History may deal with things of the past, but, as adjunct professor of history Nicole Benbow knows, this does not mean the ways we learn it have to stay there.
“Higher education is changing,” she says. “Doing different types of projects gives students a variety of skills they can use after completing their degrees.”
This past year, Benbow spent a lot of time talking with the students in her Post-Confederation Canadian History course about the new opportunities that come with researching and learning history in the digital age.
“There are so many tools available to present and analyze things differently. Books and journal articles are great, but we can also do things like analyze and manipulate maps and consult video sources.”
In keeping with this idea, the class spent the semester creating web-based projects that explored the context and current state of issues surrounding Indigenous people in Canada. It’s a topic Benbow felt was particularly imperative to delve into from a faith-based perspective.
“As Christians, we’re tasked with sharing truth and caring for people who’ve been marginalized.”
“As Christians, we’re tasked with sharing truth and caring for people who’ve been marginalized. Doing this in a way that’s accessible for non-Christians and non-scholars should be one of our tasks.”
Student Kenton Slaa and his group chose to do their project on the Indian Act. For him, Benbow’s point about increased accessibility definitely rang true.
“Rather than finding sources and citing them, we could direct viewers to those sources through links,” he says. “We were also able to add photos and primary source documents, which offered something more authentic and heartfelt than if we tried to describe them on paper.”
As a future teacher, Slaa looks forward to using the knowledge he’s gained in the classroom.
“Using digital options as a springboard to collaborate on resources and compile research is a super helpful tool to explore.”
Caden Brett, Slaa’s groupmate, believes that adopting digital methods will help a wider audience view history through a redemptive lens.
“We need to use our faith to learn from the faults of the past and seek to create a better future for everybody,” he says. “Adopting these approaches to historical research opens up new possibilities for expressing our history from a Christian perspective. God has given us digital tools, and I feel they are a fantastic way to further his Kingdom.”
Students Sydney White and Ashley White, who did their project on the Sixties Scoop, found that working in the digital sphere helped them tell a relational story rather than merely presenting a summary of facts.
“A paper can get lost within a bigger library written on the subject,” says Sydney White. “Using a digital platform, we were able to include things like interviews, timelines, maps and survivor stories to help engage our audience.”
“As a history major, I find it important to know where we came from so that we can better deal with the patterns occurring in the present.”
“People are also just not going to spend time reading academic papers,” adds Ashley White. “A website is aesthetically pleasing, easier to find and navigate and a more fun way to access information.”
On a personal level, the students’ work showed them how essential it is to gain an understanding of the past while attempting to change the future.
“When it came to interacting with a group of people we didn’t understand, the thinking in Canada was very present-set,” says Sydney White. “As a history major, I find it important to know where we came from so that we can better deal with the patterns occurring in the present.”
Given the majority of positive feedback from this year’s class, Benbow plans to keep adding innovative learning methods to her teaching repertoire. She looks forward to seeing how this will contribute to her students’ post-Redeemer goals and the university’s overall mission.
“[Redeemer] is trying to do good scholarship in a way that’s redemptive,” she says. “Presenting these issues clearly and with empathy is an opportunity to contribute to reconciliation and improve relations between different groups in the future.”