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Kenneth Watson

Discovery Channel Web Site Uses U.Va. Student's Research

April 28, 2000 -- In 1992, Kenneth Watson, a law graduate of Georgetown University, left his job at a Washington, D.C., consulting firm to substitute-teach at Albemarle High School.

Watson fell in love with teaching, and spent three years teaching Advanced Placement (AP) government to high school seniors. He began to realize the impact he was having on the students, and decided to pursue a doctorate in education from the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education.

"I am certain that teachers, like doctors, parents and preachers, have the most profound effect on the world today," Watson said. "Once you touch one student, you never see the end of that ripple effect," he said.

Watson felt he could affect the most students by attending graduate school and implementing new teaching strategies. Though he won't receive his University of Virginia education degree until May, hundreds of students around the country have already benefited from one of his ideas -- an innovative online teaching device at Discovery.com.

For his dissertation, Watson constructed "Infotectives Online," an Internet teaching mechanism designed to engage middle and high school students in learning history. It sparked the interest of a Discovery Channel producer at a Florida conference in November, and Watson was asked to create a version of his project for Discovery.com.

His program was used in classrooms nationwide to teach students about 20th century technology and how it has affected people's lives.

Watson wanted to develop a program that would take students through a discovery process. "I wanted to develop some kind of framework so students can learn online," he said. "I wanted them to be information detectives, or cyber historians."

Working in teams, students analyze primary sources and other data to solve a historical mystery. They follow clues and tips to make connections between people's personal experiences and the political history of the era.

"These activities attend to the mission of keeping history alive by looking in depth at pivotal moments in our past for an understanding of the connections between people, events and consequences," Watson said.

One of the "mysteries" utilizes the Valley of the Shadow project, an award-winning hypermedia collection of data chronicling the Civil War in two different communities by the U.Va. Virginia Center for Digital History.

Watson's Web project aims to help students gain a comprehensive understanding of their subject. "They have to understand that culture, family, social class, race, economic status, gender and occupation affect history," Watson said.

Watson said understanding the emotions and thoughts of those that experienced history prepares students for the AP exams because it gives them context for the information they learn.

In 1999, "Infotectives Online" won first place in Ed's Oasis MasterSearch, a contest for web-based lesson plans.

Watson does not have firm plans after graduation, but he said he hopes eventually to combine his expertise in teaching, technology and the law.

For more information, contact Kenneth Watson at (804) 245-5921 or klw7f@virginia.edu.

Contact: Jill Johnson, (804) 924-6855

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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