Tomorrow I head out for the Civil War Preservation Trust’s 2010 Teacher Institute in Hagerstown, Maryland. The conference doesn’t begin until Friday, but since the good people at the CWPT put me up in the hotel beginning on Thursday I decided to make a day of it in Gettysburg. I’m looking forward to the conference, which includes a number of interesting workshops as well as keynote talks by Bud Robertson, Peter Carmichael (filling in for Gary Gallagher) and Jeff Shaara. My responsibilities are minimal. On Saturday evening I am taking part in a roundtable discussion on the role of technology/web2.0 in the classroom. I am joining Jim Beeghley and Eric Miller with Robert Shenk moderating. I have five minutes to share some thoughts before the audience has an opportunity to question all of the panel members. In preparation for the session I thought it might be helpful to write up a few thoughts.
What is the role and place of technology in our history classrooms? This may seem like an obvious question, but unfortunately, not enough people in our field are exploring it with the level of importance it deserves. I am constantly being asked if I use this or that in my classroom as if we are dealing with a continual wave of fads that come and go. My response is always the same: Why should I be using a specific program? To answer that question we need to first understand our goals as history teachers. I teach a specific subject and there are various methods and tools that can be used in that process; technology is but one of them. The teaching of history involves both a content and skills component. My overall goal is to teach students how to think critically about the past as well as their place within that broader narrative. This involves both the analysis of primary and secondary sources as well as the development of their own understanding of the past through some type of presentation. So, there is both an emphasis on how students process information as well as how it is shared with a broader community. Every piece of web technology that I use in my classroom somehow fits into this overall goal.
The toughest thing that I’ve faced in making this transition to the online world is the management of the immense amount of information that is available. Within this universe and at the core of our responsibilities as teachers is helping our student to maneuver through this morass. Don’t be seduced by the common assumption that our students are more tech savvy than previous generations. It’s nonsense. Are we teaching our students how to search for information online? How many of you know how Google processes the results of a search? Are we teaching our students how to evaluate websites? Do they know how to find information about a specific site? As far as I am concerned these are the most important skills that we can teach our students; without them, we’ve done nothing more than to throw them into the jungle without a map. As sophisticated as many of us assume our students to be, they do not come to class having explored and answered these questions. Stay tuned for Part 2 later today.