Purdue is not the only institution celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. So too is professional baseball, dating back to the 1869 founding of the Cincinnati Reds.
In recognition of these milestones, two professors – Randy Roberts of Purdue University and Rebecca Herman of Purdue University Global – are teaming up with the Purdue Alumni Association to provide a unique learning experience focused on baseball’s history and role in American culture. Starting in late March, the professors will collaborate while teaching an online course, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game: 150 Years,” that will be free to Alumni Association members.
“Baseball is intricately linked to American history,” said Roberts, a 150th Anniversary Professor and Distinguished Professor of History who has published extensively on baseball history. “Whether it’s gender issues or racial issues or economic issues or labor issues, there is a rough correlation between a moment in history and what baseball looks like. … Baseball has been an agent for change. And so what we’re trying to look at is that connection between baseball and America. What does baseball teach us about America? And what does America teach us about baseball?”
During the six-week online course, Roberts and Herman’s students will be encouraged to complete weekly reading assignments and quizzes and to participate in weekly lectures and message board discussions – just as they would in a traditional Purdue Global course – although coursework in the baseball class will not be for academic credit. Herman said each unit will be split into three segments: a historical introduction, a transitional period, and a portion explaining the subject’s modern-day relevance.
Roberts will guide students through the historical and social implications of events like Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947. Meanwhile, Herman will utilize her background in leadership and organizational development in lessons devoted to strategy and modern-day data utilization. In many cases – like Curt Flood’s 1970s battle against the reserve clause that ultimately ushered in the era of free agency – the historical and financial implications of their lessons will overlap.
“We bring similar and different things to the table,” said Herman, Professor of Leadership at Purdue Global and author of Lead Me Out to the Ballgame, a book about leadership in Major League Baseball. “Randy’s done tons of documentaries and written books and I’ve done keynote speaking and written books. He has the history and I have the business side, and baseball is really a business. He’s super comfortable in front of the camera and doing the seminars. I’m really comfortable on the discussion boards. So we really complement one another.”
This is actually Roberts’ first foray into online instruction. The veteran professor is well known for teaching popular courses on military history, sports history, and pop culture in huge lecture halls, but Roberts admits that lecturing to an online audience is a different animal.
For the last few weeks, he and Herman have co-taught the baseball course to a select online audience of about 25 students in preparation for the larger course.
“It’s been interesting for me,” said Roberts, whose most recent book, A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle, focused on the New York Yankees’ legendary outfielder. “How is lecturing on an online course different from lecturing in the classroom? I hadn’t really thought about that before I started doing it, and I quickly began thinking a great deal about it.”
With roughly three weeks left until the course’s March 25 kickoff, Alumni Association chief marketing officer Gary Melliere said alumni response had already been “phenomenal.” This is the first Purdue-Purdue Global collaboration on an alumni-centered course, so the Alumni Association entered this experiment with modest expectations. However, Melliere said more than 800 Purdue alums had already pre-registered to take the course.
“I think they’re wanting to cap it at 1,000, which at the pace we’re on now, I don’t think we’re going to have a problem getting to that number,” Melliere said.
There are multiple reasons that the complimentary course is exclusive to Alumni Association members, Melliere said. For one thing, it will be a fun way to expose Purdue graduates to the online platform of Purdue Global, which officially joined the Purdue brand in 2018. In addition, exclusive courses like this can become appealing perks of Alumni Association membership.
“We’ve found in research with alumni that there’s a strong desire for lifelong learning,” Melliere said. “Whether it’s academic learning, more for professional pursuits, or just intellectual curiosity, alumni are very interested in that ongoing. So there’s that desire from an alumni standpoint, and then with Purdue Global coming into the Purdue system and having that heavy focus on the online space and distance learning, it’s a great opportunity to offer that as a way for alumni to see and experience what online learning is about.”
In fact, this initial collaboration may be only the tip of the iceberg for joint Purdue-Purdue Global course offerings. Judging by the positive reaction to the baseball course, it is apparent that an audience exists for additional learning opportunities.
“In talking with some of the folks at Purdue Global, I think they’re already starting to think about some future topics for additional courses,” Melliere said. “Again, just seeing the response for this course is exciting, so I know they’re starting to look at what that future could hold.”