RIO GRANDE — The University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College works to find new ways to create a hands-on learning environment to enhance quality education.
Dr. Sam Wilson, professor of history, has taken this idea a step further by giving students the opportunity to design the curriculum for one of his courses on their own. Wilson said the class is unique because the entire semester revolves around the trip chosen by the students.
“The students decide where they want to go, and then we construct the class around the location the students choose for their trip. This gives them ownership and involvement in the learning process,” Wilson said. “This is a great opportunity for them to live history rather than just read about it. I really enjoy seeing how excited they are throughout the trip.”
This semester, the students chose to visit the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The Battle of Antietam during the Civil War is considered the deadliest single-day battle in American History with over 22,000 casualties. The battle was also significant for initiating change in Union battle strategies and enhancing the urgency of the Emancipation Proclamation. Wilson said part of the grade for the course included giving research presentations throughout the battle sights.
“I gave the students a packet of letters written by both Confederate and Union soldiers. They had to choose one letter, investigate the lives of that particular soldier and give updates on their progress throughout the semester. While we are on the trip, the students give a presentation at the sight where that soldier fought,” Wilson said. “It allows them to be more than just receptive learners and encourages a greater amount of passion for education and the topic.”
Wilson said trips like this offer the students a hands-on experience by giving them the opportunity to follow the footsteps of soldiers and historical figures, giving them a better understanding of places and events covered in the classroom.
“Along with the Antietam battlefield, we had the opportunity to explore surrounding towns such as Harper’s Ferry and Shepherdstown. As we toured the battlefield, we were able to follow along and see each aspect of what we covered in class as the students gave their presentations,” Wilson said. “You really don’t know what the battle was like unless you’ve walked the field, so this gave the students a better understanding about what both Union and Confederate soldiers went through that day. Visiting any historical site gives you a new appreciation for what it is and its significance, so it makes what we learn in class more relatable to the students.”
Jessica Patterson is a communications specialist at URG.