14 August 2019
When it comes to teaching history, technology has reinvented the wheel.
Learning about the past is now more accessible and relevant to students, thanks to the wealth of digital resources available.
“Because of online technology, students can access websites, talks and virtual tours of faraway places,” says Dr Chris Kenna, an English and history teacher at Hawker College in Canberra. “Seeing people, places, art and architecture can allow for more understanding and empathy about what it might have been like in
An “amazing” amount of primary and secondary source material is now available, says Kenna.
Using Google Earth, for example, students can ‘visit’ and access information about the history of many significant places, monuments and landmarks such as the Taj Mahal and the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. It creates a visual connection with the past.
“And that’s important,” says Rowan Hofmeister, a teacher at Indooroopilly State High School in Brisbane. “Short, sharp, powerful history videos with animation – on YouTube, TED-Ed, Khan Academy, Crash Course History – bring the past alive and are more engaging than the slow-paced one-hour history documentaries [that preceded them].”
Hofmeister cites the images of Greek and Roman art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Google Cultural Institute’s video museum walk-throughs and the Khan Academy’s history videos with online discussions as some of the richly rewarding technology on offer.
He says he would also like to see more historically based computer games. “Students have told me about scenes in Assassin’s Creed that explore Ancient Egypt in high-definition detail.”
At Glenmore Park High School in Penrith, Sydney, English and history teacher Luke Bartolo makes his own videos, reciting modern history readings aloud, with associated imagery to help with visualising some of the main points.
“It helps students who have difficulty reading, have processing disabilities or struggle with literacy in general,”
he says. “Nearly all of them weren’t the sort of students who would complete the readings I gave them to do outside of class time, and I’ve had some with literacy difficulties coming back to me each lesson to discuss what’s in the videos they’ve watched.
“It’s an opportunity for them to engage with academic literature in a way they’ve never experienced before.”
Glenmore Park students have also used Google Maps and graphing programs in history classes.
“It lets those students who do well in maths feel like they can transfer their skills into the humanities in a meaningful and constructive way,” says Bartolo.
In one ‘graphic’ example, the impact of the Hiroshima atomic bomb was projected onto a map of Penrith so that the students could “draw connections between the event and their own world”.
It’s not all about the distant past.
Hawker College is also using Trove, the National Library of Australia’s online database, which Kenna describes as a valuable resource for Australian perspectives on major world and national events, including articles in local papers that have been digitised.
He notes that, with so much information available, students often need support to work out which websites are reliable. He uses Google Classroom to upload his suggestions, which include universities, the Smithsonian Institution and National Geographic.
“Google Classroom also makes it possible for students to share their ideas with peers online and can help those who are not confident in sharing their ideas in class,” says Kenna.
Technology can help to stimulate and communicate ideas, says Jonathon Dallimore, who is teaching history methods education classes at the University of New South Wales and University of Wollongong while taking a break from teaching history at Smith’s Hill High School in Wollongong.
Until recently, communication was dominated by writing and making speeches, but now historical ideas can be expressed by making web pages, mini-documentaries and podcasts, says Dallimore, who is also on the History Teachers’ Association of NSW board of directors.
“Using technology can help motivate some students to do more rigorous and creative work.
If they are making a movie, for example, the process of tracking down images and footage online stimulates good research and allows students to be quite creative in what they choose and how they use the material.”
At Indooroopilly State High, students are using Windows Movie Maker to create podcasts and their own videos.
“I ask them to pair up and work on an interview,” says Hofmeister. “One student plays the interviewee, who is an author launching a new book about the Persian Empire. The other is the interviewer, who has to script questions that allow the author to share knowledge. Both students have to research the Persian Empire and both are writing an essay of sorts.”
It’s all a matter of bringing the past into the present – and there’s also the not too distant future to think about.
“I’d like to use Skype,” says Hofmeister, “so my students can have conversations with historians around the world who not only share their knowledge, but also pass on their passion for history.”