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e-Help Seminars - Terry Haydn
e-help Seminar 12
Using ICT in school history to develop pupils' information and political literacy
Toulouse 17-19 February 2005
Influences on my thinking about history and ICT

Implications of these influences: how can we use ICT to persuade pupils that history is: i) interesting and enjoyable, and ii) very relevant to the lives they will live outside the classroom?


1. Influences on my thinking about history and ICT

i) Politicians’ misconceptions about the educational uses of ICT

“Ever since Harold Wilson spoke of the white heat of technology, politicians and decision makers have assumed that silicon offers a hot-wired short-cut to voters’ hearts… A succession of ministers from Benn to Baker embraced technology with photogenic relish; when did you last see an education minister in the media without a computer in the background?’ (Stephen Heppell, Observer, 8 January 1995).

‘The psychologist Weigenbaum observed in the 1960s that computers seemed to have a powerful delusional effect on some people and should not be allowed near the weak minded or gullible’ (Guardian, December 1996).

In the UK, insufficient heed has been paid to the views of practising history teachers on what they want in terms of ICT. Politicians have tended to view ICT as an unproblematic educational miracle and as something that is principally about training pupils to use computers for employment purposes (one of my sad little hobbies is collecting quotes by politicians about the educational uses of ICT). As John Naughton pointed out (Observer, 22 March 1988) ‘It’s not every day you encounter a member of the government who appears to understand the net. Most politicians (Clinton, Blair, Blunkett, to name but three) see it as a pipe for pumping things into schools and schoolchildren.’

ii) The importance of ‘impact’ learning

Philip Sadler’s research (Sadler, P., 1994, Simple Minds, QED, BBC2, 19 September) had a big influence on my teaching. He found that often, pupils understood less at the end of a series of lessons than before they had studied a topic. What percentage of what we teach pupils do they learn, know, understand and apply? Often very little: in Fontana’s words, ‘we each of us receive a constant and varied stream of experiences throughout our waking moments, each one of which can potentially give rise to learning, yet most of which apparently vanish without trace from our mental lives’ (Fontana, D., 1993 Psychology for teachers, London, Macmillan: 125). Sadler’s research made me aware that most of what we teach pupils, they either don’t understand in the first place, or they forget. My subsequent teaching made me aware that ICT can provide teaching resources which enable us to make particular points in a very vivid, powerful way, so that the learning experience is seared across the pupils’ minds in a way that they will not forget – ever.

iii) Pupil attitudes to history as a school subject

• Several studies over a period of time have shown that many pupils find history ‘useless’ and ‘boring’ (Schools Council, 1968, Aldrich, 1987, Haydn, 2002). Many pupils do not understand why they study history; they literally don’t see the point of it. In a recent survey, only a handful out of 1,400 year nine pupils could give cogent reasons for studying history (Adey and Biddulph 2001). Many facets of ICT offer powerful opportunities for teachers to persuade pupils that history is very important, and very relevant to the lives they will lead outside school (see second section). If history teachers exploited these opportunities thoroughly, it could make a very big difference to pupil attitudes to history as a school subject.

iv) Feedback from history teachers and trainees

Over the past several years, I have surveyed approximately 300 history teachers about their use of ICT. The following points emerged from the study, and I think they are worth keeping in mind when we are thinking of ways forward for the use of ICT in school history:

• The new technology application which has had most impact on history teachers’ practice over the past decade is the use of television and video. Most history teachers and trainees made regular use of video/TV in their teaching. This was partly because it was easy/convenient compared to using computers, and because departments often had rich ‘archives’ of video extracts. But it was also about the power of the moving image. Many history teachers remarked that it enabled them to make a particular point in a very vivid and powerful way, and in a way that influenced the emotions of the pupils as well as their intellects.

• They wanted ICT for better teaching and learning in history, not to help pupils become good at ICT.

• They wanted ICT ‘on tap’ in the classroom, not in ICT suites, so that they could use it as a ‘component’ of a lesson, rather than as an occasional ‘special event’ ICT lesson, where you had to book the room weeks in advance and march all the pupils down to the ICT room for the ‘event’.

• Overall, there was a preference for ‘straightforward’ as against ‘cutting edge’/sophisticated applications. Also, a preference for applications which were not too time consuming – which would allow them to make a particular teaching point quickly and effectively.

v) Deficits in pupils’ ‘information literacy’

Developments in new technology have had an influence on pupils’ views about the reliability of information from different sources. One of my students, Matt Howe, surveyed all the pupils in an 11-16 school and found that three or five years of school history had not apparently changed their ideas about the reliability of information from different sources. At the age of 11, most pupils thought that the internet, CD-roms and text books were the most reliable forms of information. At the age of 16, they still thought this.

This was a small-scale enquiry, conducted within one school, but it nonetheless raises interesting questions for history teachers. Given that one of the aims of school history is to help young people to handle information intelligently, there is perhaps a need to address the issue of ‘media literacy’ more explicitly, and make connections between the reliability of sources ‘from the past’, and the sources from which they derive information in their day to day lives. Part of a historical education in the 21st century ought to be to teach pupils that the internet is not the ultimate repository of truth and wisdom.

• 2. Implications of these influences: how can we use ICT to persuade pupils that history is: i) interesting and enjoyable, and ii) very relevant to the lives they will live outside the classroom?

i) ‘Impact’ resources, not just ‘more stuff’

One of my interests in history teaching is the collection of resources that have a powerful impact on learners, that help history teachers to make a particular point in a vivid, memorable and effective way. This can be through the use of quotations, pictures, cartoons, interactive exercises on the internet and (in particular) short moving image extracts. Of my ‘top 100’ new technology resources, probably over 90 are in the form of short video extracts. The facility to put VHS video extracts into DVD format, and into powerful ‘collections’ on, for example, The Holocaust, Propaganda, War etc has further enhanced the potential of such resources. There is no necessary correlation between the sophistication of technology and the potential of ICT for enhancing teaching and learning in history. One of my mentors reckons that the purchase of a couple of speakers and really ‘big screen’ projection via the data projector has transformed the impact of his collection of VHS video recordings. One or two examples (there are dozens I could mention): the section on ‘Blast’ from the BBC QED documentary about a one megaton nuclear bomb going off over London. No matter how good a teacher’s skills of exposition and questioning, it would be virtually impossible to get the scale of the atomic bomb over as effectively without these moving images. Another memorably powerful extract: the ‘blue eyes – brown eyes experiment’ shown as part of Channel 4’s documentary, ‘5 steps to tyranny’. I had heard of the experiment, but it’s a different thing seeing the moving pictures record of it. In terms of making a powerful point about the creation of ‘outsider groups’, I believe that most people who saw it would remember it for as long as they lived.

So yes, ICT has brought us lots of new ways to make our teaching effective, but don’t let us forget the power of the moving image.

ii) Using ICT to build up powerful ‘collections’

Phillips’ (2002: 22) has argued that the key ICT skill for history teachers in future will be ‘integration literacy’, meaning ‘the ability to use computers and other technologies combined with a variety of teaching and learning strategies to enhance students’ learning’ (in the words of Ben Walsh, building up powerful ‘learning packages’). It will not be about whether they use application A more than application B, but the skill with which they exploit the potential of a whole range of ICT resources to achieve real ‘impact’ learning: quotes, pictures, cartoons, newspaper articles, video extracts, high quality active learning activities from the web which makes pupils have to think and which disturb their preconceptions. One collection which I am currently trying to build up is an archive of quotes about the usefulness of studying history, which might be used to make it easier for teachers to be explicit about why history is relevant and important to pupils’ lives, even if they are just printed off and used for classroom display. Another is a set of resources aimed at developing pupils’ understanding of democracy (i.e. that it’s not just about having the right to vote). Other collections are simply collections of images on particular topics. I am also trying to build up a collection of resources which help history teachers to develop pupils’ internet/media literacy (see for example, the ‘spoof’ Oliver Cromwell website at http://freespace.virgin.net/susan.inwards/index.htm, the world’s shortest political quiz at http://www.self-gov.org/quiz.html, and the Dave Birch article at http://search.guardian.co.uk/search97cgi/s...ltArchive%2Ehts (this last example shows the advantages of hyperlinks).

iii) Using ICT to ‘open up’ topics and provide overviews, connections over time and links to the present

This relates to Richard Aldrich’s idea of the usefulness of ‘historical perspectives’. Is there any problem, issue, question into which one cannot gain more insight by looking at what has gone before? Too often we ‘pull up the drawbridge’ instead of linking the past to the present. If we use ICT to do this, it can mean that potentially ‘dry’ topics like roads and canals in the C17th, Hargreaves’ Spinning Jenny’, the Agrarian Revolution, can be opened up and made relevant to the parallel problems of the present. If we are going to get pupils to examine and analyse portraits of Elizabeth I, shouldn’t they also explore contemporary iconography? A combination of a Google images search and the scanner makes it very easy to put together a collection of pictures of Elizabeth II which shows how attitudes to the monarchy have changed over the past 50 years, or pictures of contemporary politicians which show how the visual image can be manipulated. If we are trying to teach pupils about the meaning of ‘right’ and left’ as political concepts, from the French Revolution to the present, the interactive exercise at www.politicalcompass.org can be a powerful resource. History ought to contribute to the political literacy of young people, and ICT can make a significant contribution to this aim. In particular, the newspaper archives provide some fantastic examples of high quality writing which can get pupils beyond the emaciated sources which some text books provide. A few examples:

A review of the views of a range of British historians on the Iraq War:

Interesting article on the historical background to the Dylan song, The lonesome death of Hattie Carroll): http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/fridayrevie...1424244,00.html

A brilliant piece of writing by Phillip Pullman on Reading and Democracy: http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1343733,00.html

Michael Young article, Down with meritocracy: http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,514207,00.html

Review of Anthony Sampson’s ‘Who runs this place? The anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1188975,00.html

iv) Using ICT to develop pupils’ information literacy

A recent report by the Historical Association argued that ‘History is an essential component of the values that underpin democratic societies and as such should be central to the compulsory years of education’ (History 14-19: Report and recommendations to the Secretary of State, Executive summary, London, Historical Association, 2005: 2.4.1).

ICT could play a valuable part in developing pupils’ democratic ‘vocabulary’, their understanding of political concepts, and their understanding of different views about the pros and cons of democracy (democracy is not unproblematically ‘a good thing’ and many societies, including our own, are not ‘perfect’ democracies). At the moment, how many young people leave school with an understanding of the ideas of, for example, Eisenhower, Lamartine, De Toqueville, Fukoyama, Chomsky and Hobsbawn, on the subject of democracy ? How many of them understand words and phrases such as ‘realpolitik’, ‘demagogue’, ‘plutocracy’ the manufacture of consent’, ‘playing the race card’?

As well as providing pupils with a body of knowledge and a mental map of the past, and a sense of identity and heritage, school history should provide pupils with an understanding of history as a form of knowledge, so that they can handle information intelligently, and so that they can ascertain the validity of claims about the world that they are going to live in. In the words of Norman Longworth, ‘It does require some little imagination to realise what the consequences will be of not educating our children to sort out the differences between essential and non-essential information, raw fact, prejudice, half-truth and untruth, so that they know when they are being manipulated, by whom, and for what purpose.’ (‘We’ re moving into the information society- what shall we teach the children?’, Computer Education, 1981, June: 17-19).

ICT can play a big part in helping history teachers to achieve the 4 aims outlined above, and to teach history more powerfully and more effectively.

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