American Heritage has been a trademark of BYU for the last 25 years, with a mission to educate students on the substance and meaning of the Constitution. This semester, the class has a COVID-19-inspired upgrade: all class sections are combined in one online, live-streamed class of about 2,500 students.
“It looks like BYU Sports,” said freshman Alexandra Poland. When she logs on to the American Heritage website every Monday and Wednesday at 11 a.m., she sees political science professors Chris Karpowitz and Kelly Patterson sitting at a desk not unlike football commentators while the screen flashes photo panels of people voting or the Constitution.
Karpowitz and Patterson, who have affectionately dubbed themselves “Patterwitz,” decided that team-teaching and combining all sections of the class into one made the most logistical sense. Patterson said they chose to have a live stream class rather than just recording lectures because they wanted reactions from the students, but Poland said in a class of over 2,500, classroom interaction can be hard to manage.
“They usually end up disabling the comments because there are so many students. You can’t really see what’s happening. And there’s a giant syllabus you have to follow,” she said.
That’s why, Poland said, it’s really important to know your teaching assistant.
There are 52 TAs in American Heritage this semester. Steve Stenquist is one of them. He is in charge of 75 students and teaches three labs, two online and one that meets in person. Stenquist said transitioning between the online and in-person dynamics is tough, and his inbox is constantly flooded with problems he doesn’t know how to solve. “I’ve never been emailed so much in my life,” he said.
But with the stress comes rewards, according to Karpowitz. “It’s both daunting and exciting,” he said, laughing.
Karpowitz said that even though the structure of American Heritage is different this semester, the core principles of the class are the same. He added that the COVID-19 pandemic provides material for rich discussions on the tensions between liberty and community.
The professors’ efforts are paying off, according to freshman Garrett Sonnefeld. “It has been cool to see how the issues we discuss in class still relate, impact and play a part in current events,” he said.
Patterson attributed the success of the course to technology specialists. “They are fantastic and have shown me that from a learning standpoint, the entire university seems to be involved and to care,” he said.
Poland said overall, she’s impressed by the way Patterson and Karpowitz have handled the class. “It’s a lot smarter than anything I would’ve come up with,” she said. “I think I would’ve just panicked.”