Can we teach history in a social media world?

At a time where credibility is measured by how many upvotes you get, is it possible to teach one history and expect our students to accept this as credible?

I don’t have an answer to this question, but in a world where what is credible is often decided through community consensus I think this is a good question to ask. Jason Steinhauer asks this and other questions in History Disrupted: How Social Media and the World Wide Web Have Changed the Past. (2022)

History is no longer the purview of the professional historian or even the history teacher. Public history captures the imagination like no textbook ever could. Where do teachers go now to teach their students? It could be one of the Crash Course History videos by John and Hank Green. The course commits to help students to become more informed, engaged and productive citizens of the world. It could be Hip Hughes History whose videos are engaging forays into a vast collection of historically significant topics. History Cool Kids @historycoolkids on Instagram offers daily engaging photographs of the past with background information and links for more information.

From August 2020 post – For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900. When you are 14, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday with 22 million people killed. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until you are 20. Fifty million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million.

Steinhauer offers many examples of how social media offers so many sites, blogs and podcasts mostly produced by public historians who do not come from an academic background. But, any history teacher reading this post could offer a plethora of other sources of on-line historical information that they use to engage their students in recounting the past.

What is now considered credible is a community consensus on what holds value. History Cool Kids is credible because it has over 1.4 million followers. Wikipedia articles have credibility because there is a community that rejects what is unfounded and promotes what can be cited.

Xavier de Petta, one of the creators of @Historyinpics points out the importance of social media history – “you no longer need to read 140 pages, you can read 140 characters” and most importantly, “you don’t need expertise to be heard”. (Steinhauer, p. 47)

This is something important to note. How relevant are academic historians if they have no voice? The road to academia is a privileged one taking many years and thousands of public dollars to achieve. Once granted the Ph.D. the newly minted academic gains the right to produce material that is rarely read by the general public or educators charged with teaching history in our schools. Steinhauer points out that there is a deep and ever growing rift between academic history and the public history created on the web.

This is real and we should recognize this. When I taught history teaching methodology at the university, all the sites we looked at would be categorized as public history. Some were produced by academics like the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History series that is written by Canadian professors thus bridging the tenuous gap between the university and the public realm. I hope this is not the exception, but most of the material we looked at came from public, not from professional historians.

This leads me to another question based on Steinhauer’s arguments. Does the professional historian play any role in the education of students? Is history a subject that could actually be self-taught utilizing the material that is currently being used in the classroom. Has social media destroyed our traditional approach to teaching history textbook in hand or has the internet opened us all up to new interpretations and viewpoints outside the exclusive realm of the academic?

What is relevant, what is credible, whose voices do we actually listen to?

A diminishing respect for the truth

Have we become nostalgic for a time when it was simpler to discern what information possesses credibility?

Yes, I think so, but at the same time with so many different forms of information out there it has become more of a challenge to judge what represents a trustworthy source. There is no rulebook here. No one is going to guide you through the miasma of fake news.

These trends along with changes in the media environment such as the diminished role of gatekeepers and vastly expanded opportunities for circulation of both information and misinformation in the Digital Age make exposure to inaccurate information both more common and more difficult to detect.

Can you honestly say that what you read is credible? What the person next to you reads is trustworthy?

Barzilai & Chinn (2020) characterizes the new post-truth world as one with a diminishing respect for the truth. People give up trying to uncover the truth when confronted by overwhelming waves of information. In some cases, the truth becomes secondary to one’s political or social beliefs (Buckingham, 2019).

Maybe we can all hold to our own truths now.

The infamous alternative facts interview with Kellyann Conway

The task of investigating the elements of post-truth stretches back well before the term was first used in 2016 (Buckingham, 2019). At the beginning of the millennium, Wineburg (2001) studied the responses of high school students and academics to a series of primary and secondary sources chronicling the Battle of Lexington. In ranking eight documents, the academics placed eye-witness accounts written at the time of the battle as the most credible. The textbook included as one source of information was ranked last

The students viewed the text as the most credible source of information on the incident (2001). According to one student, the credibility of the text came from its reliance on “straight information”. The text, one student explained, was “just reporting the facts – ‘The rebels were ordered to disperse. They stood their ground.’ Just concise, journalistic in a way, just saying what happened” (p. 68, 2001).

The difference between the students and the academics came down to their “sense-making abilities”, in other words, their ability to source or look at where the document came from, make efforts to place each document into context and compare the various documents with one another (Wineburg, 1991, p.77 ). For these students, authority came from the established text – it was the one source for accurate information. Unlike the academics in this study, they lacked the discernment skills that would allow them to ask important questions about their evidence (Wineburg, 2001).

These results are reflected in other studies that show students incapable of judging legitimate digital information from sites designed to confuse or deliver a particular partisan message (Chinn et al., 2021; Kahne & Bowyer, 2017; Macedo-Rouet et al., 2019; McGrew et al., 2017; McGrew et al., 2018; Pérez et al., 2018).

I am a teacher, I am not (or ever will be) an academic. Studying the problem without offering a concrete plan or path out of the swamp is not good enough.

Researchers suggest that students and teachers need to be taugh explicitly how to discern what is credible. McGrew et al. (2018) suggest that what is needed is civic online reasoning instruction. The components of this instruction include:

  • determining who is supporting or sponsoring the author of an article
  • investigating possible conflict of interest on the part of the writer or source
  • practice on how to evaluate evidence
  • learning to discern if a claim is supported by the evidence

I have not yet seen a program that actually does all these things for students and teachers. With even a hint of encouragement, this would have been a really interesting area to research. Traditional media literacy methods do not seem to be up to the challenges of the post-truth era. We need something else to develop teachers and students capable of identifying credible sources of information.

Without a new tool chest, the democratic values that underpin our society will increasingly be threatened. The freedom convoy and the January 6 assault on Washington are just two examples of where this leads.

So if we understand the problem – where do we go from here?

What is credible? How do you know?

In an increasingly complex post-truth world, people in general – students and teachers in particular – struggle to discern credible sources of online information. Their ability to judge multiple sources of information has and will have a major impact on their collective ability to make decisions in a modern, democratic society.

This is the area of research I have been working through over the past month.

We need to better understand the challenges presented by a post-truth. As a term, post-truth is relatively new. Most of us probably became aware of post-truth with the 2016 election of Donald Trump. He didn’t invent post-truth but Trump and other politicians have used alternative facts as an every day tool with impunity.

What strategies and techniques can be developed to provide educators and students with appropriate tools to effectively evaluate what is credible and what is baseless information? Is this even possible to do?

In a world that possesses an abundance of information, more readily available than at any other time in history, we swim in a sea of disinformation, suspicion, and confusion (Chinn et al., 2021). Accordingly, our ability to make decisions that affect our everyday life is severely hampered (Barzilai & Chinn, 2020). This is the world of post-truth; here, the forum of political debate can be filled with half-truths and outright lies. What is ‘true’ is up for debate on every news channel (Buckingham, 2019). The challenge of acquiring information has been complicated by several factors including the increased prevalence of misinformation; the outright rejection of established claims; the discrediting of facts over personal beliefs; a declining trust in the institutions that provide us with information and the fragmentation of that information (Barzilai & Chinn, 2020). 

 

This is not a new situation. Many generations have had to contend with information sources designed to distract and misinform. Thomas Jefferson witnessed the increased flow of political pamphlets brought about by the advent of movable type. While this technical innovation allowed for the spread of cheaply produced rhetoric and opinion, it also opened the door to a more questionable collection of reading material. Jefferson’s solution then is as relevant today. Rather than ban the half-truths and false claims of the pamphlet, Jefferson argued that people needed to be taught to discern truth from fiction (Wineburg & McGrew, 2019).

What are some features of a post-truth world? One common theme focuses on the inability of people to spot unreliable information. They may rely on a single source for their information or have little experience with fact-checking sources (Chinn et al., 2021). The widespread availability of digital information can also make it a challenge for people to decide who possesses expert information (2021). It cannot be taken for granted that the public has the skill set required to assess the trustworthiness of the experts they are reading. There exists the tendency for people to ‘choose’ their own expert opinion, especially when the information confirms previously held beliefs (Barzilai & Chinn, 2020).

This is an area that I would love to learn more about. Authors like Sam Weinburg and Jason Steinhauer who recently wrote History Disrupted: How Social Media and the World Wide Web Have Changed the Past are writing for a non-academic audience. Both, I think, would call themselves Internet entrepreneurs (Weinburg, p. 8, 2018). Both write for a general audience because it is this audience that needs to acquire the tools to assess what is credible information and what is a potentially dangerous fantasy. This is not an academic debate.

These few paragraphs were written as part of a doctoral paper. The more time I spend with academics, the more I am convinced that we need to have this debate outside of the academy. Over the next few posts, I will include more from this paper in the hope that someone finds this discussion important. Maybe this will encourage more discussion. Otherwise, what value does this piece really have?

This is a problem for everyone, but for educators how we develop 21st-century critical thinking skills is becoming an essential feature of their professional lives. How well do we understand this?

Giving Feedback that makes a difference

The quotes from this article are from an excellent interview done by Jennifer Gonzalez This would be great required reading at the university!

This past year has been a learning experience for a number of reasons, but learning is not always easy.

For my Ph.D. journey, I think I have come to a crossroad. While the courses have all been successfully done, I am struggling with the next stage. This is a good space to work this out and I have to do this now. Writing is thinking.

I am supposed to be preparing for my comprehensive exams – two 4000-word essays one on research, and one on methodology. But here is the sticking point. I am not sure anymore if I can do this. I have no information that tells me that I can do this.

I know I can write well, but I am not convinced that I can write in an academic style. No one can even tell you what an academic style really is. It is hard to figure this out. So far the feedback has not been good. The people I have been working with struggle to give constructive feedback, but that is not really their problem. This is a different world from what I am used to.

Professors are paid to research and enhance the reputation of the institution. Knowing how to guide new academic writers is not something that has to be in their toolbox. This is a real shame because so much can be learned from carefully crafted feedback. Telling it ‘like it is’ is not always the wisest approach.

What this means is that the graduate student can work in a bit of a vacuum. It is a challenging working relationship.

Elementary and secondary schools used to have the same problem, but so much work has been done over the years to address this. Teachers know how to bring students along, encouraging them to do more and to do better.

This is certainly a skill that needs to be learned. No institution is naturally good at this. While public schools have made constructive feedback an essential skill that educators need to develop, there is less emphasis on acquiring this essential part of teaching at the postsecondary level.

As we give and receive feedback, people get defensive. Feelings get hurt. Too often, the improvements we’re going for don’t happen, because the feedback isn’t given in a way that the receiver can embrace.

Cult of Pedagogy – Moving from Feedback to Feedforward

Students who are ok living in this vacuum will succeed. Students who want or need more may not.

At this point, I have to decide if I want to continue here as a student. It is harder to jump through so many imaginary hoops when you have already proven yourself over a long and challenging career.

I choose the positive. I work with people outside the university who get this. As a consequence, I work very hard for them and the effort is appreciated.

This has been a good experience but I want better. A thriving respectful relationship where real learning happens is what excites me.

Maybe I have been looking in the wrong places. My bad.

One of the reasons people don’t make progress after receiving feedback is that they don’t necessarily know what to do with it. “If you want feedback to make an impact,” Hirsch notes, “you have to put it in terms that people can operationalize.” In his book, he cites studies showing that regular feedback doesn’t typically result in a transfer of new skills or habits, but when that feedback is combined with coaching, the transfer skyrockets to 95 percent.

Cult of Pedagogy – Moving from Feedback to Feedforward

Researcher’s Journal: Starting Year 2

I am back in school again.

I am starting my second year in the Ph.D. program at Ottawa University. Over the summer, I completed my last required course so, in theory, I don’t need to take any more courses and I can move on to getting ready for my comprehensive exam.

Many of the people in my cohort have written or are writing their comprehensives. There seems to be a pronounced rush to get this next stage done. Once successfully completed, you can actually call yourself a Ph.D. Candidate.

I’m not doing that, there is too much I still don’t know.

For one thing, I recently changed my research topic. I wrote about this in early June.

The change moved me in an entirely different direction and I have a new wonderful supervisor who specializes in the same area I am interested in. To be honest, the change in thinking started back in April when my first attempt at writing a comprehensive-style essay flopped.

After a year of courses at the graduate level, all I feel is that I don’t know anything. I continue to read every day, but it is easy to lose touch with where I am going with all this. For the next few months, I will focus on learning about quantitative methodology, something I will need for sure and a topic I know nothing about.

a totally new area for me

I am also starting (again) to look at a different methodology – one that can connect to the research I hope to do one day. It is interesting how we make these decisions. In speaking with my supervisor, we talked about a method of research Sam Wineburg used to study the thinking patterns of students and professors when assessing the value and credibility of a variety of historical sources ( see Wineberg, S. (1991). On the reading of historical texts: Notes on the breach between school and academy. American Educational Research Journal, 28, p. 495-520.) Wineburg used think aloud techniques to gather information on what his subjects were thinking about as they reviewed various sources. This happens to be an area my supervisor is very interested in so I am now reading up on the literature about this methodology. I am starting with Verbal Protocols of Reading: The Nature of Constructively Responsive Reading By Michael Pressley and Peter Afflerbach (1994). This sets the stage for everything else I will read on this methodology. This work is in its early days, so my Zotero on this topic looks a little bleak.

My think aloud methodology section on Zotero (needs some work)

This will grow quickly. Recording people’s thinking as they review different online sources is a fascinating way to understand how students especially make decisions on what websites are actually credible to them.

My question now looks like this:


In an increasingly complex post-truth world, people in general – students and teachers
in particular – struggle to discern credible sources of online information. Their ability to judge multiple sources of information has and will have a major impact on their collective ability to make decisions in a modern, democratic society.
 
We need to better understand the challenges presented by a post-truth
world and what strategies and techniques need to be developed to provide educators and students with appropriate tools to effectively evaluate multiple online sources of information.


 Discerning Online Reasoning in a Post-Truth World 

This is what I want to go with. It is a big jump from where I started, but this represents the best of my thinking and research so far. Is this a good effort? I have no idea. The paper received a good mark, but no comments at all. That’s not right.

So next steps, read lots (again) but this time on methodology. Come up with three questions I can use for my comprehensive, practice writing on two of these questions (I think/hope I have one of these covered) then take a month to write on two of these questions.

I have learned over the past year to take small steps and not expect too much. Grad students are left very much on their own and you have to have a good supervisor, especially after year one, to make this whole process work.

I have also learned that this is a venture that favours the young. We the older students offer decades of experience in the field of education, but that seems to have little cache in academia. There is no way I could be writing on this topic without the experience I gained implementing digital technology in the school system. But more on this later.

Next week I will be looking for more articles on think aloud techniques and of course Wineburg

Reflections on “Sometimes it is enough to look back to see the Future clearly” presentation by Dr. Georg Marschnig


This post is a reflection on a presentation I attended on June 27 by Dr. Georg Marschnig, Ph.D., University of Waterloo. The post has been supplemented by additional online sources along with the presentation notes kindly provided by the author.

On the morning of March 4, 1945, a B-24 bomber the Strange Cargo took off from its base in Italy. Their mission was to bomb the rail lines in Graz, Austria. The crew was in a good mood, they were scheduled for a few days at a rest camp after the mission  (“Former Army Pilot Recalls Little-Known WWII Tragedy, the Mates Who Didn’t Make It,” 2017)

The Strange Cargo was last seen shortly after 1:00 pm by fellow airmen. Around 15 seconds after dropping its bombs, the plane was hit in the nose and wing by flak and burst into flame. Eight of the ten crewmen were able to parachute out of the plane before it crashed. (“Operation Graz, Austria March 4, 1945,” n.d.)

Two of the crewmen were quickly captured by the local police. A major in the SS arrived on the scene and ordered one of the police officers to shoot the Americans. The police refused. A soldier on medical leave Max Karl Lienhart then arrived on his bicycle, pushed through the gathering crowd and shot the two fliers. 

A third airman was captured by the police and was transferred to SS custody. Lienhart followed the SS soldier and shot the American. A fourth aviator was found by German soldiers, and he too was executed. The two pilots were smuggled out of Graz by Austrians and survived the war.

In the summer of 1945, a memorial was erected to the murdered airmen, no one knows (or will admit) who erected the monument.

The original monument with a close-up of the inscription

Why this project?  

  • What new insight did you gain about schooling;

The talk was presented by Dr. Georg Marschnig, Ph.D., Senior Scientist for the Didactics of History at the University of Graz. His lecture was part of the History Education in International Contexts series organized by the Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future project. Professor Marschnig is a former high school teacher who conducted a local history project starting in 2016 to investigate the origins of the war memorial erected in Graz (Georg Marschnig, 2022).

Over the years, the memorial has been vandalized and remained half-hidden on the side of a busy roadway. Dr. Marschnig, then a high school teacher, worked with his students to uncover the story behind the monument. The research was conducted by the students over a two-year period and stands as an excellent example of Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR). The students undertook an extensive study of World War II air warfare, held town meetings with the residents of Graz and interviewed local residents and former fliers. As a concluding activity, the students proposed remodelling the memorial in order to tell the full story behind the deaths of the Americans (“Operation Graz, Austria March 4, 1945,” n.d.)

community meeting held by the students
  • How do schools frame notions of citizenship;

The project really is an attempt to redefine the story of a community at the end of the Second World War. It reframed citizenship through their investigation. Citizens were obliged to look back to a time long forgotten. Their work showed that members of the community were complicit in war crimes, something the town was not interested in resurrecting. The story is well documented in the records of war crimes trials and Lienhart was found guilty of three of the murders and was hanged in 1946.

  • What kind of relationships in schools and in educational decision-making processes foster real learning;

Because this is an action research project, the students along with their teacher became actively involved in uncovering events in the past that the community preferred to forget. In doing this work, the community became engaged in looking at their own stories and was obliged to reflect on the actions of some of their neighbours. 

  • How do power structures affect learning?

This is a question that I asked during the presentation:

It seems that the students were revealing a dark past the community wanted to forget. In essence, they were revealing an important truth. Has this had any impact on how the students look at modern-day politics and the post-truth environment?

Professor Marschnig responded by focusing on the relationship between power and truth:

They learned a lot – some stories are told some are not – [there is] a strong connection to power. It is always important to look and double-check the information that they have. (Georg Marschnig, 2022)

In the notes to his presentation he also writes:

For the young people, it became crystal clear that cultures of remembrance in the public sphere are always linked to questions of power and are embedded into a field of discourse, which responsible citizens can influence and change. The first, authentic steps in this field were taken as part of the school project and it should not come as surprise to you that some of the young people are now actively involved in local politics (2022).

Some elements of the community did have a vested interest in keeping these stories quiet and the students were publicly confronted when they presented their findings to the community. They were accused of dragging up the past, something that no one wanted to do. City politicians also pushed back against any proposed changes to the monument but were eventually obliged to agree to changes that illuminated the dark history behind the murders.

  • How were race, class, gender differences framed in the event?

The YPAR project brought to the surface old animosities that had laid dormant for 60 years. While the old memorial did state that four American airmen had died on March 4th, 1945 in Graz, there was no mention that the airmen had been executed by local community members following a Nazi policy called Fliegerlynchjustiz in English –  “lynch justice for fliers”. Rather, the old monument stated that the aviators had been killed by “cowardly Nazi-fascist murderers”.

The stories about the murders are available from a few sources (Baltimore Sun, Mar 04, 2017 ; Archive Report US Forces 1941-1945), however, there had never been a local examination of the event. It is important to note here that the students were the ones who chose to work on this project. This closely follows the methodology outlined in YPAR.

  • What connections can you draw with readings, lectures, and discussions we have held in the class?

Notions of citizenship are fluid. How we define ourselves as citizens can change when new information comes to light. The investigation of the students centred on a forgotten war-time memorial. Their work led to public remembering of a war crime committed in March of 1945. The students also participated in rededication plans for the memorial to make clear what had happened.

plan for the remodelling of the memorial – now including the names of the murdered airmen
  • What creative ideas or astute analysis about education did you encounter in the event?

Youth Participatory Action Research is a powerful tool to examine local issues of interest to the researchers. One of the key principles of YPAR is that young people become active participants in the work and play a large role in researching the truth. (Petrone et al., 2021)

This is an important technique that can be used by students and teachers to combat the miasma of post-truth that we struggle with today. By completing this work, the students were able to gain a greater respect for the truth and the challenges that come from confronting stories that have been buried in the past.

The methodology (YPAR) used by the students has been suggested as a way to gain a stronger affiliation with the truth, so important in a post-truth world. (Chinn et al., 2021)  Students involved in this project have now become involved in local and regional government. It would seem that YPAR is good preparation for anyone who intends to enter a political career in the post-truth future.

The project provided the students with a way to start conversations with parents and grandparents about the war. Family stories can differ greatly from what the official stories present. The students best sum up why it is important to understand a community’s past:

“’What’s the point now?’ We were asked more than once. ‘They’re dead
anyway!’ Well, ‘they’ may be dead, but we’re not. […] Why does this affect us
now, although it has happened so long ago? It affects us because we live and
our present and future are built on that very past that we wonder what it has
to do with us.”

Anna B.

Bibliography

Archive Report: US Forces 1941-1945. (n.d.). Aircrew Remembered. http://aircrewremembered.com/crockett-james.html

Chinn, C. A., Barzilai, S., & Duncan, R. G. (2021). Education for a “Post-Truth” World: New Directions for Research and Practice. Educational Researcher, 50(1), 51–60. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X20940683

Former Army pilot recalls little-known WWII tragedy, the mates who didn’t make it. (2017, March 4). The Baltimore Sun. https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/bs-md-world-war-ii-pilot-saga-20170304-story.html

Georg Marschnig. (2022). Sometimes it is enough to look back to see the Future clearly.

Petrone, R., Mirra, N., Goodman, S., & Garcia, A. (2021). Youth Civic Participation and Activism (Youth Participatory Action Research). In J. Z. Pandya, R. A. Mora, J. H. Alford, N. A. Golden, & R. S. de Roock, The Handbook of Critical Literacies (1st ed., pp. 50–60). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003023425-6

Researcher’s Journal: Living in a post-truth world

Finding a research topic that is really meaningful is hard work. It should be if you plan to spend five years working on it.

Maybe I am getting closer. I have abandoned anything about historical thinking concepts – this is an academic field that doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a pick-up in the school system. Lots of writers, questionable impact.

Searching for something new one of my advisors suggested that I start looking at Canadian historical websites to develop tools to test for validity.

I had forgotten how important this type of work was to me. I remember sitting on the school board’s tech advisory committee. One of the members (who actually knows a fair amount about education technology) suggested at one of our sessions that there was little point in using curated web tools when you could Google anything. Curated web material usually is expensive mainly because you have to pay someone to make sure the material you put out there has been reviewed for validity. This scene sticks with me to this day and I really wonder what advice school boards are giving to teachers now about how to access digital information.

A few weeks ago, I entered the world of post-truth. Post-truth is a new environment where confusion reigns. In this world, there are no shared facts on which to base decisions. There is widespread disagreement over what is known, how to know, and who to trust. Research as current as 2022 confirms this is a widespread problem that has not yet been dealt with by educators (see – Education for a “Post-Truth” World: New Directions for Research and Practice Clark A. Chinn, Sarit Barzilai, and Ravit Golan Duncan 2021)

This is an ad for the New York Times, but the message is important.

I am citing only one reference here, but there is a vast body of research that backs up this claim. The research on digital information sources goes back over 20 years and begins in earnest with the work of Sam Wineburg, the wonderful writer of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (2001).

I am going back and reading everything I can by Sam Wineburg. Next – Why Read History (When It’s Already on Your Phone)
Sam Wineburg, 2018

We can reach back further. Every generation has its own media that confound teachers and students. In 1991, Wineburg produced a study indicating that students tended to rely on textbook material even though they were presented with more credible primary historical evidence. The textbooks were preferred because students believed that they were just telling the facts. They adopted the story even though analysis showed that the textbooks didn’t get into much detail, were overly patriotic and political and were designed to offer information that could be answered on a multiple-choice exam (see Historical problem solving: A study of the cognitive processes used in the evaluation of documentary and pictorial evidence, Wineburg, 1991)

The current rapid reach of information is unprecedented and with that reach comes a diminishing ability to discern what is actually true.

I remember a presenter at one of the schools I worked at who specialized in the dangers of social media. He was really popular with parents and educators because he focused on creating fear. Students should not be allowed on Facebook etc (the social media at the time) because of the dangers that lurked behind the screen. There was no question that he was right about the abuses of social media, but the solution of just taking it away was misplaced.

avoiding a problem is never the solution

As far back as the invention of movable type pamphleteers in 18th century America were free to print anything that would fit on the page. Thomas Jefferson watched the increasing availability of printed material along with the associated increase in baseless claims and stories. His conclusion however was not to stop the publishing of leaflets and books but to educate the public to be wary of what they read.

If we think [the people] not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

(quoted in Wineburg, McGrew, 2019)

Researchers have been very good at presenting the dangers that exist in the post-truth world. They would agree with Jefferson, that education is the key – but what kind of education?

At the end of every research paper I am reading these days is the declaration by academics that something must be done about the post-truth world:

Any successful approach will likely need to go beyond modest tweaks to current instruction, which will inevitably increase the demands on teachers and educational designers. Part of the research agenda should therefore include work on how to implement and scale up proposals for ambitious instruction. Our call is for rapid, intensive research and design to develop these (and other) paths of promoting students’ capacities to engage in apt epistemic performance.

Education for a “Post-Truth” World: New Directions for Research and Practice Clark A. Chinn , Sarit Barzilai, and Ravit Golan Duncan, 2020, p. 58

So, I am asking.

How have different writers sought to critically address the ability of students and teachers to make sense of multiple information sources in a Post-Truth World?

What is Post-Truth? What are some post-truth reasoning challenges? 

What is the current ability of educators and students to accurately assess multiple forms of information?

What can we do to teach complex sensemaking skills to educators and students?

Future Directions and Ideas: What are the ways forward? 

Along with all these questions, there is a vast array of material I need to read to catch up on what researchers are saying. Maybe someone has an answer – this is what we need to do with our curriculum – but I haven’t seen this yet.

This is a screenshot of some of the material I have collected over the past few weeks

If you have any ideas, please let me know. There is no question that this is something we need to get right. The consequences of losing a grasp on the truth can be seen around us, will we respond?

Here in Ottawa, we witnessed one of the consequences of post-truth

What Wikipedia teaches us about balancing truth and beliefs

I am adding this piece about Wikipedia. One of my professors has suggested some really interesting material on Wikipedia and how this could be a good tool to help us adapt to a post-truth world. Worth watch.

Really interesting interview – how long will it take us to manage misinformation?

New professor of the practice of health services, policy and practice, Claire Wardle, is not a health professional. She is, however, considered one of the leading experts on misinformation. Co-founder of First Draft, a non-profit dedicated to supporting organizations fighting misinformation, Wardle talks to Megan Hall MPH’15, about her plans for collaborative work at Brown that aims not only to understand mis- and disinformation, but to create tools for more effective public health communication.

misinformationpublic healthfirst draftinformation futures lab

How do we develop students for democracy?

There are a variety of approaches one can take when accompanying high school students in their journey to become citizens. Westheimer and Kahne (What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy, 2004) describe two approaches – one that develops citizens who can organize projects to make their community better, the other that centers on issue analysis from a social justice perspective.

I have a background in public education and as a high school teacher, I took students to the Dominican Republic to the sugar cane town of Consuelo. Based on my experiences, this project wavered between participatory and social justice. To take a social justice approach would challenge students to explain why such grinding poverty exists in a place best known for its sunny beaches.

There is a social justice orientation to trips to the Dominican, but are the effects of the trip long-lasting?

Conducting participatory citizenship programs in Catholic high schools is less risky than examining power imbalances and injustice. Even though Catholic schools are supposed to work within a social justice framework, most educators are more comfortable doing things rather than examining the injustice and imbalance that exist in the relationship between the Global South and North.

In the same school, every year we had a canned food drive. Our school was very good at this. At no time did any of us question why there was a need for a program to prop up community food banks. We were just doing a good thing and we all felt proud of our efforts.

Much in the same way while we tried to examine the social causes of inequity in the Global South, I do think that many of our students were caught up in the romance of travelling to an exotic (and very poor) country. It is much easier to do something rather than see yourself as part of a larger social problem.

Consider this:

Why would justice-oriented projects be more of a challenge to run in a state-supported institution like a school?

The authors contend that developing a commitment to civic participation and social justice do not necessarily align. Do you agree with this statement, or is it possible to do both at the same time?

The questions I posed this week focused on how justice-orientated projects challenge the status quo in our publicly-run schools. The second question explored the possibility that justice and participatory citizenship projects can align.

The responses to these questions focused on the difficulty of enacting justice-orientated programs in schools mainly because teachers and students do not have the time to get involved in social justice issues. The one exception to this might be in schools that are experiencing social injustice. For example, students and teachers might get involved in a campaign against online bullying if this is an issue in their community.

Another response focused on the difficulty in aligning participatory programs with social justice issues. A school may take part in a civic participation program supported or initiated by the police, or a school could organize an information session with the school resource officer (SRO). It is hard to fathom a school running a justice-orientated program at the same time that focuses on critiques of the police as an institution that participates in violence against racialized populations.

After reading and responding to the comments, there are a few points that I want to reemphasize. Based on my experiences as a teacher and an administrator, educators and students do get involved in participatory citizenship initiatives on a regular basis. Schools do not normally sponsor justice-orientated activities, but this is not because teachers do not have enough time. 

As a principal, I thought SRO programs were great. I don’t think so anymore.

Social justice leads to a critique of the power imbalances that exist in our society. The school as a public institution can actually encourage and support these imbalances. Take, for example, the steaming of grade 9 courses or SRO programs that bring police officers into the schools. The school system encourages compliance, not criticism. There is little alignment between programming that focuses on participation and social justice. In fact, participatory good citizen projects are a safe alternative to questioning the injustices that exist in our society.

One approach that has the potential to align participatory citizenship programs and social justice initiatives would be the Head Heart and Hands approach. For this to work there needs to be contemplation and analysis linked to concrete actions.

Researcher’s Journal – Learning is Hard

I am writing this for me, but you can read this if you want.

Whoever said that failure is good, that’s how students learn. Have you tried it? It is good learning, but it is really hard.

So, I want to read this post in January when my comprehensive exams are over. I did a mock version of my research question and I failed miserably. I think there is probably a comment on every paragraph I wrote. And I appreciate every comment. Two very busy academics took the time to go over every word I wrote, the fact that I came up short is good, it gives me something to work on.

It is hard after a long and pretty successful career to start over. It is like learning Spanish in downtown Consuelo (in the DR) you feel a little like a baby, each step is tentative, and everything is risky.

taking baby steps again

I certainly didn’t have to do this, but I have to take the long view right now. The courses were the easy part, the comprehensives are really serious and no one is going to give you a break here. I have six months to get ready for the comprehensives. My original research question was too much, it was a bit like flying in the face of a hurricane. I winced, so I need to move on.

My old question is gone, I don’t think I even understood what I was asking. I am going back to something I have experienced – how does one assess and use digital resources as a credible learning tool when there are no rules? Textbooks were easy, they were written by credible publishers and they have been approved by our provincial government.

starting with words and pictures

Web information is different – this is a totally unregulated field. Does anyone understand how dangerous this can be? What is a good source? Who is behind the site? What is available at 8:30 in the morning when you have a 90-minute class to teach?

I think I was focusing on themes that were not my own. If you are going to spend four years studying something, you better choose something that you care about deeply. My advisors gently moved me away from a theme that really didn’t resonate. Digital literacy and the curation of learning resources for teachers and students is something I am passionate about. While textbooks are still produced for schools, people (school boards) don’t want to invest as much in digital materials. The temptation is to use Google – Google is free, Google will tell you what you need to know.

When I worked on a committee that advised the school board on digital implementation this attitude was shared by many. When something is free and it looks good it is very hard to convince people to invest in content and staff training to effectively use this content. This was shocking to me, but it makes sense. Digital curation is really hard and it costs money. School boards still focus on expensive textbooks. The idea that you should pay for digital content is still a bit of a reach.

So here is my new question:

Digital literacies and the teaching of history – the development of critical thinking skills to assess and curate learning material for the classroom.

This is my old question, not answering this well has taught me a great deal:

Drawing on existing history education scholarship, how have different writers sought to critically address the teaching of history education in Canada? In your response draw on the scholarly literature to show 1) the role of historical thinking concepts in Canada; 2) the tensions that currently exist; and 3) how these relate to settler colonial narratives about Canada’s past.

Thanks very much to my course prof and my academic advisor for taking the considerable time to go over my work. I am sure this was not easy to do and it took lots of time. Yes, in the trial run I didn’t do very well, but I will keep and read again every comment that they have written. Failure is tough, failure is liberating and it can be a wonderful teacher.

This where I start again. I am getting really good
material on comprehensive exams and new resources!

My Academic Life (continues)

At the beginning of this year, I started work on my first assignment for the second semester. We were asked to develop a schedule for our academic work over the next few years – what would the day-to-day look like?

I wrote this assignment as a blog post and here it is.

Eleven days after I wrote this post, my mother died. We were then under the ludicrous convoy occupation and soon after that in an act reminiscent of the Second World War, Russia invaded Ukraine.

My schedule looks a little silly now.

Being in school; being a principal had some semblance of order. This calls for a different sort of calendar.

I do try to write in the morning. It sounds like a lovely idea, but that always doesn’t work out. I am writing this now at the end of a long day and a long week of writing and researching every day. Learn something new – work when you can, be more flexible, schedules crumble. (but, I am writing the final version this morning – much better)

I have done it. Three very demanding courses along with lots of thinking about what I will be writing about and researching for the next three years. The elements of the new plan reside in the questions I have been writing about for the past two weeks:

Some fragments

Choose a qualitative methodology – OK Critical Participatory Action Research (PAR). This was a true revelation for me. In PAR the actions and research are situationed in the real world. The product does not necessarily return to the academy, instead it is left in the hands of the participants. This type of work shows the ultimate respect for the subject and breaks down the barriers that usually exist in qualitative research. This reseach has true meaning and that is an inspiration. PAR is framed in social justice and focuses on revealing truth – truth with a plan – to the people who are part of the project. This kind of work offers so many incredible opportunities!

(Source: P. McGuire 2011. What an adventure it would be to return to San Jose Las Flores to take part in a PAR project with these teachers!)

how have different writers sought to critically address the teaching of history education in Canada? – Here is a question that will stay with me. I wonder what people in our country think about their history? While it seems to be different in Quebec, most Canadian students have to take only one course in Canadian history while in high school. I have taught this course and have seen it taught many times. Most students see it as something they have to get through. Most probably come out of the course with a rudimentary understanding of their country’s history (Gibson & Peck 2020). In most cases, the teaching of history remains unchanged and relies on old, tired, and outmoded methodoligies. Barton and Levstik write:

One of us, in fact, has a daughter currently enrolled in eighth grade U.S. history, and she analyzes exactly as many primary sources, reads exactly as many works of historical literature, takes part in exactly as many inquiry projects and simulations, and considers exactly as many alternative historical perspectives as her father did nearly 30 years ago: zero. We wish this were an isolated example, but we know that it isn’t. (Barton & Levstik, 2004, p. 3)

how do tensions in this work these lead to a disruption of settler-colonial narratives about Canada’s past? The tensions are so interesting. Historical Thinking Concepts remain the accepted methodology, but there are questions – how many teachers actually use this in their classrooms? As a more scientific approach to the study of history – what qualitative features of our narrative are sidelined? We live in a society informed by the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we are also more and more a diverse, multicultural society, especially in our urban centers – how can one methodology address all of these challenges?

This is a very rich experience. There are so many interesting questions I want to work on, and I just love the experience of exercising my mind and working on my writing. I have one course to go and then I get to start preparing for my comprehensives. I want to get this done by the fall.

So, next – a little reading for the next few weeks:

New Possibilities for the Past: Shaping History Education in Canada – Penny Clark (Ed.)

Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts – Sam Wineburg

We Want to do More Than Survive – Bettina Love

History Education and the Construction of National Identities Carretero, Asensio, Rodriguez-Moneo (Eds.)

Beyond History for Historical Consciousness – Levesque and Croteau

Colonialism/Postcolonialism – Ania Loomba

Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan

This list comes from my profs and the research I have been doing. They are the foundation of the next step and I will be working through all this until the summer.

Next – I really need to figure out how to organize all this information. Some people are using Zotero, others NVivo some Dedoose. People speak with such authority about these programs, but I really need to do my own research and figure something that will work for me. In case I haven’t listed enough tools here are nine more.

What’s next?

I have to sort through the tangle of ideas to come up with questions for my comp question. Am I any closer to figuring this out?

And, finally another thing I have learned, it would be good to do this:

Song of the Day

References to texts mentioned

Barton, & Levstik, L. S. (2004). Teaching history for the common good. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781410610508

Clark. C.,(2011). New possibilities for the past shaping history education in Canada. UBC Press.

Gibson L., Peck C.L. (2020) More than a Methods Course: Teaching Preservice Teachers to Think Historically. In: Berg C., Christou T. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of History and Social Studies Education. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi-org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/10.1007/978-3-030-37210-1_10

Lévesque S., & Croteau J.P., (2020). Beyond history for historical consciousness : students, narrative, and memory. University of Toronto Press.

Loomba, A., (2015). Colonialism/postcolonialism (Third edition.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315751245

Love, B., (2019). We want to do more than survive : abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Beacon Press.

MacMillan, M., (2010). Dangerous games : the uses and abuses of history (Modern Library paperback ed.). Modern Library.

Wineburg, S., (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts : charting the future of teaching the past. Temple University.