Altoona history professor 'dresses up' courses for online delivery

Jared Frederick dressed in Depression-era clothing

Jared Frederick, instructor of history at Penn State Altoona, dresses in Depression-era clothing for his online history course.

Credit: Jared Frederick

ALTOONA, Pa. — Jared Frederick, instructor in history at Penn State Altoona, often uses items from his own personal collection as visual aids in his courses. 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.

“For the classes where it’s applicable I use clothes from different time periods,” Frederick explained. “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, said the self-described “quirky” instructor.

“It’s something they don’t expect — a thematic background," said Frederick. "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 admitted, and took a lot of work on the syllabus, but, he said, “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, he said. “I was going to take my Civil War class to Harper’s Ferry tomorrow. April is a busy month for me every year — the one decent month weather wise, to do things outdoors, on the grounds of campus."

However, he said he is doing his best to make the best of a dismal situation and trying to adapt with grace and humor: “Every now and then you need to do something crazy to avoid going crazy.”