Civil War Back to School: Barton Myers and Cecily Zander Nelson

(Part two of a series)

We’re looking this week at different ways some of the academic folks working with ECW are adapting to the start of the semester in the age of COVID-19. Today we’ll hear from two folks who’ve contributed to one of our upcoming essay collections in our “Engaging the Civil War Series”: Dr. Barton Myers and Cecily Nelson Zander.

Myers, an associate professor of Civil War History at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, who says this is “pandemic semester no. 3” for him. His school is on a trimester system, so last winter and spring were both converted from in-person to virtual learning. This session, he’s teaching in a hybrid format. “I teach in person—in a mask, socially distanced—on Mondays each week to two section of the Civil War and one of the U.S. Survey,” he explains. “The other two days I’m virtual, which for me means meeting with students via zoom individually and then filming about 4 to 6 lectures in YuJa for the classes.” (YuJa is a media platform that helps facilitate online learning by capturing video, conducting livestreams, video management, and other tasks.)

Myers has about 70 students in all. “So, it is busy,” he admit. “But, I’m starting to find some rhythm with it.”

Cecily Zander Nelson, a member of our “Engaging the Civil War Series” editorial board and contributor to the ECW blog, is finishing her dissertation this semester at Penn State. “I am back in State College,” she reports after spending the summer in Colorado. “Penn State University is operating on a hybrid model, where some students have in-person classes, but the majority are online.” Cecily was assigned to teach an all-online asynchronous version of the US History survey (through 1877), which preexisted the pandemic as part of the “world campus” offerings at PSU.

“For me, the work involves moderating discussion boards and grading essays, after students watch pre-recorded lectures and read their textbooks,” Cecily explains. “It turns out the class is majority first-year students and their enthusiasm is permeating their written work. They seem up for the challenge and determined to make the best of the situation, so I don’t know what more could be asked of them from my perspective.”

Cecily says she’s also trying to interject some personality into the class. “The students were offered extra-credit to guess my favorite historical movie,” she says, “and, unsurprisingly, no 18-22 year-olds thought of The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954).”

The wider campus community continues to settle into its “new normal.” “Students from higher-risk areas were tested before arrival on campus,” Cecily says, “and the university is randomly testing all faculty, staff, and students on a rolling basis and making the data available. The town is enforcing strict mask wearing policies and citing anyone who doesn’t mask up. Our football season is still up in the air.” (For anyone who’s ever been to Happy Valley, you know what a big deal that is.)

“So from here, in State College,” Cecily says, “we are all just trying to make the best of it!”

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