Phi Beta Cons

Using Distance Learning to Better Train History Teachers

Can online education really work? Plenty of naysayers have said that it’s a very poor substitute for true education, which takes place in a room, with a professor talking to and with students. Arguably, that is ideal, but the ideal isn’t always attainable. People often have to accept whatever is the closest second-best.

In today’s Pope Center piece, David Tucker writes about the Master’s in American History and Government program offered by the Ashbrook Center. The program’s goal is to give history teachers a better grounding in their subject. Crucially, instead of just reading second-hand material about American history (stuff that is often loaded with political slants if not outright deception), they read and discuss primary sources. Tucker writes, “Working with primary documents is critical. With the guidance of a good teacher, reading these documents that shaped our past can force students to confront their preconceptions, open up their thinking, and escape the contemporary preoccupations and prejudices embedded in secondary literature.”

Most of the teachers who go through the program probably go back to their classrooms and have their students read, say, some of The Federalist Papers as opposed to, oh, Howard Zinn.

But there is also an online aspect to the program. Since many teachers who want to take the program would find it hard to afford to be on campus at Ashland University in person all the time, they can avail themselves of web-based classes using advanced video-conferencing technology. Students only need to be on campus for half of the time and, importantly, it seems that the online courses are just as effective as face-to-face ones. Ashbrook has managed to capture the dynamics of small group discussions in its online coursework.

This seems to me to be an excellent development — exactly the kind of discovery that free markets encourage.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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