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History Nerd Fest 2013 – Using Holocaust survivor testimony to create multi-literacies

The Shoah Foundation has 52,000 testimonies in 34 languages from 58 countries. The testimonies come from ten experience groups including survivors from Rwanda. The Foundation has over 105,000 hours of survivor testimony. For teachers, this is both good and bad. Good because you’ve got tons of resources. Bad . . . because you’ve got tons of resources.

Bad because you’re not sure how you can actually start trying using these incredible oral histories.

To solve this problem, the Foundation created a site called iWitness that sifts through the 105,000 hours and gives you access to a much smaller database of 1300 interviews. It also provides some very useful teaching resources and lesson plans.

What is visual history testimony? And why use it?

Videos can be more powerful than text. It provides a human face that connects to large abstract events like the Holocaust or Rwanda, it “sensitizes” rather than “desensitizes” kids to these types of events.

IWitness brings the human stories of the Foundation’s Visual History Archive to secondary school teachers and their students via engaging multimedia-learning activities. Designed to be participatory, academic, and student-driven, IWitness addresses education standards from the Common Core and the ISTE tech standards.

The site enables educators and their students to watch, search, edit, and share video, images, and other content within a secure, password-protected space. iWitness is available over the Internet. There is no software to download and install.

There are ready-made and searchable activities available but you can also develop your own activities using the iWitness Activity Builder.

  • Teacher Support
    IWitness includes features for teachers, including guidelines for using Holocaust survivor and witness testimony in education. The guidelines offer practical information and tips about how to integrate video testimony into classroom lessons and projects.
  • Secure Student Moderation
    Teachers who assign students an activity using IWitness will be able to view student projects in a secure and contained “classroom” within the IWitness site that is personal to the student and can only be viewed and assessed by the teacher.
  • Student-Centered Learning
    Students have the opportunity to use technology to become more active learners while encountering survivors and other eyewitnesses talking about their experiences before, during and after the Holocaust. This application empowers them to participate in their own learning by providing them with the tools to think critically, investigate, develop projects, analyze, and collaborate with others.
  • Educational Standards
    This application responds to the demand to build multi-literacies skills and responsible digital citizenship among educators and students. To this end, among the many curricular standards it will incorporate, this resource aligns with standards offered by the International Society for Technology in Education

It’s free. It’s aligned to standards. It requires tons of reading and writing. It provides a great place to support historical thinking. It tells a story that needs to be heard.

Pretty powerful stuff.


C4 Framework alignment? This sort of stuff would be perfect for the 4th Element – Communicate.

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