H800 Technology-Enhanced Learning: Reflections

H800 Technology-Enhanced Learning: Reflections

I recently finished an online postgraduate course on technology-enhanced learning that forms part of the Open University‘s Online and Distance Education postgraduate programme. This module introduced students to the key texts, terms, and debates when it comes to technology-enhanced learning from both the practitioners’ and students’ perspectives. One of its greatest strengths was that built into the class were opportunities to seek out new technologies and apply what we were learning and finding to our own unique circumstances.

The Open University’s H800 students were from all over the world and in a wide range of professions, including teachers and educators from all levels as well as tech professionals in higher education and the private sector. It was a great mix and we’ve all learned a lot from one another as well as from the course materials. One of the things that surprised me most was the strong sense of community that developed outside of the module’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), the online course area provided by the Open University.

While we were provided with online forums and the ability to video chat with fellow students within the VLE, more than two dozen of us migrated many of our conversations and discussions to a private Facebook page. I also connected with fellow students via Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts on my computer and mobile phone. I think this reflects several of the goals of the module: 1) Introduce us to a range of technologies; 2) Apply these to our own work; 3) Take ownership of our learning; and 4) Create a supportive community of practice.

Not only have I begun to use new technologies to meet a range of needs for my informal and formal learning and work as a practitioner, but I now have connections to individuals with a range of expertise that I could draw upon in the future. For example, I’ve already spoken with a few about developing the Moodle (VLE) for Slavery in the Americas that’s starting soon. I also think that as some of my posts over the past few months have demonstrated, I’ve begun to look differently at some of the technologies that I was already using in new ways, such as for informal learning, teaching potential, supporting communication, online community building, etc.

H800, Technology-enhanced learning, was as much about teaching and learning theory and debates as it was about the technology. This has been very helpful. I’ve been introduced to the language, the techniques, and the research that underpins much of the teaching and innovations that are taking place in universities across the western world. Its been eye-opening. For example, I’m excited about the possibilities of making the ‘flipped classroom’ (where instructors film their lectures to be provided to students online ahead of class so that class time can be devoted to interactive activities such as problem solving, group work, and support) a common site on university campuses.

I’m now understanding why universities and their libraries are refurbishing to provide social spaces within their buildings and providing better Wi-Fi capacity. Both the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh, for example, have revamped their main libraries to encourage and facilitate technology-enhanced group work and discussion. I’m also intrigued by the controversy over whether the ‘Google generation’/ millennials are really all that different from other ‘generations’. Do they learn differently and require different teaching strategies from their instructors than previous students? Or is it all hype? Seeing as by some definitions I am a millennial, it’s an interesting thought!

I took on H800 for general professional development and to strengthen my online course creation skills. I’m coming away with a strong understanding of current teaching and learning theory and practices, awareness of the possibilities of new and existing technologies for teaching and learning, and some great connections and good friends. It’s been a good, intense 32 weeks!


Reflections on Transnational History, Part 2: Globalization Paradigm

I recently revisited Lynn Hunt’s Writing History in the Global Era, a historiographical whirlwind that examines how globalization impacts the ways in which we write history – as well as how the ways in which we write history potentially impact globalization.  And is this a good thing?  (I’m not a theorist by any means, but this seems like a topic that is important to keep questioning.)

When I first read the book, I remember thinking that it spoke to the ways that Paula (my lovely blogging partner) and I – as well as many of our former PhD-candidate colleagues – approached history and our chosen topics.  But what I wondered then was if our personal experiences (as international students at a Scottish university) were what drove our approaches to transnational and global history, or if it was some larger force at work in the world today influencing us: “the global era.”  Hunt questions, “Is this increasing attention to the global context of history just an effect of globalization, or might it be one of its causes?”  How did we relate to what seems to be a larger trend in our contemporary historiography?

On a personal level, I became particularly interested in the idea of parallel history during my undergrad: two events in different countries that seemed to be unrelated but actually had ties between them.  Studying Henry Grattan in Irish History class at the University of Oklahoma drove home the idea of separate-yet-intertwined events happening in two nations at the same time (Grattan was an Irish politician during the time of the American Revolution).  And certainly emphasized that globalization has no clear starting point – the sense of interconnectedness and interdependence of separate areas of the world is not something that we can place on a timeline.  When does globalization begin?

Growing up I was completely enamored with the history of the American West (and Laura Ingalls Wilder).  As I moved forward in the study of both American and Irish history, I found it fascinating and strangely discordant that American pioneers were moving out west on wagon trains and homesteading at the same time as Charles Stewart Parnell began his fight for Home Rule for Ireland.  On surface-level, these two things seem to have nothing to do with each other, but Irish unionists used the image of American pioneers and the “frontier spirit” to justify their own stances as they opposed Parnell and attempted to save the Union with Great Britain.

Hunt writes, “Where cultural theories emphasized the local and the micro-historical, talk of globalization inherently underlines the importance of the transnational and macro-historical developments.”  But to be effective, transnational history must combine the micro with the macro.  We risk using overly-individualized stories to generalize too wildly about an historical event, but it also helps us to make history a human story even while focusing on the global picture.  The challenge then becomes knowing enough about all of the separate contexts to be able to tell if our micro-history is representative.  We have to look at a wide-range of scales of analyses in both time and space, insofar as this is possible.

Toward the end of the book, Hunt questions, “Does history have an implicit goal, whether that goal is defined as freedom, progress, modernity, or globalization?”  And it seems like, no matter how we individually arrived at our topics or adopted the “globalization” approach, the ways in which we study history are 1) looking back to find traces of our modern conditions in the past and 2) somehow unconsciously looking at history in ways expressly tailored to prove that our current times are the most progressive up to this point (this might be why our paradigms shift over time).  At any rate, I suppose the only way to try to avoid this kind of teleological thinking is to keep examining our own motives and relationships to our subjects, and repeating “contingency” over and over again.

Researching International History Workshop

Researching International History Workshop

On Friday I gave a paper at the Researching International History Workshop that was held at The University of Edinburgh on May 6 & 7. The workshop brought together doctoral candidates, early career researchers, and internationally renowned historians who work in the broad (and growing) fields of international and transnational history.

It was the call for papers that made me want to participate and write a paper for the workshop. In the CFP, one of the suggested topics for potential speakers was to write about how the study of international or transnational history can relate to modern politics and law. I was already interested in looking into the funding and uses of recent slavery research for one or more future blog posts, so this was an ideal reason to get started on the research and a great opportunity to get feedback on a draft copy of the work.

I spoke about contemporary research into slavery history being conducted at British universities and how their findings have the potential to be used to support calls for reparations. I examined the origins of these research projects’ funding and the irony of how government funding could be being used to find information that challenges the David Cameron and his government’s position on reparations. My paper was well received and I got some good feedback.

I was the second to speak on a panel of three speakers and the only presenter on slavery history (and the only female presenter) on the day. In the Q&A session I got asked a great question that I hadn’t yet thought to address in my study:

Why did I think that the Caricom Committee was asking for reparations now?

Caricom, which stands for Caribbean Community, has 15 member states and 5 associate states from the Caribbean region. In March 2014, the Caricom Reparations Committee released a Ten Point Plan for Reparatory Justice as a means of achieving their goals, ‘to prepare the case for reparatory justice for the Region’s indigenous and African descendant communities who are victims of Crimes against Humanity (CAH) in the forms of genocide, slavery, slave trading and racial apartheid’.

My thoughts are that the wave of commemorations in 2007 addressing the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire didn’t start the calls for reparations by any means, but they did bring a lot of publicity and greater awareness of Britain’s past slaveholding and trading activities. Many new academic studies were published, memorials were held, and even commemorative coins were minted (which I plan to write more on at a later date). The public commemorations highlighted the role of British abolitionists, frequently leaving black agency out of the narrative and strategically overlooking Britain’s prior role as a leader in the transatlantic slave trade.


In this short time, in my view, increased public interest and an increase in relevant digitised resources plus funding bodies interested in providing money into slavery-related research has led to a greater understanding of Britain’s role in slavery and not just abolition, and this could then be used to support the case for reparations.

Postcard from Arbroath Abbey, founded in 1178 and famed for the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath


Arbroath Abbey – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Arbroath Abbey was founded by King William the Lion in 1178, and was home to monks until the Scottish Reformation.  At that point, the abbey fell into a state of disrepair, and there are only a few areas that you can actually go “inside” today.


Arbroath Abbey – photo credit: L. Flewelling

The Declaration of Arbroath, issued in 1320, was a letter to Pope John XXII asserting the independence of Scotland.  It seems apt to quote its most famous passage:

As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

We visited there on a sunny January day as part of a larger postgraduate trip, which was truly wonderful.


Arbroath Abbey – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Historic Scotland: Arbroath Abbey

National Archives of Scotland: Declaration of Arbroath

Britain’s Black Debt: Reflections

In November 2015 the University of Edinburgh hosted a multi-day, interdisciplinary conference on the issue of reparations, entitled Repairing the Past, Imagining the Future: Reparations and Beyond…. I attended the final element of that interdisciplinary conference, Sir Hilary Beckles’ lecture on Britain’s history of slavery and its legacy in the former Caribbean colonies, “Britain’s Black Debt.” This was also my first experience live tweeting on Twitter, and I welcome you to go back through my twitter account @HistoryByPaula to find the quotations I recorded live on November 6th.

Sir Hilary is a scholar of British slavery and abolition and supporter of the reparations movement. In his talk, he explored Britain’s former and current relations with several Caribbean nations, explained how Britain had used and exploited African slaves and its Caribbean colonies to develop its own infrastructure (and, crucially, not that of the colonies), and gave a brief history of the growing push for reparations. He spoke of his early discomfort at the fact that it was the enslavers and not the slaves who had received compensation from the British Government and the British taxpayers at the end of slavery in the British Empire. He referred to the British slave trade as “cultural genocide” and explained that “black people in the Caribbean are without a known ancestry.” He argued that the former colonies had been so desperate to achieve independence from the “mother country” that they hadn’t had time to ask or argue for reparations, which was why the issue hadn’t been dealt with decades ago at the time of independence. And he spoke in support of the global reparatory justice movement and concluded that reparations were inevitable; if anything, David Cameron’s casual dismissal of the claims for reparations would only work to bring people together to strengthen and solidify the case for compensation (financial or otherwise).

Sir Hilary is an excellent speaker and his great speaking skills, passion for and knowledge of his subject, and the relevance of the subject led to one of the most heated Q & A sessions that I have ever witnessed. Individuals literally stood up in support for reparations and for what Sir Hilary had said. They concurred, they added their own personal experiences and stories, they shouted, they argued, and they cried. The audience’s passion kept us there for so long that we eventually had to be forced out of the room by the conference’s organisers as we had gone so far over the allotted time.

So often I think that, as historians, we find ourselves detached from our subjects, seeing them as being in a time too different from our own to matter much today. Yet here is a topic with a legacy that directly affects individuals, towns and cities, and entire countries. It continues to adversely affect governments’ abilities to care for their people, and for people to understand themselves.

Suggested reading:

Beckles, Hilary McD. Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide. Kingston, Jamaica: The University of the West Indies Press, 2012.

British slavery reparations Q & A.The Guardian, September 30, 2015.

Harry Dickinson, the Magna Carta, and the American Revolution

On the evening of January 26, 2016, Harry (H. T.) Dickinson, Emeritus Professor of British History at the University of Edinburgh, presented a lecture on “Magna Carta in the American Revolution.” As an audience member, I live tweeted the lecture using #HTDickinson on my Twitter account, @HistoryByPaula and spoke to Dickinson at the reception that followed. This public lecture was given as part of the festschrift in Dickinson’s honour and coincided with the launch of a new book, Liberty, Property and Popular Politics: England and Scotland, 1688-1815 (Edinburgh University Press, 2015). Many of the contributors to the volume were also in attendance.

Harry Dickinson has an unparalleled publication record and excellent reputation in the field of British history. As Gordon Pentland noted in his introduction, 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Dickinson’s first contract with the University of Edinburgh. What has always struck me about Dickinson is his wealth of knowledge, capacity to synthesize vast amounts of information, and ability to make clear connections from which to formulate opinion and further one’s understanding of a topic.

Tuesday’s lecture was no exception. Beginning with a brief discussion of the passing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and 1225, Dickinson provided a detailed analysis the 1225 version’s Chapter 29, and then returned repeatedly to this chapter as he spoke. We followed along his carefully prepared outline of the origins, events, and outcomes of the American Civil War and were amazed as he teased out connections between the rhetoric of the colonists and their British opponents.

Dickinson was able to show numerous ways in which both sides were able to use the rights guaranteed to them by the Magna Carta to support their position in opposition to the other and, after Independence, how the American side concluded that they no longer needed the Magna Carta as they were creating a republic. It was fascinating.

For his sources, he drew from political records, letters, popular pamphlets and treatises, coins, artwork, architecture, and state and national constitutions. In the Q & A that followed, he was apologetic that we were only hearing 6000 words out of the full 22,000 word paper, “Magna Carta in the Age of Revolution,” that he had written on the subject, and I was surprised and happy to receive an email from the event organisers the following day with a link to his work. What a great advantage to be able to dig deeper into the sources, the connections, and the findings following a lecture. I enjoyed the evening and will be hoping to hear him speak again soon.

Live Tweeting Harry Dickinson’s Lecture

This evening, January 26, H.T. Dickinson, Emeritus Professor of British History at the University of Edinburgh, will be giving a lecture entitled “Magna Carta in the American Revolution” that will coincide with a festschrift in his honour (Liberty, Property and Popular Politics: England and Scotland, 1688-1815, Edinburgh University Press). Harry is a dynamic speaker, an endlessly supportive supervisor, and an accomplished author and historian. His unparalleled knowledge of British political history over the long eighteenth century will no doubt be demonstrated this evening.

I’ll be attending “Magna Carta in the American Revolution” and plan to live tweet the lecture on Twitter beginning at 5:15pm GMT (12:15pm EST). Follow me on Twitter @HistoryByPaula and search for the hashtag #HTDickinson to follow along.

Suggested Reading:

Pentland, Gordon and Michael Davis, eds. Liberty, Property and Popular Politics: England and Scotland, 1688-1815. Essays in Honour of H. T. Dickinson. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015.

Selected Works of H.T. (Harry) Dickinson:


The Politics of the People in Eighteenth-Century Britain (London and New York, 1994 and 1995).

Caricatures and the Constitution, 1760-1832 (Cambridge, 1986).

British Radicalism and the French Revolution, 1789-1815 (Oxford, 1985).

Liberty and Property: Political Ideology in Eighteenth-Century Britain (London and New York, 1977 and 1979)

Edited Collections:

Britain and the American Revolution (London, 1998)

Britain and the French Revolution, 1789-1815 (Harmondsworth, 1989).