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The Shoah Foundation on Media Literacy… and the Importance of Librarians
As I recently discussed with Frank Baker in relation to Lincoln, it’s neat when a major motion picture can spur greater understanding of those periods in history that we want K-12 students to know about anyway… but it’s also distressing when that movie becomes the end point, not the beginning, of learning. This occurs when students don’t have opportunities to follow up by exploring and responding to primary-source texts that pertain to that history because the movie is thought to have made such research and interface-with-the-real somehow superfluous. It’s an issue that, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the same filmmaker behind Lincoln addressed nearly two decades earlier in the context of the Holocaust and his film Schindler’s List. I’m speaking, of course, of Steven Spielberg and the founding of the Shoah Foundation, whose remarkable, robust, and free-to-join IWitness program makes select portions of the institute’s archives readily accessible for K-12 curriculum. For a more detailed description of IWitness, please check out yesterday’s giveaway (of the new Schindler’s List Blu-ray/DVD combo pack), and for a general overview, please go ahead and play the following video. Then you’ll be all set to get the most out of the below Q&A with Stephen D. Smith, Executive Director of the Shoah Foundation, and Dr. Kori Street, its Director of Education.
How do you see school/youth librarians, and media specialists, best using the resources of the Shoah Foundation generally and IWitness in particular? The applications for both scholars and classroom teachers seem both rich and somewhat obvious–but what of libraries and those tasked with helping others use media and information effectively?
Smith: The beauty of the Shoah Foundation collection is that it is being purposed to be used online. So at a time when school libraries and other media resources within the schools environment are adapting to and adopting to being online resources we are configuring all of our material to meet those needs. In general, there is content on our website which is more of an overall introduction to the collections and what they are there to do, and we will also be able to help teachers orient themselves with the variety of different education resources that are available to them–and they are not limited to IWitness. It is also important that they are also not limited to the English-speaking world as we have material in 11 languages that are spoken for different countries and different educational needs. IWitness in particular is designed for classroom use, and the idea behind it is that students will be able to access about 1,300 testimonies that will grow over time. They will be able to do activities that their teachers instruct them to do, but also search in and across the Shoah Foundation’s archives as well as archives of other institutes including Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Museum. It becomes an online archival and library resource in its own right.
Street: What might interest you is that the first award that IWitness won was from the American Association of School Librarians, and what they were recognizing was the capacity for IWitness to develop information literacy skills and that is right up the avenue of the librarians and youth librarians. So what we see in IWitness is that students are not just looking at video, they are not being told what to watch–they have to do the searches, so they have to understand key words. We’ve built in some scaffolding so that they can understand what the terms mean, and they can also understand “Am I finding what I need?” In this world, where we have Google search where you get 6 million hits but what they are actually looking for in a school context is something that is a secondary source, or a previewed source, or a published source. What IWitness can help them learn to do is to distinguish among these various types of sources. I think that is what school librarians were recognizing in IWitness. It helps students develop those kinds of search and other information literacies that are so important to them doing well in gathering knowledge.
Smith: The IWitness content has been derived from an earlier model that was designed for university use. In fact, we currently have over 40 universities that partner with us, and in most cases it is the libraries and technology departments which have helped faculty and staff orient themselves within the content. What we are anticipating here is that actually the librarians would be ideal as the best source to help support teachers within the school environment understand the nature of the material and be able to support and further the students in their learning outside of the classroom–and in particular, because this is predicated on project-based learning, we are expecting that the students will do a significant amount of their work outside of the classroom at home and of course in the library. The ideal scenario would be that the librarians are familiar with the content and the activities so that they could support students and help students in their project-based learning. And help direct them to other resources beyond the content they are working with.
In the short video [shown above] about IWitness on the anniversary edition disc of Schindler’s List, there’s a convincing passage where its merits in terms of digital and media literacy are mentioned. All too often, at least in the U.S., these literacies are presented as somewhat tangential, but IWitness seems to have the potential to tie them powerfully and authentically to core subjects such as social studies/history and English language arts. Any thoughts on this?
Smith: It was purposeful that the IWitness platform was built with media literacy and school standards around digital education right at the center of its architecture. This is not a curriculum which is paper-based converted into an online resource: it’s been born with digital literacy in mind and every aspect of the site fits to the standards which we are striving to, within our educational world, apply in our classrooms. One would hope that teachers will use this not only as material for historical use, but across all subject areas which we have addressed and all the standards which we have built into the material from the onset.
Street: In IWitness we almost see ourselves as standing at the middle of an intersection, so you have media literacy, digital literacy, historical understanding and then subject specialty, and we see IWitness as bringing all of those things together. Part of the reason we are doing this is because we are using audio digital testimony. In order to work authentically, appropriately and responsibly with that audio visual testimony, you have to be able to read media so you need that media literacy skill; in order to do a video-editing activity, regardless of the subject matter, you have to know digital literacy so it is a natural process within IWitness to develop those skills directly related to whatever subject you are studying. So the subject might bring you in–it could be an English language arts activity, it could be a history activity, or a civics activity, but you have to use these literacies to be successful. We do not assume that students have them when they come to IWitness: we actually help them build them in IWitness. So it has to be integrated or it will not work for students, it will not be sustainable learning.
[You can read the continuation of this talk, in which we discuss bullying, how to teach about the Holocaust, and Schindler’s List, here.]
Dr. Stephen D. Smith, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education, is committed to making the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust and of other crimes against humanity a compelling voice for education and action. His leadership at the Institute is focused on finding strategies to optimize the effectiveness of the testimonies for education, research, and advocacy purposes.
A theologian by training, Stephen has a particular interest in the impact of the Holocaust on religious and philosophical thought and practice. He wrote his dissertation on the “Trajectory of Memory,” examining how Holocaust survivor narrative—and in particular, visual history—has developed over time and shapes the way in which the implications of the Holocaust are understood. He founded the UK Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire, England and cofounded the Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide. He was also the inaugural Chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which runs the National Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom. Stephen is involved in memorial projects around the world. He was the project director responsible for the creation of the Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda and provided consultation for the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, where he still serves as a trustee. He is also a member of the National Advisory Panel for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting’s American Archive Content Inventory Project, whose goal is to establish a digital repository to preserve and distribute both public television and public radio content after it has been broadcast.
As an international speaker, Stephen lectures widely on issues relating to the history and collective response to the Holocaust, genocide, and crimes against humanity. His publications include Making Memory: Creating Britain’s First Holocaust Centre; Forgotten Places: The Holocaust and the Remnants of Destruction; and The Holocaust and the Christian World. He has taught extensively in Lithuania and has been a member of the International Task Force for Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research since its inception in 1998.
In recognition of his work, Stephen has become a Member of the Order of the British Empire and received the Interfaith Gold Medallion. He also holds two honorary doctorates, Honorary Doctor of Letters from Nottingham Trent University and Honorary Doctor of Laws from University of Leicester.
[Dr. Kori Street’s bio can be found in Part 2 of this talk.]
About Peter Gutierrez
A former middle school teacher, Peter Gutierrez has spent the past 20 years developing curriculum as well as working in, and writing about, various branches of pop culture. You can sample way too many of his thoughts about media and media literacy via Twitter: @Peter_Gutierrez
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