History arrives in the 21st century

| November 17, 2010

BY SALLY JONES

My introduction in to the world of Information technology (It) was driven by two factors: an incredibly supportive, enthusiastic and creative It Director at our school, and a desire to reach my target audience through a medium they understand.

It has been a process of discovery and delight as I have found new ways to teach the subjects about which I am passionate and make them meaningful to 21st century
learners. In recent years there have been many changes to our school administration system, making minutiae extraordinarily easy. Using a system called ADAM, we
capture marks, generate reports and provide a database of our learners.

Because it is web-based, I can access all this information from home very easily. As a Head of Department, I am also able to access graphs and other data to track the progress of the learners taking my subject. This is invaluable in the early detection of potential problems. The information is also useful when discussing a child’s progress with grade tutors and parents.

All have access to Moodle

Moodle, used to manage our school intranet, is also a vast, as yet untapped resource implemented by the IT department. All learners have access to the network, and this means I can upload worksheets, extension activities and resource documents for them. They can no longer tender the excuse of having ‘lost’ a document – be it a worksheet or resource – as they know they can access it from home or school. It has made my students responsible for their own work.

All the school’s policy documents are available on an internal Wiki site, which allows for instant access to accurate and up-to-date policies at any time. Communication with my classes has become simple and effective through the use of the school e-mail system. I have created distribution lists for each of my classes and the parents of each of my pupils. I can e-mail parents indemnity forms for excursions and let them know about any problems or activities that affect the class as a whole. Homework is
e-mailed to them, as are test memorandums, useful bits of information and History trivia that I come across.

Recently I found an article in The Telegraph newspaper extolling the virtues of History as a subject. With much glee, ever mindful of the threat of extinction my subject faces, I e-mailed it to all the parents and learners to commend the excellent subject choice they had made! This was, of course, made easier by the scanning equipment and system we have, which converts any material I have to a PDF document, for example.

Data projector in daily use I am fortunate enough to have a data projector in my classroom that has relegated my overhead projector to the technological antiquities department. There is so much available on the Internet, and my projector allows me to share this with my classes. I also teach English, and YouTube is a vast warehouse
of resources – from Henry V delivering his pre-Agincourt speech and King Lear dividing his kingdom between his ungrateful daughters to ‘fun’ grammar tests and games that even the seniors enjoy. We also have a digitalised video library of our old VHS tapes stored on our communal server that we can access.

My teaching of History has been radically enhanced by the Internet, my PC and the projector. PowerPoint slide shows, sometimes created from my own photographs of historical sites, give the learners a visual idea of the things they study. One of my favourite parts of the syllabus in Grade 10 is the study of Napoleon. There are many
interactive games available relating to Napoleon’s campaigns, and playing these in class not only makes lessons fun (for me too) but allows learners to become aware of the tactical decisions that commanders had to make. They get an overview of systems and battles in operation while learning the details in an entertaining way. Our favourite two games are based on the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo. There are also some exceptional animated maps available, complete with the appropriate
noises that make, for example, Hitler’s foreign policy, so much more interesting for Grade 9s.

A buzz around blogging

The most exciting discovery for me has been the world of blogs. It was suggested to me in a tongue-in-cheek manner that blogs were so ‘2000’, but it has brought about a new line of communication between the learners and teachers of the History Department. We have a very dedicated group of historians who love to share their knowledge and trivia, and the blog has been the perfect way to share our passion. I have also come to know some of our learners in a different light. The naturally shy ones are able to express themselves freely, and it allows my colleagues and I to interact with them on a less formal level outside the classroom while still maintaining professional
distance. It has helped foster and entrench the love of our subject. Each blogger can bring his opinions and interests to the forum, and many heated yet controlled debates have happened on our blog, helping to develop students’ skills as historians.

I cannot begin to imagine my teaching world anymore without the use of IT. I am ever mindful and grateful of my opportunities and hope always to use them in a way that benefits my students, school and my own personal development as a 21st century educator.

Sally Jones is HOD of the History Department at Beaulieu College.

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Category: e-Education, Summer 2010

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