Pioneering women’s suffrage online

I teach at the Latifa School for Girls in Dubai, one of the main cities of the United Arab Emirates.  The school follows a British curriculum and one of the classes I teach comprises Year 12 students, students roughly equivalent in age to 12th grade students in the United States.

My Year 12 history students recently completed their studies of civil rights in the United States and women’s suffrage in Britain.  This is a new course and I was looking for a series of lessons that would allow the students on the course to consolidate their understanding of some of the topics covered in a fun way, but which would also help them to tease apart and reflect on the various strands of those topics.
There are five girls in the Year 12 group I teach and only a very short time span was available to me for this review, as we needed to move on to and complete our third and final module before the students’ exams began in June, 2001.  I had already done a search on the Web as part of my research into teaching topics new to me and had been struck by the polarity in the sites I uncovered video porno italiano.  Most of the sites were either highly detailed or terribly basic and did not meet the needs of secondary students.


Ground work
The group of students used standard Internet navigation software to access the Internet.  Once on the Internet, they used standard search engines to search for web sites on women’s suffrage in Britain.  Some good search engines the students used are Google and Ask Jeeves. They discovered, to their surprise, that there were not many quality sites aimed at the age level on this topic.  The group then did a similar online search for women’s suffrage in Britain and discovered that there were not many quality sites aimed at their age level.  By far the best site we found was the Spartacus Encyclopaedia of British History which presents much of its information on suffrage in the form of biographies of the leading players.  The group of five students saw a void, and decided to fill that void by creating a site devoted exclusively to the struggle for women’s suffrage in Britain and written for pupils at the secondary school level.  I spoke to our computer network manager who suggested that since the emphasis of our activity was clearly on content, it would be far simpler to use a word processor such as Word, which all our pupils are familiar with, rather than to use a web authoring program such as FrontPage, a software program that was an unknown quantity for us.


Planning
The pupils decided which dimensions of the struggle for women’s suffrage to include in our web site.  Their decisions were informed largely by the topics that had been raised in earlier class discussions and they brainstormed a long list of possible dimensions of the struggle for women’s suffrage that might be included  in our web site.  From this list, the students decided to select five thematic dimensions of women’s suffrage to focus on in our web site.  They chose to focus on five as there were five pupils in the group and this would allow each girl to focus on one dimension of the larger topic of women’s suffrage.   Among thematic dimensions that did not make the final cut were the relationship between women’s suffrage and the extension of the male franchise and the propaganda employed in the movement for women’s suffrage.

To create the web site, our next step was to assess what features we thought made a good web site.  We identified five features as especially important.  First, ease of navigation, which we understood to mean that the links between pages must be clear and that there must be a quick return to the home page.  Second, visual clarity, which we took to mean that texts and images were easy to see and read.  Third, concise writing, a skill the students need when writing essays.  Fourth, simplicity, which we associated with having a minimum of electronic frills.  Finally, speed of loading, which we interpreted to mean that one should have only a small number of pictures.
Having identified what stylistic features we thought were important, we began to design the layout of our web site.  We did this by constructing a sort of flow diagram on paper to show how the various parts of the site would connect with one another.


Execution
Each girl reviewed her notes and then wrote a brief essay on her topic using Microsoft Word.  Each student then searched the Internet for pictures that would illustrate her topic.  We chose to use images that were already posted on the Internet rather than to scan images from books as this saved us a step and we did not want to add complications to our task.  The girls kept the URLs of the sites they visited and decided which of these sites they wanted to include as hyperlinks from our site.  The group particularly liked the web page relating to the modern-day campaign for a statue of Sylvia Pankhurst as this was a  current event that helped bring the material alive.
The essays were reviewed by the other girls in the group who commented on the content and the language to ensure clarity, depth, and understanding.  Peers also made suggestions as to what else could be added to the content and noted other links and pictures that they had come across in their research that might augment the essay when placed online.
Finally, the home page was created with an introductory blurb, a topic menu, and a set of acknowledgements.  Having restrained their desire for electronic tricks in the body of the web site, I let them loose on the home page!


Product
When everyone was satisfied with the content, the pages were saved in HTML format, an easy operation that Microsoft  Word  makes possible in its “Save as Web Page” function located under “File.”  To better control  the background color of the web site, color of the hyper links, and animation on the home page, we opened the saved file using  a software program called Notepad, made a few adjustments to the HTML, and then saved the file again.  For a time, we played around with adding music to the site.  We found the suffragette anthem “Shoulder to Shoulder” on the Internet — arranged for descant recorders! — and really liked it.  In the end, though, we decided against the inclusion of the anthem.
To place the materials online, we relied on our computer network manager who uploaded the site on to the Internet.  We then went through the site online to check that all the hyperlinks worked.  Our finished site on women’s suffrage may be found at http://www.latifaschool.co.ae/department/history/cws/home2.html


Postscript
The girls were very eager to gain a response to their work and one of them created a light-hearted quiz at the end.  I kept the basic format of the quiz she created, but we changed the questions so that the quiz now acts as a sort of test on the site’s content and makes the site more interactive and more useful for students and teachers.  


Conclusion
The site is up and operational so the girls have a tangible product that they have created and can use for their revision.  However, the main objective has already been achieved.  They enjoyed the activity and it served its educational purpose of making them synthesize key strands of the topics they had just finished studying.  Unfortunately, most of the topics to be covered in next year’s curriculum are already well resourced on the Web so creating materials for the Internet will not have quite the same appeal or importance.  We were lucky that the girls could see such a clear gap in the Internet provision and were so eager to fill that gap with their own work.  They enjoyed the feeling of being pioneers!

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