Expeditie Vrijheid, a Dutch heritage project in the province of Overijssel

By Willemijn Zwart

Willemijn Zwart is a Dutch teacher and director of Komvoor, an educational design agency that develops ready-made teaching materials, educational excursions, guest lectures and children's exhibitions on behalf of social organisations, governments and cultural institutions. In addition, she is administratively active at various organizations in the field of language, identity and education and she used to be a teacher trainer.

Photographer: Jellien Tichelaar

 

 

She introduced us to Expeditie Vrijheid (“Expedition Freedom”), an educational project of Historical Centre Overijssel. In this project, children discover the meaning of war and freedom in their own neighbourhood, by analysing the concept of heritage. 

In 2020, The Netherlands celebrated 75 years of freedom after World War II.  At its core, the project aims to teach students about the Second World War by taking their own city or neighbourhood as a starting point. Whilst in the normal history teaching methods, there is a list of frequently shown events and topics that students will learn, such as the bombing of Rotterdam or the history of Anne Frank, usually none of them has a direct relation with the area where they grew up. Therefore, with this teaching practice, students would be able to discover stories of events that happened close to their homes - researching, answering questions, and developing citizenship skills. 

Expeditie Vrijheid was developed together with 10 primary schools in the province of Overijssel (in the East of The Netherlands). The schools that participated had different backgrounds - ranging from public to religious schools, as well as a special education one. However, the idea of the project and its materials were later shared with the 500 schools present in the province. In 2020, 188 schools participated, obtaining a great and unexpected success. 

To implement the project, the schools made use of digital and physical heritage by getting the children out of the classroom. Digital methods allow students  to search online (websites or interactive maps) and physical methods enable students to also search in their own neighbourhood to discover what happened (i.e. going to the train station or a building that had another function at that time, etc.).

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APPLYING THIS TEACHING PRACTICE:

This practice is suitable for and has been trialled with pupils aged 10 to 12 years old.  It could also be used with older students – up to 14 years. Students of this age have  basic notions about World War II, so it is not necessary to have prior knowledge, although it does help to search for information.

The project spans the duration  of 6 lessons. Each of them is an expedition task which is a mix of online activities (searching for information) and in person (going to specific places).

The reason for doing it in 6 lessons is based on the promise that teachers provide enough material to replace the normal history method on World War II. These lessons have an order, and can be completed in two ways:

  1. A more intense way, which consists of teaching this practice in a relatively short period of time (1/2 months) and have one or two lessons every week.
  2. Another option is to take more time, with one lesson every 2 weeks.

The way of working with the material is normally done with the entire class lesson by lesson, and then, pupils are divided into small groups according to the topics. Other schools have applied it differently: they divided the class into groups and each group does a different lesson, in the end, they share the outcomes. 

 

For this project, schools selected (4) typical stories of the region of Overijssel with some information and pictures. This was useful because one of the 

core elements was having a big poster in the classroom (which was sent before to the schools). In the poster, students could connect every source they found with the questions presented.

Regarding technological equipment, a device (at least 1 device per group of students) and an internet connection is needed. However, it is also possible to print the materials. For this teaching practice, the material was first formatted into digital working sheets that were easy to print. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, many schools used digital materials.

In addition, during the process of finding the sources, some digital heritage websites helped them by adjusting the text for the students so that it was easier to read and understand. It also served to improve the content of heritage online for the general public. Some of these heritage websites were: www.beeldbankwo2.nl, www.joodsmonument.nl, www.tracesofwar.nl, and www.mijnstadmijndorp.nl.

ADVANTAGES:

  • Collaborate with schools in the same area.
  • Opportunity to enhance existing heritage related content for the general public.
  • Easy to transfer to other teachers and provinces of the Netherlands.
  • Low cost, as it does not require a large investment, apart from the poster.
  • It does not require advanced technological equipment.
  • It can be done both online and offline.

LIMITATIONS: 

  • The level of educational materials could be too complex for students of these ages to read and understand.
  • It is not such an easy practice to transfer to other countries as it is based on experiences in your own neighborhood or city.
  • Resources must be available in order to create the material.
  • Deal with copyright and links to sources that tend to change.
  • The subject is sensitive and some images should be shown with caution to children that age (bombings, wars...)

While it is true that this practice requires a lot of work to develop and present from the regional point of view,  for the Overijssel province, Willemijn considers that the practice will remain relevant for the next 5 or 8 years.  Now, other schools from different provinces of The Netherlands, would like to work as a team to develop the material.

If you are a teacher and you are considering introducing this practice, Willemijn tells us what is needed: time, writing educational material, and having sources available for it. In this case, it took them 1 year to have the sources, with 4 people working on the project. Willemijn would love to share her experience and knowledge about this teaching practice with other teachers.

"Teachers should feel free to use this method and to make it even better."

You can contact Willemijn at: w.zwart@komvoor.nl.

Find more information about the project on their website: expeditie-vrijheid.nl, and have a look at  this video (in Dutch) introducing the project.

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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES (in Dutch)

The Dutch Digital Heritage Network has done publications and videos (1, 2 and 3) with teachers who used this practice.   

Other publications about Expeditie Vrijheid and its didactic approach:

* The information presented in this blog post is extracted from an interview between Willemijn Zwart, Andreas Holtberget, and Adriana Fuertes Palomares as part of the Critical History project and the collection of best teaching practices on heritage education, and which took place on July 6, 2021 in an online format.

How to bring heritage to the classroom: A teaching practice from Belgium

By Joris Van Doorsselaere

Joris Van Doorsselaere has been a history teacher since 2011 and he is doing a doctoral dissertation at the University of Ghent investigating how cultural heritage relates to history education in Flanders, developing a didactical framework and good practices. Last April, he tried the following teaching practice as a first attempt to bring the concept of heritage, and as it surrounds students in their everyday life, more explicitly into his classroom.

As heritage is conceptualised rather implicitly in the curriculum framework, this activity seeks to introduce the concept to students and make them understand the difference between heritage and history. With it, not only history is addressed, but also the value of the past and the emotions that different monuments or figures provoke.

“Heritage is not an important part of the curriculum explicitly, but there are certainly opportunities for it. I think it can make the curriculum more relevant for students. That is the reason why I wanted to find a way to introduce the concept of heritage to children.”

To exemplify this teaching practice, he introduced us to the case of Gravensteen Castle, in Ghent.

Joris used this example in his class in the wake of a controversy over the Council's intention to adapt the castle. The aim was to add a tourist office and an elevator to make the entrance more accessible. Given this proposal, an important social debate was instigated about whether ancient monuments should be adapted to modern needs.

Although the castle is located about 25km from where most of the students live, they indicated in advance they had no strong connection with it. However, debates about heritage in the present can help students understand why other people attribute meaning to certain aspects of the past. Therefore, the students were introduced to comments on social media that citizens of Ghent made regarding the plans to adapt the castle. These remarks were quite fierce, thus making the students aware that, for other people, the building is more than just a meaningless remnant of the past.

 

The method used is as follows: First, the case was introduced to the students and acted as a concluding part of a lesson series about the middle ages, where the students ought to reflect on the relationship between past, present and future. It began by investigating the context of the monument and some historical questions were raised, while the students were provided with clear instructions, and an online database wherein pictures could be found that prove that the monument was previously used for different purposes, and in fact, is not exactly a medieval building as it underwent different adaptations after the middle ages. Then, the students made a timeline - from the construction and the adaptations it has gone through - to the current situation.

Besides the assignment considering this historical dimension, the situation in the present was investigated. The students were provided with recent news articles from which different perspectives on the renovation could be filtered. The Articles were read - with arguments for and against - and the different opposing voices, such as architects, civil movements, the City Council or historians, are placed on a continuum. Subsequently, they made a one minute video (pitch)  explaining their opinion individually. Finally, the students also placed themselves in these debates to see the different opinions that they and their classmates have.

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APPLYING THIS TEACHING PRACTICE:

The students in whom this practice has been tried are between 14 and 15 years old, and have practically no prior notion of the concept of heritage, as the pre-test indicated. For this activity, they are divided in groups – in this case, in a class of 10 students, they were divided into 3 groups.

The duration of this practice is 2 or 3 lessons.  If you consider it necessary, you can also do a previous class to explain the concept of heritage. Otherwise, you can start with a short introduction asking students about “what is heritage”, and then move on to the historical context and use a second class for the present and multiperspective part. Since the case still has some limitations to serve as a good practice, Joris plans to repeat this practice in the coming schoolyears in order to finetune the assignment, because in the Flanders’ curriculum, the concept of multiperspectivity is quite fundamental.

These lessons can be done both online and offline. He has tried it online, and the only necessary equipment would be a computer per group – so the students can enter the database to see the information and images. However, it is also possible to do this activity outside the classroom, taking the students to the monument itself.

ADVANTAGES:

This teaching practice is:

  • Easy to transfer to other cases and cities. It can be a castle, a new purpose for a church,  a reconversion of a  factory site, or monuments that can be found in any European city.
  • Easy to transfer to other teachers. This could be done through a shared database with other teachers on a national level or even a wider scope. 
  • Low cost, as it does not require investment, and it can be done without leaving the classroom itself  (avoiding transport costs).
  • It does not require advanced technological equipment.
  • It can be done both online and offline.

LIMITATIONS:

  • It can be a complex activity in classes with many students.
  • It requires having one computer per group so that students can access the database.
  • In some cases, it is difficult for students to know how to use a database or find the information / images they need. 
  • Make the search for information interesting and attractive: The collection of newspaper articles on social debate may seem difficult to understand or unattractive to students. A solution could be to adapt the articles so that the vocabulary is simpler and more appealing.

“Most of the time, heritage is approached as contested but I also want to approach it as something that unites, using local or small-scale  traces of the past that students feel connected with.”

Ultimately, this activity aims for the student to understand what “heritage” means and how it differs from the concept of history, as well as to be aware of the transformations that these remnants have undergone over time.

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* The information presented in this blog post is extracted from an interview between Joris Van Doorsselaere, Andreas Holtberget, and Adriana Fuertes Palomares as part of the Critical History project and the collection of best teaching practices on heritage education, and which took place on July 1, 2021 in an online format.

Source image: Gravensteen Castle (Ghent). Image by Marc Ryckaert (MJJR) - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29026605

 

“Ready to Reach Out”: discussing the digitisation of cultural heritage at the NL EU Presidency in Amsterdam

On 29 June 2016, EuroClio Programme Director Steven Stegers had the opportunity to moderate a subsession during “Ready to reach out: Conference on Digitisation of Cultural Heritage”, a two day-conference that was held for the occasion of the presidency of the Netherlands of the European Union during the first half year of 2016. The conference took place in the building of the Netherlands EU Presidency in Amsterdam.

The conference was attended by 250 international participants from sectors as digitisation, culture and heritage, educators and representatives from the tourism sector, EU institutions and EU member states and was organised by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The central topic of the conference was connecting cultural heritage collections and serving wider audiences.

During the subsession that focused on “Making it Visible within Cultural Education”, Steven posed the central question of what can be done to make more and better use of digital heritage in education. There is a lot of digital material available from an increasing amount of cultural institutes throughout Europe, but the material does not reach the students in the classroom. In his opening remarks, Steven stated that it is crucial that high-quality material is selected and made available for educators. The next step is that tools are made available: tools that are free to use and easily understandable for educators. With this, the potential of students rising above possessing knowledge through acquiring competencies increases.

During the rest of the session, attention was given to the questions how ICT can improve the teaching and learning of history, why archives make students think, how cultural institutions can work together, and how the various archives can be combined in one portal. Practical examples and explanations were given by the various speakers.

For a full report on the conference, have a look at the “Ready to Reach Out” report. All parts of the conference are explained and you can read more about the session about visibility in cultural education in the report. EuroClio would like to thank the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science for offering the opportunity to discuss with such a varied audience the possibilities, shortcomings and challenges of digitisation of cultural heritage.

Europa Nostra Welcomes Discussions on Integrated Approach towards European Cultural Heritage

Just a week after the adoption by the European Parliament of a Resolution calling for the implementation of an integrated approach to cultural heritage for Europe (with over 80% of MEPs voting in favour), cultural heritage was at the heart of discussions of the first ever meeting of the European Parliament Intergroup on European tourism development, cultural heritage and the Way of St James and other cultural routes, held on 16 September 2015 in Brussels.

This meeting gathered over 100 participants from the European Union Institutions, representatives of EU Member States and Regions, European civil society and the private sector.

Co-organised by Europa Nostra and the Co-Chair of the Intergroup, Ana-Claudia Tapardel (S&D, Romania), with the support of the other Co-Chair, Francisco Millan Mon (EPP, Spain), this meeting was dedicated to the presentation of the results of the Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe project. It provided an ideal platform to join forces in support of cultural heritage as a key resource for sustainable development in Europe and also as a vital tool for promoting the much needed inter-cultural dialogue within Europe and also between Europe and the rest of the world.

To read more about about these discussions and Europa Nostra’s involvement therein, click here. For more information about Europa Nostra, please visit their website.