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Gilder Lehrman and Dickinson College Partner for Lincoln Online Course

Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

With all the digital ink spilt over massive open online courses recently, it's easy to forget that while all MOOCs are online courses, not all online courses are MOOCs.

Take “Understanding Lincoln,” a new online course co-sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute Dickinson College. The course, led by Lincoln scholar Matthew Pinsker, will offer a hybrid approach – a smaller seminar section with a hundred-student enrollment cap, direct access to Professor Pinkser and Gilder Lehrman staff, and the opportunity to interact with other students in digital forums.

For-credit students will pay $450 and receive three graduate credits at Dickinson, which can be used as transfer credit at other institutions.

For those interested in enrichment, a free section featuring lectures and readings will also be available, along with a certificate of completion for those who finish the course.

Course registration is currently open, and closes on Friday, July 19 at 11:59 Eastern. “Understanding Lincoln will run from July 22 to November 19.

The class is primarily designed for K-12 educators to enhance their knowledge of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. The Gilder Lehrman website emphasizes that the course will focus on teaching Lincoln “within the guidelines of the Common Core State Standards.”

Pinsker said that the course is the culmination of the House Divided project, an online effort to create resources for K-12 teachers on the Civil War era. He has partnered with Gilder Lehrman for several years on the initiative, and an online course was the next logical step.

A pilot course for a closed group last year met with great success. One participant wrote in a testimonial that the class “introduced me to scholarship...and links that will not only test me as a teacher, but will make me grow as an educator.”

A major component of the upcoming “Understanding Lincoln” class will be what Pinsker calls “class-sourcing.”

“The course won't just be about transmitting information to students,” he said. “It will be about students building something with teachers.”

Pinkser plans to create a multimedia edition of Lincoln's writings. The class will take one hundred fifty of Lincoln's documents pre-selected by Pinsker and create digital resources – annotated transcripts, audio versions, ideas for lesson plans, images, maps – “to bring things alive for the modern student.”

Pinsker plans to select the three best projects and fly those students to Gettysburg for the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address. They will present their projects for an Internet livestream at the David Wills House, where Lincoln stayed during his visit to the battlefield.

Class-sourcing is becoming increasingly common in online history courses. Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington, led an urban history course during the winter 2013 semester which built an Omeka website dedicated to microhistory of the South Lake Union neighborhood in Seattle.

That course, however, was an undergraduate course in a bricks-and-mortar classroom.

“One of the advantages of being online,” Pinsker said, “is remote collaboration.” Students across the country can work together in ways like never before.

One of the goals of the class is to provide high-quality online education in a cost-efficient manner that protects intellectual property. “We're operating outside of the big MOOC players,” Pinsker said. The course will be paid for by the enrollments in the graduate section. Both Dickinson and Gilder Lehrman plan to break even on the project, not to turn a profit.

If a small liberal arts college like Dickinson and a non-profit like Gilder Lehrman can successfully collaborate to provide an online course, Pinsker concluded, it could be a game changer.