The Searle Freedom Trust has awarded the Ashbrook Center a $250,000 grant to help it develop its promising pilot online graduate level courses in American history and government into a sustainable, fully online Masters degree. Searle’s grant will fund Ashbrook’s efforts to build a new online option for the nation’s 125,000 social studies teachers who are seeking an affordable, flexible, high-quality degree program.
Ashbrook’s online graduate program offers secondary school teachers a unique opportunity to build their knowledge of American history and civics through the study of primary source documents. Ashbrook’s approach gives teachers the resources they need to turn away from the stale, often openly biased portrayals offered in textbooks and engage their students with the rich, lively debate that constitutes American history and civics.
Unlike MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) that enroll large numbers of students in lecture-based courses and show a high dropout rate, Ashbrook’s seminar-style online courses allow for meaningful classroom interaction between professor and student who can see and talk with each other in real time during the class session. Class size is limited, so that professors may engage students in discussion of primary documents. This model has shown initial success in fostering student engagement and learning.
The Searle grant will allow Ashbrook to boost the number of online courses offered per year and also will identify new faculty who can meet the program’s goals of teaching American history and government in collegial, conversation-based seminars. With enrollment expanded to fill the new course offerings, the program expects to become financially sustainable.
From its beginning in 2006, Ashbrook’s Masters program has accommodated a working teacher’s schedule. In 2011, Ashbrook began testing an online version of the summer seminars offered in residence on the Ashland University campus. Scheduled during after-school hours, the online courses allow teachers to work toward their degrees throughout the academic year. That original pilot was made possible by a separate $250,000 gift from John and Barbara Walter.
“Offering the fully online Masters programs should raise the demand for Ashbrook’s content-rich program,” says Ashbrook Center Executive Director Roger Beckett. “Teachers in our program report that it deepens their understanding of America, giving them the confidence to use primary documents in their own classrooms and increasing their enthusiasm for teaching. We are grateful to the Searle Freedom Trust for providing the funding to dramatically expand Ashbrook’s online Masters program for teachers.”