Digital tools in the #history classroom

Presentation for plenary session on Council of Europe Belgrade seminar, 29/10 2015

This is my first visit to Belgrade so I hope there will be time to see the city.

My name is Lars Henriksen and I have been teaching history in upper secondary school for 15 years. Over this period of time, my use of textbooks and paper in the classroom have slowly decreased, but not stopped entirely.

 

The online classroom and distractions from social media

Online students can be distracted from social media. But as Mark said, social media is just a natural means of communication to a 15-year old, like the book was (is) to us . So if we ban and fight social media in the class room, I think students will compare their history teachers to the catholic church in the case against Galileo – or even worse, the subject of history itself will be perceived as outdated and irrelevant to the students .

How many of your students use online devices in the classroom?

Which competences are needed from a teacher in an online classroom?

In the offline school, the teacher was a information “gate keeper”, choosing textbooks and or materials for the students. The teacher had a natural authority, due to the knowledge in the teachers head. Nowadays every student can google a subject and find accounts and documents on almost every history subject you can think of. Many facts are googleable, so authority does not come necessarily from remembering a lot of names and dates.

Far from everything on Google lives up to textbook-standards, but still this is different. Online students can google everything the teacher says and potentially correct him. They can also find rubbish and propaganda, so it is important to teach students to identify biased or even fake material

We have to look at this “competition”  as a resource in stead of nuisance: I sometimes ask students to look things up for me.

This means, that any account of a historical subject in any textbook can be compared  to 1000 other accounts on the internet – at least on controversial subjects – within a short period. Some students might be confused: Is the textbook outdated..?

We have to accept this and sometimes ask the students to find different perspectives and have them discussed in depth in class. In many cases, we cannot insist on one authoritative account over another – there will always different perspectives, and we have to give room for that.

The curriculum should be more open , in the sense that learners can propose documents and material to be included for class work. This will spur motivation among learners.

 

Will the students use facebook?

My claim is that if the students are on facebook it might be because they are bored!

I have noticed that when we have staff meetings, many of my colleagues have been peeking on facebook

And – I have even done it myself! How many in this room have CONSIDERED to check their feed during the day. ?

Students should not be lectured for more than 10-15 mins. They should learn  by using their knowledge to produce something with digital tools, they should be active.

 

Utilizing the power of social media to achieve history learning goals

So sometimes the outside world attracts and distracts our students on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and what not. But what If we draw some attention to history and what if your students could actually draw the attention of their network and friends  away from their cat videos and selfies? And educate them with some local history?

A few ideas:

  • Use a local hashtag like #MyBelgradehistory and let users post images of monuments or other traces of history in their neighborhood with a link to some product telling the story behind the monument. The post with the most likes and shares will earn a prize!
  • Set up a local history YouTube Channel on your school: Students take turns in publishing a video with a historical narrative – interviews with grand parents and so on.
  • Publish student papers as free e-books on the school’s website and share them on social media

 

Utilize student network: Create a list in class of students online friends in other countries – that could be used for assignments where students should find different perspectives on class subjects from other nations. Maybe they could compare their city monuments and history from the aforementioned competition.

 

 

Digital tools

Digital tools should be used in order to achieve learning goals – not in order to please the headmaster or the students. If you can’t explain the advantages of using a digital tool, you shouldn’t use it!

It is my experience though, that using contemporary tools motivates the students.

What is inquestionable facts and what is up for interpretation? How do we assess or identify  ‘biased’ history writing? One could ask students to find, say 5 different accounts on the outbreak of world war 1, copy-paste  and compare them in a shared google document. Highlight the words , that show the bias or point of view, if you prefer.

I think digital tools can be used in the teaching of

  • Writing historical essays – accounts of historical events.
  • Analyzing primary documents
    • Peer review writing with formative assessment

 

“Historical overview”

  • Simply putting images together in correct order.
  • Timeline tools
  • Cartoons

Videos – news flashes with accounts of historical events

There are tons of digital tools out there and there will be more next month:

 

Which competences do teachers need to cope with this?

In short: My recommendation would be to use digital tools in order to achieve history learning goals and raise attention for history outside classroom. Let the students have an “authentic” audience.

We must create assignments, that activate students with digital and online tools to achieve academic learning goals.

Online students can be distracted from social media. But social media is just a natural means of communication to a 15-year old, like the book was (is) to us . So if we ban and fight social media in the class room, I think we would be like the catholic church against Galileo – or even worse, the subject of history will be perceived as outdated and irrelevant to the students like Windows 95.

Utilize student network: Create a list in class of students online friends in other countries – that could be used for assignments where students should find different perspectives on class subjects from other nations.

Make assignments that involves publishing on social media like Twitter and Instagram with hashtags, for instance:

#Myhood: Ss. post a picture of a monument in their neighborhood and tell the story beind it. The picture with most favorites and likes get a prize… (discuss in class if people are rewarding academic or technical skills) – or use Historypin

Set up a local history YouTube Channel: Students take turns in publishing a video with a historical narrative.

Or publish student papers as free e-book on the school’s website.

Invite students to curate teaching material on a given subject: Youtube videos, OER

Or if possible: Invite students to propose subjects/or courses in the class.

This motivates students  – and frankly, also the teacher  – you learn with the students.

Storify

Assignment: Write content for Serbian Wikipedia articles

Power Searching with Google – course.

Dissemination

If you are not familiar with digital tools you need help from peers.  Likewise, If you have succeeded with smth, I think you should share it with colleagues.

Lots of teachers share ideas and material on Twitter – follow the hashtag #historyteacher

Faculty dissemination:

Many Danish upper secondary teachers share their teaching ideas in facebook groups. Do you?

My recommendation would be to use open online platforms to share ideas, teaching materials and so on:

Two Danish examples that I have created:

http://itigymnasiet.dk/, http://historielaerer.dk/

 

Summing up:

  • Activate students in classroom – let them create products and participate in class via digital tools
  • Dare to fail #failforward
  • Trust your students with knowledge of tools, that you don’t know.

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Udgivet i Historyteacher, Teaching

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