In Europe documentaries: developing new skills, learning with enthusiasm – A conversation with teachers & students

Giulia Verdini Articles ,

In 2019, EuroClio joined forces with Dutch public broadcaster VPRO for the development of In Europe Schools, an online exchange project meant for European schools, teachers and youngsters to meet and cooperate. By 2021, more than 110 schools from 30 different countries have registered, and many decided to start a new round of the project.

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In Europe Schoolsencourages a transnational approach of teaching Modern European History: European schools partner up to cooperate in the research, filming, documentary-making and finally exchanging not only their respective documentary, but also their ideas, experiences and opinions on rather controversial themes, such as difficult history, migration, climate change and gender equality. The project aims to foster collaboration between European teachers and youngsters and ultimately strengthens students’ capability of doing research and their media literacy skills, but it also enables them to acknowledge history as history in the making.

At the end of the school year 2020-2021, EuroClio sat down with some of the schools that joined the project to know more about their experiences, discuss the strengths of the project, but also difficulties and suggestions for improvement. Several teachers - but also students! - were interviewed, among which Deirdre from the Kandinsky College, Kristina from Elgoibar Ikastola, Matej from OŠ Belokranjskega odreda Semič, and Amaia from Santo Tomas Lizeoa. In addition to that, teachers from different schools had the opportunity to meet each other, exchange experiences and practices, and share thoughts and feedback with EuroClio during the peer learning event, held on 17 June 2021.

Meet the teachers: Amaia, Matej, Kristina and Deidre

Why did you decide to participate in this project? 

Amaia: We wanted our students to connect with students from other European countries, give them the opportunity to discuss their work and exchange experiences with students in other countries.

Matej: I wanted to give my students the opportunity to participate in an international project. The topic of migrations is close to my students, as we live at the Schengen border and illegal migrations are common. I also wanted my students to communicate with students from other countries.

Kristina: Our school is committed to international projects. In addition, the goal of the project is in line with our curriculum and competency model.

Deirdre: It is a great opportunity for students to work on beneficial topics with students from other countries.

 

How has the response of the students changed throughout the project?

Amaia: In the beginning, our students were not so confident with their knowledge of the topic and their command of foreign languages, but participating in the project has helped them to gain confidence.

Matej: My students started this project very open-mindedly, despite the fact that we live in a conservative region, where immigrants are not appreciated, or rather local people feel a certain amount of fear towards immigrants. Different perspectives, given in the project, even enlarged student’s empathy towards immigrants.

Kristina: Although the task at first seemed abstract and difficult for them, they gradually adapted to the task and came out with a very tidy job.

Deirdre: They have become more involved in the history lessons.

 

What was the biggest challenge?

Amaia: Finding interviewees was quite difficult. Language has been an added difficulty for some of our students, but not all. Finding the right rhythm for both schools was difficult, since we often had holidays and exams at different moments and therefore, we had difficulties to agree on deadlines and online meetings. We had to make some changes in our organization to be able to keep the contact. 

Matej: Due to Covid-19 our country experienced one of the longest lockdowns in Europe. For 6 months we had online school. Making documentaries was quite a big challenge. All communication was made via online meetings.

Kristina: The hardest part has been finding close and real testimonials. It’s not easy to put people in front of the camera.

Deirdre: Time, planning and research skills of students. While the lesson plans are very clear, we realised that the research part is quite open, so students either step up to the challenge or lose it a bit.

 

Were there any clashes in the classroom because of different opinions/perspectives?

Amaia: Not really, our students were mostly of the same opinion, and when they discussed with our partner school students, we discovered that they had similar views on the topic.

Matej: No, not really. However, we were not able to discuss the topic as thoroughly as we wanted. 

Kristina: Even though the affair was tough and difficult to deal with, the students kept their distance.

Deirdre: Not really. We do encourage an open atmosphere in class so it was ok to debate some topics.

 

How did Covid-19 affect the outcome?

Amaia: Last year´s lockdown made it very difficult for us to organise and coordinate the groups. Finding interviewees and making the interview was more difficult due to Covid-19 restrictions. But in the end, we managed. 

Matej: We had some problems finding time for all the activities in the project. That is also the reason why we needed a lot of time for our documentaries. 

Kristina: Of course, the pandemic has not made it easier to interact with people. And in our case, we wanted to deal with similar experiences.

Deirdre: Group work proved to be tricky as well as keeping distance while creating documentaries and carrying out interviews.

 

Did you create a meaningful relationship with your partner school?

Amaia: I think we did. We ended the project with a final online meeting of the different groups, and this event was highly valued by our students. They were very happy to have the opportunity to get to know students from other countries and talk to them about their experiences.

Matej: Sadly, no. We even changed our partner school. We sent our documentaries to the school and I tried to organise an online meeting. I was not successful with that. We also did not get any feedback on our work or received documentaries from other schools. I am very disappointed because of that. 

Kristina: In our case, we couldn’t fit a better colleague. The teacher is very knowledgeable, hardworking and ideal for directing this type of work and project.

Deirdre: Yes, our Spanish partners were great. With our Turkish partners, it was a little more difficult due to expectations and time differences. 

 

Do you have any suggestions on how this project could be implemented?

Amaia: The project as it is designed right now does not require much contact between partner schools until the end. We would suggest starting collaborating and getting to know each other from the beginning: instead of each school making their own videos and then showing them to their partner school, it could be more productive to mix the groups from the start, making them international from the beginning, so that the relationship between students becomes more collaborative from the first stages of the project. It would make the organization more complex, but it would also be a more enriching experience.

Matej: I would like to thank Eugenie from Euroclio, for all the help and support. It was very hard sometimes to continue with this project, but her emails of support helped us to finish our work. I think being in contact with project leaders is very important, even when it is only about moral support. 

Kristina: Everything was fine, maybe next year we can share part of the research or we can mix our students up.

Deirdre: Although I know it would be more difficult to arrange, I think it would be more beneficial if the students could actually work with their International partners to create one documentary.

What do students say?

All students agreed that such initiatives offer a new approach to history as a subject, and a different way of learning which enabled them not only to get an insight into specific moments of history, different perspectives and cultures, but also to encounter direct witnesses. 

Although researching is often the most difficult part, students are trained to find reliable information and develop their media literacy skills: overall, they genuinely enjoyed discovering facts that most likely they would have not encountered in a text, and coming across interesting anecdotes that they did not know of. It inevitably pushed them to further investigate their findings, test their knowledge and develop their research skills.

Everybody enjoyed creating a documentary from scratch, starting from researching the topic and then filming. It proved to be an effective way to learn about the past and about the way our past is so deeply interconnected with our present, which positively contributes to shaping a more informed society. It obviously helped them develop their digital skills: they learnt how to record and design the video. Video making was their favourite part: from doing the interviews to filming, video editing and seeing the documentary coming together. They were all excited whilst seeing their ideas taking shape, and eventually satisfied and proud of seeing what they were able to create.

Also watching documentaries from the partner school proved to be fascinating, as they found that they could learn a lot more about different histories of different countries compared to solely reading the history book envisaged in their curriculum.

Students’ views regarding the theme did not necessarily change, but they did get to learn a lot more: researching made them understand the topic better, and encountering multiple, at times contrasting perspectives was thought-provoking. Others affirmed that prior to the project, they did not have much knowledge about their topic, so ‘In Europe’ helped them to form an opinion. For privacy reasons, we cannot share their names, but we are proud to share some of the positive comments we received:

These kinds of initiatives raise awareness, especially among young people, about problems in the world. We were also able to express our opinions. 

We have learnt new things, met people, and practised English, but at the same time you have to work hard and the topic can be sensitive. 

We developed both academic and creative skills. 

It was such a fun way to learn about a topic and it’s very nice to learn differently than just sitting in the classroom. 

You learn a lot more about different histories of different countries than you learn in the book. 

It was an interesting and fun approach to help students know more about world history. 

I got to know the perspectives of both sides of the difficult history and formed an opinion. 

Where are we going from here?

Teachers found the project to be well organized and the different steps clear, and they also appreciated the assistance provided by EuroClio. They were particularly happy about the fact that they could decide which topic to focus on, for example, in order to select a relevant topic for the history of their country or to still be able to follow their history curriculum. 

The main difficulties revolved around the communication and the cooperation between the schools, however, coordinating with the partner school is truly the key to the success of the project: students can benefit a lot from online meetings and they particularly appreciate having the chance to engage with other European students - in some schools, this relationship continued after the project thanks to social media! For this reason, the implementation of a platform for communication could be of great use in order to enable schools to work together and build a stronger network and relationships.

Few schools have mentioned the importance of having clearer guidance on what recording/editing programmes shall be used for the making of the documentary, and others would appreciate having more resources categorized per topic.

We are genuinely grateful for the positive feedback we received, and we are also working on improvements. EuroClio will implement new sessions to explain the project and the toolkits, networking sessions for teachers and try to create an online learning community for students as well.

Both teachers and students really enjoyed taking part in this project because it’s a different kind of activity for teachers, but also a different way of learning for students, that keeps them more motivated and engaged. Some schools are planning to do this project as an interdisciplinary project between different subjects. Most schools will join again next year, because students want to do it again!

Written by Giulia Verdini

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Are you struggling with keeping students motivated and engaged in the classroom? Let them investigate, film and tell their own current (hi)story! Climate Change, Gender Equality, Migration, as well as Difficult History, are the histories and challenges of all of us today. Sign up here for next year! 

Watch the latest documentaries!

You can find all the videos made by students on our YouTube Channel.

Source Image: Turkish Migration | Titus Brandsma College

In Europe Schools: Documentary-Making and Online Exchange for European Schools

The second half of 2019  marked the start of a new and unique partnership between EuroClio and Dutch Public Broadcaster VPRO for the development of educational resources on modern European history. Inspired by the VPRO-television series In Europe - History Caught in the Act, presented by Dutch best-selling author Geert Mak, EuroClio, VPRO and a team of enthusiastic authors joined their forces for the making of In Europe Schools: An online exchange project for European schools, in which students research and film their own local histories and exchange their documentaries with peers from their partner school anywhere in Europe. The project offers Education Kits on four main themes of modern European history: Difficult History, Migration, Climate Change and Gender Equality. 

But how to ‘catch history in the act’? Each Kit challenges students to critically think and reflect on complex historical events and their impact on our societies nowadays and even on our daily lives, while also encouraging the development of a variety of skills like conducting research and interviewing as well as skills and competencies related to documentary-making and overall media literacy. All topics are introduced through Starter Clips and students are guided by a central research question, for example, How should we deal with a difficult past? or How should we respond to gender inequality?

Once students have acquired an in-depth understanding of the topics, they are ready to dive into their local histories of Migration, into local Change Makers in the struggle against Climate Change or perhaps into their own experiences of gender inequality. Their findings, stories and research outcomes will then result in self-made documentaries to be exchanged and discussed with students across Europe to reflect on how similar topics and events are experienced from different perspectives, encouraging the approach of teaching and learning European history from a transnational perspective, strengthening multiperspectivity. 

Each Education Kit consists of both ready-made teacher and student materials, accompanied by Tutorials on Research, Interviewing, Editing, Filming and Uploading, helping the students with the making of their documentaries. All Kits are comprised of four steps: 

Step 1: Introducing the project and topic                           (50 minutes)

Step 2: Learning more about the context and topic         (100 minutes)

Step 3: Research and creation of the documentary         (200 minutes, mostly homework)

Step 4: Sharing the videos and reflection                          (90 minutes) 

You can download the PDF of each Education Kit below or go directly to the teachers’ and student materials:  

                                

Difficult History - PDF                                                              Migration - PDF             

Difficult History - Teachers & Students                                Migration - Teachers & Students 

Difficult History - Starter Clip                                                 Migration - Starter Clip    

                               

Climate Change - PDF                                                             Gender Equality - PDF 

Climate Change - Teachers & Students                               Gender Equality - Students & Teachers 

Climate Change - Starter Clip                                                Gender Equality - Starter Clip 

 

You can download the Introduction Clip and all the Tutorials below: 

Introduction Clip 

Tutorial Research

Tutorial Research (Extended)

Tutorial Interviewing

Tutorial Filming

Tutorial Editing

Tutorial Uploading 

Tutorial @Home (Lockdown Tutorial)

All the materials are also available on www.vprobroadcast.com/ineuropeschools and the In Europe Schools YouTube Channel. For the latest news and information on this project, have a look at the Project Page

 

Project Leader: Odette Toeset (VPRO)

Authors: Harri Beobide, Daniel Bernsen, Marian Heesen, Steven Stegers and Odette Toeset

 

Project led and initiated by: 

Funded by:

                        

In Europe Schools: What do teachers and students say?

Eugenie Khatschatrian EUROCLIO, Project Updates , ,

In 2019, EuroClio joined forces with Dutch public broadcaster VPRO for the development of an online exchange project for European schools - In Europe Schools. Inspired by the VPRO television series In Europe - History Caught in the Act on modern European history, EuroCio and VPRO, alongside a team of authors, created four Education Kits on Difficult History, Migration, Climate Change and Gender Equality. Part of the online exchange programme are documentaries made by students on their local histories, which they share and discuss with their peers from the partner schools. Students engage in research on their local histories and are supported by various Tutorials on Filming, Editing, Research, and Interviewing, in which the makers of In Europe - History Caught in the Act share their tips and tricks for making good documentaries.

Following a piloting phase in Spring this year, nearly 100 schools have just started a new round of In Europe Schools. EuroClio has taken a moment to reflect on the project with two teachers who successfully completed the piloting phase and are currently participating in the new round. and Anila Beshaj from Albania and Cristina Gila from Romania took a moment to share their experiences with the project.

What prompted your participation in the project? 

An image from Starter clip Migration

For Anila, who worked on the topic of Migration, the making of the documentary was a specifically appealing aspect of the exchange project . Cristina, who worked on Difficult History,  found out about the project during the 2019 EuroClio Annual Conference held in Gdansk, where In Europe Schools was presented. The collaborative aspect of documentary making and the exchange of ideas was  of particular interest to Cristina.

Anila: The idea of making a short documentary was rather captivating. It was also instructive as the students (and I together with them) had to go through different phases (research on the subject, creation of some kind of script, carry out the filming), which was at the same time challenging, but also very interesting from the student/teacher point of view.

Cristina: I found the idea of involving students in a collaborative European project interesting. Young people exchange ideas, document themselves and carry out their own research. Also, the fact that the students assume different roles: interviewer, director, cameraman, to create a documentary seemed a challenge to me. We felt that learning through the project in history classes has a strong impact on the future training for the lives of young people.

How did your students experience documentary-making as a part of their history classes? 

Anila: The making of the documentary was an interesting experience for the students. They had to combine socio-historical research and art which, in itself, was a new thing to them. They were very involved at a personal level and tried to find and use personal connections that might be of help in the making of the documentary. They were delighted when they saw the final product of their work.

Cristina: The project started in January 2020, so we had time to go through the materials, analyze and decide on the documentaries that we will make. By March, one of our documentaries was already finished.  The students experienced documentary making by collaborating in different teams and working together on creating our final product. The video editors got to learn the different techniques in video editing, while the writers and researchers got to discover the stories of the people they interviewed for the topic. The participation in the project, for some students, was a chance to assert themselves, to come out of anonymity and to prove their personal talent or their passions (film editor, writer). Although they were enthusiastic at first, after some time a part of them withdrew as it took a lot of work and involvement. Those who retired were replaced by other school classmates, curious and attracted by the idea of making a documentary on a historical theme. Involvement in the project, documenting, creating interviews, filming and editing films were moments of learning, but also moments of relaxation for students - they appreciated the stimulating and collaborative way of working. 

How did you experience the outbreak of Covid-19 and how did this affect the project at your school? 

As the piloting phase of the project took place in the beginning of this year, the participating schools faced different challenges related to the global outbreak of Covid-19. 

Anila: The Covid-19 experience was a unique one, as for almost everybody worldwide. The physical separation (due to the school closure) made the communication more difficult but they were able to fully use the technology to stay in touch, continue their work and get the final product ready on time. I believe that the difficulties helped, in a sense, making them more organized and attentive towards the challenges.

Cristina: Our school continued its teaching activities online. The second documentary was not fully completed, although it was in progress and the third documentary was never made. The students were not prepared for the activities at a distance, and this affected us all.

How did you experience the contact with your partner school? 

Project participants are matched to another school in Europe for the exchange of documentaries. Right from the very beginning of the project, the pairs are introduced to each other and advised to get to know each other (and their students) as soon as possible. After the first introduction, both schools continue working on the project separately, and exchange their documentaries online, following a final moment of contact for reflection: How is the same topic approached from different perspectives? For most schools participating, contacting the partner school remained to be a challenge due to local lockdowns and restrictions. 

Anila: I would say that the contact was rather superficial, just a few email exchanges - the pandemic weighed also on this situation.  

Cristina: Since the beginning of the project we have cooperated with our Dutch partner, from Zeven Linden College, Linda. Linda created a common space in Google Drive, where we uploaded our students' materials: their presentations. We conducted a Skype meeting, where our students were able to exchange ideas and opinions with our partners. 

What was the most challenging part of the project overall?

Anila: All the phases had their own difficulties. Of course, the film-making was a novelty for them and it took an important part of the preparation time. The research was, also, I would not say challenging but time consuming as they looked at a lot of materials and talked to different people in order to get a clear picture of the facts dealing with the documentary subject. 

Cristina: The most challenging part of the project was the lack of equipment (as in good cameras, different lights and semi-professional software) that could've made the workflow so much easier. Our experience last year was really fun. We got to experience video editing  and filmmaking for the first time, all while learning about our past.  

Student Perspectives 

Two of Cristina’s students were happy to share their own experience working on the project. Octavian (17 years old), worked together with his classmates on the history of Communism in the Romanian context and interviewed his grandparents. For Rares (15 years old), the project contributed to his personal development as he very enjoyed working together within a team. 

An image of the video Cristina's students made on the history of communism in Romania

Octavian: For me, this project represented a beneficial experience because I had the opportunity to work with some of my classmates. Also, I documented and I learned a lot of interesting things about life and about the priorities people had during Communism. I started my project activity by writing information that my grandparents told me about the Communist period. Moreover, the most important events from that time have happened during their youth. Also, I studied some materials with my teammates and we cooperated with Dutch students. I’m so proud of the effort I put in to achieve the desired goal and I'm glad I took part in this project!  

Rares: This project was my first experience working in a strong team that overcame all the difficulties.  I realized that I have managed to climb a new level in my personal development. I learned a lot with my fellow classmates, did the interviews and did the subtitles. The refusal of the elderly to answer our questions and to remember a painful history for the majority of the population was a challenge though. However, I am proud that the work done has paid off and our film has been appreciated at the European level. 

Understanding History & Media Literacy  

The overall aim of In Europe Schools is to contribute to the teaching and learning of modern European history from a transnational perspective, creating an (online) international working and learning environment for both teachers and students. One of the main learning objectives in this regard,  focuses on the development of skills related to media literacy. In this case, media literacy is not merely the making of the documentary in terms of filming and editing, but perhaps even more so in doing research and reflecting on each others’ work. Conducting research on their local histories, students make use of different media (mostly on the Internet) and are challenged to critically reflect on the sources they use. 

To see how the project has impacted students’ understanding of history and media literacy, the VPRO conducted a survey among the participating schools following the piloting phase. For most students, completing the project has resulted in an increased awareness and understanding of how history and the media framing of history can influence opinions. Even more so, 80% of the students indicated that their own views have been affected by the project and the documentaries they have made. Some of them state that, ‘’I better understand why migrants are fleeing from their home countries’’ or, ‘’I can see now that a lot of parts of European history have never been told (...)’’.  The educational materials encouraged students to think about issues like: What makes a source reliable? How does fact-checking work? How does recent (difficult) history impact one’s own views and opinions? What role does the media play in forming views and opinions? In Europe Schools seems to have helped students on their way in exploring such questions and challenges. 

Would you like to find out more about the project or participate with your students? Visit the website or the project page and have a look at the In Europe Schools YouTube Channel for all the documentaries, Starter Clips and Tutorials. For questions or more information, please contact us via eugenie@euroclio.eu

In Europe Schools: Join in November!

Have you missed the start of In Europe Schools in October? No worries! You still have time to register for a start in November.

Register here, and choose one out of four Education Kits: Difficult History, Migration, Climate Change and Gender Equality. We will match you to another school in Europe and you and your students will be ready to work on their research and documentaries.

Curious how the documentaries look like? Have a look at the In Europe Schools YouTube Channel.

For a full overview of the project, please visit: www.vprobroadcast.com/ineuropeschools or contact us via secretariat@euroclio.eu. See you soon! 

In Europe Schools: Join now!

We have wonderful news! We are delighted to announce that the In Europe Schools Project will be continued after a successful pilot phase! In 2019, EuroClio and Dutch Broadcasting Company VPRO joined forces to create online and free educational resources, based on the VPRO documentary series on Modern European History ‘In Europe – History Caught in the Act’, presented by Dutch best-selling author Geert Mak. In the past months, more than 40 schools across Europe were matched and worked with two Education Kits: Difficult History and Migration.

The Project will start with a new round of school matchings in October and November 2020, introducing two new additional Education Kits: Climate Change and Gender Equality. The newly developed @Home Tutorial provides tips and tricks on how to complete the project from home, when you are not able leaving the house. This makes the Project perfectly suitable for teachers and students in times of social distancing and closed schools, as it provides a great sense of flexibility!

Registrations are now open here! Make sure to register as soon as possible, so we can match you with another school in Europe. Don’t miss this opportunity to participate in a one-of-a-kind exchange project!

We look forward to seeing you soon!

To see Europe Schools' Introduction Video click here!

Starting of cooperation with makers TV Documentary “In Europe Now”

Together with the VPRO broadcasting company and the VGN, the Dutch History Teachers Association, EuroClio is working on a new exciting project In Europe at School – History Caught in the Act. The project will result in an educational toolkit based on the follow-up of the VPRO series In Europe, made with Geert Mak, the author of the books on which both series are made. The new series will focus on the question what changed in Europe during the last twenty years.

As part of the project, students will make their own documentary on a topic from the series, which means they will have to do their own research on history and learn to communicate it to others. There will be lesson plans for the topics and tutorials on how to make documentaries. There are history lessons on the specific topic to show the continuity and change in, of example, migration. Furthermore there are lessons to show how to find this topic locally and how to research it in order to produce a documentary. The produced documentaries are shared with a partner school from a different country, which means that the students will see the same topic, but from an entirely different perspective.

The first meeting with VPRO’s Educational Coordinator, Odette Toeset, and the EuroClio authors of the lesson plan, Daniel Bernsen, Harri Beobide and Marian Heesen, took place this month at the EuroClio Secretariat in The Hague. The team agreed on a structure that could be used for all topics, and decided on the topics and key questions for the first two lessons. We are looking forward to work more with our partner and authors on this creative project.

The first lessons of the toolkit will be ready when the series airs in the end of 2019.