Teaching History with Digital Tools (I)


T. Mills Kelly’s book Teaching History in the Digital Age, addresses education and, specifically, the ways in which educators and historians in higher education need to adapt to and incorporate digital tools, concepts, and understanding into the classroom environment and history programs. The book is organized into five sections related to the teaching of history: “Thinking”, “Finding”, “Analyzing”, “Presenting”, and “Making”. Kelly’s approach creates an easy-to-follow manual for bringing in digital devices and elements to the classrooms.

Kelly sees the great deal of new debates and new opportunities surrounding the digital era and acknowledges that History, as a discipline, is slow to participate in these debates, historians don’t experience “the crisis” as other departments, “In fact, as a discipline, we seem fairly well pleased with ourselves when it comes to the state of historical research and analysis, and many of us remain generally dismissive of the value of new media technologies for the teaching and learning of our discipline. But we ignore the revolution going on all around us at our peril.” (“Introduction”, par. 8). Kelly’s argument is not that digital technologies aid student learning, rather he is trying to prove that bringing in digital components makes them more engaged. Kelly sees a major disconnect between faculty and students and advocates for more classroom activities engaging students by making them active participants rather than passive listeners and recorders.

The chapter on “Finding” addresses gaps between instructors and students and identifies ways that faculty might better understand the mentality of their students. In comparison between a traditional, print-based search with a digital one, Kelly does a great job of showing the vast amount of information that is available in the digital format, “a delimited Google search run on January 5, 2011, on the name “Abraham Lincoln” produced 7,540,000 websites; 1,670,000 images; 10,600 videos; 1,320,000 books; and 121,000 scholarly articles. A further search on Lincoln across the multiple databases of newspapers provided by ProQuest Historical Newspapers produces another 80,252 citations. Together these add up to 10,741,852 possible resources for a student interested in Lincoln, his life, and his career. By contrast, a similar search of the catalog of the Library of Congress produced 4,277 citations, and such a search in the catalog of my university’s fairly small library produced 871. (“Finding”, par. 3)

I think this chapter shows that students and instructors can no longer practicably manage all of this data, and more isn’t necessarily better. Students are quick to find and use the information they find first, which means the first pages of a Google search, and, although students are quick to learn lessons themselves from these experiences, instructors need to be more aware of these practices. They need to be guides and models for students, demonstrating how to find the information they need: what to discard, what to use, and how to use it.



Filed under Weekly Blogs

2 responses to “Teaching History with Digital Tools (I)

  1. this brings up a great problem. The teachers know how to find reliable/strong information (from analog sources) but it is the students who know how to access the web. The problem is students need to learn from their professors what reliable/strong information is (i.e, not always the first selection from google) but teachers also need to learn from students regarding websites (and other digital tools), how they can be utilized to further enhance the students work.


  2. “Students are quick to find and use the information they find first, which means the first pages of a Google search…”

    I found it interesting how Kelly noticed that one of his students completely overlooked analog resources. The student failed to find a resource on jstor and assumed that it was impossible to find. However, he was surprised when Kelly showed him that it was available in the school library.


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