Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Civil War and Reconstruction with Eric Foner

         On Tuesday I finished up the final exam of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and I wanted to share this particular course with my audience. To begin, this was the third course of a three course XSeries on EdX. It is part of the ColumbiaX system and was titled The Civil War and Reconstruction. All three courses were developed around Professor Eric Foner’s own course at Columbia University. The courses covered the time periods 1850—1861, 1861-1865, and 1865-1890. These were created around Foner’s final time of teaching this particular course as he winds down his illustrious career as a historian and educator.

     In case you do not know who I am speaking of, here is the information section on him from
     Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, is one of the most prominent historians in the United States. He is one of only two persons to serve as president of the three major professional organizations: the American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, and Society of American Historians. His most recent book, Gateway To Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, is available wherever books are sold.
     Professor Foner is the author or editor of over twenty books. His publications have concentrated on the intersections of intellectual, political and social history and the history of American race relations. His most recent book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010), was awarded the Bancroft Prize, Pulitzer Prize for History, and The Lincoln Prize. He is also the author of Give Me Liberty: An American History, a widely-used survey textbook of U. S. history published by W. W. Norton and Co. Additionally, he is the recipient of the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching from Columbia University. As co-curator of two award-winning historical exhibitions, and through frequent appearances in newspapers and magazines and on radio and television discussion programs, he has also endeavored to bring historical knowledge to a broad public outside the university.

This series began on September 17, 2014 with Dr. Foner rolling out the first lectures and questions. The first course was ten weeks in length and dealt with the Antebellum period of American History. We covered the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the politics of the era, the economics of slavery and industrialism, popular sovereignty, Bleeding Kansas, Dred Scott, John Brown, and many more people, events, and groups during this journey. Discussion posts got quite lively as you can imagine. Champions of the Lost Cause made their appearance in the first few weeks, but succumbed to the onslaught of facts.

            These discussions also surprisingly featured active participation from Eric Foner and the teaching assistants. These assistants were Foner’s grad students at Columbia. Unlike other MOOCs I’ve taken, this crew was all over the boards directing the discussion. I found this to be simply outstanding as it made the difference between chaotic boards and factual based conversations. The aforementioned Lost Causers were not happy that their myths were exploded in their faces as Foner and the staff rained down facts upon them. I personally was delighted. Only a few dedicated diehards stuck through the first course and only one that I know of made it through all three. His attempts to insert modern politics into the past were amusing though repetitive this last eight months. 

            The second and third courses covered the Civil War itself and the Reconstruction era. Reconstruction is one of the most misunderstood periods of American History and my grasp of it was nowhere near as good as it needed to be. This course took care of that. I really hope that as we move through the next two decades historians will press the factual history of Reconstruction and eradicate the fiction that has surrounded it for a century. I plan to make this period an integral part of this fall’s American History from 1865 course because of the way Reconstruction affected most aspects of our history.

            The second course ran eight weeks from December 1st to February 20th and the third one nine weeks from February 25th until now. It has been a long and rewarding eight months. The chance to study with a master historian like Eric Foner comes along rarely. To take this particular series with him in this, the last time he taught this course in his career was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am working on my doctoral study and courses at Walden University along with developing and teaching three courses in Hannibal for Moberly Area Community College and working a part time job. Yet, I made a commitment to take these courses because it was literally a once-in-a-lifetime event. My conversations with Eric Foner are cherished memories. Without these courses I would not have had that opportunity. 

            At the end of the final lecture Foner’s students stood and applauded him. It was an emotional event for all involved including me. (Click the video and go to 8:45) I too stood and applauded with them. As a history teacher I aspire to be a good instructor so that my students learn from me. Not only did I learn about Reconstruction and reinforce my knowledge of the Civil War and its cause, but I got a chance to watch a master historian at work. While Foner used the short lecture method, his delivery was engaging and kept the audience’s attention. These were not dry, routine lectures, but ones where he was constantly noting how pieces of the past that were being discussed had applications in the present. 

I may not lecture much in most of my classes as I use a flipped teaching method now, but on the occasions where I have to lecture; Foner is a model to emulate. I do not know when my last class will be given, but I am aspiring to be as good as Eric Foner was in this series by then. I hope that is two and maybe even three decades from now. Time will tell eventually. For those of you who are interested in this time period, EdX will be offering these courses as archived materials. MOOCs are not college equivalent learning, but for those who are self-disciplined and willing to learn with no supervision, they are excellent modes of information transmission. This particular series was by far the best I have taken and I once again am grateful for the opportunity. I will now hide EdX and Coursera course openings from my eyes until I finish the doctoral study! Unless of course Gordon Wood teaches one…

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Amazon Reviews

Celebrating 100 Reviews on Amazon

Today I put up my 100th review on While my friend Lew Taylor will be deploring my use of Amazon, I have found it to be a useful way for me to write a review of what I have read in the world of books. A few non literary reviews have made their way into the system as I play the reviewer game off and on in pursuit of a higher ranking. There are also some double reviews as well, but so far I have placed 84 history books, 4 fiction books, 2 board games, and 10 assorted reviews including a few double entries onto Amazon for a total of 100 reviews as of today. 

The latest review was Eric Foner's Reconstruction which I read along with the final course in the EdX Eric Foner's Civil War & Reconstruction MOOC series. I enjoyed this method of watching Foner lectures and reading his book. It really helped make the reading more engaging. You can find more information on the MOOC at: Eric Foner's Civil War and Reconstruction

One of my goals with these reviews was to see how high I could go in the ratings. My first book review put me at some number exceeding 1 million. I quickly made it down to 100,000 something and steadily worked my way to a better ranking. It took some time to get to 50,000 and I even quit writing reviews for a while as I got discouraged from the lost cause idiots who did not like my review of the Kennedy brothers' waste of good toilet paper masquerading as a non-fiction book, The South was Right! My answer to that was "No, it was not and if you think it was, then you are an idiot." This is where the problems with Amazon's review process begin.

I decided to quit worrying about it and continue to write and post my reviews. These are more for my own use so that I can look back and see my impressions on a particular book. I save them all in The Mad Historian's Athenaeum online for reference. I am curious to see how far I can go with Amazon reviews. My best score is 40,677 with 125 Helpful votes out of 157 total. You can go see my reviews at: gloine36 profile page and even vote if you want to. Gloine36 is my Amazon handle. I will eventually have to change that to my name.

A word of caution: I am not writing serious formal academic reviews. I could, but I would prefer to be paid for that. Instead, I write what I want to for my use. So please do not expect to see a detailed academic review. I would never be able to write those for Amazon. I also read what I am interested in, not what is sent to me. You will be seeing more educational titles pop up over time as well as some more works of fiction by Terry Brooks. I am going to review the Shannara series as a reward for reading so much history all the time. Yes, I need a break and there are only five Game of Thrones books!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Flipping the History class with the Paradox of History

Flipping the History class with the Paradox of History

            I suppose that at one point or another we historians consider why we do what we do. It is pretty obvious that we are not in this profession for the money or a desire to become household names. Few of us are wealthy and even fewer are recognizable outside of our profession. The simple truth is we love history. We have a passion for our craft that borders on fanaticism at times.  You know you have a love of history when you watch this video and it moves you.

Sam Wineburg in his book Historical Thinking says,
“For the narcissist sees the world-both the past and the present-in his own image. Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born. History educates (“leads outward” in the Latin) in the deepest sense. Of the subjects in the secular curriculum, it is the best at teaching those virtues once reserved for theology—humility in the fact of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of history.”

Historians really understand that through our study of history we realize just how important each of us as people are to the grand scheme of things while at the same time realizing just how insignificant we are. This is a paradox which cannot be resolved. Studying how things in the past came about is frustrating because we will never have a complete picture of the past which is why we keep searching for more information and more interpretations. Why did something happen? The more we explore the past the more we realize how important the actions of multiple people were to it happening as it did. John Lewis Gaddis says, “History “dethrones” us from our original position at the center of the universe. It requires us to see ourselves as part of a much larger human story. When we view the world this way, we come face-to-face with our own smallness, our own insignificance.”

He is right. We have to place events in a larger narrative for them to be understood. You have to have a love of history to truly appreciate the complexity of it. As some of you know, I love the bottom up approach to history. It is one way of studying the history of an event, but I also believe that it must be placed within the larger context of an event as well in order to construct what I call the grand narrative. One could consider this to be a philosophical approach to history. I share Howard Zinn’s enthusiasm for this approach, but I also recognize that it is but one approach in the study of history and must be used in conjunction with others. Still, Howard Zinn was right in advocating the exploration of what he called the People’s History.

      He was not the only one to advocate this approach either. Others did before him and after him, but Zinn was the one who struck the resonant chord in a large body of people concerning this approach. He also said something which I think sums up why history is so important. “If people could see that change comes about as a result of millions of tiny acts that seem totally insignificant, well then they wouldn’t hesitate to take those tiny acts.” He understood the paradox of history. 

I love history, but I love teaching it even more. This is where my abilities shine the brightest. I am in the process of flipping the classroom around which is a major undertaking. This is literally a quantum shift in using a pedagogical model and technology to construct a learning-centered classroom that caters to the strengths and weaknesses of our students in a community college. I feel the bottom up approach to history fits into this classroom via the introduction of the paradox to students. Often teachers lament that their students feel no connection to history. Why should they if they have no connection to the past? They need to understand what the paradox of history is in order to understand what their connection to history is and how they fit into the grand narrative. As I rebuild my classroom to fit the flipped model, I keep coming back to the beginning of the course where students learn what we will be doing in the semester. 

With that in mind, I am now rebuilding the beginning section of the course to be a training exercise in which they learn what we will be doing, how we will be doing it, and why. Learning how to use their iPads, navigate the various websites I employ along with the eCompanion site, and how to incorporate the technology such as mobile applications, wikis, Office 365, the school library, and Films on Demand will be part of this new strategy. Collaborative learning will be a major feature of this model as well. My What is History? lesson plan is being altered to introduce those elements and will feature the paradox of history prominently. It is going to be an interesting summer semester!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Using Technology to Enhance your College Teaching: A Walden University blog entry

Using Technology to Enhance your College Teaching: A Walden University blog entry

            This module’s assignment calls for examining a technology we use in our classes. Since I am currently not teaching any online courses, I have to examine what I use in my ground classes. In the last three weeks I have begun the process of completely flipping my classes around. More on that in another blog entry. For this module, I am examining how I have used this website and blog in my class as well as looking at the eCompanion site at MACC containing Pearson’s MyHistoryLab. 

            Using this website has been an integral part of my new flipped classroom lessons. I had found many links while teaching online which I used to insert in discussion forums so that students had something to follow up on. When I created this website/blog I did so with the idea of using it as a multiple purpose platform. I could have put all these links into the eCompanion site along with the MyHistoryLab, but I wanted my students to be able to use a smart phone to access the links. The students have indicated pretty strongly that they would prefer an application over a website, but until I build the application (which is in progress) I decided to see how things went with the website.

            They are accessing the website and the links with iPads, smart phones, and their own laptops. Some are also accessing it from their PCs in the computer lab and at home as well. I can track page views and they are occurring mainly in class times, but it is interesting to see it get hits outside of class. I’ve asked students about how they use their smart phones and they have told me they like being able to use the site and links to access information for the lessons. I only have 14 students in the class at the moment, but they divide the work up in their groups and they access different information in order to examine it and then bring it into their group discussion in order to answer questions.

            This is where I think having a wiki for them to share what they’ve learned can be very effective. I am going to run with this in the summer semester. I am also going to develop this into the Geography course as well. What I love is that they’re engaged with the material. They were definitely the exact opposite before I flipped the course. I have no way of knowing if they learning rate is up, but attendance is up, engagement is up and they have told me they like this learning method. It allows me to devote more time to teaching without lecturing through the utilization of more content delivery (Educause, 2012). Without the website I would be hard pressed to make the lessons effective using just the MyHistoryLab.
            In fact, on Wednesday the MACC website was down and we could not access the Lab. So we jumped into these links and used them without skipping a beat. If anything, the students discovered more information available to them with the links than they had thought possible. Another thing the website does is allow me to direct students right to information without having to provide URLs or directions. In class the site is on the splash screen of the iPads so with one click they’re in the site. Another click puts them in the links so a third click takes them where they want to go. They like the convenience. I also like that I can link anything in this section such as YouTube videos.

            This allows me to construct lessons about video content from either the Lab or my website. I use video lectures from the lab because they are very effective, but with the site I can link in documentaries from either YouTube or MACC’s Films on Demand which I had been having some problems getting students to access. I can change that now and make it a pretty easy process. They will need to sign into Films on Demand which has been a barrier, but I think with the website I can overcome it with the ease. Once they do their first sign on it will be simple for them to access the documentaries from that point on. I’ve been wanting to find a way to incorporate documentaries into the class and now I think I can do it by assigning large sections as homework that they can watch outside of class. That of course is a major part of the flipped classroom. 

            The key to successful teaching is student engagement (Garrett, 2011). If the students are not engaged, then there will be a big disconnect between you and the students. The transfer of knowledge will be severely impeded. Engagement can begin in many ways, but as we are studying the use of technology in our classes, we should consider how we can use technology to engage students. No matter what technology we use, it has to be done within a pedagogical model or framework in order for it to be effective. Just creating a website and saying, “Here it is,” will not create student engagement. However, by taking the website, putting lesson content in it that complements other lesson content they will use the site. By doing so, you can then use the platform in other ways to build upon the engagement.
            As you can see, I have now shifted this discussion to the role of pedagogy in the use of technology. I am convinced that without using a pedagogical model, most instructors will be doing nothing more than just tossing some use of technology into the course without fully realizing its potential. I rely on pedagogy to guide my use of technology. The website by itself is just a platform, but it is a very versatile one thanks to the pedagogical model I use. As a blog, the site also can serve as a way for me to express my teaching philosophy in ways I cannot do in class due to time. Students may or may not be interested in what I say about teaching and what I am doing, but then again they might. 

            The blog can be a communication tool for the students and myself although I’ve provided them with multiple ways to access me. I do like the way the blog can serve as a vehicle for transmitting my ideas to other instructors as well as serving as visible evidence as to how I am doing things. I am the only history instructor at MACC flipping classes right now, so maybe this might lead to others doing so. One of the downsides of the blog is that it is a website and not a mobile application. I think a mobile app has some advantages for running a classroom that a blog does not. Of course, the two are not the same, but since the blog functions as part of the platform with the website there is a similarity. Until I develop the application and see how students interact with it I will be using the website only.

Garrett, C. (2011). Defining, detecting, and promoting student engagement in college learning environments. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal, 5(2), 1-12.

7 things you should know about flipped classrooms. (2012). Educause.