UW Information Technology

May 20, 2020

History’s place in an online world

Alan Wood Professor Emeritus, UW Bothell
Alan Wood’s online class engages UW Bothell students with history — and important lessons for all.

By Ignacio Lobos

As one of the founding faculty members of UW Bothell, Alan Wood has always supported the school’s mission to serve placebound, timebound, and workbound students who could not enroll in traditional university courses.

“It never occurred to me that now we would face a fourth category of students — disease-bound,” said Wood, professor emeritus in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences.

The COVID-19 pandemic was still far in the distance when Wood decided to take his “Problems in World History to 1500” class online last year, and partnered with Todd Conaway, instructional designer with UW Bothell IT, to build his course.

“My original intention in moving this course — which I have taught for forty years — to online was in keeping with the original mission of the campus, namely to give students additional options because so many of them work and cannot always attend classes regularly,” Wood said.

His online history class made its debut in the middle of the pandemic, with surprising results. Wood discovered that his interactions with students actually increased in the online environment compared to face-to-face classroom instruction, and students seemed to be more engaged with the content.

“Even a 75-year-old guy like me can learn new lessons, and it’s really fun to work with all these new technologies,” Wood said.

The shift to remote classes by the UW and universities across the country to stem the spread of the coronavirus also gave him new insights on the value of online learning.

“There is a lot of prejudice among some faculty against online forms of education — some of it legitimate, some not,” Wood said. “But the technology itself is also changing, so there are new opportunities coming online all the time. I think it would be helpful at some point in the future to educate faculty members on both the benefits and drawbacks of online education.”

A worldwide pandemic like the one we’re experiencing hasn’t happened since the 1918 Spanish flu, but around the country, people face hurricanes, tornados, forest fires, floods and other disasters every year.

“I have colleagues who teach in parts of the United States, and their universities strongly encourage faculty members to develop delivery systems that can be used during emergencies of one kind or another,” Wood said. “So, there are multiple reasons for creating online classes.”

Last year, Wood and Conaway spent nine months preparing the online class, with Wood using multiple technologies to prepare content for his students.

“He is one of those wonderful learners who just wants to know more,” Conaway said. “And he is really committed to his students as is evidenced by the amount of time he has spent crafting this space for them.”

“Part of Bothell’s original mission was to provide students access to education,” Conaway said. “Today, an essential part of their access is through the internet. Alan sees that and is actively engaged in bringing courses to them.”

UW Med students study and hang on the Gonzaga Campus

Wood recorded the audio for 30 podcasts for his history class, using Soundcloud to host them.  He also posted an introduction to his class in YouTube for his students, wrote all the directions for the assignments, the discussions and the quizzes.

Conaway brought his digital pedagogy expertise, helping Wood design the course and assignments in Canvas. He also persuaded Wood to make his lectures publicly available, a treat for all history lovers. Currently, both are collaborating on another history class.

Because teaching history runs in his family, Wood knows people will be looking back at this great transition to remote learning — and hopefully learning some important lessons once the coronavirus dust settles.

In remarks shared in a UW Bothell article last summer, Wood said, “As a species, humans are now facing challenges that for the first time are fully global in their scale and scope. 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.”

Today, the pandemic has only reaffirmed the need for cooperation. “To find those solutions we need all the wisdom we can get, and what better place to look than the accumulated experience of all humankind,” Wood said.