November 16, 2005
Some factors that I think are important to consider when evaluating the digital classroom...
It seems that when we speak of teaching and learning with digital history, the difference between using the Web as a resource for finding and viewing information and learning to “think like an historian” is often muddied. The web is clearly transforming the access to various kinds of information. This is not to say that access has been totally democratized, but that there is a wider range of materials available to an increasing diverse set of learners and educators (in terms of geography, learning style, etc.) I think that Web at this point opens up a world of information for students looking for resources and other interpretations.
My trouble is the suggestion that History on the Internet allows students to more easily assimilate complex thought processes of an historian (or any discipline). The Internet provides easier access to more resources which, if studied, could in turn lead to the development of thought patterns. In this way, the Internet is a facilitator in that process but not necessarily the cause. Some tools that try to teach the thinking process of history are simple and do not display the subtleties that often characterize historical research. Obviously these Internet resources are meant as an introduction to novice scholars, but if this type of exercise becomes the favored version, we run risks of distorting the process of historical scholarship.
Students will come to expect historical problems to be framed in an either/or, multiple choice, etc. format with answers that proceed accordingly. This could (and probably does) occur with other types of learning, but this is something educators should keep in mind when evaluating Net resources. While they may be different and/or better than a linear narrative with names and dates to memorize, they can pose similar problems.
Not to be overly negative or critical, but before being able to speculate on the values of the digital Net medium for teaching historical thinking, I would like to see more about some of the consequences on learning. Beyond the fact that access to technologies is far from democratic and even if the equipment is available, many expected to be able to teach with those technologies have not been trained in the literal use and the pedagogical issues, much study is yet to be completed. The values of learning historical thinking on the Internet are not without cost (I’m thinking of the video gamer problem solving test for example). These costs may be negligible in comparison to benefits, but currently those using history on the Web are a fairly self-selecting group. We might not see some of the ways learning history digitally detracts from education as these learners probably have some kind of “predisposition” to the types of thinking required to benefit from digital presentations.
So to summarize: Basically I believe we should be cautious of the ways we use any resource. The Net allows new and exciting options acquiring information from archives, but actually learning to “think like an historian,” I’m not so sure. When we look to future, we have to remember that the benefits we ascribe to digital learning will have deep effects—it requires its own learned way of thinking and will probably change the ways we learn and think in any discipline. These are not bad in themselves, but require foresight and awareness.
Posted by alechne1 at November 16, 2005 03:54 PM