Introduction to Individual Web Projects for the US Survey

For the past three years I have been using the group Web Modules I developed for the two semester U.S. Survey. These were developed as part of the AHA "Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age" project. During the first four semesters in which I used my Web Modules, I have been able to assess student learning and the way that student interact with the World Wide Web. The group modules had been developed to introduce students to primary historical sources and to gradually teach the skills necessary to carryout historical analysis. One of my early discoveries is that students have a difficult time reacting critically to materials. This is especially true of materials on the Web. Students seem to accept the materials on web sites as if they were peer reviewed or can be taken at face value. They had a particularly hard time judging materials that were presented in a very academic way. There was another influence on my developing two Individual Web Projects for each semester of the survey. Students generally liked the Web Modules, but did not enthusiastically support working in groups. Thus, I was looking for a way to allow them to do individual work. These projects serve that purpose and provide an added bonus. Having students search the web for sites has identified a number of wonderful web sites I was unaware of and will be able to incorporate into the materials used in the course.

All four of the Individual Web Projects are the same except that the historical period is changed. For the first half of the survey, I have students search for materials on Colonial America and for the period 1790-1865. In the second half of the survey, students look for materials for the periods 1865-1912 and 1913-1945. In both semesters, the Individual Web Projects are the first and fourth online exercises during the semester. The focus of all of them is to teach students to be critical about historical materials. Because they are so similar it is easy to evaluate if more attention has to be paid to specific parts of the exercise or if they are learning critical skills. These projects also reinforce the skills that are emphasized on the group Web Modules and gives them confidence to make their own evaluations.

To date, the students seem to like the exercise. They find it non-threatening and enjoy being able to look for interesting materials. The biggest difficulty is making sure the sites they select have primary documents. This requirement, however, provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss the nature of historical documentation. Moreover, they have found some wonderful web sites and I have been given another opportunity to teach the skills necessary for historical analysis. Feel free to copy all or part of these exercises. The three web sites cited are very good places to start thinking about the problem of critically evaluating World Wide Web materials. If you wish to contact me, I am always happy to discuss my projects.