Dr. Dahlia Setiyawan, the associate chair for the history department at Windward School, shares about her current experience transitioning to remote instruction and her approach to teaching high school history.

By Kitty Hu (UCLA, 2020)


"When I was in college, I kind of discovered Indonesia for the first time and ended up studying abroad there. I hadn’t learned about it before college…it was pretty transformative." Dr. Dahlia Setiyawan, currently the associate chair for the history department at Windward School, completed her Ph.D. in Southeast Asian history at UCLA in 2014. For the past few years, she has focused her energy on integrating Southeast Asian history into the curriculum at Windward, a college-preparatory school in Mar Vista. She speaks passionately about the topics that her students can engage with ranging from the intergenerational effects of genocide to Khmer classical dance. When she talks about the opportunities for students to learn directly from the Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach and visit Little Saigon in Westminster, it is evident that she cares deeply about rooting her classes in the communities. "That just makes my heart sing," she says.

Switching to Remote

With the global health concern surrounding COVID-19, Setiyawan has had to adjust to remote teaching and create new ways to approach the material. "I can’t be there with my students and so, I miss them," she admits, "I have to be a little bit more able to reach out to people even if they’re not reaching out to me because I can’t look at the room and just see, 'Oh he looks a little bit confused. I better go over there.' So that’s hard." Many events are being cancelled as well, such as the Little Saigon field trip and an international trip to Vietnam, which she had chaperoned the summer before and was looking forward to speaking to students about participating. "The school year is coming to an end and there’s not going to be a graduation, right now at least. There won’t be a prom. There won’t be all these things, so really, I feel for the students. Especially the seniors."

Nevertheless, the digital classroom has opened the door to more RAFT assignments, or what Setiyawan calls choose-your-own-adventure. Students can demonstrate their knowledge in one of four ways whether that be through a short film, infographic, or something different. "One of the things I like is that I can randomly put people into breakout rooms and you never know who is going to be assigned to what room," she says, so students who typically might not pair with one another are now conversing and working together on tasks. It becomes an opportunity for growth and students can take greater responsibility in the process.

Engaging with Southeast Asian Histories

In May, her seniors will present their research in an online capstone colloquium. Students are writing about various Southeast Asian topics, including nationalism in the Philippines and concubinage in colonial Java. "I’m just so excited that every year, somehow, I get to shepherd students through this," she says, "Being a teacher, I’m allowed to choose my own curriculum, so there’s always a way to bring in Southeast Asia."

In a class titled, "The U.S. in the World", which Setiyawan created with her colleague last school year, students complete a comparative analysis of U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War in the Congo, Guatemala, East Timor, and Indonesia. Setiyawan shares resources that she used during her own research, so she provides declassified government documents and other materials for the students to draw from.

A Global Education

She wants to incorporate a global perspective throughout the history curriculum. "Southeast Asia is this really important area of the world when you look at the dynamics there," she says, citing examples such as the population size and diversity, geopolitical position, and engagement with the United States. "If you take that away… some people will overlook it or not even know that it exists." She recalls how critical Southeast Asian Studies has been to her own understanding of the world and hopes that her students will realize the same or potentially pursue related courses in college. It has been important for her to "switch the focus to non-western history even when we’re looking at the United States."

In the future, when she is back in the physical classroom, she plans to bring in mentor and UCLA history professor, Geoffrey Robinson, as a guest speaker for her students. Additionally, "every year, I take the [senior capstone] students to YRL and they get to really use the library space," she says. "It’s really cool…to have this continued relationship with UCLA as an alumna."



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Published: Friday, April 24, 2020