Published: July 9, 2012

by Celine Dauverd

I first got interested in this topic, [Using Animations in History Courses] because I regularly teach Maymester sessions on core courses such as Early Modern Societies and was looking for ways to make sessions more interactive while educational. Attending Matt Koschmann’s session on Animation in the classroom opened my eyes to the multiple possibilities of animation in a history course setting. While his 15 minute-video was more a course synopsis than a direct application of animation from students, I found the technology inspiring. The aspect of animation that will draw students is the fact that text can also have a voice and that historical characters will seem to come alive. This tool will enable students to concentrate on topics of their choice while going over key points of the course.

Before I joined [ASSETT’s Teaching with Technology seminar] my Maymester classes consisted of:

  • power points
  • lectures
  • short video clips
  • exams at the end of each week
  • myself talking indefinitely
  • students becoming increasingly tired
  • losing track of the goals of the course
  • analysis of texts through textbook and reader
  • impossible-to-assign papers

My goals with creating an exercise based on animations are:

  • build a community of learners through interaction
  • incite peer activity
  • help students engage with the class material (i.e. primary sources)
  • mix in clicker questions, lecture material, sample of analytical and critical work rather than exams
  • create a community beyond the classroom
  • enliven history courses
  • emphasize the image component (through voice) over the text (making the material engaging in the classroom)
  • make history fun and interactive
  • use this technology in every class I teach in order to offer a wide sample of assignments to students
  • research making real videos (based on Dave Underwood’s experience and presentation) and use Voicethread (mainly as support for home assignment)

What will my classes gain from including animations?

  • animations will engage students with the material, if they will remember one thing from the course it will be the presentation they created
  • students choose the characters of their animations, hence acquiring a feeling of agency
  • team activity in-between class time
  • in-depth analysis of a particular segment of the course
  • tremendous amount of interaction among students because they will all comment on each other’s presentations
  • engage with the sources critically and creatively while being entertained

In concrete terms, how will animations be used as a testing tool?

  • in Maymester classes, this animation feature will enable me to lecture in the morning and have students work on their animation in the afternoon, hence not losing class time for testing
  • enable team activity. Many students feel embarrassed when speaking or presenting in front of the whole class. Since these animations are mainly meant to be designed by groups of 2 to 3 students, it will relieve the “stage pressure.”
  • it will keep me off the “Purgatory scene” for a while since the evaluation will be peer made. A good and well-articulated presentation will attract attention and praise from peers.
  • it will encourage creativity. Without diverging from the historical sources, students can explore the themes of most interest to them (art, travel, politics, war, cities, religion, etc.)
  • the exams are low stake. These presentations last 2 minutes but require quite an amount of preparation. Getting to class with a finished presentation will enable students not to feel the pressure of memorizing lecture material.
  • ideally these presentations should be combined with a short writing assignment. For instance,  my sample video animation on Niccolo Macchiavelli would be handed in with a 3-4 pp paper addressing what part of the primary source was of most interest, it would quote pages from the book, it would also delve into some critical thinking about the significance of such work and the historical context.


Early modern society exercise: here are the directions that will be given to students

Create a team of 2 people and organize your own historical animation based on the primary sources assigned for this course. You have a choice between the logs of Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the Americas, the Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, Giovanni and Lusanna, or the Travels of Ibn Battuta. The free video of GoAnimate will enable you to create and publish a video of less than 2 minute duration. Make sure to address a problem, a historical problem set in the context of a dialogue between two people. You may debate over a problem or a conflict and highlight how your characters discuss this controversy, try to solve the problem, and defend their positions. You may want to demonstrate how your historical characters affected their society (what were the changes, implications, outcomes). Use the primary sources for text (you can extrapolate but you should remain true to your character).

Before I send students to create their own animation, I will show them a sample of what would be an acceptable project: Samples animation exercise for History 2112: Early modern Societies