Incorporating a digital approach to history teaching


The Covid-19 pandemic has inevitably accelerated the use of digital tools in education. The lockdown and the need to establish a new form of carrying out classes have resulted in the increased presence of all kinds of online materials in our schools that we use on a daily basis.

However, in most cases, this quantitative increase has not been accompanied by a substantial and transforming change in terms of educational methods or the way subjects are taught. In other words, the predominant trend prior to the pandemic has been maintained: using digital tools in a rather conservative way, basically recreating traditional teaching methods, but applying them to a digital context.

According to the teaching professionals themselves, this is due to various causes: insufficient preparation on the part of the teaching staff; lack of time, experience and knowledge; lack of support and, in some cases, lack of adequate facilities and equipment.

These are some of the conclusions drawn from research carried out as part of the ‘Digital Historytelling’ (DIGHIST) project, which is being developed jointly by three organizations in three European countries: the School with Class Foundation (Poland), Smilemundo (Spain) and the King Baudouin Foundation (Belgium).

The three entities, with extensive experience in the field of educational innovation, have received funding from the European Union to develop over the next two years a set of digital tools aimed at facilitating the work of teachers of History and Social Sciences. Specifically, the project is supposed to provide help for students between 12 and 16.

Most of the teachers consulted are aware that this traditional approach falls short of meeting the needs of current students, who are already digital natives and are therefore perfectly comfortable with the use of digital tools and expect them to be integrated into everyday school practice. “It is clear that students need support – not so much in the technical aspects of ICT, but in the search for valuable and reliable content. Clearly, our work should be aimed at encouraging reflection on social processes and their consequences”, argues one of the teachers interviewed.

Ready-to-use materials

In all three countries, the conclusion is unanimous: teaching professionals are willing to learn and improve their digital skills, but to do so they need well-developed, easy-to-use materials that are accompanied by some training.

The fundamental idea of DIGHIST is, therefore, to contribute to strengthening teachers’ skills with an innovative set of materials, in a form of useful kit ready to be applied in the classroom. This kit, available online and structured in thematic units, will incorporate, among others, infographics, teaching sheets, historical timelines, proposals for debates, games and videos…, as well as complementary materials for teachers (tutorials, guidelines, FAQs…).

“Today, there are a multitude of digital tools for education and learning that can be easily found on the web. In DIGHIST, the idea is not so much to create something completely new, but to devise a complete package of materials that present a common and coherent narrative, with attractive graphics and design, and offer the teacher, usually with little time to develop the lessons, the possibility to use it as a complete and independent lesson“, explains Agata Luczynska of the School with Class Foundation.

The tools to be developed are based on different methodologies, such as problem-based or inquiry-based learning, flipped classroom or storytelling, and their main objective is to encourage independent reflection and understanding of the social transformations of 20th century European history.

In parallel to the promotion of digital innovation, the project also aims to build a common narrative between the three countries that includes the key themes in the teaching of history and serves to deepen an eventual common European identity.

Three countries, a shared narrative

In this sense, the teachers from the three different countries often share similar views  – for example,  they consider the same parts of the curriculum as especially important and in need of adding some type of interactive tool and materials. Some of the topics mentioned are totalitarianism, colonialism, the Cold War, migration processes or genocides.

Another essential point in DIGHIST is that during the content development process we will work on finding those topics that have usually been underrepresented in the teaching of History, in order to give them a more relevant place in the final materials. By this we mean, for example, topics such as human rights, the feminist perspective and the history of women, or the role of minorities.

Following the proposed methodologies, we will use a specific educational approach to develop these and the rest of the topics,  placing the focus on processes, combining the global perspective with the local one, giving voice to personal stories, shining a light on emotions and diversity… In short, we’re excited to use an approach to history that serves to decipher and better understand the present and allows us to move towards a better future. Together.

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