Designing a great web-based history lesson

Mar 29, 2011

'I am creating a 4 part web-based training module on The History of Living and Dying. How can I make it engaging and interesting? I have lots of great graphics/art and have written the content, but now I need to design it. History lessons tend to be dry and boring, so it is really important for my module to be visually stimulating, interactive and engaging.

11 Replies
Shelly Cook

A couple of thoughts...

 - You could have a character guide the student through the history like they were a tour at a museum (you know kinda like a tour guide Barbie experience) .  If I chose this approach, the character add some humor or ask questions of the learner on what they know about historical events or places (quizzing them along the way).  I'd keep the character "light", maybe use appropriate humor and not take themselves too seriously.

- Or, to play off the above & assuming each of the four parts represents a different timeperiod or series of events.  You could pull a historical character out to be the tour guide.

 - Depending on the time period or events, you could make it dramatic - use black and white videos with an old movie projector affect.

 - Another idea is to group like events or events in history with a common thread/theme and create a mystery that the student has to pick up clues by reviewing events in history so they can solve the puzzle/crime/question at the end.

Hope this helps!

Kevin Thorn

Hi Kendra,

Shelly, those are great ideas and I was thinking on those same lines.

Anytime history is involved two things come to mind: 1) A time line, and 2) A narrator.

The last "history" course I developed, I incorporated a game in between the modules. First, a character from history as Shelly suggested would be the "voice" or the narrator. Depending on time/cost, this character could be animated. I just used several poses and expressions of the same character.

I presented the history time line as a "Road Trip" reminiscent of those long car rides when I was a kid. The narrator would introduce him/herself, a brief background of their "qualifications" as your guide, and simple introduction on the ride you're about to embark.

The game in this instance was really just an interaction and wasn't anything more than a simple Flash game, yet presented as a summary of that module. Simple old school looking driving game where the road zipped passed on the screen vertically. "You" were stationary in the center of the screen and could control your 'token' left, right, up, down using the arrow keys. While the road was going by, you collected items that you just learned about in the previous time line and score points. Also, there were bad things that if you it would cause you to lose points. This little game lasted about 30 seconds. It would automatically end at a final destination where the narrator would enter the screen and congratulate you for completing this 'leg' of the road trip. Then you move on to the next module.

For a progress meter, I used a suitcase graphic. As you progress through history a 'sticker' is placed on the outside of the suitcase indicating you've completed that "trip." I also used the suitcase as place the collect items from the game and for any items the learner earned by answering bonus questions or discovered something on their own outside of normal instruction - think hidden Easter eggs.

History may be a dry topic, but it is 'funnest' to build

David Anderson

Hi Kendra,

Sounds like a potentially emotional course.

There's a lot of storytelling and first-person narrative opportunities in such emotional topics. I would try not to follow the typical course structure by "telling" or "narrating" the info followed by a quiz. Mixing up the presentation layer is important in these kinds of projects.

Without knowing more about your topic, my first instincts are to focus more on the human side of the story and include interviews, video portraits, FAQs, timelines and audio slide shows/galleries.


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Begin with "birth" colors and graphics: simple, blue, pink, shapes and evolve to more "death" graphics: blacks, grays, and darker themes. 

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What I like are all the "sights and sounds" used to tell the story with images. 

Kendra Haddock

Wow! Thanks so much for the suggestions.Great ideas; I will look into them and see which is the best fit for my topic.

Here is a bit more detail about the project:

My audience are end-of-life caregivers (hospice), and sub-plot of course is the Cartesian dilemma - that is, the ancient struggle to define the precise nature of the relationship between body and soul. There are two schools of thought about this - Descartes' Mind/Body Dualism, that holds that the body and soul are two separate entities, independent of one another, or Monism, or the theory that are people comprised of two equal halves, body and soul. This significance of this debate is that health care based on Dualism treats the body not the soul, and health care based on Monism treats the whole person, body and soul. Weighty stuff, for sure.

Shelly Cook

Whew!  That is heavy... my previous suggestions are probably too light hearted for your topic.  I was thinking more like history, as in social studies...  like a soldier from Hitler's army narrating what it was like in WWII.

With this additional information, I'd offer:

You could tell the same story from each character's perspective - with the primary question/struggle of the story being the dilemma of the treating the disease (body) or treating the patient wholistically (body and soul).  So Perspective 1 is the story, dilemma from a doctor's perspective in which the learner could help the character make treatment decisions based on the the application of dualism or monism -  to include hard decisions such as when you go to comfort measures vs continue to "fight" the disease, moral dilemma of accepting the end of life, etc.

Perspective 2 is the same story told the nurse's perspective - where the learner helps the nurse make decisions about advocating for the patient  - advocating for life or acceptance of the terminal illness, the interaction with doctor, patient and family.

Perspective 3 - is the story told from a loved one's perspective - the emotional struggle and the horrible decisions that have to made in these circumstances.

Perspective 4 - is the story told from the patient's perspective  - fight to get well vs. be at peace with dying.  And how they feel about the interactions of the doctor, nurse, and family members as they experience the result of some of the questions you asked of the learner while presenting each perspective above and the impact that had emotionally and physically on the patient.

I wish you much success with your course.  I'd love to learn more about it as you get into the development process!

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