Today was the 2013 Canada’s History Forum “Is Technology altering our History? Fortunately for viewers across the country who could not attend, myself included, the forum was broadcast online. This in itself should be some indication of how technology is changing the way we look at history!
Unfortunately I was not able to catch all of the speakers but I was able to listen to Stéphane Levesque, Université d’Ottawa, and Dave Cormier, University of Prince Edward Island, present on the way technology is changing the way we teach history and Neil Stephenson’s talk on hands-on history.
One of the most important aspects of Stéphane Levesque’s talk was the emphasis on teaching students how to engage with the technology. While new generations are very active in using a wide array of technology, they are not making the most of what is available. This, as Levesque explained, has to do with their experiences with technology. As he explained, “prior knowledge assumption shapes user engagement” which means that students are used to an environment in which the matrix or the program does part of the work. However, when students try to use an environment that relies more heavily on the user, such as searching the databases of Library and Archives Canada, they don’t always know what to do. Therefore, as educations we have to do more than introduce students to the technology – we have to teach them how these technologies operate.
From personal experience, I agree with Levesque’s argument. As I think back to my undergrad, I do not remember any of my professors explaining how to use the sources or technology that were available to us let alone how to use them. While I was fairly computer literate and eventually figured out what to do on my own, not every student can do the same. Even today I find myself learning something new about the databases and resources that I have access to. Maybe it is my interest in using digital methods in studying history, but I think that as educators we need to make students aware of the wide array of technologies that are available to use and then make sure that they know how to use it.
While this is no simple task, Dave Cormier has provided us with one potential solution. In his discussion of using digital methods, he explained the concept of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a concept that I was not familiar with. As Cormier explained, MOOCs offer students, educators, and any interested individual with the opportunity to learn new skills from the comforts of home while interacting with individuals on a global level. Cormier stated that we should think as the MOOC as a gathering place that has the ability to bring thousands of like-minded people together around a subject that they are passionate about.
On a smaller scale, Neil Stephenson introduced the audience to his experiences with teaching digital methods to school-age kids. I have to say I was extremely impressed by the work completed by his students! From altering historical graphics to recreating cigar boxes to create a poignant vignette of a fallen Canadian service member (in a matter of hours and using only an iPad no less!), it prompted me to think how I can be employing digital methods in my teachings. Hopefully in the next few years, I will have something to show!
I’d like to close by thanking Canada’s History for making this forum online and sharing these presentations with us today!