MERLOT Evaluation of Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture by Stephen Railton of the University of Virginia
In a few short weeks, the students in my 9th grade Honors English class will be beginning Huck Finn by Mark Twain, and we will be reading excerpts of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe to further their understanding of the historical and cultural context surrounding that time period in the south.
Quality of Content:
- The software does appear to present valid (correct) concepts, models, and skills as it seems to come from credible sources, and the documentation of sources is extensive. The range of materials available is also extensive. It ranges from anti-slavery texts to christian texts, from minstrel shows to pro-slavery responses, and even to African America responses and American reviews. It has articles going all the way back to 1852-1930.
- The software presents educationally significant concepts, models, and skills for the discipline because it provides outside texts that are both historical fiction and non-fiction and can be used to supplement the reading of Huck Finn. It connects different aspects of the text to a larger historical and cultural issue that plagued the US for a very long time. IT also has a multitude of ways to view the information at hand, so it can be accessible for a variety of students and educators.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching-Learning Tool:
- The stage(s) in the learning process/cycle these materials could most likely be used would be in the beginning stages of introducing the background and setting of the story, so in terms of the explanation it would make the most sense. It could also be used as a demonstration, or further exploration of the reading of Huck Finn itself. So once kids already have a grasp on what is going on in the south at this time, here is another lens to look through, or another text by a different author to be used to gain context and understanding. It could be used in the practice or applying stages as well, as it itself is not the main text but a connection piece.
- The learning objectives are of course an in-depth comprehension of the text, but also of the characters themselves through both direct and indirect characterization. Some essential questions that arise are:
- How does one construct a hero?
- How can we view these characters as heroes on a journey?
- How do we further our understanding of the societal issues surrounding this text?
- How does an individual confront social norms he/she disagrees with?
- How can authors use comedy and satire to the serious work of challenging those norms?
- How can the common elements of mythic tales help us understand this text?
- Does the interactive/media-rich presentation of material improve faculty and students' abilities to teach and learn the materials?
- I believe the use of this website can be readily integrated into current curriculum and pedagogy within the discipline. It is very user-friendly and has many supplemental information that will be extremely useful when leading students through the text.
- The software can be used in a variety of ways to achieve teaching and learning goals. It can be used to reinforce different perspectives, to hear first-hand accounts and responses as to what life was like in the 19th century and early 20th.
- As always, we want students to not only read the text, but feel as though they are a part of the text. We need them, as engaged and active readers, to be able to fully comprehend not just the plot and the characters, but the greater underlying issues that makes this story still timeless and relevant, but also historically, culturally and socially important.
- In terms of assignments for honors students, I think there can be many assignments one can use. Whether they are choosing an article to annotate or mark up and bring in to present as an artifact they are an expert on, or to use a think aloud process when going through an older text in partners, or even to simply explore what the site has to offer. I was thinking of even having the students, as it is a safe environment, present the differing responses from the two points of views in terms of anti-slavery and pro-slavery.
Ease of Use:
- Are the labels, buttons, menus, text, and general layout of the computer interface consistent and visually distinct? The buttons are extremely easy to use, and based on the user, one can change the way they view the information--there's a search mode, browse mode or interpret mode. Browse does seem the easiest for me to handle visually.
- Does the user get trapped in the material? Not at all--even though there is a LOT of information to sort through.
- Can the user get lost easily in the material? I guess one could if there wasn't something specific they were looking for and if they were simply just looking for any material that popped out to them as the were searching.
- Does the module provide feedback about the system status and the user's responses? I'm not sure I understand this questions.
- Does the module provide appropriate flexibility in its use? Yes, you can change up the way you view the information to suit your own style.
- Does the learning material require a lot of documentation, technical support, and/or instruction for most students to successfully use the software? I do not believe it does.
- Does the material present information in ways that are familiar for students? Absolutely.
- Does the material present information in ways that would be attractive to students? I think it may seem a bit out-dated in its presentation to some, but noting extremely unfamiliar to how information online has been presented before.