The web offers innumerable benefits to education. Increased accessibility, near limitless storage, the democratization of voice, the lessening of distance and even time. Each of one of these elements are important and used in the dissemination of information. However, the interactive nature of the web becomes uniquely important in education. It moves the educational process from a book based, text framed process to one of variability and experience.
Josh Brown, in his article “History and the Web, From the Illustrated Newspaper to Cyberspace: Visual Technologies and Interaction in the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries,” explains the purpose of his paper as trying to articulate the “opportunities for active learning on the part of users.” He discusses some interesting projects from the perspective of the history of digital work as well as the history of those in digital work. However, one comment stands out in his quest for active learning. He references Janet Murray in defining two features important to an immersive experience not he web: the database and the “ability to represent and explore the dimension of space.” This is perhaps the section that stood out most to me in his paper. Perhaps it is because I am a sucker for discussions of space (thats the geography degree speaking) but space is an extremely important element in teaching history that is frequently lost in books. Sure, various maps are employed (for better or for worse) throughout a narrative but books don’t have the space to engage space (you see what I did there?) in a truly productive manner. The internet is able to reintroduce space and all is accompanying component into historical narrative and analysis. Such examples as understanding Mormon settlements through the nineteenth-century using Mormon Places or the storied history of the Washington DC National Mall with Histories of the National Mall.
Collaboration, both between peers and between teachers and students, has expanded and increased exponentially because of the web’s interactive nature. This can best be seen in the advent and increase of online classes. During my undergraduate coursework, I was able to participate in two online classes who provided various content that I could engage with as well as assessments that would be recorded for the teacher to grade. Currently, my wife is teaching a paleography class (reading old handwriting) where a student is able to read a document (zooming, panning etc.) transcribe the document and submit that transcription for her to grade. Online repositories for programmers such as Github, allows users to post code that can be individually downloaded, edited and even uploaded again. Personally, I have been able to download various repositories to use in my own research or even to explore and learn how such programs are written.
Interactivity on the web creates an environment of variability and experience. No longer is a historical narrative limited to a flat page. The user is able to engage in active learning by exploring space or manipulating documents digitally. And the interactivity of the web is only going to increase with the growing mobile device market and the advent of the quantified life/self. Perhaps if you were to ask me “what is the most important aspect of the Web” in a months or two or even in week, I may choose a different element. However, the here and now Jordan sees the interactivity of my web as the most important both in my web experience and in my educational pursuits.