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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.”
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
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
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)
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.