There are three main contexts for the Historical Association setting up
this project on the use of voting handsets in the history classroom. The
first is the phenomenal spread of these technologies in secondary
schools in England and Wales. At present there are 12 different systems
in use across the UK as a whole. That alone is an indicator of the size
and value of the market to manufacturers. They range in price from
around £800 for second hand systems to £4500 for a class set. One of
the reasons for their spread is that distributors of whiteboards usually
have an interest in these systems as well and package them together.
Clearly with such large investment going in to these systems it seemed
appropriate to consider what use was being made and whether there were
differences in different subject areas and between platforms.
This brings us to the second context, which is the current evidence on
how these systems are used. Having spoken to many students and teachers
it is very clear that they are used predominantly for factual recall
quizzes in a range of formats. In some subject areas this is well and
good. However, it leaves many history teachers feeling a little
uncomfortable on two counts. The first is the danger of trivialising our
subject into simplistic yes/no answers or multiple choice tasks. Users
of this forum have been at the forefront of harnessing technology so
that it does not do this but the general use of Fling The Teacher and
its ilk is often far from what its creators had in mind. The problem is
arguably greater with voting handsets, and a flavour of the concerns was
raised in a thread on the Schoolhistory forum June 2006 (http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index.php?showtopic=7079&hl=qwizdom)
here is an extract
Our Science department has just invested in a set of these and are
raving about them. They showcased them in a cross departmental meeting
and I raised the point about them being good for pub quizzes and recall
of knowledge (which is all the Scientist cares about!) but not what we
were trying to draw out from our kids in History. These things do not
really test the skills we teach in History, although the Science
department did not let on that you could do ranking exercises, as
independent thought is not their forte! This does sound like a more
positive use although perhaps not worth the grand plus that they cost to
The third context element is the perception of History. This is
worrying, in England at least. We know that in England and Wales a large
proportion of students give up History at 14. Research commissioned by
QCA has shown that they do this not because they do not rate History
highly. They generally see it as interesting and well taught. However,
they do not see it as relevant to their later lives. One factor among
many in this is that the use of handsets and other technology in other
subjects creates an impression in student minds of these subjects as
modern and relevant. The challenge for History teachers is therefore to
embrace this technology without compromising the essential method of the
subject. Again, this is familiar ground for users of this forum but it
is a message which needs spreading. It seemed to the HA that a
constructive use of voting handsets could be one small part of the wider
solution to this issue of how students perceive History.
The direction taken with regard to the project was to try and explore
voting handsets as tools for student feedback rather than for testing
student knowledge. The basic principle was to ask students not What
do you know? but rather What do you think?. Thus typical
questions might look at issues and focus on sampling opinion, or even
helping to form opinion.
One example question was whether or not the Treaty of Versailles was
fair. The options given to students were
3. Yes if you were on the Allied side
4. No if you were German
The real function of this was to open up discussion, but the initial
stimulus question encouraged all students to think about the question
and to take part in forming the classs opinion. The discussion was
not dominated by one or two keen and articulate individuals.
From this basic pedagogical platform plenty of other possible approaches
Counter factual history or holding / recreating inquests, trials
Students deciding the direction of a story by advising an historical
character at certain points in time
Decision making if X happened, would you or
Instant ad hoc reactions to sources / stimuli (modelling thinking by
suggesting which is the most appropriate reaction to a source eg
acceptance, scepticism, value for a particular puprpose but not for
Video clips what happened next?
Source analysis does this source suggest, imply, prove
Categorising events, causes etc
Relative importance of causes
Relative significance of events
The Historical Association Project
Taking these principles, the HA Project has enlisted a range of schools
and colleges from across England but mainly in the North West and North
East regions. The premise is simple. They will explore the ways in which
they can use voting handsets to create resources and learning
experiences which take students beyond the multiple choice quiz. The
teachers have met once, and will meet again in March 2007. From that
point they will then write up their experiences and publish the
resources they created on the HA web site. The work will be free to all
Historical Association members.
Perhaps the most exciting prospect is the opportunity for a wide ranging
participation. BBC History Magazine and BBC History Today have made
their past online poll results available and are interested in holding
polls which students and the general public to share in. The potential
for students to vote in their own classroom, then compare their votes
with votes of other classes, and other user groups in the general public
should open up fascinating possibilities for debate and discussion abut
the historical issue in question but also about how and why the opinions
of different groups differ.
Progress so far
So far we have seen some interesting and stimulating ideas. Perhaps the
most rewarding aspect of the project is seeing teachers enthused about
using technology to good effect, as shown below
Period 7 Year 9 managed to vote twice on why slavery was abolished!!
It needed the Maths voting set, two techies and the Head of Maths to
sort me out but it was dead easy once it was set up and the kids loved
it. I need another lesson to try it further. Does it store the graphs??
Triumph of the will!
Teacher in Newcastle upon Tyne
We have also seen examples in which the voting system has built student
confidence. In an investigation into representations of Archbishop
Becket we asked students to comment on how Becket was portrayed in a
series of film clips and gave them some options
1. Very badly
3. Average bloke
5. Very well
6. I can think of a better way to say this
The last option was taken up by only 7% of the sample, but those who
voted this way were asked if they were prepared to explain their choice.
Interestingly, in the next slide students were asked to comment on how
Henry II was represented, and they were given the same option. In this
case 33% of the sample chose the final option and offered up a better
summary of the representations than those made available.
Finally, in a very different context older students were asked to
grapple with the thorny issue of whether justice was done at the
Nuremburg War Crimes Trials in 1946. One of the difficulties with an
issue such as this is disentangling emotion from rational analysis. In
order to help with this students were given information about three
figures associated with the Nazi regime Heinrich Hoffman, Leni
Riefenstahl and Julius Streicher. In each case they were asked :
What would you do with him/her
1. Let him go free?
2. Short prison sentence?
3. Long prison sentence?
What do you think happened to him / her?
Students were then presented with what actually happened to each
individual. The final follow up task was to write a judicial review
analysing whether all were treated fairly. The follow up was, of course,
a final vote on whether justice was done at Nuremburg.
We can only scratch the surface in a forum such as this, so anyone who
would like to know more about the project or would like to contribute to
the bank of resources which is developing please feel free to do so.