Guest Post: Developing an Online 20th Century Fashion History Curriculum

Guest Contributor Jennifer M. Mower earned her PhD from Oregon State University’s School of Design and Human Environment. Her research interests include late 19th and early 20th century dress, historic and contemporary consumer behavior and visual merchandising.

This past June, I had the opportunity to attend Erica Hoelscher’s professional development session entitled “Teaching Costume and Dress History in a Virtual Classroom” at Costume Society of America’s conference in Atlanta. Before this I had already begun to think about developing a similar Ecampus course for the School of Design and Human Environment (DHE) at Oregon State University (OSU). Online courses are becoming a popular mode of delivery for design and merchandising programs across the country.

DHE already has an on-campus 20th century fashion course; it’s offered every spring and fills up quickly leaving many students to wait until the following year to take the course. I saw an opportunity to develop the course to help these students, expand my teaching portfolio, teach what I call my “passion” course, and earn more income. Also, students now have many external resources available to them as more museums and universities have digitized their apparel collections. Ann Vong, who teaches an Ecampus computer design for apparel course, explains that “the availability of digital textbooks has broadened access to online education, allowing students faster access to course material.”

After receiving approval to develop the course, I began to wonder just how different an online course and an on-campus version of the course could be. In addition, what are the essential characteristics of an Ecampus instructor, what information is most essential to students of an online fashion history course and what are the benefits and drawbacks of online courses?

Oregon State University Ecampus



After meeting with Ecampus personnel I realized how important it is to work with on-campus instructors of the same course to ensure similar course objectives. But it’s also important to understand that aside from course objectives, subject matter, and possibly required texts, the similarities between online and on-campus courses may end there. Online instructors cannot possibly expect students to sit and listen to 4 hours of lecture a week. Therefore, I needed to develop shorter, more concise lectures, and develop assignments that would still have students thinking about and engaging with the material. With fewer students than on-campus courses instructors can offer more meaningful assignments that give students an opportunity to delve into the material. For example, students who take my contemporary fashion history course will have the opportunity to conduct a mini oral history project focused on one style period. This assignment requires that students think critically about the socio-cultural context of the period in order to understand the significance of apparel worn.

The biggest advantage of Ecampus courses for both students and instructors is the flexibility. Shannon Riggs, the Senior Instructional Designer for Ecampus, explains that online courses are flexible because “there’s no one set time when everyone has to be online.” When asked what the essential characteristics of an Ecampus instructor are, Monica Sklar suggests that successful online instructors are those who “are strong communicators, who are quite organized, as well as fairly comfortable with technology.” Sklar adds that Ecampus can be “a tough environment for people who like to change it up week-to-week as well as [for] those who cannot be clear and concise. Everything is in writing, for better or worse, so there is little flexibility to change things up with ease and it doesn’t benefit the instructor or student when things are left ambiguous in this context. . . . Also there is a need for regular email communication, so someone who isn’t fond of the tech world may find that all tedious.”

If asked what the primary disadvantage to Ecampus education is, most would say the lack of student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction. However, Ecampus works with the instructor to encourage just as much interaction as on-campus courses through a variety of media. Ecampus courses have tremendous opportunities to increase student diversity, but just how can instructors channel this diversity to students who lack interaction with one another in a classroom? The core student audience of any Ecampus course are students who, for whatever reason find online courses flexible and convenient. These students come from diverse backgrounds, and have a variety of experiences. This is why my students are required to regularly post questions and comments related to the course material on the Blackboard Discussion Board. Students are required to not only post their own questions, but answer questions posed by other students, thereby interacting with their fellow students, and hopefully learning from one another’s perspectives.

Farrell-Beck and Parsons (2007). 20th-Century Dress in the United States (Fairchild)

Since lectures need to be concise it’s essential to determine what information is most critical. Instructors should reach out to others in the department, asking them what they would like their merchandising and/or apparel design students to gain from a history of fashion course. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s the list of books that I am currently using to develop my lectures:

  • 20th-Century Dress in the United States (2007), by Farrell-Beck and Parsons.  This is the required textbook from which students will have assigned readings.
  • Survey of Historic Costume (1998; 2005; 2010) by Totora and Eubank
  • History of 20th Century Fashion (2001), by Ewing
  • Fashion: The Twentieth Century (1999), by Baudot
  • Fashion since 1900 (2010), by Mendes and de la Haye
  • Twentieth-Century American Fashion (2005), edited by Welters and Cunningham
  • Dictionary of Fashion and Fashion Designers (1998), from Thames and Hudson
  • Fashion (2007), from the Kyoto Costume Institute
  • American Ingenuity: Sportswear 1930 – 1970 (1998), by Martin
  • The Ready-to-Wear Industry, 1900 – 1950 (1951), by Richards
  • The Men’s Clothing Industry (1970), by Cobrin

Finally, Ecampus courses lent themselves to the incorporation of social media, including YouTube videos, and blogs like Worn Through and the FIDM Museum blog. I have also developed a list of links to credible online sources, and institutions with digitized collections so that students can seek out for themselves additional examples of apparel styles. See Worn Through’s Teaching Fashion: Digital Image Resources and Digital Resources for Other Target Markets for more examples.

Country Dress. Journal des dames et des modes, supplement, vol. 1, no. 6 (July 20, 1912).

If you are new to developing online courses, it’s important to work closely with Ecampus personnel as there are many nuances to teaching and learning online. Ask if there are workshops to improve student learning and increase student interaction in an online classroom.

Do you teach online courses? What strategies or suggestions do you have for instructors new to developing Ecampus courses?

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