The Visual Connection to My Students

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 5:00pm

For years now I have noticed that my students are especially interested in the information from non- traditional educational channels; visual and auditory information are often more welcome than academic texts from their books. The reason, we have experienced a shift in the methods that young people process information these days. 

The thinking process itself has been a big question both in education and in philosophy. As an educator it can be difficult to teach students critical thinking skills and also have students relate to the subjects being covered. There is no student who cannot think, true but, there are many we have to help. Since many students rather watch or listen than read text from a book, educators have to be creative in how we present material to our students. Therefore, engaging and visual storytelling becomes a necessary resource in the classroom.

The linking of remembrance, thinking and the practice of relating to others might explain why we usually find stories such useful and thought provoking tools in education. When remembering we use our imagination, when listening to, watching or acting out a story we do the same or something very similar. When we listen to life-stories of other people, of strangers, we imagine their memories, we make a bond with the life of ‘the other’ and doing so changes our perception of reality by which we are forced to think.

Although fictional characters can be significant and serve as role models, in this context we should look for real people because they have a deeper impact on the life and on the viewer. Remembrance makes you become a thinker, social remembrance makes you become a thinking individual in a social context – in both cases people are more likely to make decisions while keeping their responsibility in mind; both for themselves and for the society. Social remembrance starts with the memory of individuals.

The previous sentence might as well be a motto of the USC Shoah Foundation. The Institute was created to preserve the memory of the eyewitness to the Shoah.

The immense work they did over the past 20 years has resulted in the Visual History Archive with 53, 000 testimonies all digitalized, catalogued and indexed. The wonderful news is that this immense material can be used by teachers for educational purposes all over the world.

When I participated in the Teaching with Testimony workshop in 2013, I felt that these interviews could be excellent for my students. Since, in my experience, students are almost instantly bonded with the person on the screen, and the story of another man urges them to think and to discuss questions that might not be so appealing for them if they read about them in a textbook. Audio visual interviews somehow make the problems alive, forcing the students to share their ideas about them.

I think it is extremely important for students to come in primary contact with stories during their studies. By stories I mean the stories of people preferably told by themselves. A story told by its ‘owner’ shows the listener the true nature of that other human being, makes it possible for the listener to relate to and get somehow connected to that person and through the light of the story to see behind; to see history behind the life of just one person.

By listening to a story of a human being we are likely to change. We will relive their memories, process the information they share with us, internalize their experience, and start thinking. Whatever the thought that is generated is not really important since it is the process of thinking that is in the focus of our attention, and that makes our life meaningful.

Ingrid Alexovics