Dickinson College / Gilder Lehrman Institute

Category: Online Learning

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.

Others Like Me…?

This course has been a wonderful experience in many ways.  At first I was unsure of how I could keep up with the gurus out there in online course world.  I still prefer the classroom setting with direct human interaction, but I feel much more empowered having taken this course and will very likely take another online course in the future.  The vast amount of information that has been given is at first glance overwhelming as I know many others have stated in other blogs.  In my notes I’ve tried to keep track of what will be useful in a 4th and 5th grade classroom.  As an elementary teacher, much of the information will not make it to students but expanded my knowledge of the civil war which helped build my background knowledge on the subject.  The variety of technology possibilities has really excited me.  I can’t wait to dive into each of these over the next coming weeks.  My school district has undergone a major curriculum change and my school has a new principal that also brings about changes.  Change is good.  So my goal for this year is to expand my use of technology with the changes.  I of course will take baby steps.  Watching Chris demonstrate the amazing things that can happen made my head swirl but I am not one to shy away from a challenge or anything new.  One of the best parts to this online community has helped me connect with others who are like minded.  I don’t know about the other participants but in my school I’m known as the resident history geek and most people just don’t understand what I find so fascinating about historical documents.  Having collaborated with others at Monticello while working on the Liberty Today project and now blogging with others about the Civil War confirmed my belief there really are others like me.  Those who have a love for history, a desire to dig deeper, and to find the true human stories behind all the dates and dead people.  So to that… I say, Thank You! for all of the great information, wonderful ideas, and I hope to continue this line of communication on teaching the Civil War.

Huge Changes for my Classroom: Using Technology to Flip the Classroom

Huge Changes for my Classroom: Using Technology to Flip the Classroom

The idea of flipping the classroom is becoming more popular as teachers learn about the technique through conversation, web searches, conferences, and other sources.  Last year I embraced the technique and so far it appears to be a rewarding experience for myself and students.

Flipping the classroom is not as easy as some make it seem.  I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in front of the computer working on this new approach.  It has been exhausting.

The first page I created using myhaikuclass.com was an instant success.  I had no idea how much the kids liked using this approach until a student asked me if I’ve read the personal comments by the students which could be found at the bottom of the webpage. The following are just a few of the fifty-one comments I received during the first week of the site:

Thanks for setting up this blog Mrs. Abney.(: It is awesome!

 i agree this way we say what we feel and what we think should have happenedÐ

i agree as well its the best thing yet;)

yup, i like the vids cuz they educational and funny

This is a great idea and it is really helpful in many ways. I can also listen to music while I write comments (Music helps me concentrate). 🙂 Love the website.

Itz good cuz we can discuss wut was nd wut we think wut should nd shouln’t do , itz just plain fun 4 everyone.

Cool website Mrs.Abney!! When will you update again? Can’t wait!

I’m finally on this website and it is awesome thanks for setting it up

Below you will find a link to a “page” I’m working on for next year (it is under construction):


I use myhaikuclass.com.  I do pay for the site, but the principal of my school site has decided to pay for the website next year as he sees the value in the technology.  I actually had him enroll in the class as a parent and student.  He was impressed with the work the students produced, as well as the website.  Check it out…I’m definitely an advocate.

21st Century Brings About Changes in the Study of History

21st Century Brings About Changes in the Study of History:

(A Brief synopsis of an Internal Struggle 😉

A little more than a century ago women were viewed by society as a whole as inferior, this fact is known throughout the world.  I was raised knowing this, but yet little do I recall learning about famous women in history.  There were short topics throughout my primary and secondary grade schools where an instructor spoke of Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, and of course Sacajawea.  This may have been a good founding for a young woman growing up in the 20th century, but not good enough in the history classes of today. History has been, and seems to continue to be, a theatre of the story of man not the story of humanity. What is the difference? The difference is humanity encompasses all gender, race, religion, and culture. The history we have been taught is often one sided.  One only needs to view one portion of American history to see this statement as true.

Only in the last few decades have we witnessed historians increasing the need to gather more knowledge of the roles and views of women, religion, and race throughout history.There is no doubt this has come about in large part, if not solely, from the ability to share information worldwide through the Internet.  Without such advances in technology the role of women in American history would still be limited.

Beginning in the 1990s women studies was a part of many colleges throughout the United States. At least for me, the class was more or less about the role of women from the 1960s and beyond. It may not have been the ideal class, but it was a start on my journey to find equality in history. The Internet of the time was not nearly as helpful as it is today in its use as a discovery tool to our past.

Students and scholars are able to conduct research like never before.  In the last decade, the history of the United States has taken on a new perspective.  Use of terms such as historiography and presentism are now common within the discussions amongst history teachers. Pedagogy has changed. The role of women in history has changed.  We now know the opinions, roles, and thoughts of women of the Civil War.  This information has always been in existence, but it was unattainable to the majority of the population. Students who want to study the role of women in the American Civil War are now able to do so without the limitations that existed in the past.

There still remains a problem though; information is limited to what historians, biographers, and eyewitnesses have written.  Much of the information is fragmented at best and discovery is difficult and time consuming.  And, when we really evaluate the information, one must ask, how much of the information was written with a white male perspective? The best lens into the lives of women in the past is through their writings, and as the study of humanity continues and the use of the Internet continues to foster websites devoted to primary resources (research engines opposed to search engines), history will be understood in a broader perspective and with a deeper understanding of humanity of the past.

(Thanks to John Stuart Mill and his book co-written with his wife Harriet Taylor Mill entitled The Subjugation of Women and a certain professor who once expressed that he did not realize my potential)

Exciting and overwhelming

While reading and, as mentioned above, digging in – I am struck by how vast the amount of super cool resources there are available to us all.  I find myself going to one place to begin reading, and seeing a link to something else that looks interesting and going there, soon to be five pages away from my original intent.  All of the things I find are relevant and I find so much I want to use and share in my classroom with my students.  My problem is, how  do I narrow it all down and really find the meat that is the most important to be shared.  I liked it when Matt said if you only have one day to teach John Brown, make sure you teach this.  That helps a lot.  I have so much to teach in such short time periods that I feel like I am rushing through really valuable and exciting material all the time.  Because of the standards and focus of powers that be, I am limited on the time I can take.

As has been mentioned, I want to take the time with my students to teach them to research and problem solve – using the content of sites such as House Divided and Gilder Lehrman.  I need to figure out how to design lesson plans and units that get them to do this.  School starts in a couple weeks and I want to have some dynamic lesson plans in place and ready to start off with a bang.  UGH!!  I’m feeling the pressure.  After this week I will have several from all of us regarding the Civil War, Lincoln, Underground Railroad, and Reconstruction.  But I don’t teach that until after Winter break.  I have much to do.

One more comment, I really find the essay regarding the Underground Railroad fascinating and helpful to look at from a perspective I never have.  I see how the differences in the North and South would have greatly affected the punishments, risks, etc of those working the underground railroad.  And equally fascinating is the fact that because of States’ Rights which I always teach as a Southern emphasis and part of the reason for war, were just as exercised in the North.  That makes it a very interesting discussion to have with the students.  Great information.

Searching for research

As Matt was talking this morning during the introductory portion of the lecture, he showed the Dickinson’s “House Divided” site that we could use in the future as resources for our classes.  I was especially intrigued by the page that showed the different people involved in the Harpers Ferry Raid with said images hyperlinked to other information.  I was immediately excited to dig deeper into these sites, and began to consider the possibilities with my students – and how to get them into the depths of this site.

This line of thought led me to consider how to get my students to dig into sites like this on their own and not just go to Wikipedia or the first site offered by Google when they do research.  How do I urge my students to really search when they do research?  Being the history nerd that I am, I have always naturally been intrigued by obscure sources – especially primary sources. Before the internet became the “go to” in research, I would spend hours in the library looking through the stacks for the book that would perfectly support or refute my claims.

Yet, once again I return to my question, how do I urge my students to really search when they do research?  I have a classroom blog of my own that I use, and have in the past posted lists that I created of trustworthy websites that students could/should use when doing research in various topics.  This has worked in getting them to go beyond Wikipedia/Google, however, upon reflection, I feel like I have to be intentional in making my students do more.  They still tend to just go the sites that I’ve provided instead of using them as a jumping off point.  Better than just Wikipedia, but not great.

That will be one of my challenge this next school year – creating lessons that force students to use and explore more websites that have meaningful information.  There are so many amazing sites like the ones the Matt showed us this morning and the incredible resources that the Lance showed us that the Gilder Lehrman supports. 

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