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John Simkin

Why you need your own website?

20 posts in this topic

When I first started teaching in 1977 the head of history gave me the textbooks that the school used to teach the curriculum. I was not very impressed. At that time textbooks, except for the fact they used more illustrations, were not so different from those that I used as a pupil in the 1950s. They definitely did not take the approach used by my teachers at the Open University, where I had been studying history over the last six years.

I spoke to other history teachers in the school about my concerns about the textbooks that the school were using. They agreed about the poor quality and suggested that I did what they did which was to produce their own worksheets. I took their advice and produced materials that enabled me to teach in the way that I had been taught at university. For example: using primary sources, to teach issues such as empathy, reliability and interpretation.

The problem with using worksheets was that they were not very popular with students because they were unattractive to look at. I know technology has helped with this problem but in 1977 all you had was a roneo machine.

http://newsfromnowhere1948.blogspot.com/20...thou-roneo.html

The visual quality of worksheets was a serious problem in the 1970s. While I was in the school Stephen Ball was carrying out his very important study on education, that was eventually published as Beachside Comprehensive (1981). Ball discovered that virtually every teacher in the school were using worksheets run-off by these roneo machines and it was having a very negative effect of the children’s learning.

It was partly because of this research that I joined up with Stephen Ball, Colin Lacey (Hightown Grammar – 1970) and several local history teachers to form our own publishing company (Tressell Publishing Cooperative). We all put £100 in the kitty and we began to hire illustrators and typesetters to produce professional looking teaching materials.

The same thing happened in the early 1980s when schools were given BBC Acorn Computers. The first history programs for these machines were of such a poor educational quality that you could not justify using them in the classroom. The main problem was that these programmes were being produced by people who were not teachers. Therefore, we decided to recruit computer programmers into the group and publish history computer programs.

I first discovered the internet at the end of 1996. At that time there were very few websites in existence. As far as I was aware none of these websites had been produced by history teachers. I did find one very good website on history: Trenches on the Web

http://www.worldwar1.com/reflib.htm

The site had been produced by a banker called Mike Iavarone who was fascinated by the First World War. He was not an educationalist and was never interested in turning the website into a classroom resource. Unfortunately, Mike died in 2004 and it is now maintained by a friend, Mike Hanlon. However, the site has not been updated since his death.

I immediately realized that what was needed was a website produced by a teacher to fulfill the needs of his students. However, in 1996, no such websites existed. In fact, at that time, virtually all websites were produced by Americans. Even the history sites that existed came at the subject from an American point of view. For example, the First World War sites tended to be only interested in the later stages of the war and areas where the Americans were heavily involved in the fighting. In fact, some of the sites gave the impression that Britain and Russia had not been involved at all. Another problem was that the Americans had a very traditional approach to history. The emphasis was on narrative and issues such as empathy, reliability and interpretation were never really tackled.

Yet I was convinced that the internet would revolutionize education. My main fear was that with the Americans dominating in this field, this would mean a regression in the teaching of history.

I therefore decided that if I was going to use the internet in the classroom I would need to create my own online teaching materials. However, I had no idea how I could do it. My initial idea was to approach the Guardian newspaper. As well as revolutionizing education it would clearly have a tremendous impact on other means of communication, especially the newspaper industry. I was at the time only working three days a week in the classroom. I therefore arranged via a friend who worked in their advertising department for a meeting with the person appointed by the Guardian to look into these new developments. My suggestion that the Guardian should become an educational publisher went down very well, however, they pointed out that it would take another year before they had a website. That, I told them would be far too late and that I would have to find another way of doing this.

The only newspaper that had a website was the Daily Telegraph. I had never bought a copy of the newspaper but knew that I disliked the views it expressed about everything including education. However, it did have an email address on the site that enabled you to contact the editor of the online edition of the newspaper. Much to my amazement he replied straight away and invited me to have a meeting with him in London. He was in fact very different from what I expected. He loved the idea and while he negotiated with Conrad Black about the venture he offered to employ me for a day a week as an educational consultant. However, he warned me that newspaper organisations take a long time to make decisions like this.

I therefore took the mad decision to employ someone to create an educational website for me. I was teaching in an affluent area and already some of my students had already got internet connection. The school was also in the process of getting an internet connected computer for the school library.

I decided that the initial content of the website would be for my GCSE group 14-16. Part of the course was a local study on the subject of women getting the vote. Over the previous 12 months I had been collecting information about the suffrage movement in East Grinstead, a small county town in Sussex. Much to my surprise this small town had a very active Suffrage Union as well as a couple of figures who were members of the suffragette movement. The East Grinstead Observer carried weekly reports of meetings. However, it was in the letters columns that some of the most interesting material came from as it was a source of great conflict between both the supporters of the two women’s organizations and the Conservative and Liberal parties who held different views on the subject. There was also a third strand to this debate. The Salvation Army supported the Suffrage Union in an alliance against the brewing industry who in turn were the financial backers of the Conservative Party. These joint Suffrage/Temperance public meetings sometimes ended in violence as the brewing industry paid young thugs to break-up these meetings.

I was able to trace the relatives of some of the major figures involved in this dispute including the daughter of the local Liberal MP, and the daughter and granddaughters of two of the leaders of the Suffrage Union and the grandson of the leader of the Salvation Army and Liberal member of the local council. They supplied me with photographs, diaries, letters, membership cards, postcards and newspaper cuttings. I had enough material to produce web-pages on all the major figures in the struggle.

I also saw this as an opportunity to teach empathy. I therefore gave each student in my class a character who had lived in East Grinstead and the neighbouring area between 1900-1918. I then set-up a series of discussions that concerned the people living in the town such as votes for women, temperance, the provision of public parks, the workhouse, education of women, speed that cars could travel in the town, public spending, conscription, pacifism, war effort, crime, etc.

During these debates the students had to argue the point of view of the character rather than their own point of view. The idea was that each student would do their research of their character via the internet.

The problem was that the man who I employed to do this for me never kept to his deadlines and eventually admitted that he was not able technically to do what I had asked him to do. He had previously only created home pages for small businesses. I then had to give the job to a man who worked for my internet provider. However, this was very expensive and at the time, there was no evidence that I could ever recoup this money from advertising etc.

Although I had a website it seemed that it would not be developed. Then I read an article in a computer magazine that claimed that a new piece of software enabled you to create your own website. The review said the software, called WebMaster, was very easy to use. This was good news as my skills in this area were very limited. I got a copy of this software and within hours I was creating my own web pages.

Here are some pages on these local people.

Marie Gray

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wcorbett.htm

Charles Corbett

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUcorbett.htm

Margery Corbett Ashby

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Washby.htm

Cicely Corbett

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wfisher.htm

Edward Steer

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/SUsteer.htm

Elizabeth Robins

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wrobins.htm

Octavia Wilberforce

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wwilberforce.htm

Kitty Marion

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WmarionK.htm

Joseph Rice

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/LPrice.htm

James Morris

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/LPmorris.htm

Wallace Hills

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/LPhills.htm

As well as Wallace Hills being the editor of the East Grinstead Observer and the leader of the Conservative Party on the town council he was also the town’s historian. At this time, his book, History of East Grinstead was the standard text and the only one available in local bookshops. As Winston Churchill pointed out after the Second World War: “For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself.”

A fellow teacher at the school, Michael Leppard was working on a new history of the town. He was therefore able to use the research I had carried out for his book that was published in 2001.

The course was also about women suffrage and so I had to produce web pages on other figures involved in this struggle.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/women.htm

This is also another advantage of having your own website. These medium actually changes the way you write history. If you look at any school textbook on the subject that concentrate on a few major figures. The authors would argue that is because of the space available. However, this distorts the past. For example, most textbooks concentrate on the activities of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel Pankhurst. This is because both women led dramatic lives being arrested, imprisoned and going on hunger strikes. They are also remembered for their campaigns to get young men to join the armed forces at the beginning of the First World War and they therefore conveniently link together two important issues – the war and the granting of women the vote:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WpankhurstC.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WpankhurstE.htm

Yet, the Pankhursts were head of an organization, the Women Social & Political Union, that had at its peak only a membership of 2,000 people. It also virtually ceased to exist by 1914. It was the Suffrage Union, that had over 100,000 members in 1914 that was really responsible for the legislation that gave women the vote after the war. It is forgotten that the Suffrage Union was campaigning for the vote for women and working-class males, whereas the objective of the WSPU was votes for middle-class women. That is why the Suffrage Union had the support of the Labour and Liberal parties and why the leaders of the WSPU ended up in the Conservative Party and the National Union of Fascists.

A website like this enables you to spend time on the leaders of the Suffrage Union and other groups like the Women’s Freedom League. Both these groups, unlike the WSPU, opposed the First World War and refused to become involved in the recruitment campaign. A website is not restricted by space in the same way that a textbook is, and allows the teacher to explore with the students the complex nature of history and different interpretations of events.

Another reason to have a website is that it allows you to publish the work of the students. In 1998 I persuaded my school to let me create a school website. I then set my students projects that involved them in carrying out in-depth research into local history. For example, in year 9 (13 year olds), they all had to select a topic concerning East Grinstead between 1914-1918. The plan was to create an Encyclopedia on East Grinstead and the First World War. In some cases, the children were able to do this in pairs. In this way, the brighter child could work with the less able.

For example, two children selected the subject of football and the war. I gave him cuttings from the East Grinstead Observer on this topic plus information on the national scene including cartoons and photographs. They then provided me with the text on Word and I uploaded it onto the school website. Unfortunately, most of this material was lost after I left the school. But I have still kept a few examples on my site. For example, this is what the boys did on Football and the First World War in the town:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWpalsEG.htm

They were given access to my own page on football and the war.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWfootball.htm

One boy asked me if he could do a piece on Iran and the First World War. Although his mother was from East Grinstead, his father came from Iran. The marriage had broken up and his father had returned to Iran. I of course said yes and he was able to email his father with the URL of his homework after it had been uploaded. I still remember the expression on his face when he told me what his dad had said about his homework.

Having your own website enables you to turn the student from a consumer into a producer. In 2003 research was carried out at the United States National Learning Lab in Maine to assess the most effective way that young people can learn. The researchers employed a variety of different teaching methods and then tested the students to find out how much they had learnt. From this the researchers were able to calculate what they called the Average Retention Rate. The results were as follows:

Teacher talking to a class (5%)

Student reading a book (10%)

Student watching an audio visual presentation (20%)

Student watching a teacher demonstration (30%)

Students taking part in a discussion group (50%)

Students involved in an activity that is related to what the teacher wants them to learn (75%)

Students teaching others (90%)

A student in a traditional teaching environment can be very passive or docile but when he or she has to take on the role of teacher, the student is empowered. Anybody who has read the novel A Kestrel for a Knave (by Barry Hines) or seen the film Kes (directed by Ken Loach) will remember the scene where Billy Casper teaches the rest of the class about kestrels. Billy Casper undergoes a transformation in this scene because probably for the first time in his life he has been given the opportunity to share his knowledge and expertise.

How can we as teachers create similar situation to the “Billy Casper effect” in the classroom?

One example concerns the subject of the Home Front. During the war the British government was constantly monitoring the success of its various policies concerning the Home Front. The government was also aware of the possibility that it might be necessary to introduce legislation to deal with any emerging problems.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWhomeAC.htm

The students have to imagine they are living in Britain in December 1941. The students are asked to write a report on one aspect of government policy (evacuation, rationing, refugees, etc.). The web page provides work on a total of 36 different topics, so it should be possible for each student to have a different topic.

Every student has to report back to the class about the topic he or she has investigated.

(1) Each student has to provide a report on what has been happening in their assigned area since the outbreak of the war. (2) The student then has to make proposals about the changes they would like to see in government policy. (These proposals are then discussed and voted on by the rest of the class.)

The next stage could be for them to carry out a local study on this aspect of the war. This could then be uploaded as a website that could be used by future generations of students.

The teacher who wants to use the internet in the classroom has three possible strategies.

(1) The teacher can devise activities based on information contained on websites.

(2) The teacher can use activities that have been created by others.

(3) The teacher can devise activities and create materials and then upload them onto a website.

The problem about using strategies 1 and 2 is that you only have a limited choice of topics and approaches to teaching history. For example, very few teachers have created teaching material for the web. Those that have, especially those employed by large organizations, charge for this material. Even if you find another teacher on the web who shares your approach, unless you live in the same area, you will be unable to use a local history approach to the subject.

My experience of teaching is that my best lessons have been the result of using my own resources. I am sure this is also true of most teachers. Therefore, as most learning moves online, it is vital that teachers embrace this technology to produce their own teaching resources.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showforum=179

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This is a fascinating narrative, John. My own recollections of teaching History in an Essex New Town in the 1970's evoke the perfume of Banda fluid more than Roneo correction fluid! Bandered materials always looked particularly awful, especially as I lacked the Geography teacher skill of being able to produce them in several colours. After I moved schools, Tressell materials became an occasional luxury alongside traditional history textbooks.

I agree with you, in theory, that all History teachers should have their own websites, but I don't think all have the necessary time, talent and technology. The best sites are very good. I particularly like http://www.mrdonn.org/index.html , especially for its World History focus. But I fear 'cottage industry' History websites would result in too many materials appearing not much better than 'bandered' material. I would also hesitate to put yet another burden on today's History teachers in England, as they struggle with issues such as less teaching time and how to fit Key Stage 3 into two years rather than three.

My school's feeder Primary Schools once did a project on the local 1851 Census, which my Secondary School then turned into a database. When the children joined our school they were particularly fascinated that they were able to use the database that they'd played a part in creating. However, a vast amount of good work was lost when the BBC Acorn Computers were thrown out (including my 'What should Henry ll do next?' adventure game 'book' with Teletext graphics!)

The biggest problem here is guessing which technology will last. A book of computer History programmes for typing in for classroom use was thrown away long before the BBC Acorn Computers were, when good History computer programmes (produced by teachers) began to appear. On the other hand the 'QWERTY technology' I am using to write this hasn't changed since the 19th Century.

When I began teaching in the mid 1970's something called IDE was all the rage. (Unfortunately I have forgotten what the acronym stands for!) However it was resource-based and multi-discipline learning - the resources being rapidly deteriorating books, newspaper cuttings etc - to be retrieved with the help of a system of cards and knitting needles. Team teaching worked the children into a state of excitement about doing their own individual projects. My point is that as computer technology develops the team teaching, the cards and knitting needles, and even the tatty library materials have all become redundant. Instead, History teachers need to concentrate their efforts on pointing children towards good websites (whatever their provenance) and giving them the critical tools to make sense of them.

At some point I formed part of a select ICT advisory group for Essex County Council (that met for one day). The other members of the group were two elderly Primary School teachers. We all agreed that the best idea was to develop the use of computers by children rather than by teachers. For some reason I don't think they implemented our recommendations.

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This is a fascinating narrative, John. My own recollections of teaching History in an Essex New Town in the 1970's evoke the perfume of Banda fluid more than Roneo correction fluid! Bandered materials always looked particularly awful, especially as I lacked the Geography teacher skill of being able to produce them in several colours. After I moved schools, Tressell materials became an occasional luxury alongside traditional history textbooks.

I agree with you, in theory, that all History teachers should have their own websites, but I don't think all have the necessary time, talent and technology. The best sites are very good. I particularly like http://www.mrdonn.org/index.html , especially for its World History focus. But I fear 'cottage industry' History websites would result in too many materials appearing not much better than 'bandered' material. I would also hesitate to put yet another burden on today's History teachers in England, as they struggle with issues such as less teaching time and how to fit Key Stage 3 into two years rather than three.

The idea behind the E-HELP project is to provide teachers with the skills to develop their own website. With the right help developing a website is no more difficult than using Word.

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While I think there are good reasons to hesitate before setting up a History website I think there are some bad ones too. One bad reason is giving up at the first step. Here I found http://www.effectiveict.co.uk/forum/index.php?act=idx particularly useful. My own website about the Incas is desperately in need of updating, but from the point of view of how helpful people can be when you're setting one up in the first place I would cite my own experience - http://www.effectiveict.co.uk/forum/index.php?showtopic=1490

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Nearly 5 years ago, I had cause to reflect on why I had started to build a website a few years earlier. Much of my thinking at the time reflects what has been said already:

There are three users of my website: me, my students and a number of significant others. As a consequence of using the website (hypertext curriculum), each user contributes to the success of the students. Let me consider each user in turn.

Me, the teacher.

The first and most important user of a hypertext curriculum is the teacher. But the teacher is also the most often neglected in discussions of this kind. If mentioned, it is usual to refer to the creative enjoyment and satisfaction that comes from (what is after all) a form of vanity publishing. I do enjoy the creative side of building and maintaining a website, and I admit that I occasionally spend too long on website content rather than in marking student work, but importantly, I also use a hypertext curriculum to better organise my resources, my lessons and myself. As a better-organised teacher, I am a more efficient teacher and my students benefit as a result.

The history part of the International School of Toulouse Humanities website is currently just over gigabyte in size, or more meaningfully, approximately 18000 files and 2100 folders. It grows at the rate of a couple of hundred files each half-term. In paper format this would be unwieldy and difficult to manage. In digital form, it is not only easy to organise, it is also accessible, flexible and easy to maintain.

In using a website to manage my resources, I am never more than a few clicks away from anything I might need. As I write this I am 800km from my files but I can access them in a few moments if I need to. As long as I have access to the Internet, I have access to everything I put online: lesson plans, teaching resources, my mark book and even the students’ work to be assessed. In addition, a hypertext curriculum is also highly flexible. During a lesson I have the website open both in a web browser and in a format to be edited. This means I can make changes to the resources or activities as the lesson progresses, responding to the needs of the students. I remember as a student teacher I had all the questions and activities precisely planned in advance. As a more experienced teacher I used the blackboard to adjust my tasks in response to the lesson. Now I have the ‘permanent’ format – essential for students to know the tasks expected of them – but a format responsive to the natural progression of the lesson. Good lessons are often those that see plans torn up halfway through, but now nothing gets torn up.

Even more importantly I can also respond to my needs as they arise. I regularly come across a good website, a good article or something on TV that I might want to incorporate in a lesson some time in the next 12 months. It takes two minutes to add the link to the appropriate part of my curriculum site and then I can forget about it. This acts as a kind of knot in the corner of the curriculum handkerchief; a reminder of a good idea a number of months before. Like most, I walk more slowly to the classroom if I want to plan the lesson more thoroughly, but the first thing I do when I arrive is log on and check what we did last time and what we might do today. One final organisational advantage concerns the ease with which the website organises my filing in a logical way. I used to spend hours at the end of a week clearing out photocopies, sorting and filing the worksheet masters. When I use paper resources they tend to accumulate on my desk after use. In contrast, digital resources never move - no matter how often I use them - unless of course I want them to. In conclusion, a hypertext curriculum can be teacher planner, lesson plans, syllabus, diary, worksheets, textbook, mark book, exam papers, etc. etc. all rolled into one.

My students

When I speak about my hypertext curriculum, I really mean ‘ours’. A significant percentage of the content of history site at the IST has been generated by the students.

The first thing to note is that unlike a textbook (including the one designed for your syllabus) or a resource pack produced by a department, a hypertext curriculum is personal to the classes being taught. A hypertext curriculum changes every week as the latest exemplary work is added and the group projects and videos of debates and role-plays are archived. In addition, the hypertext curriculum echoes the voice of the teacher: it will be in a style and language familiar to the class. The hypertext curriculum also meets the needs of the particular syllabus options taught and the coursework designed by the centre for the current academic year and it reinforces the necessary skills in exactly the same way as they are taught in class. Very little is generic and consequently nothing is irrelevant.

I use about half a dozen standard textbooks during the two year IGCSE history course, but how I use them is personal to me. Occasionally students will complete activities straight from the textbook, but more often than not parts of some activities are mixed with other texts, handouts or my activities. It is the website that guides the students through this maze and allows them to become much more independent learners. In last week’s seminar Anders described an experimental period in Swedish education in the late 1960s:

We studied 2 weeks intensively with several lessons in 3 - mostly four subjects. Than we had a four week period where we worked with the subjects. During this period we only had a few "check-up" gatherings every week. It was a system that gave us the ability to plan ahead (under supervision) but most of all we were not "killed" of boredom. With today’s technology this could be developed much more than it was possible at the time. For me personally it meant that I had great skills in planning, structuring and taking responsibility for my studies which was not to bad when I went to the university

I couldn’t agree more. With today’s technology it is possible for students to navigate through a clearly defined structure of key questions taken directly from the syllabus in their own time and at their own pace. (This continual reinforcement of syllabus structure and key questions is particularly important I think.) They can jump ahead if they want to and easily catch up if they’ve been away. The students will know when they will have tests and there are links to model answers, past papers and revision sections to help them prepare for them. If they forgot to make a note of the homework or lose the handout given in class, they can log-on from home to remind themselves and print out what has been lost. As long as they have access to the Internet they are empowered in their independence.

Significant Others

This is potentially the most revolutionary aspect of teaching with a hypertext curriculum. What goes on in a classroom has always been something of a ‘secret garden’, a closed, private world of teacher and learner. But when I put my lessons on the web I went public. 'Significant others' are significant because their access to our website contributes something to my students’ learning.

The most obvious group of people who want my students to do well in exams are their parents. In all my contact with exam class parents, I try to tie my comments into the context of the hypertext curriculum. If parents are to help me, they need to understand what is required of their children. In parents’ evening I am fortunate to be able to project my website on a screen behind me as I talk. In written reports I now include URLs to contextualise the points I make, or to refer the parents to pages where their son/daughter has produced exemplary work. My email address is on the site and I encourage parents to use it. If a student is going to be absent it is helpful to know this. It takes two minutes to reply with the URL of the lesson to be missed.

Working in an international school involves teaching a highly transient group of students. A significant proportion of students of my IGCSE entries in any year will have not been with me for the full five terms. Having a hypertext curriculum can significantly ease the transition between schools. I had a student join me this September in Year 11 who had been working through my curriculum website for the previous three months in another country, going as far as to complete his first coursework assignment before the rest of the class. Similarly, if any of my students leave, it is very easy for me to show the new school exactly what has been covered and how.

Many schools have been very cautious with going fully online and have protected themselves with an intranet password for the exclusive use of their ‘learning community’. In my view this is a mistake. Other than parents and prospective students, there is a whole range of people who can contribute to the success of my students because our curriculum is online. If you are behind a password these people won’t find you.

If you have a website with your email address on it, you will get emails. Once in a while these emails can be useful. I have had my students’ German and Korean corrected in the last six months and my factual errors on a number of occasions. I have had teachers send me resources because of something they saw on my site. My students have had opportunities to work on collaborative international projects because somebody saw what I was doing online. I have been able to enter online competitions because I am able to host my students’ contributions. Most significantly, I have a growing number of contacts (and not just history teachers) all around the world that first contacted me because of something they found on the site. Occasionally from these contacts you get encouragement that can put the spring back into your step. I know that not all school managers understand the time some of us dedicate to our websites. As a consequence, an occasional pat on the back from a ‘virtual’ peer can often be very welcome.

Richard Jones-Nerzic

Brittany, October 28-29, 2003

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I agree with you, in theory, that all History teachers should have their own websites, but I don't think all have the necessary time, talent and technology. The best sites are very good. I particularly like http://www.mrdonn.org/index.html , especially for its World History focus. But I fear 'cottage industry' History websites would result in too many materials appearing not much better than 'bandered' material. I would also hesitate to put yet another burden on today's History teachers in England, as they struggle with issues such as less teaching time and how to fit Key Stage 3 into two years rather than three.

There is little on the site about the person who created it. Every site should have an "author" page. Without it, students in most schools are not allowed to use the material. In the Q/A section you find:

Question: My teacher says that is not enough. I need to know your background. Please tell me more about yourself and where you got your information.

Answer: More? Okay. Besides all the stuff we had to study, we've read thousands of articles and books about history just for the fun of it! We've learned a lot over the years. Does that mean our material is "right"? Who knows! We try to be accurate. If one of our web pages was checked for accuracy or enriched with information by an expert, that expert will be listed in the credits section, along with any books we used.

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While I think there are good reasons to hesitate before setting up a History website I think there are some bad ones too. One bad reason is giving up at the first step. Here I found http://www.effectiveict.co.uk/forum/index.php?act=idx particularly useful. My own website about the Incas is desperately in need of updating, but from the point of view of how helpful people can be when you're setting one up in the first place I would cite my own experience - http://www.effectiveict.co.uk/forum/index.php?showtopic=1490

Norman, why did you produce the teaching resources in PDF files?

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I originally hoped to publish my Inca Empire material as a book. One reason for this was that I had come to the conclusion, from the experience of my own school, that History departments would not take on a world history topic unless they had a 'proper' book. The editor at Heinmann clearly wasn't going to risk publishing one, so making the material available for free, with the idea that teachers could produce their own printed version, seemed the next best thing, and the only compatible format my PagePlus dtp was at that time capable of producing was pdf.

It then became obvious, observing what History teachers were saying, that the world history unit in KS3 was being largely ignored. I made the conscious, probably incorrect, decision not to pursue investigating more interactive and accessible methods of presentation, because the primary problem seemed to be to convince History teachers that world history was 'proper history'. I dropped my idea of writing a history book and switched to being an advocate of world history. (I'm too ancient to happily write for other people anyway.)

I think a lot of schools took on 'Black Peoples of America' as a world history topic, then tended to teach this as 'The Slave Trade', and finally, as history periods per week dropped, tended to do the slave trade as part of 'Britain 1750-1900'. It seemed to be a case of the globe falling off the map! I even read a comment by one Head of Department that she had been told off for teaching about Islamic Empires because it was 'irrelevant'. Since then Christine Counsell published her book on that particular topic and things have gradually changed for the better. Above all, History teachers are beginning to be confident they can devise their own schemes of work without interference.

Having looked at some of these schemes of work, it would seem that world history is now making a come-back (and not before time.) When I read, earlier in the week, about a department needing materials on pre-colonial West Africa I decided that Christmas had come early this year! (I had begun the year by doing some homework on that topic. which I have been thinking of writing about for 40 years!) My only problem is that up till now I have done absolutely nothing about finding a suitable way of presenting my materials.

Any pointers would be very welcome, John.

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I originally hoped to publish my Inca Empire material as a book. One reason for this was that I had come to the conclusion, from the experience of my own school, that History departments would not take on a world history topic unless they had a 'proper' book. The editor at Heinmann clearly wasn't going to risk publishing one, so making the material available for free, with the idea that teachers could produce their own printed version, seemed the next best thing, and the only compatible format my PagePlus dtp was at that time capable of producing was pdf....

Any pointers would be very welcome, John.

Norman, the main challenge is to get your material seen by educators and students. This means that you have to address the “search-engine” problem. HTML pages appear to be given preference over PDF. They are easier for teachers and students to use as they can be copied and pasted into other documents.

It is important that you call the page what people are likely to type into a search-engine box. Google also reward pages that include links to other sites. Most webmasters go wrong by trying to keep their visitors on their own site. Google rightly punishes them for this.

The main criteria used by Google involves links to your web pages. Where those links come from is also important. For example, it is more important to get a link from a site like the BBC that itself has lots of sites linked to it. Spartacus also falls into this category and so if you send me a 150/200 word description of your site I will place it in my website directory.

There are other means to improve your rankings but I am not keen to publicize this on an open forum. Send me an email and I will help you out on this.

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I have changed my views over time on this. I have a very basic website, and for a time I thought that it was redundant as there were so many more high quality websites, so why would anyone want to use mine? However, there is such a thing as 'niche marketing' and primitive though it is, there are one or two bits of my site that are of particular use to history PGCE students, which you can't get on any of the big history portals (for instance, a collection of quotations about the purposes of history, and materials for developing pupils' understanding of time). As well is this, it's a really helpful way of updating books and materials. What I find difficult to understand is how some people who have full time teaching jobs manage to keep up such fantastic sites on top of 'the day job'. I have great admiration for them.

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I originally hoped to publish my Inca Empire material as a book. One reason for this was that I had come to the conclusion, from the experience of my own school, that History departments would not take on a world history topic unless they had a 'proper' book. The editor at Heinmann clearly wasn't going to risk publishing one, so making the material available for free, with the idea that teachers could produce their own printed version, seemed the next best thing, and the only compatible format my PagePlus dtp was at that time capable of producing was pdf....

Any pointers would be very welcome, John.

Norman, the main challenge is to get your material seen by educators and students. This means that you have to address the “search-engine” problem. HTML pages appear to be given preference over PDF. They are easier for teachers and students to use as they can be copied and pasted into other documents.

It is important that you call the page what people are likely to type into a search-engine box. Google also reward pages that include links to other sites. Most webmasters go wrong by trying to keep their visitors on their own site. Google rightly punishes them for this.

The main criteria used by Google involves links to your web pages. Where those links come from is also important. For example, it is more important to get a link from a site like the BBC that itself has lots of sites linked to it. Spartacus also falls into this category and so if you send me a 150/200 word description of your site I will place it in my website directory.

There are other means to improve your rankings but I am not keen to publicize this on an open forum. Send me an email and I will help you out on this.

I have promoted the website on two pages of my Website Directory:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REVhistoryREF1.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REVhistoryREF2.htm

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John. Many thanks. I was planning to spend a great deal of time over the next few months developing the website, and apart from anything else this makes an encouraging start. Norman.

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However, there is such a thing as 'niche marketing' and primitive though it is, there are one or two bits of my site that are of particular use to history PGCE students, which you can't get on any of the big history portals (for instance, a collection of quotations about the purposes of history, and materials for developing pupils' understanding of time). As well is this, it's a really helpful way of updating books and materials.

Firstly, I think that 'niche marketing' is more than just important - it's the way that the web is going in general. What is happening is that we're experiencing a return to traditional human values: we believe what we hear from people we see as being like us much more than what 'experts' say. The good thing about these home-produced web sites is that they can reflect much more closely something that real people find useful … so more and more real people find them valuable and visit them.

One of my colleagues here has produced a portal site full of links which might be valuable to teachers of English in Sweden (http://www.spraklankportalen.se/). The interesting feature she added was to include a way for registered user (registration is free) to add links - and to write commentaries on the links which are there. In effect she's produced a system for adding to her site, and providing a measure of quality control, leaving her with the kind of monitoring function which John and the other moderators exercise on this site.

It's a shame that Maria produced this site only in Swedish. However, 'läs mer' means 'read more' and is the link to click on to come to comments. The site started only about 6 months ago, so it's still being built up, but it looks as if it could develop into something really useful.

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One of my colleagues here has produced a portal site full of links which might be valuable to teachers of English in Sweden (http://www.spraklankportalen.se/). The interesting feature she added was to include a way for registered user (registration is free) to add links - and to write commentaries on the links which are there. In effect she's produced a system for adding to her site, and providing a measure of quality control, leaving her with the kind of monitoring function which John and the other moderators exercise on this site.

It's a shame that Maria produced this site only in Swedish. However, 'läs mer' means 'read more' and is the link to click on to come to comments. The site started only about 6 months ago, so it's still being built up, but it looks as if it could develop into something really useful.

I think that this kind of website has great potential. I established Spartacus in 1997. The following year Rich Skrenta and Bob Truel created the Open Directory Project (ODP). It is a multilingual open content directory of World Wide Web links that is constructed and maintained by a community of volunteer editors. A link fom ODP helps a great deal in your search-engine rankings. As a result, a large number of ODP editors use their positions to promote their own websites. What is more, they keep rival websites out of the directory.

http://www.dmoz.org/

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