Gilder-Lehrman Institute Announces Spring 2016 On-Line Graduate Courses

Last night we wrapped up my Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History online graduate course on Colonial North America.  The students and the producers of the course are telling me that it went well, but without regular face-to-face interaction with students it is hard for me to evaluate the success (or lack thereof) of the whole experience.  Having said that, I really enjoyed teaching the course.

As I told the students last night, I want to thank Gilder-Lehrman producers Lance Warren and Hannah Ayers for guiding me through the entire process.  It has been a pleasure getting to know them over the course of this semester and I really appreciate the invitation to teach this course.  Although we never had a chance to connect during the semester, I want to thank Kathy White for conducting the pedagogy sessions that went along with the course.  Aaron Bell and Wayne Kantz did the yeoman’s work of grading the weekly papers that we assigned.  I appreciate their willingness to take on what I imagine was a tedious (but hopefully rewarding) job.

With the Fall 2015 courses coming to an end, Gilder-Lehrman has now opened registration for its Spring courses.  It looks like a great lineup:

Click here to learn more about the Gilder-Lehrman/Adams State University M.A. program and how to register for Spring courses.

Tuesday with Colonial America

Bayonne High School

Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day teaching teachers about colonial America.  It was a long day, but it was fun.

In the morning I led a Gilder-Lehrman Institute workshop on colonial America for 5th grade and high school teachers at Bayonne High School in Bayonne, NJ.  In the three hour session we covered three main topics.  First, I tried to get the teachers to think historically about the colonial period by asking them what the narrative might look like if they were not guided by a Whig interpretation of history. Second, we discussed mercantilism, servanthood, slavery, and race in seventeenth-century Virginia. Third, we explored the meaning of John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” in seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay.

The Bayonne teachers were very engaged throughout.  I also got to meet and work with Ron Adkisson, the 2012 Teacher of the Year for the state of Kentucky.  And it was a real privilege to teach in a high school that was built as part of the Works Progress Administration.

After the session in Bayonne I followed Interstate 78 back to Mechanicsburg where I met up (again) with Lance Warren and Hannah Ayers for week 5 of my Gilder-Lehrman online graduate course: “Colonial North America.”  We spent the first hour of the course discussing slave culture in colonial South Carolina and the second hour on the Enlightenment in America.  One more week to go in this course.  I must admit that I am feeling a lot more comfortable with the online format.

Gilder-Lehrman Online Course on Colonial North America: Week One

The first day of class is in the books.  As some of you know, I agreed to teach an online graduate course this semester for the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History.  The course, “Colonial North America,” began last night.  Those who follow the Virtual Office Hours (which will be coming back soon) know that I have been on camera before, but I have never taught an online course before. Fortunately, Lance Warren and Hannah Ayers were there to coach me through it!

The course got off to a bit of an inauspicious start when the Internet in my office cut out unexpectedly about five minutes into the class.  This prompted at least one member of the class to turn to Twitter:


Lance and Hannah quickly moved us from Ethernet to WiFi and we were back in business.  It turns out that I was responsible for the glitch.  Unaware that the Ethernet was running through the phone on my desk, I unplugged the phone cable.  My intentions were good.  I wanted to make sure that the phone wouldn’t ring during the session.  In doing so, I brought the course to an embarrassing, albeit momentary, halt.   For those students who are reading this, I am truly sorry.  I don’t think it will happen again.

We spent most of our time “together” last night discussing the format of the papers that the students will be writing each week, talking about the limitations of a “Whig” approach to studying the colonies, and examining some of the economic and religious motivations for settlement.  In addition to my lectures, the students (most of them are K-12 teachers) are reading Alan Taylor’s American Colonies and a host of primary sources.  In preparation for last night’s course they read documents by Columbus, Cartier, Hakluyt, and others.

It took some time for me to adjust to the online format.  For example, it is hard for me to sit still when I am teaching.  I need to move around the room and wave my arms.  As I looked back at the video of the session I am constantly bobbing and weaving in my seat.  I need to get used to being “stuck” in the camera frame.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for me was the lack of immediate feedback from the class.  I am used to asking a lot questions–sometimes in rapid-fire style–when I teach.  This is not easy when you need to wait thirty seconds or more for answers.  Lance did a great job feeding me the questions as they came onto his computer screen, but it was still a bit strange for me.

Finally, online teaching makes it impossible to take the temperature (so to speak) of the class.  I can’t see their faces.  I can’t tell if they are connecting with what I am saying.  I don’t see the head nods or looks of concern when they don’t understand something.  I will have to get used to it.

As I come to the end of this post I realize that I sound rather negative about the experience.  Actually, I had fun doing this.  It is not the same as teaching in a face-to-face classroom, but I don’t think anyone taking the course is expecting that kind of experience.  I am sure I will feel more comfortable in my virtual classroom as the semester goes on.  I think we got off to a good start last night.

Gilder-Lehrman Online Course on Colonial North America Begins Tonight

Tonight I will see how well my teaching style translates into an online course.  It is the first night of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute’s “Colonial North America” graduate course.”  We have about 120 people registered (I don’t think this is includes auditors) who will be getting graduate credit at Adams State University in Colorado.

I am happy to be working with Kathy White of Gilder-Lehrman who will serve as the course’s “master teacher.”  Wayne Kantz of Manheim Central High School in PA and Aaron Bell of American University will be my teaching assistants.  Lance Warren and his team at Gilder-Lehrman will be the brains and technological support behind the operation.
I will do my best to post my thoughts about teaching online here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home
The registration for the course is currently closed.