History instructor Jared Frederick often uses items from his own personal collection as visual aids in his history classes at Penn State Altoona. But with the switch to online learning through Zoom this semester, Frederick has had to improvise. In his three classes—HIST 12: Pennsylvania history, HIST 21: US history since the 1870s, and HIST 130: the Civil War era—when the students sign in, they might find their instructor dressed in the manner of the period being discussed (see gallery below).
“For the classes where it’s applicable I use clothes from different time periods,” Frederick explains. “We were talking about the 1920s in the Pennsylvania history class and so I used a speakeasy background. When we were talking about the 1970s I got out my NASA jacket.” For that photo, he included a pipe because, as he notes, the NASA workers in photographs are often seen smoking.
For someone who spends many weekends as a re-enactor, as Frederick does, the use of costumes is a natural addition. For students, though, it’s definitely unusual, says the self-described “quirky” instructor. “It’s something they don’t expect—a thematic background. Sometimes I do it just for fun, to lighten the mood. I hope it helps them a bit. I hear them chuckle when we start off—‘what’s he doing today?’”
The overall transition to Zoom was an adjustment, Frederick admits, and took a lot of work on the syllabus, but “it was a lot smoother than I was expecting. Our IT team has really stepped up and been our saviors in this moment of distress. People like Joe Scott [instructional designer at Penn State Altoona] have been a godsend.”
Not being able to hold class in person or travel significantly impacts Frederick’s teaching. “I was going to take my Civil War class to Harper’s Ferry tomorrow.” He says he’s doing his best to “make the best of a dismal situation. April is a busy month for me every year—the one decent month weather wise, to do things outdoors, on the grounds of campus.” But he has adapted with grace and humor: “Every now and then you need to do something crazy to avoid going crazy.”
—Therese Boyd, ’79