How Hard Is Apex Learning Online History

It’s never a good sign when “making history” seems to mean “talking about the four terrible things that happened with Betsy Ross.

I’ve just learned an incredible history lesson over the last few weeks. I never did join a high school or a college class, but now I can go on a Google searches and learn about my own country.

I’m talking about the class of 2018, of course. I had an idea that someone out there might go behind the scenes and tell me about when, how, and what exactly happened with history. This year, I’m hearing from Professor Mary Lee Przybyla-Love, who has been teaching history online at the University of Southern California.

I’m really excited. It may not have been cool as the old-fashioned reality-based history lessons, but these are real history lessons with real life student voices on them.

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It’s so cool because I’m (ahem) not going to college this fall. That’s OK—as long as I figure out my own college plan, I can use my time to read and study history. Instead of sitting in class listening to the professor drone on and on about the struggles of the past and “real people,” I could listen to my high school history teacher. I could read their blog posts and listen to their daily podcasts. My teachers are actually willing to talk to me and listen to me, rather than lecturing from behind a desk. Their efforts mean a lot to me, and I feel even more connected to the historical context of my own existence.

So, how did the experience come about? You might think, “Well, if this is such a great idea, how come there aren’t more history teachers all over the United States?” So I called a friend of mine who had taught online in the past. Her name is Bambi Newman.

“I had reached a point in my career where I had all these students leave the classroom after five weeks,” she explains. That’s long enough for a teacher to be at the point where it’s “too soon to feel like the project was not worth the investment of the resources” of such a project. “But it’s also a place where students can feel comfortable being a little less concerned with what their teacher has been emphasizing, and allow for further exploration. You can also use it as a way to organize and synthesize your learning, without the limitations of print.”

Plus, adding a component like this online allows for greater individualization: “A high school history teacher can tell a class of students ‘your story and feelings are important’, but what about the other students? You want to work with the entire population, to really understand the whole class and see more perspectives.”

Plus, we already have so many resources for education outside of school. YouTube and Wikipedia have filled this need over the last decade. The fact that history has been looking elsewhere, trying to keep up, is a sad reality. So this year, we have one teacher. Our other friends at the university don’t have any history online learning materials, so this is truly a leap in our education—for all of us.

I’m really excited that University of Southern California is giving me this chance to learn more about the many life experiences of the people who founded our country. I’ll reach out to Professor Przybyla-Love for tips in managing schoolwork online and will share more of my experience as I become more familiar with her courses, and which students will be taking them with me.

And I’ll pay attention, too, to see how often I’m forced to switch to YouTube, or just sort of lose interest because the text is too dense and boring. I’m not worried about that yet, but you never know when your moles are lurking in those big white-boards. So I’ll be on the lookout.

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