This essay—a contribution to “Inside the Humanities Classroom,” a seriatim symposium in Common Knowledge—is a first-person account of the development and teaching of an online version of a UCLA course on the history of Western civilization (1715 to the present). The author finds that such courses involve both gains and losses. Learning to lecture in front of a blank screen in an airless studio is not easy but has its own rewards if a professional media staff amasses and edits images and sounds. Teaching assistants also have to develop new techniques for involving students in discussion online rather than in person. Students have less interaction with each other, cannot ask questions during the lecture, and, at least in this version of online teaching, are never in the same room with their instructors. On the other hand, students can absorb the lectures, which are captioned, at their own pace; contact their teaching assistants and the professor when it suits them; and enjoy the advantage of a relatively seamless multimedia presentation. The quality of the students’ work, the author finds, is the same as in a bricks-and-mortar course, and the students themselves express enthusiasm for the lectures and, surprisingly, for the attention shown them (via fast-response email) by their instructors.

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