The Digital Historian Project

An Experiential Learning Partnership between the UGDSB and the DCMA

the dhp for teachers


In 2015, the Digital Historian Project won the Government of Canada History Award for Innovative Programming. The DHP was also acknowledged in 2015 by the Ontario Ministry of Education as a 'model' Experiential Learning program and has been featured in the Community-Connected Experiential Learning Policy Framework (draft) Document. As such, the DHP is being recognized as an exemplary program which provides a full-throated Experiential Learning opportunity that promotes the 21st Century competencies expected of our learners. The DHP brings together students from three Upper Grand District School Board secondary schools each day to an entirely new learning environment - the Dufferin County Museum and Archives.

The project vertically integrates the curricula of four senior level courses: Grade 12 Canadian History, Grade 11 English, Grade 11 Interdisciplinary Studies and Grade 11 Indigenous Studies to engage students in deep archival research as they explore Canada's history with a focus on 20th Century Veterans. There is a particular focus on digital literacy with all student course material and assignments integrated within a virtual learning environment (Google apps for education).  

21st century citizenship

The DHP creates an innovative academic pathway for senior students who desire an experiential learning opportunity that marries deep learning through archival research/critical inquiry with analytical skills. Foremost in the design, is the emphasis on the student as an 'active citizen', who exemplifies the essential characteristics as defined in the 2015 Revised Canada and World Studies Senior Level document. 

Digital Historian Taylor being interviewed for French TV following the June 6th ceremony at Beny-Sur-Mer Cemetery

Digital Historian Taylor being interviewed for French TV following the June 6th ceremony at Beny-Sur-Mer Cemetery

Through the embrace of 21st Century Competencies, DHP learners are well-grounded in the '6 C's', with particular emphasis on Critical Inquiry/Collaboration and Creativity/Innovation. Acquisition of these competencies are not merely 'soft-skills', but are measurable and dynamic in the DHP as students utilize technology in meaningful ways to demonstrate their 'active citizenship'. As is suggested in 'Towards Defining 21st Century Competencies for Ontario'; "Technology is changing the shape of civic education in the 21st Century." Haste (2009) describes the 'bottom-up' rather than 'top-down' structure of ICT that allows an individual to become the 'agent' rather than merely the 'recipient' of or 'participant' in knowledge, democracy, and civic action. Haste defines civic education in the 21st century as "the capacity to manage diversity, ambiguity, and uncertainty, essential for being able to engage in democracy and social progress." In this regard, DHP students regularly design and execute a variety of authentic tasks. 

The DHP mission (as sugggested in 'Towards Defining 21st Century Competencies for Ontario;) "is to prepare students to solve messy, complex problems - including problems we don't yet know about - associated with living in a competitive, globally connected, and technologically intensive world."

Utilizing the principles of "Project-Based Learning", the students work towards integrated summative demonstrations of learning in which they design and create content for existing databases - self-'curating' digital portfolios that reside in perpetuity with our community partners - the DCMA, the Juno Beach Centre, and the Archives of Ontario. Rich and meaningful student engagement is thereby enhanced, as DHP participants design learning profiles for which they maintain 'propriety' ownership. The DHP asserts that this affords amongst the most dynamic and 'positive impact' upon student achievement, as the learners assume proprietary ownership over their portfolios. As is suggested in 'Towards 21st Century Competencies,' "Research has found that experiential learning that takes place in the community contributes to the development of 21st century competencies... by giving opportunities for authentic learning, engaging students actively, fostering co-operation and collaboration, meeting individual interest, empowering learnings and extending horizons beyond comfort zones." (Furco, 2010)


Though the DHP no longer offers a credit in Data Management, numeracy is still vital to the program. This numeracy focus that is embedded in the use of the "Big Six" Historical Thinking Concepts, fosters student engagement and achievement. Essential to successful critical inquiry for DHP learners is the positive impact that emerges when making math more meaningful and accessible to students. By rooting the principles of statistical analysis within an authentic historical context, greater engagement is achieved. This is particularly so when DHP learners explore statistical analysis through the lens of history, using data management techniques to illuminate the past of Dufferin County. This provides that optimal chance for students to understand literacy and numeracy in an integrated learning experience.

 A Digital Historian's investigation of Religion in Dufferin County

 A Digital Historian's investigation of Religion in Dufferin County

Using digital literacies to enable authentic learning tasks, DHP students develop their competency in key mathematical processes. Students learn to select tools (with a focus on online applications like Google sheets) in order to solve complex problems. Students also learn to represent their ideas and findings effectively through the use of dynamic technology to create infographics and quantitative reports that clearly express trends and patterns in the history of Dufferin County. These mathematical processes underpin key 21st century competencies that DHP learners develop as they become active partners in their own learning through open-ended, complex, project-based, technology-enabled collaborative assignments. 

The learning environment

Immersion in a technology-focused blended learning environment affords students the opportunity to become conversant in key areas of competency for the 21st century and to use these technologies to support and enhance their learning. Students network across the province through #craft4change and stay connected to their learning through our social-media presence (including a student-run twitter feed).

Tyler inside the Lodge at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives. Students learn history in a building that is itself a historical artifact.

Tyler inside the Lodge at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives. Students learn history in a building that is itself a historical artifact.

"Deeper learning" is "the process through which an individual becomes capable of taking what was learned in one situation and applying it to new situations" (Pellegrino and Hilton, 2012). The DHP puts the learner in the 'driver's seat' of their learning goals to deepen their understanding. Utilizing the principles of the "Experiential learning Cycle", the DHP provides rich opportunities for students to actively participate, reflect, and apply their learning to new contexts, thus creating that 'dynamic and highly personal' experience for each learner. Evidence of this is demonstrated when DHP students infuse their historical inquiries into specific Veteran profiles with  statistical analysis. 

The DHP is currently preparing for Year 4.0 in its mandate, for which the Program Leaders have developed a 'sustainability model' for experiential learning protocols within the Upper Grand.