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Journal of American History

Using Digital Technology to Teach American History

Editors' Introduction
Gary J. Kornblith & Carol Lasser

Building the Better Textbook: The Promises and Perils of E-Publication
Michael J. Guasco

"Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye": E-Supplements and the Teaching of U.S. History
David Jaffee
Article | Appendix

Using Online Resources to Re-center the U.S. History Survey: Women's History as a Case Study
Kriste Lindenmeyer

Pursuing E-Opportunities in the History Classroom
Mark Tebeau

More than Bells and Whistles?
Using Digital Technology to Teach American History

Gary J. Kornblith and Carol Lasser
Contributing Editors, Textbooks and Teaching

Editors' Introduction

We have all heard the hype: the book is dead, long live the e-book; the library is dead, long live the Internet; the lecture is dead, long live "student-centered learning." Even skeptics among us acknowledge that digital technology is changing how scholars communicate among themselves and how teachers relate to their students. At a conference on technology and the liberal arts held a couple of years ago, the question was posed: What proportion of faculty at your institution really uses educational technology on a regular basis? The reply: Virtually all of them if one includes e-mail. And we should include e-mail. Fifteen years ago few professors outside the natural sciences used e-mail on a regular basis. Today it is part of the daily lives of nearly all faculty, regardless of discipline. Likewise, with the advent of course-management packages such as Blackboard and WebCT, a rapidly increasing number of colleagues are posting their syllabi online and holding electronic discussions to supplement in-class activities. In "smart" classrooms across our campuses, faculty employ PowerPoint to try to engage young people raised on MTV and video games. We may bemoan the contraction of our students' attention spans and their naïve expectation that all questions have "point and click" solutions, but we cannot ignore that today's students are living in a culture that values instant access to packets of data more than it does the leisurely contemplation of classic texts. For reasons both good and bad, we must renegotiate the social contract between students and teachers in the "information age."

The essays that we publish in this issue of the Journal of American History address the question of how best to employ digital technology in the service of teaching college-level American history. In the opening essay, Michael J. Guasco of Davidson College reviews America Unbound, a fully electronic, interactive textbook published by iLrn, which is available only online. Next, David Jaffee of the City College of New York offers a kaleidoscopic analysis of the electronic supplements produced by the publishers of mainstream print textbooks. He places the emergence of these products in historical context, and finding only a few of them "ready for prime time," he explores the gap between the claims made on behalf of e-supplements and what they actually deliver in practice.

Kriste Lindenmeyer of the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Mark Tebeau of Cleveland State University offer guidance to professors who would rather pick and choose among the wide range of resources on the World Wide Web than rely on a publisher's pre-defined electronic package. Lindenmeyer explains how the careful and creative use of electronic materials on women's experience allows her to reframe her American history survey, moving gender issues to the center of the course. Tebeau confronts directly the issue of what difference technology makes to pedagogy. He argues that digitization opens up unprecedented opportunities for active learning in the classroom, which he encourages colleagues to embrace with enthusiasm. On the basis of these thoughtful essays by experienced teacher-scholars, the answer to the question of whether digital technology offers more than bells and whistles appears to be: only if we make it so.

Gary J. Kornblith and Carol Lasser are professors of history at Oberlin College.

Readers may contact him at <> and her at <>.