The move to online and blended learning has had a big impact on university staff and students alike. At the same time, COVID-19 and related restrictions have highlighted the important role the arts and humanities can have in times of crisis.
History UK invites video submissions from current undergraduates and taught postgraduate students that offer creative and imaginative insights into what it’s like to be a history student in this new digital world. You might reflect on the different ways you or other students have navigated the shift to online or blended learning, or you might want to explore the ways the pandemic and related restrictions have made you think differently about history and the relevance of your degree. Submissions can be made individually or as a team.
The entries will be used by History UK as part of its mission to support historians in higher education in the UK. Through its Pandemic Pedagogy project, History UK has gathered a lot of feedback from staff and provided them with guidance on online learning. We’re now keen to gather some student perspectives to complement these resources.
Deadline: Wednesday 28 October, 5pm.
Eligibility: undergraduate (i.e. BA) and taught postgraduate students (i.e. MA/MSc) of History currently registered at UK higher education providers.
Submissions should be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org by 5pm on Wednesday 28 October with a link to a downloadable version of your video file (e.g. Google Drive, Dropbox, MS OneDrive, WeTransfer).
The video should be in a YouTube acceptable format (.MOV .MPEG4, .MP4, .AVI).
It should be a maximum of 120 seconds long (excluding credits).
You must include credits citing all the materials used.
Music, sound effects, and stock footage should have a Creative Commons license attached (from CC-BY-NC-SA up to Public Domain) and be cited in the credits.
Audio quotes can be used but comply with the concept of fair dealingand fair use. This typically means editing down to the length of time needed to make the point clear (typically less than 20 seconds).
You must get written permission from all people in the video.
Along with your video submission, please provide your name(s), your course(s) of study, institution, and the contact details of a tutor who will be able to verify your identity.
Entrants will retain ownership over their entries. By submitting an entry, entrants grant History UK a non-exclusive, royalty-free, right and licence to display, publish, transmit, copy, edit, and use the entry in any media, to promote History UK or for educational purposes.
We’d like to thank Rachel Best and Leanne Smith, current and former students of History at the University of Sunderland, for contributing to this blog post, and Dr Sarah Hellawell (Sunderland) for encouraging them to share their experiences with History UK.
Unfortunately, several History programmes have closed down, including the announcement of the end of history-teaching at the University of Sunderland earlier this year, with recent stories about cuts to Humanities departments suggesting that more bad news may be just around the corner. However, as History UK’s response to the closure at Sunderland makes clear, History degrees – and humanities subjects more generally – remain highly relevant and valuable subjects for a wide variety of reasons, including:
The best potential employees in a modern dynamic economy are not, as all good employers know, those taught to perform a narrow and specific task, but confident, well-rounded, flexible, and, above all, thinking individuals.
History students gain a range of skills in information gathering, analysis, and communication that are relevant to almost all employment areas.
The best guarantor of employability, as a joint CBI-UUK report from 2009 argued, lies in developing precisely the ‘soft’, transferable, and person-centred skills which history degrees excel in providing.
As well as supplying a pipeline of skilled, creative, and dynamic graduates, history contributes directly to the economy through the heritage sector. A recent report from Historic England on behalf of the Historic Environment Forum showed that for England alone Heritage provides a total GVA (gross value added) of £31 billion and over 464,000 jobs.
The contemporary significance of History has been underlined by the Black Lives Matter movement, while simultaneously being called into question by recent government rhetoric around ‘low value’ degrees, not to mention the outright hostility of some figures in the public eye to academic historians.
It is notable, however, that while professing to speak for students, many critiques of History (and Humanities more generally) at university don’t let students speak for themselves. There is no reference, for instance, to the discipline’s consistently high student satisfaction ratings. The student voice (or voices) purportedly so important to policymakers, is rarely heard.
We were therefore delighted to receive the following contributions from two students of History from the University of Sunderland, which we think give a real flavour of why History matters for them.
Rachel Best, 2nd Year History student, University of Sunderland
The years before I considered doing any sort of degree were years languishing in, what the present government calls, unskilled work. It is far from that, however, but, to some, it may become unfulfilling when these types of jobs become the only option in which to earn a living. I decided, then, to apply for the Politics and History BA Honours course at Sunderland University, as the choices of Politics and History graduates are many when the time comes to explore career options. Additionally, this course allowed me to have an eye on my future, while exploring my passions in an academic setting. It revealed so many more avenues of interest than my mere hobby status in these subjects allowed.
At the beginning, I believed my personal focus would err towards a political weighting of the degree. But, as my studies have progressed, I have found the History modules I chose to be of greater interest and inspiration. I have met many people from the long eighteenth century I had never encountered before, who deepened my understanding of the “whys” and “hows” that frame our engagement with society and the state we live in now. I have met people from Africa, the Americas, Russia, France, Germany, the former Dutch Republic and, of course, the United Kingdom, who have all contributed to, through critique or celebration (but mostly critique!), the social and political organization we see all around us today. It reveals how we are all connected.
Studying this course has opened an inner world that I barely knew existed before I embarked upon my advanced studies. I can write. I never knew that before. I can present evidence and analysis in support of concepts that I was hitherto ignorant of only two years before. I want to be better at this. I have tapped into the rich reserves of academic thought that present humanity at its most complex. I want to know more! This course has given me a purpose. By engaging with the past, History has given me a future.
Leanne Smith, PhD Candidate at Newcastle University, BA and MA History graduate from the University of Sunderland
I had always regretted not going to university when I left school so after the birth of my son, I took the opportunity to fulfil this life-long dream. What I would study was never in question. Whether it was visiting museums, art galleries, watching a documentary (anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy a documentary), or simply reading a book I have always been fascinated by history. I completed an Access to Higher Education course at college. After attending an open day and an amazing taster session I applied to the University of Sunderland. The course was exactly what I was looking for and as my son was still young, so it was important that I stay local.
As a mature student, I was nervous about attending university. I had never written an essay and had taken my last exam in 1996 but I graduated with a first- class honours degree in 2017. I immediately enrolled onto the new Master’s degree course in Historical Research, also at the University of Sunderland, to pursue my interest in intellectual history. It was during my MA that I started to think about the possibility of applying for a PhD. Because of my circumstances as a single parent I knew that without funding it would be too much of a challenge. With the support of the lecturers at both Sunderland and Newcastle University I put forward and application for funding through the Northern Bridge Consortium. I am now over half-way through the first year as a fully-funded PhD student at Newcastle University.
Studying history has not only expanded my knowledge of the past and allowed me to develop a long list of ‘transferable’ skills but more importantly it has also shown me why knowing our past is important. I had previously, and rather naively, accepted without question what had been written. The history I had known was stories of progress and glorification. Studying history has taught me to challenge the existing historical narratives. To question what I have read and heard. To challenge my own preconceived ideas. For me personally it has provided me with a new way of not only looking at the past but also seeing and understanding the world around me.
In 2020 History departments suddenly had to think seriously about how to move teaching online. For most, this ‘emergency phase’ was a daunting and challenging time, but for some historians, there was also a sense of cautious excitement. As a subject-area, we have tended to prefer physical settings and interactions over digital ones. The Canadian historian Dr Sean Kheraj has observed that COVID is making us use tools that are unfamiliar to many historians and forcing us to upskill to work within a digital landscape that we have often overlooked.
At History UK, we recognised a need to support the history community during this time of transition. From late May 2020, a group of Steering Committee members have been meeting to discuss how to do this. Our Pandemic Pedagogy subgroup have run a series of Twitter chats to see what colleagues have learned from the new role online learning has come to play. As part of this process, we have written a series of short posts (on learning design, lectures, contact hours, assessment, accessibility, and community building in the classroom and in wider cohorts) and gathered feedback from the wider community.
As a result of this work, we have produced a short guide to help colleagues in thinking about what it means to move our teaching online – The Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook. You can access it at the The Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook webpage, where you can also download the full Handbook and each of the individual sections in PDF format.
We framed the Handbook around a number of questions:
What happens to our students’ experience of learning, in and out of the ‘classroom’?
What happens to accessibility?
What happens to community?
What happens to seminars?
What happens to primary source work?
What happens to lectures?
What happens to assessment and feedback?
This is not the end of our commitment to creating a space for collaborative conversations around pedagogy in the time of a global pandemic. We invite colleagues to write short posts that we can share onour blog in order to keep the conversation going. Topics could include (but are not limited to): practical case studies of teaching online, think-pieces that address any aspect of the move online such as equity, diversity and inclusivity, community building, teaching and learning. technology, digital humanities. Please share your insights into any of these areas, especially if you have practical examples of approaches to teaching History online, and encourage colleagues to do the same.
We are also interested in receiving feedback on the Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook itself. Please do let us know if it has informed your practice using the comments section on the Handbook webpage and/or @history_uk.
We would like to thank everyone involved in putting together this guide. The project was led by Kate Cooper (Royal Holloway/ @kateantiquity); steering committee contributors were Lucinda Matthews-Jones (Liverpool John Moores/ @luciejones83), Yolana Pringle (Roehampton/ @y_pringle), Manuela Williams (Strathclyde/ @ManuelaAWill), and Jamie Wood (Lincoln/ @MakDigHist). We were joined by Louise Crechan (Glasgow/ @LouiseCreechan) and Aimee Merrydew (Keele/ @a_merrydew) as Pandemic Pedagogy Fellows.
Louise Creechan (GTA English Literature and Widening Participation, University of Glasgow)
This week the Pandemic Pedagogy team at History UK have been thinking about accessibility.We believe that accessibility needs to be our first consideration when we begin to plan for remote delivery. Thinking about accessibility issues from the outset ensures that we avoid making compromises or adjustments further down the line. It should go without saying that it is extremely demoralising for a student to feel like their needs were an afterthought.
Professor Chrsitine Hockings of Evidencenet offers the following definition of ‘inclusive learning’ that positions accessibility as a part of a wider pedagogical strategy, one which also includes learning design and community building as key elements for inclusivity:
‘Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education refers to the ways in which pedagogy, curricula and assessment are designed and delivered to engage students in learning that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to all. It embraces a view of the individual and individual difference as the source of diversity that can enrich the lives and learning of others.’
The Pandemic Pedagogy project is concerned about the impact of the pandemic on these essential areas of inclusive teaching practice: accessibility, learning design, and community building. Through our blog posts and Twitter interactions, we aim to collate resources and useful case studies that can help our community of historians to deliver courses remotely without compromising on inclusive learning practices.
To return to accessibility, it might seem elementary, but if teaching is inaccessible then it is ineffective. Prioritising accessibility means students do not necessarily have to go through the trauma of disclosing disabilities or life situations. Many arrangements will also in turn benefit all, including abled and neurotypical students and staff.
What arrangements are you making for accessible learning? Do you have any concerns?
What do we mean by ‘accessibility’?
Under the 2010 Equality Act, we are legally required to ‘make reasonable adjustments’ to enable our students to access their studies. This legislation applies to all protected characteristics, such as age, disability, race/ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or gender, but it also extends to adjustments that the institution must make to ensure no student is disadvantaged. Remote learning can exacerbate many additional barriers for students that may have been hidden in the classroom, such as caring responsibilities, the lack of a quiet place to work, access to suitable equipment, or an unreliable internet connection. Accessibility is about inclusion and making sure that all learners feel valued and supported.
We’ve identified three starting points for thinking about accessible remote course design: Bandwidth and Workplace Circumstances, Fatigue and Concentration Difficulties, and the Loss/Lack of Support Systems This is by no means an exhaustive list and there will be specific issues that will require additional support. In the meantime, we’ve included some points of reflection with each example. We’d like to invite you to join us on Twitter on Thursday 25th June from 2pm to share experiences, reflections, and resources, and help us develop an accessible approach to remote learning. Use #PandemicPedagogy and/or #InclusiveHUK.
Key Accessibility Issues
Bandwidth and Workplace Circumstances
Synchronous video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom or MS Teams, require significantly higher bandwidths to function effectively. These high-bandwidth technologies rely on newer computers and operating systems, fast broadband connections, or significant data allowances on mobile devices. Participation in real-time, face-to-face contact via video software can marginalise students from rural communities (or abroad) with poor signal or those who cannot afford the significant financial burden of high-end technologies.
We must also respect that finding a quiet place to work may not be possible for many students for a multitude of reasons, including caring responsibilities, financial circumstances, and changed familial dynamic as a result of COVID-19. In these cases, ensuring access to recorded material, collaborative writing tasks, or discussion forums can enable students to remain engaged with the course, but at a time that is convenient for them.
What has been your experience with asynchronous resources? What did you use? How have students responded?
See this article from DePaul University for a breakdown of low-bandwidth and asynchronous approaches.
Fatigue and Concentration Difficulties
No matter how driven we are, there will be times when our concentration is severely affected by external factors. The pandemic is a cause for concern for many of us and our students are no different.
In a survey conducted by Disabled Students UK, increased levels of fatigue were commonly mentioned by respondents. It is important to note that, while respondents self-identified as disabled, the fatigue reported was not solely related to their disabilities, but the result of the changing study arrangements and the emotional toll of ensuring that their support remained in place. Ensuring that course design is informed by accessible pedagogical practices is a way of mitigating some of the stresses felt by students with additional needs.
Of course, we can all feel fatigued when we have dramatically altered our routines and working conditions. It’s been fairly well documented that the online platforms that we’ve been using to support remote learning can cause ‘Zoom fatigue’. Psychologists have determined that video platforms impair our ability to process non-verbal cues which forces the brain to focus harder on verbal dialogue and, in turn, tires us out.
To counteract fatigue and concentration issues, we should really be asking ourselves: ‘does this interaction/pre-recording need to be any longer than twenty minutes?’ If so, it may be worth rethinking your strategy: Can you plan a comfort break? Can you set students an off-screen activity for 10/15 minutes? Could this be covered by setting reading and encouraging responses on a forum?
What tactics have you employed to manage fatigue? How can course design be implemented to avoid burnout?
Loss/Lack of Support Systems
Isolation from friends, families, or situations where the student is estranged from their families can make studying far more challenging. In order to create a truly inclusive environment, we need to treat isolation as an accessibility issue. We will return to community building and transitions to HE later in the Pandemic Pedagogy project, but it is worth noting that, through conscious efforts to encourage student interaction and by making the effort to design our courses with collaboration in mind, we can hope to replicate some of the support that may have been lost in the transition to remote learning.
We need to be aware that the non-medical assistants, such as BSL interpreters, that many disabled students require will not be able to work as they would have done before the pandemic. Remember that legally you must provide captioning or a transcript for any pre-recorded material and that synchronous video conferencing makes this far more difficult. A simple way of captioning pre-recorded resources is to upload content to YouTube and to review the automatic captioning. We will provide more specific strategies for developing disability-positive classrooms in the formal Pandemic Pedagogy report that will be produced in mid-July to mark the end of the project.
Are there any strategies that you have used to support isolated students? How do we make sure that students who have lost their support systems are able to continue their studies?
Please do get in touch to share your experiences of accessible remote learning. We are keen to create a sense of coming together with other historians to ensure that we use this pandemic as a means of evolving our pedagogy and maintaining our commitment to accessibility.
Kate Cooper (Professor of History, Royal Holloway, University of London)
The summer of 2020 is not what any of us expected: with libraries closed and summer holidays a matter of finding a new routine within the same four walls, the task that looms largest for many of us is the attempt to reinvent our teaching for next autumn.
Over the past few weeks, a small team has been working as part of History UK’s Pandemic Pedagogy project to find out how colleagues are approaching the challenges we face as teachers and mentors of university-level History students. Over the next 2-3 weeks, we’ll be posting resources and blog posts here on the History UK website to offer some insight into what colleagues around the Four Nations have learned – or are learning – about digitally-delivered teaching.
The first thing we’re learning will come as no surprise: just-moving-everything-onto-Zoom (or equivalent) isn’t an option. Zoom fatigue is real. Screen-to-screen interactions simply don’t work the same way as in-person conversations do. (Julia Sklar explains why in an excellent article: ‘Zoom fatigue’ is taxing the brain. Here’s why that happens.)
Luckily, the lecture-plus-seminar system we all know and love isn’t the only way to do things – it’s a historical artefact. University Lectures came into being in medieval cities in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. Then as now, time-tabling was a matter of getting people who lived in sometimes distant lodgings into the same room at a time when the teacher could be there and the room was available.
And hour-long slots aren’t pedagogically ideal; in fact, research suggests that shorter periods fit the human ability to concentrate far better. In other words, what we’re used to isn’t the only way to deliver the experiences and challenges that make for great teaching – or even the best way. It is just the way we’re most familiar with. (For a research-based and often quite funny take-down of lectures and why we tend to over-rate them, see Graham Gibbs’s Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing.)
So it’s useful to think about what happens in the ‘classroom’ in new ways, and to try to get to the bottom of what’s really important. We’ve identified four central areas that we’ll be addressing:
Presence: In an environment where ‘contact hours’ and ‘office hours’ don’t work the way they used to (and, let’s face it, they were never perfect to begin with!), how can we create a sense of involvement and intellectual connection for our students – with their peers and with us, their teachers?
Community-building: How can we best offer our students a sense of belonging and engagement with one another? This is a challenge that reaches from the summer before first year to the summer after graduation, and happens at multiple levels, from the tutor group or seminar group all the way up to the year cohort and the wider departmental community.
Scaffolding: How can we create frameworks both to guide students in exploring material independently, and to make sure they have the right opportunities to gain feedback from peers and from the teacher/facilitator?
Reading together (and writing and thinking together): What opportunities does the digital landscape offer for creating ‘spaces’ where students can read together, share their insights, and challenge each other to create new understanding?
And, the all-important Accessibility: How do we make sure that each of our students, regardless of disability, background, living situation or internet speed, has full access to the learning opportunities they have signed up for?
One of the best things about the Pandemic Pedagogy project so far has been a new experience of the UK History community as a lively, wry collection of people who are largely up for making lemonade out of whatever lemons come their way. So many people I’ve spoken to are looking for silver linings – a chance to discover new ways of teaching, learning, and collaborating that will benefit our students long after this particular crisis is over. I’ve also encountered a really lovely sense that we are all in this together – a ‘we’ that with luck will grow even stronger as we work together over the coming weeks and into the future.