Nick Dennis' Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: EUROCLIO

Digitising Cultural Heritage

Biblioteca Angelica, Rome

The amazing Biblioteca Angelica, Rome

Last week I spent a day and a half in Rome at the Biblioteca Angelica working with Europeana on digital cultural heritage and education. The Europeana Foundation seeks to create new ways for people to engage with their cultural history, whether it’s for work, learning or pleasure and works with member states of the EU, other countries and cultural heritage institutions across Europe. My brief was simple. I had to make a case to various government officials and cultural institute representatives that allowing the digitising of materials would be of great help to educators (especially History teachers) across Europe.

Curating

I started with the view that teachers get blamed for lots of things in society yet what we really want to do (in my view) is to create a sense of connection with the world around us and help students understand people beyond the horizon on their vision.  As a History teacher, I suggested that this is pretty difficult to do when you are limited to source material in your own language and have been provided by the textbook makers. If our job is really to help tell the ‘human’ story, then access to resources from different countries with translations would be incredibly helpful to gain a truly multi-perspective view on significant events such as the First World War. Using Steven Johnson’s idea from ‘Future Perfect’, I suggested that because publishers acted centrally to negotiate rights, the sources available in a ‘home’ language are always limited and ignore the unique and difficult images/texts. If you are brave enough to go beyond this provision in limited time,  you are confronted by an array of problems. Yet if these resources were curated, translated and made free for educators, we would be able to benefit from the ‘distributed’ network of the web. One example of where things worked well was the Europeana site on the First World War. http://www.europeana-collections-1914-1918.eu/ I suggested that the cultural institutions and government departments were ‘choice architects’ in the ‘Nudge‘ mode of thinking and some of the choices they gave us meant that it was very hard to do our jobs (and ultimately what states want).

Connecting

My second point was much more pragmatic in that it dealt with enabling teachers to access already existing material in collections so we could tell the ‘human’ story. In essence, I asked them to rethink the ‘choice architecture’ they use when working with teachers. I gave the example of the British Museum and its offering of CPD for teachers (£300 for half a day and £500 for a full day). Prices such as these limit the possibility of sharing their cultural heritage expertise and I asked the question whether institutions put funds into outreach with teachers as part of their project budgets. The lack of interaction with teachers also meant that generic learning activities were created, reducing the capacity to educate people about the items museums held. Using the cognitive psychology notion of the illusion of explanatory depth, I asked delegates to turn to the person next to them and explain how a person learns.  The intention was not to embarrass anyone but to show that just because you have an experience of education and think you know it pretty well, your causal knowledge (knowledge about how the world works) about it is poor. An experience of school does not furnish you with complete causal knowledge on learning. Where does retrieval come into it? Research on working memory? Emotional connection and advanced organisers? I used an example of a worksheet from the Smithsonian which was generic in its questions. My point was not to suggest that cultural institutions should neglect learning but to work with people who are steeped in it as the benefits are tangible for all parties. Taking a lesson from ‘Multipliers’, they need to tap into the genius around them. If they worked with educators effectively and provided training, the content knowledge of the institutions would overlap with the pedagogical knowledge of the educators and would create the Pedagogical Content Knowledge that is highly prized. The teachers would also help the institutions devise activities built with a deeper understanding of learning in mind.

Cultivating

My final point was to place the delegates into the context of history and show that the work they were doing started long before they were born. Using Theodor Adorno and Michael Sandel, I suggested that they needed to move away from a limited vision of education and consider the deep roots of the project. Giving examples of Renaissance thinkers and educators, I pointed out that they were part of the cultural ‘gift exchange’ that started in the 1400 and 1500s and this was done without the tools and technology available to delegates today. If we really are interested in ‘cultivating humanity’ through heritage institutions and schools, we really need to move beyond the ‘logic of the market’.

The following day was spent working through draft recommendations and I would like to thank the group that I chaired as they were genial and very efficient!

I would like to thank Jill, Steven, Joke, the Europeana team and our Italian hosts for a very interesting few days.

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Breaking cover…

Climbing a wall

Nearly there...

Now that I am on my Easter break, I have a chance to catch up with everything I was supposed to have done during term time. One thing that I said I would do is write about my visit to Turkey with Doug Belshaw to give a presentation and two workshops. We were invited by the European Association of History Teachers (EUROCLIO) to give share our ideas on History teaching and ICT with Turkish History educators including university professors, textbook writers and teachers. We were very pleased to accept the invitation and saw it as an opportunity to build on the work started by Michael Riley in his workshop in January. The main thrust of our discussion was that ICT should support learning and should not be thought about in an ‘add ICT and stir’ approach. I think the opening presentation went really well with lots of questions at the end. As a result, we decided to change the focus of our workshop and although it was acceptable, we both felt that it was not as sharp as it could be. The second workshop was far better from our point of view (the smiling faces gave us some clue!) and we think the delegates got a lot from seeing the ‘theory’ of historical learning put into practice using technology. The presentation and accompanying notes and video (they are in Turkish) can be found here.

From a personal point of view, the real highlight was seeing the work carried out by the educators since January. Despite being relatively experienced, I still struggle with key concepts/skills when planning a lesson or sequence of lessons and it really was fantastic to see how much work the delegates had put in since the previous meeting. Some of the ideas needed just a little development to be outstanding and I came away with a few really good activities to try out in my lessons (there was one great time line activity I will definitely use next term). What was particularly engaging for me was that nearly every single conversation was based around learning and it caused me to reflect deeply about my own work. Sometimes being an Assistant Head doesn’t leave you much room for reflexive thinking about your own teaching but I certainly left Turkey with a renewed purpose. Doug and I have been invited to work with EUROCLIO again I am looking forward to it.

Since coming back from Turkey, historiography has weighed heavily on my mind. I teach 19th Century Chinese history at IB and have been looking around for different lines of thought on the downfall of the Qing Dynasty. I have many great quotes from different writers but as I was looking around, I found that unless I was in a university department, I could not gain access to the latest research in the areas I teach. Sure, I can provide quotes from Gray, Spence and Chesenaux et al but I personally have little sense of the debate about the Qing downfall in comparison to the debates about the place of the Nazis in German history or Mao’s role in China. It may be my lack of reading (I’m sure it is) but even with the topics I just mentioned, why is there no helpful place where it is all together in a clear format I can use with my students? I can see another project being formed… 🙂

iPhone 3GS times 2

Boxfresh Apples from Orange.

Finally, the school is looking at doing some really exciting things with mobile technology in the next few months. Orange and Apple are helping with the set up of a trial project and once we have consulted the students about what they think is useful, I hope we will have a clear steer about where we should be going. I have realised that discussions around innovative technology take time and demand very good planning and the views of the students are absolutely essential (and neatly links with my other responsibility at school). One thing I will recommend they look at is the work at ACU. They have been a great source of inspiration for me and some of their faculty have set up network to foster debate about mobile learning. I suggest you take a look to see how the debate breaks cover from the usual arguments about mobile learning…

Lead image by Sam Judson @ Flickr

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The conference/learning season approaches…

With the exam crush looming ever closer (especially for my lovely IB class) and the need to consolidate learning that has taken place over the last year/two years, I often neglect the fact that I also need to reflect and learn about my subject. Two upcoming events this year should help me stay on the path of classroom refinement/enlightenment…

Next month Doug Belshaw and I are going to give an address and two workshops on History and ICT to Turkish History educators as part of the European Association of History Educators (EUROCLIO) which is funded by the Netherlands Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The way how History is taught in Turkey is being rethought and there is a desire to incorporate/develop more innovative methods;  our role is to suggest how this can be done using examples of work in the UK. Doug and I will stress in our presentation that ICT is more than an ‘add water and stir’ approach and that it should support the work in the classroom rather than become the determining factor. This may seem pretty obvious but I sometimes lose sight when I come across a new/exciting tool and articipating in the conference reminds me to keep asking questions about what I do in the classroom and what direction my school is heading in.

The second event is the TeachMeet Doug and I are organising at the Schools History Project (SHP) conference in July (we are also presenting a workshop at the main event). This conference is THE conference for History educators and sessions are always informative with ideas that you can take away and use on the first day back in school. If you haven’t come across a TeachMeet before, it is a fantastic way to share teaching ideas through volunteers giving two or seven minute presentations in an informal and supportive atmosphere. This video made by BrainPop UK for another TeachMeet will help:

My experience of the TeachMeet at BETT was fantastic and I found out some really useful tips that were too ‘small’ for a seminar but very practical which stimulated much discussion at dinner and this is what we hope to achieve with the SHP version. We are currently looking for volunteers for the SHP TeachMeet so if you are intending to go and want to share your ideas and get involved in the conversation about teaching and learning in History, please get in contact via the TeachMeet page or Twitter (me or Doug Belshaw). Details on the conference can also be found on the schoolhistory.co.uk site. The outcomes of both of these events will now doubt appear on these pages and I look forward to creating exciting (or crazy depending on which student you ask) activities for my students as a result of the conversations!

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