New Tools for Holocaust Education in Libraries

Commemoration And Holocaust Education In The New-media World

During the seminar „New Tools for Holocaust Education in Libraries: Using Literature to Bring Pedagogical Content To Memorial Day Commemorations“ at the national Library of Serbia – the final event of the IHRA supported project “Dani sećanja” (The Days of Remembrance) – Jeremy Wyler shared some of his experiences about Holocaust education and new-media. This article is based on his presentation.

 Synergy between teachers, historian, pedagogues, librarians, is crucial

Jeremy Wyler

Jeremy Wyler

Jeremy studied philosophy and history, and oriented his career towards editorial web design. He now specializes in Usability and SEO. Among other engagements, Jeremy worked at the Shoah Memorial in Paris as webmaster and project manager. Jeremy is a member of the Terraforming team since 2011.

Introduction

In 2012, The Shoah Memorial in Paris developed a specific website to promote the many events occurring in France, commemorating the round up and deportations that happened in France 70 years earlier, in 1942.

Aimed at the broadest audience, this website presents the agenda of all commemorations that were happening in France in 2012.

This website is also a useful resource for teacher and educators, as they will find all practical information about the institutions, museum, memorials and documentation center, hosting and organizing the commemorations.

A compared chronology of the Events of the year 1942, was also developed to enable the user to understand the link between the development of the War, the situation through Europe For Jews and the particular situation of French Jews in that period.

Documents and historical notes are also available for those who wish to get more information on the general context of the war and the Holocaust.

This initiative, developed in partnership with the French ministry of Defense and the National Office of War Victims and Veterans, has the merits to bring to the largest audience possible a specific product, developed to raise awareness about the commemoration, and the turning point 1942 represents for the fate of the French Jewish Community.

Sarah’s Attic

Sarah’s Attic is a pedagogical website developed specifically for children from 8 to 12.

By ways of story telling, the objective of the website is to tell; in the respect of the children’s sensibility and maturity; what was Jewish life in Europe before and during the war.

The website develops nine stories about children during that period and also gives elements of knowledge about Jewish culture.

Helene Berr

As a support to its exhibition the Shoah Memorial developed a website dedicated to Helene Berr, a french jewish girl who, very much like Anne Frank had a real passion for reading and writing. Helene Berr died in Deportation but through her journal, her story lived on.

The website present itself as an interactive map of Paris in the 1940. On the map, markers were placed in various locations, that were particulary dear to the author.

When you click on a specific markers, exerpt from the journal as well as archive documents and photograph appears on screen.

The objective of this website was to offer a virtual visit of Paris in the 1940, through the words of Helene Berr.

Teaching the History of the Holocaust

The website “Teaching the History of the Holocaust” is major project from the Shoah Memorial, in Partnership with the French ministry of Education, aimed specifically at first and second degree teachers.

This website is ambitious; on an historical level, it brings to the audience lots of updated knowledge in various forms ( wikis, maps, interactive chronology). On a pedagogical level : detailed lessons plans are proposed to teacher as well as official texts, explaining the objectives of that specific educational program for each class of age. Further more, teachers can find useful and practical information about formation sessions developed for them, and pedagogical field trips for the class.

Whether theses examples are aimed directly at students and pupils or by ways of teachers and educators, these resources are truly valuable and useful for teachers and educators. We are all too familiar with the complexity of teaching the Holocaust, and the difficulty that might arise from these lessons, that very commonly provoke intense and driven reaction from the students, especially when dealing with teenagers.

From the horror of it, to its negation and the immediate comparison with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the challenge is hard for the teachers. Museums and documentation centers are making tremendous and constant efforts to support them in their task, from formation sessions, to sending exhibitions into schools, organizing trips, conferences, workshop, the initiatives are plenty and very much needed.

Education is progressing, in long term perspectives students in France and in Europe are getting a better education on the Holocaust and the major society subject directly linked to that historical lessons, such as humans right, tolerance and discriminations.

Even though, this is remarkable work that have the huge merit to give access to a lot of useful resources online, we haven’t yet fully tackle the issues of teaching the holocaust in this “digital era we live on”.

Redefining our teaching conceptions

There are many online teaching initiatives that points to the general confusion, where we misinterpret a media for a tool. We have tools, there are available online, ergo we developed online teaching methods.
That is a bit of a stretch that every documentation centers, museum and memorials have taken.

Indeed, the pedagogical approach illustrated by the previous examples, with all its merits and benefits for teachers and students, is very much traditional and has yet to discover the full power of digital media.

The main issue here, is still unaddressed:

Online information, high-speed Internet and portable devices have deeply redefined the way we inform, entertain and educate ourselves.

Online information not only redefined the way we access information, it has also redefined our expectations towards information. 

We are no longer captive as an audience; as we could have been in front of a TV, or listening to the radio, or inside a classroom.

The audiences are now in total control. We have access to many sources of information and anyone can publish, comment and share information. Developing online lessons and working sheet for students is not enough anymore. The disruption in the learning process enables students to jump into the information at any point. The information is global and the linear approach, obsolete.

As virtually any content is available with a simple touch on a screen, the competition is fierce between content providers online whether it is news, entertainment or educational material.

The upside of such an evolution is evidently the wider access to information and knowledge the Internet provides.

The downside on the other hand, is that not all information sources are objective and reliable, hatred speech and undercover propaganda is part of the informational landscape.

My point being that online education about the holocaust, is equal part education about the holocaust as education about online information.

Educators have now the responsibility to raise awareness about the fact that opinion and information are not the same thing, that commenting on a subject does not mean developing a critical mind, that with that empowerment of the user comes great responsibility. The responsibility to question, fact-check and confront knowledge.

With all that in mind, we are bound to ask ourselves:

How do we market holocaust education to teenagers?

The question is a bit outrageous, but is made to be that way.

As I was preparing this presentation, I’ve had a remarkable experience online. I went to the Shoah Memorial’s YouTube channel to see what they produced lately and watch a video: an interview of the Shoah Memorial Director about the latest museum exhibition. As soon as the video ended, the player displayed another video, which was an interview of a known anti-Semitic, revisionist and right wing extremist, who is playing an important part in conveying conspiracy theory.

I was very much astounded by that YouTube recommendation.

What went wrong here? Well I would say that the online marketing strategy have not been implemented correctly, that the User Experience was not thought, to the end.
Indeed, I do believe that our online educational methods could benefit from a more marketing oriented approach.

We face marketing problems:

  • Internet is a marketplace
  • The competition between content providers is tremendous
  • The users have the power they are no longer captive

In order to reach our audience, we therefore need to develop a User Experience that answer to these issues:

  • Brings quality content to the users
  • Engage them
  • Have a holistic: non-linear approach; the users must be able to find our content at any point, from any platform.

Regarding the YouTube unfortunate experience, a simple fix to it would have been to configure the video as to choose which videos can or cannot be displayed as related content. It’s a pretty easy fix, and not only would it prevent dubious content to show up in the stream but would also be a great way, if not to captivate, but to try to retain the audience a bit longer.

This lack of control over that media is also very symptomatic of a main misconception about online communication:
Most Memorial, education centers and museum to often see website or online resource center as the sun of their solar system. With Social Media platform, we believed to have discovered new solar systems, and we were very much afraid of the life forms that grew in it. Museum and documentation center, made shy exploration of it, but besides planting a flag on the nearest planet, we did not do much to explore and settle in these newfound lands.

To continue on my example –
most of the Shoah Memorials’ YouTube videos are hosted on that platform for two reasons:

  • It is practical
  • Easily sharable

But ultimately, the video is aimed at being published on the website of the museum, it is not made to have a life of its own on YouTube. The YouTube Channel at the Shoah Memorial is not considered as a reliable streaming platform for content

The problem is that using a platform only for practical purposes without really defining a communication strategy specific to that platform can in fact, harm you more than it will serve you; in that example the Shoah Memorial channel served as a entry point for extremist and anti-Semitic ideology.

The main challenge is to benefit from an already working media massively used; to use its code of communication to deliver your own message and reach your audience. It is important that your strategy acknowledges those communication codes so as to adapt your message and deliver it in the most natural possible way for the users.

It’s crucial to understand, when it comes to online initiatives, whether they are commercial, cultural or pedagogical, that your website is not at the center of the solar system. Your website is planet earth and Social Media platform are all the mysterious planets out there.

So if your website is earth, Social Media platforms represents planets of our solar system, who is playing the central decisive role of the sun?
The user, exactly.

For a User Centric Approach

The online approach for educational tools must therefore be User Centric and we have to ask ourselves:

Where are our users, which platforms are they the most familiar with?

They are on mobile and Social Platform:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Instant messaging App.
  • Blogging and Video Blogging platforms.

Internet penetration in Europe: 68%

Internet penetration in Serbia: 48%

Mobile users in Serbia

Social penetration on mobile devices in Europe: 26%

Social penetration on mobile devices in Serbia: 33% (above European average!)

Stat source : We Are Social

• 68% of internet penetration in Europe (Serbia 48% ) • 40 % of social media penetration (Serbia 52%) • And mobile subscription are up to 139% • Regarding Social Media Penetration on mobile devices with a European average of 26%, Serbia, for instance is well above with a rate of 33% ;

So now we now that are users are definitely social and mobile users, and Facebook remains their platform of choice.

What are the users need?

  • Access to reliable sources of information
  • Develop the skills to search online for reliable sources of information
  • Develop a critical mind to debunk myth and propaganda messages online

Synergy between teachers, historian, pedagogues, librarians, is therefore crucial.

What do the user want?

Relate:

  • The testimonial / micro historic approach has proven very effective in that matter, but also has create a tension

Address modern day issues and problematic:

  • Indeed, with the information online we are well aware (maybe not well informed) but well aware of the global situation of the world, so for instance one recurrent question French teachers get is “Why should we care about the fate of jews during the war, as nobody cares about Palestinian children?”

We can see easily how an historical lesson can shift to a debate on modern day issues. There is a real tension between the empathy that a tragedy like the Jewish genocide can produce and the passion that it can also induce.

How can usage of New Media, can help to resolve this tension?

First and foremost, it’s important to stress the work teachers do to address and resolve these issues through discussion and debates in the classrooms. It’s often time consuming and very hard, It takes patience and a lot of understanding to address theses issues that are for some, student, existential issues.

But maybe, by addressing another need of our audience we can contribute, using New Media, to resolve this tension:

Being proactive in the learning process:

As a support new Media and online documentation can be used to develop a side work of research and fact checking on particular subject, confront the students with what they think they know:

  • What are exactly the living conditions for Palestinian children?
  • Can we say “No one cares”?
  • Is it legitimate to compare their situation with the fate Jewish children during the holocaust?

Creative ways to use Social media in order to engage students in their learning process are plenty:

  • Recording with their phone, a Shoah Survivor testimony
  • Taking pictures of commemorations or events via Instagram
  • Record readings of literature on the subject and publish it online via SoundCloud
  • Publish text on blogging platform

The students can perform all these simple initiatives on his own, and all the produced materials can be aggregated in a collective project that could be hosted in something as simple as a Facebook Page.
Not only will you develop the student methodology, skills and knowledge and let him evolve in a familiar environment, but you will inevitably change them into ambassadors for your teaching program. And from a marketing point of view turning a user into an ambassador for your product, is a real sign of success.

Conclusion: Be DUMB

As a conclusion I’d like to say that when it comes to Social Media Strategy, it is important to define objectives to reach. These objectives should be DUMB:

D Doable: It’s important to acknowledge your strength, weakness and resources.


U Understandable: Your objective should be understandable by the people involved in the project and the public you want to engage (collaborators, teachers and students)

M Manageable: Follow up, analysis and constant improvement of the project is the key to it success.

B Beneficial: What is there to gain from this project? For your & your organization, for the teachers and the student?

These are the important questions you need to ask yourself first, they will define the metrics of your analysis of success or failure of your project.

Jeremy Wyler, Belgrade 2015-12-16