Teaching history in the 21st century : Thomas Ketchell at TEDxLiege

Translator: charlotte marie-jeanne reviewer: elisabeth buffard i've been blown away by all these talks about rebirth and renaissance today. I believe humanity works on a cycle of rebirths and we are at the crossroads of a new one.

Our lives are becoming more and more digitized. And in time, education will follow. As a history major, i struggled to find a job.

I actually ended up working in the environmental industry in kenya, in east africa, working on renewable energy projects with a focus on biogas in rural communities.

This then led me to beijing, china and the scene you can see behind me, another beautiful sunny afternoon in the chinese capital. I was tired of breathing in this dirty, polluted, smoggy air. And I kept alerting my friends and family back home of what it was like to live through this.

But they didn't really believe me. So I decided to look back on history. So armed with my history diploma, what events stood out for me? The london great smog, in 1952.

12 000 people lost their lives in 5 days. 12 000 people. This is the worst man-made air pollution disaster ever. And yet, hardly anybody knew about it. So what I decided to do, was to create a fictional character, someone who woke up in 1952, had a smartphone and began tweeting.

And he tweeted as if he was really living the event in real time. But this was over 60 years ago. I used the hashtag " #greatsmog" and I spoke in a language which kids were familiar with and they could understand.

We got picked up by media organisations, we got picked up by environmentalists and everyone started following this feed, re-living this historical event. It was the true impact of the great smog, people didn't actually know what was going on at the time.

It's only when the hospitals started filling up, people were dying of heart attacks in the streets, people were dying in their homes while they slept. And yet, they didn't quite realize how many people were dying.

It's only when the morgues were actually full that they realized the true impact of the great smog. So I created 422 tweets in the space of 5 days and I reached millions of people on twitter.

So you are probably thinking, " what's the point? Why did I do this? what's the interest?" well, I did it because history is still stuck in the dark ages.

History teaching and it's outdated context, outdated delivery, kids are simply bored of it. If you want a kid to hate their ipad, put a textbook on it.

It's the same with history. We can't just live with static figures and dates and numbers. Kids aren't interested in that anymore. We need history to be brought to life, we need the teachers to actually use the power of technology and tell stories.

This is what I strive to do everyday as a technology entrepreneur. Innovation though, is difficult. What we really need is to push for schools to have a new vision and a new way to be open and pushing for collaboration.

Here are a few examples of innovators in the space who use technology and mix it with history to bring a story to life. One of the teachers I spoke to a couple of months ago, corina, she works at the steve jobs schools yes, they do exist, in almere in the netherlands and she told me just that, she said what she liked about using history and technology in the classroom is that it brought the content to life and engaged to students.

It made her kids curious, it lighted that spark of curiosity inside them, which got them to go explore more and find out more about that historical event.

And that's exactly. And she's right! Every teacher that I liked and remembered from history told me a powerful story. When now teachers have technology to actually make this happen, it's very easy.

The second example I want to show you is minecraft. So for those of you that don't know minecraft, it's a virtual 3d sandbox game where users can create these amazing worlds from scratch.

Now minecraft is great because it pushes for collaboration, for digital citizenships and by that I mean sort of internet ethics and also privacy issues.

And it allows for people to really chat on there and discuss events. What was so great about this minecraft was that it was a student that created it for his latin class.

So the student, before minecraft, did not feel engaged with the content, he was having problems studying. So he created this roman bath house himself. And from there, he actually learnt latin and started giving tours to other users in latin.

I mean, how engaging is that and how inspiring is that? There's so much creativity there. My third example is a teacher that I look up to and that I admire, enrique legaspi. He's a social studies teacher in the u.S.

And what he does is he actively uses twitter within the classroom setting. He uses the tool to get students to collaborate on the net, to discuss events, and uses one event, one hashtag.

And he's actually found that students are a lot more engaged with the study of history. What he's also noticed is that the shy ones actually speak up now.

So every student in his class has a role and feels part of the classroom. Enrique is one of many of the teachers out there currently doing this in the space.

And this is what I want to do as an education technology entrepreneur, is bring these stories to life, bring history alive and make it active, make it enjoyable and fun for the students, get them involved.

Unfortunately, it is a difficult space to be in. And really, with the power of the internet, millions and millions of people are getting access to the web.

And we can allow for this collaboration between students from different classrooms but also different countries. One example is, one which may be close to a lot of people in the room today, is the independence of congo.

Why can't we have students collaborating about this historic event together, on one platform, discussing, collaborating. What was it like for a student to grow up during congo when it was colonized by belgians; what it was like for a belgian student to grow up in belgium and discuss belgium's colonization.

Why can't we have these students from different countries, from different continents discussing and collaborating together? To do this though, we all need boldness, imagination and creativity.

Unfortunately, our schools do not allow for this currently, so we need a new vision for schools to push this through. Our students are very smartphone-orientated. They need 21st century skills now.

These 21st century skills revolve around cognitive skills, innovation and recognition. And really, to do this we need to allow students to really have access to technology. And schools need to change the way they are being taught when it comes to liberal arts.

No longer are we in an era where someone like henry ford wanted workers who were obedient, who listened and who didn't question. Today someone like larry page wants people to answer questions that haven't been solved yet, and he wants creators.

But more importantly, he wants innovators. And that's really what we need to push for when it comes to history. " social media is bad, we shouldn't use it in the classroom." I am tired and i'm really fed up of hearing that argument from top level educators.

Let's actually let the students use these tools. Let them get engaged with history. It's actually, you get them to use tools that are actually in need for the future.

They don't need a textbook anymore. They can google something in 2 seconds and figure out the answer. Sir ken robinson once said: " nobody has any idea of what's going to happen in the future but everybody has an interest in education." and I think he's right.

Those words ring true, especially for the future of the liberal arts and in particular history. A child is not born with a notepad and a pen anymore.

He's born with technology at their fingertips. So, my very short talk today is really about dreaming and going out there, and going big and really pushing for this collaboration.

Making history personalised, getting children involved, getting them engaged with history. And that's really what i'm trying to push forward today. It's to go out there and really make a difference. So the themes of these talks today has been rebirth.

I think we should have a renaissance of the way history is taught in classrooms across the country and across the globe. Thank you very much.

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