The Future of Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

‘Making Reel History’

Vincent O’Connell, University of Limerick (Ireland)


When treated to a private screening of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation at the White House in 1915 US President Woodrow Wilson is reported to have acknowledged ‘the possibility to write history through the projector.’  Yet in spite of the profusion of historical films and documentaries produced globally up to the end of the twentieth century academic historians have been reluctant to engage with the medium of film in teaching their students about the past. To Robert A. Rosenstone, Professor Emeritus of History at the California Institute of Technology the film-maker is as much a historian as the university academic. Whilst concurring with Rosenstone on this point, I would add that the historian or future historian may also be a filmmaker.  It is from this perspective that this paper will demonstrate how a third year undergraduate tutorial assignment undertaken by students at the University of Limerick in Ireland  at once facilitated their knowledge about the past, while also equipping them with a multiplicity of transferrable skills that go beyond the realm of history and of academia itself.

A cohort of ninety students worked in pairs where each pairing had to produce a five minute narrated film-clip pertaining to specific episodes, individuals or themes related to twentieth century European history. An accompanying script had also to be produced in typed format. Both the script and the film-clip had to be thoroughly referenced.  To further enhance the task, students were taught to add ‘quick response codes’ (QR codes) to their scripts.  This enabled the lecturer/tutor to access the film clip via a smartphone app. The pioneering exercise was developed for a number of reasons. The primary aim of the endeavour was to produce greater student engagement with their subject. In this way it was essential that the students could connect with their learning through a familiar medium. The exercise was further propelled by an acknowledgement of the effectiveness of peer learning. A good deal of the new knowledge and skills which these students acquired originated from the brainstorming and laboratory sessions which were held during the semester.  This initiative which was the first of its kind to be carried out by the University of Limerick’s History Department was also of tremendous benefit to those teaching the module; the lecturer and tutors who also gained new technical skills during the filmmaking workshops. The technical expertise was supplied by a teaching technologist employed by the university.

This paper shall detail the various stages involved in the creation of this tutorial assignment, beginning with its genesis as an idea and the development of a criteria for assessment.  I then discuss the process of instruction up to the submission and presentation of the material by students. I finally assess the learning outcomes and the potential for similar applications in the future.



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