Electronic voting handsets could help persuade pupils to stick with history, its teachers believe. But only if they are used more imaginatively. The Historical Association is running a research project with six secondary schools in Cumbria and the North East to see how the gameshow-style devices, normally used with interactive whiteboards, could spark interest.
Ben Walsh, of the association's secondary committee, said the systems, which allow instant pupil feedback, are often ignored by teachers or not used to their full potential.
The problem was demonstrated, he said, by resources provided by whiteboard manufacturers that were just straight multiple-choice tests examining recall of historical facts.
"Clearly this is problematic in history," said Mr Walsh. "We simply do not assess on crude factual recall and many departments which have been contacted have rejected voting technology for this reason.
"It is at best a bit of a distraction and at worst it is detrimental to what we are trying to do. A resource labelled interactive can all too often be thoroughly passive if its use is not carefully thought out."
The solution, he believes, is to go beyond questions such as "What date was the Battle of Hastings?" and instead use the technology to test pupils'
thoughts about historical events.
Questions that would force them to use the analytical skills so important to the subject could include: "Was the Magna Carta a) the beginning of our modern freedoms or b) a charter for powerful, greedy barons to avoid paying reasonable taxes?"
Mr Walsh, who has used the approach with GCSE and A-level pupils, thinks it could also be used at key stage 3 to engage the two-thirds of 14-year-olds who drop the subject.
The voting devices could improve history's relevance by linking it with technology in pupils' minds, and stimulate their interest and discussion of the events they are studying.
The results of pupil opinion surveys could also be stored on an internet database so that they could be compared with pupils from previous years and other areas of the country.