History 104 Online is Anything but Another History Lesson
Posted on Dec, 04 2012
When learning about the United States’ history since 1877, Facebook is one of the last places you would think about as a venue to discuss this information with your classmates. However, through the flexibility provided with online classes, instructor Bill Cummings and professor Tom Isern thought this would be a great environment to get students talking.
A few years ago, Dr. Tom Isern, Professor of History & University Distinguished Professor at North Dakota State University, put together lectures and course material to make the History 104 course available online. Dr. Isern recorded lectures and Powerpoint slides to CDs and created the class so that after watching the lectures, students could take online quizzes and participate in online discussions, most recently through discussion board applications using Facebook. Students “Like” the course page and are then able to post freely and ask questions that other classmates and the instructor can respond to. Bill Cummings, a doctoral candidate in the History department at NDSU, is the instructor of History 104 and is teaching the course for its 15th consecutive semester. Cummings has also taught traditional courses at Armstrong Atlantic State University and Savannah State University, both in Savannah, Georgia. Cummings is responsible for all of the administration of the course and the one that works with the students to guide discussion and grade the students’ work.
Cummings said, “The discussions are the fun part, for me. As our text we use Alexis de Tocqueville's (TQ) classic work, Democracy in America. This is, perhaps, the most quoted work on our government and was written nearly 170 years ago. Students are often amazed at how close TQ was at predicting how we would develop. While some students do not like the discussion, I find it the most interesting part of my responsibilities. Tocqueville can be somewhat ‘opaque’ in his writing...after all...it is 170-year-old French translated into 170-year-old English.” When moderating the discussions, Cummings likes to play the "Devil's Advocate" to get interest up a bit. “I do this to challenge students to clarify or strengthen their points, and to draw others into the conversation. In addition to analyzing what TQ wrote, we also weave Dr. Isern's lectures into the discussion as well as comment on how the material applies today.”
The course is freshman-level, and focuses on outcomes, not memorizing facts and dates and students who are fully engaged in the course get the most out of the information. Also, students can complete the work when it fits their schedule, but the course requires full-semester participation and follows a calendar. If your schedule prevents you from attending a regularly scheduled face-to-face classroom course, but you do have time to work on the assignments on a weekly basis, this may be what you are looking for.