Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000, according to its founders, "is a resource for students and scholars of U.S. history and U.S. women's history. Organized around the history of women in social movements in the U.S. between 1600 and 2000, the collection seeks to advance scholarly debates and understanding at the same time that it makes the insights of women's history accessible to teachers and students at universities, colleges, and high schools. The collection includes more than 100 document projects or archives and 3,950 documents and 150,000 pages of additional full-text sources, written by almost 2,200 primary authors." It also includes book, film, and website reviews, notes from the archives, and teaching tools. It continues to grow with two new issues/releases annually." However, that description actually applies to the full sources available only by subscription from the Alexander Street Press. This particular free site "is intended to provide interested students and scholars an overview of the subscription website, to offer freely-accessible examples of document projects, and to introduce prospective contributors to the process of preparing a document project or archive for publication on the website." Hence, it is much more limited in scope.
Type of Material:
Teachers could use this site in two ways. First, they could mine the site for a particular primary source or sources that support general textbook readings on a particular subject. For example, to supplement the history of second-wave feminism and the push-back it received, a teacher might select one or two primary sources related to the fight for the ERA in Iowa. Good examples might be “Rights or Persons. All men are by nature, free and equal” a TV ad from 1992 or “Iowa ERA, General Election, Erma Bombeck” a radio ad from 1980. In this case, the teacher would probably be seeking to make the subject more personal or more real to the students and/or be trying to enhance regular class discussion.
Second, teachers could create their own lesson plan (or use one available on the site in a few cases) in connection with an entire set of documents on a particular topic. Using the example of the Iowa ERA, there are links to 25 primary sources freely available on the site. These are divided into those related to the 1980 effort and those related to the 1992 campaign. In addition, there is a list of Related Links that might also be useful in crafting the lesson plan. Possible assignments for students could range from writing a research paper, to holding a class debate, to having an in-class discussion comparing the arguments deployed in the two time periods. A teacher could even design a document-based question (DBQ) if he or she wished.
Internet access and printing capability
Identify Major Learning Goals:
Learning goals vary from one set of materials to another, each being based around a particular topic. Such topics range from “How Did Iowa Coalitions Campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment in 1980 and 1992?” to “How Did Oberlin Women Students Draw on Their College Experience to Participate in Antebellum Social Movements, 1831-1861?” Overall, however, the goal appears to be to introduce students to the activism of women in particular historical settings.
For example, the abstract for the first topic listed above says, “This project examines how proponents of the Iowa State Equal Rights Amendment Coalition presented the amendment to the public during the failed referendum campaigns of 1980 and 1992. This project draws upon pamphlets, brochures, letters, and television and radio advertisements to illuminate the way in which the Iowa ERA was framed in the public debate.”
Target Student Population:
The website developers indicate that it is targeted to "high school, college, and university teachers and students." To be more precise, the website is targeted for teachers of students in high school, but teachers at other levels may be able to develop lesson plans for their own students using these materials.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
The site appears to assume that teachers will print off the documents and other materials that they wish to use for their classes. Therefore, students do not need particular computer competence skills.
In the area of prerequisite academic concepts and skills, students will need either to be familiar with reading primary sources and teasing out their meanings or teachers will need to make that one of the goals of their lesson.
• The whole thing is based upon primary sources.
• Quality of available materials is high.
• Coherence of Document Projects and Archives that are available, of the Teaching Strategies that are available, and of the DBQs is high. Accuracy of the introductions to issues in the DBQ and in the Document Projects and Archives that are available is high.
• Accuracy of transcription of the documents also appears high.
• The scholarship is excellent. Many of those associated with the project are well-known in the field of women’s history. They include Catherine Clinton and Nancy A. Hewitt among others.
• Historical significance and contemporary relevance are always a matter of perspective. However, since this project fits firmly in the area of social history that has been such a focus of research for the last 35 years, I believe its historical significance should be rated highly. I also believe that women’s history in general continues to be relevant to contemporary issues.
• The site’s breadth of perspective seemed to vary somewhat by topic. For example, on the Iowa ERA fight, the views of opponents are seen only through the eyes of ERA supporters. On the other hand, the subject of achieving woman’s suffrage in Colorado in the late nineteenth century has documents from both proponents and opponents of the measure.
• Overall coherence of site is marred by number of items that are teasers to get subscriptions to the Alexander Street Press version. It can be frustrating trying to figure out whether a particular Teaching Strategy or Document Project is available free or only through the Alexander Street Press subscription.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
• The basic segments of the site appear in navigation bars that are at the top and bottom of each page of the site. Within each segment, there is a secondary navigation bar to facilitate movement within that segment. Therefore, using a navigation bar near the bottom of the page, one can navigate within the Teacher’s Corner from the DBQs to Other Classroom Uses and to Teaching Links. Within each DBQ, one can also navigate easily from one piece to another. For example, in the DBQ about “The 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike,” the secondary navigation bar has Part A (the introduction), Document 1, Document 2, Document 3, Document 4, Document 5, Document 6, Document 7, and Part B (the essay assignment and guidelines) as separate links.
• The site loads instantaneously on a T1 line.
• The available lesson plans and the general Document Projects are designed well, and instructions for the DBQ and for the available Teaching Strategies are clear.
• Given the current structure, it is often difficult to tell which parts are “freely available” and which are available only “through Alexander Street Press.” Therefore, instructions are not clear in terms of site navigation. In addition, the frequency with which links only go to pages saying “is available by subscription only from Alexander Street Press” is annoying.
• The Teacher’s Corner link on the navigation bar at the bottom of the page was broken at the time I accessed the site. So were all five links to “Other Classroom Uses.” There were also occasional broken links elsewhere in the site, most commonly involving links to other places on the web.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
• The lesson plans that are available in the Teaching Strategy area and the DBQ have clearly identified learning objectives.
• Teachers can adapt the freely available primary sources to other purposes or to different levels of students. The site also provides 15 links (13 of which were working) to other sites about women and social movements in the U.S. that also provide materials and ideas for teachers.
• The DBQ are well designed, including both appropriate text and visual materials. The lesson plans available under Teaching Strategy also seem generally well designed.
• Depending on the overall course goals laid out by the teacher, it could be an effective use of time to have students complete a DBQ or a lesson plan (whether one from the site or one created independently by a teacher). These do seem to involve appropriate and engaging learning activities.
• In the area of Teaching Strategies, where 31 lesson plans are available, in 23 cases the documents that go with those lessons are only available through the Alexander Street Press subscription. There is no way of determining which plans are linked to the freely available documents until one has clicked on the particular topic.
• In the Document Projects, the learning objectives are stated in the most general of terms in the Abstract segment of each topic.
• The DBQs are identified as meeting the knowledge and skill level required for 11th grade in New York state, but how that translates to other states or curricula is completely unclear. The site as a whole seems to assume that students will learn from their teachers how to use primary sources either before or during the use of the information on the site.
• The lesson plans under Teaching Strategy do not indicate how many class days a teacher at the high school level (or other levels) might need to devote to particular activities or assignments. An inexperienced teacher might have great difficulty figuring that out for some of the suggested activities.
• Teachers would need to print out the DBQ pages as a packet for effective use by students, or move everything into Word and distribute it electronically separately from the site, as the short-answer questions given with each document cannot be filled out online inside the site. This is also true for the documents and instructions for particular lesson plans.
• About one-fifth of the Document Projects have primary sources that are freely available, while the documents for the rest are only available from Alexander Street Press. The only way to tell one from the other is to notice the very small words under the title of each topic. These words are Abstract, Document List, and Introduction. Based on 30 minutes of exploration, it appears that if Introduction is not hot-linked, then the documents and the Introduction for that topic are only available through subscription. Users learn this only when they click on Document List.
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