Reflections on the article, "The community of inquiry as a basis for knowledge and learning: The case of history" by Peter Seixas.
Seixas, P. (1993). The community of inquiry as a basis for knowledge and learning: The case of history. American Educational Research Journal Summer, 30(2), 305–324.
The author describes how history is less about finding the truth and more about finding meaning. He describes how constructivist approaches To history see communities of interested people come together to find meaning in a text or event. Some value in this process is the continual revisiting of understandings based on current experiences. The danger is that we lose sight of the lessons of the past and move down unproductive or dangerous paths. My own sense is that a continual revisiting, at least for the learner, has tremendous value inasmuch as he or she deconstructs an event or a piece of knowledge and comes to a deeper understanding of the meaning. His mention of historical relativism made me wonder whether there can be any shared agreement on what is/was true that transcends time. Are there historical experiences or understandings that can be taken as fact in any context and at any point in the future. Perhaps it is the notion of pluralism, that many points of view revisiting historical events calls us to reconfirm our shared understandings of what is right and wrong, or true or false. Perhaps it is less a matter of reinterpreting the past and more a matter of revisiting and re-understanding history that makes it vital and meaningful in today's context. As someone on the periphery of academic history, it seems to me less important the way how history is studied and more important that history BE studied.
In constructivist learning approaches, students come together to make meaning. The real deep learning comes from the analysis of their meaning-making, and holding their suppositions up to scrutiny. Like the academic historian, students are faced with revising their suppositions or abandoning them if no evidence can be found to support their position. The question arises about students making meaning that is logically or scientifically incorrect. This is where others in the learning community come together to explore evidence and arrive at a better conclusion. A phrase I frequently use with my students is "history is always changing." This is meant to communicate that history, like science, is simply our current best understanding given the evidence that we have. As new evidence emerges, our understandings may change.
Essential skills in history that are not facts, figures, and events, but processes of inquiry and criticism. Learning to read and observe objectively, construct hypotheses, and support those statements with evidence are the real critical skills. For both students and historians, communities can emerge around ideas. James Paul Gee describes how the Internet affords us virtual spaces that allow for engagement with others regardless of space and time. He calls these "affinity spaces", spaces that bring together people and ideas on topics of interest. Gee puts forth that the Internet allows communities of inquiry to emerge easily, to exist for as long as they need to exist, and compile artifacts of that engagement in a lasting record.
The author talks about the audience for the work of the different groups. In 1993 when this article was written, the Internet was really just emerging into common use. Today, however, the Internet is ubiquitous, And the audience can be understood as the community now. High school student may access academic work making the author part of that student's community. Discussion boards and Internet forums invite participation from anyone interested in the topic. These participants are likely to have a wide range of experience and understandings. Collectively, they contribute, consume, and make meaning in that virtual space.
Gee, J. P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. Macmillan.