Can We Teach History Online?

The quality of online education is dependent on many of the same factors as in-person education. The teacher’s personality, willingness to form relationships, curriculum, and pedagogy are influential in both a physical and online space. Online teaching is not automatically bad, just as an educator being directly in front of their students does not always create a good teaching environment. An online teacher is still working with people, which means they still must stay respectful just as if they were in a physical classroom (The Core Rules of Netiquette). This is important to consider since online education is becoming more powerful, and many administrators, educators, and students are relying on it.

One use for online education is the blended method of mixing online education inside a physical classroom. For instance, I created videos of myself examining primary sources using social studies skills; my students learned these skills by watching me utilize them. An example of my blended learning can be found at Primary Source Analysis (2.3) Corroborating Racism of Immigrants

History Forge has dozens of videos like this.

I would show these videos while I taught 8th grade U.S. History. Students would watch the videos for instruction in how to analyze a primary source. While students were watching the videos, I would work with small groups, individuals, or complete other tasks that benefitted my students and curriculum.

A teacher must be able to care for their students in order for them to succeed.

Creating videos and showing them to my students was like having two teachers in the classroom. The students watched the short lecture of a teacher examining a historical source, while I was able to move around freely address several other components of my classroom. I was able to increase the amount of care I showed my students and got to know them more because I had time to do so. My students not only learned history, but I as their teacher was better able to help them connect what they learned to their lives because I learned much more about them.

Online education improves your face-to-face practice because it encourages you to do a better job of communicating with your students. You do not have the benefit of telling them what to do each day, or every other day, in class; therefore, you must improve your syllabus, utilize rubrics, and find ways to express your warmth and care for student well being. For example, according to Stephen Brookfield, in his book The Skillful Teacher, “lecturing still happens online but works best when content is chunked into 10-15 minute blocks.”

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This blocking method is something I also do in my physical classroom, and I would recommend it to any other teacher who lectures for 50 minutes or does not change anything in their classroom during the entire lesson. Teachers should utilize a variety of strategies, such as lectures, problem based research, and discussion, and ensure that each class contains a variety of things to do.

One online conversation idea is to have students watch a Youtube video and have them answer a question, and respond to each other, in the video’s comment section. 

Feel free to use the History Forge video below!

Primary Source Analysis Prompt (1.7) Sourcing and Summarizing

Most of the time, a classroom full of students will have only a few who participate fully; the others seem to be content with letting their peers speak. This latter statement is not true, as most students who do not speak are merely shy, do not know how to engage in the dialogue, or lack the resources to enter into the conversation. Online learning allows these students more opportunities to speak on more equal ground with their peers. I have done online conversations with my students using Google Classroom and the comment feed of Youtube videos.

Overall, and I can only empirically support this, the students improved their arguing and critical thinking abilities when conversing online. I would make assignments where students had to comment on each other’s posts and challenge one another. Brookfield gives many excellent suggestions in his book that will help students answer online questions, and help them stay on task. He also provides questions that challenge students to use the learning and reading that the class focuses on. The questions are below (Bradfield, 181-182).

Questions to Keep Students on Topic

  1. How does your comment relate to the topic of discussion?
  2. What’s the connection between your comments and earlier posts in this thread?
  3. Can you explain how your idea is helping us make sense of this subject matter?
  4. We seem to have wandered away from the main topic. What do we need to do to get back on track?
  5. Who has a comment or question that can help us regain focus?
  6. What might be a different way of explaining this idea?”

Questions to Keep Students Focused on Evidence

  1. Where in the material we’ve studied so far can you find evidence confirming your view?
  2. What’s the source of that point of view in this week’s reading?
  3. Whose work that we have studied confirms what you are saying?
  4. What process of reasoning led you to reach that conclusion?

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