Taking history into the future

Alan Wood

Professor Emeritus Alan Wood. / Todd Conaway photo

By Lisa Craze
After nearly 30 years of lecturing in classrooms at the University of Washington Bothell, a founding faculty member is turning two of his classes into fully online courses.

“I have come to realize that to reach young people one has to use the tools that they are most comfortable with — even if I am not,” said Alan Wood, professor emeritus in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences.

Wood is working with Todd Conaway, instructional designer with the Office of Digital Learning & Innovation (DLI), to transform the delivery of Problems in World History to 1500 and Problems in World History after 1500.

“I want to help make these classes available to everyone,” Conaway said, “Here at UW Bothell, access is part of our mission statement.”

Improved accessibility

“Over the years I have become more and more intrigued by how digital technology has overcome the limitations of the conventional classroom that uses books and handouts,” said Wood. “I wanted the flexibility new technologies made possible.”

These include, he said, “direct feedback from students, a chance to improve content at any time, the ability to incorporate not just the spoken word but also music and video, and documentary footage.”

Wood said he chose the two classes to move into a new platform because he “feels a sense of urgency” to bring these topics to students.

“As a species, humans are now facing challenges that for the first time are fully global in their scale and scope,” he said. “We’re now influencing things such as the environment, disease, crime, transportation and financial transactions through our travel and technology. But we have not come up with sustainable solutions.

“These classes examine why some societies have succeeded in finding solutions and some have not,” he said.

Teaching innovations

From his standpoint, Conaway is thrilled that Wood reached out to DLI to create an online course. “Alan recognized the value of the experience for students,” he said. “He had a vision and asked me to help him turn it into reality.”

Wood and Conaway are completely reworking the courses, adding a new textbook developed through original podcasts. The two also say they have developed a camaraderie that is bringing energy to what has been a significant learning curve for the professor.

“Alan is so enthusiastic about learning both the new technology and new ways of teaching,” said Conaway. “He definitely sees the need for change in education. He spent most of his career lecturing. His real interest is in reaching students wherever they are. It’s quite a remarkable shift for someone who’s been inside the classroom for 30 years.”

“It speaks well for the dedication of UW Bothell faculty,” he added.

Future offerings

Wood, in turn, credits Conaway’s expertise in digital pedagogy with providing the momentum for the transformation. He said technical hurdles had previously stopped him from moving forward, and that Conaway’s willingness and patience at every step are a significant reason the course creation is happening now.

Ultimately, Wood hopes to record 200 to 250 podcasts to include in the online classes, each 10 to15 minutes long. The first class is expected to be available in late 2020. It will be the first history class at UW Bothell to be taught fully online.

Both Wood and Conaway hope their work together will encourage other faculty members to consider reworking existing courses and build new ones so that more classes can be available online.


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