Historical social media
Alexis Anderson and Himani Sood from the I & S department at Oberoi International School-JVLR Campus describe how they have been using social media to support historical inquiries.
In many ways it has been natural to incorporate social media into our MYP teaching for the Individual and Societies (I & S) department at Oberoi International School-JVLR Campus in Mumbai. According to the Pew Research Center, over 95% of teens now use a smartphone. Our students are well versed in different smart devices and we are brilliantly supported by a tech team with whom we meet every other week to explore new online possibilities. As a result, we have found a massive free online collection of resources for subjects that we teach within the I & S programme, omne of which is history.
The MYP offers a set of five different skill categories — thinking skills, social skills, communication skills, self-management skills, and research skills — that teachers can use to design and inform learning engagements and assessments in order to achieve the aims within their subject groups. By combining skills from the communication and research clusters, we identified a clear purpose and reasoning for why and how to enrich each unit’s learnings through engagement with digital social media.
It seemed sensible first to let parents know what we were planning and we required our students to read through a letter of intent with their parents, then have their parents give consent to the use of social media within the classroom through their personal emails. Once we had gained their permission, we could start our journey!
Twitter was an obvious choice to support I & S subject areas, with historians, professors, journalists, politicians and business professionals all sharing information in a concise and easily accessible manner.
Twitter of course takes concise to the extreme, offering the user 200 characters in a Tweet to make their point or analyze an issue.
During our first unit of the year, students created their educational twitter accounts to synthesize their research project and communicate their learning. The focus of the research projects was ‘explorers across space and time’. The students changed their “AVIs”, bios and profile names to match their twitter account to the explorer they were researching (Ferdinand Magellan; Dame Ellen McArthur etc.) and then they were asked to tweet 20 times to recreate their explorer’s journey from beginning to end, empathetically seeing a journey from the participant’s point of view, while remaining within the limitations suggested by the evidence. Students were encouraged to use short forms, hashtags and gifs to convey the information studied.
Again, Instagram was an obvious choice for us to use. It has become a leading source of news amongst younger people; they respond well to headlines told simply with strong visual images. As I & S teachers, we first had a few questions about the kind of content our students were interested in. How many of these sources were credible? How aware were students about their own biases?
Following these conversations, we got to work by asking students to use Instagram to comment on a range of evidence that was coming online, particulalrly from museums at the same time as the lockdown was beginning. We also set up our own account for the I & S department.
Digitised museum collections
At the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, many museums digitised their collections and became more active with showcasing a range of objects through digital social media platforms. Since our unit focused on the evidence left behind by explorers, we thought this was a good opportunity for students to access museums as dynamic spaces and use artifacts curated by museums as evidence about explorers. We have also found that students love engaging with visual sources and the kinds of questions that art historians, for example, ask when analysing objects. The approach of these experts allows room for interpretation and is a great example to students learning the inquiry process and the proper use of historical evidence.
Responding to the evidence on Instagram
We began by asking students to set up their educational accounts and gave them a list of accounts to follow that were directly relevant to their unit on exploration. These included museum accounts such as The Aga Khan Museum and the Partition Museum, as well as accounts such as The Silk Road Journey. The students were then asked to identify the purpose and audiences of such accounts. For the second part of the activity, they had to look through objects within the museum collection and choose one to “showcase” on their own profiles, the way in which museum accounts do on social media. The caption had to explain how the object told a story, explaining how, for example, an artefact might illustrate cultural exchange along the Silk Routes.
Their choices told us a great deal about our students as scholars and individuals, what stories had captured their imagination and why. Many were surprised by how much an object such as a humble silk spun robe could tell us.
Next steps for the I & S Department
We don’t plan to stop there. The social media platforms of prominent personalities — journalists, artists, politicians, and activists — can be used as sources of evidence for investigative tasks. We can further connect the use of digital social media to service learning by getting students to understand how to leverage the power of digital interconnectivity to raise awareness about societal injustices. We needn’t look any further than the viral video footage of police brutality in several countries, all shot and circulated by citizens – all of which raises important issues of interpretation.
We have no doubt that as a result of using social media in both the digital and traditional classroom to support an historical inquiry, students became highly engaged and inquisitive. The platforms are easy to use and cut the presentation time almost in half as students were able to access their peers’ information independently. Teacher platforms can be led by a team of two or more teachers to showcase student learning and celebrate achievements. These can also be accessed by a larger community of educators and parents.
Alexis Anderson and Himani Sood both teach in the MYP Individuals and Society programme at the Oberoi International School-JVLR Campus in Mumbai
For Alexis, digital schooling has been a tough yet authentic experience for the OIS-JVLR Individuals & Societies team, enabling them to create a happier and mutually beneficial relationship between technology & learning.
Himani enjoys experimenting with ways to make learning more authentic, experiential, and relevant to her students and their surroundings.
Support Images kindly provided by Alexis and Himani