MacLachlan College May Blog

Preparing students for a digital world

Part Two: The search for truth


Last month we wrote about some of the challenges posed by a digital world in empowering students to find what is ‘true’. This month we’re sharing insight into how we are responding to this challenge.

Right off the bat, the first opportunity we foresee is defining what is truth. This is a subject that has generated a great deal of debate because the definition very much relies upon context and perspective.

Consider these comments from Kathleen Hall Jamieson  co-founder of FactCheck.org.

“At the point at which you say something is “true,” there is a kind of finality to it that doesn’t characterize most of the knowledge that we are talking about when we talk about politics and science. And there’s some danger in thinking that there is, because then you stopped the exploratory process, and you stop the questioning process by which we increase the likelihood that the knowledge is sure-footed. I’m more comfortable saying that there is knowledge that is more or less certain.

“My concern is about consequential fact. With a lot of things, whether or not they’re factual doesn’t really affect anybody. I mean, they’re useful to know at a cocktail party, but they’re not consequential.”

I asked our Director of Integrated Arts, Christine Butterfield, to weigh in on this discussion as she is at the forefront of helping MAC students contextualize information by bringing history and its lessons to bear.

“I think the idea of  teaching students to recognize “consequential” knowledge is such an important component of creating “useable knowledge.” It’s definitely a future-ready skill, I think students need to acquire.

“To that end, I have recently reworked some of our approaches for teaching historical thinking skills. Using oerproject.com as an inspiration,  I have implemented some new tools for teaching cause, consequence, continuity and change over time and they have both had interesting results.

“The causation tool asks the students to consider the scale of the event to determine short-term, intermediate and long-term causes. I have also added a deeper analysis which requires students to consider whether an event was Primary/Contributing, Secondary/Underlying or a Triggering event.

“The students are also asked to identify the motivating or driving factor of the event. Is it economic, cultural, political, or ideological. Using this tool the students form a richer understanding of the information and are better able to ascertain the significance of the consequences of the event.

“The CCOT tool (continuity and change over time), has been particularly interesting. At the beginning of the history class I asked the students to tell me three things they were interested to learn in history. A few said how we have approached the spread of diseases in the past. I jumped on this interest, as though not part of the grade 8 curriculum, I thought it was a prescient way to make history useable.

“The students used the CCOT tool to compare our approach to stopping the spread of COVID to the methods used in 1582 to stop the spread of the plague in Sardinia. I had an article from BBC Future, which documented the research of Ole Benedictow, emeritus professor of history at the University of Oslo, who had co-authored a paper on responses to the plague and had discovered the work of Quinto Tiberio Angelerio, who had published a booklet detailing the 57 rules he had imposed upon the city of Alghero.

“The kids loved it! I think seeing that some of the restrictions we are currently experiencing, have precedent in history was reassuring to them. Suddenly 14 days of isolation was nothing compared to the 40 days people had to do then; they also took other information from the article and calculated that the death rate was different and tried to understand why.

“So when we look at consequential knowledge, these examples for me, have provided some clarity in terms of developing my approach to teaching students to be curious and consider how knowledge is created. It’s certainly my aim to try to embed more of this meaningful approach to knowledge into my classes.”

Next month we’re going to continue to explore this topic and share with you more insights into how we are constantly innovating to re-imagine possibilities.

Author: MacLachlan College

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