Princeton University goes fully remote for Fall 2020


Here is the press release:

Dear Princetonians,

With deep regret and sadness, I write to update you about our plans for the fall, and, in particular, to explain why Princeton has decided that its undergraduate program must be fully remote in the coming semester.  In brief, the pandemic’s impact in New Jersey has led us to conclude that we cannot provide a genuinely meaningful on-campus experience for our undergraduate students this fall in a manner that is respectful of public health concerns and consistent with state regulations and guidance.

When I last communicated with you, just over a month ago, we anticipated welcoming undergraduates from the Classes of 2022 and 2024 to campus in late August.  We noted at the time, however, that we would continue to monitor the course of the pandemic, and that we might have to change our plans if it worsened.  In the weeks that followed, infection rates soared around much of the country, with nearly 2 million new cases reported over the last month.  This development had two serious adverse consequences for Princeton’s ability to provide undergraduates with a positive and safe on-campus experience in the fall.

First, the health risks to the campus and surrounding populations appear greater now than they did just a month ago.  Reopening efforts in New Jersey and elsewhere have demonstrated how difficult it is to contain the disease.  Where schools and universities have started to bring back students, COVID cases have rapidly followed.

People throughout this University have done outstanding work to prepare the campus to receive students safely, but the risk of widespread contagion and serious illness remains.  Moreover, even if we successfully controlled on-campus spread of the disease, transmission rates might rise statewide or in our region.  We might then have to send undergraduate students home again or impose exceptionally severe restrictions on their mobility and interaction with one another.

Second, the persistent spread of COVID-19 compelled New Jersey to preserve and augment restrictions that it expected to ease.  New Jersey, like most states, has instituted a phased approach to managing public activities during the pandemic.  In early July, New Jersey had reached stage 2 of its reopening plan, and officials were optimistic that we could soon move to stage 3.  The state, however, had to pause its plan to avoid the spikes of infection that occurred in other states as they reopened.

Instead of loosening regulations, New Jersey justifiably imposed some new ones.  For example, over the past month New Jersey has roughly tripled (from 12 to 34) the number of states whose residents must quarantine for 14 days after arriving in New Jersey.  We believe that Governor Philip Murphy and his administration have skillfully and responsibly managed the extraordinary challenges of COVID-19 and the risks it poses to New Jersey, and we appreciate their attention both to the pandemic and to the complex needs of the higher education sector.

New Jersey’s careful approach has helped to keep the pandemic in check, but public health principles and state guidance still limit very substantially what we can do on campus.  For example, they prevent or severely constrain our ability to provide several key elements of residential life, including indoor dining, student gatherings, and access to indoor common spaces and gyms.  Colleges and universities have not yet received general authorization to teach in-person classes.  Moreover, many out-of-state students now face strict quarantine requirements upon their arrival in New Jersey.

Read the rest here.

What Stories Will You Tell About Coronavirus 2020?


This kid just came home to continue her college education online. She is not happy about it, but she is making the best of it.

The coronavirus story is far from complete, but I hope that many of you are collecting stories to pass on to your families and communities. Let me encourage you to keep a diary or journal. Future historians will thank you for this. Here’s a start:

My life has not changed considerably since this pandemic hit the United States. In fact, I feel a little guilty as I watch so many people whose lives are changing drastically as a result of the coronavirus and are now overburdened with work–especially healthcare providers and people in leadership. I am trying to continue my calling as an educator during the crisis. I have a platform here at the blog and I have been trying to do as many posts at possible to help folks put this pandemic in some kind of larger perspective. We are getting a record number of readers these days, so thanks for following along.

I have largely self-quarantined. I had some kind of flu bug last week, but I have managed to recover. Joy now seems to have picked it up. But relatively speaking, we are all fine.

Today I stopped going to McDonalds to get my morning coffee and bought a Keurig. I am watching a lot of CNN and trying to stay up to speed on what is happening around the country. It is is important to stay informed in times like these.

I am currently on Spring Break. Joy is now working full-time from home. My youngest daughter Caroline came home from college on Tuesday night. She is continuing her semester online from her bedroom. Yesterday I was tempted to “sit on” on one her classes, but then thought better of it.

My eldest daughter Allyson is still in Grand Rapids. She learned last night that she will never take another face-to-face college course. She is sad about this news and we are sad for her. At this point we are not even sure if she will have a graduation ceremony.  She lives off-campus with her friends and is trying to make the most out of the last weeks of her college experience. Tonight she played Monopoly with her housemates. She is also battling some kind of non-corona flu bug.

I am proud of Caroline and Ally.  Both of them canceled Spring Break trips and they have been taking social distancing very seriously. I wish I could say the same about their peers across the country.

Next Wednesday I start online teaching. Fortunately, I have three sections of the same course. I am still working on platforms and approach. My mailboxes and social media feeds are flooded with links to online teaching resources.  Sometimes even good advice can be overwhelming.

While the blog continues, I am not sure about the immediate future of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  We will not have access to our Messiah College recording studio, so we will need to decide whether to cancel the season or try to continue with really bad sound quality.  We still have one more episode in the can, so look for Episode 66 with historian Serena Zabin, author of an amazing new book on the Boston Massacre.  I know some of you offer financially support our podcasting work.  Once we make a decision, I will be in touch via Patreon.

What stories will you tell about living through this historic pandemic? Even you think, as I do, that your stories are boring and commonplace, you are doing a public service by writing them down.

McSweeney’s: “Welcome To Your Hastily Prepared Online College Course”



Here is a taste of Ryan Weber‘s hilarious piece:

Due to concerns about COVID-19, our university recently gave me three hours to move our entire class online for the next three to sixteen weeks. I am providing these instructions for a seamless, uninterrupted course experience. I have never taught online before, but with the help of our men’s field hockey coach turned online-learning coordinator, I have developed a virtual experience that matches the intimacy and rigor we cultivated in our Philosophy of Face-to-Face Discourse In the Public Square class.


We will use AOL Instant Messenger to recreate our passionate in-class discussions. I assume everyone has an AIM account, so please send out your usernames. Mine is HangingChad2000. For fun, I encourage everyone to include their favorite Donnie Darko quote as their away message.


Lecture One

Content: I look in the camera and say, “Is this on? Is this on? Oh, I think it’s on! Wait, it’s not on! No, it is on! How do I share my screen?! I don’t think this is on.”
Takeaways: The camera was on.

Lecture Two

Content: I rhapsodize beautifully about Habermasian theories of the public square as they apply in times of pandemic before I realize that the camera was not on.
Takeaways: I don’t remember what I said, but it felt like a pretty amazing lecture. You would have loved it.

Lecture Three

Content: I provide an introduction to Amartya Sen’s work while my cat repeatedly sticks her butt into the camera and then knocks the laptop to the floor.
Takeaways: My laptop is now glitching after falling on the ground. This should not affect our course experience.

Lecture Four

Content: A YouTube clip of Bill and Ted meeting Socrates.
Takeaways: “All we are is dust in the wind, dude.”

Read the rest here.

Teaching John Henry Newman’s “What is a University?”


University College, Dublin

Yesterday in Created and Called for Community we read an excerpt from John Henry Newman‘s “What is a University,” a chapter in his 1852 book The Idea of a University.  Newman wrote this book while serving as rector of Catholic University of Ireland. (today it is known as University College Dublin), a school that he helped found.

We started our conversation, as we always do, by sourcing the document. Who was Newman? Several students found it interesting that Newman was not welcomed to teach at Oxford University, an Anglican institution of higher learning, after he converted to Catholicism.  This was a great opportunity to think about previous course readings.  As we learned from Randy Basinger’s recorded lecture last week, Christian colleges and universities often place boundaries on faculty and students. These boundaries are usually defined by belief and behavior rooted in the particular school’s mission and understanding of Christian faith. In 19th-century England, Oxford was a Protestant institution. I pointed out that Oxford was not as inclusive as present-day Messiah College, a Christian college that hires Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox believers.  As we noted last week, other Christian colleges such as Wheaton College, Gordon College, or Calvin University do not hire Catholic professors.  If Newman were teaching at one of these colleges at the time he converted to Catholicism, he would need to leave.

We also thought together about Newman’s “What is a University?” in its 19th-century context. Students quickly noted that Newman was writing in a world where only men attended university.  His understanding of “diversity” was limited when compared to our modern understanding of “diversity.” For Newman, diversity meant different kinds of white men.

At this point I paused and explained how I might teach this document differently in a history course.  I imagined teaching Newman’s ideas in a course on 19th-century British history.  In such a course my primary goal would be to get students to think about what Newman’s essay teaches us about his world.  But in CCC, my primary goal is less about getting my students to understand the “foreign country” of 19th-century Great Britain and more about trying to get them to think about whether Newman has anything to offer our understanding of Christian higher education today.

This discussion allowed me to reinforce an important lesson about studying at a college (like Messiah College) with a robust general education program informed by the liberal arts.  Each discipline in the curriculum offers students a different way of thinking about the world.  I used global poverty to illustrate my point. In a political science class, for example, students might address global poverty by thinking about ways of alleviating it through public policy.  In a history class, students might reflect on the roots of global poverty or the kind of choices humans have made in the past that have resulted in global poverty. In a psychology class, students might reflect on the relationship between global poverty and mental health.  In a literature class, students might read stories of global poverty–fiction and non-fiction–that trigger their moral imaginations.  In an environmental studies class students might think about the links between climate change and global poverty.  And so on….  This is the kind of “connectedness” that Ernest L. Boyer described in his essay on Messiah College.

It was now time to dive into the text.  I started the conversation by asking the question in Newman’s title: “What is a University?” Some students were drawn to Newman’s claim that a university is “a place for the communication and circulation of thought, by means of personal intercourse….” I asked them to suggest some ways in which “thought” is communicated and circulated at a university.  Students, of course, mentioned their professors imparting knowledge in formal class settings.  But I wanted them to think beyond the classroom.  We talked about the word “circulate.”  How do ideas circulate on a college campus? Like bees released from the hive, ideas should be buzzing constantly around the campus.  They should fly out of the classroom door and fill the sidewalks, cafeteria, and dorms–constantly circulating through conversation and discussion.

We also discussed Newman’s idea that the university is a place–a real, flesh and blood, place.  Newman writes: “The general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life, which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already.”  In an age of online learning, virtual reality, and the internet I wondered if my students thought Newman’s call for face-to-face learning was still relevant?  I was surprised that so many students, struggling to keep their phones out of sight as they consulted an essay published on paper, seemed to agree with him here.

Several students wanted to talk about Newman’s idea of the university as a place focused on character building. We had a good discussion here about gender.  Newman often thinks of character in masculine terms.  He wants his university to produce good 19th-century “gentlemen” with proper “carriage,” “gait,” and “gestures.” But my students also agreed that some of the character traits Newman hoped students would learn in college were still relevant today.  My students wanted an education that helped them be more courteous and conversant.  They wanted a university to help them develop “the talent of not offending,” “delicacy of thought,” “happiness of expression,” “taste and propriety,” “generosity,” “forbearance,” and “candour.” These character traits, they argued, transcend time (the 19th-century) and gender.  The students universally agreed with my claim that the modern pluralistic university is no longer very concerned about character building.

We closed class by discussing liberal arts education as a form of “catechising.” Newman writes:

Truth, a subtle, invisible, manifold spirit, is poured into the mind of the scholar by his eyes and ears, through his affections, imagination, and reason: it is poured into this mind and is sealed up there in perpetuity, by propounding and repeating it, by questioning and requestioning, by correcting and explaining, by progressive and then recurring to first principles, by all those ways which are implied in the word “catechising .” In the first ages, it was a work of a long time; months, sometimes years, were devoted to the arduous task of disabusing the mind of the incipient Christian of its pagan errors, and of moulding it upon the Christian faith.

For most of my students, “catechism” is a foreign word.  They attend evangelical churches that do not offer formal programs of catechism designed to shape the mind, heart, and soul of young women and men in the congregation.  Catechism is an invitation to spiritual formation.  Spiritual growth seldom comes through the mountain-top experience at a weekend youth retreat.  It comes instead through the daily grind of practicing the spiritual disciplines–scripture reading and memorization, prayer, fasting, and other practices that take our focus off self and put it on God and others.

This is how Newman understands the catechizing nature of a liberal arts education.  Intellectual formation comes through repetition, discipline, questioning, requestioning, correcting, explaining, and the regular appeal to “first principles.” Yes, students may get temporary intellectual “highs” as they encounter an inspiring professor or attend an undergraduate conference, but the”arduous task” of “disabusing the mind” of errors and “moudling” it in truth takes time.  It takes a lifetime.

On Monday we start the “Creation” unit.  We will begin in a very familiar place.

Why Does Jerry Falwell Jr. REALLY Support VEXIT?


Get up to speed here.

Here is Matt Ford at The New Republic:

In a statement posted on Twitter, Falwell gave the most comprehensive reason for the proposal. He largely blames Virginia Democrats and their policy choices. “Democrat leaders in Richmond, through their elitism and radicalism, have left a nearly unrecognizable state in their wake,” he explained. “Despite a spate of scandals over the past two years, the Democrats control every statewide elected office throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as both chambers of the State Legislature—and they are using their power to strip away the God-given rights held by every person in the state, despite their due protections under the U.S. Constitution.”

What he elides is that Virginia Democrats didn’t seize control of the state government by magic but because a majority of voters in the state wanted it that way. For Falwell, democracy is part of the problem. Virginia’s changing electorate has transformed it from a reddish-purple state into a solid blue one over the past two decades. Now he sees radical solutions as the only viable path forward. “The threat from the radical left is real, and it’s spreading across the country and tearing our national family apart at the seams, but we have a rare opportunity to make history in our time by pushing back against tyranny in Washington and in Richmond,” he warned.

Unfortunately for Falwell, that “tyranny” also makes his proposal virtually impossible. The Constitution forbids the creation of new states or the transfer of one state’s land to another without each state’s consent, as well as the approval of Congress. Since Democrats currently control the House and the entire Virginia state government, that consent is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon.

But Falwell’s concerns aren’t limited to tyranny and democracy. He also placed Liberty University’s revenue streams among the top reasons for what he calls “Vexit.” In last month’s budget proposal, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a list of changes he would seek to Virginia’s in-state tuition program. “For those at private institutions, we’re raising the annual amount of our Tuition Assistance Grants to $4,000 per student,” he told state lawmakers in December. “We will focus those grants on students attending brick-and-mortar classes.”

The brick-and-mortar provision would directly affect Liberty’s most lucrative source of funding. Last week, the university complained that Northam’s proposed changes would bar those grants from being used to pay for online college courses. Liberty said in a statement that the measures would affect more than 2,000 of its online students each year. Falwell and other university officials insisted they would be able to cover the grants gap through private funds, claiming that they were worried about smaller private schools in the state that might not be able to do the same.

Read the entire piece here.

Colleges and Universities With the Most Students Enrolled Online

Western Gov

Western Governor’s University is based in Salt Lake City

Here is the top ten as of 2018, compliments of Inside Higher Ed.

  1. Western Governor’s University
  2. Southern New Hampshire University
  3. University of Phoenix-Arizona
  4. Grand Canyon University
  5. Liberty University
  6. University of Maryland-University College
  7. Walden University
  8. American Public University System
  9. University of Central Florida
  10. Ivy Tech Community College

Here are the fastest growing online schools from 2017 to 2018:

  1. Central Washington University
  2. Eastern Gateway Community College
  3. University of Iowa
  4. University of the Cumberlands
  5. University of Alabama
  6. Texas State University
  7. George Mason University
  8. Ohio State University
  9. Western Governors University
  10. Wilmington University

What Colleges and Universities Can Learn from the Silicon Valley (Ironically, its not what you might think)

Neem 1Today we recorded Episode 54 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Our guest was Western Washington historian Johann Neem, author of What’s the Point of College: Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform.  I don’t want to give too much away because I want you to listen to our conversation,  but let me offer a teaser.  At one point during the interview I asked Neem about his passage from his book:

…forward-looking companies try to emulate traditional colleges by building large, idyllic campuses where people can interact and be creative. “There is something magical about sharing meals,” said former Google CFO Patrick Pichette on why Google discourages telecommuting. “There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer, ‘What do you think of this?'”  That sounds a lot like the traditional college experience, but, in new model universities, fundamental aspects of traditional ones–such as personalized teaching, green lawns, academic freedom, shared governance, meaningful exposure to the liberal arts and sciences, and time and autonomy for reflection–are deemed irrelevant.

Oh the irony!

As Silicon Valley tries to promote face-to-face interaction in real places that resemble the traditional college campus, universities seem to be moving away from such a model through its increasing commitment to displaced online education and a delivery system that makes human connection more difficult.

See how Neem developed his thoughts in Episode 54.  It will drop in a week or so.  Stay tuned.

The University of Pennsylvania Goes Online


Penn will be the first Ivy League college to offer an online bachelor’s degree.  Here is a taste of Beth McMurtrie’s piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Starting next fall, the University of Pennsylvania will offer what it says is the first online bachelor’s degree at an Ivy League college, an illustration of the growing credibility and popularity of online education.

Designed for adult learners, the program will confer a bachelor of applied arts and sciences, and will enroll students through the School of Arts and Sciences’ College of Liberal and Professional Studies, which serves working adults and other nontraditional students.

Nora E. Lewis, vice dean of professional and liberal education, said that while roughly 500 adults are earning bachelor’s degrees part time through the college, Penn realized it could do more to serve nontraditional students. Only 30 percent of adults over 25 hold a bachelor’s degree, she noted.

Read the entire piece here.

Jerry Falwell and the “Taming” of the Liberty University Faculty

Liberty U

The residential faculty at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University were not very thrilled about the fact that an academically-weak online program was funding the traditional undergraduate university, but Falwell was able to “tame” them.

Check out Alec MacGillis‘s piece at Pro Publica: “Billion Dollar Blessings.”  The subtitle reads: “How Jerry Falwell Jr. transformed Liberty University, one of the religious right’s most powerful institutions, into a wildly lucrative online empire.”

A taste:

Students at Liberty often quote a favorite line of Falwell Sr.’s: “If it’s Christian, it ought to be better.” Even those who have misgivings about the university’s conservative culture are quick to defend the education they’ve received on campus. Yet despite its ambitions to become the “evangelical Notre Dame” that Falwell envisioned, Liberty is still ranked well behind that university and other religious-based institutions like Brigham Young and Pepperdine; U.S. News and World Report clumps Liberty in the lowest quartile of institutions in its “national universities” category. Some of its programs have strong reputations, among them nursing, engineering and flight school. But the college is limited in its ability to compete for premier faculty, not only because its politics are out of step with the greater academic community, but also because none of its programs, with the exception of its law school, offer tenure.

In his autobiography, Falwell made virtually no distinction between these students on the Lynchburg campus and those receiving their instruction remotely. All of them, in his telling, were being prepared for the same goal, to be “Champions for Christ,” as the Liberty motto had it. But many students on campus, at least, are openly dismissive of the online experience. They take some classes online, for the convenience of not having to drag themselves to class — and, they readily admit, for the ease of not having to study much. “People know it’s kind of a joke and don’t learn that much from it,” Dustin Wahl, a senior from South Dakota, told me. “You use Google when you take your quiz and don’t have to work as hard. It’s pretty obvious.” (Liberty says using Google during quizzes or exams is cheating.)

Campus students are especially scornful of the online discussion boards that are in theory meant to replicate the back and forth of a classroom, but that in reality tend to be a rote exercise, with students making only their requisite one post and two comments per week, generating no substantive discussion. “It’s very minimal engagement,” said Alexander Forbes, a senior from California. Recently, a satirical campus newspaper, The Flaming Bugle, ran an Onion-style article with the headline “Cat Playing on Keyboard Inadvertently Earns ‘A’ for Discussion Board Post.”

Read the entire piece here.  Then head over to the Pietist Schoolman and read Chris Gehrz’s stinging critique of the “tame the faculty” line.

I know Chris to be a very mild-mannered man (he’s the “Pietist Schoolman, after all), so when he writes that the article made him “sick” to his “stomach about this county’s largest Christian university,” we should listen.

Why Face-to Face Instruction is Superior


Christopher Schaberg teaches English and environment at Loyola University New Orleans.  He is not a fan of online teaching.  He explains why in this piece at Inside Higher Ed:

Once an online class is done, it’s done. But my classes are never complete. My students stay in touch with me, come back and visit me, occasionally even find me at my summer place in the woods and take a walk with me. I read their essay drafts and give them advice and suggestions on résumés and job prospects long after they graduate. I run into them at the grocery store. I see them on the street at night walking their dogs, and they tell me about how life changing that one novel was. We catch up, share stories and bid each other goodbye with warmth and fondness until the next time we meet again — whenever that may be. While this can certainly also result from pedagogical relationships developed online, I would wager that the occurrence and persistence of such connections is much higher when they have originated in the face-to-face classroom.

I should acknowledge here that my tenured position gives me the relative safety from which to take this strong stance toward online education. I teach at a small university where seminar-style courses are still allowed (and even used as a marketing tool). But even in this context, the juggernaut of online education looms. I am leery of my job being outmoded with each new push toward expanded course offerings online.

Sometimes I hear people on my campus say that online learning is “the future” or that it’s “here to stay.” But I doubt it. I’ve asked my students over the years, and none of them would prefer their course work be online. In their hypermediated lives, the classroom and the time therein is a sanctuary. And for children these days being raised with iPads and smartphones in the increasingly permeating, insinuating regime of the internet, being off-line is the real desirable good. (If you’ve ever witnessed a small child begging a parent to put the phone down, you know just what I am talking about.) Finally, it’s not even the future any more. The glow of online excitement is fading, at best.

Read the entire piece here.  I agree with just about all of it.  But take what I have to say with a grain of salt–I also believe that the lecture is still useful.  I am afraid my days in the academy may be numbered!  🙂

Teaching is a Human Act


For several years now Jonathan Rees has been railing against MOOCs and other forms of automated teaching.  I appreciate his insights.  I am a regular reader of his blog More or Less Bunk.

Rees’s most recent reflection on teaching and technology appears today at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Here is a taste of “You Can’t Automate Good Teaching”:

A few years ago, I spilled an awful lot of pixels over at my blog trying to come to grips with the implications of Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs). They were supposed to be the innovation that would not only make most college professors obsolete, but force countless colleges to close as every student would prefer to hear Harvard’s best lecture rather than get their  course content from the community-college professor in their neighborhood.

Of course, any college professor who cares one whit about teaching understands that education involves a lot more than just conveying information. There’s the teaching of particular skills. There’s applied learning. There’s the unpredictable relationship between two humans whenever they try to to accomplish anything complicated.

In other words, good teaching is just one long series of “edge cases.” You may come into class with the same lecture notes every semester, but unless you spend all your time staring up at the ceiling, how your students interpret the material you’re teaching is going to affect the way you choose to teach it. They don’t even have to stop you and ask questions while you’re talking. So long as you and they are in the same room — with you conveying information in real time — you will see how your material is going over and can adjust your presentation accordingly.

Even if you really could deliver the same exact lecture every time, you will never get the same result twice because the learning process is never entirely predictable. If we automated learning, information would still travel from the brain of the professor to the brain of the student, but we’d never know exactly how well students understood it. You might as well just hit “play” on a tape of someone else’s lecture, then leave the room to do something else.

Read the entire piece here.

Upcoming Gilder Lehrman Online Graduate Courses

Peniel Joseph will teach African American History

As many of you know, I am in the midst of teaching an online graduate course on Colonial North America for the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  See my reflections from the first week of course here).

Recently, Gilder Lehrman announced its Spring 2016 online courses.  They are:

African American History Since Emancipation with Peniel Joseph

The Supreme Court and the Constitution in the 20th Century with Risa Goluboff

Women and Gender in 19th-Century America with Stephanie McCurry

Looks like a great lineup.  Registration begins on November 16, 2015.  Learn more here.

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.

Have You Signed Up Yet for the Gilder-Lehrman Fall 2015 On-Line Course on Colonial North America?

I heard that this has the potential to be a pretty good course.  Sign up here.

Here is a taste of what you can expect:

Too often the history of the “American colonies” focuses on the thirteen British provinces that rebelled against the mother country in 1776 and formed what became known as the United States. While such an approach allows us to understand the British roots of our current national identity, it fails to do justice to those regions of North America (many of which eventually became part of the United States) and those people and groups that did not participate in the grand experiment of American independence.

This course will examine North American history during the period of European colonization. Rather than thinking about colonial America as a necessary forerunner to the American Revolution or the birth of the United States, we will make an effort to understand colonial life on its own terms. Though we will not ignore the British colonies on the eastern seaboard, we will also examine the colonial experiences of the French, Spanish, Dutch, and other European nations. In the process, we will critique the so-called “Whig” interpretation of the colonies and think together about how this particular period in the American past provides a laboratory for teaching historical-thinking skills in the K–12 classroom.


  • The course will meet for live sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings in the fall from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. ET.
September 1
September 9
September 15
ber 23

September 29
October 7
October 13
** Fall break: October 19–30 **
November 3
November 11
November 17

  • The course will be presented in two types of sessions:
    • Six seminar sessions led by Professor John Fea
    • Four pedagogy sessions that demonstrate how to bring the content into middle and high school classrooms
  • All sessions will be recorded and available to watch on-demand.
  • Regular attendance is strongly encouraged but not mandatory.


  • Graduate participants must purchase copies of the course texts:
    • Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (Penguin Books, 2002)
  • Participants will also read primary documents provided as PDFs or web links during the course.
  • Preparation for each seminar session should take about four hours, composed of reading approximately 120 pages of assigned passages from the course texts and primary documents.
  • No reading will be assigned for the four pedagogy sessions.
  • Assignments include:
    • Five 1,000-word essays summarizing and critiquing the assigned readings for each seminar session, except our first meeting.
    • One lesson plan demonstrating the use of tools and strategies presented during the pedagogy sessions to teach one class period of instruction.
  • You will receive the syllabus on the first day of class.


  • Graduate participants may join live sessions and complete assignments in pursuit of 3.0 graduate credits from Adams State University for $600.
  • Auditors may watch session recordings and pursue a Continuing Education Certificate of Completion for $25. Teachers from Gilder Lehrman Affiliate Schools may audit for just $15. Please note that auditors are not permitted to take part in the live sessions.


Registration begins July 6 and concludes August 24, 2015, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. Please note that the credit-bearing graduate section of the course is limited to 100 participants and may fill before the registration period ends.

Indiana Wesleyan University and Houghton College Will Collaborate

Houghton College campus

Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, IN) and Houghton College (Houghton, NY) are both Wesleyan colleges and members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).  Inside Higher Ed is reporting a “partnership” between the two schools.  Indiana Wesleyan is known for its massive continuing education and online programs.  Houghton is known in Christian college circles as a traditional residential liberal arts college.  But in response to financial difficulties the upstate New York college has recently undergone a refocusing that will put a greater emphasis on online courses and continuing education.

Here is the Inside Higher Ed brief:

Indiana Wesleyan University and Houghton College, in New York, have announced plans for collaboration. Both colleges are part of the Wesleyan Church. While details of the partnership haven’t been finalized, the idea is to share areas of expertise. Houghton is a traditional, residential institution, and Indiana Wesleyan officials hope to learn from its strengths in internships and study abroad. In turn, Indiana Wesleyan plans to share its approaches to growth and serving campuses off of its traditional campus. Indiana Wesleyan has nearly 3,000 students on its main campus, but has grown considerably with adult students (more than 12,500 of them) who enroll online or at centers in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. The university also recently announced plans to acquire a Christian-oriented arts college in Australia.

Here is the Houghton press release concerning this new partnership.

"Not All Online Courses Are MOOCs"

So concludes David Austin Walsh of the History News Network in his promotional piece for Matt Pinsker’s new online course “Understanding Lincoln.”  Here is a taste:

Take “Understanding Lincoln,” a new online course co-sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute Dickinson College. The course, led by Lincoln scholar Matthew Pinsker, will offer a hybrid approach – a smaller seminar section with a hundred-student enrollment cap, direct access to Professor Pinkser and Gilder Lehrman staff, and the opportunity to interact with other students in digital forums.

For-credit students will pay $450 and receive three graduate credits at Dickinson, which can be used as transfer credit at other institutions.

For those interested in enrichment, a free section featuring lectures and readings will also be available, along with a certificate of completion for those who finish the course.

Course registration is currently open, and closes on Friday, July 19 at 11:59 Eastern. “Understanding Lincoln will run from July 22 to November 19.

The class is primarily designed for K-12 educators to enhance their knowledge of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. The Gilder Lehrman website emphasizes that the course will focus on teaching Lincoln “within the guidelines of the Common Core State Standards.”

Pinsker said that the course is the culmination of the House Divided project, an online effort to create resources for K-12 teachers on the Civil War era. He has partnered with Gilder Lehrman for several years on the initiative, and an online course was the next logical step.

A pilot course for a closed group last year met with great success. One participant wrote in a testimonial that the class “introduced me to scholarship…and links that will not only test me as a teacher, but will make me grow as an educator.”

A major component of the upcoming “Understanding Lincoln” class will be what Pinsker calls “class-sourcing.”
“The course won’t just be about transmitting information to students,” he said. “It will be about students building something with teachers.”

Read more here.

Massive Open ON-AIR Courses

Susan Matt and Luke Fernandez remind us that before MOOCs there were college courses broadcasted over the radio.

In 1937, as she lay ill in bed, Annie Oakes Huntington, a writer living in Maine, thought of ways to spend her time. She confided in a letter: “The radio has been a source of unfailing diversion this winter. I expect to enter all the courses at Harvard to be broadcasted.” Huntington was joining in an educational experiment sweeping the country in the 1920s and 30s: massive open on-air courses. 

As educators contemplate the MOOCs of our day—massive open online courses—they would do well to consider how earlier generations dealt with technology-enhanced education. 

We are not the first generation to believe that technology can transcend distance and erode ignorance. Nearly a century ago, educators were convinced that radio held that same potential. The number of radios in the United States increased from six or seven thousand to 10 million between 1921 and 1928. Many universities explored the possibility of broadcasting courses across the country and allowing anyone to enroll. Some onlookers believed those courses would transform higher education and eliminate lecture halls and seminar rooms. One observer noted, “The nation has become the new campus,” while another celebrated the “‘University of the Air,’ whose campus is the ether of the earth, whose audience waits for learning, learning, learning.” 

By 1922, New York University had established a radio station, through which “virtually all the subjects of the university [would] be sent out.” Eventually a multitude of universities, including Columbia, Harvard, Kansas State, Ohio State, NYU, Purdue, Tufts,  and the Universities of Akron, Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Utah, offered radio courses. Subjects ranged from Browning’s poems to engineering, agriculture to fashion. 

While each institution ran its courses differently, there were commonalities. Often, students registered by mail and received a syllabus by return mail. Some then mailed in assignments to the faculty. Several universities offered credit. 

Hopes ran high that these courses might spread knowledge more democratically—that they would, in the words of one commentator, make the “’backwoods,’ and all that the word connotes … dwindle if … not entirely disappear as an element in our civilization.” By offering education to people from all walks of life, radio would reduce rural populations’ isolation and mitigate class differences.

Read the rest here and learn how the criticisms of these radio courses sound similar to the criticisms of MOOCs today.

Humanities and the Future of Teaching and Learning

My colleague and boss Peter Powers called my attention to this piece through his Facebook page.  It looks like Duke professors, many of them from non-humanities disciplines, are singing the praises of the humanities.

Dr. Brenda Armstrong, director of admission for the Duke School of Medicine, argues that medical students need an education that “presents an example of how you integrate into community, how you transfer a set of values and communicate to communities notions of leadership for those who are coming behind you.”

Ian Baucom, an English professor thinks MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) can be effective, but he adds: “a new domain appears to be emerging in what is essential for a university: If you don’t have a MOOC, do you matter?”  He warns us to be “careful about the distinction between a course and an education.”

Mohamed Noor, a biologist who recently had some success teaching a MOOC, believes that online learning will never replace classroom learning, but is impressed by the engagement of the 10,000 students who took his “Introductions to Genetics and Evolution” online course:

I met a high school student in El Salvador who didn’t like his biology class but who got interested in this class.  I heard from a train driver in Sheffield, England, who didn’t have money for university but could take this class.  There was a great outpouring of support for Duke University from people who couldn’t believe that a major university would invest time and effort for this for free.”

Interesting piece.  Articles like this, and bloggers such as Jonathan Rees, are really helping me to sort through some of this MOOC stuff.  Thanks.

Thomas Friedman on MOOCs

Here is what Friedman has to say about Massive Open Online Courses.  His piece has been getting a lot attention in the blogosphere.  Here, for example, is what Historiann had to say about it:

I just love these experts in “disruptive innovation” who trash learning in college classrooms and lecture halls with 15, 40, or 125 students because “all professors do is lecture,” who then turn around and brag about how scalable their educational model is because–wait for it!–it’s based on lectures!  To 14,000 people who swooned like bobby-soxers fainting for Frank Sinatra.

Jonathan Rees has also weighed in here.  A taste:

As Phil Hill reminds us, students enter MOOCs for different reasons and therefore participate in different ways. What it does mean though is that MOOCs are not nearly as effective as actual college courses at getting students involved in every aspect of higher education. That’s why nobody I know is saying, “Kill all the MOOCs,” but they are saying don’t let MOOCs replace traditional higher education entirely because free online education isn’t there yet. I don’t think it can ever get there, at least not for humanities courses.  

Carolyn Foster Segal, an English professor, slams Friedman’s argument at Inside Higher Ed.

John Warner, writing at the same website, says “Friedman has as much credibility on education as I do on dunking a basketball.”  Warner writes:

Friedman’s columns on MOOCs read like infomercials, something made only more obvious by the fact that his most recent one is timed to the release of his “old friend” Sandel’s course. It seems as though Friedman has done precisely zero thinking about the impact MOOCs will have on education, or if he has done so, it is not in evidence in his writings on the subject. Friedman’s bias for big ideas and big solutions to complex problems is well on display.

I have summarized Friedman’s thoughts below so you do not have to read the op-ed.  Commentary, as always, is welcome.

  1. Michael Sandel’s Harvard MOOC on “Justice” is so popular in Korea that he was recently invited to a Korean baseball game to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
  2. The world does not need teachers and professors to depart knowledge because everything is on Google.
  3. Residential colleges and universities will not survive unless they deliver massive online courses at lower costs.
  4. In this survival of the fittest world of online education if your course on economics (or any other subject) is not as good as the same course at another institution, your course (and by implication your university) is worthless.  “When outstanding becomes so easily available, average is over.”
  5. Information should be delivered online so that class time can be used for discussion and face-to-face interaction.

I think #1 is pretty cool.

I find #2 to be a bit offensive. Historical knowledge is best disseminated through storytelling and narrative.  It is not just random facts that one can find through a Google search.  MOOCs may work fine in an engineering class, but they have limits when it comes to humanities-based learning.

#3 may be correct, but it is a shame. It seems that colleges with a Christian mission, like the one where I teach, must reject selling their soul to online learning.  Christian higher education is incarnational–it happens in flesh and blood community. When we give that up–as Liberty University seems more than willing to do with most of their students–I am not sure what makes a college or university Christian.

#4 is sad, but probably true, although when defined this way I am not sure what the difference is between a MOOC and a textbook.

I am open, but only slightly, to #5.  An online lecture, followed by a face to face discussion, might work in a history course, but I still think something is lost when students are not present, in real space, for lectures.

Maybe I will elaborate on these quick responses in another post.  Stay tuned.