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Peer Review

After Slavery Website

by Bruce Baker , Brian Kelly , Susan O'Donovan


Overall Rating:

4.25 stars
Content Quality: 4.75 stars
Effectiveness: 4 stars
Ease of Use: 4.25 starsstar
Reviewed: Sep 19, 2011 by History Editorial Board
Overview: The site is the work of four scholars in the U.S., Ireland, and U.K. who want to make available “a range of high-quality materials for exploring and analyzing one of the most tumultuous and critically important periods” in U.S. history. The ultimately goal of the authors is to offer “students and educators alike a comprehensive array of tools for coming to terms with the history of slave emancipation in the United States.” The site highlights not only the attempt of African-Americans to overcome racial oppression but also a “bitter struggle” between ex-slaves and former masters to control the fundamental changes “in the social and economic order” that automatically resulted from the end of a forced labor system. Because freedom came to the slaves at different times and in different ways, and because the strength of white oppression varied across the South based on a variety of factors, the authors decided to focus their attention on North and South Carolina. “Together these two states reflect the productive, demographic and geographical diversity of the region as a whole.” Among the types of materials available are the following: text and visual primary sources; interactive maps; web resources found elsewhere on the web; a blog; and “learning units,” which really comprise a virtual textbook divided into 10 chapters. The site is about to migrate to an updated version. On 7-15-11, those interested could view a beta version of that updated version, and this review is largely based upon that beta version, which is organized somewhat differently than the first one. At that time, the primary sources section had not yet been populated, and the interactive maps were not complete. However, the other segments of the site appear complete.
Learning Goals: The authors’ “long-term aim in launching the After Slavery site is to build an interactive educational resource--one that becomes an online meeting place for anyone interested in pursuing this remarkable chapter in our past.” However, they admit that the site is a work-in-progress. “As you return to the site from month to month, you will see changes in the kinds of resources available here and growing emphasis on interactive learning.” The virtual textbook or “learning units” are designed to increase historical thinking through document-based inquiry.
Target Student Population: High school (11th and 12th grades) and college/university students; social studies teachers or people in the general public who want to learn more about the subject
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Reading skills equivalent to 11th grade levels; a small amount of knowledge about the violence and oppression that were part of slavery prior to emancipation
Type of Material: The authors call it an online course. I could see calling it an online textbook or a reference material just as easily.
Recommended Uses: 1. Once the primary sources are loaded, a teacher could design a scavenger hunt, exposing students to a broad array of material in the process. 2. Teachers could assign particular documents for analysis, either using the unit questions provided by the virtual textbook, by using the NARA worksheet, or by designing another type of analysis assignment. 3. Teachers could assign a term paper and insist that this site provide a certain number of the citations. For upper-level college courses, a paper that requires students to compare and contrast the site’s info on a topic with the info provided by their other assigned sources would work well. 4 Teachers could use the interactive timeline in class to illustrate a lecture or discussion.
Technical Requirements: None beyond Internet access and working computer.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: 1. The virtual textbook has excellent content, both secondary and primary, and it asks students thought-provoking questions about each primary source. 2. The blog allow students to ask questions about things they don’t understand. 3. The interactive timeline is easy to use. 4. The use of primary sources is excellent in the "Learning Units," which consist of the chapters of the virtual textbook. 5. The critical character of the years 1861-1873 becomes very clear, as does the extent of white resistance to Reconstruction.
Concerns: 1. No primary sources are mounted yet separately (outside of the virtual textbook) in a searchable format (in the beta site). 2. The interactive maps are not completed on the beta site. 3. The link to outside web materials is not visible from the homepage.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4 stars
Strengths: 1. Once the site’s construction is finished, knowledgeable teachers will probably be able to adapt the site to their needs. 2. The questions for each unit in the chapters of the virtual textbook are excellent and appropriate. 3. The interactive maps and timeline are pretty engaging.
Concerns: 1. The site, in spite of the virtual textbook, is not set up in the easiest way for teachers to use. There are no lesson plans that lay out how teachers should use or approach the materials. There are no references to national or state standards. 2. Only the overall learning objective of creating an interactive resource is clearly mentioned, although implicit is the desire to improve general understanding of the topics of emancipation and Reconstruction. 3. There is nothing to indicate which grades particular parts of the site are aimed at. 4. I would not call the questions for each unit in the chapters of the virtual textbook engaging. 5. The interactive maps and timeline are not clearly tied to particular types of assessments or assignments. 6. Whether something was an effective use of student time would depend entirely on how well the teacher designed a particular assignment or activity.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.25 stars
Strengths: 1. Navigation is easy for the most part. 2. Both the beta site and the original site seem well-maintained.
Concerns: 1. The page with the external web sources listed is not accessible directly from the homepage. One has to click on "Blog" first. 2. I think each chapter of the virtual textbook, and the textbook overall, needs to have a table of contents or a way to move from one part of a chapter to another. If someone wants to get to the middle of a chapter, she can be doing a lot of clicking.

Other Issues and Comments: Once the new version of the site is fully launched, it might be worthwhile to have another peer evaluation done. Since the site is undergoing a transformation of sorts, parts of what I said may not be true in six months or a year.