Reeder Media Center Collaborates on Oral History Course

By Jordan Williams, W&M Libraries

This spring Michelle Lelièvre, instructor in American Studies and Anthropology, collaborated with W&M Libraries staff on a multimedia assignment for her COLL 100 course, Hear Here: The Oral History of Williamsburg. When W&M classes moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she, like other W&M faculty, quickly tailored her course plans for a digital environment. 

“I designed the class to be an echo of another course I instruct called The Williamsburg Documentary Project. It is research-based, and one of the main methodologies for students is to go into the Williamsburg community to collect oral histories. Then they incorporate those oral histories into their final project,” Lelièvre said. 

The Williamsburg Documentary Project was created by W&M professor Arthur Knight more than 15 years ago. Since its creation, the project has contributed a vast archive of Williamsburg oral histories to Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center.

After noticing that the archive was underutilized, Lelièvre developed a multi-media assignment – a podcast -- to engage students in the materials generated by the documentary project.

“One of the course goals is to present work, make an argument, and tell a story in a format that is not just a traditional paper,” Lelièvre said. “It seemed obvious to have a podcast be the outcome for this kind of class.”  

Lelièvre partnered with Troy Davis, head of media services at Swem Library, to develop the assignment. Before spring break, Davis held a session with the class on audio editing software to prepare students for the assignment. 

Google Slides presentation by Gabby Deschenes

As the course shifted to remote learning due to the pandemic, Davis assured Lelièvre that the Reeder Media Center team was still virtually available for assistance.

Davis and media specialists Drea George and Steve Locklin held a virtual meetings via Zoom with students to discuss any challenges they had with the assignment and develop solutions. 

“While this abrupt “pivot” to online learning meant some adjustments to expectations as well as some tolerance for various adaptations of the final product, we were still able to marshal our expertise to support Professor Lelievre’s learning goals while maintaining the broader objectives of the COLL100 experience,” Davis said.

Freshman Gabby Deschenes was one of the students who used an alternative platform to present her research. The media center coached her on using Google Slides to complete her multimedia assignment.

Deschenes said the staff went beyond providing technical assistance but also offered designing tips. 

“We were given suggestions for making a high-quality Google Slides presentation,” she said. “Our instructor advised us to avoid using too many transitions, limit the number of bright colors and follow a general theme. It wasn’t just about technology but also helpful with formatting my project.” 

Google Slides presentation by Gabby Deschenes

Deschenes’ research was centered around the way children from different time periods experienced growing up in Williamsburg, based on their race and socioeconomic class. 

After finishing the assignment, Deschenes was satisfied with the end result.

“I was not expecting to be happy with it, because the switch to online classes threw me off,” she said. “However, I’m very happy with how it turned out. I feel like I got my message across clearly. I incorporated a YouTube video about the topic and added audio files from the Swem oral history collection.”

Once every assignment was submitted, the initial plan was to hold a joint presentation with the Williamsburg Documentary Project. However, Lelièvre designed a different medium for her students to showcase their work.

“I put together a web page that will have links to all of the students’ projects, whether it’s a podcast or PowerPoint presentation,” Lelièvre said. “It will be a one-stop on our course website where all of that will be archived. I envision it as a place where the students can show the results of their semester-long work to family and friends.”

"Hear Here: The Oral History of Williamsburg" Final Projects -