sealPurdue Education Briefs

February 1999

History's future evolves on the Web

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The Internet has revolutionized continuing education for working professionals, especially social studies teachers.

"One of the major concerns expressed by all teachers is that graduate courses are all too frequently scheduled during the day, when they are teaching, or are only available on a remote university campus," says Lynn Nelson, director of the James F. Ackerman Center for Democratic Citizenship at Purdue University.

Social studies teachers face an additional challenge because until recently, course content at the graduate level did not lend itself to distance education technology.

"Graduate studies, particularly in the social sciences, require access to texts and historic analysis available primarily in academic libraries," Nelson explains.

The Internet has helped overcome those hurdles.

"The growing number of comprehensive electronic data bases now make it possible to do serious, thoughtful research on the Web," explains Michael Smith, the history professor who is teaching a graduate-level Purdue course entirely on-line. "And that's also one of the skills teachers will be able to put to immediate use in their own classrooms."

Using a grant from the Indiana Higher Education Telecommunications System, Smith developed "Approaches to Global History" as both a methodology course in teaching and a content course covering the interactions between the civilizations of Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas from 1500. It was offered for the first time in January.

"It's designed to meet the needs of middle- and high-school social studies teachers and upper-level undergraduate and graduate students who plan careers in secondary education," Smith says.

Elaine Wrisley Reed, executive director of the National Council for History Education in Westlake, Ohio, says she believes that the Purdue course is the first of its kind in postgraduate social studies education to be offered entirely on-line.

"I think we're seeing the beginning of a trend in teacher education that's tremendously needed," Reed says. "This is a wonderful professional development opportunity that can have an immediate impact on both the teacher and the students in his or her history classes."

On-line students will receive reading assignments, participate in discussion forums and case-study simulations, and interact with guest lecturers from around the world on-line. Assignments will include writing lesson plans and lectures that can be used in their own classrooms, and creating interactive Web pages for their school's social studies programs.

"One of the goals of the course is to help teachers become more Web-savvy so that they can incorporate the technology into their own instruction," Smith says. "You not only have to know how to search the Internet, but you have to be able to recognize the value of the information you find there."

Enrollment for the first semester was limited to 25 students to maintain a close-knit community of learners, but that number could increase depending on future demand, he says. Tuition is the same no matter where the student lives, and participants will earn three hours of Purdue credit.

As an added service, Smith and Nelson will be available both during and after the completion of the course to personally consult with teachers about implementing new global history materials and classes into their curriculums.

"The grant will allow Lynn Nelson and me to actually visit classrooms and discuss textbook options and Web-page creation," Smith says. "It will also give us a chance to see what kind of facilities and equipment teachers are working with today and advise them on what they will need in the future."

CONTACTS: Smith, (765) 494-4152; e-mail,

Nelson, (765) 494-2372; e-mail,

Goldberg contestants 'tee up' in 1999

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Video and photographs of past contests are available. Journalists will not be allowed on the stage with the machines during the competition, but they are welcome on stage before and after the contest. Purdue will provide video and photo pool coverage and direct audio and video feeds. An ISDN line is available for radio interviews. Video b-roll, photos and a news release will be available the afternoon of the event. Satellite assistance is available. If you have questions, call Grady Jones, Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2079; e-mail,

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University students will be adding a new hazard to the game of golf in the 17th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Feb. 13.

The competition honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. Each year, Purdue students are challenged to build actual working machines that Goldberg himself might have dreamed up. The everyday task for 1999 is to tee up a golf ball. Previous contests have asked students to make a cup of coffee, put a stamp on an envelope and screw in a light bulb -- in 20 or more steps.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 11 a.m. in Purdue's Elliott Hall of Music. The winner of the competition will represent the university at the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, to be held at Purdue on April 10.

Students will build their machines by combining the principles of physics and engineering with common objects, such as marbles, mouse traps, bicycle gears, small kitchen appliances, rubber tubing and plenty of duct tape. The goal is to tee up a standard golf ball in a complicated and humorous fashion within a specific time limit. Each machine must run, be reset and run again in nine minutes. Points are taken off if students have to assist the machine once it's started. The teams also will be judged and awarded points based on the creative use of materials and use of related themes.

The local contest is organized by members of the Purdue chapter of Theta Tau, with support from industrial sponsor General Electric. It was first held at Purdue in 1949 and ran until 1955. The fraternity revived it in 1983 to celebrate National Engineers' Week, and the university has hosted the national contest since 1988.

Last year's campus contest was won by the Purdue student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. Its machine was based on the theme "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and used 26 complex steps and all manner of toy vehicles to turn off an alarm clock.

The national competition, which attracts teams from across the country, has been won the past two years by a team from the University of Texas, Austin. In addition to the Purdue contest winner and the Texas team, the 1998 national event also featured machines built by students at Oakland University, Rochester, Mich.; Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.; the University of Wisconsin at Madison; and Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.

CONTACT: Joe Martin, contest chairman, (765) 743-5276; e-mail,

Compiled by Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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