Designing distance learning opportunities for the overachievers

Based on feedback from my students, and guidance from my university, I have decided to make the rest of my survey course entirely asynchronous. I will hold optional collaborative discussions, but everything that is graded or otherwise required can be completed independently and with limited technological requirements. I am erring on the side of accessibility and grace.

Many of our students have complicated lives that are made even more complicated by this epidemic. Some face very serious crises including health struggles, sick family members, extra caregiving burdens, inadequate resources for study and work, and more.

Others, however, are luckier, and perhaps their greatest challenge is boredom. I have a handful of energetic, over-achieving students who have expressed a desire to fill their time with additional learning opportunities. I felt the pull of these students as I was designing the rest of the course, and really struggled to balance their desires with the reality of other students who are overwhelmed and facing serious obstacles to any kind of learning.

In an attempt to resolve these two poles, I’ve whipped up a handful of extra credit assignments. I am usually hesitant to offer extra-credit–I’d rather have my students pour all of their available energy into the existing assignments, but our current crisis means that the energy gap between students has widened. I hope these optional assignments will give my overachievers the challenge and engagement they desire without disadvantaging students who face greater challenges.

Here’s what I came up with.

  1. For the health professionals or COVID-curious. Read any one of these monographs about disease in early American history and write a short 300-500-word reflection on what we can learn from the past as we navigate our present.
    1. Peter McCandless, Slavery, Disease, and Suffering in the Southern Lowcountry (Cambridge: 2011).
    2. Jo Ann Carrigan, The Saffron Scourge: A History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana, 1796-1905 (Lafayette: 2015).
    3. Margaret Humphreys, Yellow Fever and the South (Rutgers: 1992).
    4. Worth Estes and Billy G. Smith, eds., A Melancholy Scene of Devastation: The Public Response to the 1793 Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic (Science History: 2013).
  2. For the musicians: Create an EP of at least three original songs based on this era of American history. Upload your songs to SoundCloud, YouTube, or a hosting platform of your choice. Send me a link along with brief 200-250-word explanations for each song that discuss how they engage with this era of American history.
  3. For the DJs: Create a Spotify playlist based on the material in chapters 9-14 of The American Yawp. Your playlist should have between 15-20 songs. Write brief 100-150-word explanations for each song about how it relates to this era of American history.
  4. For the visual artists. Produce a work of original visual art that engages this era of American history. Write a 200-300-word explanation of how your piece engages with our course content.
  5. For the creative writers. Produce a collection of poems, a short story, or a novel chapter that engages with this era of American history. In addition to your creative piece, please also write a short 200-300 word explanation of how your work relates to this era of American history.
  6. For the cinephiles: Watch a movie about this era of American history and write a 500-700-word mini-essay about how that movie relates to the themes of the course. Here is a list of movies you might watch, as well as an explanation of how you might watch them. If you would like to suggest another movie, feel free to do so by email. Be aware that many of these movies contain explicit depictions of violence and/or sex.
    1. 12 Years a Slave (2013) – rent on Amazon or iTunes for $4
    2. Glory (1989) – Free on Crackle or rent on Amazon for $3 or $4 on iTunes
    3. Little Women (1994 or 2019) – The 1994 film is available on Amazon for $4. The 2019 film (which is better) is only available for digital purchase through Amazon or iTunes for $15.
    4. Harriet (2019) – rent on Amazon or iTunes for $6
    5. Lincoln – rent on Amazon or iTunes for $3
    6. Amistad – Amazon or iTunes for $3
  7. For the gamers: Write a 500-700 word reflection on video games and this era of American history. Your essay should do one of the following:
    1. Write a review of as many video games as you can find that speak to issues in this era of American history. This review should focus on the historical content of the videogames not their playability or other gaming issues. What is revealed and what is obscured about history through this game?
    2. Pitch your own game based on this era of American history. Questions of playability and other issues can be briefly addressed, but the bulk of your proposal should explain how the game would engage with specific events, issues, and themes in this era of American history.
  8. For the geographers, coders, and/or graphic designers. Help me think through a future side project –The American Yawp Atlas. This project envisions a series of maps that teach the key events, processes, and themes of American history through spatial representations. After reading the relevant chapters in the textbook, write a short 300-500-word proposal for a map. Your proposal should explain what the map would depict, why the issue is important, and why the issue requires spatial representation. If you have graphic design or GIS skills and might wish to create a sample map, let me know. Helping to make a map would result in additional extra credit.

Feel free to ask for clarification on any of these assignments in our optional weekly video chat, discussion board, or through email.


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