Thomas Nygren was happy and surprised earlier this year to learn he was the recipient of the independent award on the theme “Critical approach in a polarised world”. The jury’s award citation noted, among other things, that Nygren “promotes factual dialogue and challenges resistance to facts” and “has driven the development of subject-based teaching and learning in the teacher education programme in a manner that is responsive and attentive to students.”

Nygren has been working as a teacher for many years and considers it a very important and demanding profession. In his work against resistance to facts, he starts out from both his own and others’ research.

“I usually give the students a mixture of exercises and current research and let them see how difficult it is to be critical of online sources,” he says. “This encourages reflection and fosters humility.”

He emphasises how rewarding it has been to develop the programme by adding more subject didactics.

“The students requested more content with direct relevance to their future work as teachers of civics,” says Nygren. “I think we have now succeeded in reshaping the programme in a way that combines current research on this with active and challenging instruction.”

Explaining and challenging

When asked what is special about his award-winning pedagogy, Thomas Nygren says that it isn’t really anything in particular, but that he focuses a lot on research into what is effective and beneficial in teaching. He also sees the dissemination of source criticism research as an important part of his educational work.

“I think that it’s important to explain difficult things in a way that everyone can understand,” he says, “while challenging students on a level that requires them to really exert themselves to understand. Perhaps the jury has also taken note of the fact that our research on source criticism has received widespread attention in Swedish schools. The digital exercises, tools and games that we have developed and tested in practice have been used by tens of thousands of students, making them better at detecting misleading information.”

Motivation to understand

Good teaching should be stimulating and challenging and demonstrably effective in terms of the students’ knowledge. Sometimes it does not work, but when it does, the teaching has sparked interest and motivated the students to work harder to understand.

“The important thing isn’t that the teaching is popular,” says Nygren. “The students must be challenged and learn new things. In the end, they’ll arrive at new insights,” he concludes. “That path to new insights differs from subject to subject, so it can vary a lot depending on the knowledge the teaching focuses on.”