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History, enriched lectures, and pedagogy.


This article offers some insight into the process of integrating multimedia enriched lectures into an undergraduate history curriculum, it highlights specifically some of the pedagogical advantages and benefits of a courseware package the author has designed at the University of New Brunswick in relation to his specialized field of Italian Fascist history, and it addresses the question of a hypermedia educational module (HEM) as possible area for future experimentation and development.


Developments in the area of information science enable the use of new technologies in many areas, including education. Indeed, colleges and universities across the globe are being confronted daily with the immediate impact and long-term promise of multimedia technology on teaching and learning. Over the past decade the History Courseware Consortium at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom (Anderson 2002), and the Association for History and Computing in the United States (Greenstein 1996/97), have played the leading role in stimulating the discussion, development and the implementation of computer-based teaching tools for history. According to two enthusiastic advocates in the field, developments in information and communication technologies OCT) have come to occupy a central place within the discipline because they have dramatically transformed both the way historical documents are preserved, as well as the methods employed by professional historians in researching and writing about the past. To begin with, "paper-based, two dimensional manuscripts and texts--the staples of traditional history and archival research--now coexist with dynamic, multiform, digitally coded sources," and" material previously available to only a few, in relatively obscure or inaccessible archives, is now widely available to a large and ever-expanding public" (Zahavi and Zelizer 2000).

The implications of all these changes for research, publishing, as well as pedagogical methods are enormous. In regard specifically to the dissemination of knowledge, initiatives in ICT have given historians the chance to bring their research into the classroom and to offer history students an opportunity to view and analyze materials otherwise impossible to incorporate into traditional books, texts, articles and monographs. In classes, for example, digital coding and media streaming and compression techniques have permitted historians to compose and deliver enriched lectures with imbedded video clips, streaming videos, audio bites, HTML platforms, and a large volume of photographs and iconographic images that would be impossible, or at least too costly, to print and distribute as teaching aids. Supplementing traditional text documents with video, audio, and graphics, and adapting traditional scholarship to digital technologies, has also provided historians with an opportunity to experiment with innovative interactive media forms, to explore new ways of creatively utilizing in the classroom the same information and communication technologies they employ in the field when conducting their research or participating at learned conferences, and to share very rare primary source materials with students who will never have an opportunity throughout the course of their undergraduate years to visit archives and conduct archival research.

At the University of New Brunswick in Canada an experimental initiative to construct and implement a multimedia courseware program based on enriched lectures was begun six years ago. The specific subject of the courseware is Italian Fascism, an authoritarian political movement that developed after 1919 in Italy as a reaction against the political, social and economic changes brought about by World War I and the spread of socialism, communism and revolutionary Bolshevism. For over a half century historians, as well as political and social scientists, have provided a number of comprehensive and compelling accounts for the political phenomenon that dominated Italian history in the years between the two World Wars, and their collective effort has produced notable historical interpretations: Fascism as a moral crisis ushered in by the Great War; Fascism as an anti-proletarian reaction and agent of bourgeois capitalism; Fascism as the product of a limited and artificial democracy; Fascism as a psychological aberration; Fascism as a mass mobilizing, modernizing experiment in developmental politics; and Fascism as the first and prime instance of a modern secular religion. Benito Mussolini was the predominant figure of Fascist Italy, and, not surprisingly, occupies a central place within the historiographical literature. Renzo De Felice and Denis Mack Smith, the two most celebrated biographers of the Fascist dictator have employed radically diverse interpretations to arrive at what is essentially the same conclusion: the ubiquity of Mussolini's image, along with the heroicization of his person and the myth of his power contributed to the deification of II Duce in Fascist Italy. Essentially, they have argued a Great Man line, an intentionalism that explicitly or implicitly endorses the view that Mussolini himself was ultimately responsible for defining his own regime.

A newer generation of scholars, led most notably by adherents to the defelician school such as Emilio Gentile and Mauro Canali have developed this position further and argued that many elements of the narrative devices employed in the Fascist regime's discourse about its leader were intended to create a new civic culture or secular religion that formed the basis of Fascism's totalitarian conception of politics and the nation-state. According to the most authoritative contemporary historians, the myth of Mussolini occupied all visible realms of political life in Fascist Italy, it monopolized both private and public space, and it presented Fascism itself with a model of centralized power and authority that rotated exclusively around the mythical and spectacular authority of one person.

The multimedia courseware on Italian Fascism examines all of these assumptions in the light of archival documents housed at the Central State Archive in Rome, as well as propaganda photographs, iconographic images and film held at the LUCE Institute, also located in Rome, which have only recently been declassified by Italian authorities. It is instructive to indicate here that the courseware contains many unique resources that are not available as a collection anywhere in the world, including Italy. In the ten enriched lectures that make up the course, there are over two hundred primary and secondary text sources, over 10,000 photographs, iconographic images, mpeg film clips, audio bites or sound archives, there is a series of recorded interviews with some of the most important scholars working in the field today, and there are maps, plans, tables and graphs that cover a wide variety of fields outside the traditional areas of political, social and economic history: architecture and engineering, science and technology, city and town planning, archeology and the preservation of historical sites, visual and performing arts, sports and leisure, and travel and fashion. Without question the great advantage of the multimedia courseware is that it gives undergraduate history students an indication of the sheer diversity of the structural forms that are implicated in the post World War II processes of re-working, re-constructing and coming to terms with Italian

Fascism as a historical phenomenon. Courseware that supports enriched lectures on topics like "Iconographic Mussolini and the Cult of Personality," "Fascism as a Secular Religion and the Sacralization of Politics," "The Orchestration of Consensus Through Mass Spectacle," and "The Myth of Rome and the Politics of Symbols," not only serves to complement the traditional or classical works in the field, but it offers a more ample and nuanced re-visioning of Fascist history, and, perhaps more importantly, it extends the interpretive boundaries of the discipline by recommending a more positively postmodern comprehension than is possible in conventional history writing. Even within these very wide interpretive boundaries, however, students are constantly reminded that they need to be aware of the limits placed on historical knowledge by the character of the sources and the working methods of historians, so that they are regularly developing what neo-Rankean historical methodology refers to as the critical dialogue with the formidable array of interpretations and sources that they are required to master in order to succeed in the course. Students learn immediately that one of the distinguishing features of Fascist historiography is the heated arguments that exist among historians in regard to the objectives and limitations of historical enquiry.

While the course reflects the methodological sensibilities and prejudices of its creator--a political historian who declares this openly and frequently in his classes--students develop an appreciation for the fact that all historical enquiry, whatever the sources of its inspiration, must be conducted in accordance with the rigorous critical method that is the hallmark of all academic history. Students also begin to understand that historical awareness, or the construction of social memory and collective consciousness, is a task that depends on an open mind, and on a receptive and discriminating attitude toward other disciplines within the humanities and social sciences. In essence, students come to understand that the accumulation of historical knowledge, like all knowledge, is an activity of mind, a particular emotional and critical orientation towards experience, and a process of progressive intellectual development and change. The integration of academic commentary and historiographic debates with multimedia source materials enhances the teaching of the discipline's most cherished methodological skills and underscores the idea that history is an interpretative subject, driven by some very serious issues, such as assessing the integrity of evidence and argument, political bias, the standards and practices of the historian's craft, and, ultimately, history's direct and indirect relevance to current or contemporary matters (See: Cavaliere 2004).

The introduction and use of enriched lectures and courseware materials has also revealed a transformation in the way students learn when exposed to technology-enriched courses. According to the results of the ongoing survey study that measures student feedback to both a set questionnaire and individual responses to online required assignments, students enrolled in the multimedia course on Italian Fascism report a more active engagement with course work, and they have also invested more of their own time in the course. In addition, it has been noted that students in the multimedia course perceive the role of the lecturer to be more of a facilitator for learning rather than a one-way dispenser of information. However, it is essential to emphasize here that the enriched lectures and accompanying courseware package were not designed to replace the traditional lecture and the standard practices associated with its delivery. Indeed, it is clear from the surveys that the students themselves do not in fact perceive the enriched lecture or the courseware materials placed at their disposal as a substitute for the conventional lecture format. For the most part students are excited by the amount of information, documentation and sources that are available, by the ability to identify and cross-reference historical themes and methodological approaches as they emerge from the sources, and by the observable interaction between historical theories and historical evidence that is produced by the illustrated materials. Without question, the quality and range of sources has proved to be the strongest feature of the courseware, both in terms of its delivery and availability. Outside of the lecture theatre, for example, students use the courseware in Smartlab, which is a weekly tutorial computer lab session directed by the instructor, or independently to prepare for upcoming lectures, classroom discussion, or to find reading lists for the required critical reviews, bibliographic searches, reports and formal essays they are required to write. In particular, students have benefited where there have been inadequate library resources to support their ongoing research activities and developing area specializations. In this context, the courseware's database as an on-line electronic reference holding or as a CD ROM / DVD archival collection has been a noteworthy feature.

The courseware package currently employed at the University of New Brunswick is very much a work in progress, and as a consequence it is constantly under review in order to discover ways to improve it. Thanks to the generous support of the Italian National Research Council and the enthusiastic interest of the University of Rome 'La Sapienza' the next step in the developmental process will be the creation of a true hypermedia educational module (HEM), which is a virtual learning and exploration environment. (Kouzes, Myers, and Wulf: 40-46). A HEM will integrate a hypermedia book on Italian Fascism enriched with programmable objects, on-line testing, and the evaluation and recording of student performance in a database (Calvi 1997). It will also add syncron communication facilities for interaction among students and/or the instructor (Massy and Zemsky 1995) This environment will permit students to explore the learning materials organized as a hypermedia on-line book, to conduct experiments in a virtual digital lab, to interact synchronously with student colleagues and/or the professor, and to evaluate their assessment through interactive tests (Brusilovsky, Schwarz, and Weber: 261-269) Although it is still unclear from preliminary tests with an experimental or mock-up HEM whether asynchronous methods will offer a way to overcome some of the problems that are associated with large classes and the traditional lecture model, it is clear from the data contained in the surveys and questionnaires that students believe that access to class information and materials, to the professor, and to each other is substantially improved with the utilization of on-line database information and communication technologies (Balasubramanian 1994).

In the end, the design and implement of a hypermedia educational module that uses concepts of asynchronous learning within its structure, such as course web pages, online faculty office hours, network access to all class materials, answers to frequently asked questions, class announcements, the posting of practice or mock examinations, and sophisticated computer animated graphics of the complex concepts employed by the enriched lecture presentation, may prove to be an extraordinarily effective method to increase not only access to information and materials, but to augment and improve faculty-student and peer contact, and, ultimately to increase each student's depth and breadth of knowledge in the field (Skillicorn 1997). One particular type of innovation in the realm of HEM that will be explored more fully in the future is based on the creation of what some have termed the "instructional cycles" that use WebCT's "conditional release" features, and more importantly, the statistical analysis of online web-based tests and assignments (Chetty: 27-32) At some colleges and universities, faculty use these cycles to collect feedback created by student responses to online required course work. The feedback serves as data that can be used as the basis for formative assessments of teaching methods on student learning. Using the electronic classroom assessment techniques like those available in WebCT's online tests, for example, the instructor is in a position to receive immediate information about the effectiveness of their teaching while simultaneously providing students with feedback on their learning, which in turn help to shape the instructional moment in ways not previously possible. Certainly, one of the greatest advantages of online testing is the speed with which

faculty can redirect their subsequent lectures to address deficiencies in teaching and learning (Skillicorn 1996).

All in all, the introduction of enriched lectures at the University of New Brunswick has proven to a positive experience. Multimedia teaching tools have made it possible to influence and direct student learning in a comprehensive and decisive manner, and it has encouraged among students a more active engagement with course work, particularly in terms of the quality hours they have invested outside of class. The amount and diversity of information available, the ability to identify various historical themes, concepts and methodological approaches, and the observable interaction between historical theories and historical evidence that is produced by the illustrated materials has served both to enhance the learning experience of students and to increase their appreciation for the importance of developing and applying sound methodological practices in relation to their own research and writing initiatives. Multimedia history has also proven to be an experience of crossing boundaries, boundaries of time, of space, of issue, and ultimately of discipline. In adopting a decisively inter-disciplinary or cross-disciplinary approach to understanding the Italian Fascist experience, the enriched lectures and courseware have illustrated to students that it is possible to expand the historical domain of history as an exclusively text-based discipline and still respect the cherished methodological principles and practices that have remained the hallmark of the modern discipline since its founding in the middle of the nineteenth century. The eclecticism of the core materials contained in the enriched lectures and the accompanying courseware materials have empowered students to go beyond the traditional or classic interpretations of Fascism, and to boldly confront historical representations that are novel, sometimes unconventional, and almost always provocative.

List of Sources

Anderson, I.G. "Developing Multimedia Courseware for teaching History: A UK Perspective." cdroms/creating_cdroms.html. Accessed April 16, 2005.

Balasubramanian, V. "State of the Art Review on Hypermedia Issues and Applications." Graduate School of Management. Newark, NJ: Rutgers University, 1994.

Brusilovsky, P., E. Schwarz, and G. Weber. "A Tool for Developing Adaptive Electronic Textbooks on WWW." Proceedings of the WebNet'96 Conference," pp. 64-69, San Francisco, 1996.

Calvi, L. "Improving the Usability of Hypertext Courseware Through Adaptive Linking." Accessed April 16, 2005.

Cavaliere, P. A. "Contemporary Italian Cinema and Fascism: History, Memory and Politics in the Films of Beruardo Bertolucci," Revue de recherche interdisciplinaire en texts et medias, Numrro 4, Printemps (2004).

Chetty, M. "A scheme for on-line Web-based assessment," Engineering Science and Education Journal, 9, (1), 2000, 27-32.

Dumitru D. Radoiu, C. Enachescu, and Eugen Rotariu. On Advanced Educational Technologies, Advanced Educational Technologies Newsletter, 10 December 1996, Accessed April 16, 2005.

Greenstein, D. "Bringing Bacon Home: The Divergent Progress of Computer-Aided Historical Research in Europe and the United States', Computers and the Humanities, Vol. 30 No. 5 1996/1997, pp 351-364.

Massy, W.F., and R. Zemsky. Using Information technology to enhance academic productivity, 1995. Accessed April 16, 2005. Skillicorn, D.B. "Using Distributed Hypermedia for Collaborative Learning in Universities," The Computer Journal, vol. 39, no. 6, 1996.

Skillicorn, D.B. "Using Collaborative Hypermedia to Replace Lectures in University Teaching," Accessed April 16, 2005. Zahavi, G., and J. Zelizer J. "About the Journal for Multimedia History." The Journal for Multimedia History Vol. 3 2000. Accessed April 16, 2005.

Patrick Anthony Cavaliere, , University of New Brunswick, Canada.

Dr. Cavaliere, B.A., M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon) is Associate Professor of History.
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Author:Cavaliere, Patrick Anthony
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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