Backyard Explorers: Class that Teaches Through Experiences and Interactivity

By Agi Ngie

This year at William Peace University, the history department has added a new class. Backyard Explorers is a three-credit-hour history class, instructed by Dr. Katie Otis. 

This class is not your typical college course with lectures and tests. Instead, students are exposed to different environments and experiences in a way that meets different learning modalities such as interactive learning. This provides students with the ability to learn by doing instead of just listening to the information being taught in class.

“What I love about this class is how I get to do my own historical exploring,” says WPU sophomore Brett McIntyre. “There is a lot of history in and around the Raleigh area and the places we go to are always interesting. It is one of my favorite classes to take and it is a first-hand example of William Peace’s immersive learning experience.”

Throughout the course students get to learn about state and local history by going on special tours and interactive exhibits in museums, archives, and historic sites all near and around campus. Each exhibit students explore will provide more information about the different historical events that have taken place here in North Carolina. 

“We last visited the City of Raleigh Museum and toured its collections as well as its exhibits,” says WPU Junior, Rachel Ashworth. “We were able to learn about Raleigh not only as a place in which we lived but as a place of historical significance with a rich and diverse story.”

Along with exploring historic sites, students will create weekly blogs and present two research papers based on the field trips. Students are required to attend nine field trips during the semester, which vary. This semester, the sites that students get to visit include:

North Carolina Museum of History
City of Raleigh Museum
North Carolina Museum of Art
Mordecai Historic Park
Country Doctor Museum

Due to the classroom setting, students have to be self-directed and ready to think and write on their own, which will help them to be able to utilize their writing skills in their future professional ventures. During visits to the museum, students’ general historical knowledge is expanded, and they can interact and connect with the artifacts in front of them.

 “What I’ve gained from the class so far is a deeper appreciation for public/oral history as well as a stronger feeling of love for history and belonging to Peace,” says Ashworth.

Through it all, Dr. Otis’ goal is to spark historical curiosity in her students. She wants them to think about their communities as historical places, and at the end of the day, she wants them to know that history is everywhere.

“I want to inspire students to get out into their communities and realize how much history is around us both in our immediate communities and our home communities, and encourage them to get into museums and just explore,” says Otis.

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