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The University of Wisconsin Student History Network (UWSHN)



Since its inception in the summer of 1996, the University of Wisconsin Student History Network has blossomed from a twelve-campus, fifteen-faculty project, to a collaboration of approximately forty-five faculty members and thousands of student participants across the UW system. Dr. Jim Oberly (UW-Eau Claire), the director of the network, emphasizes that student involvement is an essential part of the program. Students become active learners by engaging in role-playing exercises on the web and participating in on-line, instructor-mediated discussions with students. They also assist faculty in web page development and the collection of primary source materials for inclusion in the Network database.

The homepage contains nine menu items, two of which are the designated "hotlinks." Within the hotlinks, students can take part in e-mail discussions that cover material from world and US history courses (WI-World and WI-USA). At present, the online discussions include several campuses across the system, but Oberly would like to expand the current listserv of students to other UW campuses, and eventually to institutions across the nation. The remaining "cool" links consist of a myriad of learning resources to supplement lectures, which are continually updated by faculty. In the page "Responses to Industry" for example, Dr. Stephen A. Vincent from UW-Whitewater supervises the collection of an enormous repository of documents, images, and oral testimonies from the 19th and early 20th centuries to be used for class assignments. Additionally, this archive serves as an invaluable resource for instructors teaching similar courses.

The Vietnam War and Virtual Curator sites encourage active participation by students. Designed for a specific in-class discussion section, the Vietnam War page requires that students assume a particular role and reenact the decision-making process of the U.S. President and his advisors. Although the exercise focuses on one discussion section, students must prepare in advance by completing a preliminary assignment with the help of on-line documents. The Virtual Curator page is designed as a full-semester project, requiring students to assume the role of museum curator and to build the site as the class progresses. In addition to participating in curatorial meetings with other "staff," students create their own on-line exhibitions by following guidelines and procedures comparable to those in actual museums. They learn the responsibility of the museum curator in re-presenting history to the public, and how their choices (and limitations imposed by other staff and/or museums) affect the final presentation.

Students' responses to the Network, specifically the e-mail discussions, have been overwhelmingly positive. Although the impact on student learning has not been assessed to date, Oberly readily points out other strengths of the project, particularly as a supplement to the classroom teacher. The Network does not replace the live interaction of student and instructor but adds another dimension to the learning experience. Another advantage is the collaborative nature of the project, which brings together a broad range of subject-specific expertise that might not be readily available at individual UW campuses. Oberly notes that a particular disadvantage to the project is the time devoted to maintainance and site development. Editing the on-line discussions can take over 10-15 hours of faculty time per week, and the "cool" sites may take hundreds of hours to update. The assistance of advanced undergraduate and M.A. students, however, helps to alleviate some of the workload.
To explore this site and its other "cool" links in greater depth, please check the homepage at



During the summer of 1997, several Biology professors from across the UW system met at the Collaboration on Learning Development conference in Madison and initiated a tentative proposal for a faculty-designed biology website. The project quickly developed into a formal, collaborative effort entitled BioWeb, which now encompasses forty-three faculty members from fourteen universities and colleges in the system. The project is still largely under construction, although a few of the links are active and usable. Dr. Scott Cooper (UW-LaCrosse), one of the principal collaborators and organizers, met with me after he presented the project to the UW Board of Regents on February 5. The current goals of BioWeb, he explained, include building an extensive on-line archive of links to a variety of programs and developing an electronic library of images that instructors can use for their courses and research. In this way, the web site is not designed for the purpose of distance learning or as a supplement to specific courses, but more as a resource of tools and visual representations not otherwise readily accessible.

BioWeb encompasses a broad range of biological subjects, which, as Scott Cooper added, is another advantage to this project. By including faculty with specific areas of expertise, it is possible to gather and centralize knowledge and know-how from a large number of campuses across the system. Furthermore, each site within BioWeb is a collaborative project in itself, where a number of professors that specialize in a particular field jointly contribute to a specific "subject site," such as in zoology, botany, or genetics.

From the BioWeb homepage, visitors can access "GenWeb," and "ImageWeb," for a sampling of sites that are in more advanced stages of construction. The modeling and sequencing links provide instructive examples for study and introduce students to programs that researchers use in professional settings. The image libraries are particularly useful as quick and easy access to illustrations and photographs, thereby allowing faculty the opportunity to share with their students high-quality illustrations that may otherwise be rare and/or cumbersome to obtain.

To see how BioWeb is taking shape, please visit the site at