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e-Help Seminars - Simon Ross

e-help Seminar 29
Beyond the History Classroom
Toulouse 8-10 June 2006

The web is changing

The web is changing; we are now in the age of the ‘read write’ web or ‘web 2.0’. There is a shift in emphasis towards the web being an interactive space where knowledge is shared, argued over, and added to dialectically. Unlike the “information silos” of the past, the latest generation of web services, such as blogs, podcasts, and wikis, are built through collaboration and information sharing. In my presentation I tried to explain how my colleagues and I have been using these services to extend and improve their students’ learning of history.
 What is ICT in the history classroom for?

Christine Counsell in the editorial to Teaching History 101 suggested that teachers must ask “what is ICT in the history classroom for?”. As a number of contributors to that edition stressed, the use of ICT needs to be driven by history: ‘ICT is the tool, and not the master’ as Atkin put it. Counsell suggested that the benefit of ICT is not just in motivation, or ‘speeding up’ of tasks. Rather, she suggested that ICT should be used to clear the way (reducing some effort) for students to engage in higher level thinking (increasing effort).

For some time, history teachers have been using the internet to encourage students to engage in discussions about history. Wilson and Scott wrote in 2003 about a role play looking at appeasement which had been conducted through e-mails between two classes at different schools. This, they suggested, was primarily “a speaking and listening activity” with the technology providing “spontaneity” and a “sense of reality”. At the same time, Thomas and Cole were using online message boards as a place to encourage their sixth form students to engage in historical debates. For a broad range of students their work allowed “real engagement, and…genuine pleasure in learning’ to develop.

What is ICT beyond the history classroom for?

I suggested that the question that we needed to ask had now changed: we should be thinking about what ICT can offer beyond the history classroom. I warned the associates and members that as soon as a teacher thinks about this question, there is an explosion of buzz words from senior management as they see the opportunity for distance learning and franchises. Neither my seminar, nor this article really considered the wider debate about this. Indeed, I suggested that there was no need to as there was a strong history rationale for using these new technologies. ICT, I argued, now offers a great opportunity to engage students in meaningful dialogue about history in, and beyond, the history classroom.

What is podcasting and how can I do it?

In this section of my presentation I explained what a podcast was: an audio file on the web, that can be subscribed to so that it downloads automatically onto computers, portable music players and phones. I hopefully showed that it was relatively straight forward to record and edit these files using a free program such as ‘audacity’. These files could be placed on the web as a useful resource. I explained that to enable people to subscribe it was necessary to have a blog (with rss feed). I explained thtat at www.ilovehistory.co.uk I used a wordpress blog with the podcast feed being created by a website called www.feedburner.com I also recommended reading Doug Belshaw’s detailed guide at http://teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk/index.php/...dcasting-part1/

Problems and possibilities

Finally, I suggested that although I was proud of what I had achieved in a short space of time at www.ilovehistory.co.uk, it was ultimately very limited. Having argued for this new technology as a means for engaging students in dialogue I had produced a very didactic, teacher expert, pupil passive resource. I recognized this problem, and linked it to similar problems with the use of teacher led class blogs, which frequently just reinforce this traditional model. I suggested that the solution lay in:
  • Student created podcasts which are then published as the students prepare for their final exams;
  • Student created podcasts which are then published as the students prepare for their final exams;
  • Student created podcasts which are then published as the students prepare for their final exams;
  • The use of comment functions to allow students to comment on and assess each others work;
  • Class wikis, to involve the students in independent research, shared work, and possibly awareness of interpretations.
One thing I didn’t mention, as it was very much preaching to the converted, was the use of these new technologies by teachers. It has been suggested that “interactions are perhaps the single most important element” in informing professional practice. Away from the knockabout banter of the TES forums, there are real opportunities for European teachers to engage in meaningful dialogue with a global network of educators. The wonderful discussions that I had at Toulouse, and on the forums before and after it are a testament to that. In this way, for both pupils and teachers, these technologies are offering new opportunities for discussion in, and beyond, the history classroom.

1 Taken from ‘Wikipedia’ at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0 on 6/04/06
2 Ibid.
3 Christine Counsell Editorial Teaching History 101 (2000) Historical Association, London p2
4 Alf Wilkinson ‘Computer’s don’t bite! Your first tentative steps in using ICT in the history classroom’ Teaching History 101 (2000) Historical Association, London p.17 – 23; Dave Atkin ‘How do I improve my use of ICT? Put history first!’ Teaching History 99 (2000) Historical Association, London 42 – 49; Jayne Prior and Peter D. John ‘From anecdote to argument: using the word processor to connect knowledge and opinion through revelatory writing’ Teaching History 101 (2000) Historical Association, London p.31-34
5 Op cit.
6 Maggie Wilson and Heather Scott “’You be Britain and I’ll be Germany…’ Inter-school e-mailing in Year 9” Teaching History 110 (2003) Historical Association, London p32-35
7 Denise Thompson and Nathan J. S. Cole ‘Keeping the kids on message… one school’s attempt at helping sixth form students to engage in historical debate using ICT’ Teaching History 113 (2003) Historical Association, London 38 - 43
8 Simon Letman ‘Engaging with each other: how interactions between teachers inform professional practice’ Teaching History 118 (2005) Historical Association, London 13 – 16
9 Excellent examples of this include www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum and the http://educationforum.ipbhost.com education forum.

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