Average number of students per class
By writing her own interactive digital textbook, a Randolph-Macon College history prof is making her course resonate with modern students
Two hours south of Washington, D.C., is the historic Randolph-Macon College campus in Ashland, Virginia. The small private liberal arts and sciences college has a lively history department where professor Sara Eskridge—who specializes in 20th Century U.S. history—teaches introductory courses to freshmen students. She knows too well the challenge of keeping them engaged and participating in her classes.
The first year of a student’s academic career is crucial for setting them on the right path to graduate. Those first-year survey courses need to captivate and spur a student’s desire to learn, and hopefully instil an interest in the department or subject. Part of Eskridge’s solution to that challenge was to make her teaching material as sticky and engaging as possible for those freshmen students. She recognized the rich potential for an interactive digital textbook to bring history to life and include material that’s impossible to incorporate into a hardcopy format.
“It’s great for getting students to participate in class. They ask more questions, and they’re intrigued and delighted by the interactive features“
A traditional print textbook is totally static—“and let’s face it,” says Eskridge, “most students don’t even read the textbook.” She knew that augmenting the copy with embedded primary source audio and video, interactive timelines and live learning feedback (like multiple choice or short answer questions right in the reading) would entice students, and including automatic grading and full customizability would be attractive to other professors.
Eskridge pitched the idea for a co-authored interactive textbook to Top Hat, and then collaborated with colleagues over nine months (typically the turnaround for a print history book with a traditional publisher is about three years). That time was punctuated by weekly check-ins with a Top Hat representative and monthly meetings with coauthors, and Eskridge started using her interactive text, United States History I, in class in Fall 2016. “The more I use it, the more I like it,” says Eskridge. “I keep discovering new features. And it’s great for getting students to participate in class. They ask more questions, and they’re intrigued and delighted by the interactive features. It really adds value to the content in a way that traditional teaching materials don’t. And I can keep track of what students are reading and the exercises they’re completing outside of class.”