You can't put that!" says one boy. "This is going on the internet - it's not some rubbish for your exercise book. Remember that stuff about a balanced argumentI" The boys are discussing Elizabeth I's marriage policy.
The task is to decide how effectively Elizabeth I dealt with the problems of her reign. Usually they'd be asked to create a poster or diagram summarising their ideas and opinions. This class from Neale-Wade Community College in March, Cambridgeshire, was asked to create a webpage to put on the school website.
Create a webpage? Surely this brings to mind visions of your Year 8s wrecking the school computers as you desperately try to get to grips with what's going on. Surely web pages are something to be left to computer nerds who never sleep? No. Creating a simple web page is easy. Using Microsoft Word, students type out their masterpiece and simply click on the File menu and "Save as HTML" (or "Save as web page" in later versions). Inserting hyperlinks - a key element of web pages - is just as simple. Click on "Insert hyperlink".
For the Elizabeth I exercise students typed their ideas and explanations, adding appropriate pictures from the internet. The class was divided into groups and each was asked to concentrate on a particular aspect of her reign. Using their own previous work and a list of appropriate websites, they were given two lessons in which to create their masterpiece. After a quick explanation of how to create a web page they were away. Selecting the marriage topic on the site reveals a list of Elizabeth's most hopeful suitors, with her reasons for considering them seriously. But, as the students show, the courting was something of a Blind Date affair.
Here, students used ICT as a presentational tool for an end-of-topic summary. Pupils were keen to put effort in, were proud to show their work to others and, above all, were thrilled to have actually created an online resource. This work was part of a European Multiversum project where Neale-Wade pupils were producing content as part of a Cambridgeshire schools group.
Yet this is only the beginning. All schools have access to standard ICT applications - generic computer software such as word processors, spreadsheets, databases, desktop publishing and presentational software. All teachers have a national curriculum requirement to make effective use of ICT, and history teachers have more to gain than most. History teachers have a terrific opportunity to make effective use of ICT - and no large sums of scarce department funding are required. Really effective ICT-based history lessons are simple to organise and set up.
The key benefit of ICT is the ability to manipulate material - for history, specifically the ability to edit and re-edit documents. History teachers know all about manipulating sources, cutting up and rearranging information, categorising and ranking ideas. With only a small amount of preparation similar exercises can be recreated on computers with multiple benefits. Interactivity is the key - pupils are involved and can see the difference they are making.
Above all, effective use of ICT within history is easy. At its most basic, ICT can be used as a presentational tool. At its most dynamic, it can be an interactive and innovative tool helping pupils to put their historical skills into practice. It is nothing particularly new - existing exercises and practices are simply made more accessible and pupils are able to be far more creative in their visual and written explanations.
But why bother? Quite simply, as in the best traditions of teaching, because you have to. The history curriculum stipulates that all students should be given the opportunity "to apply their information technology capability in their study of history". Yet teachers rarely do things because they have to. The best reason is because of the positive learning that takes place. European project or not, the keenness and excitement simply created by taking a group of pupils into a computer room is immense. This means pupils are more willing and ready to apply themselves. Yet this does not automatically lead on to effective learning. History teachers need to use their existing teaching skills. ICT should not and does not replace existing methods - ICT enhances not replaces. Using even basic ICT within history offers an additional dynamism to your tried-and-tested teaching.
Providing pupils with a basic framework allows them to get started easily. This could be a table to complete around a source in Word, boxes in Publisher, or a collection of key words in PowerPoint. Activities such as cutting and pasting text, rearranging and collating information, and examining bias can all easily be produced.
The highlighting tool in Word can be used to identify fact and opinion, cause and effect, or evidence within a source. Students could be asked to manipulate an existing source, changing bias, to write for a different audience or to write from a different viewpoint. Desktop publishing programs can be used to great effect, again allowing manipulation of source material, presentation of arguments or analysis of images.
Examining living conditions during the Industrial Revolution? Using Word, give the students information and a two-column table to work from. They can then cut and paste information into the relevant column. This could then form the basis of an extended analysis into the impact of the Revolution.
PowerPoint or similar presentation software can be put to great use. Students can annotate and add comments, edit and manipulate information and develop their analysis into a presentation to deliver to the rest of the class. One of my most enjoyable lessons using PowerPoint was with a very low ability class looking at life in Nazi Germany. Each had a contemporary poster and was given instructions to explain their opinions about the propaganda.
Many of the presentations were very good, with arrows and text boxes being used to explain their ideas. It finally came to the last girl. She didn't normally say much but was delighted to showcase her work. We watched the screen - the poster appeared. She clicked again. Two sentences spun in from the side of the screen. She was congratulated on completing the task. "Not finished yetI" she said timidly. She clicked again. Three words appeared - "This is I opinion". Then a huge "my" zoomed in from the top into the gap. "This is my opinion!" she exclaimed with a broad smile. Use of ICT in this lesson did not produce amazing historical results, but it allowed pupils to express their ideas using primary source material - and they were proud of it. In the following lesson, pupils were able to recall their ideas and analysis to produce an excellent piece of sourcework.
The possibilities really are limitless. It is essential to realise that existing and successful history lessons should be used. A history teacher in an ICT room is still a history teacher. The freedom and ability to manipulate text and images mean that standard applications can be fantastic learning tools in the history classroom.
Above all try to create your own ideas adapting existing materials. You'll certainly be encouraged by the results.
Andrew Field is curriculum ICT co-ordinator at Neale-Wade Community College, March, Cambridgeshire