Teaching About the Past

Teaching History with Technology: Useful, Controversial, and Revealing

Learning with technology is a component of nearly all higher education now. Professors and Students access online content through applications such as Moodle, Blackboard, or Chamilo; even in-person classes use an online site for assignments, readings, and contacting professors. These online sites are labeled Learning Management Systems (LMS). Although some professors choose not to use LMS for a variety of reasons, they may use some other form of technology in their classes. Professors display google maps of the countries they are discussing or use Youtube videos, for example. LMS are ideal for online courses and are a useful safety net for in-person classes when they cannot meet due to weather or other situations.

However, while most professors use technology in class, it is less likely that students use technology in class, except for note-taking and pulling up the readings for that day’s lesson. According to Joseph D. Galanek, Dana C. Gierdowski, and D. Christopher Brooks, and their article  “Experiences with Instructors and Technology,” this is not a unique occurrence in higher education. Technology has the potential to allow professors and students to dispense with the lecture format and move to a hands-on/project-based format. This education format will prepare students for their future work environment where they will have to collaborate with their co-workers. Project-based learning gives students practical experiences and skills they will use in their intended field rather than students receiving only theoretical knowledge of the subject matter.

Google has created several tools that are useful for teachers and professors in their classrooms and online. Some of these tools replace the tools that already exist in LMS. Zotero, created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, was intended to be used by scholars as a place to collect their sources, generate citations and notes for them. Zotero also includes a collaborative feature, which makes it ideal for use in the classroom. Chad Iwertz’s Article Teaching with Zotero: Citation Management for Feedback and Peer Review discusses using Zotero in school with students just learning to research.

Wikipedia is controversial in the education field. Some teachers are against it, as it is inaccurate and not always written by scholars with advanced degrees. Supporters of Wikipedia use, argue that reviewers moderate the pages, edit, and research content; so it is up to standard and not blatantly incorrect. Martha Saxton’s article Wikipedia and Women’s History: A Classroom Experience, outlines another issue with Wikipedia, namely the lack of diversity in its pages. In the article, Saxton discusses how there are separate pages for women in history. Still, women are generally excluded or added only minimally in other pages on general topics within US history. She goes on to say that the primary purpose of the project is to have women throughout US history. Women’s history should not be studied because it is essential to women’s history or to satisfy those demanding teachers present a more diverse history. Instead the project and study of women’s history should occur because women were essential to history, critical to how the US was formed and shaped the path to the present. It is also important to note that Wikipedia has a policy that their informational pages be unbiased. Saxton’s article mentions that some content about women in history is being blocked by other users because it portrays men in an unflattering light and therefore is biased for women. It is likely this is also occurring in pages that attempt or do not attempt to discuss other minority groups. An important question is, how can Wikipedia pages remain neutral if history was not? How can readers of Wikipedia confront the biases that are still present today if Wikipedia does not present the bias in history that lead to the prejudices of today?

Information presented via technology used by historians, teachers, and professors, contains bias. The presence of bias in information has existed since the beginning of print media. The need for the guidance in acknowledging the bias and its affect on understanding has long existed. Therefore, even with more modern content, when presenting information to the public and to students, the presenter must be aware of the bias in order to counteract it, or explain why it is there. Technology is useful for bringing education into the twenty-first century, however, those using technology must remember and account for the persistent and inherent bias in the content to utilize the technologies highest potential.