Massive Courses, Intimate Stories: Using Archival Documents to Teach History Online

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 2:30 PM
Regency Ballroom VI (Hyatt Regency Atlanta)
Thai Jones, Columbia University
In Fall 2014 / Spring 2015, Columbia University launched its first Massive Open Online Course in the humanities: The Civil War and Reconstruction, taught by Eric Foner. With 6,000 participants, and a large team of videographers, educational technologists, and graduate students involved, this was a massive endeavor at every level. And yet one segment of the experience was intentionally intimate: Each week participants were introduced to one – or perhaps a few – unique documents or artifacts from the special collections at Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Private correspondence, individual drawings, handbills, slave deeds, examples of material culture – each item was offered with careful guidelines and analytical questions. The goal was to allow students to examine these items with the level of precision and depth that professional historians would use in their own work. We hoped to give the students some part of the uncertainty and complexity that constitute archival research and investigation. By analyzing some of the thousands of responses elicited by these modules, this paper paper examines the successes, failures, and future prospects of this type of teaching and learning.
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