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International School of Toulouse - History - Articles - Sheffield 2004

Teaching History in a Laptop Classroom - School in the Future?
Richard Jones-Nerzic, November 2nd, 2004
www.intst.net/humanities


How laptops make a difference becomes obvious when we consider what laptops replace.  When I began teaching, my mother gave me her history exercise books from the early 1950s. At the time, I was struck by how much had changed in 50 years. My mother’s work reflected the ‘chalk and talk’ didacticism prevalent at the time; analytical concepts like reliability and interpretation were absent and the historical content was overwhelmingly political. I recently visited colleagues at my previous (non-laptop) school and had an opportunity to glance through a pile of exercise books waiting to be marked. In complete contrast to my earlier ‘student teacher’ experience, what now stood out were the similarities with my mother’s exercise book of 50 years earlier. 

The film (25mb)

Despite 50 years of technological advance, the exercise book full of hand written words and the occasional pencil drawn diagram, is still the most important expression of student learning. Perhaps more importantly, from a student perspective, the exercise book peppered by red-penned teacher comments and grades is also still the predominant source of assessment. Doing ‘well’ in history, whether in 1950 or in the year 2000, is still largely calculated by how well the student performs within the artificial constraints of the lines of the traditional exercise book...In contrast to exercise books, laptop computers have at least two distinct advantages.  Firstly, when equipped with good software, laptops become multimedia educational ‘toolboxes’ that can help the student to learn. Secondly, although it may resemble a typewriter, a laptop will allow students to store evidence of their learning and achievements that might not easily be expressed through the written word. (The Laptop Revolution, 2001 - http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/history4a.htm)


Multimedia Toolboxes – scaffolding and stretching the learning 

… the potential utility of computers in the process of matching individuals to modes of instruction is substantial…the computer can be a vital facilitator in the actual process of instruction, helping individuals to negotiate sequences at their preferred pace by using a variety of educational techniques… (Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind)

Example 1 - Word Processing - Year 7 essay writing
http://www.intst.net/humanities/y7/term3/medieval_pilgrimage/empathy.htm
 

 'Laptops lead to more student writing and to writing of higher quality. In response to an open ended question, more than one-third of the surveyed teachers named writing as the academic outcome or skill that has been most directly affected by use of the laptops. Some teachers said simply that writing had generally improved; others said that students were doing more writing more often'. (Rockman et al, 1998,http://rockman.com/projects/laptop/index.htm)

Example 2 - Hypertext Curriculum - IGCSE History coursework
http://www.intst.net/humanities/igcsehist/coursework/reichstag/index.htm 

Example 3 - Online Forums - The Student Education Forum
http://www.studenteducationforum.ipbhost.com/ 


Multiple intelligence portfolios – real world learning 

It's a teaching/learning model that is out of synch with the rest of the world. Many of today's students can tell you in no uncertain terms just how “unreal” (and boring, and silly) the educational context is. Traditional educational theory, practice and organisation are each day becoming more irrelevant and unworkable: just as the scribal model became obsolete after print was invented. (Dale Spender, Nattering on the Net: Women, Power and Cyberspace)

Example 4 - Desktop Publishing - KS3 examples, all activities taken from Think Through History textbook series.
Year 7 board games - http://www.intst.net/humanities/y8/term1/boardgames/index.htm  
Year 8 booklets - http://www.intst.net/humanities/y8/term2/reformation/henryviii/5-8_2003/index.htm 
Year 9 display graphs -  http://www.intst.net/humanities/y9/term2/1815-32/student_graphs.htm  

Example 5 - Websites - 
Year 7 'timeline of my life' - http://www.intst.net/humanities/y7/term1/who_am_i/timeline/gallery.htm 
Year 9 French Revolution - http://www.intst.net/humanities/y9/term2/french_revolution/causes/student_webs.htm 
Year 10 Weimar Germany - http://www.intst.net/humanities/igcsehist/term2/weimar/student_work/index.htm 

Example 6 - Digital Video
Year 8 Lollards Role-play - http://www.intst.net/humanities/y8/term1/lollards/roleplay.htm 
Year 9 French Revolution Documentaries - http://www.intst.net/humanities/y9/term3/documentaries/2004/index.htm 
Year 12 Cold War Documentaries - http://www.intst.net/humanities/ibhist/coldwar/documentaries/index.htm 

Example 7 - Multimedia Group Work - Year 10 - Nazi propaganda websites and digital videos 
Activity - http://www.intst.net/humanities/igcsehist/term3/persuasion/film.htm 
Resources - http://www.intst.net/humanities/igcsehist/term3/persuasion/resources.htm
Student work - http://www.intst.net/humanities/igcsehist/term3/persuasion/film2003.htm


Conclusion

In contrast to what Dale Spender describes as traditional classroom, the ‘educational context’ of the laptop classroom is very real. But it is a context in which the role of a teacher has to change significantly. Putting it simply, teachers have to ‘teach’ less and support more.  Some might see this as a threat to their professionalism. But as professionals we have to face up to the fact that a student with a laptop ‘knows’ more than a teacher without. My experience suggests and the American research confirms, that teachers in a laptop school get more time to do the things that teachers have always considered important: working with students on a one-to-one basis, differentiating between the different ability ranges, planning challenging and relevant learning activities etc.

...Only inertia and prejudice, not economics or lack of good educational ideas stand in the way of providing every child in the world with the kinds of experience of which we have tried to give you some glimpses. If every child were to be given access to a computer, computers would be cheap enough for every child to be given access to a computer Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon (1971) quoted in http://www.stager.org/


Further Reading

The SchoolHistory history website discussion forum is the best place for UK history teachers in need of  ICT support. I have led four seminars over the last 18 months which explain in more detail issues raised today.

Teaching History in a Laptop Classroom, School in the future? - June 2003
http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index.php?showtopic=1387

Teaching History with a Hypertext Curriculum, Improving exam results with a website - Oct 2003
http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index.php?showtopic=2263

Student Online Forums, history learning possibilities - April 2004
http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index.php?showtopic=3208

Using digital video in the history classroom, why, what and how - July 2004
http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index.php?showtopic=3704

 

Richard Jones-Nerzic - October 31, 2004
jones_r@intst.net