26. June 2023 | Magazine:

History Teaching in the Digital Transformation Marcel Mierwald is the new assistant professor at the Institute of History

Marcel Mierwald is researching how historical teaching and learning is changing in the digital transformation. Since March 2023, he is a new assistant professor for the “Didactics of Educational Media with a Focus on History” at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Media | GEI and the Institute of History at TU Braunschweig. We wanted to know from him whether the printed History textbook should still be the medium of choice today, to what extent digital educational media can make History “tangible” and what he has to say to future History teachers.

Marcel Mierwald is the new assistant professor for “Didactics of Educational Media with a Focus on History”. Photo credit: Kristina Rottig/TU Braunschweig

Mr Mierwald, you are an assistant professor for the “Didactics of Educational Media with a Focus on History” at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Media | GEI and TU Braunschweig. Have you already arrived here well?

In March 2023, I received a warm welcome at both the GEI and TU Braunschweig and got off to a good start. I am very much looking forward to working and researching with many new colleagues in the future, especially in the field of teaching and learning with digital educational media. Having worked as a research associate in Bochum and as a substitute for a professorship in History didactics in Dresden, I am naturally also looking forward to meeting the students in Braunschweig.

Why did you choose TU Braunschweig?

I was very pleased about the call from TU Braunschweig in a joint appointment procedure with the GEI. I have done a lot of research on the effect of learning materials on students’ beliefs and competences, but also on their use of media in History. In Braunschweig, I now have the opportunity to intensify my research on teaching and learning with educational media.

The GEI, where I am mainly based, offers me the opportunity to further develop my research interests in the field of historical teaching and learning in the digital transformation and empirical History education research. It is particularly attractive to conduct research in “The Basement”, the Digital Lab of the Leibniz Institute for Educational Media, and to cooperate with colleagues who have a lot of expertise in researching media practices and the appropriation of media and their content. In addition, we want to promote interdisciplinary dialogue between various humanities and social science didactics as well as educational and cultural studies at the GEI with a focus on the opportunities and challenges of digital educational media.

At the same time, I would like to incorporate future topics such as digitalisation and the critical and reflective use of (digital) media into the training of future History teachers at TU Braunschweig. This can be combined, for example, with the testing of innovative teaching and learning settings and digital educational media in the GEI’s Digital Lab.

You are researching the field of historical teaching and learning in the digital transformation. Should History textbooks still be the medium of choice in the classroom?

According to what we know from research before the COVID-19 pandemic, the printed History textbook is still the leading medium for teaching History, at least in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This may be due to the fact that History textbooks are available nationwide and are didactically designed as modern learning and workbooks. They thus offer teachers orientation in the process of imparting knowledge and promoting competences, open up various possibilities of use in the classroom and can support pupils on their learning paths. According to some studies, their effect on students’ motivation and cognition is rather low.

However, digital educational media, which are increasingly finding their way into History lessons, still have to prove their worth. I advocate not to give blanket preference to digital over analogue educational media, but to first critically reflect on each educational medium with regard to its authorship, characteristics, objectives, conception, content and tasks, etc., before simply using it in the classroom. In addition, the context of the use of the respective educational medium in the classroom is very important. Digital History textbooks projected on the wall, for example, do not exactly speak for student-activating and competence-oriented teaching.

How should History be taught in History classes today?

In short: firstly, it is competence-oriented and designed for the acquisition of historical thinking; secondly, it is oriented towards significant topics and problems of the present and future; and thirdly, it is designed to be sensitive to the areas of language education, heterogeneity and digitalisation.

Can digital educational media make History “tangible”? How are they used in learning?

Working with a digital contemporary witness learning platform, using History-related VR/AR offerings or playing computer games on historical topics offer new media formats for dealing with History in History lessons. How exactly teachers use these digital educational media in the classroom and reflect on them with regard to their opportunities and challenges, or how students appropriate them and their (History-related) content, needs to be researched more intensively in the future. We don’t know that much about it at the moment.

What made you decide to do research in this area?

I am generally interested in how History teaching is changing in the digital transformation. This is connected to how teachers and students deal with digital and analogue educational media situationally and how they appropriate them and their historical content. As already mentioned, little is known empirically about which media-related practices play a role in the classroom, how digital educational media make History “experienceable” and how competences in critically and reflectively dealing with them can be developed. Meaningful reconstructive classroom research, which is profiled in subject didactics, lends itself to a closer examination of microstructures in teaching-learning processes in the form of practices and communication.

What are your further research focuses?

Among other things, I am researching how competences in historical thinking can be assessed in pupils. I am involved in the research project HiTCH (Historical Thinking: Competencies in History). Under the direction of the Hector Institute for Empirical Educational Research and the initiative of various professorships for History didactics from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, we have developed a historical competence test for 9th grade learners, which is currently being piloted.

I also advise in the BMBF joint project EMPATHIA³ (Empowering Police Officers and Teachers in Arguing, Against Antisemitism). I am working on developing a course for future teachers and police officers that sensitises them to the problem of anti-Semitism in their professional contexts. In addition to the planning, the course should also be implemented in my teaching at TU Braunschweig and subsequently evaluated.

What projects will you be working on at TU Braunschweig?

Concrete projects are currently still in the development phase. However, I am optimistic that I will be able to start new projects with colleagues in History didactics, but also with other subject didactics, educational sciences and educational psychology. Cooperation with the Research Institute of Teacher Education at TU Braunschweig, for example, could be an option.

I am currently investigating how students in the upper school deal with interviews with contemporary witnesses on the digital learning platform MiBLabor. I am also investigating the effects of a selected learning module on the integration of Turkish “guest workers” in the Ruhr mining industry on the methodological competence of the pupils. In doing so, I use data that was collected in the course of ethnographic observations and an experimental study in the student laboratory of the Ruhr University Bochum and the project “Menschen im Bergbau“ (People in Mining).

What will be your focus in teaching?

In accordance with the denomination of the assistant professorship, I offer courses that focus on historical teaching and learning with (digital) educational media in History teaching, but also in historical culture. In doing so, I set individual focal points. For example, we ask to what extent certain educational media are suitable for language-sensitive History teaching and what needs to be considered when creating one’s own learning materials. Or we will try out various digital offerings for contemporary witnesses and discuss the extent to which these offer opportunities and challenges for historical learning. In short, I want the students to build up an understanding of selected contents of History didactics in various teaching-learning settings and to reflect on and discuss them as future History teachers.

What would you like to give the students on their way who will later teach History in school?

I would like to pass on to my students that History is a really interesting and important school subject that has relevance for the present and the future. For example, dealing with the content of anti-Semitism in the past can make us more sensitive to anti-Jewish statements and stereotypes in the present. Methodologically, the source criticism learned in History lessons can give important impulses for the critically-reflective handling of media in everyday life.

These topics show how important in-depth knowledge and competences in the field of History didactics are. This helps to teach the subject of History in schools in a theoretically reflective, empirically informed and pragmatically versed way. Last but not least, it is important to find a balance between the requirements of the subject and the interests, orientation needs and previous knowledge of the learners.