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Even when a field trip isn’t possible, teachers can still bring history into their classrooms.

A new partnership between Colonial Williamsburg and LEARN NC, an outreach arm of UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Education, aims to show them how. The two organizations are developing a series of online courses to show teachers how to use online versions of historical artifacts in engaging ways in their classrooms.

By using artifacts – such as documents, maps, photos, items of clothing or even such things as eyeglasses – teachers can put sources of information in front of students and confront them with questions that make students more deeply engage with their learning about the past, said Andy Mink, executive director of LEARN NC.

“Everybody might say that they value critical thinking and increased skills, but it’s messy work and it’s hard to do,” Mink said. “Meanwhile you’re in the classroom with the door shut and your time is burning away.”

The Colonial Williamsburg-LEARN NC partnership will show teachers how to use virtual versions of artifacts in their teaching.

The whole idea is to get students to ask questions about items that hold answers about the past.

“There are some organizations, like Colonial Williamsburg, that have really mastered this sense of how do you interrogate or ask questions of the things that you’re seeing and being exposed to and interacting with,” Mink said. “The people at Colonial Williamsburg have spent a lot of time perfecting that sense of what it means to discover an artifact and ask the right questions of the artifact and let that artifact then imply or infer some greater knowledge.”

This past winter, more than two dozen teachers nationwide contributed to the development of “Using Artifacts as a Bridge to the Past” as beta testers with additional contributions from the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. The course launches on July 16.

This instructor-led, media-rich social studies methods course centers on best practice teaching strategies, drawing on Colonial Williamsburg’s 25 years of successful teacher professional development at the world’s largest living history museum.

The new partnership between Colonial Williamsburg and LEARN NC is the first online course the museum has designed that merges effective museum skills with interactive history education methods to support teachers in meeting curricular objectives. Additional courses will be developed by the partnership in the future, Mink said.

“These courses will expose teachers to the process of being an historian, of being a museum curator, of being an archivist, of asking the right questions of material,” Mink said.

The partnership combines expertise unique expertise held by the two organizations. Since 1990, more than 18,000 teachers have participated in Colonial Williamsburg professional development training, including the summer Teacher Institute, on-site and off-site programs, and video conferences. LEARN NC is adept at developing resources – such as lesson plans and classroom content – that address teaching standards. More than 20,000 people a day access LEARN NC materials on its website.

July 14, 2014.