Using Digital Tools to Explore the History of Apartheid

As a first-year history student, I started Professor Amanda Lewis-Nang’ea’s class on the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa with very limited knowledge on the subject matter. At the beginning of our semester, we were assigned a project that would act as a sort of capstone to this class – a timeline project that we would create based on a subject related to apartheid. I particularly was interested in the international response to apartheid, especially as it pertained to the dynamics of the Cold War.

For this project, we used Timeline JS, an online timeline program that can be used to create an interactive platform to showcase important dates throughout a period of time with multimedia. As a prospective teacher, I understand the need to keep students engaged with new learning tools. Teaching is a profession that has been evolving rapidly with improvements in technology in response to new challenges in keeping students engaged

A detail from a student Timeline JS project discussing the establishment of the African National Congress.

Using this new teaching program gave me insight into both the challenges and rewards of using these teaching tools and working in a group. We started this project with very broad subjects. We were assigned to groups of three to four students. Early on I divided our group’s work into four separate spheres, one for each member of our group. Since our subject was the international response to apartheid, we divided our group work into regional or ideological spheres. One of us took the United States, one took Africa, another Europe, while I covered the Soviet bloc. This division of labor helped us significantly from the start. What follows are some of the challenges we experienced and hopefully some insight for future students undertaking a similar project.

One challenge that we initially faced in this project was working together in a group to accomplish a final goal. While this could be a challenge at first; our group communicated well, met often, and left every meeting with clear ideas as to what we all had to do on our own. For future students, the best advice is to keep a positive attitude when working in a group. Leaving petty high school social dynamics behind and actively engaging with your group mates will help your work and will help you when it’s time to leave school. Take it from me,  a 26-year-old college student who spent the last five years of his life working. Social status and social facades do not pay off in the real world. I was surprised to find maturity and even friendship among my groupmates after the initial awkwardness of group work wore off. Our group succeeded because we worked together, held each other accountable, and maintained a positive attitude.

Detail from a student timeline built in Timeline JS concerning women’s roles in the anti-apartheid movement.

After working out who would cover what, we set about individually researching key points that we would want to include in the timeline. This was another challenge I assume is concurrent with the challenges faced by any teacher. I viewed this timeline as a template for a lecture. There may be several points that a student would find fascinating and want to include, but one must remember their audience and that a lecture needs to be broken down into the most important points relevant to what is trying to be communicated. We mitigated this challenge by compressing our subject material. Early in the project, we decided to focus on a particular time period to mitigate this, we briefly covered timeline outliers while placing our focus on the international response throughout the cold war in relation to Apartheid in South Africa.

As the semester drew to a close, our group reached our final challenge – implementing our timeline into the Timeline JS program. This was a challenge for our group. We faced several snags, but in the end, the initial stress we felt about using this foreign program to us was easily and quickly remedied by a visit to the very helpful Dr. Kirk Anne. We put this off too long, in my opinion; had we begun implementing our group work into our actual timeline earlier on our stress levels would have been significantly lower. Because in truth, it was easy. Get ahead and use your resources, when this project was done our group genuinely had fun putting it all together.

A student timeline on the international response to apartheid, built in Timeline JS.

As a prospective teacher, I enjoyed seeing the finished product of our hard work. Timeline JS is fairly easy to use once you get the hang of it. I could imagine using this tool in the future for wherever I end up teaching. For students embarking on a project like this, don’t get stressed about it. Keep a positive attitude, stay ahead of the curve, develop a good relationship with your group. The work is rewarding and will help you later on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top