Noted filmmaker Jake Boritt is coming to Carlisle on Wednesday, May 7, 2014 for a special free public showing and discussion of his latest film, “The Gettysburg Story,” a state-of-the-art documentary about the pivotal Civil War battle narrated by actor Stephen Lang. What makes this film especially unique and cutting-edge is Boritt’s use of high-definition camera-enabled drone aircraft. His innovative project quite literally depicts the 1863 battlefield from a perspective that you have never seen before. You will be amazed at the visual spectacle and fascinated by Boritt’s discussion of how 21st-century technology helped bring to life this classic 19th-century American story.
Digital Scholarship Lab. University of Richmond, 2014. http://dsl.richmond.edu/projects/
Reviewed by Leah Miller, Dickinson College
The Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond uses technology to digitize and present historical data in a way that reveals hidden patterns. The lab consists of eight main projects which present various insights into American history:
While the data covered by these projects spans all of American history from Columbus to the present, particular focus is devoted to the nineteenth century. Rather than presenting the large-scale, political history which is available in the average classroom textbook, these projects analyze the movements and actions of the common person. The result is a series of new stories about the experience of the average American—white, black, male, female—who worked, migrated, fought, and suffered for their freedom.
The most recent project is the digitized Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, originally drawn up in 1932 by U.S. naval historian Charles O. Paullin and geographer John K. Wright. The print edition of the atlas—which includes over 700 maps on 166 plates that cover American history from 1492 to 1930—has greatly impacted many historical publications even to the present day. Recently for the New York Times, project director Robert K. Nelson explained that “Paullin’s maps show ordinary people making a living, moving across the landscape, worshipping at churches, voting in elections.” This new, digital edition changes the way we can interpret these maps. Each map has been georeferenced and georectified to provide accurate and optimal web-viewing, but the viewer can switch to a high-quality scan of the original plates. The user can also toggle a sidebar with Paullin’s original text and legends, as well as zoom in and out and adjust the transparency of the map overlay. Permalinks save all these preferences and ensure they can be accessed in the future. Series of maps that show progression of movement or activity through time have been animated. For example, the animation of slave populations from 1790-1860 shows the concentration of southern slave power and its expansion westward concurrently with gradual emancipation of slaves in the North. Furthermore, the statistical annotations provided for this map declare the exact numbers and percentages of slaves in each county, and by 1820 provide a breakdown of the slaves’ genders. Some maps are accompanied by additional analytical blog posts. “Vanishing Indians,” by lab director Robert K. Nelson, discusses the atlas’ shortcomings when it comes to portraying Native Americans in their relationships to each other.
The Visualizing Emancipation project is another interactive map which highlights slavery’s end during the Civil War. The map “presents a history of emancipation where brutality is sometimes easier to see than generosity and where the costs of war and freedom fell disproportionately on the most vulnerable in the South.” Users can filter through different types of emancipation events (i.e. African Americans helping the Union, their captures by either army, fugitive slave-related incidents, etc.), as well as different types of sources, including books, newspapers, official records, or personal papers. Like the Atlas, this map is animated, so as the user toggles pins and filters on and off, she can follow the relationship between emancipation and the position of the Union army, or the agency of slaves in obtaining their own freedom. The project also features certain events and figures as starting points for understanding emancipation, with the ability to pinpoint each event on the map. I only wish that there were at least one featured example where a person or group were involved in multiple events, so a user could follow their physical journey using the map. For those teaching emancipation, there is an accompanying lesson plan and worksheet. Students are encouraged to contribute by submitting information they find in primary source documents, since the map, which covers “only a small slice of the available evidence documenting the end of slavery,” could never be complete.
Voting America also makes use of animated maps to show changes and differences in voting preferences for presidential and congressional elections (1840–2008). The key factor is scope, which illuminates different patterns and trends. For example, changing popular votes at the state level show which parties won each election, while at the county level show how each state was politically divided. The dot-density maps are even more democratic, as 1 dot=500 votes in an area; this way, more third-party votes are recorded. For these types of maps, every legend shows important political events in history; so, one can watch the progression of voter turnout since 1840 and note the effect the Fifteenth and Twentieth Amendments had. The user also has the option to view individual elections in each of these capacities. Population maps show the location and movements of black Americans (represented—a bit stereotypically—as black dots) and white Americans (represented by pink dots). Unfortunately there is no option to view these populations together, nor is there any representation of immigrant populations. The project is accompanied by an interactive map which can be used to compare presidential election years, but my computer, running Adobe flash player version 188.8.131.52, was unable to open it. An alternative version is available through Google Maps, but currently this feature is down. Finally, a “Scholars Corner” provides expert analysis by DSL staff on certain voting trends.
Three other projects in the lab focus on the American Civil War. Mining the Dispatch uses topic-modeling, a computerized method of pulling together multiple documents that have the same key words within them. This can reveal interesting categories and patterns among texts. In this case, Nelson ran every issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch from November 1860 to Lincoln’s death in April 1865. Some of the more interesting topics are fugitive slave ads, anti-northern diatribes, military recruitment versus conscription, humor etc. Nelson juxtaposed line graphs showing the frequency of similar topics, and, tentatively, relationships emerged. This project is still in its preliminary phase and because of its algorithmic collection process, the data is imperfect. Still, it is a good jumping off point for research questions.
The Virginia Secession Convention project seems to diverge from the site’s aim to tell the average American’s story. It seeks to explain the decision of the VA delegates to secede from the Union through their full-text searchable speeches and the Convention’s proceedings. However, as the Data Visualizations page shows, their decisions were likely influenced by their constituents. Each county is annotated with statistics about the constituents: percentages of slaveholders and the enslaved, average farm value per acre, and pro- or anti-Union stances.
Finally, though Hidden Patterns of the Civil War largely highlights many of the projects already discussed, it also includes other mini-projects and tools, like a collection of maps that shows the migration patterns of black Virginians who married after the war, a Google Earth tour of the Richmond slave market developed from a sketch by painter Eyre Crowe, and a full-access digital database of the Richmond Daily Dispatch during the Civil War.
While the two remaining projects are less relevant to the nineteenth century, they are great tools for the classroom. Redlining Richmond maps and annotates the racist categorizations of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (a New Deal agency) in the late ’30s. The assigned value of each neighborhood is based on race and nationality, and shows the lingering effects of slavery in the Jim Crow era. The History Engine is a “moderated wiki” where students generate three-paragraph “episodes” (rather than arguments) about people, places, or events in American history, drawing on local university or online archives and secondary sources. Because registration is required, each submission is carefully screened for quality and accuracy. The project’s aim is to place students from around the world in conversation with each other and their work.
The eight projects of the Digital Scholarship Lab thoughtfully and extensively explore the individual experiences of Americans during the nineteenth century. The Lab’s innovative use of technology illuminates otherwise obscure patterns of growth, contest, suffering, and change. This is an invaluable resource for studying the social history of our nation, and a must for anyone teaching or learning about the American Civil War.
Last year, nearly 750 participants signed up for a unique online learning experience. “Understanding Lincoln” was the first open, online graduate course offered in partnership between the House Divided Project at Dickinson College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Taught by historian Matthew Pinsker, the course focused on classic Lincoln texts –not just his great speeches, but also his most important personal and political letters. The participants studied and debated these documents through a series of live, interactive online sessions and helped create a brand-new website: Lincoln’s Writings: The Multi-Media Edition. Now, as we are getting ready to launch the 2.0 version of this exciting course (REGISTRATION CLOSES ON MAY 27, 2014), we think it’s worth sharing some of the comments from those who joined us during Fall Semester 2013.
From our auditors:
“I have seen the future, and it is “Understanding Lincoln.” Thanks again, and keep going with this approach as far as it will go!”
“I originally was just going to give the general kudos already stated above on a highly educational, interesting, and enjoyable course. But having started to take [another] MOCC more recently in which I was very disappointed, I’ve decided it is important to re-enforce some of the particular techniques you used that were noticeable by their absence in the other course. [Most important], the use of live interaction in video classroom sessions including on-line participation….The [other] course restricted live videos to semi-scripted sessions with teaching assistants, while “discussion” sessions were simply non-video chatrooms, sometimes with a 2nd level teaching assistant throwing in an occasional question, sometimes totally unstaffed. In the video classrooms, Matt’s active role as discussion leader was very effective, particularly given your ability to actively monitor the chatline.”
“My goal in doing this was to add to my own knowledge, of course, and to provide some material to the greater community in the class. This whole experience has been a very positive one for me and I thank you for all of your hard and good work in putting it together.”
From our graduate participants:
“I just wanted to thank you again for the great academic experience provided through “Understanding Lincoln.” I really learned a lot from the class and enjoyed every minute of it… I only wished I’d had more time to devote to my research! I loved the amount of freedom we were given to create our own projects and having never designed a Web site before, I learned a great deal not only about historic content but also about 21st Century presentation! There’s a lot more I still have to learn, but this was a good start! In a strange way, I found all of our writing assignments to be a great release from my day-to-day school and family demands, so I really am sorry to see the class come to an end!”
“I’m so glad I took this class — living with Honest Abe these last four months has been a really moving experience in more ways than I can count and frankly, has made me realize that I need to keep pursuing history research and exploration as much as I can.”
“I just want to express my thanks in offering a challenging and yet rewarding course. My multi-media project has been shared with 100 other history teachers in my district and I have utilized it many times in my own classroom. The students are tickled at seeing their “teacher’s work” for a class on display in addition to its usefulness so I appreciate your multimedia project assignment. I look forward to learning more…isn’t that the key to a successful class?”
“I’ve taught professional development courses and taken a lot of them myself, but I honestly found this to be one of the best classes I’ve taken since I was an undergrad 11 years ago. I appreciated the expertise, depth of content and the flexibility you gave us to find our own areas of interest. I also thought the online format was just a really interesting way to take a class. Most helpful to my teaching, though, the website is already proving to be an amazing resource. It’s a great project that is really going to help a lot of teachers across the country.”
“I am really proud of what I have learned through the course of this project and I thank you for the opportunity to do this for my students. I have very much enjoyed the course!”
“I really enjoyed the format of the class and the material presented within it. It was a logical arrangement of topics and primary sources, and I hope that our work helped you get closer to reaching your goal of creating an in-depth website that looks closely at Abraham Lincoln as both a person and president.”
“I want to also thank you for the experience provided by this course. I feel like it has enhanced my confidence teaching Lincoln and made me step out of my comfort zone and embrace the technology. I learned a great deal, love the Lincoln writings site and will use your close readings in my classroom.”
“Thank you for an exciting past few months. Not only did I learn quite a bit about Lincoln, but I also learned some great technology programs to use with my students.”
“I know that I am a better teacher from the time I spent working on this course.”
Registration for the 2014 edition of the “Understanding Lincoln” course will remain open until May 27, 2014. Full graduate student tuition costs $600. Auditors pay a small fee of $25. To sign up or to find out more details, go to the course registration page (http://gilderlehrman.org/programs-exhibitions/understanding-lincoln-graduate-course) and see for yourself.
Created by participants in the “Understanding Lincoln” open online graduate course (offered in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History), this site (still in development) features 150 of Lincoln’s “most teachable” documents and offers a full array of multi-media resources designed to help teach them in the K-12 and undergraduate classroom. This site is especially useful for Common Core alignments.
Created as part of the Lincoln Bicentennial anniversary, this site offers a snapshot of where the “Digital Lincoln” stood as of 2009, and includes a host of examples of research and presentation tools, especially designed for serious student and academic scholars.
Created in part to help transform insights from James Oakes’s prize-winning study, Freedom National (2013) into use for the modern-day classroom, this site presents an array of primary and secondary source tools for studying the complicated but fascinating subject of emancipation and abolition.
This “unofficial” guide includes access to Tony Kushner’s script, a full cast of characters (with photo comparisons to actual historical figures), and extensive analysis of the artistic license in the film and the historical reaction to Steven Spielberg’s important movie project.
This site offers a clickable word cloud of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates and host of other rare primary sources for use in studying these critical texts.
The House Divided Research Engine is a Drupal-based content management system that contains over 12,000 public domain images and tens of thousands of documents and other historical records. The link above takes users directly to Abraham Lincoln’s main record page and offers a well-curated gateway for Lincoln research.
This short but compelling exhibit came together as part of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and helps visitors understand the evolution of the document, including a sharp analysis of all five manuscript versions of the address in Lincoln’s handwriting.
Dickinson College students Leah Miller and Will Nelligan helped create short but engaging tools for studying Lincoln’s most important autobiographical writing –a sketch he produced in late 1859 to help launch his presidential bid. There is a six minute YouTube video of the sketch and an annotated edition of it through the new platform at RapGenius.
Michael Burlingame’s prize-winning Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2008) is the most important new multi-volume study of Lincoln, but it is difficult to teach because it is so lengthy. With permission, however, from both the author and the publisher (Johns Hopkins University Press), we have created short visually enhanced excerpts from the work that focus on the election of 1860 and include clickable footnotes, allowing teachers and students to “see” Burlingame’s sources directly.
Created by technologist Rafael Alvarado, this mash up includes an integrated interface allowing users to see the online edition of Lincoln’s Collected Works (his known writings), Lincoln Day-By-Day (his daily schedule), and The Abraham Lincoln Papers At the Library of Congress (the bulk of his extant correspondence) for the essential “one-stop” shopping experience. There is nothing else quite like this “timemap” available on the Internet –a must-see for serious and aspiring scholars.
I am moderating a special panel at Ford’s Theatre on Tuesday, October 15, 2013 from 12:30pm to 1:30pm on the always relevant topic of “What Would Lincoln Do? Understanding How Lincoln Gets Used (And Abused) in Today’s Washington.” This is part of the closing phase of the “Understanding Lincoln” online course (which the House Divided Project produces with the Gilder Lehrman Institute) but it is open to anybody who wants to attend in person or watch later on Vimeo or C-SPAN. You can find out all of the details –and reserve seats- here, but this post (the first in a series about the event) is designed to more fully introduce our notable panel of experts and provide some easy access to their published opinions on these matters.
First, however, we should dispense with this shutdown business. Ford’s Theatre is closed as long as the shutdown lasts, but our panel will continue regardless. Ford’s Theatre has a new Center for Education & Leadership which is just across the street and which remains open to visitors. We can always relocate there on October 15 if the crisis does not get resolved.
Our panel is a truly remarkable collection of figures who combine both expert knowledge of Abraham Lincoln with shrewd understanding of modern-day Washington and policy-making. They include:
* Michael Lind, Policy Director, Economic Growth Program, New America Foundation and author What Lincoln Believed (2006)
* Richard Norton Smith, noted presidential historian, George Mason University and former founding director, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
* Craig Symonds, Emeritus Professor of History, U.S. Naval Academy and Lincoln Prize-winning author, Lincoln and His Admirals (2008)
* James L. Swanson, Senior Scholar, Heritage Foundation and best-selling author, Manhunt (2006)
Michael Lind was one of the co-founders of the New America Foundation, a leading Washington DC think tank, which is co-sponsoring this event. His current policy focus is on economic growth, but he has authored several thought-provoking books on American political history, including an engaging study of Abraham Lincoln entitled, What Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America’s Greatest President (Doubleday, 2005). In this work, which the New York Times called “intellectually bold” and one that “will almost certainly change the way you think about America and one of its greatest presidents,” Lind argues that Lincoln’s core conviction was democratic self-government and that he should be known first and foremost as, “the Great Democrat.” Over the years, Lind has produced numerous books that invoke Lincoln’s legacy, but for the purposes of this panel, one of the most relevant was a short piece he authored for Salon in 2009, under the headline, “How would Lincoln vote today?”, which promised to reveal “where Lincoln really stood on the issues.” The bottom line of this eminently readable (and thoroughly debatable) piece is Lind’s assertion that Lincoln “might find himself more at home among Democrats focused on technology and economic growth” (um, like folks at the New America Foundation, perhaps?) and that most emphatically, “Nobody with Lincoln’s religious and political beliefs could be a conservative Republican” today.
Richard Norton Smith might beg to disagree. Smith is one of the nation’s most prominent presidential historians. Currently a history faculty member at George Mason University and completing a biography of Nelson Rockefeller, he has been a fixture over the years on C-SPAN and PBS “Newshour,” and a widely read political biographer of diverse figures such as Thomas Dewey, Herbert Hoover, Robert McCormick and George Washington. He is also far more reluctant than Lind to identify Lincoln with either modern-day political party. Smith told PBS in 2012 during this virtual tour of the new Ford’s Theatre Center, that “everyone wants Lincoln on their side. Almost everyone can devise a rationale to justify that.” As a former director of several presidential libraries (including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield), Smith has a uniquely rich view of how American presidents, in particular, are always “getting right with Lincoln” (a famous line that Smith often quotes from David Donald’s well-regarded 1956 essay in The Atlantic). Yet even the prudent historian sometimes finds himself invoking Lincoln or other Rushmore figures to comment on present-day political trends. Just last week, Smith offered NPR a subtle critique of President Obama’s handling of the shutdown / debt ceiling crisis by comparing him to “successful presidents”:
“Successful presidents are defined in part by their enemies, [For] Andrew Jackson, it was the Bank of the United States. [Theodore Roosevelt], it was the ‘malefactors of wealth.’ Ronald Reagan, it was the ‘evil empire.’ This president — it isn’t that he has lacked for enemies. But I think he’s been very reluctant to … play that game.”
Like Richard Norton Smith, Craig Symonds tries to embody the classic scholarly caution about applying the past the to the present. Symonds taught for years in the History Department at the US Naval Academy. In fact, Symonds was the guy whom Harrison Ford “shadowed” in 1991 while he was studying up for his role as professor / spy Jack Ryan in the “The Patriot Games.” Symonds has authored or edited more than 20 history books, mostly on the Civil War or US naval history. He won the 2009 Lincoln Prize for his book, Lincoln and His Admirals (Oxford, 2008). Yet even Professor Emeritus Symonds occasionally indulges in the inevitable “getting right with Lincoln” parlor game. When asked about leadership lessons that might be derived from Lincoln, Symonds responded pointedly during a recent interview with the Abraham Lincoln Institute at Lincoln Memorial University, that he could name three: “patience; a willingness to listen, as well as talk; and a sense of humor. Sadly, all three are sorely in need in our nation today.”
James L. Swanson does not hold a professorship, but he has published one of the most influential books on the Lincoln assassination and its aftermath, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer (Harper, 2006) and has edited or authored several historical books, including another fast-paced historical narrative coming out next month on the Kennedy assassination. Also, even more than any other member of this panel, Swanson has spent a career in and around the federal government and federal policy-making with a special focus on the Supreme Court and constitutional law. Trained as an attorney, Swanson has held positions at the US Department of Justice, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation among others. He has written frequently about partisan obstruction of judicial nominations, including this 2003 piece in The Weekly Standard which exorciated congressional Democrats for waging unprecedented “preemptive war” against George W. Bush nominees (apparently what was “unprecedented” in 2003 has now become the dysfunctional norm…). During an interview with Scholastic, Swanson emphasized Lincoln’s self-made qualities as a prescription for all modern-day Americans. “Lincoln once said that he was a living example of how a young person could succeed through hard work,” Swanson reported, “and he was right.”
“What Would Lincoln Do? Understanding How Lincoln Gets Used (And Abused) in Today’s Washington” is a free public panel that will take place at Ford’s Theatre on Tuesday, October 15, 2013, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tickets may be reserved at http://www.fords.org/event/what-would-lincoln-do. Those who cannot attend the panel, may view it online starting on the evening of October 16. Information about where to obtain access to the video will be available through http://new.livestream.com/gilderlehrman/lincoln.
As readers of Blog Divided are well aware, we have been fascinated by the story of Samuel and Bayard Wilkeson, a father and son who were both at Gettysburg, one as a correspondent for the New York Times and the other as a 2LT for the Union army. The son died on the battle’s first day after being wounded by an artillery shell and after amputating his own leg. The father discovered his son’s body on July 4, 1863 following more than a day of intense searching. Then he wrote a passionate, angry account of what happened for the New York Times, which closed by resolving that the dead at Gettysburg had “baptised” with their blood, the “second birth of Freedom in America.” President Lincoln knew the Wilkesons. The story of the family’s tragedy echoed across the North during the summer of 1863. So the connection to Lincoln’s famous phase in the Gettysburg Address, “a new birth of freedom,” seemed overwhelming, intentional, and eminently teachable. We first posted about the story of the “Angry Father” in July 2010, but then followed up with more details in the summer of 2013, here and here. I spoke about the Wilkeson family during the 150th anniversary commemorations for the Battle of Gettysburg and have been featuring the story in numerous K-12 workshops during the last five years, typically through this handout.
But there’s been one nagging concern that we just have not yet been able to fully resolve. What exactly did Sam Wilkeson look like? The problem is that there are multiple images attributed to him but they don’t seem to align properly. I brought this up at the final seminar session of the “Understanding Lincoln” open, online course and asked for help, in true “class-sourcing” fashion. Remarkably, within a few hours, I got a very helpful lead from course participant Martha Bohnenberger, a social studies teacher from South Carolina.
Here is the problem that first disturbed me in the summer of 2013. The House Divided Project has been using this striking 1859 image of Sam Wilkeson (on the top left) taken by Alexander Gardner, discovered and cleaned up by project co-founder John Osborne, courtesy of the online collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Yet the Buffalo News profiled the Wilkesons this past summer because the family were Buffalo natives and they used the image on the top right –clearly not the same person– to represent Sam Wilkeson (undated, no source citation). I presume they obtained this photograph from the Buffalo History Museum, but I haven’t yet tracked it all down. By the way, Buffalo was a nineteenth-century city partly founded by the grandfather in this story, Judge Samuel Wilkeson, Sr., who had hailed from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where Dickinson College is located. However, there is even more about the image to consider. The Gettysburg National Military Park features the story of the Wilkesons inside their main museum experience at the Visitor’s Center, but they use an entirely different image reportedly of newspaper correspondent Sam Wilkeson, which they credit to the National Archives (on the bottom left). Meanwhile, Martha Bohnenberger discovered this illustration (bottom right) in the New York Sun from December 3, 1889 as part of an obituary for Wilkeson –read it, he led a truly remarkable life– by doing some shrewd online research at the Library of Congress site, Chronicling America. Again, it’s different.
Now, I am not willing to bet my tenure on this, but I think that the Smithsonian Wilkeson (1859) is the same as the New York Sun Wilkeson (1889), just bearded in that latter illustration. The lines of the face, however, strike me as almost identical. But I don’t quite know what to make of the National Archives Wilkeson or the Buffalo News Wilkeson. The image quality isn’t quite good enough for me to decide, but they seem (especially the Buffalo Wilkeson) to be a different person (and probably different from each other as well). What do you think? There’s certainly more researching and phone calling to do, which I haven’t yet accomplished, but I appreciated the quick extra help from my class-sourcing exercise the other day and would like to continue to seek help if others would provide it. Feel free to comment here and leave your opinion, or contact me directly by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to share any insights.
We often think or hear of the MOOC as the great equalizer of higher education, a medium to disseminate college-level education to billions, regardless of their income bracket. But recent events should lead us to reconsider this overly-optimistic perspective.
In January 2013, just after the announcement that San Jose State University planned to partner with Udacity to create open, online courses for its students, New America Foundation’s Director of Education Policy Programs, Kevin Carey, claimed, “A well-regarded public university giving credit for free or inexpensive MOOCs . . . is like a crack in an enormous dam.” According to an excited Carey, if one college began accrediting MOOCs, many would follow, which in turn would shake the world of higher education by dramatically reducing costs nationwide.
In a debate with Carey in May, Arizona State University President, Michael Crow, insisted that technology should be used to augment the traditional classroom experience, not replace it. He warned against over-reliance on MOOCs to “cure” the fast-rising costs of higher education. “The problem that I have with an overgeneralization of this lightning bolt technology,” he stated, “Is that we will find ourselves on a trajectory where the rich get face-to-face with professors and everyone else will be taught by some type of robot…the [class] separation will grow deeper.” Carey responded that the system of higher education is already “radically unfair.”
Crow is not alone in fearing that group segregation will result because of MOOCs. University of Nebraska Professor, William G. Thomas, expressed his disapproval of Thomas L. Friedman’s opinion that MOOCs were the cure for special-needs learners, claiming that simply giving them a link to an online course will segregate them from children with “normal” learning needs. “The frightening and retrograde idea that people with special needs can be set apart (to be special somewhere else) should be seen for what it is—exclusionary.” Professor Thomas is currently working on his own MOOC-like course on History Harvests, a project he helped create at Nebraska to “democratize” American history.
Meanwhile, San Jose State announced earlier in July their decision to discontinue their courses with Udacity, as students failed at alarming rates. The university plans to continue their partnership with edX, which devised courses that merely supplemented traditional, in-class learning. Reports show that less that 51% of students enrolled in the Udacity program at San Jose State passed their courses, while students enrolled in the edX hybrid program faired better even than students enrolled in traditional classes.
With the recent failure (and success) of the San Jose State experiments, it appears that Crow was wise in cautioning against the full implementation of MOOCs in place of traditional, in-class learning. If the mission of MOOC-makers is truly philanthropic, they need to consider the full consequences of their endeavors.
This post is part of a series on “Making History Online” that involves an examination of open online learning. Students and faculty at the House Divided Project at Dickinson College are collaborating this summer on a new open, online course called, “Understanding Lincoln,” taught by Prof. Matthew Pinsker and covering ways to teach Abraham Lincoln’s legacy using close readings of his most important writings. This new type of online course represents a unique partnership between Dickinson College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The course is available for both graduate credit and free participation. Registration for the course closes on Friday, July 19, 2013. For more information, go to https://www.gilderlehrman.org/programs-exhibitions/understanding-lincoln-graduate-course.
MOOCs are supposed to be free, but it appears that for universities and professors, that is hardly the case. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have so far proven to be a huge financial commitment for institutions and according to recent studies, the preparation can be very time consuming for the educators who build them.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has been reporting that MOOCs have been quite expensive for universities. MOOC provider EdX apparently charges $250,000 per course, and then another $50,000 every time the course is offered (April 29, 2013). EdX also keeps part of the revenue generated by the profits of each course. To use the “Coursera platform”, another MOOC provider, The New York Times reported that universities would have to pay $8 per student enrolled, and $30-$60 per student to use content developed at a different school (May 30, 2013). In a class of 1,000+ students, those numbers really add up. Such prices show that creating a MOOC is a large and risky investment for any educational institution. As a result, many people, such as writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education Jason Mittell, believe that these investments will only be possible for elite institutions.
On March 20, 2013, an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a survey taken by MOOC professors. In the survey, the vast majority of these professors expressed how teaching a MOOC “took a lot out of them.” Most spent over one-hundred hours on the project before it even started, and devoted 8-10 hours to running it during the week. Duke University professor Cathy Davidson has been blogging about her own preparation for teaching an online course. She says that the time and labor involved is so great, that she doubts how any professor would “be crazy enough to do this”, let alone for free. Although she gets paid a $10,000 stipend for the course, Davidson says that all of it is being used for “teaching assistants, technical assistants, and equipment.”
While many are jumping on the MOOC bandwagon now because it’s new and exciting, these commitments may cause it to get old in a hurry. With such high costs in money, time, and labor, it appears that MOOCs may not be worth the effort or risk. Universities must be willing to pay both for the course itself, and a higher compensation for the professors that teach them. Without this, the much talked about “MOOC revolution” will become nothing more than a moment in history.
This post is part of a series on “Making History Online” that involves an examination of open online learning in the field of history funded by the Mellon Digital Humanties grant. Students and faculty at the House Divided Project at Dickinson College are collaborating this summer on a new open, online course called, “Understanding Lincoln,” taught by Prof. Matthew Pinsker and covering ways to teach Abraham Lincoln’s legacy using close readings of his most important writings. This new type of online course represents a unique partnership between Dickinson College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The course is available for both graduate credit and free participation. Registration for the course closes on Friday, July 19, 2013. For more information, go to https://www.gilderlehrman.org/programs-exhibitions/understanding-lincoln-graduate-course