Using scholarly, on-line resources to facilitate class discussions and writing assignments can be a boon to history instruction. Such websites place a wide array of conveniently-formatted primary and well-considered secondary sources in students’ hands for free. Additionally, they serve as tools to help students become more discerning in their internet usage. Although there are many valid reasons to continue using more traditional printed resources, moving some assignments over to the internet is worth considering.
On a more practical level, well-formatted writing assignments based on internet sources can ease some of the most blatant issues of academic dishonesty. Most scholarly sites contain huge amounts of information, often more than undergraduates — especially freshmen and sophomores — are able to contend with. Well defined questions aimed at exploring limited sections of specific websites not only comfort inexperienced scholars, they also offer course leaders a great deal of source control. Plagiarized essays stand out even when finding their origins is difficult because they simply fail to include the assigned sources.
Some of the websites I have assigned include Jamestown Rediscovery; Geography of Slavery; Railroads and the Making of Modern America; Black Past.org; and Farm Workers in Washington State History Project. A number of these work both for Regional History courses and the US survey sequence. The exciting thing about all these sites is the huge number of interesting assignments that can be generated. I encourage scholars already using these resources to share them with our colleagues. Perhaps we can develop some sort of repository in the near future.
Kurt E. Kinbacher
Spokane Falls Community College