History Speaks: Reflections from Victoria McDonough

Over the course of this summer, Chris Morris and I have had the opportunity and privilege to explore oral history methods and resources for the purpose of making them more accessible to educators and connecting them to practical classroom uses. Using oral history interviews from the Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection, we have worked to create engaging lesson plans, shorter clips, and abstracts of the clips that teachers can use to help further engage their students into classroom activities. Furthermore, we have worked to provide educators with trusted and reviewed websites and resources that further explain oral history methods and help educators produce their own oral history interviews as well. While I had the opportunity to work on this project last year also, this year’s project allowed me to work with a Social Studies resource that I had never meaningfully encountered or used before. Under the guidance of Dr. Shelley Rose and Dr. Mark Souther, I was able to learn how to not only incorporate oral history methods into my future lesson plans, but also how to create my own oral history interviews to publish and share with other educators and scholars. Thus, I have grown in my teaching skills as I learn to diversify my classroom methods and activities, and my ability to produce meaningful primary source materials for the benefit of other educators.
In regards to pedagogy, I have come to understand that contextualization is absolutely necessary when seeking to include oral history resources in a lesson plan. As Dr. Souther shared in our previous interview, without a proper context for an interview clip being shared, students can become confused about how the experience being shared connects to the overall theme of the lesson and its activities. The point of sharing oral history stories is to enrich student understanding of a particular event or period in time, and thus if educators fail to provide background information and contextualization for a clip, a great learning opportunity is lost. Another important pedagogical lesson I learned through my involvement in this project is that is it beneficial for students to become involved within the oral history making process. Students, especially of middle or high school age, are more than capable of creating probing questions and carrying out a meaningful interview on a simple recording device, and this process provides them with many valuable interpersonal, technological and historical skills. This experience can also help students develop empathy for others, as they learn to carefully listen to the stories of others and identify with the feelings experienced by the individual sharing their unique memories.
In regards to creating personal oral histories, I have come to understand that time is a huge factor to consider. Not only is it time-consuming to prepare for and conduct an interview, but it also requires a great deal of time to edit the interview and make it ready for public use. Therefore, through this project, I have learned to allot at least double the amount of time I would expect for each of the steps of creating an oral history interview, understanding that I may encounter issues during the process that I could not foresee. Another important concept I learned from this project and my mentors was to make any and all permissions I ask for expansive, to avoid having to go back to interviewees at a later time. Without the proper permissions to use oral history interviews, public sharing can become limited. Thus, I came to understand that it is of utmost importance to a current project and to future projects to receive written permission from oral history interviewees that includes extensive usage rights, in order to avoid possible situations in which I cannot receive further allowances. Lastly, from this project, I have learned that it is absolutely best practice to write a clip abstract immediately after editing an oral history interview clip. In order to include all of the crucial elements from the clip into the abstract, it is recommended to write the abstract during and immediately after editing, so that individuals who access the clip later know exactly what to expect based on the information provided. This task is especially important in situations where the interview clips are being used by educators, as they do not have time to carefully review numerous clips to use in their lesson plans. Carefully written clip abstracts allow teachers to understand what is in the interview clip and decide if that information is applicable for their unique classroom needs.
I want to thank the Office of Research at Cleveland State University for providing the History Department with the funds to conduct this project and provide such a valuable opportunity for myself and my colleague. I also want to thank Dr. Shelley Rose and Dr. Mark Souther for their incredible guidance and support throughout this summer; their sharing of knowledge over the course of this project has proved to be invaluable, not only to the success of the task at hand, but to my understanding of the teaching profession as well. I would also like to extend a “thank you” to my co-worker, Chris Morris, as his collaboration on this project provided me with new insights into historical thinking and technology, and his creativity in lesson planning and teaching helped me to think outside the box. I have felt incredibly privileged to work for this project two years in a row, and will use what I have learned over the past two summers to influence my teaching career for many years to come!
On September 3rd, from 10 am to 2pm, Chris Morris and I will attend Cleveland State University’s Research Poster Session to present our work from this summer. Please feel free to stop by the Student Center Atrium on this day to check out our interactive listening station and to view other projects funded by the Office of Research!