Hidden in Plain Sight


The Challenge

To create an online course for K–12 teachers emphasizing iterative learning, primary source analysis, and an active approach to studying history while adhering to state standards of learning.
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At A Glance

Virginia Department of Education



Content Research and Development, Design, Development

Drupal, Drupal custom module


  • 98% of participants would recommend the course to their colleagues.
  • More than 400 K–12 teachers from a wide geographic area have completed these online courses and developed new strategies for teaching historical thinking in the classroom.
  • 95% of participants complete the course once started.

Project Narrative

The Virginia Department of Education asked RRCHNM to create an online professional development course for K-12 teachers that met the state curriculum standards for history education. These require students to identify and interpret primary and secondary sources, compare and contrast thematic topics, and interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives.

Challenges of Asynchronous Courses
Without face-to-face interaction, it can be challenging for asynchronous online courses to present controversies or to convey the ways in which historians grapple with the nuanced, complicated, and often messy evidence of the past. In contrast, RRCHNM designed Hidden in Plain Sight (HIPS) (as well as Virginia Studies) by placing historical inquiry at the center—showing history as a problem to be solved rather than as a narrative to be absorbed or consumed. Drawing on a rich body of research about historical thinking, history survey courses, and learning games, HIPS is organized around a series of modules. Each module begins with an object, such as a photograph of a snake-rail fence, a colonial-era musket ball, or a 1950s dishwasher, presented without label or context. Students are asked to form a hypothesis by answering two questions: “What do you notice about this object?” and “How might this object connect to broader themes in American history?”
Developing for Active Thinking
HIPS emphasizes active thinking throughout. Students submit their hypotheses and proceed to Resources to place the object in historical context through related maps, prints, posters, letters, songs, and diary entries—and brief videos of historians model strategies for actively interpreting history. Participants can review their hypotheses and reflect on how their thinking has changed in the Rethink section. They then develop a classroom activity based on the resources and ideas presented in the module. These Classroom Connections are posted and course participants discuss ideas with colleagues. In addition to peer feedback, participants receive detailed individualized feedback from course instructors throughout the semester.
Harnessing Drupal’s Power
Through a sophisticated dashboard and relational database built in Drupal, teachers interact with the course and each other. Functionality has been refined based on user feedback and usability testing. Using a custom module built by RRCHNM that keeps track of student progress, instructors are notified each time a module is completed. The course offers a way for teacher participants to give and receive feedback and instruction in almost real-time.

Left to right: A sample Object page, with space for a teacher to pose questions; a Certificate of Course Completion; and a publicity flier.