USC Shoah Foundation: Video Challenge for Grades 6-12

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

In 1994, Steven Spielberg established the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose original mission was to videotape “the testimonies of 50,000 survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust from around the world for educational purposes before it was too late.” In the years since then the foundation’s mission has changed from just archiving to establishing educational uses for the materials that are archived. The education department has developed “educational programs and products for classroom use by students of all ages.”


This year (2013) is the 20th anniversary of Spielberg’s movie, Schindler’s List, which provided the impetus for the establishment of this foundation. To commemorate this anniversary, an online learning initiative has been set up to engage high school students in a competition that uses IWitness, a website set up for secondary educators and their students. Students participating in IWitness Video Challenge will have access to the 1,300 testimonies available on IWitness and will create their own video-essay.

This project seems to offer opportunities for students and teachers to engage in an assignment that would not be as accessible without modern technology. They can view, copy, and create using multimedia tools to develop a video essay that connects the students with the past and the present. To find out more about IWitness Challenge, I contacted Josh Grossberg of the USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education.

LZ: Who do you think will participate?

JG: We certainly hope that all students participate; it is our core belief that one person can make the world a better place and we want to reach as many of them as possible. Although IWitness is still in beta, it has already been accessed by more than 10,000 high-school students and 3,200 educators in 39 countries and all 50 U.S. states.

LZ: How will this project help students engage in their community in a way different from other projects (I would like you to focus on the technology component)?

JG: As far as the IWitness Challenge goes, how students use it to engage the community is certainly up to them and their teachers. That’s one of the features of IWitness that makes it so adaptable. For example, after watching testimonies of Holocaust survivors, one young student was struck by how alienated they felt in the years leading up to World War II. So she reached out to homeless people, made them a meal and listened as they talked about their own feelings of alienation.

IWitness is unique because participants have access to more than 1,300 testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust. This is also the first time our Visual History Archive has been made available to young people. And while students pick their own paths of discovery, IWitness offers search suggestions along the way. So although there are thousands of hours of testimony available, students can hone their search down to a specific minute when the topic they’re pursuing is being discussed. Suggested topics include courage, civil rights, discrimination and many more that are relevant to people today.

LZ: What do you expect these video essays to look like (how is this different from a project that does not have technology embedded in it)?

JG: What the finished project looks like is also up the students and teachers. They can use whatever portions of the testimonies they want. And by using the embedded editor, they can insert their own photos, music in any way they choose. Their work is kept in a safe environment that only their teachers and classmates can see.

Not only does IWitness give students a view of history that nobody else can give them, but it also provides the tools to teach them technical skills that will help them with other endeavors.

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