Integrating a Video “Narrative Lab” in the History Survey Course

Sunday, January 4, 2015
2nd Floor Promenade (New York Hilton)
James Frusetta, Hampden-Sydney College
Lecturing in an undergraduate history survey course is an art form, one which entertains, conveys key information, illustrates the lecturer’s own views, and introduces students to key scholarly debates and positions. Lecturing, however, often poorly introduces undergraduates to historical research — e.g., the “active construction” of historical arguments through critical examination of primary and secondary sources. In the best case, students are not themselves pursuing hands-on research; in the worst case, students may parrot back the arguments and views presented by a lecturer as the basis of their own arguments in papers or exams.

         The poster explores how I have sought to refine my pedagogical practice in my European survey course, introducing a weekly video “narrative lab.” Each week, one lecture is replaced with a group of three- to five-minute videos, each introducing and explaining a trend or event in depth. Instead, for example, of my previous lecture on the First World War, I now provide an online group of 20 videos on discrete topics relating to the theme. Each student is asked to view five videos at random; the video playlist is set to randomize each time the students access it, distributing the 20 videos across the class list.

         Instead of a 50-minute lecture with a linear narrative that relates a series of events to the importance of a lecture theme, class time is turned over to the active student construction of a narrative that incorporates primary document readings, contrasting secondary sources, and the short videos. Discussion in class is thus turned over to building competing student arguments that integrate the documents, videos and textbooks.   This creates opportunities for students to construct their own analyses of “how history works” and to debate the merits of the different arguments they propose. Both are, moreover, done without the constraint of (or opportunity to use) a faculty lecture as a basis for student argumentation.

         The poster illustrates both how I implemented this practice, but also how the student learning outcomes and course goals have changed and how students’ abilities to construct arguments, discriminate between pieces of historical evidence and critique historical arguments have improved.

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