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Author: Scott A. Merriman
Title: Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History (Kathleen W. Craver)
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 2000

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Source: Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History (Kathleen W. Craver)
Scott A. Merriman

vol. 3, no. 2, August 2000
Article Type: Book Review

Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History

Craver, Kathleen W., Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999), xx, 258, $39.95 (hardcover).

[Editor's Note: This work won the The AAHC award for the Best Book published in 1999. Click here for more information on the awards.

Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History is a fine example both of the best of the new scholarship about the web, and of the most skillful ways to use that resource. Craver is an educational media library scholar who desires to integrate the Internet into the classroom and this work makes a giant stride in that direction.

Craver's aims are to provide a guide to the best educational sites on the web and to discuss how to use them. The first goal is not that unusual, but her presentational method and her combination of that aspect with the second objective is what sets this work apart. In her introduction, she notes the benefits and limitations of the web, being neither a luddite nor a card carrying technophile. The volume begins by discussing why one should learn critical thinking, and she demonstrates why critical thinking will continue to be important as we begin the third millennium. Then the work notes the value of using critical thinking in the historical profession, and how primary sources are a vital part of optimizing that skill. The author helpfully provides a checklist for use in identifying a document in terms of whether it is a primary or secondary source, regardless of whether it is web-based or non web-based. This section would be well read by all those in the profession, as many never think of precisely what makes a source primary, nor of how one determines a primary source. The wealth of the book is in the third section, providing 150 sites for teacher's use. The work does not stop there, however. It provides five or six questions on each site which allow students to probe further into the site and the issues contained there. Each site also contains one to three related Internet sites. Both the question sets and the related sites situate this book far above the norm. The questions generally reflect a range of queries, from simple identification to complex, open-ended and thought-provoking queries. The questions are well-written and should be a great basis for learning and discussions.

This work should not be taken as a substitute for preparation. As Craver notes, sites do move or go out of existence, and she provides a section on finding lost sites. In addition to finding the site, one must also select age -and skill- appropriate questions. As most know, Internet activities are not time-savers. This is not a criticism of Craver's effort, but more a word of caution and warning.

This effort only has a few weaknesses. Some of the questions tend to the straightforward, which is a bit remarkable for a work promoting critical thinking. Secondly, the work, as Craver herself admits, favors North America and the 20th century. This is due in large part to the web's favoritism in that area, particularly in the area of primary sources. I am not here making a criticism of Craver, but more a critique of her work in order to alert those who would like to teach heavily in the primary sources of those areas not covered here.

This effort is a great resource which will benefit all who teach history, from grade school to graduate school, and also should be used in teacher's colleges in teaching how to teach history and critical thinking skills. It demonstrates both activities that teachers can use, and also how to think about teaching and learning. Unlike many works, it does not merely discuss theory, nor simply provide resources, but provides both the analytical basis and the raw material, working well where "the rubber meets the road." This is a fine work, recommended for all who wish to use Internet sources to teach critical thinking, whether or not in history.

Scott Merriman

University of Kentucky