NU creates a new virtual history course

Thomas Carson_NUVH 2 (Color)

Freshmen this fall will complete a self-directed online course, which will cover Norwich’s nearly two centuries of history. It’s the first part of Norwich’s Leadership Development Experience (LDE) , a program that will be phased in for this fall’s freshman class, according to Dr. Frank Vanecek, the vice president of enrollment management and student affairs.

The project, Norwich University Virtual History (NUVH), is “the opening piece” of the Leadership Development Experience (LDE), according to Vanecek.

The online course material was created over this past summer by a committee of faculty, students, and recent graduates from the communications, history, English, information technology, and sports information departments, as well as the university archives, and museum.

The NUVH Program will consist of 12 online lessons, which students are supposed to complete prior to arriving on campus each fall. For the 2013-14 freshmen class, however, only two thirds of the lessons are available so far. This year’s freshmen will complete the lessons on their own time during the academic year in addition to their coursework and extracurricular activities.

“Each lesson takes a different piece of Norwich’s history,” said Prof. Michael B. Kelley, associate professor of civil engineering and director of the NUVH. Kelley explained that the designed to give students a basic understanding of the university’s history and future direction.

The lessons cover Norwich history from the university’s founding, after Capt. Alden Partridge left his post as Commandant of the United States Military Academy. In addition, the program will look at the future, to the 2019 plan.

Each lesson consists of a short video introduction by an administrator or faculty member, such as Vanecek or History Prof. Gary Lord, whom Kelley called “the subject matter expert about Norwich’s history.” Lord reviewed every module, helped to edit them, and made sure all the information was factually correct. “What you’re going to learn isn’t the urban folklore,” said Kelley, “It’s the real deal.”

After the introduction, students read about the history which the lesson covers. The reading for each lesson is meant to take 10 minutes, after which students watch a 12 minute video called the “time capsule,” said Clarke Haywood, a 2012 Norwich graduate and project consultant for NUVH. It includes video shot by the communications department, archival footage from Norwich history, and pictures.

“You can think of it as a narrated slide show with video clips in it, and it’s designed to talk about a couple for the aspects of the lesson,” Kelley said. “For instance, the first lesson talks about sort of the overall history of Norwich.” It takes students through an entire year at Norwich, from arrival in the fall, to graduation.

“It takes those nine months and it shows all those different aspects of the university,” from the perspective of every grade level, “sometimes in the present tense, sometimes in the past tense,” Kelley explained. “So there might be some pictures of past football teams or of past rooks of a long time ago,” he said. They are then juxtaposed with pictures from as recent as 2012.

Freshmen will see what’s ahead for them, not just in their current year, but in the years to come. NUVH will show them that they’re going through what so many Norwich students have gone through already. For example, “There’s a video that shows the cadre out teaching rooks how to salute and do facing movements,” Kelley explained, “It’s from 1940.”

The project is rich with footage and photographs of past students who have done what students are doing today. There are pictures of the Norwich Mountain Cold Weather Company on a mountain in New Hampshire, pictures of past football teams and hockey teams, and pictures from the Regimental Ball from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. For past and present students, “the story is the same,” said Kelley.

Following the “time-capsule,” portion of each lesson comes a pre-taped student panel, which features profiles of exemplary students. Arielle Eaton, a 21-year-old senior communications major from Columbus, Ga., was asked to participate in a student panel to show “that it is possible to be a high-up corps officer and also part of other clubs, organizations and sports,” as well as being involved with an academic department.

Eaton serves as the Editor in Chief for the university’s newspaper The Norwich Guidon, as well as being a former member of the cross-country team for three years and serving as the Corps’ Regimental Public Affairs Officer (PAO). With profiles of leaders like Eaton and Cadet Colonel Ryan Sutherland, the hope is that freshmen will see what is “achievable,”, Kelley said.

NUVH aims to make students think about Norwich’s past, such as the school’s purpose for coming into being, Eaton says. According to her, most students do not take the time to think about why the school was founded. “It was founded on the idea that a soldier should be well rounded and educated and not afraid to ask questions.”

Responsible for coordinating the student panels were Norwich graduates Briana Buckles, Audrey Seamen, Clarke Haywood, and Katie Nelson. They recruited students for the panels, coordinated the filming, research and multimedia lessons which followed them.

The student panels allow freshmen to hear from their peers “how that history is still relevant at Norwich today,” said Buckles, a graduate of the class of 2013.

In addition to teaching students about Norwich history, NUVH will introduce incoming students to NUoodle, the platform on which the course will be offered. NUoodle is also the platform on which most courses post course materials, tests, and homework.

Vanecek created the Leadership Development Program, and by extension, the NUVH, at the behest of Norwich’s Board of Trustees. In 2011, the board created an investigative committee to evaluate the university’s success in students’ observance to its mission and standards. As part of the decision, the board’s Blue Ribbon Committee cited a number of subjects with which they said all Norwich student must be familiar. In addition to NU history, they want to ensure that students are taught about American history and the U.S. Constitution, ethics, and leadership.

Based on the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations, Norwich created the Leadership Development Program (LDP). According to NU’s Commandant of Cadets, Col. Russ Holden, the LDP is “very much based on army doctrine and, of course, it’s delivered to the whole student population.”

  Norwich will rollout the program in the spring semester of 2014.  NUVH will be completed before arrival in the fall, and students will begin their Leadership Development Experience before even stepping onto campus.

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