New online, interactive history class debuts

Elizabeth Huang

This semester, students will be able to enroll in a new online history class that they can participate in from their dorm rooms. 

The course, which first opened this semester, is an online version of the “U.S. History Since 1865” class which the University currently offers. History professor Jeremi Suri leads the class, which features online lectures live-streamed to students twice a week. Students will occassionally attend on-campus lectures, but most of the course will be online. About 270 students are currently enrolled.

Suri said the class will incorporate more interactive content and historical documents than the traditional course.

“We need to get over, as faculty, being attached to doing things the way we’ve always done them,” Suri said. “I believe in the quality and importance of a lecture, but why does a lecture have to be in a musty old lecture hall?”

Abigail Griffin, a Plan II and government senior who is taking the class, said she likes that it is easy to communicate with the professor, TAs and other students. 

“The class and lecture are actually more interactive than a class of 320 students would be in a lecture hall,” Griffin said. “Students seem more willing to ask questions and discuss the material in class.” Suri said he wanted to create a more engaging teaching model and make students more comfortable through digital methods.

Marla Gilliland, senior project manager at Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services who helped with the online implementation of the course, said the class has several advantages for students. 

“One advantage is definitely that face-to-face interaction, where you have world-class faculty teaching your class, but they’re not at the far end of the lecture hall — they’re literally right here talking to you,” Gilliland said. 

Students engage in the class through instaneous polls and a chat tool.

“The chat tool has continued to be used in really interesting ways for students in breakout chats or even in whole group chats with the entire class [being] able to join in discussions. The professors use what they’re seeing in the discussions immediately in class,” Gilliland said. 

According to Suri, his class differs from other online classes because it is more intensive, focuses more on analysis of historical facts and the TAs have online office hours. “It’s not a course about learning facts, it’s a course about interpretations,” Suri said. “This is designed to be a course of higher level thinking.”