We have all heard about the challenges current and future generations of students impose on Higher Education. In short – we can’t expect to satisfactory teach a 21st century classroom using 19th and 20th century methods. Advancements in technology mean that adaptive courseware can empower students and provide instructors with completely new forms of interaction with students.
A Reality Check of Current History Teaching Methods
With all that we know about our own history, the concept of studying it should make it fairly straight forward from both a learning and teaching perspective. Events occur and then these events become our timeline. From there, it’s simply a case of learning the timeline – moving from a single topic at a time. Students begin the year with the same text book, begin on the same page and work through it at the same rate as their peers till the work has been completed and so long as everybody gets decent grades in the tests, there’s no reason to worry. For history teachers, it’s straightforward because working through the timeline is both linear and cyclical. Teachers give the same lectures, supported by the same textbooks each semester. Every topic rolled out at the same time of year, at the same pace, with the same assignments.
Only… as we all know, this is not quite the full story. Why does history have to be staid? Why does it have to be stuck in the past and not something that ignites excitement? What about the students who don’t learn at the same speed as others? And how can the same linear approach work for students who already have an interest in history and yet also for those who have found nothing to pique their interest?
And what about teaching – is it not about shaping young minds? A calling rather than a career? History teachers are often overworked, under resourced and seem to be steadily growing more and more disillusioned. In this day and age are they being naïve to hope for a more exciting teaching experience? What ever happened to interesting and stimulated two-way dialogue? Or a more in-depth and meaningful conversion between teacher and student?
If we know that this desire for change is a reality, isn’t it time for institutions to respond in a more meaningful way to overcome the barriers in subjects like history? And why aren’t teachers and students demanding a better, smarter and more interesting experience?
The 21st Century History Classroom
Change rarely comes quickly and at early stage it can seem overwhelming — where does one begin when attempting to subvert deeply traditional methods? It might seem too vast to be possible. A huge undertaking, but in this case, change can be affected swiftly and easily. The technology to create dynamic, adaptive learning experiences in structured, traditional subjects like history is already available and institutions across the globe — such as Arizona State University and the University of Edinburgh — have already implemented it and have reported clear, positive outcomes.
“Unlike text books and same-old-same-old lectures and assignments, adaptive courseware wraps around each student”
Individuals are at the very core of Advanced Adaptive Courseware and because of that, the result is empowerment – for both history teacher and student. Unlike text books and same-old-same-old lectures and assignments, adaptive courseware wraps around each student, still taking them through the core topics but with the flexibility for Student A (who enjoys history and has a strong understanding of the topics) and Student B (who is uninterested in history and has little understanding of the topics) to work on the course at their own level, moving at a pace that they find both challenging and rewarding. Research has shown that we learn new concepts, skills and ideas by building connections to what we already know and adaptive learning creates these links throughout the learning experience.
Another vital aspect built into each stage is a point of reflection, a chance for each student to connect what they’ve just worked through with how well they understood the content. By handing the responsibility for learning back to the learner, each student can assess and identify their own strengths and weaknesses and even find that they’re developing an interest in something new.
After self-assessment, students are guided towards a range of options for where to go next in their history lessons. How often are students faced with opportunities to make any kind of choice over their specific course work? When we make hundreds of decisions every day from the micro to the macro, why shouldn’t students play a positive role in the structure of their learning? By giving them choices adaptive learning creates a sense of ownership, and when we feel responsible for something that is ‘ours’ we start to feel its value, which encourages a stronger sense of confidence to grow and learn.
“…history teachers can pull back on time spent developing a lesson plan to fit with a rigid and static framework or giving a lecture that only some students will gain from and use the time to really focus on developing meaningful student-teacher dialogue”
And it’s not just the students who benefit from the implementation of adaptive courseware. With a classroom of students studying to their own abilities during class time, history teachers can pull back on time spent developing a lesson plan to fit with a rigid and static framework or giving a lecture that only some students will gain from and use the time to really focus on developing meaningful student-teacher dialogue. By adopting adaptive courseware, teachers have the freedom to work with students individually or in smaller tutorial groups – enhancing and nurturing understanding and knowledge and reconnecting with a lost sense of fulfilment.
In a subject that is traditionally top-down teaching with only a percentage of students in each lesson engaged, history teachers now have a very real opportunity to create tailored learning experiences for every student, adapting each lesson so that all students benefit. It is not naïve for teachers to want to inspire, – it is just incredibly hard to inspire at a time when the focus in education is concentrated around budgets and squeezing limited resources for maximum gain.
Adaptive teaching and learning breaks the mold of traditional history teaching and learning at every turn.
The technology is cost effective for the institutions and students, easy to implement, intuitive to use, interesting and exciting. Above all it’s rewarding for the history student to operate and gives something back to the teacher – time, passion and inspiration. Adaptive courseware isn’t just about delivering history content – it is about creating an immersive and engaging learning environment. Once students understand its dynamic nature – understand how the past is influencing the present in a very powerful way – history truly comes to life. And isn’t that why history teachers chose that career path in the first place?
At the same time, adaptive courseware is about making history by transitioning from traditional, static 19th and 20th century history lessons to personalized, interactive 21st century teaching.