Exploratory Use of HistoryConcepts: A Web-Based Assessment of Students’ Epistemological Beliefs in the Domain of History

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Ross Jamieson, Department of Archaeology

Project team: Kevin O’Neill, Faculty of Education; Mark Leier, Department of History, and Francesco Berna, Sheryl Guloy, Fiona MacKellar, Aaron Windel, and Fan Zhang, research assistants

Timeframe: March 2014 to April 2015

Funding: $4,990

Courses addressed:

  • ARCH 100 – Ancient Peoples and Places
  • HIST 102 – Canada since Confederation

Final report: View Ross Jamieson's final project report (PDF)

Description: Students enter the archaeology or history classroom with existing epistemological beliefs about history, which some have termed “metahistorical ideas.” In particular, students may enter the classroom unaware of varying accounts of historical events, and/or the potential validity of multiple perspectives on the past, as opposed to a single true past.

As professors, we aspire to bring students to more sophisticated views of our disciplines. However, we have not had a feasible way to routinely assess the degree of success we have had in teaching students about the nature of our disciplines, especially in large classes. Over the past three years, we have been developing a web-based tool called HistoryConcepts that allows professors to quickly and anonymously assess the ideas their students have about accounts of the past (i.e., their metahistorical ideas). Our hope is that by knowing the prevalence of particular metahistorical ideas in each of their classes, professors will be able to produce more effective course designs by planning their lessons and assignments to address students’ preconceptions.

In this project we aim to work together in an exploratory fashion to understand the range of ways in which the HistoryConcepts web tool may be used, how professors interpret the data it provides, and the variety of ways they choose to act on their interpretations in their planning and delivery of lessons. We will pilot HistoryConcepts in ARCH 100 and HIST 102, and potentially other courses as well. Our study data consist of interviews with professors on their integration of HistoryConcepts, classroom observations, and interviews with students on their reactions to their instructors’ use of this tool.

Questions addressed:

  • How do professors of Archaeology and History decide where and how to include the HistoryConcepts survey in their curriculum sequence?
  • How do professors of Archaeology and History interpret the data provided by the HistoryConcepts survey about their students’ beliefs? What surprises do the data hold, and what challenges does it present, if any?
  • How do professors of Archaeology and History act on what they learn from the HistoryConcepts survey in their lesson planning, and how do they make these decisions?
  • How do students respond to professors’ use of the HistoryConcepts tool?

Knowledge sharing: Several instructors in the History and Archaeology Departments are already aware of this work, though none have used the HistoryConcepts tool in their own classrooms yet. We plan to invite other professors to participate in this work throughout the project timeline, and to hold workshops on campus in the final two months of the project to communicate our findings.

Our findings will be used to develop a set of instructor resources for the HistoryConcepts site, and to plan professional development initiatives for professors at SFU. We hope that professors in other disciplines may also adapt our approach and tools as investigative and pedagogical tools to assess epistemological understandings in their own disciplinary areas.