Showcase: Propaganda Videos

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At my school there’s much talk of “authentic assessment” (defined by Wiggins as “worthy intellectual tasks” that “require students to be effective performers with acquired knowledge” to “help students rehearse for the complex ambiguities of the “game” of adult and professional life”). I still like to stress traditional multiple-choice and essay tests in my classes – these are, after all, skills that students need to succeed in university – but at least 30% of my students’ grades is comprised of project work that aims to get away from recognition and recall assessments. In this project, part of my Modern World History unit on the World Wars, students apply their knowledge of persuasive techniques and flourish their rhetorical skills to create a propaganda video.

Overview

In this assignment, students create a video for a fictional totalitarian country, Totario. They are given a backstory for the country that parallels many of the features of 20th century totalitarian regimes. They are also given a handout detailing rhetorical techniques and various propaganda strategies. Over course of two-three weeks, students are responsible for:

  1. Answering basic comprehension questions about the regime
  2. Choosing a specific propaganda campaign to tackle. These include campaigns exhorting the leader, promoting Totario as a host for the Olympics, and scapegoating a minority.
  3. Decide on which propaganda techniques to use.
  4. Creating a general outline of the video.
  5. Creating storyboards for each scene
  6. Shooting and editing the video, which is then shown in class.

Students are assessed on each of these steps, and the rubric for the final video includes elements of both production skill and technique mastery. In other words, they must be able to make  reasonably professional video, but also be persuasive while doing it. Download the project handout and rubric.

Rationale

This is another example of an assignment that tests understanding of concepts rather than recall of facts. It’s cross-disciplinary, enrolling students’ prior knowledge of persuasion from their English class and asking them to apply that knowledge in a new history context. Furthermore, the authenticity of the task motivates students to be creative and tap into their hobbies and interests for inspiration. For example, one of my students made a machinima (computer-animated video rendered using video game software) for his assignment (read more).

Propaganda Video Exemplar #1

Reflection

This is a very neat assignment that really ropes in some students. It demands higher-level thinking and authentic skills to completed. The danger of this type of assignment is that students get carried away and forget to check their videos back against the meticulously described requirement. The result, in some cases, is the production of a video that the students obviously enjoyed making but which failed to meet the goals of creating a persuasive propaganda piece. I attempt to address this issue by including scaffolded steps Рthe aforementioned  outline and storyboards Рbut I think a lot of the difficulty just stems from students inexperience in video production.

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