Using ICT in the history classroom - Introduction

Dr. Haydn stressed that one of the roles of ICT in the history classroom is to develop pupils' information literacy - to make them more discerning about what they read and what they watch. This includes challenging the popular pupil perception that the internet is the fount of all truth and wisdom.


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He gave out the following extract from his book, History, ICT and Learning, London; Routledge Falmer (2003) co-edited with Christine Counsell:


Developing Pupils' Information Literacy

The Crick Report on Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools (QCA, 1998: 44) stated that amongst the skills and aptitudes which young people should possess by the end of compulsory schooling were:

  1. The ability to use modern media and technology critically to gather information.
  2. A critical approach to evidence put before one, and ability to look for fresh evidence.
  3. The ability to recognise forms of manipulation and persuasion.


The government's ‘Literacy across the curriculum' strategy also stresses the importance of young people being able to read with critical awareness as an important strand of literacy (DfEE, 2001). School history clearly has a major role to play in both citizenship and literacy. Part of a historical education in the twenty first century should be to develop pupils' understanding of the status and reliability of information from a range of media sources. A small scale enquiry into pupils' ranking of the reliability of information from various sources revealed that in year 7, pupils thought that CD-roms, the internet, and school textbooks were the three most trustworthy sources of information (see Figure 1).

(Figure 1): Rank the following according to how much you trust in what they say (8 = most; 1 = least)

Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Year 11 OverallTextbooksGeneral non-fiction booksTelevisionRadioNewspapersCD-romsWhat The Teacher SaysThe Internet

6 8 8 6 7 8
5 2 4 5 5 3
3 4 2 3 3 3
2 3 3 4 2 2
1 1 1 1 1 1
8 5 7 7 8 7
4 6 5 2 4 4
7 7 6 8 6 6

The survey found that year 11 pupils in the same school also regarded these three sources of information as more trustworthy than television, radio, newspapers, non-fiction books, and ‘what the teacher says' (Howe, 1997). The survey suggests that in spite of recent emphasis on ‘the reliability of sources', the experience of school history is not seriously disturbing young people's ideas about the reliability of the information they receive from the media. This was a small-scale enquiry, conducted within one school, but it nonetheless raises interesting questions for history teachers. Given that one of the aims of school history is to help young people to handle information intelligently, there is perhaps a need to address the issue of ‘media literacy' more explicitly, and make connections between the reliability of sources ‘from the past', and the sources from which they derive information in their day to day lives.

Harold Macmillan once remarked that the main advantage of being educated was that you knew when someone was speaking nonsense (quoted in Williams and Mahlouji, 2001). No subject is better placed than history to teach pupils that the internet is not the ultimate repository of truth and wisdom. In the era of ‘spin', media manipulation, and sophisticated techniques for the distortion of information, an important facet of citizenship education is to teach pupils ‘to sort out the differences between the essential and non-essential information, raw fact, prejudice, half-truth and untruth, so that they know when they are being manipulated, by whom and for what purpose.' (Longworth, 1981: 19). Helping pupils to become ‘mature' internet users (see Chapter 2), is an important part of this aspect of citizenship education. In conjunction with the scanner, the internet can also be a valuable resource for developing pupils' visual literacy, given the wealth of images, portraits and cartoons which can be accessed from the internet, especially now that many major search engines now incorporate an Image Search facility as part of their services (see for example. and click on ‘images').

The realisation that many young people do not have a sophisticated understanding of the status of information on the internet has led to the development of a number of sites which can be used to develop pupils' ‘internet literacy'. One example of this is a ‘spoof' site, about Oliver Cromwell which, at first glance, appears to be a bona fide educational site on Cromwell.

The site was designed to make a point about the integrity of information on the internet, and about the practice of uncritical downloading of information. The author deluged with email requests from students asking him to write their assignments for them. Several sites have moved beyond simply teaching learners how to search for information on the internet, and into educating them in evaluating the reliability of information on the internet; see, for example:

A more extensive list of resources which might be helpful to history teachers in addressing ‘media literacy' can be found here...

In addition to asking questions about the reliability of information from electronic sources, questions can also be posed about the comparative efficiency of various educational media. The abundance of materials on a wide range of historical topics means that it has become comparatively easy to set tasks where groups of pupils can be instructed to learn about the comparative advantages and disadvantages of using different approaches. This can help to make the point to pupils that the computer screen is not necessarily the most time-effective way of acquiring basic content knowledge about historical topics.

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