I have been using the Internet in the history classroom for about seven years now. Whilst at the beginning this new hypertext environment appeared undoubtedly revolutionary, for me, it was the communication possibilities that accompanied it that excited most. The Internet had the potential to break down spatial and temporal barriers that restricted student learning. The Internet would enabling students to communicate with other students, other teachers, other interested groups, at anytime and anywhere in the world. Yet seven years on, the hypertext environment has grown exponentially and Internet communication for learning is still largely an unfulfilled potential. What are the reasons for this? Perhaps this might be the first point of discussion?
This is a subject that I have given a lot of thought to recently. Three months ago I decided to devote a section of my website to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. During my research I came across James Fetzer, the author of several books on the assassination. He teaches at the University of Minnesota and has written over 20 books on artificial intelligence and the philosophy of science. Fetzer’s approach to the assassination is that of a scientist (his first book on the subject was called Assassination Science).
Fetzer invited me to join his JFK Research Forum. This is a group of scientists, historians and journalists carrying out research into the assassination. The forum is used in two main ways: (1) people post details of their latest research and this is then debated by other members; (2) people ask questions about specific aspects of the case.
This group were in fact acting in a very similar way to the people who created the web. In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee began investigating ways in which a group of physicists working for the European Centre for Nuclear Research in Geneva could improve their communication system. The problem they faced was that they were living and working in different countries and found sharing research information difficult. Berners-Lee solved this problem by writing software that linked the scientist’s computers together. This enabled them to retrieve and handle data on each other’s computers. Understandably this idea was given the name “World Wide Web”.
Forum software has taken this sharing of research one stage further. Information is shared openly between all members of the group at the same time. It seemed to me that Fetzer and his friends had adapted this approach to the study of history. However, communication was restricted to a fairly small group of people.
As one can imagine, this JFK Research Forum has become an invaluable source of information and has made the job of producing materials on the JFK assassination far easier than it would have been. It therefore got me thinking about if it is possible to adopt this approach to teaching in schools.
What I have done is to put a link from every page (now over 200) on the assassination to a specifically created forum on the subject. It is also linked to a series of student activities on the assassination. This includes activities that enable students to consider the different theories of the assassination that have been developed so far by researchers. They are also encouraged to develop their own theories. http://www.spartacus...uk/JFKindex.htmhttp://www.spartacus...JFKresearch.htmhttp://educationforu...p?showforum=126
So far I have created this forum for teachers. However, I now plan to create another section for students. This will enable them to read what the teachers have said about the assassination as well as having the right to post questions and comments on the topic.
To help answer these questions I have persuaded several experts (ten so far) on the subject to take part in this experiment. I am also trying to get important witnesses to the events surrounding the assassination to take part. So far I have persuaded two very important figures in the case to answer questions. Hopefully, I will be able to convince others to join in. I am also currently negotiating with two men who have both confessed to being involved in the assassination.
This approach could be taken with other topics. For example, I am considering starting up a similar forum on the Home Front during the Second World War. Please contact me if you have any elderly relatives who would be willing to answer student questions on this subject. I have four elderly relatives who have agreed to take part (one soldier who fought in Middle East, two women who endured the Blitz and a child who was evacuated). Only one of these is computer literate and therefore I will organize their registration and the posting of the answers of the other three. Are there any members who could help me with this? Do you have parents, uncles, aunts, etc. who might like to take part in this project. I am especially keen to get people from a wide variety of different countries to take part. For example, it would then be possible to have people from both the UK and Germany answering questions on subjects like air raid shelters and food rationing. I am sure students would find the activity very stimulating. I will probably link the forum to my simulation on the home front during the war. I will then expand this out to cover other countries and other aspects of the war. http://www.spartacus...t.co.uk/2WW.htmhttp://www.spartacus....uk/2WWhome.htmhttp://www.spartacus...k/2WWhomeAC.htm