From the History, Information Science, and Technology column in the February 2000 Perspectives
Commercial Publisher Web Sites for U.S. History Surveys
J. Patrick McCarthy, February 2000
To integrate technology effectively into your teaching, use it first as a tool to improve and possibly complement what you already do. The Internet and course web sites offer many teaching possibilities and options that generally fall into one of two categories: use the Web as a multimedia coursepack or as an interactive teaching tool.
Traditional coursepacks and print readers rely heavily upon primary texts and occasionally include images of other historical sources. By using the web, one can customize a digital coursepack that includes a syllabus, texts, maps, images, audio, video, and other web sites. Students are able to view and print from the site, and it is an excellent way to store and organize digital presentations, which one can modify throughout the term. Using the web in this way is a natural extension of using primary source readers, coursepacks, and photocopies for assignments or showing transparencies, slides, and videoclips in the classroom. As an interactive teaching tool, a course web site via the Internet offers a different set of options.
Just as e-mail has changed how we communicate, online features such as class bulletin boards, chat rooms that offer real-time communication, online recordkeeping and grade posting, and the submission and posting of assignments facilitate student-instructor and student-student interaction. In a range from supplementing traditional courses to forming the bases of online classes, these technological choices should initially assist and augment teaching processes already in place, rather than radically alter them. Once you first comfortably and proficiently integrate technology into current teaching, you will readily discover and create new ways to teach with it.
There are four broad overlapping options for incorporating the World Wide Web into teaching: (1) basic course web sites posted on university or department servers, (2) more advanced course web sites created with the help of a course development tool or template program that provides numerous features in a password-protected environment, (3) companion web sites produced by textbook publishers, and (4) general U.S. history teaching sites. Depending upon your specific needs, you are likely to combine two or more of these options. This essay briefly sketches some of the resources available to teachers seeking to integrate the web into their teaching, then discusses the merits of various textbook companion and general history web sites. Meant as an introduction rather than a critical review, this essay concludes by discussing what to consider when selecting and combining the four choices for using the web in teaching and will relate the experiences of the author in spring 1999 when using a basic course web site and a publisher's companion site for teaching U.S. history.
Course Web Sites and Template Programs
A basic course web site has several uses. Students can easily access and print syllabi, assignments, announcements, and handouts from the Internet any time of day, and you can make adjustments or additions throughout the term. You can also post public-domain documents or images for students to view in the classroom or as homework. The site might have links to other web sites with information about specific historical events and topics or to sites that provide additional documents and images. More of these sources are available on the Internet than in any one reader, and it can be easier to find and create links to them than it is to assemble a traditional coursepack.
A number of new programs have greatly simplified the creation of web pages. Both Microsoft's Word and Corel's WordPerfect programs now create documents in HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language—the code that instructs a computer how to display a document as a web page), and several web editors (programs designed specifically for creating web pages) such as Netscape Composer, Macromedia's Dreamweaver, and Microsoft's FrontPage are also available and easy to use.1 Books and informative web sites can help avoid common design mistakes and make a site more functional.
Once created, the course web site will have to go on a server. Your university, college, or department will likely have a server that will store the site so students can view it via the Internet.2
Please note that unless admittance to the site is restricted (such as with a password), anyone with access to the Internet will be able to view it as well. Password protection is an important concern for scanning and posting copyrighted materials for which you secure a limited permission to copy. A password guarantees that each user can copy the material exclusively for educational purposes to comply with the "fair use" exception to American copyright law.3
The ability to add password protection can be found in course web site development tools or template programs. These are software tools that provide the basic programming, components, and navigation for site building. You still have to supply all of the content and select which of the template's many features fit your particular needs, but by providing a general framework, templates give you more time to find and develop content. They also allow you to develop a more sophisticated site than you could design on your own. The most popular course web site development tool is WebCT (Web Course Tools), but there are several on the market, including Blackboard, Web-Course-in-a-Box, and TopClass.4 Many colleges and universities buy licenses to these programs in volume and encourage and support their instructors to use them when developing online courses and class web sites.
Sites designed with template programs can act like multimedia coursepacks with their built-in features for storing syllabi, assignments, handouts, links to other sites, and any additional material to be distributed. They also allow you to use the course web site as an interactive teaching tool by providing a wide variety of features that do more than help organize class materials online. Most templates provide bulletin boards, chat rooms, class-specific e-mail communication, and places for students to post individual and group projects online. Many can give timed quizzes and report the results to the instructor.
The programs also provide administrative tools. Several features allow for the creation of course calendars, class rosters, and student grade reports. Students can then make entries on their private versions of the course calendar, follow their own grades relative to class averages, and chart their progress. These are just a few of the features common to template programs. You choose which ones to include or exclude, but, despite all of these options, you still must provide all of the web site's content.
If you want to use your course web site as a multimedia coursepack, finding all of the materials to place on it—whether you design it on your own or use a template program—can be very time-consuming. Learning the operating rules of whatever particular course web site development tool has been adopted by your university also takes time. The real values of template programs are the password-protected environment they offer and the interactive and administrative tools they provide, making them popular choices for instructors who develop online distance courses.
Companion Web Sites as Multimedia Coursepacks and Interactive Teaching Tools
In the past few years, however, two types of web sites that market themselves as ready-made multimedia coursepacks have eliminated much of the need for scanning documents and images or combing the web for content material. First, textbook publishers offer companion web sites to supplement their major survey texts and second, various institutions and organizations have education gateway sites containing similar content but are not associated with a particular textbook. Textbook publishers' companion sites also aspire to be interactive online teaching tools, and a few of them have already included interactive features similar to those included in the template programs. To provide a more comprehensive product, several of the major textbook companies will likely incorporate the template programs directly into their sites over the next few years.
At a fundamental level, commercial publisher web sites or companion sites are multimedia coursepacks. They are supplementary tools, and, as with any of the new rapidly emerging technologies, they need not drastically change the content or style of a class. While not all companion sites contain the same types and quantities of materials, the better sites contain certain common components that other sites include only in varying degrees. Some contents are identical to what one finds in print supplements; others are slightly modified and improved because they are digital; and still others are wholly unique to the Internet. The central organizing feature of these web sites is that they marshal diverse materials according to the chapters of a particular textbook. A few of the more comprehensive sites also arrange their contents into thematic exercises and features.
If you want to use a particular publisher's web site, you must select that publisher's textbook for your course and, in several cases, have your students buy a license comparable in price to purchasing a printed reader or purchase a new edition of the textbook that includes access rights in its cost. Some sites are open but others are protected by passwords. Open sites do not charge access fees, generally have only public domain contents, and are likely building awareness and interest before restricting entry. If you select a textbook whose companion site is password protected and want your students to be able to view it, it is a simple process to arrange with the publisher for students to purchase access rights and obtain a site password when they buy the textbook through their college or university bookstore.
As an instructor, you can usually examine password-protected sites for review purposes. Sales representatives, online registration, and inserts in examination copies will often provide passwords, encouraging you to view the sites while deciding which texts to adopt. Some sites permit entry to two sample chapters just for this purpose. You can usually find the URL (Universal Resource Locator or web address) of a companion web site on the selected textbook's back cover or in its front pages. You can also search the web for the publisher's home page, which will lead you to the particular site needed. With the exception of W.W. Norton, most publishers have several U.S. survey textbooks. In most cases, the same materials are included in the companion sites for each book the publisher prints. Imbalances in development schedules, however, can sometimes leave one text without a new feature or exercise. If no site is associated with your particular book, the publisher might have a non-text-specific site or a site tied to some other text that can be accessed instead.
The content of any given commercial publisher web site can be quite varied, and not all sites have the same materials. Nearly every site, however, has hyperlinks to other web sites. These links might be to a Library of Congress American Memory exhibit, a specific document or image within a university library or archives site, or one of hundreds of sites by individuals, PBS, CNN, foundations, or college and university departments. Companion sites typically have from five to fifteen links per chapter, adding up to hundreds of links.
W. W. Norton, Longman, and Houghton Mifflin arrange their links both by chapters and by themes that cover subject areas such as slavery and the slave trade, post–World War II social changes, and American entertainment. Another feature offered by Longman is web-based activities, where students visit designated sites and answer questions about their content and organization in a special response area. Students type their answers into this space and can either print them or e-mail them directly to their instructor. Harcourt Brace and Prentice-Hall use hyperlinks and the Internet in yet another way. Rather than just providing lists of links, some of their sites include guided web searches. Much like tracing subject headings in library catalogs, they provide students with keywords to use when searching on the Internet and point them in the direction of several search engines and directories.
Companion web sites also offer an array of primary documents. They provide these either by having the sources on the sites themselves or by having links to other sites where they are posted. Every companion site relies upon links to other web sites for some sources, but the better sites contain hundreds of sources directly on their site, including most of the documents from every reader, which the publisher prints. As are the links, these on-site sources are arranged by chapter. Students can view the documents on-screen or print them. Several sites also provide thought questions for students to consider when reading the sources, and a few of them have response areas for students to record their answers. W. W. Norton, Longman, and Harcourt Brace use their primary sources in more elaborate features. Norton has a research section with 12 research modules that present students with questions about particular episodes or issues and provide them with documents, images, and links from which to fashion answers. Harcourt Brace's site for American Passages has several exercises per chapter that require students to analyze various documents and images to draw conclusions about a particular period or issue. Longman sites will soon have an area that groups primary sources into over 30 different discussion questions such as women in the early Republic, southern society and slavery, and the Cold War. Each discussion segment will include questions that require students to synthesize material from as few as four but as many as ten sources. Houghton Mifflin's Bibliobase and McGraw-Hill's Primis allow instructors to select primary sources online for inclusion in tailor-made print readers for students to purchase with their textbooks.
A few sites make good use of maps, images, and audio clips. W. W. Norton's site for America: A Narrative History has an impressive array of images for each chapter, as well as interactive maps that require the students to label the maps on the computer screen. Longman and Harcourt Brace both offer animated maps that demonstrate changes over time, and Longman has several narrated photo-essays in which an image montage is accompanied by an audio presentation on the particular event or topic documented in the pictures. Some sites have a small number of audio clips of presidential speeches or political advertisements, but none use video. Major textbook publishers hope to incorporate video, along with a more thorough use of interactive maps, images, and audio in the future, but their servers and most computers currently used by students and instructors are not equipped to handle comfortably the large storage capacity required by video, lengthy audio, and numerous interactive images. One solution has been to offer CD-ROMs with all of the material from the sites and other useful items. Technology will eventually allow for larger quantities of multimedia contents on companion sites, but for now it takes much longer to load and run these features than to view remote web sites.
The other major components of commercial publisher web sites look like the content found in printed study guides for students or what is already available in instructor supplements. Chapter summaries, learning objectives, review questions, and timelines help students study materials and prepare for exams, sometimes accompanied by response areas for recording, printing, and/or e-mailing answers. One McGraw-Hill site even provides students with the PowerPoint set of lecture outlines typically available to instructors. Most every companion site offers online multiple-choice, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank quizzes. Students can take 10- to 20-question quizzes for each chapter, and the computer will instantly grade them. The sites usually allow students to e-mail quiz results to their instructors, but they also allow them to take the tests repeatedly.
While the bulk of companion web site contents are in general-use or student sections, many sites have instructor areas with other useful materials. Longman sites have lists of professional links and downloadable images for classroom use. McGraw Hill sites have web versions of the instructor's manuals, maps, and PowerPoint lectures. While Houghton Mifflin sites have lecture notes for each chapter and instructor notes for the primary sources, the Harcourt site for Liberty, Equality, and Power has a testbank and answers for the web exercises in the student section.
To offer companion web sites as complete, multimedia coursepacks and instructor manuals, some textbook publishers have incorporated features that allow instructors to post their own web pages and additional materials, essentially allowing you to make your course web site a part of the companion site itself. These sites are stored on the publisher's server, bypassing the need for a departmental or university one, and only students enrolled in the course (and often purchasing rights for access to the companion site as a whole) can access it. Companion sites by Prentice-Hall and Longman, now both a part of Pearson Education, use Syllabus Manager, a program that allows instructors to customize a syllabus and course calendar with links to items throughout the companion site for specific assignments. McGraw-Hill has a similar program called PageOut.
Textbook publishers are also rapidly working to make their companion web sites interactive teaching tools. Longman sites have message boards where instructors and students can have asynchronous, serialized discussions and chat rooms for real-time communication. W. W. Norton and McGraw-Hill both offer message areas or bulletin boards. The next generation of Longman sites will soon offer features similar to the advanced administration options of the template programs. A gradebook and roster feature will allow for tracking students' progress and presenting it to them with a variety of reports. Students will also be able to submit homework, tests, quizzes, and essays in a more systematic fashion than the current response areas. Over the next few years, most textbook publishers will likely adopt one of the template programs already available with a complete array of features and incorporate it into their companion web sites.
General U.S. History Teaching Sites
In addition to the companion web sites published by textbook companies, several other organizations offer web sites one can use as multimedia coursepacks for teaching U.S. history surveys. These general U.S. history teaching sites have the same basic kinds of material as the commercial publisher sites. Some are openly accessible; others are available for a subscription to instructors and students whose textbook has no companion web site.
None of the three sites reviewed here offered the interactive tools found in template programs and some of the textbook publisher web sites.
Funded by several foundations and New Media learning centers, History Matters (http://historymatters.gmu.edu/) markets itself as a gateway to the web for high school and college history teachers as well as a source of primary texts and teaching discussions and tips. Admittedly strongest for the period between 1876 and 1946, the site includes a monthly puzzle or quiz along with over two hundred links and over one hundred primary sources. Thirty-nine activities are mostly links to lessons provided by the National Archives and Records Administration or to the Library of Congress's American Memory sites.
A handful of student Internet projects and three brief essays by major historians connecting current events to the past will be augmented over the next few years.
History Matters provides the transcripts of interviews with award-winning and veteran teachers as well as discussion forums on teaching topics that are moderated by well-known historians. The site is searchable by 20 topics such as consumer culture, religion, and America and the world.
Another useful general U.S. history site is A Hypertext on American History from the Colonial Period until Modern Times (http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/). Coordinated by George M. Welling in the Department of Alfa-Informatica (Humanities Computing) at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, this site is one of the more visually appealing history sites on the Internet. Strongest in periods before 1875, it too offers many of the same materials available on commercial publisher's companion web sites. Over 100 online documents accompany a separate section on the presidents, including their major speeches and links to presidential libraries and other informative web sites. A Hypertext on American History also includes extensive essays on American history, economy, literature, government, and geography from the U.S. Information Agency. Two of the more interesting features are over 30 essays about various topics in American history and over 50 biographies of famous Americans. While the authors of the essays mostly do not appear to be professional historians, some of the biographies are extensive.
A more comprehensive general U.S. history education site is The History Place (www.ushistoryplace.com) by Peregrine Publishers.5 This non-textbook-specific site covers equally all of American history and is actually a subscription web service for instructors and students whose textbook has no companion web site. Anyone can purchase a license to access the site (unlike publisher web sites, where only adopters of a particular textbook and their students can procure access). Organized into chapters much like those of standard U.S. history surveys, the site contains over 400 links and over 200 primary sources along with activities requiring students to synthesize material from several different sources and monthly essays by well-known historians as guest editors. For instructors, there are over 100 professional links to historical organizations, government agencies, and general U.S. history sites and a bulletin board area to share teaching tips and ideas.
Selecting and Using Commercial Publisher Web Sites
Until companion web sites are more comprehensive Internet teaching tools and have incorporated template programs, you may want to combine two or more of the four options cited in the introduction. A basic course web site is all one needs for posting a syllabus, assignments, and public domain texts and images. A template program allows posting to a site in a password-protected environment and offers additional navigation, interactive, and administrative tools. Publishers' companion sites do not yet offer all of the features available in template programs, but they do have content, so you will not have to search the Internet or scan on your own to populate a site from scratch.
If you are considering using a commercial publisher's companion web site or a general U.S. history teaching site, consider the site's navigability and content. Evaluate the difficulty or ease of both browsing through the site and finding specific materials. Is the site's organization clear? Does it present its components in more than one way? Does it have a search function? If you cannot find something, your students will not be able to retrieve what they want either. Not all companion sites have the same content, and not all sites contain as much interesting and useful material as they claim. Carefully evaluate a site's basic elements. Does it have sufficient primary materials, links, images, or other sources to make adopting it worthwhile for what you have in mind for the course? Are the contents embedded in excessively structured activities or are they easily accessible individually to use as you see fit? Can you post additional materials such as your syllabus and other sources on the site?
If you cannot post materials or do not want to take the time to learn the operating rules for doing so on a companion web site, simply create a link to the companion site from your basic course site or from one you create using a template program. Similarly, you can combine the interactive and administrative features of template programs with a companion web site by making a link to the companion site. See the table for a general comparison of the features included on seven publisher web sites and one general U.S. history site.
When teaching the first half of the U.S. survey in the spring of 1999, I combined a basic web site posted on my university's server with a companion site. On my own site, I included the syllabus, assignments, a study guide, handouts, a course calendar, and links to the companion site. It was very simple to make changes to the calendar and handouts as the semester progressed, and, since students could print from the site any time they wanted, I did not have to print, copy, and keep track of documents throughout the term. The students used the companion site for five types of assignments. They read and printed primary documents for discussions on servitude and slavery in the colonies and the origins of the Revolution, a group role play regarding abolitionism and southern society, and short essays about life in antebellum America. Another assignment required them to follow links from the companion site to web sites about particular topics and write brief analyses of the contents and organization of the sites. They also had to find another web site about the same or a similar topic and compare the presentation and bias of the two sites.6 The last assignment was a group project about some facet of economic, social, or political change between 1819 and 1859 in which six groups drew upon primary sources, images, and web sites to make presentations to the class.
Not all of the students had regularly used computers or the web before the class began. During the first week, one class meeting was dedicated to a demonstration of both the course web site and the companion site. The more "hands on" a training session can be the better, but, barring that, pass out step-by-step instructions with printouts of relevant screens. Within a few days I asked all the students through an anonymous poll what they thought about the web site and using it for the assignments. Sixty-one of the 70 who responded felt, as one woman wrote, they "got the hang of it pretty quickly." I scheduled one-on-one sessions during office hours with the few who still had questions, taking them through the site on my own computer. I asked the students about using the web and the web sites for the class in both midterm and final evaluations, and the responses were uniformly positive. They wrote that they would need to have more computer skills in the future than they already possessed, and one or two even admitted that computers had terrified them before they took the course and that the assignments forced them to become accustomed to computers and the web. They also said that using the computer to learn and teach themselves about history "made it more interesting than just lectures, discussions, and films."
Of the several ways to bring the Internet into your classroom, a good publisher web site will contain more information than you could find and arrange yourself. It will house hundreds of primary sources and links to other sites, numerous maps and images, and dozens of suggested assignments and activities. Many sites also have interactive and multimedia elements. All sites arrange these components by chapter, and some sites also arrange them by topic. You can easily combine a companion site with your own basic or template-program-designed site, and with so much material already organized with college instruction in mind, publisher web sites are perhaps the quickest and most effective way to incorporate the web into your teaching.
—J. Patrick McCarthy is a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia, where he teaches courses in U.S. and world history. He is currently researching higher education reform and economic development in the 19th-century South. Since 1998 he has been a consultant for several U.S. history web sites and CD-ROMs from Addison-Wesley-Longman and Peregrine Publishers.
1. You may have to install custom options from your installation disks for Word and WordPerfect to create web pages with these programs. Download Netscape Communicator, of which Netscape Composer is one program, by going to http://home.netscape.com and following the SmartUpdate and download options. Free demonstrations are also available for Dreamweaver (www.macromedia.com) and FrontPage (www.microsoft.com/frontpage).
2. In the event that your institution does not have server space available, most Internet service providers are now allowing customers to post web pages. With the right software, you can also run your own computer as a server.
3. There are many places to find information about Internet copyright issues. Consult "Regents Guide to Understanding Copyright and Educational Fair Use" from the University System of Georgia Office of Legal Affairs www.peachnet.edu/admin/legal/copyright/copy.html); "Copyright and Fair Use" from Stanford University Libraries (http://fairuse.stanford.edu/internet); "Copyright and Multimedia Law for Webbuilders and Multimedia Authors" from University of Iowa Libraries (www.lib.uiowa.edu/proj/webbuilder/copyright.html); and the "Copyright Crash Course" from the Copyright Management Center at the University of Texas System Administration's Office of General Counsel (www.utsystem.edu/ogc/intellectualproperty/cprtindx.htm).
4. For a more complete listing of template programs see "Tools for Developing Interactive Academic Web Courses" from the University of Manitoba (www.umanitoba.ca/ip/tools/courseware/model.html), which discusses the emerging model of interactive web courses and their basic features and "Comparisons of Online Course Delivery Software Products" from Marshall University (http://multimedia.marshall.edu/cit/webct/compare/comparison.html), which reviews most of the programs and includes links to their corporate sites for further information.
5. There is another general history site called The History Place (http://historyplace.com) that is less complete than Peregrine's History Place, but it does have a few nice features.
6. To help students learn how to critically view the web the same way they should critically view other media, see "Teaching Undergrads Web Evaluation: A Guide for Library Instruction" from Jim Kapoun at the American Library Association (http://www.ala.org/acrl/undwebev.html) and "A Student's Guide to Research with the WWW" from Craig Branham at St. Louis University (www.slu.edu/departments/english/research).
Textbook Publisher Web Sites
Bedford/St. Martin's. Available from http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/history. Accessed October 14, 1999.
Harcourt Brace. "Harcourt History Online." Available from http://www.harbrace.com/hist. Accessed October 15, 1999.
Houghton Mifflin. "Houghton Mifflin: The Primary Source for History." Available from http://www.hmco.com/college/history. Accessed September 7, 1999.
McGraw-Hill. "History." Available from http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/history. Accessed September 28, 1999.
Prentice-Hall. "Companion Website Gallery." Available from http://www.prenhall.com/pubguide. Accessed October 5, 1999.
W. W. Norton. "History: Titles in History." Available from http://www.wwnorton.com/histres.htm. Accessed September 16, 1999.
Suggested Readings on Site Design
Lynch, Patrick J. and Sarah Horton. Web Style Guide: Basic Design Principles for Creating Web Sites. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.
Parker, Roger C. Web Design & Desktop Publishing for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Publishing Worldwide. 1997.
Williams, Robin and John Tollet. The Non-Designer's Web Book: An Easy Guide to Creating, Designing, and Posting Your Own Web Site. Berkeley, Calif.: Peachpit Press, 1998.
Sun Microsystems. "Guide to Web Style". Available from http://www.sun.com/styleguide. Accessed October 20, 1999.
Yale Center for Advanced Instructional Media. "Web Style Guide." Available from http://info.med.yale.edu/caim/manual/contents.html. Accessed October 20, 1999.