Teaching Tips
Donner Online

Introduction | The Task | The Process | The Roles | Conclusion | HyperText Dictionary


The plight of the Donner Party remains one of the most poignant episodes in the history of westward expansion during the 19th Century. "Donner Online" is a type of Web-based activity in which you learn about a topic by collecting information, images, and insights from the Internet, and then you "paste" them into a multimedia Scrapbook (a HyperStudio stack or a Web page) to share your learning with others.

You will be working in teams where group members take on different roles and look for certain kinds of information, answers, and insights. When your group puts it all together to create your Scrapbook, you will be exposed to what your team members have learned. Of course, you too will be sharing everything you picked up on your study of the Donner tragedy. The last phase of creating your group's multimedia product focuses you on answering such questions as:

The Task

Your task is to:
  1. Take on one of the roles listed below.
  2. Complete the task related to the role through exploring Internet links.
  3. Combine your learning into a group project that expresses your thinking.

The Process

There are three main parts to this project:

Phase 1: Gaining Background Knowledge

Before becoming your role, check that you and everyone in your group understand the basic facts behind the Donner Party's history. Use the links listed after the questions. Make sure that each member of each group can answer the basic questions:
  1. Who?

  2. What?

  3. Where?

  4. When?

  5. Why?
Use these links:

Phase 2: Collecting Information

This is where you take on one of the roles and explore the related Internet links. Have fun. Look for interesting things, important things, and surprising things.

  1. Choose a role (this can be one person per role or pairs).
  2. Surf the links related to your role.
  3. Follow your interest and what strikes you.
  4. "Collect" (copy & paste) text or images from the Web.
  5. Note the location (URL) of each thing you borrow.

Role Learning Links
Background information on the Oregon Trail

Relate first-hand experience of crossing

Uncover maps of the area, the lake, the pass, etc.


Find illustrations of the locale, people, equipment, etc.

Can jokes about cannibalism to be in good taste?

c. 1995
What to bring on a crossing: Past & Present

Insights about starvation and physical stress

Phase 3: Creating Learning Products

Now that you have "collected" information, the next phase challenges you to extend or refine your thinking. This will be achieved by putting together your group's multimedia Scrapbook. Choose and download the appropriate software so that you can get started creating your HyperStudio stack or Web page.

  1. Fill in your role for either the HyperStudio stack or Web page.
  2. Work with the partner paired with you for your card/section.
  3. Work together to answer the "Big Questions:"
    • How do you balance opportunity and its possible risks?
    • Is humor appropriate in the face of tragedy?
    • How can humans find peace in a world that couples natural beauty with devastating peril?
  4. Present your learning to the class.


Opportunity & Risk, Beauty & Danger, Humor & Tragedy... It often seems that life presents us with complex and sometimes deadly experiences. Through looking closely at the facts and issues behind the history of the Donner Party, we hope that you can express a little more clearly what you think and feel about experiences that let us all know what it means to be human.

Last revised February, 2005
Created by Tom March, tom at ozline dot com
Applications Design Team/Wired Learning