The Nomadic Professor plans to produce a series of courses covering American history, world history, western civilization, and Asian history, with four semester-long courses for each. Only the first course for American history and part of the second course are available as I write this review, but I couldn’t wait to tell you about them!
The courses are being created by Dr. William Jackson and Nate Noorlander who have been teaching history at the college and high school levels, respectively. Jackson creates the videos and writes the text based on his years of teaching at the university level. Most of the videos are filmed on his travels around the world—thus the name of the series, the Nomadic Professor. You can watch some of Jackson’s videos on YouTube that are presented in the same fashion as those throughout the courses. Noorlander is responsible for the supporting resources: handouts, guided notes, quizzes, document lessons, and course documentation. Both Jackson and Noorlander approach topics by often presenting opposing viewpoints, without revealing their bias toward either one.
The American history courses will follow this sequence:
Part 1: Pre-Columbian Americas to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution
Part 2: Washington’s presidency to the end of Reconstruction
Part 3: Custer and Crazy Horse to Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Part 4: Cold War to the War on Terror
The idea is that students will complete two courses per year, and this will be the same arrangement for the other courses. I will concentrate on American History, Part 1 since it is the only complete course.
How the Courses Work
These online courses are laid out in a step-by-step fashion that is easy to follow. That’s important in this case because these complex courses have a number of elements: text, images, videos, vocabulary words, quizzes, documents, and assignments.
The American History course has ten units, and each unit has an introduction plus four to six lessons. The unit introductions start with timelines, maps, and images that help students think about topics within the context of a particular time and place. A valuable feature is that for each unit, the course tells students the key ideas they will learn, presents the lesson materials, then summarizes the key ideas. Similarly, “Structure Terms”—words or phrases students need to learn—are introduced in the unit introduction then taught in each lesson. This way students know what they are expected to learn, and the key ideas are reinforced by this triple presentation.
Three to five lessons within each unit are taught by Jackson and a document lesson is presented by Noorlander. When students are ready to start a lesson, they need to first print out the Guided Notes that are linked at the beginning of the lesson. These vary from lesson to lesson, but they typically look like graphic organizers or have comprehension questions. Students can decide whether to fill these in as they watch the videos and read lesson material or afterward. A key for the Guided Notes is linked at the end of each lesson, including the document lessons.
The lessons themselves are a combination of text that students read online and video presentations. The text is presented with a question as the heading for each section. This helps students focus their attention on how the material answers each question. There are occasional illustrations to accompany the text. Audio recordings of the text material are available for those who would like to listen to the text as they follow along or those who would like to listen rather than read. Students can listen online or download the audio to another device.
Videos are interspersed among the sections of text. Students work through the material in order as presented. The number of video presentations is greater for some topics than others, probably based on the availability of appropriate locales and the practicality of filming there. There are a number of onsite video lessons for the first unit, which is about the pre-Columbian Americas, and few for the second unit on explorers. Apparently, there were plenty of accessible sites for filming about pre-Columbian civilizations such as the mound cities and Ancestral Puebloan ruins in the United States and Incan sites in South America. In most of these videos, Jackson walks through a historical site, talking as he goes. These videos generally show the location on a map on a sidebar on the right side of the screen. Sometimes, the screen zooms in with Google Earth® so students get a better sense of the location. Occasionally, the videos are of Jackson’s classroom lectures, illustrated with a few photos or other illustrations.
Each lesson has "Structure" terms at the end in three forms for study. The first has the terms followed by a list of definitions for students to match. The second is a printable set of flashcards, and the third is a set of online Quizlet flashcards.
Each section ends with an online quiz. Results are emailed to either the student or parent immediately after each quiz. The program marks which answers are correct and incorrect, and it adds an explanation for incorrect answers. The program does not retain scores, so you’ll need to keep track of them yourself if you want to preserve them. The quizzes are a helpful assessment tool, but if students are completing the Guided Notes as they work through each lesson (and not cheating by looking at the answer keys), and they are completing the writing for the document lessons, you should have sufficient material to assess progress. The printable course documents include a rubric for grading the guided notes and a chart showing how to weight the guided notes, quizzes, document lessons, and Structure terms.
The document lesson at the end of each unit adds another dimension to each course. With Guided Notes pages in hand, students watch a presentation by Nate Noorlander that teaches students critical thinking skills for evaluating information. They work through a number of documents for each lesson, such as primary source documents, excerpts from textbooks that express a variety of perspectives, and images of historical artifacts. For example, for a question relating to Christopher Columbus, the document lesson has students compare and contrast excerpts from three books. Two of these are written from dramatically different points of view—A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen. A third resource, Columbus: The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen, is more neutral in tone than the other two resources.
In another example, Lesson 5.5 poses the question, “Why do interpretations of historical events (and people) change over time?” This lesson uses Bacon’s Rebellion as the topic for investigation. It presents six sources: two historical letters, a poem written in that era, an image from around 1900 that illustrated the event after the fact, and two accounts from history books written 20 to 25 years ago.
There are about 10 to 15 pages of Guided Notes for each document lesson, so these are substantial lessons that will take some time to complete. Strategies for working through these lessons are thoroughly explained in videos. Students can share their responses with an online community, which could be very motivational and interesting if enough students participate.
The document lessons in the first course lay the groundwork for work in the next American history course. The final assignment in this course has students learn how to come up with a good research question by analyzing many examples. In the next course, students will write a research paper. The plan is that for each group of four courses, students will learn how to research and analyze information in the first course, then write a researched essay for each of the next three courses.
The course material without the document lessons is excellent, but the document lessons are so worthwhile that I would urge you to try to use them. The document lessons lend themselves particularly well to a group class setting where students can compare their opinions.
Three Options for Students with Different Goals
These are survey courses that were designed for high school students, with three different options: full, standard, and content-only. Completion of the four American history courses over the span of two years following the full-course schedule should prepare students well for the Advanced Placement U.S. History test and the CLEP U.S. History I and II tests. As the authors explain in the "Scope and Sequence—American History Parts 1-4" notes, “This is an interdisciplinary course, with rigorous training in various social studies and language arts supplements. Homeschool families who plan to generate their own transcripts could include .5 credits for a range of other courses, including historical methods, college writing, logic and rhetoric, and American literature.” This would be in addition to one credit per year for history.
The full option is what I have described. The standard course option has students skip four specified sections within the lessons, and the document lessons are optional. The content-only option is for students who want to learn the historical narrative but want to skip the lessons on “how to read, research, reason, and write like a historian.” For this option, students skip some supplemental handouts and use none of the document lessons. The authors show the options in terms of the number of sessions required for each: 200, 168, and 160, respectively.
Normally, I would be hesitant to write a review of a product this new with only one complete course available, but I was so impressed that I wanted to let you know about it as soon as possible. The second course is being completed at the rate of about one unit every five weeks, so you should be able to count on having a full year of American history ready to use by the time students are ready for the second semester. This course should appeal to anyone who wants students to both learn history and learn how to evaluate historical information, a type of learning that is useful in many other areas, including current events. On top of that, the course design is perfect for today’s students with its mix of video, audio, text, and written work.