Dickinson College / Gilder Lehrman Institute

Author: marionbroglie

On-line courses

As with¬†some of my colleagues in this course, this is one of my first on-line experiences. Since we spent much of Day 4’s wrap-up session talking about this topic, I thought I would share my impressions about how technology is changing the face of education.

This summer, I have engaged in a number of on-line learning experiences in an attempt to catch up to the tide. I am hoping to offer an on-line “course” this coming school year to both my students and possibly, to my teaching colleagues as part of a professional development course. I have taken an “Introduction to the Constitution” on-line course from the Center for the Constitution at Montpelier (James Madison’s home in Virginia, not the capital of Vermont). I have also participated in two webinars from the Center for Civic Education, one on the purpose of government and another on constitutionalism. And I was lucky enough to be selected for this course on the Civil War and Reconstruction through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

A quick comparison of the experiences seems necessary here. First, the Center for the Constitution’s course is “asynchronous” (a word I learned from a friend who teaches on-line courses at the local community college). In other words, there is no interaction between the participant, the instructor, and/or the other participants. You watch videos of instructors, read through information provided, and take quizzes on-line at your own pace and without any interaction. As an “old school” learner, I found this to be the least satisfying experience, largely because of the inability to discuss ideas, ask questions of the scholars, or get feedback. However, I am not so sure that my students would not love this form of teaching. Even in my classroom, they are very passive learners and it is difficult to draw them out to have satisfactory discussions about their ideas and opinions. I, of course, blame the modern technology that has people sitting next to each other “texting,” rather than having a conversation and the countless hours of video games and “facebooking.” However, I do recall older people complaining about my generation sitting in front of the television for hours on end. The more things change, etc.

The webinars were “synchronous,” listening to the instructor in real time and having the opportunity to ask questions. It should be noted that these were not intended to be courses, in the traditional sense, but rather hour-long introductions to the topics. I note that because my greatest criticism of these on-line experiences was the inability to go deeply into a topic and truly, just their brevity. My instructors did not have nearly enough time to impart even a fraction of their vast knowledge of the topic. This is not their fault, but the nature of the webinar.

“Ahhh, this porridge is just right.” I have been very pleased with the nature of this on-line experience. There are a variety of reasons for this and I will try to highlight the most important. Clearly, the combination of the live instruction (with all of the glitches) over multiple days addresses my major concerns about my other experiences. And before I go on, let me emphatically state that I am not saying that I did not learn anything from nor did not enjoy my other on-line experiences. In fact, quite the opposite. I guess that I am saying that this course most mirrors my previous education and I find more comfortable. I am not sure that is true of the coming generations.

One of the features I most enjoyed was blogging. I have written a blog entry once before (for the Center for the Constitution), but I had a substantial time to think about it and edit it, so it was more like an essay than a blog post (I guess, since I am still not an expert on blogging). However, the pressure to write these relatively quickly is something I haven’t really experienced since writing for my college newspaper decades ago. Deadlines! I also enjoyed reading, at my leisure, the thoughts of the other participants, both commenting on my posts and, more importantly, writing their own. I love this feature so much that I am going to school tomorrow to see the school’s computer resource specialist to see what I can do to set up a blog for my classes this year. Our school system, like most, I guess, is struggling with how to incorporate technology into the educational process. Make sure they use technology, but make sure they do not say anything “bad” or go to “bad” websites or …

I must also confess that I will be stealing the image of the day and document of the day ideas. I certainly have used images and documents before (quite often, actually), but I think that making it a regular part of my lesson planning (learning planning, if any of my supervisors are reading this) will help focus my daily teaching.

I also want to commend Professor Pinsker and Lance for the great website and the tremendous amount of preparation that went into this course. As teachers, we understand the effort that goes into a successful class and I am impressed with all of the links on the website to the readings, documents, images, resources, etc. I was able to use all of that information to have a much more successful experience with this course.

Civil War Diaries and Local History

I’m still being overwhelmed by all of the resources available. Yesterday evening, I traveled to our public library (to pick up Professor Pinsker’s book, Lincoln’s Sanctuary) and I was greeted by a sign inviting me to attend a dedication ceremony “in honor of the late Edgar T. Brown and his extensive local history collection.” When I inquired, I discovered that Virginia Beach has a substantial local history section, although very little of it is digitized or easily available. As with Colin Macfarlane’s quest to find Henry W. Spradley, there would have to be substantial time spent with the microfiche reader.

I also did some searching (not researching) on the internet to find local civil war diaries. While this search still continues, I was able to locate some sources that may be of use to those seeking readily-available primary source materials of this era. The University of Virginia, Virginia Military Institute, and the College of William and Mary have special collections accessible to the general public.

My biggest concern is having the time to develop all of these resources into a workable positive force in my classroom. As Rebecca Winslow responded to an earlier post of mine, “More and more I am beginning to understand the mile wide inch deep teaching when we should be doing it quite the opposite.” There is such pressure in my school system to follow a pacing guide in order to raise standardized test scores. For example, since we are in yet another presidential election year, we were told not to teach the election process in the fall, but rather when it falls in the curriculum (it’s unit 6 and it would be taught around February). Why? Supposedly, there was research that demonstrated that students scored better on standardized test scores following the pacing guide of our curriculum. Wouldn’t the elections count as a “teachable moment,” in the jargon of our chosen profession?

Oops, it appears that I am getting off topic. This post was supposed to focus on finding sources for civil war diaries. I wouldn’t want to be accused on not following the curriculum!

Old Courthouse

I thoroughly enjoyed the short video on the Old Courthouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I have a much clearer understanding of the Underground Railroad after viewing this video. Using local historical sites is an excellent way to motivate students. While I realize this, it is often difficult to even know the local history to use it in the classroom. For instance, I lived in Denton on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for two years. l did not know until today that it was possibly through this town that Harriet Tubman escaped to freedom or that Frederick Douglass was born in nearby Tuckahoe and worked on the Wye Plantation in Easton. I learned this in my research when I visited Maryland Public Television’s website.

While I was not teaching U.S. history, it is surprising to me that I was not aware of the historical significance of this place. I do not recall any historical markers nor was it ever mentioned by anyone in the two years that I spent there. That does not excuse my ignorance, of course.

I would like to say that today I incorporate local history into my classroom, but I truly don’t. As a civics teacher, I have attempted to use local and personal history in my classes, but those efforts are few and far between. For instance, on the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, I did have my students complete an oral history interview with someone from the community who lived through the integration of the schools here in Virginia. I am currently trying to develop a lesson on the power of the presidency vis-√†-vis the military, using General Douglas MacArthur (who is buried in nearby Norfolk) as the prime example.

I will have to make a concerted effort to develop more community resources and expose my students to more of their local history.

Historical research in civics class

How do I incorporate this wonderful historical information about the Civil War into my civics class? I have constantly striven to motivate my middle school students to use historical examples as we attempt to comprehend the fairly complex mechanics of our governmental and political systems.
Today’s information in class was a wealth of details that would do so much to enhance my students’ understanding if they would access it. For instance, judicial review could be discussed in light of the Dred Scott decision and Abelman v. Booth, which outlawed the personal liberty laws of the northern states. A discussion on federalism would be enhanced in light of those same personal liberty laws or on an examination of President Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, where he quotes and defends his Republican Party’s platform: “Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.” A discussion of civil disobedience and how far can one go without “crossing the line” would be aided by an investigation of John Brown, both his actions and his words. I was intrigued by our discussion today and the dominant view of John Brown as he is portrayed in our history. As Barry Goldwater once said, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Or as stated in Thomas Jefferson’s letter to William Stephens Smith, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
When I was reading the texts assigned prior to the class, I had initially planned on creating a lesson based upon how our Founding Fathers could have written the Constitution in 1787 that would have avoided the Civil War. We discuss the compromises between the northern and southern states, such as the tariffs, 3/5 clause, the slave trade, and the fugitive slave clause. What could Madison and the others have included that would have avoided this cataclysmic event?
At this point, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed with the large amount of information available. I once again understand how my students must feel, which brings me full circle. How do I get them to attempt to do serious research, when it is so difficult even for me? It is no wonder that they resort to using Wikipedia and Google (yes, I know it’s a search engine, but my students don’t) to complete their assignments. So, as Beth posted earlier in “Searching for research”, there has to be a solution to getting students “to use and explore more websites that have meaningful information.”

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