Why Hillsdale’s Constitution Courses are Effective

by Jason Fertig

Regarding George’s post on Hillsdale’s Constitution 201 course, I completed Hillsdale’s Constitution 101 course over the summer (my “diploma” arrived yesterday). The course was well done; the college’s passion for teaching our founding principles is quite evident. The 101 course contained 40-minute lectures by Hillsdale president Larry Arnn and other faculty members, and 20-minute pre-recorded Q&A sessions that addressed “student” e-mails and tweets. Everything was viewable at my convenience. The 201 course looks to have the same format.

I also completed another online course over the summer — a Quality Matters course on certifying the quality of online courses. Ironically, much of what Hillsdale did in their course violated many of QM’s eight general standards and 41 principles — yet the experience of the Hillsdale course was head and shoulders above the QM course. How could that be?

The QM course was a two-week course that consisted of 13 separate discussion-board activities (post once, reply to two others for each activity). The boards were designed “to simulate a live workshop” because interaction is a crucial component of online courses (according to QM). While I give the course an A for effort, I was just happy to be done with it. I’m not going to take much away from any workshop with 13 separate asynchronous conversations at the same time; I’ve just mastered walking and chewing gum.  

For all of the scientific evidence behind the QM method, not one principle involves learning about the students and designing the course based on who the students are. Hillsdale’s course has zero mandatory interaction, but the course is quite effective because it is aimed at students who want to learn about our founding documents from professors who dedicate their lives to teaching those documents. Fancy online pedagogy is useless without first knowing your students.

I’m not affiliated with Hillsdale at all, but if you like their courses, consider kicking a few bucks their way so they can continue to do that great work they do.