EDSITEment: The Best of the Humanities on the Web for High School Students

Candace Katz
The value of technology in the classroom continues to be a matter of fierce debate. On the one hand, there are the doubters, who believe that digital resources are simply an update on the classroom filmstrip and just about as effective. Then there are the true believers, who think technology can solve all problems from student apathy to teacher burn-out. The makers of EDSITEment, the Internet learning guide described in this article, take a positive yet realistic position: we think that digital resources can have a highly positive effect on humanities teaching and learning in classrooms at all levels. However, we know that there are many obstacles to good results—most notably, a welter of very bad materials (both websites and CD-ROMs) and a large cadre of humanities teachers who lack adequate time, preparation, training, and equipment to take advantage of the best digital tools available.
The EDSITEment project, located at http://edsitement.neh.gov, seeks to ameliorate these problems. It is a meta-site with links to educational sites on the Web that provide accurate, current, accessible, and rich information in such core humanities subjects as history/social studies, literature/language arts, government, and foreign languages. It is meant to guide teachers through the labyrinth of approximately 66,000 so-called educational sites on the World Wide Web. Moreover, for teachers hesitant to put their foot into alien waters, it includes learning guides to help orient both teachers and students in use of the Web. They include knowledge about how to evaluate sites for accuracy and how to cite sources on the Web in classwork. Even more importantly, the guides give teachers examples of how particular sites can be used to enrich classroom learning.

How are the Sites Chosen?
The process of choosing sites for this project duplicates the multi-tiered national peer review process used by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in granting awards. In this case, a call was sent out to humanities teachers at schools and colleges around the country—on listservs and by e-mai#151;to nominate what they considered the best of the humanities websites currently available. We received well over 300 nominations, which were reduced to 70 using the following criteria:

The URLs (Web addresses) of the 70 sites chosen were then sent to a peer review panel of nine members, all scholars and teachers of the humanities, who rated each site during a two-week period. A meeting of the peer review panel resulted in narrowing the sites to 20, which were further vetted and ultimately endorsed by a Blue Ribbon panel of educators from groups including National Council for the Social Studies, the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the National Parent Teacher Association.

Social Studies and EDSITEment
Many of the first 20 sites have particular relevance to history and social studies classes, and can be easily accessed by choosing this category within EDSITEment. A number of these sites treat United States history, culture, and government, for example, the American Memory site of the Library of Congress; The Digital Classroom of the National Archives and Records Administration; The New Deal Network, documentary resources for the study of FDR and his Depression-era programs; Oyez, Oyez, Oyez: A Supreme Court Reference, a site on major Supreme Court cases; and The Valley of the Shadow, a rich multimedia data base on two communities divided by the Civil War.
Other EDSITEment sites can enrich the development of a unit, or provide individual or group assignments or projects, in the social studies. For example, NativeWeb provides resources concerning indigenous peoples from around the world, as well as many useful materials on Native Americans. Similarly, the Detroit Institute of Arts site contains artwork from around the world, including the United States. The Columbus and the Age of Discovery site presents multiple perspectives on the voyage to the New World, and clearly has relevance for American studies. The ArchNet site, a virtual library of images and field data for archeological study, includes American as well as foreign sites. Additionally, two sites on American Literature, the Nathaniel Hawthorne site and the American Verse Project site, can provide an extension of assignments to include the cultural context for historical events.
The EDSITEment search engine performs simple searches—for instance, of such key words as Christopher Columbus—across all of the sites in EDSITEment, as well as more complex searches for the computer-savvy instructor.

Getting Started
There is much rich data—including primary documents—at these sites, and the EDSITEment study guides provide detailed lesson plans and exercises that draw on materials from different sites. For example, one exercise asks students to view the photograph, “A Harvest of Death,” taken after the Battle of Gettysburg by Timothy O’Sullivan, a member of the Mathew Brady photographic team (American Memory website). The exercise leads students through a series of questions to comment on the attitudes that the photograph expresses. Students are then asked to locate other sources to support their interpretation. The teacher then asks students to examine World War II posters from the National Archives’ “Powers of Persuasion” exhibit online at The Digital Classroom. Students are asked to consider how national enemies are viewed in these images.
This partial lesson plan illustrates the possibilities that open up when teachers have authentic materials easily available. In addition to bringing two historical eras to life for students, these lessons should help them learn to critically analyze visual materials, to evaluate and compare primary documents, and to follow a structured approach to Internet research, as opposed to the mindless surfing that goes on far too often.
The next step for teachers is to design their own exercises tailored to the subject matter they are teaching. For example, in a lesson on the Civil War, the teacher might begin with the Mathew Brady collection at the American Memory site and proceed to The Valley of the Shadow. There, students might choose from the database a particular soldier who fought at Gettysburg and seek more information about this individual by uncovering letters or diaries commenting on his war experiences. Such an exercise would enable students to experience the excitement of discovering historical materials.

Following Up
Launched in October 1997, EDSITEment has already been used in a number of classrooms across the country. In February 1998, we held the second peer review panel to choose additional sites, which will come online this spring. Through the “Talk to Us” feature, we are hoping to receive more comments, queries, suggestions, and advice from the teachers who use the site. We are particularly interested in lesson plans and exercises relating to EDSITEment that teachers would like to share, and we will feature the best plans on a special page of the site. Finally, NEH will feature EDSITEment in Schools for a New Millennium, which will provide intensive professional development for teachers who wish to use digital materials effectively in their humanities classroom.
In the long run, we think that educational technology will not go the way of the filmstrip if it genuinely adds value to teaching and learning. From our combined experiences with teachers over the years, it is clear that they are looking to technology to enrich their classrooms and encourage students to think critically. We hope that EDSITEment goes some distance in helping teachers with some of the hardest and most important work being accomplished today.

Candace Katz is deputy director in the Division of Research and Education of the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, DC. For more information on EDSITEment or Schools for a new Millennium, call toll free 1-800-NEH-1121.

EDSITEment sites

African Studies WWW
Cultural, educational, and informational resources covering the continent.

American Association of Teachers of French
Resources on France and global French culture.

American Memory (Library of Congress)
Archival resources for exploring many aspects of the American experience.

American Verse Project
Electronic archive of American poetry prior to 1920.

A virtual library of images and field data for archeological study.

Columbus and the Age of Discovery
Multiple perspectives on the voyage to the New World.

The Detroit Institute of Arts
An electronic gallery of artwork from all periods and cultures.

The Digital Classroom (National Archives and Records Administration)
Historical documents, activities, and training for educators and students.

The Galileo Project
The history of modern science reflected in the life of its seminal practitioner.

Labyrinth: Resources for Medieval Studies
Texts, images, and commentary for the study of the Middle Ages.

LANIC: Latin American Network Information Center
Resources for study of South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
A richly documented portrait of the author of
The Scarlet Letter.

Links to resources concerning indigenous peoples from around the world.

New Deal Network
Documentary resources for the study of FDR and his Depression-era programs.

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez: A Supreme Court WWW Resource
Court opinions and background on major constitutional cases.

Perseus Project
Maps, texts, translations, and commentary for students of the ancient world.

Romantic Circles
Texts and contexts for students of Byron, the Shelleys, Keats, and their contemporaries.

SARAI: South Asia Resource Access on the Internet
Links to information about India, Pakistan, and other South Asian countries.

The Valley of the Shadow
Multimedia resources bring to life two communities divided by the Civil War.

The Victorian Women Writers Project
Texts and contexts for students of 19th-century British literature.

©1998 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.