IWitness Debuts at UN

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 12:00am

350 students present their work in IWITNESS at the United Nations

More than 350 New York Metropolitan Area high school students will debut the work that they completed in the IWitness application at the United Nations Headquarters on January 23, 2012.

IWitness marks a major new initiative from the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education.  Designed as an online resource for secondary school teachers and students, IWitness provides teachers and students access to the video testimonies of more than 1,000 Holocaust eyewitnesses, from the Institute’s archive, along with educational tools and supporting resources.

Organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information, in partnership with the Shoah Foundation Institute at the University of Southern California (USC), the event will showcase work that the students did in IWitness.  Students will relate the lessons they learned in completing an Information Quest, an activity in the IWitness platform that encourages students to engage deeply with “one voice” about the Holocaust.  In Information Quests, students watch the video testimony and interact with a series of thought-provoking activities, developing critical thinking, information literacies, and digital literacy skills.

“As students learn more about the Holocaust and the significance of this history today, they will soon discover its connection to their own lives and communities,” said Kiyo Akasaka, United Nations Under Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.

The event is co-sponsored by the United States Mission to the United Nations, and held in observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.  The theme of the week of events to be held at the United Nations is “Children and the Holocaust.”

“Through IWitness, survivors will continue to teach students about the Holocaust, inspire them to oppose intolerance, and empower them to develop the literacies needed for the 21st Century,” said Stephen D. Smith, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.  “We are grateful to the nearly 52,000 witnesses who have entrusted their memories to the Institute as a guiding light for all humanity.”

Developed by educators specifically for the digital environment of IWitness, Information Quests offer students the opportunity to put a human face to history and deepen their understanding of the Holocaust in a way that is relevant.  Each of the 12 classes produced a word cloud illustrating their understanding of the experience of Roman Kent, one of the survivors whose testimony is in IWitness.  The word clouds also reveal the power of engaging students with testimony, one voice at a time.  Their projects demonstrated an ability among the students to distinguish among perspectives, themes, and discrete events and concepts in a historical context.  They collected words that reflected the complexity of the testimony and the history.  Their word clouds indicated that they heard Roman's voice distinctly and thoughtfully.  They recognized resistance, family, perseverance, loyalty, determination, truth, and most of all, love.  It’s interesting to note how many words–and how many different words–students identified that they heard as defining the experience of Roman Kent.  This speaks to the breadth of the experience contained in the collection–even in this one short clip–and it speaks to the potential for the stories to resonate with individuals.  The combined word cloud, utilizing all the words collected from the 12 classes that watched 9 clips of Roman Kent's testimony, highlighted a recurring theme:  the importance of family and love, even in one of the darkest times in human history...leading to the third most used word in the activity:  death.  The following is a graphic representation of the combined word cloud created from the 12 classes that participated in the activity:

IWitness word cloudStudents Stephanie Dabaghian, from New Milford High School; and Trent Williams, from New Rochelle High School, spoke about their experience with IWitness.  “Listening to Roman Kent’s testimony in IWitness,” said Ms. Dabaghian, “made history personal.”  Her experience in IWitness also made the Holocaust relevant:  “It is a devastating concept because as the Jews were targeted by the Nazis many years ago, there is still active racism in our world today.…  In the future, I hope that more people acknowledge and understand genocide to prevent the world from such human tragedies.”

“As the new generation, we have the responsibility to keep the memories of the Holocaust alive,” said Trent Williams.  He asks us all:  “Who of us will be the next generation of ‘righteous Gentiles’?  Who will dare to stand up and take action when action is necessary?”