Backyard Explorers classroom extends beyond the walls of WPU

March 28, 2023

An immersive learning approach to N.C. History

Are you a history major or someone who loves the past? Then, Katie Otis has the class for you! The Backyard Explorers puts a whole new spin on Immersive Learning. Offering three academic credits, this course takes weekly field trips around the greater Raleigh area to help students understand the rich history of the community.

Students travel to various museums around the state and experience guest speakers such as Laine Hubbard from the Joel Lane House, the oldest house in Wake County. During the final project for the class, students create their own historical websites. 

Otis believes understanding history prepares students for uncertainties in the future. 

“We are able to understand the politics [of history] by talking to curators and museum directors,” said Otis. 

Students have participated in helping museum curators with exhibits, such as the World War II exhibit in the North Carolina Museum of History. 

Dr. Otis is passionate about history and believes there are so many ways to learn about our past, from art to artifacts, there is something that everyone will find intriguing. 

The Country Doctor Museum in Bailey, N.C., has been a favorite field trip for her and the students. The museum is the oldest in the country dedicated to primitive medicine and is run in partnership with East Carolina University.

There is a replica of an 18th-century pharmacy featuring hand-carved wooden cabinetry, original glass prescription bottles, and handwritten labels. Otis says it’s like stepping back in time. 

On the premises, there are old buggies used by traveling doctors and an iron lung used by Polio patients during the Polio epidemic. 

In a previous semester, one of her students based their project on the polio epidemic, the impacts on children’s life and the social structure of our society, and how the medical community tackled polio. 

Students can talk to their advisor about taking the class, which is offered each spring.