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Project RiverWeb in the Classroom

Ian Binnington and Orville Vernon Burton

Project RiverWeb is an umbrella organization, housing many initiatives in the sciences and humanities. It came about because we believe that the best way to learn is to do so in context. And that means combining the humanities and the sciences in some mea ningful form. However rewarding though, collaborative, interdisciplinary projects are difficult to execute. Technological advances have greatly increased communication, but have done nothing to aid comprehension. Part of our experience in Project RiverWeb over the past five years has been overcoming this comprehension gap. Humanists and scientists do not share the same languages, assumptions, or cognitive processes. As we have found over the past few years, even people from different areas in the humaniti es and social sciences, history and anthropology for example, have very little in common in terms of the way they do things, and that is even more true when we start to take the hard sciences into account.

In spite of these impediments, the RiverWeb team has successfully implemented a program of educational testing of our online content. Wee have incorporated analysis of previously hard to obtain primary sources into freshman, General Education contexts, as well as senior seminars. This allows teachers to further the goal of inculcating critical thinking and writing while enabling the more effective use of their classroom and preparation time. Without their even noticing, our undergraduates are beginning to learn in context.

In addition, we have tested RiverWeb with junior high and high school students and teachers. We are working to develop a set of "how do we know" exercises that explain how historians and social scientists come to the conclusions that they do with data. We are making RiverWeb available to junior and senior high schools, and well as to residents of East St. Louis.

In our AHA presentation, we would explain how RiverWeb is used in classes at the University of Illinois, by junior high and high school students, and by community residents.