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27 06 2011

I’ve been walking the Freedom Trail all day today, so this is the first chance that I’ve had to link to something I wrote far too early in the morning last week for the Historical Society’s blog. If you haven’t seen it yet, my subject is (once again) teaching the history survey course without a textbook.

If you’re coming here from there, let me add that my inspiration for killing my textbook was, of course, Historiann and the readings that I’ve replaced the textbook with come from Milestone Documents. I didn’t want to drop names or sound like an ad over at the Historical Society blog because I preferred to sell the idea of the non-textbook survey class as a worthy goal in and of itself. Therefore, I thought I’d use this space to give credit where credit is due.

I want to add that these online reading assignments in no way contradict my newfound calling as an online education Quaker since at first blush you may think otherwise. Using online resources is not the same thing as teaching a course entirely online. The Internet is a wonderful thing, as long as its used responsibly. Consider this report on a new survey about college students and online texts from Nick Carr. While students prefer paper books to e-texts (thank God), a graduate student in the social sciences wrote:

I answered that I prefer print books, generally. However, the better answer would be that print books are better in some situations, while e-books are better in others. Each have their role – e-books are great for assessing the book, relatively quick searches, like encyclopedias or fact checking, checking bibliography for citations, and reading selected chapters or the introduction.

In short, if you have to assign e-readings, short documents are the best way to do it. Indeed, large textbooks are often so awful that I have to imagine that they would be the only instance I could cite where an e-version would actually be better, but separate documents are better still.

I’ve also found it interesting that this post about the possibility of compulsory online education has gotten a lot of attention. I’ll try to do a follow-up tomorrow night if another trip to Lowell tomorrow doesn’t wear me out entirely. Then I’ll fly home, crawl back under my rock and try to finish the two books I want done before school starts again.


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