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In conversation with ... Thomas Ketchell, Hstry

This month we speak with Thomas Ketchell, the CEO and Founder of Hstry. We are delighted to welcome Thomas as a keynote speaker at GESS 2015, and have had the opportunity to find out a bit more about his exiting digital learning project, as well as find out what we can expect from him at this years GESS exhibition.

Please explain to us a little more about Hstry and what it does.

Hstry is a digital learning tool that enables teachers, students and historians to create and explore interactive historical timelines. Using a platform designed to mimic social media, Hstry presents history in a format that is easily understood, engaging, and familiar to the 21st century student. Teachers have the possibility of either using Hstry's own timelines which follow the common core, or create their own and share them with their classroom or the community. Students can also create their timelines making history not some vague and passive event in the past, but something alive with which they can engage. Our platform is accessible from any device connected to the web, this can be something the students work on at home.

How and when did you come up with the idea?

My business partner Steven Chiu and I came up with the idea of ‘tweeting history’ back in December 2012 whilst living in Beijing, China. Our first event was to ‘live’ tweet the Great Smog of London from 1952 as if someone woke up in that cold December month sixty years ago and started tweeting and using a smartphone! We had a lot of success with that event and realized we could create a powerful educational tool and we managed to raise awareness for air pollution too. We then brought on Yoran Brondsema (our CTO) and my brother Jonathan Ketchell (Editor) and together the four of us co-founded Hstry.

Why do you think education has taken so long in embracing the importance / value of digitised learning?

Education is sacred and is one of the key founding stones of our modern civilization. It’s not something we should tamper and play around with. Education reforms must be thought through and in that respect, it’s understandable that education has taken time to adapt.

It can also be said that education software up until recently were not good enough and did not provide any added value. Today I’m witnessing a shift and teachers across the globe are now seeing the benefits of integrating technology into the classroom.

How has Hstry been received so far? What stage are you at with the project?

The feedback has been very positive. We have worked closely during our BETA with hundreds of teachers. The teachers and their students have been very responsive to what we are working on, as history & social studies teachers often get neglected when it comes to new tech products in favour of math & literacy applications. We are still in BETA but plan on launching in the next few months as we continue to gather feedback from our teachers.

What are your plans for the future with the project? Do you have any plans to expand it into other subject areas for example?

We have had lots of wonderful feedback from teachers using Hstry and what has surprised me is the different uses of our platform. We have had English teachers recreate Shakespeare plays through our interactive timelines, foreign language teachers create quizzes and plenty of interested geography teachers bringing their content to life. We are currently focused on history but always happy to see other subjects being brought to life on our platform.

What can we expect from the Hstry talk at GESS 2015?

The keynote will revolve around the theme 'Teaching History in the 21st Century' and will showcase the use of technology in classrooms across the globe with the aim of bringing history to life, both visually and through the engagement of a great story. Teachers will be inspired and find new and creative ways to teach history through a selection of case studies put forward in my presentation. The idea is ultimately to bring out the creativity of educators.

Who would be your target audience? Who would most benefit / appreciate the keynote presentation?

The keynote will not just be aimed for history teachers! I think any educator seeking to see and understand new and creative ways of teaching history will be inspired.


And if it’s okay Thomas just a few slightly more fun questions to end with:


Who was your childhood hero?

I always looked up to my three brothers and wanted to follow in their footsteps. Other than that, I really looked up to Miss French, my secondary school history teacher. She was always so enthusiastic and instilled a passion in me for exploring history.

What is your favourite movie?

I have a soft spot for The Shawshank Redemption although I haven't watched it in a while.

If you could go back in time and live through one historical event what would it be and why?

Ahh, good question. It's a tough one. I would have loved to have lived in Athens at the peak of its civilization in the 6th-5th centuries BC. I can only imagine how fantastic it would be to witness first hand how direct democracy worked, to walk through the Agora and its beautiful architecture and to encounter the philosophers, playwrights and historians that we still speak highly of today.