To an unusual extent this pamphlet draws upon my own experience as a teacher and researcher. Most of the examples come from my class assignments and from my students’ responses. So I should explain how I became interested in using the web in my teaching in the first place. I am an “early adopter.” I went to a workshop the college information technology director gave in the early 1990s and was mesmerized by the possibilities. Here seemed a way to realize several of my core goals as a teacher. One had always been to change the way my students read. Too often they looked for some single, main point, whether there was one or not. Rarely did they try to put what they were reading into context. But how were they to acquire a sense of context? Thomas Jefferson had a reading desk built that incorporated the idea of the lazy Susan. It had several book caddies. This way Jefferson could consult the works the author of the book he was reading was responding to. His rule, that you should never read a book by itself, was the opposite of my student’s practice. They had little or no sense that they were participants in an ongoing conversation about how and why things happen as they do.
Another goal had been to get beyond the ersatz questions historians routinely plague their students with. I recall taking a course in early modern Europe as a sophomore. One of four questions on a mid-term was: “Discuss the consequences of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.” By the time I got to that question, eight minutes remained of the fifty-minute period. So I scribbled down the obvious in four or five very brief paragraphs. The point, which has rankled me ever since, is that the question had nothing in common with what historians actually do. How was I to give my students genuine tasks? Doing history means having access to all kinds of sources. I could hardly march my students down the road to the American Antiquarian Society and let them loose among its collections.
Looking at a web page for the first time I was swept up in the possibilities. Here was, as a colleague put it, the electronic equivalent of Jefferson’s desk. Here were links to who knew what primary materials. Since that first workshop I have spent years at work and at play online trying to realize some of the possibilities I sensed that first day. I use the phrase “at play” deliberately.
About the Author
John F. McClymer is professor of history at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he has taught for more than three decades. He did his undergraduate work at Fordham College and his MA and PhD at SUNY at Stony Brook. He is the author of seven books – most recently The Birth of Modern America, 1919-1939 (Brandywine Press, 2005) – and scores of articles and book chapters, several of which deal with teaching and with using the Internet. He is also co-editor of H-Ethnic and a member of H-Net's Teaching Committee. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships and grants. Currently he is working with the Worcester Public Schools, the American Antiquarian Society, and Old Sturbridge Village on two major initiatives. One, to create online resources for high school teachers on antebellum America, is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The other is a professional development program funded by the Department of Education under a Teaching American History grant. Two projects he directed or co-directed have been cited by EDSITEment as exemplary humanities web sites.
This site is dedicated to Lucia Knoles, the best of colleagues.
Bob Fry, director of information technology at Assumption College, led the workshop on the Internet in which I first glimpsed some of the possibilities new media held for teaching and learning. Bob has been a continuous source of ideas, encouragement, and indispensable technical assistance ever since. So has his staff, headed by Mimi Roysten.
As an early adopter I had the good fortune to get to know some of the pioneering members of the emerging scholarly community dedicated to exploring what we could do with the web that we could not with traditional means and media. Among the many I learned from are Randy Bass, who directed an Annenberg Foundation study I participated in, and Roy Rosenzweig, who was busily turning George Mason University into a center for teaching with technology. I also had the opportunity to serve on a panel at the Library of Congress with Ed Ayers just as his “Valley of the Shadow” project began to demonstrate some of what was possible. On that same panel I met Kitty Sklar. She and Tom Dublin went on to create the “Women and Social Movements” project at SUNY Binghamton, now an online journal published by Alexander Street Press. Kitty and Tom invited me to participate in several conference panels with them and have been a constant source of advice.
Another fortunate meeting was with Arnold Pulda, currently with the Worcester Public Schools central administration, who invited me to lead a session for a New Media Classroom (NMC) workshop. That led to a long-term association with NMC, and with Josh Brown, its director, and Donna Thompson Ray, its education director. Through them I have had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, faculty from all across the country. Richard Jensen, one of the founders of H-Net and author of several very valuable online guides, invited me to co-edit H-Ethnic with him, an experience that has proven very valuable and that introduced me into yet another virtual community of people committed to realizing the potential of new media. Steve Mintz, who chaired H-Net’s teaching committee when I first joined it and whose “Digital History” project is a model for all of us seeking to help teachers use online resources, has proven an especially helpful advisor as well as a steadfast friend.
Closer to home, Jim Moran, director of outreach for the American Antiquarian Society, co-directed with me a project on the history of the first national woman’s rights conventions, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Jim is a key player in two grants I co-direct with Colleen Kelly of the Worcester Public Schools. One is a NEH project on developing curricular materials and the other is a professional development program funded by the Teaching American History initiative of the Department of Education. The endowment also funded “E Pluribus Unum,” a three-year project to put online teaching materials for the “critical decades” of the 1770s, 1850s, and 1920s. Arnold Pulda created lesson plans for all three. And Lucia Knoles, who co-directed the project, taught me more about web design, teaching, and being a colleague, than I can possibly do justice to in words.
As this partial listing of those who have helped me shows, using new media is a community undertaking. This is especially true of teaching. My most important colleagues in this enterprise are my students. They have put up with my often fumbling attempts to design effective projects. They have given me permission to use their notes and comments in this guide. And they have vindicated my core belief that students can perform at far higher levels than we routinely assume. A number of them worked on the women’s history and “E Pluribus Unum” projects: Sabrina Zadrozny, Teresa Battaglio, Maura J. Ford, and Jared Procopio all designed pages I used online.
Robert Townsend and Chris Hale of the AHA have proven invaluable in figuring out how this guide could be both a web site and a pamphlet. So have several colleagues who made valuable suggestions. As the Introduction to the print version explains, this was no simple job. Nor was getting the web site into shape. Lis Grant, Web Content Editor for the AHA, proved a wonderful collaborator and designer.