Teaching Innovation Award update – Dr Robert Knight
I’ve just organised the first two of a new round of eyewitness talks for my module on Cold War Europe. This started off a few years ago when a Polish neighbour came in and told students about his experiences, including some jaw-dropping accounts of being outside Moscow in December 1941. With the help of a teaching award I’ve extended this use oral history and embedded it more closely into the structure of the course. Talks are captured and the transcripts serve as ‘primary sources’ for student analysis. So far we’ve heard from a lady who fled with her mother as a nine year old from Poland in December 1945, crossing two borders, evading or bribing (with goose fat) Russian border guards and finally being reunited with her father, who had been fighting in the Anders Army at Monte Cassino.
The main teaching lessons I have gained are
- Technology (lecture capture and flip camera) are extremely useful teaching tools when combined with personal interaction and personal experiences.
- Eyewitness experiences help students to question their preconceived notions because they disrupt over-tidy preconceptions and stereotypes.
- Oral history interviews (as opposed to talks) only work on the basis of very thorough preparation by students.
In response to last year’s feedback I have introduced preparatory sessions in which students prepare questions and time for evaluation afterwards. The aim is to make the connection to the aims of the module more explicit. For example the Polish refugee’s narrative helps investigate and interrogate our understanding Cold War as a ‘battle for hearts and minds’.
There is also potentially a mutually enrichment. The Polish eyewitness has just emailed me to comment
Well, it has unlocked some of my memories and some of them were quite painful but mostly it amazes me how a child can take things for granted ! I certainly did not know what the war meant not being able to remember peace time in the way adults around me could.
Next week we have a radar technician who was involved in the British early warning system at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
For further information, please contact Dr Robert Knight.