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Open Access Digital learning in European history education: Political visions, the logics of schools and teaching practices

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The advancement of digital technology has raised hopes of radical improvements in education, such as a new culture of learning. History educators have underlined that the use of digital media could help students to develop a constructivist understanding of history while at the same time rendering history more vivid, relevant and exciting. The last twenty years have shown, however, that even though digital media are increasingly being used in schools, there have been no significant changes in European education systems. This paper helps explain the gap between expectations and reality by exploring how contemporary education policies and curricula in the EU and at the national level frame digital learning in schools and history education. It shows that the ambitious vision of digital learning included in EU policies is closely related to the EU's knowledge economy goals, to which national governments, however, do not fully subscribe. These national policies emphasize the wider role of education in society, which includes strengthening social cohesion and incorporating humane, democratic and civic values. They also take into account the relative autonomy of schools, whose own institutional logics eventually decide how ideas take shape in everyday teaching practice. The relative autonomy of schools is reflected by history curricula that do not include substantial requirements, but only a few optional suggestions concerning the use of digital media. Practitioners' experiences and empirical research indicate that the suggested uses can be part of effective student-centred teaching approaches, but demand considerable investments of time, resources, efforts and creativity. The discussion of these examples also illustrates that the economistic EU vision of digital learning is not a suitable framework for the key concerns of history education. A revised vision of digital learning could and should, therefore, include other important education aims, such as democratic values, social cohesion and active citizenship.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2020

More about this publication?
  • The History Education Research Journal (HERJ) is an international, open-access, peer-reviewed journal that focuses on the global significance and impact of history education. It covers all aspects of history education theory, scholarship, and pure and applied research. Articles illuminate contemporary issues, concerns, policies and practice, drawing upon the eclectic research methodologies of history education. The journal is published in partnership with the Historical Association.

    HERJ is a relaunch of the International Journal of Historical Learning Teaching and Research. All past issues up to and including vol. 15, no. 1 were published under this title. HERJ vol. 15, no. 2 is the first to be published by UCL IOE Press.
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