Despite the speed at which our system and profession is changing, some aspects haven’t changed at all. I do think there have been major shifts over the last several years in West Vancouver, particularly with the proliferation of digital access and commitment to inquiry, among other factors.
Listening to Will Richardson at Computer Using Educators of British Columbia(CUEBC) during the last couple of weeks had me thinking and revisiting some of my early blog posts. Will has been someone I have been learning from for more than a decade. Before the Culture of Yes, I was blogging as a school principal in Coquitlam and also teaching AP European History. One of the early pieces I wrote (early fall 2006) was Teaching History in a Time of Change and reprinted below:
Teaching History in a Time of Change by title alone implies that there may be a time of stability around the corner. There isn’t. And it is not the change that is frightening, challenging, and exhilarating – it is the speed with which this change is occurring that is frightening, challenging, exhilarating, and, more importantly, remaking our profession. The advancements in technology and the exponential speed at which they are happening may make our current times the most dramatic for teaching and learning history since the invention of the printing press.
There are some givens that go along with the change: within the next few years every one of our students will arrive with a laptop or similar gizmo, all information will be on the internet, and all of our students will be connected everywhere, all the time, to the entire world. These changes are not up for debate – they are already becoming a reality in some jurisdictions. The only thing that can be debated now is how quickly they will happen and just how they will redefine the teaching of history everywhere.
I know it is risky to say this too loudly, but in short, these changes mean that teaching history the old way, whatever that has been or still is for each of us, is dead. Everyone can now get all the facts, whenever they need them, from wherever the source of information resides.
Within just hours after the shooting last month at Dawson College in Montreal, hundreds of Wikipedians were creating the story of the event as it occurred. From first hand accounts to summaries of news stories – in the hours and days following the shooting the entry at wikipedia.org was updated thousands of times. History is being reported, clarified, analyzed, summarized, interpreted and reinterpreted in real time. In addition to the upheaval of traditional timelines for these activities, the hierarchies of historians are gone and everyone can now be an expert or, at the least, a verifiable eyewitness and commentator to events as they occur.
Canadian Idol crowned its latest winner last month. In the voting, close to four million Canadians, mostly younger technologically literate Canadians, mostly using cell phones, mostly using text messaging, voted for their favourite candidate in the final two show-down that crowned Eva Avila the winner.
Wikipedia and Canadian Idol are not isolated – they are products of the new ways in which young people interact. The new technology tools are making learning more personal – you can read first-hand blogs from around the world. The tools are also making learning more communal – young people are active contributors in the online world, finding their voice through participation in often very complex online and digital communities. Today’s students live in a world of convergence and collective intelligence, living in a participatory culture in which learning is no longer an individualistic endeavor.
During the recent conflict in the Middle East, young men and women from Israel and Palestine were trying to understand what was really happening in their countries. Instead of turning to traditional news sources, they turned to one another for firsthand perspectives (link no longer active). Who should we be teaching students to believe, the bloggers or the news establishment? More importantly, how do we ensure students take a critical and analytical view to all sources?
So not only are the tools changing, but the students we are teaching are changing too. As Marc Prensky so nicely describes, our students are the digital natives and we are the digital immigrants. There was great comfort when we controlled the information. Now the students are better with the tools used to access the information than we are. The traditional teaching / learning continuum is gone and it is time for the new teaching to begin. The challenge for all of us is to take the tools that our students are using and find ways to use them in our daily teaching.
What are 10 things we can all go back to our classes Monday and do to start meeting the challenge?
- have students share information through social bookmarking such as del.icio.us
- create instant messenger class lists on MSN or a similar chat service
- have students build a wiki (collaborative website) for your class / school
- assign students to post an assignment to the web so they don’t just get feedback from their teacher but their peers and even complete strangers
- download Skype (a service that allows your computer to act as a phone) – have a conversation with a student across the country for free
- read a blog created by a student in another community
- begin to podcast lectures (audio recording files posted to the internet) or listen to others who have already done so
- stop banning websites and start educating students on how to use them
- put everything on the Internet – and share it with as many people as possible
- ask the digital natives to help the digital immigrants
Embracing the new tools is not about technology, it is about reality, our students’ reality. So, what are the key challenges for History teachers in this time of rapid change?
- continue to embrace high standards, while vehemently rejecting standardization – tests are less important than ever
- recognize that the role of the teacher is being redesigned – no longer are we the ones with the answers at the front of the room
- drop our protectionist tendencies as we continue to work to meet students where they are instead of asking them to come to us
In this time of rapid change teachers are more important than ever, but only if we change at the same speed as the world in which our students are living. We have a duty to teach students the power of the new tools and how to use them – we need to lead them into the world of learning History 2.0.
Rereading this post, I laugh at some of the tools mentioned – so many have come and gone. Of course, it is not about the tools. The conclusions and the key challenges I have identified, do largely still remain. It was also so exciting to recently learn about the amazing work happening in our classrooms in West Vancouver and across the country, and recognized through the 2014 Government of Canada History Awards. For the same reasons I found it so exciting to be a teacher and a learner in 2006, I find it even more so true today.