Using Oral History as a Motivating Tool in Teaching

Article excerpt

Bring the past to life, personalize issues, and spark class discussions by having students interview senior citizens.

Do you teach history and philosophy of physical education and sport? Has your course been designated writing-intensive? Do you find it difficult to excite students about the subject matter? Give your students an active, relevant learning experience - involve them in an oral history project that results in a paper and presentation. At the same time, do some oral history work yourself and share your findings with the class.

Once the class has discussed the influence of ancient societies on physical education, European contributions to American programs, and physical education and sport in the United States from the Colonial period through approximately the 1920s, have each student interview an individual 70 years of age or older. People in this age group will have experienced life during the remaining historical periods students will study. Students' understanding of the philosophical aspects of physical education and sport, as well as the challenges and issues that have faced the field of physical education, may also be enhanced through oral history. Students will more fully appreciate the present once they realize how people confronted difficulties of earlier time periods, and they will be cognizant of how various aspects of the profession evolved.

Inform students that the project will result in a well-written synthesis of the interview and that they will be expected to share their findings with classmates as a means of identifying and assessing common threads that typify interviewees' accounts. If students appear perplexed as to whom they might interview in the 70-plus age group, suggest individuals such as their own or their friends' grandparents or great-grandparents, elderly neighbors, Senior Olympians, or other seniors who continue to exercise on a regular basis. They might also consult faculty members who may know of retired professionals residing locally. If you assure students that the person they ask is likely not only to accept, but to feel honored to be interviewed, they will approach the process with confidence.

Guidelines for Students

The following procedures can help students carry out an oral history interview.

Before the interview Obtain as much background information as possible on the person you have arranged to interview. You will be provided with sample questions that delve into areas the interview should encompass, but you also need to create questions that deal with information that is unique to your interviewee.

You are expected to tape-record the interview. Tape-recording allows you to maintain eye contact with your interviewee and respond readily without being distracted by notes. Buy a high-quality tape so that you can retain and preserve it along with the transcription. The tape may become a valuable memento, especially if you interview a family member.

For a short interview of this nature, just about any tape recorder will do. You might investigate opportunities to check out equipment from the university. Above all, test the equipment prior to the interview by recording and then playing back a lead-in such as:

This oral history interview is being conducted as part of the requirements for [class] on [date] at [place]. The interviewee is _____. The interviewer is _____.

It is also a good idea to play back the first response or two of the interview. Finally, collect your supplies: extra tapes, batteries, an extension cord (depending on the type of tape recorder you use), pencils, pens, and a legal pad.

During the interview Remember that the questions you prepared are just a starting point. The best interviewers formulate additional questions based on the interviewee's responses as the interview proceeds. Questions that lend themselves to open-ended responses will result in more elaboration on your interviewee's experiences, but it is appropriate to include questions that elicit a one- or two-word response as a way to introduce a topic. …