagement with the course materials on a weekly basis, in your blog post, and your regular peer feedback.

Week 1 is Orientation and a small taster: setting up all the digital tools we need, and finding your way around our digital space, and acquainting yourself with the basics of late imperial Chinese history. You have to complete these assignments, they lay the foundation for the rest of the semester.

From Week 2 onwards, I will every week provide a “Basic set” of materials to get you started, and a small selection of “Exploration Packs”. Everybody engages with the same materials in the “Basic Set”, and you select one “Exploration Pack”. By Thursday of each week, you will write a blog post exploring the contents and topics of the “Basic Set” and the “Exploration Pack” of choice for that week.

What does the blog post look like?

Include the week’s number in the title. Include at least one image, relevant to the content of your post (aptly chosen memes and GIFs are welcome!), and the appropriate credit/source for your image in a caption.

Your Exploration blog post will be approximately 400 words, excl. notes and list of sources consulted. There will be some guiding questions or points of interest for the materials of that week, to help you find a focus point. You can also draw on analytical techniques learned in other courses (incl. your FYS), and you are always welcome to find additional materials, and to bring your own interpretation and insights to the materials. If you really don’t know where to start, identify what you find strange, remarkable, or interesting, then do a freewrite, and use that to start writing about your insights into this small section of Chinese history. The weekly Zoom sessions are ideal to help you brainstorm if you’re unsure where to start.

You can, but do not have to, pick a theme for the week, or the module. To help you with this, I provide a #tag for the materials, for instance #economy, #women, #government, #foreignrelations, etc, and you can search the site for these #tags. You can also share suggestions for other #tags to highlight themes you see emerge.

At the end of the post, list the bibliographic references of the materials you consulted. Use the Bibliography format of the Chicago “Notes and Bibliography” style.

TOP TIP: You can just copy-paste the formatted reference I provide on the website – but please exclude the notes I add. If you spot a mistake in my formatting, let me know so I can correct it!

In the post itself, if you use a quote, or engage with a direct point made in the material, mention the author or text (e.g. “Di Cosmo also mentions that…”), and include between parentheses the page number of the printed page (e.g. not p. 5 of a PDF I provide, but actually p. 743 in the anthology: “Source of Chinese Tradition, p. 743″)

If you prefer, you can upload an audio or video recording in lieu of a written blog post. Video/audio recording content should be about the same length as you’d have for a written submission, and I suggest you work from an outline, or a script, to make sure you have a succinct yet substantive contribution.

Ideally, you include a transcript or provide captions, for accessibility, but I realize that takes extra time (however, if you have a script or notes, you can post those). If you are interested in creating captions, please check out this how-to video tutorial. Note that machine-made captions are prone to errors. You can edit captions, and while it takes a bit of time, it makes a video look much more professional.

How many posts do I need?
  • at least 11 by the end of the semester (= 2 free passes)
  • TIP: You do not have to take the free pass: reading and writing more can only be good for your understanding of Chinese history!
  • to activate your free pass: create a post that says “no post this week”; do not collect your points in the quiz. I will excuse the assignment in Canvas.
Peer feedback

As part of the Exploration assignments, you will also read other students’ work (both weekly exploration posts, and the larger “Show and Tell projects”). This is classified under “Exploration” because by reading other students’ work, you will learn more about Chinese history: they may have selected different Exploration Pack, or have different insights in the same materials. You will provide feedback so they (and you!) can take it to the next level, either by rewriting, or by incorporating suggestions in the next assignment. We will use a small tool called (group HST271) for this purpose.

There is no free pass for the Feedback component: it is important that you remain engaged with the course contents, and even in a busy week, you should be able to find an hour to read and comment on your fellow students’ work.

If you did not read the same exploration pack, you may feel that it’s difficult to give feedback on a post or project. That’s not true! A well-written post will guide you through the content in such a way that you feel you’re learning new things, without feeling stupid. You can comment on posts where you feel the writer needs to provide more information for the non-specialist, for instance. You can also comment on structure of the argument, and use of sources, or maybe hints about how to stick more closely to the requirements of the assignment.

Show and Tell

At least four projects, 40% (=10% each)

There are five modules in total in this course. After you have explored a module, you will share with your fellow students, and the wider world, what you discovered, learned, or think everybody else needs to know. You can (but don’t have to) focus on a theme or topic using the #tags. You have one free pass. The Show and Tell project is due on the Friday (11.59PM Muhlenberg time) after we conclude a module, and you will pitch a proposal first, so you don’t bite off more than you can chew:

  • March 5
  • March 26
  • April 9
  • April 30
  • May 19

This assignment can take many different forms. Here are some examples:

  • An analytical blog post: you analyze a set of materials drawn from the module, looking for connections, changes, continuities within the module and (once we are in module 2) beyond the module.
    • 800 words (±10%, excl. notes and bibliography)
    • Is not a summary.
    • Does not require additional materials (but can be included)
    • Brings a new insight through a focused look at a particular aspect of the course materials covered so far: it is more than the sum of its parts.
    • OPTION: You can also do this as a voiced-over power point slide deck, voice-thread, or other video/spoken assignment.
  • An encyclopedia entry (as blog post): you explain in detail an aspect of Chinese history that you found fascinating.
    • Involves locating at least two sources that were not in an “exploration packet” yet. (Note: you can use the Optional Extras)
    • Introduces new information and new details on something connected to the module.
  • A small digital humanities project, for instance:
    • A detailed timeline (TimelineJS)
    • A Storymap
    • A Twine-story
    • A Twitter-storm (series of tweets on a single topic).
    • An short audio podcast episode (± 5min, scripted)
    • A brief documentary (± 2-3 min)
  • A response paper: each module includes a selection of readings and (if suitable materials are available) films connected to the module. Pick one, and write a response paper.
    • 800 words (±10%, excl. notes and bibliography)
    • These are not summaries, but are more personal, and require you to gauge your reaction to the reading/viewing
  • Current event in historical context: China is constantly in the news, but many of the topics have a much longer and complex historical background than journalists explain in their pieces. Use a current news topic as a jumping off point.
    • 800 words (±10%, excl. notes and bibliography)
    • Include in bibliography link to article(s) that inspired you
    • Includes some original research (at least 2 sources)
    • Make sure to focus on the historical side more than on the current event. We are still a history course after all!
  • from last semester:
    • a talkshow with impersonations of historical figures
    • Google slide presentations with voice over or presenter notes
    • Prezi presentation
  • Other ideas? Let me know! We can discuss what would work.

Whatever shape your “Show and Tell” takes, you have to be able to share it easily with your fellow students: they will provide feedback. You can stick with the same format throughout the semester, or try out something new every time.

You can re-submit after getting feedback from your peers and me, anytime before your portfolio of work closes on May 19. Only the revised grade counts. This means you can take a risk by doing something completely different or using a new tool or technique, and then revising it after getting feedback, without being punished by a bad grade.

Reflections on the course and your learning

Three times during the semester you will write a blog post in which you reflect on what you learned so far, and how the course is going. An open, honest reflection can help you identify your strengths. Find out what you’re good at, and do more of it! Some questions you can expect:

  • What did you learn from engaging with the work from your fellow students?
  • Which posts, written by you or a fellow student, really stand out?
  • What connections do you see across the weeks?
  • Where have you improved?
  • What remains difficult, and how would you overcome that difficulty?
  • What new skills have you learned?
  • Have you done any of the extra credit tasks, and have they helped you?
  • How have you grown as a student, as a writer, as a learner?
  • How would you rate your participation and engagement in this course?

These reflections are important: they give you a moment to see how far you’ve come, in learning about Chinese history, and your strengths as a student.

Due on:

  • March 12
  • April 16
  • May 19

Weekly rhythm

Course materials (“Basic set” and “Explorer Packs”) will be available by the start of the weekend (Saturday), if not earlier. Read through the materials, and post your Exploration Post by Thursday, 11.59PM (Muhlenberg time). On Friday, I will update the week’s page with the randomly assigned posts from fellow students to provide feedback. By Monday night of the following week, you will have finished giving feedback on 4 other students’ posts.

NOTE: You can continue to discuss things with fellow students in the comments after that point, or even open a discussion thread in our Google chat room. Longer discussion with lots of back-and-forth (if based on facts and evidence) can help you dig deeper in complex topics. We used to have robust discussions in my office, over cups of tea, so we need to find a virtual equivalent for this, because I miss those!

Every few weeks, you will also complete a “Show and Tell” project, and a Learning Reflection: plan ahead in your calendar for these.

Extra credit

Every week, there are a few small tasks to help you catch up if you missed a few of the Exploration tasks, or to get ahead if points motivate you. If curiosity motivates you, these tasks will also be of interest to you! Some tasks you can do every week, others you can do only once. Keep your eyes peeled in the weekly schedule, and the reminders in the Daily Course Announcements.

Q: How many points can I earn?

A: You can do as many extra credit tasks as are available, they’re all healthy for your development as a budding historian and college student.

You can collect points to make up for missed assignments in the “Exploration” tasks category, which constitutes 50% of your final grade. When your extra credit takes you beyond 50%, additional extra credit points are capped at 3% of the final grade (i.e. 53% of the final grade maximum for “Exploration” component). That’s enough to tip you into a higher letter-grade bracket (e.g. from B+ to A-) for the final grade.

I will add the Extra Credit points manually at the end of the semester, since I don’t trust Canvas Gradebook and I to come to an agreement on this, but you can at any time ask me for a check-up on how your extra credit points are helping you.

Q: Do I have to do extra credit tasks?

A: No. If you do all your assignments in the “Exploration” component, there is no points-based need to do them. But consider the following scenarios:

  • This is another strange semester and while we are hopeful about the spring, there is no certainty yet. Last minute panic and punctuated hysteria may not work to pull something fabulous out of thin air or do a massive amount of rewriting in those final weeks. Instead: bank small amounts of points now, at regular intervals, and be prepared for a potential rough time ahead.
  • All of the Extra Credit tasks are based on sound educational principles: using feedback to revise, engaging with other’s work, and fostering curiosity. Why not get rewarded for doing what the instructor hopes you’ll do anyway? I’m all about intrinsic motivation (versus points-based incentives), but by turning this into a game, maybe you will get you into good habits, and in future revise your work, engage with others, and just follow your curiosity every now and then even when there is no reward to get, other than personal satisfaction.

Thoughtful participation in the “Learning Community”

A “Learning Community” is a virtual and (sometimes, but not this semester) physical space that aims to optimize learning, exploration, and discovery, and fosters curiosity through collaborative effort. Only if all of us do our bit, will the learning happen.

To create such a space, your thoughtful participation is required, in the online spaces connected to this course, and in your head. Thoughtful participation requires more than just showing up to a video chat. Here is how you can bring your best self to each week, to make the Learning Community come to life even in a mostly asynchronous course:

  • Prepare the assigned readings by taking notes. Make a summary or list of what you think are the most important points of materials for that week. Mark passages that you don’t (quite) understand, and be ready to explain precisely what the question is. Likely you are not alone! You can ask questions in the Google chat room, on the Typepad, or in the synchronous video conferences.
  • Throw yourself into the discussion! You cannot simply state “I like it” or “I did not like it”. If you have read the materials, you will be able to say something meaningful about your fellow student’s post, and about how you see your ideas fit in with the other materials and their interpretations. At the very least, your reading notes will give you a couple of ideas.
    • use the reply to button, and make sure to check back on your discussions if someone has responded. Don’t just post post and run.
    • Embrace the fact that we are on the Internet: include hyperlinks, add pictures, GIFs, and memes; whatever brings your message across!
  • When you come to the Thursday “class”: I treat these not as a lecture, but more like an open tutorial, and this only works if you participate, either verbally, or in the text chat. Come prepared with some talking points or questions, based on the course materials, and the weekly central question. “Filling airtime” with contributions that wander aimlessly off-topic is not thoughtful: we have only a limited amount of time together, let’s use it wisely. Remember that you’re not there to “score points”, but to seek clarification and increase your understanding.

If video conferences scare you, because just like a regular face-to-face class you feel uncomfortable speaking in front of a large group, please read the document This course is hard (Gdrive link), for a few tips and quick-win strategies that work for most courses. There are also tips for other problems, such as how to deal with difficult assignments, and where to get started if you are “organizationally challenged”. (Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and burned it!)

Other ways to participate in the Learning Community:
  1. Sharing materials: e.g. link to a news report on a recent archaeological discovery, a great video you found that helps you to understand the course material better, a useful website or podcast.
    • You can e-mail me a link, or alert me to a blog post you created. Include a brief comment on why you think that material is interesting for our course.
    • TIP: very often there will be an option for you to enter these as a blog post for extra credit!
  2. Use to comment on your fellow students’ work on their websites, and continue the discussion beyond the basic requirements as you find yourself engaged in topics. Make thoughtful contributions: be specific, concrete and kind; you can also provide links to examples or further information.
    • TIP: very often there will be an option for you to declare these for extra credit!
    • TIP: you may find that these discussions spark an idea for a later project. Keep track, and let me know!
  3. Be professional: keep track of the course materials, assignments, and due dates; treat all assignments with the appropriate earnest. Help to create an environment conducive to learning, and a respectful atmosphere in our shared online space (your blog, the Google chat room, Typepad,, etc). I expect you to respond promptly (=within 24hrs, Mon-Fr.) to e-mails or other messages, and keep me and where necessary your classmates up to date if you encounter problems in keeping up with your obligations for the course.

What if these assignments seem meaningless?

I have developed these assignments with specific pedagogical goals in mind, to help you grasp the basics of Chinese history, and the craft of the historian as a skilled interpreter of the past who can share their work with a wider audience. They give you a chance to explore, ask questions, and learn from your peers as well as from me, through repeated contact with course materials and through peer review and feedback. Should you find these assignments meaningless busywork, please let me know what alternative suggestions you have to demonstrate your learning to our Learning Community.

NOTE: Don’t ask for tests. I don’t like giving them or grading them (and an unhappy grader is a harsh grader!), and in any case tests do no measure learning. They measure memorization skills, and performance under pressure, but not learning. That may be useful in other courses and disciplines, but I see no space for that in this course.