Teaching history in the 21st century : Thomas Ketchell at TEDxLiege
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Teaching history in the 21st century : Thomas Ketchell at TEDxLiege

Translator: Charlotte Marie-Jeanne
Reviewer: Elisabeth Buffard I’ve been blown away by all these talks about rebirth and renaissance today. I believe humanity works on a cycle of rebirths and we are at the crossroads of a new one. Our lives are becoming
more and more digitized. And in time, education will follow. As a history major,
I struggled to find a job. I actually ended up working
in the environmental industry in Kenya, in East Africa, working on renewable energy projects with a focus on biogas
in rural communities. This then led me to Beijing, China and the scene you can see behind me, another beautiful sunny afternoon in the Chinese capital. I was tired of breathing in this dirty, polluted, smoggy air. And I kept alerting my friends and family back home of what it was like to live through this. But they didn’t really believe me. So I decided to look back on history. So armed with my history diploma, what events stood out for me? The London Great Smog, in 1952. 12 000 people lost their lives in 5 days. 12 000 people. This is the worst man-made
air pollution disaster ever. And yet, hardly anybody knew about it. So what I decided to do, was to create a fictional character, someone who woke up in 1952, had a smartphone and began tweeting. And he tweeted as if he was
really living the event in real time. But this was over 60 years ago. I used the hashtag “#GreatSmog” and I spoke in a language
which kids were familiar with and they could understand. We got picked up by media organisations, we got picked up by environmentalists and everyone started following this feed, re-living this historical event. It was the true impact of the Great Smog, people didn’t actually know
what was going on at the time. It’s only when the hospitals
started filling up, people were dying of
heart attacks in the streets, people were dying in
their homes while they slept. And yet, they didn’t quite realize
how many people were dying. It’s only when the morgues
were actually full that they realized the true
impact of the Great Smog. So I created 422 tweets
in the space of 5 days and I reached millions
of people on Twitter. So you are probably thinking, “what’s the point? Why did I do this?
What’s the interest?” Well, I did it because history
is still stuck in the dark ages. History teaching and it’s outdated context,
outdated delivery, kids are simply bored of it. If you want a kid to hate
their iPad, put a textbook on it. It’s the same with history. We can’t just live with static figures and dates and numbers. Kids aren’t interested in that anymore. We need history to be brought to life, we need the teachers to actually use the power of technology and tell stories. This is what I strive to do everyday
as a technology entrepreneur. Innovation though, is difficult. What we really need is to push
for schools to have a new vision and a new way to be open
and pushing for collaboration. Here are a few examples
of innovators in the space who use technology and mix it with history to bring a story to life. One of the teachers I spoke to
a couple of months ago, Corina, she works at the Steve Jobs schools – yes, they do exist,
in Almere in the Netherlands – and she told me just that, she said what she liked about using
history and technology in the classroom is that it brought the content to life and engaged to students. It made her kids curious, it lighted that spark of
curiosity inside them, which got them to go explore more and find out more about
that historical event. And that’s exactly… and she’s right! Every teacher that I liked
and remembered from history told me a powerful story. When now teachers have technology to actually make this happen, it’s very easy. The second example I want
to show you is Minecraft. So for those of you that
don’t know Minecraft, it’s a virtual 3D sandbox game where users can create these
amazing worlds from scratch. Now Minecraft is great because it pushes
for collaboration, for digital citizenships and by that I mean sort of Internet ethics
and also privacy issues. And it allows for people to really
chat on there and discuss events. What was so great about this Minecraft was that it was a student that created it for his Latin class. So the student, before Minecraft, did not feel engaged with the content, he was having problems studying. So he created
this Roman bath house himself. And from there,
he actually learnt Latin and started giving tours
to other users in Latin. I mean, how engaging is that and how inspiring is that? There’s so much creativity there. My third example is a teacher that I look up to and that I admire, Enrique Legaspi. He’s a social studies teacher in the U.S. And what he does is he actively uses Twitter
within the classroom setting. He uses the tool to get students to collaborate on the net,
to discuss events, and uses one event, one hashtag. And he’s actually found that students are a lot more engaged with the study of history. What he’s also noticed is that the shy ones
actually speak up now. So every student in his class has a role and feels part of the classroom. Enrique is one of many
of the teachers out there currently doing this in the space. And this is what I want to do as an education technology entrepreneur, is bring these stories to life, bring history alive and make it active, make it enjoyable
and fun for the students, get them involved. Unfortunately, it is
a difficult space to be in. And really,
with the power of the Internet, millions and millions of people
are getting access to the web. And we can allow for this collaboration between students from different classrooms but also different countries. One example is, one which may be close to
a lot of people in the room today, is the independence of Congo. Why can’t we have students collaborating
about this historic event together, on one platform, discussing, collaborating. What was it like for a student to grow up during Congo when it was colonized by Belgians; what it was like for a Belgian student to grow up in Belgium and discuss Belgium’s colonization. Why can’t we have these students from different countries,
from different continents discussing and collaborating together? To do this though, we all need boldness,
imagination and creativity. Unfortunately, our schools
do not allow for this currently, so we need a new vision for schools to push this through. Our students are
very smartphone-orientated. They need 21st century skills now. These 21st century skills revolve around cognitive skills,
innovation and recognition. And really, to do this
we need to allow students to really have access to technology. And schools need to change
the way they are being taught when it comes to liberal arts. No longer are we in an era where someone like
Henry Ford wanted workers who were obedient, who listened and who didn’t question. Today someone like
Larry Page wants people to answer questions that
haven’t been solved yet, and he wants creators. But more importantly,
he wants innovators. And that’s really what we need to push for when it comes to history. “Social media is bad, we shouldn’t use it in the classroom.” I am tired and I’m really fed up of hearing that argument from top level educators. Let’s actually let the students use these tools. Let them get engaged with history. It’s actually, you get them to use tools that are actually in need for the future. They don’t need a textbook anymore. They can google something
in 2 seconds and figure out the answer. Sir Ken Robinson once said: “Nobody has any idea of what’s going to happen in the future but everybody has
an interest in education.” And I think he’s right. Those words ring true, especially for the future
of the liberal arts and in particular history. A child is not born with a notepad and a pen anymore. He’s born with technology
at their fingertips. So, my very short talk today is really about dreaming
and going out there, and going big and really pushing for this collaboration. Making history personalised, getting children involved, getting them engaged with history. And that’s really what I’m trying
to push forward today. It’s to go out there and really make a difference. So the themes of these talks
today has been rebirth. I think we should have a Renaissance of the way history is taught in classrooms across the country and across the globe. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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44 thoughts on “Teaching history in the 21st century : Thomas Ketchell at TEDxLiege

  1. I appreciate the passion he has in this topic, but it's very empty.  What exactly do you want to see?  I hear collaboration, but collaborating on what?  Bringing history to life?  Your idea on the smog was great, bringing that to attention and showing the negatives from then and making those connections to today, but you lost that when you started going on these tangents about Belgium and the Congo.  Yeah its history, but the collaborations/connections you are trying to make are very abstract.

  2. 贱人就是矫情,北京天气虽然不怎么样,但是有你说的那么糟糕?你扪心自问下…

  3. I also use technology in the classroom. I teach in a computer lab and we use Google Apps for education for class. I absolutely love the interaction and collaboration that the kids now possess. A lot of the things that you said are true…..I did go big and it does work….. I am proud of the kids that I have taught….

  4. Thanks for sharing Thomas. I just finished reading Teaching World History in the 21st Century: A Resource Book by Heidi Roupp and decided to find some strategies using technology and social media for teaching history, and from there I found your presentation on Ted. Even though I am not pretty sure what sorts of collaboration you managed to initiate in your classroom, but I take that as my room to exercise my own creativity as a history teacher. I will be teaching Muslim Nations in 2016 and hoping to assist my students in their learning and making studying history enjoyable, fruitful. Thanks again.

  5. You don't need technology to tell a powerful story.
    With verbal debate it is easy to get shy students involved. You don't need Twitter to get students to talk. It's not just knowledge you are imparting but developing people who are confident. Social media bullying is a huge aspect in all schools. Google does not give the answer for what is your opinion on something. You give a good idealistic argument but it is not practical.

  6. You gave me some good ideas and I think we should use all the tools we can to teach but…. When students have access to their smartphones in class many of them will be off task playing games and texting friends. Access needs to be tightly controlled if you want to have your students perform and learn. If seen many different school policies for cell phones and schools with strict policies have a vastly better learning environment.

  7. The most interesting thing about history, to me, is not fact, figures, or things that happened. Or stupid technology to make it more "immersive". It's the process of historian piecing together the past through primary evidence. How to read a 10 centuries old scroll and figure out what happened? What do these archaeological evidences mean? We all know not all modern books are equal, so how do you rank the veracity of primary sources? When you read a line in a history book about what happened, what were the primary sources?

    Those are really the most interesting things, yet no schools taught that. They taught the secondary and tertiary sources. Only at university levels they teach how historians worked; and even so, quite sparsely.

  8. I'm trying to get my head around this presentation. So kids who don't like history are suddenly going to wake up because smart phones are turned on during class when the exercise is boring. It has nothing to do with the fact that in order to learn the student has to engage and make the effort to concentrate? So by having technology and allowing the student to interact it will make the student more likely to engage and start or get involved in discussion forums with other students in other locations.

    In an ideal scenario that could be the case, but then we do not live in a perfect world so I prefer to go with live interaction via the teacher who is paid to provide an interesting while vibrant environment that enhances learning ability.

    Though the idea has some merit, I believe too much benefit is afforded social media and the negative consequences actually outweigh the benefits. I use it a lot, and quite frankly I’ve noticed my productivity is going downhill.

  9. history in america is politicized, used as a form of indoctrination, and the teacher makes proselytes out of their students. whatever culture prevails in the community, prevails in the class room. Generally, Americans have an Anglo-Centric, protestant view of history, because the people who settled and created the 13 colonies were protestants from western europe. With them they brought the idea that the New World is a new Promised Land, and that they were a new Chosen People, just like the Jews in the Old Testament. And exactly as the Jews did, they authored their own history. one that favors them, makes demons out of their enemies, and makes irrelevant and exotic any people who are neither friend or foe (Like Orthodox Christians. they compose roughly a third of the Christians on the planet and do not share in the qualities that people criticize Christianity as a whole for, but most Americans either dont know about them or only vaguely know about them, they think all Christians are evangelical protestants, or Catholic. basically, all the people who say "religion is shit" in america have really only experienced western protestantism and Catholicism, but they dont know that Orthodoxy is the root of both these things, and is generally more intuitive and nurturing for the average person. )

  10. Sometimes Ted delivers proper wank…. and this is an example of it … Entrepreneur! … Innovation ! … Computers! piss off ! we need Criticism, Opinions, Analysis and Debate in the classroom around history. You only care for history if it fucking produces millionaires. "Liberal Arts" Ugh.

  11. As a history teacher in 北京beijing, I am breathing the dreadful air and typing these words, having two years experiences of history-teaching, I am always try to let my class come back to life, use advanced techs, still feel frustrated, hope you can have demo class rather than just a speech to deliver your ideas. for the truth is class is totally different from the speech.

  12. Sorry old son, but some of this is simply a bunch of youknowwhat. 'History is still stuck in the dark ages. History teaching and its outdated context, outdated delivery; kids are simply bored of it.' Apparently history is 'statistics, figures, dates and numbers; kids aren't interested in that anymore' …!!!!!!! WOW WEEE !!!! anymore…what happened, did we evolve? 'History needs to be brought to life, by technology, and tell stories.' Is this all a case of more bing images and personal experience??? No: Hstry…What would it have been like being an invading Viking, and settling in the east mids, from a first person perspective?!! Neat. But.

    But stories are what we got in primary school, and then in junior school: with drawings, illustrations etc of Roman forts, legionaries, for example, and then more stories up to GCSE, (the Crusades, images of Krak les chevaliers, the Hundred Years War), and then A-Level. Stories. One constant theme persisted; stories. Stories are history. History is the story of mankind. And stuff from diaries and memoirs did feature. not much however, so extra emphasis and inclusion in this direction can't exactly be wrong.

    But again, when i took the first GCSE in history in 1988, we talked about how history used to be basically crap, because all they did was learn dates and numbers and stuff [probably], back in the 1950s/60s (and before). And you can bet your life (almost) that wasn't the case; nor was it the case in the 1850s/60s. Because history is stories. Unavoidably.

    And training during childhood is a good thing. Remembering details, and being tested on those details, via short answers, like "1066", rather than "3 page essays" (or Pearl Harbour rather than 1941). As ever, to some extent . Taking GCSE exams in any subject naturally involves a certain amount of remembering details, (streaming).

    Engage with (historical) stories (at GCSE and A-level), question those stories, question the evidence, via discussion in class, essays: these are the things that were happening in the late 1980s, and perhaps have always been happening. Moribund scapegoating (does it lead to prejudice?) is hardly an inspiring means to an end – to a bunch of history teachers. The past was crap and here is the future !!! 🙂 My groats worth. No offense intended.

  13. Everyone does have an interest in education. However, it is one of the very few professions wherein everyone feels one is an expert, largely because they experienced education as a student. Thus individuals feel empowered to understanding every aspect of methodology, doctrine and pedagogy, administration and actual…..TEACHING. Reminds one of the "I slept at a Holiday Inn Express" ads. If teaching were so easy, everyone would do it. Instead it is a blend of art, science, personality and expertise wherein the group dynamics changes each and every day.

  14. I am currently an aspiring History teacher (Hopefully at the high school level). I agree with a few things said here. I believe that that beauty in history is seeing how far we have come. How did the FDA come about, and what were the issues that existed that prompted the need for such an agency?

    The common method of teaching is something like…"The FDA was created in (Insert year here"…and memorize. That's great, but that seemingly useless fact does little to explain the importance of the agency and its creation. It would be impossible to fully understand the need for government regulation of certain industries without first studying the problems that existed in the past when said industries were free of regulation. JUST think of the implications that can have considering we are teaching the voters of tomorrow. Of course….this is just one example.

    End of rant.

  15. Most people in the comment section has cultural lag. The reason for his rebirth in teaching comes from your boring expository lectures. Of course old people won't accept the fact that they are BORING!

  16. Teacher: so do you know this random fact in history?
    Student: uhhhhhhh
    Teacher: wow u don’t know
    Student: why can’t we just search this up on the internet?
    Teacher: uhhhh

  17. Does any of what you say have a baseline or comparative studies of history teaching? He says a lot without showing data that supports his proposals.

  18. this is nothing new. students have had a problem with history for many years. yes technology can be good, but to much technology can be a negative.

  19. The reason why teachers have difficulty including powerful stories like the London Smog or the independence of Congo is because of the pressure of state standards. One look at a list of standards shows that they are too focused on rote memorization and not enough on critical thinking skills.

  20. Yes, unless it has enough “Bing-Zing-Wammy-Wow!!” it’s just boring!

    The “Bing-Zing-Wammy-Wow!!” factor is like an addictive drug, and like drugs builds up a tolerance so that the user needs more each time to get the same endorphin high. Kids in school are not necessarily bored because they do not have enough spectacle and entertainment-educational factors, they are board because the compulsory school system lacks authenticity and relevance. It’s to create a standardized citizenry, and regardless of what the nice young man speaking says, the new boss like the Larry Page’s of the world – are just like the old boss. No doubt the promises of Henry Ford and his ilk sounded pretty darned innovative and good to the proles of the early 21st Century, too but they don‘t hold up well.

    Nothing changes, the oligarchs just change the words and methods used to accomplish the same thing.

  21. You want a Congo student to be able to collaborate with a student from the Netherlands? How can you reform education when some people don't even have the pen and notepad. Innovation is important I agree and whilst history should be taught to be more engaging and social media can be a method to achieve this you could have at least referenced how some people receive no education at all or never learn about their history. Think about the history we learn in schools – from my experience nationalistic and not a 'global history' – this is in my opinion a more important reformation that needs to take place. If you want to reduce people becoming disinterested in history teach them history that is relevant and relateable like your example of the London smog and how that relates to Beijing in the modern world. This does not need social media to do this the more important in my view is the content of history being taught rather than the exact methods used even if social media can be a useful tool in some circumstances

  22. I am also a history teacher.. Personally I believe that yes the innovations should be made and technology should be used in the classroom to make it more interesting and appealing to students especially for history subject.

    But this isn't just the way.. Reading in real and analysis building and writing the arguments are more polished and practical ways to upbringing historical thinking.. And to develop an interest in specifically history subject.. One should make the students realize it's importance…

    The students should be give time and space to grasp all history and should be told that the grip on the subject comes with time. Gradually..

  23. A history class teaches more than history. It teaches things that happened, yes, but also how to speak in front of a group (twitter ain't gonna do it), how to engage and exchange thoughts with people that disagree with you (HUGE and in no way does twitter work for this), how to apply the past to the present and future (how TF is twitter or social media going to teach you this? it involves THINKING), and how to write…because somewhere you're going to have to prove you actually LEARNED WHAT HAPPENED at some point in the past.

    I'm all for using tech to teach, but honestly, no wonder our youth don't know how to handle the simplest of conflicts in life. They aren't taught social skills! Social media is NOT SOCIAL, it's talking to a BOX.

  24. “Kids want to use social media so let them.” “They just Google the answers anyway.”

    In an already dumbed down nation & voting populace, I am afraid we have educators like this. To keep students from Googling answers you simply require them to answer open-ended questions. See, there are these things called “divergent” questions which are ungoogleable such as “what is freedom?” which require critical thinking/independent thought.

    I would love to know what % of his students using social media platforms to “learn” quickly complete his easy as pie task, then click back over after 20 seconds as soon as he turns to help attention-getting student to message their friend Makenzie about what they’re doing that night, or to sext their boyfriend.
    Smh. Really?

  25. This is the type of presentation that is counterproductive to what I'm trying to do in my history classroom. I'm a millennial and consider myself to be very attune to the skills my students need to thrive in the 21st century. We use technology and Twitter and I do believe social media is an important teaching tool. But to suggest that textbooks have no place and that answers can just be Googled? I would question this man's credentials as a historian because of that comment alone. I would also guess that he has not spent one full year teaching history in a classroom either, or he would see the challenges that high tech classrooms can sometimes introduce.

    Critical reading and primary source document analysis are still an essential part of the study of history and developing these skills with my students is necessary no matter how much technology is at their fingertips.

    I struggle every year to find the perfect balance between 21st century skills and traditional historical reasoning skills. As much as we'd love a perfect system, I find that these two options are not always compatible.

  26. I am doing a research paper of how teaching history needs to change to raise engagement among high school students. I loved what you said. Do you have any peer reviewed resources I can use to back your claim??

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