History, ICT, and Learning in the Secondary School

By Terry Haydn; Christine Counsell | Go to book overview

1

Computers and history

Rhetoric, reality and the lessons of the past

Terry Haydn

Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this-and-that.

(Postman 1993:5)


The aim of the chapter

This chapter focuses on historical perspectives on the role of ICT in the teaching of history. Although the educational use of computers is a fairly recent development, it already has its own 'history' (see for example, Abbott 2001; Molnar 1997), including contributions which focus more specifically on the role of computers in the teaching of history (Batho 1985; Dickinson 1998; Martin et al. 1997; Rykken 2000). What can we learn from this brief history?

As with other facets of history, the value of examining 'the historical record' of computers in the teaching of history will depend on the questions we ask of it. The first section of the chapter is based on the proposition that it is helpful to understand why there is a gap between the claims made for computers in education and what they have contributed in practice.

The Department for Education and Employment recently advocated that teachers take a 'leap of faith' with the use of computers (DfEE 1997). This sits uneasily with the historian's belief that we should examine the reliability of claims on the basis of the evidence available. This might mean going back to first principles and asking uncomfortable questions about ICT, rather than accepting its proclaimed virtues at face value. It is important to 'tell the truth' about history and ICT. This should include an acknowledgement that, in spite of the formidable advantages and opportunities that various ICT applications can offer, they do not in themselves guarantee 'better learning'. Recent research suggests that there are some things that computers do not do well in relation to

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