Introducing IWitness

Enables students to engage on an individual level with testimony to discover connections to their own lives while building the media literacies needed in the 21st century.

IWitness: Our online resource for educators and students

Language: English

Connect students with the past;
Engage them in the present; and
Motivate them to build a better future

Explore IWitness now!

IWitness is a free educational website developed by USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education primarily for middle and high school students.

The award-winning educational platform brings the first-person stories of survivors and witnesses of genocide from the Institute’s Visual History Archive to students via multimedia-learning activities that are accessible via Macs, PCs, iPads, and tablet devices connected to the Internet.

IWitness integrates testimony-based education with the development of digital literacy and other 21st-century competencies; IWitness activities boost students’ knowledge of subject matter while developing their critical-thinking skills and empathy for others. The aim – and often the result – is to spark a motivation to act, and, ultimately, to help mold a responsible participant in civil society.

Surveys show that after using IWitness students are 93 percent more likely to believe it is important to speak up against stereotyping and 61 percent less likely to believe stereotypes are really true. Analyses also have shown that groups of students who use IWitness exhibit a 30 percent rise in the number of pupils reaching the highest level of critical-thinking aptitude on tests.

Stored on the IWitness platform are 1,665 full-length testimonies from the Visual History Archive, which houses 53,000 video testimonies of survivors and witnesses of genocides including the Holocaust, 1994 Rwandan Tutsi Genocide, 1937 Nanjing Massacre and 1915 Armenian Genocide. The testimonies are viewable in full on IWitness, and are indexed and searchable, enabling students to conduct research. Meanwhile, the platform’s built-in learning activities are designed around short, curated clips.

The learning activities available on IWitness enhance existing curriculum across many subject areas including social studies, English Language Arts, government, foreign language, world history, American history, and character education. 

Student assignments vary by learning activity, but include writing short essays, building word clouds, analyzing photos, creating art projects, writing poetry, making sound collages and constructing video essays. These projects go beyond expanding their base of knowledge, building competencies necessary for success in the 21st century. IWitness exposes students to the basics in research, effective searching, archival curation, ethical editing and digital literacy.

IWitness also has a built-in video editor, enabling students to construct video essays using their curated video clips, photos, music, voiceover narration and text.

The platform currently offers 31 learning activities that are divided into three categories: information quests, video activities and mini quests. 

All three types of activities expose students to testimony clips, educational videos and other materials – such as text, video, poems, photos and maps – that deepen their understanding of the subject matter.

IWitness currently has 17 Information Quests, which can usually be completed in less than two hours. Information Quests generally require students to write short answers to essay prompts and create word clouds that they share with each other and discuss.

For example, the Information Quest activity titled “Kizito Kalima” centers on a young man who survived the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. Students watch a clip of his emotional testimony recounting the last time he saw his mother. They also watch short educational videos explaining the significance of testimony as well as the socio-political dynamics that gave rise to the Rwandan atrocities. Then they choose another clip of Kizito from a menu of five, each representing a different topic addressed in his testimony: “Surviving Survival,” “Hope for the Future,” “Experience of Genocide,” “Individual Culpability” and “Discrimination.” While listening to one of these clips, students enter eight words of their own choosing into a field that describe or explain the experience told in the story, and adjust the size and color of the words in accordance with their significance. Students share and discuss their word clouds.

The platform also includes 10 Video Activities, which generally fosters a deeper level of engagement than Information Quests. These exercises guide students as they search for and curate photos and clips of testimony from the bank of assets stored on the platform and use them to construct short video essays complete with voiceover narration and other audiovisual elements. In the activity titled “The Power of Words,” students watch a clip of Clara Isaacman, a Holocaust survivor who was inspired to write a book about her experience by Nobel Peace Prize-winning novelist Elie Wiesel. In this exercise, students are asked to find and collect clips of other testimonies in which the survivors discuss the importance of writing as a tool for self-expression and healing. The end product is a one-to five-minute video, to be shown and discussed in class.

In 2014, IWitness added a new type of activity called Mini Quests; to date there are four. These offer a new type of IWitness capability in that the materials are shorter and fully downloadable, allowing teachers to introduce the activities to classrooms that lack Internet access. The assignments include creating a sound collage as a memorial to the Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) People who were murdered at Auschwitz, analyzing photographs taken at Auschwitz and creating an art project as a way to reflect on the art that was produced at Auschwitz.

The activities are created by staff in USC Shoah Foundation’s education department, as well as by educators around the world who have been trained by the staff. IWitness will soon add new activities pertaining to the Armenian Genocide that coincided with World War I.

  • 93% of students who use IWitness are more likely to believe it is important to speak up against stereotyping
  • 61% less likely to believe stereotypes are really true.
  • Analyses also have shown that groups of students who use IWitness exhibit a 30% rise in the number of pupils reaching the highest level of critical-thinking aptitude on tests.