A digital application for history in the 21st century

12. 12. 2018 | Source: Technology Agency of the Czech Republic

The world is changing. Everything is in flux and the speed of change is growing to such an extent that we are unable to monitor all the directions that development is heading in. We are unable to react to and absorb all the information which comes to us from a myriad of sources and we do not have time to learn.

The world and society are moving forward incredibly fast – we have new materials, progressive technologies, neuron networks, artificial intelligence, smart life, Industry 4.0 … and in order for our students to be able to get to know and understand everything, to be capable of using it and working and creating in an environment of fast changes, they should be prepared by a system which has been established for many years.

“The world has diametrically changed in that knowledge does not now have to be acquired directly at school. The knowledge base now consists of much more shared information on the internet. If we took this to the level of ad absurdum, we could say that we do not need school at all in order to acquire knowledge, because we can come by it in a completely different way. School should now be much more of a kind of social workshop than merely a medium which transfers knowledge,” said the education expert Bohumil Kartous.

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Understandably, it is not possible to change the character of our schools and teaching just as quickly and simply as we change software in computers. But the changes are necessary and, in addition to the discussed systemic measures, it is crucial to support programmes that can be easily and quickly implemented and that follow current technological trends and make use of modern communication options. One example of this could be the TA CR-supported project entitled “Innovations in teaching history: the development of a digital application for working with sources.“

“If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now, we’re going tobe in trouble. The knowledge-based approach of 200 years ago, would fail our kids, who would never be able to compete with machines. Children should be taught soft skills like independent thinking, values and team-work.,” Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group

The project, which lasted just two years and cost under 3 million crowns, combined the abilities of experts from six institutions (the Fraus publishing house, the Institute of Contemporary History at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, the Jewish Museum in Prague, the Electrotechnical Faculty at the Czech Technical University in Prague and the Faculty of Education and Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University) under the leadership of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and developed a digital application software for the use of historical sources in lessons and a methodological manual for teachers at primary and secondary schools.

The innovation lies in the support for creative work with sources and in the development of the historical literacy of the pupils. The resulting application connects the options offered by digital technology with the principles of the modern didactics of history.

“I received voluntary answers from those who are not often doing so. There is no wrong answer, so they don’t have to be ashamed if they don’t know something.” A male teacher, primary school, Zlonice

The user friendly software enables students to work with historical photographs and pe- Leoš Kopecký riod documents, which is more fun than just studying. The prepared topics with specially- selected questions invoke the need for an independent and creative approach in pupils and students in relation to the content and give rise to the desire to learn more about the topic from different sources. The application includes materials for teachers that relate to the project’s fundamental areas:

  • the transforming goals of historical education in the time of new media
  • the significance of visual communication in history textbooks
  • the potential of textbooks to develop historical thinking using the example of the Holocaust

“We strongly hope that the application will also find a use outside of schools and that it will support development in the field of didactic research as well as further discussions on the transformation of history in the 21st century,“ said the project authors. The fact that one team member from the Fraus publishing house plans to connect the further development and publication of its digital textbooks with the results from the project is, of course, highly significant.

The application and manual are available online at HistoryLab page.

Originally published in TA.Di magazine of Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (TA CR), author: Leoš Kopecký

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