Historical Education the Digital Way

Today in Ottawa leading historians and educators came together at “Canada’s History Forum” to discuss and share ideas about the influence of technology in teaching history; a very hot topic at the moment. As technology continually increases and becomes more accessible, new tools emerge that allow for alternative ways of teaching history. Just last week in Digital History class, Professor Robert MacDougall came in to talk to us about video games and the influence they could have on teaching history. What is happening is  that historians and educators are looking at how technology is such a large component of children and teenagers lives, and how much they utilize it for social networking in the personal lives and for projects and presentations for school. They now are questioning how this technology can be used to engage students further with history?

Stephane Levesque, a Professor from the University of Ottawa, shared his examinations and work with this question, through his presentation on “The Virtual History Lab,” and how it has influenced the ways of teaching history. Levesque along with other researchers and technicians have created an online laboratory where researchers can come together to study how new technologies can be used in classrooms to help with improved education for students. They examine learning behaviours, look at improving learning and evaluation, as well as how to educate teachers and students on using digital tools. Levesque argues that even though digital material is more accessible for learning, it is not necessarily engaging for students. Technology needs to be utilized to help improve students abilities and teachers need to properly understand how to use the digital tools to increase the students engagement and learning. The Virtual Lab is essentially striving to make history more interactive for children and teenagers.

Dave Cormier, from the University of Prince Edward Island, has taken engaging and interacting with history to a more massive scale, through world integration. His presentation on “MOOC” and how to utilize the new abundance of information that is available to our society today in digital technologies, was very interesting. MOOC is the term he and Bryan Alexander coined, which provides an answer for what the internet is doing for education today, it stands for Massive Open Online Courses, and essentially is just that. Cormier and Alexander, along with George Siemens and Stephen Dowes, in 2008  took the class “Connectivism and Collective Knowledge,” that was offered to 25 students and opened it up to the world. The class attracted 2300 people that were passionate enough on the subject to take a free course online. This greatly opened up Cormier and the others minds to how MOOC could be used to connect with others around the world as a digital educational tool. They were able to witness the different and shared perspectives that emerged on a topic from a variety of people in various countries, proving that information is everywhere, as long as one has an internet connection, they can utilize the tool to increase their knowledge and passions on particular subjects. In doing so, and having people engage through MOOC, the digital tool could prepare students for skills that they needed to succeed, as well it could allow for people to reach out and connect with others in the world that were interested in the same topic; creating a gathering place to collect and collaborate. MOOC is a tool that allows for interaction of history, participatory involvement and a space for fostering creation.

Lévesque with The Virtual Lab, and Cormier with MOOC, are both doing an excellent job with history education! I agree that the best way to foster education of the subject is to have students engage with the material and with others through technology. Through digital tools, students can examine the primary source documents they are studying through digital archive collections, they can see works of arts through online galleries and museums, and they can read events of the day through online newspaper archives. As seeing is believing for most students, online tools can provide this opportunity and increase  interest in the subject. Teachers need to realize the impact of technology and utilize the digital tools to provide for a better overall understanding of the subject.

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