Students enter a history or social studies classroom with ideas about the kind of knowledge taught there. This includes ideas about historical narratives, where they come from, and what makes them good or useful. The HistoryConcepts.org site gives instructors a quick way to assess the ideas their own students have about historical accounts, especially why they may differ. This will enable instructors to plan lessons that engage with and improve students' ideas about historical accounts.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Kevin O'Neill
Co-Investigators: Mark Leier, History (SFU), Peter Seixas, Education (UBC), Kadriye Ercikan, Education (UBC)
Funding Agency: Spencer Foundation

What's Proposed

Instructors can have their students complete a brief, anonymous survey on HistoryConcepts.org, and see the results instantly. They can share the results with their students and discuss them, use them in lesson and unit planning, and re-assess students' ideas later if they like.

How This Project is Carried Out

History professors worked closely with the HistoryConcepts team to develop and refine the HistoryConcepts survey questions. These were then tested with a small group of secondary students, including ESL students and struggling readers, to ensure readability. Then, with the help of teachers and professors at 10 Vancouver-area institutions, almost 1000 students were recruited to help test the survey.

Why This Project Matters

Without an understanding of why various carefully researched historical accounts might differ, students may hold either a cynical view that history is “written by the victors,” or an “anything goes” conception according to which all accounts are equally valid in principle. Neither view is consistent with participation in a pluralist, democratic society, so HistoryConcepts.org attempts to provide a practical way for instructors to learn what ideas their students have, and make plans to improve upon those ideas.

How This Project is Put into Action

The survey has been completed by almost 1000 students already, spanning grade 8 to university. The team is now beginning to work closely with both university instructors and secondary school teachers to further develop the HistoryConcepts.org website.

Where to Learn More

See the site at HistoryConcepts.org, and contact Dr. Kevin O'Neill. To learn about an earlier phase of the research, you may read:  O'Neill, D. K., Guloy, S., & Sensoy, Ö. (2013). Strengthening methods for assessing students’ metahistorical conceptions: Initial development of the Historical Account Differences survey. The Social Studies, 105(1), 1-14.