Q&A: Maryland Historical Society

Maryland Historical Society Continues to Share Vast Historical Collections Despite Constraints of Pandemic

A worldwide pandemic can easily put the stops on any organization, and it is no different for a premier educational institution such as the Maryland Historical Society. Despite the drastic changes operations have undergone as a result of COVID-19,the Maryland Historical Society continues to delight the minds and hearts of students and history buffs alike through their online content.

Headshot, Katie Brown

Katie Brown, Digital Projects Specialist at the Maryland Historical Society

CourseArc chatted with Katie Brown, Digital Projects Specialist at the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS), to see how MdHS has pivoted operations in response to the worldwide pandemic.

As the preeminent center of Maryland history, your organization has served as a source for inspiration and a complement to historical education across the State. How does your organization share Maryland’s diverse cultural heritage?

The Maryland Historical Society is the oldest continuously operating cultural institution in the state, providing resources for local educators and students as well as those throughout the nation and world. As such we are dedicated to covering diverse perspectives and stories in our instructional material, including the contributions of women, African Americans, Native Americans and other groups whose experiences are central to our nation’s history.

Before the current pandemic, these efforts included museum tours, traveling artifact trunks, historical research workshops, and digital or virtual learning programs. As a collecting organization with a dynamic set of art and history-based exhibitions, many of our school audiences had the opportunity to experience active, hands-on learning within our physical spaces. Educators could also rent our traveling artifact trunks or reserve our virtual field trips that allow them to bring our historical artifacts, documents and images directly to their classrooms.

Colonial Maryland, an example of a traveling artifact trunk, curated and provided by the Maryland Historical Society.

Our Historical Investigations Portal (HIP) – an online curriculum offering interactive lesson plans – also allows students to analyze and synthesize historical documents, images and objects to draw conclusions about compelling historical questions. As with all of MdHS’s education programs, HIP uses the institution’s digitized primary source collections to address challenging topics in our history. These include divisions during the colonial and Revolutionary era, as well as enslavement, immigration, the Civil War, and civil rights activism.

How has your work with educators and schools changed since schools have shifted entirely online due to the pandemic?

Drastically to say the least! Losing the onsite museum programs and in-classroom experiences has made it much more difficult to reach the scale that we are used to at MdHS. Teachers and administrators have also had to prioritize core learning areas as they have shifted to online and remote instruction. Therefore, our education team has significantly ramped up communication to those audiences, created themed packages of learning activities for various grade levels in weekly e-newsletters as well as for social media distribution. Furthermore, we have made all of our Historical Investigations Portal lessons fully accessible through direct links on our website! Usage tracking has also expanded geographically as our reach has gone beyond Maryland to new K-12 and family audiences.

Harriet Tubman artifact from Maryland Historical Society

An artifact shown from the “Underground Railroad: Resisting Slavery in Maryland” Historical Investigations Portal lesson.

There is a distinct possibility that school systems will not reopen with regular schedules in the fall of 2020, but rather on a hybrid schedule that still includes remote learning and use of learning management systems like Canvas or Blackboard. With that in mind, the MdHS team is working consistently to incorporate new learning tools from CourseArc into our lessons. This includes providing educators with clear connections to their local curricular standards, as well as features such as the glossary and embedding high-quality images of historical documents or artifacts. We also plan to continue building out the course designed for middle to high school learners, especially to address more recent United States history.

How has CourseArc played a role in your ability to support schools at the start of the school year and now that everything is online?

An example of a Historical Investigations Portal lesson, accessible online for all.

CourseArc hosts our Historical Investigations Portal (HIP) digital asset. The team at CourseArc has been an invaluable partner in supporting online learning for educators, students, and parents (who now have to be teachers as well!). Hosting our interactive HIP lessons and providing technical support for resource development has been crucial. The many learning tools built into the CourseArc platform allow our team to align activities with what students are already expected to do for their classes. Our lessons incorporate critical reading, historical analysis, and constructive writing exercises that are critical to learning in multiple disciplines, not just social studies. In Maryland and many other states, social studies and language arts focused standardized testing has also moved almost completely online. Using the CourseArc platform gives students useful experience and training that will help them succeed with official testing.

How has your digital content helped during this crisis?

We are just beginning to formally gather feedback from educators and parents about the HIP curriculum, but so far there has been general appreciation that these resources exist. The greatest evidence that we have from a school system perspective is the significant uptick in users since mid-March. Since that time, the average number of sessions per week has increased by over 300, which equates to a nearly 37% bump in visitation to our HIP lessons! With public marketing and regular communication with educators and school systems, we hope to continue this trend, while also eliciting more feedback from the diverse audiences now engaged with the curriculum.

What advice would you give to other organizations seeking to develop online content?

For those organizations who are newly developing online content, I would suggest not trying to recreate the wheel and also use the talent of your existing staff as much as possible. There are many digital tools and platforms, like CourseArc, which will not exhaust an already stretched budget or intimidate leadership. If you have the ability to invest in specialized staff that is wonderful, but there may be employees or even volunteers who would be excited to support the development of online resources.

How do you hope to continue to engage audiences digitally with your historical collections?

HIP is one of the flagship resources for sharing digital historical collections with the public, particularly for K-12 and family audiences. Our education team also delivers live video-conference programming to all audiences through our Virtual Field Trips. However, the Maryland Historical Society is also in the midst of a website rebuild, with the new site set to launch in September 2020. This will include a much more robust digital collections catalog that will make it much easier for researchers, history enthusiasts, educators and students alike!

For more information about the Maryland Historical Society’s digital assets and projects, feel free to contact Katie Brown at kbrown@mdhs.org.

CourseArc was built as a tool and team to support organizations as they build online content. Check out our resource site to see how we can help your team. Check back to our blog and social media feeds for additional resources and case studies on how our clients are using CourseArc to move their classrooms online. 

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