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History teaching and ICT


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There are three outcomes of the E-Help project: a European history teaching/learning curriculum website, an interactive forum and a residential course in Toulouse in the summer of 2007.

I'd like this thread to consider the last of these outcomes. How will History teachers be expected/expecting to use ICT in three years time? What will our course need to offer them? Practical observations and theoretical reflection equally welcome.

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  • 2 weeks later...

As I've said before, I'm pretty much in the Stone Age in this area, but I made myself a New Year's resolution to really get into it this year. This is part of what's happened so far:

I'd seen some of Richard's stuff on his website, like the great videos on the French Revolution, and I thought, how difficult can that be? The kids check the video camera out of the library, film their stuff, download it on to the computer, and edit it.

I checked with the library. Yes, we had four brand new digital video cameras ready to go. No problem!

I checked with the IT Dept. Great idea! No problem... Any idiot could do it...

So, we spent some class periods working on story boards and shooting scripts, and then we checked out a video camera and started shooting. Great! they're right, any idiot could do this!

The first problem arose when the first tried to download what they'd shot. It just wouldn't go in. We spent a fruitless period going from computer to computer in the lab trying to make anything happen. It transpired I'd foolishly failed to check whether the camera I'd checked out had a firewire connection (bad) or a USB connection (good).

Anyway, the project continued. The kids even got together after school and at home during the weekends and HOURS of film was shot by the various groups. That's when things REALLY began to go wrong...

Groups were coming back into school enthusiastically trying to download their stuff on to the computers. Once again, nothing worked... One group stayed behind after school for five hours working with one of the IT team failing to download anything. I got an irate email several pages long from one of the parents.

It eventually transpired that my school's computers only accept material shot in NTSC and the kids had used their own PAL cameras to shoot some of the stuff. They had to play it back through a multisystem VCR then re-record it in NTSC then download it, a process which took HOURS, before they could even begin to edit.

By this time, I was willing to thrown in the towell and go back to chipping tools from flint...

In the end, we got some quite nice material, but it took hours and hours longer than I had anticipated and reduced me, the kids, and quite a few parents to nervous wrecks.

What was the point of this anecdote? How does it relate to Richard's post? Well, I strongly suspect that quite a lot of history teachers are just as incompetent as I am. Of course I'd heard of firewire, but I didn't realize how critical the difference was. I knew there were two different video standards, but it didn't occur to me that you couldn't edit them not matter what system they were in...

I think that's one of the things we should be working on -- a series of handbooks for non-expert teachers which will lead them through the jungle by the hand and help them avoid what I've just been through. I can see a need for "handbooks" on creating simple websites, on using forums, on digital video, on PowerPoint, and on using interactive whiteboards.

Experiences like mine might put off a teacher who was just thinking of wetting his toes in the IT waters... Mind you, I did learn from the experience and the Paris Peace Conference video came out quite well...

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I suspect that in the UK at least, there will be a move away from the idea of marching the pupils down to the ICT room for a 'special' lesson which uses ICT, and towards the integrated use of ICT in 'ordinary' day to day lessons, where ICT is routinely used as a component of lots of lessons, in clasrooms which have a data projector or electronic whiteboard (and hopefully, internet access). One of the key tings to develop, therefore, would be 'integration literacy'; the skill with which teachers can use 'bits and pieces' using ICT (Ben Walsh's idea of 'building learning packages'), and building up a powerful archive of ICT resources and activities which can support this.

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I suspect that in the UK at least, there will be a move away from the idea of marching the pupils down to the ICT room for a 'special' lesson which uses ICT, and towards the integrated use of ICT in 'ordinary' day to day lessons, where ICT is routinely used as a component of lots of lessons, in clasrooms which have a data projector or electronic whiteboard (and hopefully, internet access). One of the key tings to develop, therefore, would be 'integration literacy'; the skill with which teachers can use 'bits and pieces' using ICT (Ben Walsh's idea of 'building learning packages'), and building up a powerful archive of ICT resources and activities which can support this.

I have been involved in trying to persuade history teachers to use computers in the classroom since the early 1980s. There has always been resistance to this process. Reasons given include:

(i) We don’t have the computers available in the school/classroom.

(ii) I am not happy about using computer technology (mainly because the students are seen to know more than the teacher).

(iii) Computers will not improve my history teaching. I can do all the things I want by using books, blackboards, etc.

(iv) There is no good software/websites for history teachers to use.

One of the big changes in that most teachers don’t make point (iv) very much today. In fact, most history teachers now have the internet at home and use it for research purposes.

However, only a small percentage of history teachers are happy about using computers in the classroom. I believe the main reason for this is the way classrooms are organized. Teachers still have this view of their role as standing in the front of the class being in possession of knowledge they wish to pass onto the students. I believe this is a paradigm problem.

At recent INSET sessions history teachers have still shown reluctance to use web simulations or forum software in their teaching. The one thing they do like is the emergence of the data projector and the electronic whiteboard. Especially if they contain pre-prepared lessons. The reason being is that technology is being used to reinforce current paradigms. They will mainly be used in the same way as power-point presentations have been used. They might impress at first but do they really result in good teaching? I know they don’t work with me. As soon as a teacher starts reading out aloud a power point presentation I start to go to sleep. Am I alone in this?

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recent INSET sessions history teachers have still shown reluctance to use web simulations or forum software in their teaching.

I have not explored using either (I don't think) Web simulations sounds interesting to me. I keep my eyes and ears open for innovative, effective use of technology but I tend not to find anything that shakes my world enough to want to move to a new paradigm for large chunks of time.

The one thing they do like is the emergence of the data projector and the electronic whiteboard. Especially if they contain pre-prepared lessons. The reason being is that technology is being used to reinforce current paradigms.

I love the smart board systems. I rarely have found any pre-prepared content that works for me (oh I wish someone would read my mind and make exactly what I want to use) And yes at this point I am reinforcing my current paradigms but remaining open to jump into a web site that provides and interesting and interactive fifteen minutes or so.

They will mainly be used in the same way as power-point presentations have been used. They might impress at first but do they really result in good teaching? I know they don’t work with me. As soon as a teacher starts reading out aloud a power point presentation I start to go to sleep. Am I alone in this?

This is a great point. I so often hear about power point as the system to innovate. I remember a college professor devoting hours and hours and hours in converting lecture material to a power point presentation in the 1990s. I was not his Grad Assistant but I took a close interest. Then when I realized that he was essentially making notes for his college students I was dissapointed. In his lectures I saw discontinuity between the lecture and the actions of the students who now watched the screen and copied it down.

I want a catalogue of short clips or simulations that I can pick freely from from year to year. Show a short clip and ask my class about. It is the old paradigm, but that is what I want.

I am very skeptical about projects and the difficulty in gauging individual particiation and quality of work.

I tend to listen carefully and look for uses of technology that I want to use in my classroom. I tend to look for things that can be done to completion in 45 minutes.

What I am doing right now with the smartboard is using it on google for images (of course the freud search brought up some disturbing images, gulp) and get photos and maps from sites and show them during lecture. The smart board is fun in that you can draw on the web sites and highlight points that support the day's lecture.

I live in fear of the problems that come up in projects like that undertaken by Mike Tribe. We have a computer lab, I am online with my computer in the class room, I have a mobile pc lab for 18 students at a time.

However, there are often bugs that come up in using technology and the make intricate of a display one uses in class, the more things can go wrong.

This is my greatest limitation. The kids like using the technology. It is good for them to keep working on their electronic skills. But I feel compelled to stay on task and get content delivered. If I am unsure, I don't do it.

Being more cutting edge compared to my peers is also a drawback. I tend to be the gunea pig for technology when I don't want to be. I need someone to come into my school that uses the heck out of this stuff and helps me see what works and what is not for me.

Edited by Raymond Blair
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As soon as a teacher starts reading out aloud a power point presentation I start to go to sleep. Am I alone in this?

I agree :ph34r:

The obligatory PowerPoint presentation as you describe is indeed a peculiarly mundane use of ICT in teaching and is extensively used, ( perhaps even more so in teacher INSET).

Teachers also like electronic whiteboards because they can use them just like chalkboards only save their words of wisdom for some more "victims".

The best use of ICT and the internet exploits interactivity, reduces the reliance on the teacher and allows learners to progress at their own pace - maybe these are some of the reasons why so many teachers oppose/resist it?

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I would agree that 'ideological' resistance to the use of ICT has declined over the past 8 years. There is evidence to suggest that most history teachers and trainee teachers have positive attitudes to the potential of ICT to improve teaching and learning in history, but access is still a problem in most history departments, both in terms of access to computers for pupil activity, and access to whole class projection facilities.

I think some good ideas are emerging about how to use ICT in a more genuinely interactive and thought provoking way, but agree with John that there is some use of ICT (and PowerPoint in particular) that is not making full, effective and imaginative use of what ICT might offer.

One area of interest is the various electronic systems for eliciting and 'publicly' registering pupil response or opinion. These tend to be quite expensive at the moment. but they are transforming the experience of lectures in some areas of higher education, and might have the same effect in history classrooms if the price came down. The best example I can think of is the section at the end of the Anne Frank house museum where the audience registers an opinion on a range of problematic moral and ethical issues, and you can quickly see how many people voted which way.

It is the first step in 'drawing out' learners, and geting them to engage in discussion and debate (an area of history teaching that requires high-order skills). It harks back to Stenhouse's ideas from the Humanities Curriculum Project, where pupils actively think about and debate controversial issues, with the teacher (and the ICT system) guiding them in the skills of argument, debate and the marshalling and evaluation of evidence.

This sort of use would have a more radical influence on classroom practice in history than many of the current uses of ICT.

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You can't force people to use ICT. Or rather, you can force people, but you can't force them to use it effectively. What I'm afraid of is online resources being presented as some paper-based solutions - as a fait accompli.

Lessons, no matter how dictatorial the schemes of work, will always reflect the personality of the teacher. I believe this to be a positive, not a negative thing. Consequently, ICT-based resources or aids need to be able to be have an individual teacher's 'stamp' put upon it. Only then will ICT be truly integrated within teaching.

One thing that I do look forward to in a more ICT-based future is the ability for more motivated pupils to not only work at their own pace, but access resources to aid their learning anywhere they have access to the Internet! :tomatoes

:ph34r: Doug

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You can't force people to use ICT. Or rather, you can force people, but you can't force them to use it effectively. What I'm afraid of is online resources being presented as some paper-based solutions - as a fait accompli.

Lessons, no matter how dictatorial the schemes of work, will always reflect the personality of the teacher. I believe this to be a positive, not a negative thing. Consequently, ICT-based resources or aids need to be able to be have an individual teacher's 'stamp' put upon it. Only then will ICT be truly integrated within teaching.

One thing that I do look forward to in a more ICT-based future is the ability for more motivated pupils to not only work at their own pace, but access resources to aid their learning anywhere they have access to the Internet!  :D

:plane Doug

It is true that teachers need to feel some sort of ownership about the materials they use. I am sure most teachers feel the most successful lessons have been with materials they have either created or adapted for their own use.

However, we need to distinguish between what teachers say and what they do. I remember a commissioning editor from a large publishing house telling me a story about a survey they carried out on the future of history textbooks. A large percentage of teachers told researchers that they did not like books with student activities in. As professionals who knew about the needs of their students and were happy to create their own activities. This survey created a publishing disaster. Books without activities failed to sell. The teachers were guilty of saying what they thought they should say. Every year Ofsted publishes a review of the history lessons they have observed. Each year they say the same thing, most lessons are taught using history textbooks.

My view is that when producing materials for teachers, you need to give them as much help as possible. At the same time, the materials should be produced in such a way that teachers could adapt them for their own use.

When I became involved in designing computer programs in 1982 I thought we would revolutionalize what went on in the classroom. I was wrong. I thought the same thing when I created my website in 1997. I was wrong. In both cases these innovations failed to have a dramatic impact on went on in the classroom. What happened was that teachers used the technology to do the kind of things they had been doing for years. The paradigm remained unaltered.

Therefore, my first reaction to Richard’s question is that in three years time, will be doing similar things to what they are doing now, except they will be using electronic whiteboards instead of blackboards.

My hopes are very different. Ideally I would like to see students using the web to carry out individual research. This material would be fed back to the rest of the class as a result of the students acting like teachers.

I would like to believe that all teachers and students will have their own websites. This would be part of the process where teachers and students become creators rather than consumers of information.

I would like to believe that students and teachers will be members of forums dedicated to certain history topics. These would be places where students would ask questions and exchange information about these subjects. It would also be a place where historians, teachers and students would publish their research.

I would like students to be involved in long-term online simulations. That is simulations, that lasted for several months. Although created by some outside group (for example, E-HELP), the teacher would be encouraged to link this information to a local study. For an example of what I mean by this, see:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Yalding.htm

This material was created when I was teaching in East Grinstead. The simulation includes a study of life in a medieval village (Yalding) and a medieval town (Easy Grinstead). I would like to think that teachers could adapt these materials to suit their own local needs.

This will only happen when teachers feel comfortable with technology. It is a national disgrace that people are leaving PGCE course without having their own website. A couple of years ago I was asked to give a talk to every PGCE student at Sussex University. It was at the end of the course and they wanted me to explain how the students could use the web in their teaching.

I had lunch with all those members of staff teaching the course. Not one of the tutors knew how to create a website. Nor did they show any interest in finding out how to do this. What is more, they seemed pretty proud of the fact. Also at the lunch was a person who had just be recruited to teach on the course. Here was the opportunity to appoint someone with these skills. Instead they appointed someone who saw no benefit in new technology. He told me he thought it was a passing fad. He had never used the web in his life.

When I asked how the students were expected to find out how to use this new technology I was told they would get from their schools. Maybe in some, but most were leaving the course without any idea of how to do these things. Yet I have taught teachers how to create websites in just over an hour. In reality, it is not much more difficult than using a word processing programme. Until we get the training of teachers sorted out, we will never get technology used properly in the classroom.

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'The one thing they do like is the emergence of the data projector and the electronic whiteboard'.

I think this quote from John Simkin relates to an important development. But it should be emphasised that it takes time for a teacher to learn how to get the best out of the technology.

In two recent lessons in West Sussex where I am working on history and literacy the data projector was very well used. In the first lesson in 1 school the teacher was using PowerPoint to help pupils to see how historians convey their point of view whilst deploying their historical information. Each successive slide revealed some of the word types 'strong verbs' 'adjectives' being used for effect, the 'connectives' being used for cohesion and emphasis and the devices such as listing 4 details to support a general point contained in an extract from a published historian. Accompanied by the paper copy of the extract in front of them pupils were able to develop a historian's toolkit.

In the second lesson the addition of the interactive whiteboard allowed the pupils to come out and highlight similar word types and devices being used in a dialogue from historical fiction in an extract displayed on screen. These annotations were then readily saved and returned to at various points in the lesson and those that followed.

In both lessons the technology allowed the teachers to signpost tasks more effectively, to make their teaching points more clearly and to aid pupils' memory. The consequence was good learning. The pupils are currently moving on to incorporate what they have learned directly into their own writing. All of us involved hope to see some concrete evidence of this.

What underpinned the teachers' successes is that they have had the equipment in their classrooms for long enough to be familiar with its use and to have grown out of the distractions some of its features offer. Plus the time to prepare the materials, but having done that they will be ready for use next year.

But the final point is that in each school there are other history teachers in classrooms without the technology who cannot yet do this. So resourcing remains an issue.

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Andy wrote:

The best use of ICT and the internet exploits interactivity, reduces the reliance on the teacher and allows learners to progress at their own pace - maybe these are some of the reasons why so many teachers oppose/resist it?

John wrote:

Ideally I would like to see students using the web to carry out individual research. This material would be fed back to the rest of the class as a result of the students acting like teachers.

I think John and Andy have really pointed out the real problems: teachers have to change their current paradigms about their role and their evaluation process.

I also think the real objective of teaching is not just imparting knowledge, but developing competence. Maybe the process of teaching/learning is more important than the content itself.

I would suggest the following ideas, based in part on my recent experiences during a students' exchange with a Norwegian school:

1. the amount of confidence teachers have with technology is not so important, as long as they are ready to rely on their students' technical skills in using ICT.

There can be a kind of mutual exchange of knowledge based on cooperation.

Anyway, you learn by doing: the first products needn't be perfect but what you learn from your "mistakes" will never be forgotten.

2. Students should become the real protagonists of the learning process: they must be given a clear task, a deadline, the opportunity of using ICT facilities (however old and faulty they may be) and they must be reminded that they will be responsible for their "product" in terms of time employed, end results, etc.

3. When referred to the specific subject (history), the task could be any of the activities which has been suggested so far: the ideal process should involve some knowledge being first imparted by the teacher, a lot of project work organized and carried out by the students and the teacher acting as an expert / tutor ready to give the students all the further information/support they may need.

I know from experience that all students participate: the teacher has all the time he needs to evaluate the participation and the work of each of them and the results can be very interesting.

Edited by Caterina Gasparini
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