Reflections on teaching the Great War

Final essays and projects have been marked. Grades have been submitted. The whirl of Christmas is past. Time to reflect on teaching the Great War online.

I have taught the Great War F2F. Here are some preliminary thoughts.

How did the online experience differ?

Obviously I did not meet students F2F, but I had an enormous amount of communication with them. I really poo-pooed the “getting to know you” exercise at the beginning of the semester, but it gave me enormous insight into who the students were, their expectations, and their level of prior knowledge. The weekly essays and discussions deepened this sense, much more than I have ever had with a larger classes. The personal, almost tutorial, nature of teaching an advanced class completely surprised me.

I was also surprised by the shear amount of work involved! I had plans for recording more video lectures, recorded conversations with subject specialists, and more group activities that simply never came to pass as there was not enough time. I hope to be able to add some of these in the next iteration of the class, but the students surely didn’t lack for work!

What do I find preferable about the online experience and what aspects of the traditional classroom do I miss?

I miss the immediacy of the classroom. You can tell what is getting across, where you have to go slower or take a different tack. Online, you put it up and then wait. I had hoped to alleviate this on part by asking students after each module’s activities to post on “What you still have questions about.” Problem was, it was the last question in the Forum that I only got to after reading all the other posts and grading the weekly essays. Maybe it would have worked if this were the only class I was teaching, but I had three other online courses demanding my time.

What was positive about the experience?

I was very pleased both by the amount of work (thinking, reading, writing) I could require of each student and the level on weekly accountability. In the course of the semester more than a few students had things come up, but I could work with them on deadlines. Some found the weekly demands a difficult cultural shift and clearly preferred the far less demanding midterm-final-paper routine that prevails in many courses. My best courses decades ago were those that demanded the most of me and I feel like I achieved that for the students in this class,

What would I do differently?

Next time I offer the class, I want to structure and supervise their Extension and Veteran projects better. Most of the Extension projects were exemplary. I need to set an earlier deadline so that students share their work with their peers maybe two weeks before the course is completed. I still need to think out all of the details.

The Veteran projects were more uneven. Many students did the bare minimum; other did serious research as I had hoped all would. That is really my fault and I will do a better job next time.

How can I more effectively use my teaching blog?

I hope that this will improve with time as I am able to add more resources. I had planned for them to consult the blog each module, but I did not have sufficient links for each item. This will be a priority in the coming year.

I also found, as every blogger claims, that blogs are a lot of work and take constant time and attention. I was able to go great guns from January to April 2014. In April, I spoke with Rhodri Mogford, Acquisitions Editor for Bloomsbury Press at the European Social Science History Association conference in Vienna. Rhodri encouraged me to submit proposals for my monograph Peasants and Jews: Anti-Semitism and Rural Politics in Northwest Germany and for a reader on the Stab-in-the-Back Myth that I am writing along with my friend and colleague Mark Sadler. Long story short, both proposal were accepted, with the final manuscript for The Stab-in-the-Back Myth and the Fall of the Weimar Republic. A History in Documents and Visual Sources. due March 2015 and Anti-Semitism and Rural Politics in Northwest Germany due June 2016. Both projects will be complete when I teach this class next.

What did I learn about the War itself?

Too much to record here! I kept a list attached to each module. Just as this online course was different from my last traditional offering, I expect the next iteration will be a substantial improved product.

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You might find this interesting

The National Library of Scotland has posted a collection of British First World War Trench Maps. This is really fascinating stuff. I am adding a link in the right menu column under Maps. HT to Otto Vervaart and digital1418

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So it begins …

100 Years ago today, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The train of events set in motion at Sarajevo left the station.

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Top secret MI5 files of First World War go online

Complete with a very fetching picture of Mata Hari on the portal page. Other highlights include Edith Cavell and Sidney George Reilly, the “Ace of Spies”. If you are interested in British intelligence history, this is an amazing resource. Having watched the BBC’s “Ace of Spies” mini-series, I am tempted to download the Reilly file just for the hell of it.

Sadly, if you want to view the file off-site, you have to pay £3.30, but that seems pretty reasonable. It is so low in fact that I can’t imagine why they don’t just make it a free download.

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The SPD remembers the First World War

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Enough to make a historian dizzy!

I have spent many enjoyable hours at the Hoover Institution Library. I swear, when I saw this enormous stack of papers, I knew that I had to post the Tweet.

I can’t be sure, but I think that I remember calling up something similarly wrapped.

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Russian Military Historical Archives digitized

This is great news, but the site that I accessed is in Russian without an icon to select a language other than Russian. (Not that I’ve noticed Russian or German icons on the U.S. National Archives site!)

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