November 26, 2005
Guess who forgot to post my homework before I went on the honeymoon? Yes, that’s Tai.
Digital media MAY change the teaching and learning of history:
Certainly digital media changes the power structure of teachers traditionally ruling over students. Similarly, students have more control over their method of learning and viewing sources. If using digital source material, students have a level of autonomy never before provided by printed texts. Students can access, view and analyze a range of sources even beyond the Internet-prolific professor’s capability. As stated by T. Mills Kelly, “[a]n intricately interlinked set of primary source documents makes it possible for students to construct or reconstruct their own meta-text in ways that an assignment in print alone, no matter how well designed, cannot, except for the most gifted or motivated learners.” Thus, both professors and students are embarking on an educational adventure because the digital media prevents the teacher from having complete control over probable learning outcomes.
Yet beyond being outsmarted, instructors more often fear, as Kelly argues, “the web discourages our students from using the library, or even books at all.” However, this is addressed by what an instructor’s course goals include: Does the educator not wish to provide the student with historiographical context and background for what is being studied? Historiography must be addressed in print, in libraries and hence, through books. It would be irresponsible in any sense for a professor to instruct students, even with digital primary sources, without providing the students a foundation of previously purported knowledge.
Perhaps the question should not be what changes digital media has on teaching. Rather, the emphasis should be, what are the goals of history educators? Hopefully it isn’t, and never was: regurgitation of facts. Whether primary sources were provided in hardcopy or through digital media, analysis should be independent and unpredictable, with students being instructed on the historiographical background of a particular topic.
Just as we do not consider primary sources without a historiographical context, we should not consider students outside of their cohort context. Example cohorts: survey course students, history-major students and graduate history students. Professors teaching various courses should have varying goals for these diverse cohorts. Survey courses should be working to provide a general background while combating what David Pace calls the “ideological spin” primary and secondary schools give to history, “overwhelmed by creations of popular culture, such as Forrest Gump and even Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.” With digital media, instructors can utilize similarly visually enduring relations of history with more historical viability than box-office productions. History-major courses should be introducing students to primary sources and developing analysis with historiographical framework. Kelly indicates how digital media aides in this, “web certainly encourages students to focus on primary sources, especially what they mean and how they relate to one another, rather than simply memorizing some fact about them.” Graduate students can then use a wealth of digital and print materials to analyze and create new theories within an extensive historiography for further understanding of a particular historical topic.
A dilemma results for all cohorts, as Kelly reveals, because “student satisfaction is not the same thing as student learning, but such resounding endorsements are difficult to ignore altogether.” Students today are accustomed to using the Internet for both leisure and learning. Therefore it was inevitable historians would begin to use the digital media to enhance their own profession, which has in turn benefited students; “exploring on the web does seem to encourage original thinking about the past, thereby helping students to make more sophisticated connections between various sources, events and people than they generally do with a textbook or monograph (Kelly).” With this, the teaching of history appears to be improved by digital media. Nevertheless, students “not only do not know how to judge the quality of what they find on the web, they do not even think much about the potential risks of bogus, or simply sloppy, websites (Kelly).” Just as with printed texts, instructors again need to provide either instruction on how to evaluate history websites, or need to provide previously screened Internet resources. Fortunately, organizations such as the Center for History and New Media here at GMU are doing such screenings for other instructors to identify worthwhile Internet sources, thus eliminating the need for professors to fear the breadth of inaccurate knowledge and primary sources littering the web. [Western Civ Webography, World History Matters]
Needless to say, digital media has definitely changed the availability and accessibility of sources for instructors and students. Although the teacher may be giving up some of the control in the “right-answer compromise,” the students are gaining a level of autonomy in their learning, which cannot be accomplished in traditional printed texts. The goals of teaching should have been and thus should remain centered on (when relevant to the cohort) developing a historiographical background allowing students to evaluate primary sources for new and unique conclusions. As stated above, the use of digital media allows students in this process to make original deductions about a range of primary sources, previously impossible – meaning digital media has changed the teaching and learning of history.
Posted by tgerhart at November 26, 2005 03:22 PM