Guides for the perplexed

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
Gareth Davies helps humanities explorers pick their way forward

As more schools gain access to the Internet, so teachers need careful guidance in developing the skills required to navigate their way around and provide a focus for their students.

Parameters then need to be set to encourage pupils to use such a vast resource effectively. These might include setting time limits to "surfing"; setting up an activity Web page with appropriate links or setting word limits on pieces of work, forcing pupils to edit extracts they might download. These techniques can help to ensure that use of the Internet is structured and planned.

How then can the average humanities teacher make good use of the Internet? First, focus on one or two aspects of the period or theme you are studying.

The teacher is more likely to be successful if students are clearly focused on one or two sites. These must either contain most of the information needed or clearly supplement other sources they might draw on, such as printed material or CD-Rom.

It is possible to find rich and untapped veins of information that are only scantily covered by UK text books. For example, while studying 19th century social conditions, students might focus on the Irish Famine of 1845-51.

A good starting point is the Emory University site. Here can be found text and illustrations from the Illustrated London News, Pictorial Times and Punch, together with commentary on how these publications viewed the Irish and the hardship they endured at the time.

Follow this by looking at the site provided by Christopher K Smith Productions. Apart from a multitude of links to other sites that cover the Great Famine, this provides different viewpoints from historians, scientific information on potato blight and the text of contemporary accounts, songs, stories and poetry. There is even blight simulation software to download and use with the class.

Other sites, however, need more careful study. For example, Anglia Multimedia puts material on its site to support its CD-Rom titles, including one on Nelson.

If studying the role of the individual in history, there is a great deal of information on these pages incorporating primary and secondary source material such as the text of Nelson's letters and information on the crew of HMS Victory. This is complemented by a link page to other sites on Nelson, including Norfolk's Inspection, Advice amd Training Services site with information and pictures of places connected with Nelson in his home county. There is certainly enough here to supplement a biographical study.

For geography the Internet is powerful when collecting contemporary data and information. There are lots of sites for the physical geographer with new material on the weather, earthquakes and volcanic activity ar-ound the world. Similarly, concepts such as distance and place can be put in context by using real data such as Australian air and rail timetables in order to organise a "virtual", tour including a resume of what to visit.

* Gareth Davies is multimedia manager with Anglia Multimedia

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