Set Them Loose!

Teaching History in the Digital Age, by T. Mills Kelly, engages how teaching and learning have been changed by digital media. The internet itself has changed rapidly from 2000 to 2014 as more content becomes produced by viewers of a medium, which has initiated a new outlet for creativity. Mills argues that it is to a student’s benefit to open them to digital content creation, and that it commonly produces surprising results.

One of the most debated aspects of teaching history has been content knowledge. Namely: what events are important enough for students to learn? The view of teaching history as a factual body of information is the prevailing approach. Basically, historians choose which facts are important, the students learn the facts, and then we can draw conclusions about what can come in the present. However, memorization is not enough to draw conclusions. Students must learn to “think historically”. This line of thinking requires scrutiny of a source (whether it’s secondary or primary, who created the source, etc.), the ability to create original thoughts based off of evidence, and the ability to triangulate sources.

In the digital age, historical sources are widely abundant. Students often draw from sources unknown to teachers, and teachers are no longer forced to make students draw from a shallow pool of information they assign. With the help of a search engine, students can find ten sources in the time it might take to find one by traditional analog procedures. The question then arises: with so many sources, how do you connect them? With the addition of data-mining software help link names, locations, and dates together in a way that could never have been done before. This triangulation took much effort in the analog age and is creating new discussions about history that were not previously postulated.

In this modern era, the writing style of historians has shifted from narrative to analytical. Historians still enjoy a good “story”, however, students and historians of the digital age are expected to analyze and extrapolate information into much more grand historical context than before. The connection of writing and history creates an interesting effect. The process of organization for the purpose of making our point clear to others forces historians to analyze their sources and data from a different perspective.

In closing, T. Mills Kelly states that he believes history will never disappear from school curriculum. Besides the scholarly value of understanding history, people are just too interested in events of the past. He believes the secret to keeping history alive and well given competition from STEM is to “turn students loose” while still maintaining baseline standards of tradition.


One thought on “Set Them Loose!

  1. That is something that has always bothered me; the historians being able to choose what facts are important or not. Of course they try to be as objective as possible, but can any human be truly objective? I highly doubt it. With that being said though, there are two options on the table for us. 1. Disregard the historians and try to access all that information ourselves (which would prove to be very difficult) or 2. take their objectiveness with a grain of salt and continue learning from these historians.


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