Annual Conference Keynote Lecture: Dealing with Controversy and Polarisation in the Classroom

Alicia Rijlaarsdam Association, EUROCLIO

Maarten van Alstein, Flemish Peace Institute

Why is it important that we learn to disagree with each other? How can we teach young people to disagree in a democratic and peaceful manner? Maarten van Alstein from the Flemish Peace Institute contextualized and answered these questions during the opening of EuroClio’s 27th Annual Conference. His lecture Dealing with Controversy and Polarisation in the Classroom built on empirical research, democratic theory, and insights from conflict transformation. Based on his research, Maarten van Alstein came to the understanding that schools should be seen as a place where students can explore differences in a constructive manner. Through a wide diversity of methods ranging from dialogue to artistic practice, he made a case for conceptualizing the school as a laboratory for democracy.

Democracy as dialogue

Central to the idea of tackling controversial topics in the classroom is dialogue. As tensions are rising in our society in the form of conflict and polarisation, dialogue is a method which can facilitate deliberation about societal topics and acute questions. Van Alstein illustrated the extremes of democracy with two concepts relating to the digital sphere. The first is the echo chamber, the idea that the digital sphere creates one single voice and erases multiperspectivity. The second concept describes the chaos of tweets in which polarisation and chaos become the norm. As in society, we should take these extremes into account when facilitating dialogue. In the classroom, educators should create space for democratic dialogue ranging between these two extremes.

The meaning of conflict

“Conflict is like oxygen” (Bickmore, 2007 )

The quote illustrates the inevitability of conflict. Both Maarten van Alstein and Kathy Bickmore argued that conflict will always be present in society. The danger lies in the explosion of conflict. The group polarisation theory illustrates how, due to confirmation bias mechanisms, putting a group of likeminded people together will generally lead to polarisation. When people in groups polarize this can be very dangerous, think of hate groups or terrorist cells. However, polarisation and conflict can be used for the better, an example is abolitionism. There are numerous examples of positive change stemming from conflict, the women’s vote or the more recent Black Lives Matter movement. It can be, on the one hand, destructive and dangerous. But, if we are able to manage it well, we can create a force for good. Then if conflict is an ambivalent phenomenon, how do we deal with it?  

Suggestions for pedagogical practices

When dealing with controversy and disagreement in the classroom, recognizing that conflict is inevitable is the first step. When recognizing that conflict is normal, creating dialogue around it becomes easier. How do we translate this concretely to the classroom? At the Keynote Lecture three main suggestions were given.

Tailor your approach in function of what is happening in the classroom

While this may sound like kicking in an open door, the big challenge for educators lies in tailoring the approach to what is happening in the classroom. Finding good techniques for discussing controversy and polarisation requires making a distinction between different scenarios. Each scenario calls for a different approach. First, when the class is in turmoil, a more provocative or extreme discussion may call for depolarizing strategies. Second, controversial issues in the curriculum sometimes steer the educator into a certain direction complicating multi perspectivity. Finally, controversy as pedagogy means looking for multiperspectivity and controversy in the subject matter. This scenario allows for a more open discussion in which artistic pedagogical practices can be used, such as painting.

Defuse harmful forms of polarisation, but keep the space for discussion as open as possible

Creating an open classroom helps students express their opinions freely. When students are comfortable discussing controversial topics their generalized trust increases. Generalized trust means their trust in society and in others. This, in turn, has positive effects on citizenship attitudes as students are able to recognize that conflict is normal in a democratic society. In the classroom educators should be intent on teaching students to disagree. However, it is crucial for students to recognize polarisation. Of course, dialogue has certain limits and the emphasis should be placed on reasonable arguments. Maarten van Alstein advised that the teacher, especially initially, should focus on the language used during discussions. 

A good conversation often starts with a good question

The final suggestion was that a good conversation often starts with a good question. The use of open-ended questions is something educators themselves can train. Safety for all pupils should be guaranteed. It is a good idea to be impartial as a teacher, but not necessarily neutral, reflection is, of course, needed on positionality. Additionally, van Alstein advised not to start discussing the most controversial topics first. Start with a more safe and so called colder topic. When students feel more comfortable discussing, one can move on to hotter topics. Actively facilitate the discussion, it might be polarising otherwise. 

Conclusion

At the opening of EuroClio’s 27th Annual Conference, Maarten van Alstein argued that conflict is inevitable. Teaching students this notion can help facilitate dialogue and prevent polarisation. Van Alstein provided three suggestions for pedagogical practices when dealing with controversy in the classroom. First, tailor your approach in function of what is happening in the classroom. Second, defuse harmful forms of polarisation, but keep the space as open as possible. And finally, a good conversation often starts with a good question. 

Would you like to read more about Maarten Van Alstein’s work on Controversy & Polarisation in the classroom? You can find the full publication here

EuroClio’s 27th Annual Conference: an overview

Alicia Rijlaarsdam EUROCLIO ,

EuroClio’s Annual Conference has come to an end. The conference was set to take place in Belgrade, first in March and then in October, to be then moved online, due to COVID-19.  The conference centred around the question: How can you teach your students to have a respectful debate on controversial topics? This skill is increasingly important as classrooms (and societies) are diverse and teeming with opposing and diverging views. Worryingly, it seems students (and people in general) are losing the ability to respectfully engage in conversation with people they do not agree with. Paradoxically, students (and again people in general) whilst living in these diverse society, gather mostly information and opinions from others in their “bubble”. This is problematic in its own right, however, this is especially problematic when these bubbles exist of extremist ideologies, conspiracy theories, alternative facts and so-called ‘fake news’. As a consequence, teachers are more often confronted with radical and opposing views in the classroom and expected to deal with them. But how do you do that? The 20 workshops and 5 plenary sessions of the Annual Conference aimed to provide teachers with tangible strategies and lesson plans on how to go about this immense challenge.

This Annual Conference was part of the Learning to Disagree project. This project was initiated in response to the needs of educators who experience difficulties in addressing sensitive and controversial issues in their classrooms. The project, now in its final stages, offers training and support materials to teachers to face these topics head-on with their students. These materials aim at teaching students vital skills such as the ability to listen, to consider alternative interpretations, and the ability of interacting with people that they disagree with in a constructive manner. It was a great opportunity to share all the workshops that were developed for this project with a wider audience. 

This was the first time EuroClio organised the Annual Conference online, which was an exciting challenge for us. We quickly saw the benefits of hosting the conference online; many more than usual could join the Conference as people did not have to take days off work and travel to Belgrade. Everyone could attend the Annual Conference from their kitchen, bedroom, or office. Already months into home office solutions, zoom fatigue was perhaps our greatest worry.

You can imagine we were a bit nervous on the first Monday of November. However, we soon found out, as the first workshop started, that we had nothing to be nervous about. For four weeks participants from across Europe joined us every afternoon at 16:30 and actively and enthusiastically participated.

The workshops, whilst limited by the online format, were all different both in terms of content and format. Some workshop hosts explained how to incorporate the new media in the classroom. During workshops like these participants learned how they could incorporate meme making, documentary making, and graphic novel writing in their lesson plans. Others presented how one could develop historical games to play with students in class. Many workshops gave participants cases, activities and teaching strategies to encourage discussion, dialogue and debate.  Most workshop hosts had participants experience the strategies and activities first-hand, as participants became students and went through each learning activity as if they were a class of high school students.

The workshops hosted by Learning to Disagree team members, who presented the learning activities they had developed, were all received positively by participants. In these workshops participants were introduced to the many lesson plans developed as part of this project. Participants were also introduced to the many teaching strategies that are the product of this project. You can find the teachers’ guide with all teaching strategies here.

Workshop hosts were not the only ones transferring knowledge as participants shared their own experiences and philosophy of teaching, which fostered a sense of mutual understanding and made this Annual Conference a place where peers could exchange knowledge. So much so, we sometimes forgot we were not in the same room. 

We really want to thank everyone who participated in one of the workshops and all of our workshop hosts all of your efforts, participation and contributions made this an Annual Conference we will not forget! See you soon! 

 

Plenary Workshop on Assessment

Alicia Rijlaarsdam EUROCLIO ,

On November 21 Majella Dempsey and Anthony Malone, both part of the Learning to Disagree team, gave a plenary workshop on assessment.  The workshop began by looking at the “Council of Europe Butterfly”, which helps us answer the question “what does it mean to be competent?”. The Butterfly shows four dimensions of competence: values, attitudes, skills, and knowledge. Within these four dimensions, we can find a variety of opportunities to bring dialogue, debate, discussion, and multiperspectivity in the history classroom. 

However, students’ performances are only assessed based on two of the four wings of the butterfly; skills and knowledge. Attitude and values are harder to assess. This is because attitudes are fluid across the classroom, and values might be too hard for students to articulate, especially at a younger age. In particular, empathy is the value that sparks most discussion when it comes to assessment: how do we assess empathy? And Does empathy even have a role in the history classroom or, for that matter, in any classroom? Can we actually teach and assess empathy? 

How to go about assessment

Majella and Anthony gave some tangible tips on how to go about assessment. A starting point is of course to look at the curriculum and make sure what you are assessing is in alignment. After looking at the topic at hand, Majella and Anthony advised which methodology is most suited to tackle that topic.  Intriguingly, Majella and Anthony advise to reverse-plan lessons; start with assessment and work your way back to the topic!

They also stressed that you should ask yourself what your students will learn: what am I assessing? Their empathy? Their debating skills? Why am I assessing these skills? What method should I use? How can I properly assess and give feedback to my students?

We have all experienced the absolute terror of being evaluated for an entire course in one single test. You might even have experienced that on that one day, you could not perform your best, due to circumstance, and you might remember the disappointment you felt as a student. Therefore, Majella and Anthony introduced learning-oriented assessment. This method doesn’t limit itself to attributing evaluating students’ performance in a specific moment but provides quality feedback that can help bring the student forward. Additionally, not every piece of learning should, or can, be assessed in the same way, so having a variety and drawn out period of assessment, will actually give a better insight into your students’ performance! 

A key of formative assessment is that, when it is properly applied, the learner knows from the very beginning what they will learn, how they will be assessed, and what success looks like. Furthermore, it is extremely targeted: it scaffolds learning, or shows students how to proceed forward. Finally, it allows for students to help each other with constructive feedback, and it builds in space for students to reflect on their own work.

Some suggestions from the group

After the presentation the group of participants mulled over the questions teachers ask their students. They reflected on their own mistakes and come to the conclusion they often focussed on content and knowledge, and asked questions that were too academic. They said they also identified a need to ask empathetic questions first, in order to connect with both students and topic. They also underscored that sometimes they would ask too many questions in the same lesson, and subsequently students would lose the focus on what “the question that counts” is, leaving teachers to gaze into the blank stares of their overwhelmed students.  

Did you miss this session? Do you want to listen to Anthony and Majella explain more on assessment? Or do you want to learn more about Online Assessment?  We recorded a session, hosted by Anthony and Majella, on online assessment. You can find the video here

New Contested Histories research collaboration sparks a call for more

Grace Sahota Project Updates

This article was triggered by a new collaboration between the Contested Histories Initiative and students in ‘Narratives of the Past’ from France. Contested Histories is a multi-year project designed to identify principles, processes and best practices for addressing these contestations at the community or municipal level and in the classroom. As of September 2020, the project has identified more than 200 cases around the world with research conducted on more than 120 cases. Each case is catalogued in a database and added to a digital map. The long-term goal is to complete in-depth research on each case for review by experts, and create an online platform as a resource for a wide range of stakeholders.

Without research trainees and interns this feat would not be possible; collaborations with bright, motivated and dedicated students are the heart of the project. Research trainees come to the project from EuroClio’s traineeship programme, while research interns join us from associated universities. In addition, we welcome select independent researchers as interns and professional volunteers. 

Which research organisations are involved? 

Contested Histories (CH) is associated with a number of higher education institutions, namely Harvard University, University of Oxford and Erasmus University Rotterdam. Since 2017, more than 70 students--local and international--have taken on a research internship with CH and in doing so have made valuable contributions to the project. In December, we are welcoming an additional 22 students from the University of Oxford. This collaboration is integral to our project. Thanks to these engaged and bright young scholars, the project has grown enormously and has benefited from the various perspectives they bring. The diverse academic and personal backgrounds of research interns, as well as their language capabilities, are invaluable to our multidimensional and interdisciplinary approach to case study research and global mapping of cases. 

What are our researchers working on? 

Interns and the Contested Histories team participate in peer-review of completed cases, revising and updating where necessary, before a case is flagged for extended research and external review by experts in the given field. Several case studies have been published on EuroClio’s website. Launching the series of in-depth case studies in Spring 2020 was the Legacy of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford, written by Lucas Tse. At the time of writing, Lucas, a Rhodes scholar, was pursuing a Master's of Philosophy in Economic and Social History at the University of Oxford and is currently reading for a Doctorate in the same subject, also at Oxford. Additionally, the Legacy of Sir Stamford Raffles in Singapore, written by Wan Yii Lee, was published in Summer 2020. Wan Yii Lee is a candidate for the Master's of Philosophy in Development at the University of Oxford. Since completing her research internship with Contested Histories, she has been combing through archives and tracking local building histories in Singapore for her thesis on the politics of the built environment during the development of the nation-state. She's excited to start the second and final year of the MPhil soon, during which she will be taking more courses on development economics and the politics of global health in Africa. Most recently, the case study on a Statue of Robert Towns in Queensland, Australia by Sebastian Rees, a recent Master's of Philosophy graduate in Global History, has been published.

Why get involved with the project? 

Joining the team of an international organisation presents a unique opportunity for young researchers. As an intern or trainee you will become part of a passionate and international team of a fast-growing initiative and receive individual support. Not only will you have the opportunity to build up your research portfolio, CV, and network, but you will also have relative freedom to choose topics or regions that are of personal or academic interest to you,  As a global study the scope is vast, giving you the added option of exploring new interests--ranging from legacies of Japanese imperialism to toppled confederate monuments in the United States--with original research and editing tasks. Additionally, we offer an online work environment with flexible hours, ideal for gaining experience while adhering to coronavirus restrictions.  

What do the interns have to say about their experience? 

A conversation with Pierce, co-author of the upcoming case study on murals in Belfast. 

What was your favorite aspect of your research internship with Contested Histories?

My favourite aspect of the research internship with Contested Histories was the freedom and trust given to us as budding researchers to explore pressing and sensitive topics. The atmosphere was hugely supportive, resulting in case studies that will hopefully give more exposure to these struggles around the world, and, moving forward, perhaps offer a more robust and nuanced framework as to how they may be handled. 

How has your experience helped your professional development? 

The experience has been highly beneficial to my professional development. Not only has it increased my confidence in my own writing and researching abilities, I also had the pleasure of meeting a network of energetic researchers and history professionals from whom I learned a lot.

How do you feel about getting your case study published?

It’s really an honour to have a case study published, particularly one so close to home for me. I’m very pleased to share the Belfast Murals case. As with every example of Contested History, it has its own unique set of circumstances, but it also concerns issues of history, sectarianism, economics and creativity that I believe are relevant to many other cases. I owe a lot to EuroClio, the IHJR and to Luke, the contributing author, who updated the piece.

Would you recommend doing an internship with Contested Histories? If so, why?

I would absolutely recommend an internship with Contested Histories. As we can see, these issues are not going away quietly, so to feel like you are contributing in some small way to how they may be handled constructively in the future is highly rewarding. In addition, the opportunity to work with a great team in a forward-thinking and thought-provoking environment was an invaluable learning experience.

Staying involved as a professional volunteer

Some students remain dedicated to the project even after their traineeship or internship has ended and continue as professional volunteers. 

“Whether in the context of the West reckoning with its colonial past or former Soviet states reconciling antagonistic historical narratives to recover or reaffirm their own distinct identities, history has increasingly served as a flashpoint for conflict over the past three decades. I chose to continue working on Contested Histories as I believe its contribution to the field of memory and security studies is invaluable and will shape dialogue around information warfare and geopolitical conflict in years to come. The project is driven by a dedicated team of internationally-based researchers who push me to challenge assumptions, continuously learn, and refine my skill set. It goes without saying – I couldn’t ask for better colleagues.” - Katria

My research internship with IHJR solidified my professional interest in historical memory and gave me the practical experience necessary to write my undergraduate thesis and pursue research positions in the field. I returned as a professional volunteer because of the supportive team and the opportunity to raise awareness about this relevant topic.” - Miranda

The passion and energy that display is truly humbling to our organisation, we are excited to see more and more people raising awareness about the complexities and consequences of public memory. 

Interested in joining the team? 

Are you a research organisation or university looking for new opportunities?

Are you a student or recent graduate with an eye on a future in research or an independent researcher looking for a new project? 

Then Contested Histories may be the perfect project for you. 

Internship applicants must: 

  • Be in the final stages of their undergraduate degree or be enrolled in a Master’s of PhD programme with outstanding academic achievement, preferably in the area of history, international relations, or related fields
  • Proven research and academic English writing and/or editing skills
  • Fluency in English, additional language comprehension is a plus
  • Willingness to commit a minimum of 5 hours per week for at least 3 months
  • Willingness to join virtual weekly team meetings
  • Some knowledge of WordPress and database management is an asset, not a must

Submit your CV, letter of motivation and names of 2 references to info@ihjr.org. Indicate also your availability to start, desired hours and duration of internship. 

Interested research organisations or universities should email info@ihjr.org for further information.

Learning to Disagree training in Italy

The project Learning to Disagree was presented in Italy during a National Training organized in cooperation with the Chair of History Education of the University of Bari (Apulia region). The training took place as a cycle of three webinars held in July and focused on strategies to implement learning in times of pandemic.

Speakers during the first two meetings presented resources and examples of tasks developed to foster active learning with students working through online platforms. The last session focused on the challenges that the emergency poses to traditional models of education and knowledge.

Video lessons and materials have been published in Italian on Historia Ludens.

Roberto Maragliano, former professor of Education at Roma Tre University, argued that there is a relevant difference between “physical distance” and “social distance”. Whereas the first one is necessary in our times, teachers should aim at avoiding the second one. He highlighted that the current state of crisis of school teaching in Italy could be an opportunity to revise some of its long-standing principles of inspirations. Italian schooling still favours upper general secondary schools over technical/vocational and primary schools, and keeps alive a conflict between humanistic and scientific culture, as well as verbal and non-verbal learning. Forced online learning put into evidence the pitfalls of this system. Although in the immediate aftermath of the Corona crisis the Italian teachers tended to take on the challenge and look for new approaches, in the following months a strong reaction has tended to debase these attempts. The long-term impact of this phase is thus difficult to foresee and might contribute to confirm an old education model rather than to overcome it.

Antonio Brusa, former professor of History Education at the University of Bari, stated that each generation tends to refer to a presumed former golden age of historical knowledge and identifies a cause of growing historical ignorance in its present time. Nowadays, online learning is taken as the cause of Italian students’ ignorance. Although he admitted that many Italian students were not able to take advantage of online learning, Brusa claimed that digital resources enabled millions of them to keep on learning. Thus, online learning should be seen as part of the solution. However, Brusa pointed out that using technologies and new media is not enough to innovate transmissive approaches to teaching and learning. On the opposite, teachers should be aware of the risk that the use of up-to-date digital technologies covers a very traditional, teacher-centred approach. Moreover, the use of technologies must base on awareness of the epistemology of the disciplines and specific aims of each lesson. These, in turn, depend on real pupils and students.

Mr Paolo Ceccoli, former EuroClio President, opened the first session by presenting the Association and its activities. This was of special interest for Italian teachers because there is not a single strong association of history teachers in the country. This a great occasion to present Euroclio activities in Italy.

Mr Valerio Bernardi, member of the core team of Learning to Disagree, described the aims and the teaching materials that have been produced. In the first session, he introduced and showed some aspects of the teaching guide and how the project developed during the years. He also presented the activities prepared from the core team and published on Historiana. During the second session, he provided a detailed presentation of the activity about migration and the Vlora case study (which will also be presented at the 2020 EuroClio Annual Conference, see link). One third of the participants expressed a will to use the material proposed in class next year.

Ms Lucia Boschetti, who is working on a PhD in History Education at the University of Bari, focused on playful learning in history. She stressed the importance of creative learning and presented an activity set up in the 16th century. It aimed at enabling students to understand the changes in the concept of citizenship from Modern Times to European citizenship through playing interactive stories. Moreover, she explained how the free programming language Scratch supports the development of computational thinking as well as of historical thinking. Indeed, by creating a project about the crisis of the 14th century by using Scratch, students have to ask themselves questions about historical relevance and causality.

Mr Cesare Grazioli, who has published several articles about teaching contemporary history in Italy, explained how he planned and implemented materials to assess students’ historical thinking skills when learning online. He proposed examples of both formative and summative assessment. Attendee particularly appreciated an assignment which required students to select, analyse and use images as evidence of contention regarding political and social problems in the aftermath of the Second World War.

75 teachers followed at least 2/3 of the course, and 63 of them answered a final survey. On the basis of the results, attendees were equally distributed between lower secondary and upper secondary schools and came from all around Italy, although the majority worked in Apulia.

The course aimed to offer an opportunity for training but also to create a community of educators wishing to exchange ideas, doubts and experiences. The attendee particularly appreciated this aspect. Indeed 94% of them declared that they would like to join other meetings to discuss about daily teaching routine with colleagues. A higher percentage agreed that digital resources can contribute to improving the quality of teaching and learning after the pandemic. As argued by experts, teachers can achieve this result if they can plan their lessons with an awareness of the aims and methods of history teaching. Otherwise, online teaching and learning are likely to strengthen the comeback of a purely transmissive approach to the discipline, which proved to be poorly effective regardless of in-class or on-line teaching.

 

Written by Valerio Bernardi, history teacher and member of the Learning to Disagree team & Lucia Boschetti, PhD candidate in History Education at the University of Bari

 

Statement on the murder of Samuel Paty

Press or other inquiries

Download our statement as a PDF.

For contact with EuroClio Secretariat and Executive Director Steven Stegers, please call Communications Officer Andreas Holtberget +31 6 30911384.

For contact with the Association des Professeurs d’Histoire et de Géographie in France, please contact EuroClio Board Member Ann-Laure Lieval +33 6 86 40 13 05.

For contact with the Network of Concerned Historians, please contact Prof. Antoon de Baets in writing at a.h.m.de.baets@rug.nl


Background

Summary produced by Prof Antoon de Baets of the Network of Concerned Historians:

On 16 October 2020, Samuel Paty ([1973]–2020), a history and geography teacher, was attacked with a knife and beheaded near his school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, near Paris. Witnesses heard attacker Abdoulakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin, shout “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Greatest.” Anzorov then posted a picture of the beheaded Paty to a Twitter account, along with insults to President Emmanuel Macron and French “infidels” and “dogs.” He later fired at police with an airgun before being shot dead in Eragny-sur-Oise, being hit nine times in all. On 6 October 2020, Paty had taught a class of Enseignement morale et civique (EMS; moral and civic education) about freedom of expression to the fourth year (13- and 14-year-olds) and shown the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad while talking about Charlie Hebdo (the satirical magazine that had republished the cartoons in 2015 and suffered a deadly attack for it). He had advised Muslim students to look away or leave the room if they thought they might be offended. The class caused an uproar among some Muslim parents with a few posting videos asking for Paty’s resignation and one lodging a formal complaint. Paty had also received a number of unspecified threats in the days following the class. At least fifteen people were detained for interrogation, including four school students (who may have helped identify Paty to Anzorov in exchange for payment), relatives of the attacker, parents of a child at Paty’s school and radical Islamist preacher Abdelhakim Sefrioui (who was accused of having issued a “fatwa” against Paty). President Macron called the beheading an “Islamist terrorist attack.” In the National Assembly, deputies stood up to honor the teacher and condemn the “atrocious terror attack.” On 18 October 2020, rallies with tens of thousands of people were held in Paris and several other cities in support of Paty. In the wake of the murder, police raided the homes of dozens of suspected Islamic radicals and Muslim associations, including the Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France (CCIF; Collective Against Islamophobia) and BarakaCity. Some of those questioned had reportedly posted messages of support for Anzorov.

Notes:

Jean-Michel Décugis, Jérémie Pham-Lê & Ronan Folgoas, “Yvelines-Val-d’Oise: un professeur retrouvé décapité, un suspect abattu,” LeParisien (16 October 2020); Elise Vincent & Nicolas Chapuis, “Attentat de Conflans: neuf personnes en garde à vue, dont des parents d’élèves et des proches du meurtrier,” Le Monde (17 October 2020); “Macron Calls Paris Beheading ‘Islamist Terrorist Attack’,” BBC News (17 October 2020); “France Teacher Attack: Suspect ‘Asked Pupils to Point Samuel Paty Out’,” BBC News (17 October 2020); Kim Willsher, “Macron Speaks of ‘Existential’ Fight against Terrorism after Teacher Killed in France,” Guardian (17 October 2020); Kim Willsher, “Teacher decapitated in Paris named as Samuel Paty, 47,” Guardian (17 October 2020); Gert van Langendonck, “‘Er is een Frankrijk voor en een na de onthoofding’,” NRC Handelsblad (18 October 2020); “France Teacher Attack: Police Raid Homes of Suspected Islamic Radicals,” BBC News (19 October 2020); “France Teacher Attack: Four Pupils Held over Beheading,” BBC News (20 October 2020); Lucy Williamson, Samuel Paty: Beheading of Teacher Deepens Divisions over France’s Secular Identity,” BBC News (20 October 2020).

EuroClio’s response to the Consultation on Digital for Cultural Heritage

Lorraine Besnier Association

Workshop during the 2019 Summer School in Osijek.

 

Over the summer, the European Commission launched a public consultation regarding the evaluation, and possibly the revision of the recommendations of 27 October 2011 on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation aimed to support the digital transformation of the cultural heritage sector.

Individuals, academics, cultural heritage institutions, network organisations, Member State competent authorities with experience in the sector were encouraged to fill in a questionnaire to help the commission ensure that these recommendations still fit the needs and challenges of the cultural heritage sector in light of the extreme and ongoing changes of the current situation, and of the technological changes.

In addition to the questionnaire, the consultation offered a possibility to add a supporting document to the answers. EuroClio took this opportunity to underline the importance of the Europeana platform as an enabler for cooperation on digital heritage on European and global level.  

EuroClio recommended that the Cultural Sector, supported by the European Commission:

 

  • Recognises and emphasises the value of digitised heritage in education
  • Revives the ambition to give access to all public domain materials on Europeana
  • Promotes the use of licenses that allow educational use
  • Helps users find and use materials more easily
  • Ensures diversity and inclusion in the collections
  • Acknowledges and addresses the need for curation of the Europeana Collections
  • Creates an overview of the content that is already available

 

You can read EuroClio’s position paper on the Consultation on Digital for Cultural Heritage here.

EuroClio’s Position on the Digital Education Action Plan 2020 of the European Commission

Lorraine Besnier Association

Nique Sanders (Webtic) is leading a user testing session with history educators from EuroClio (London, April 2014)

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the related challenges for the sector of Education in general, the European Commission proposed a revision of the Digital Education Action Plan of 2018.  This revision was based on a public consultation to gather the views of citizens, institutions and organisations on their experiences and expectations during the COVID-19 crisis (both to date and during the recovery period), as well as their visions for the future of digital education in Europe. 

This new action plan is meant to support Member States, education and training institutions and citizens in their efforts to adapt to the digital transition and help ensure a fair and inclusive recovery for all.

EuroClio answered the call for expertise and contributed to the online consultation. In addition to filling the questionnaire, EuroClio also wrote a position paper to further its recommendations to the European Commission. In particular, EuroClio supported some of the existing priorities such as; making better use of digital technology for teaching and learning; developing relevant digital competences and skills for the digital transformation and improving education through better data analysis and foresight. 

However, EuroClio raised the issue that those ways forward will not be sufficient to achieve the goals that the European Commission set for the new action plan. As such, EuroClio emphasised a few other important point of actions such as the need for:

 

  • The development or improvement of easy to use tools that educators can use to create, share and adapt their own open education learning resource.  
  • The development of high quality open education.
  • Research to identify and share strategies for the use of effective digital technologies for teaching and learning, especially in the humanities. 

You can read EuroClio’s Position on the Digital Education Action Plan here.

Working together online on Historiana: A meeting of the different teams.

Picture: The team catching up with each other.

 

The online Historiana Teams meeting took place on 21st, 22nd and 23rd August 2020. 

This meeting, originally scheduled to take place at the House of European History, was held online due to travel restrictions. The meeting gathered our historical content team (Andrea Scionti, Christopher Rowe, Francesco Scatignia and Robert Stradling), teaching and learning team (Bridget Martin, Gijs van Gaans, Helen Snelson, James Diskant and Sean Wempe), concept, design and development team (represented by Nique Sanders) as well as our partners in the House of European History (Laurence Bragard and Constanze Itzel). The purpose of the meeting was to agree on the mode of cooperation between the different teams and organisations involved.

To kick off the meeting, Constanze Itzel presented on how the House of European History dealt and is currently dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. Particularly, she introduced the work of the museum on documenting the crisis by the museum itself and by other European museums.

Then, the teams were introduced to the latest developments made by the concept, design and development team as well as the implications for their future additions on historiana. The team is working on the ‘analysis’ which will be brought back to the e-activity builder. The tool ‘sorting’ is being updated with the possibility for users to add their own background and add labels. A final improvement is the introduction of an ‘instruction button’ for teachers to help guide their students through the activities. After these improvements are made the team will further develop the concept of ‘narratives’ as a way to present new historical content on Historiana. 

The teams then discussed a possible re-organisation of the content listed in Historiana’s ‘Historical Content’ section under broader topics and themes. At the moment, Historiana hosts a number of source collections (shorter collection of sources curated and put in perspective on one topic), units (bigger collection of sources and material organised around one topic) and key moments (bigger collection of sources and material organised around one time period) in its ‘historical content’ section. The material available on historiana is constantly growing, making it sometimes challenging for teachers to find what they need. Consequently, organising the material available according to broader topics and themes should not only make it easier for teachers to find what they need, but it should also help display the great content that may sometimes be hidden on the platform.

To conclude Saturday’s meeting, the group was divided into breakout rooms to discuss and test a better way of working together across the different teams. This was needed to make sure that all the resources are built based on the expertise of both history educators and historians. The different smaller groups each tackled a different Source Collection and discussed possible ways in which the content could be adapted to help educators use it in an eLearning Activity and focused on different historical and educational themes.

Everyone gathered again on Sunday to discuss the next steps of a professional development course that Historiana will provide, as well as how to best involve our community in our work.

The next steps of the Historical Content Team will be to complete the research on which content is over- and under-represented. In addition, the team members will work on the development of new content that will make links to existing content (such as a unit about migration and partisans) or will correct the unbalance (such as a unit on Pandemics).  

The Historical Education Team will provide their expertise to the Historical Content team in the development of the four new Source Collections, create eLearning activities for Source Collections that do not have any yet, and work on a series of Webinars to introduce more people to the creation of eLearning Activities.

The Concept, Design and Development Team will continue working on the development of the concept of ‘Narratives’ to present content in better ways. They aim to introduce different perspectives about one event in order to easily give access to a truly multi perspective approach on a given topic. They will implement the feedback received on the ‘help’ button in the e-activity builder and further the development of the ‘instruction’ button, the Analysis tool and the Sorting tool.Overall, this meeting resulted in a better understanding of the next step of cooperation, and on the setting of the priorities for the next period. We will inform one when the next updates are available and meanwhile, do not hesitate to go look at our multitude of resources on historiana.eu!

6 Internal Site Search Recommendations to Europeana

Fani Partsafyllidou Project Updates
How can we facilitate the use of Europeana's digital collections in History education? 6 Internal Site Search Recommendations

Each sector approaches our cultural heritage in a different way; an artist needs to find items with high resolution, or with a specific colour -- a history teacher needs to find items that are dated and curated. This means that search engine optimizations has to act differently according to the user's profession or to provide different filtering options specialized for each sector. Ultimately, the aim of the research is to provide insight on how Internal Site Search can be customised for History.

 

 

Needs

assessment 

EuroClio worked on technical suggestions that will facilitate searching for historical sources in Europeana platform. These recommendations are based on the preferences and search behaviour of the educational community. To find these out, EuroClio conducted a field research on needs assessment.

The findings showed that the more contextualized an item is, the more useful it is for history education, provided that the item is of historical interest in the first place. In fact, Items with adequate, comprehensible descriptions are 58% more likely to be included in a lesson[1].

However, most objects do not have a description, which makes searching difficult. Meanwhile, the prospect of having all European items (48 million, in May 2020) curated by professionals is not probable in the foreseeable future.

Currently, stakeholders acknowledge the importance of curation, but find an obstacle in the perception that curation is not scalable, that millions of items cannot possibly be curated. This is exactly the issue we want to contribute solving in EuroClio.

 

 

Challenges 

 

 

Solutions

In this research we will share 6 recommendations for new functionalities in Europeana's internal search engine that will result in automated curation. These new functionalities use the data we already have on each item, then process them and combine them, creating more information.  Out of those 3 recommendations:

 

  • 3 filters determine -> Is the item of historical interest? Is it curated?
  • 2 functions enhance metadata
  • 1 function improves sorting the results

This research is part of the activity ‘Improving Discoverability’ of the project ‘Opening Up Historiana’, a Digital Single Infrastructure activity, part of Europeana DSI-4. It is implemented with the financial support of the CEF Telecom Programme of the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA) of the European Commission. The aim of the project is to promote the digital collections of Europeana from the scope of historical education. This research explores the preferences and the search behaviour of history teachers, which is a valuable element of the Needs Assessment. Its purpose is to make sure that the technological developments in Europeana and Historiana meet the current needs of the European educational community.

Please find our suggestions here.

[1] Digital innovation in History Education – a Field Research on Needs Assessment p. 23

 

Fani Partsafyllidou

MA in Black Sea & Eastern Mediterranean