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Written by Jason Renn, Korbel School of International Studies

How do students understand violence and conflict around the world? I have taught a class about the consequences of civil war for several years and recognize that for many students the answer to the previous question is based more on fictional depictions of violence than the terrible realities of war. Could I do anything about this? Would the students learn something new? Would Video Syrian Children and Hunger GamesI?

This assignment began with one goal in mind: get students to connect fictional portrayals of violence to actual events. The hope was that this would spur more interest in the material and give them the ability to research topics that they encountered in media. In terms of the medium, I knew that I wanted students to create something besides the standard paper and decided that if they were going to be critiquing video then they could also try their hands at creating video.

I began with the idea of having students play through and comment on This War of Mine, a video game that draws its inspiration from the Siege of Sarajevo. It does not glamorize or otherwise sensationalize the violence. I introduced the idea in class, but the reaction of the students was not what I expected. Who wouldn’t want to play a video game for homework? Turns out most of my students this year. They countered with the idea of creating video essays about movies. Sure. Fine. Whatever gets them involved. How hard could it be to make something like that?

The Assignment

To be clear, students were immediately involved in setting the parameters for this assignment and that was great! But it was hard. It was new. Things didn’t go according to plan. They wanted to create a video essay, like ones that they watch on Youtube in their free time. There were many steps between the idea and the final product, though. They would have to write scripts, do research, edit video, and provide voice overs. Did I mention that only two people in the class of nearly twenty had ever touched video editing software? This was going to be a much larger project than I had initially planned, but I wanted to reward the student’s interest and creativity – so we embarked on a new thing for both them and me. By the second week, I had this prompt and timeline:

Create a 10-15 minute video that discusses a fictional portrayal of violence and compare it to a real-life event. Is it accurate? How does it treat the material, specifically the consequences for civilians trapped in conflict?

  • Week 4: Form Groups and Choose a Movie
  • Week 6: Draft Script/Introduction to Video Editing Software
  • Week 7: Table Read and Rewrites
  • Week 8: Screening of First Draft
  • Week 10: Screen Final Product

How did it go?

Along the way, things changed. Groups missed deadlines. There were technical issues. Teams didn’t always communicate effectively. But the students were able to pull everything together by week 10. A special thanks to Rich Path who provided advise for this project and to the staff at the Digital Media Center in Anderson Academic Commons who offered an introduction to Adobe Premier for the students and helped them edit during the last few weeks of the quarter.

Students did a good job connecting some of the themes of the movies to topics that we read about in class. Their choices were largely their own, with a little intervention by me or the staff at the Digital Media Center to make sure that they were able to complete the assignment. While learning a largely new skill, I was impressed that they produced videos that were thoughtful and careful when it came to the content. None of them trivialized the violence – whether real or fictional. There was a weight to the bloodshed, and that was the initial goal. The resulting videos were still clearly limited in terms of editing and production, but it was exciting and fun. I could go on about the results, but why not just watch a few of the videos and see for yourself?


screenshot of student video about apartheid and invictus














Syrian Children PTSD and the Hunger Games

Video Syrian Children and Hunger Games

It is hard to do something new and to give students freedom in creating something that is well outside a standard end-of-term paper. It was rewarding, though. I learned a lot from this assignment, from some new technical skills, to a better view of how students work in groups, to how powerful images are in this generation’s daily life. Students were similarly uncomfortable with the task initially, but grew to the challenge. Moreover, they had fun and were able to apply course materials to a medium that they would never touch. They became “creators” and that alone justifies this exercise.

Written by: Kate Tennis, Korbel School of International Studies

Photo of Kate Tennis

Photo of Kate Tennis

In International Relations and many related disciplines, we pride ourselves in producing strong writers. Most of our upper-level courses require students to produce long papers. While students learn a lot, it is difficult for them to showcase their work; in today’s crowded information environment, few people have the time or patience to read lengthy writing.

I didn’t want to lose the benefits of learning to write these longer papers, as I believe that the research, analysis, and writing skills are invaluable. However, I wanted to help students transform what they learned into a format that was more succinct and digestible—a portfolio piece that they could share with potential employers, colleagues, and even friends and family.

To meet these goals, I decided to try “One New Thing” in a 3000-level course on Current Issues in Human Security. The final project I assigned for the course was a 10-15-minute podcast, produced in small groups. But these podcasts were grounded in research that students conducted individually and presented as a traditional writing assignment in Week 8.

Students submitted a research plans in Week 3, dividing themselves into 2-3-person groups and describing how each member’s individual research project would help them collectively explore a single facet of human security in their final podcast. I then had a number of smaller assignments throughout the quarter where they were required to develop specific portions of their individual or group work.

I do not have a background in audio production, so benefited enormously from the support of the Office of Teaching and Learning and the Digital Media Center. Specifically, Rich Path in the Office of Teaching and Learning generously took time to teach me about me about recording and editing software, and provided an in-class recording demo. And Anna Winter at the Digital Media Center taught a fantastic workshop, introducing my students to audio editing in Audacity. Huge thanks to both of them.

How did it go?

Overall, the podcasts were very successful. The students brought a wealth of content from their individual research papers, and were excited about presenting this information in an acoustically compelling and interesting way. I devoted the last two class periods to “listening parties” where we played the podcasts and used them to generate conversations and Q&A for the groups about the topics that they studied. This gave students the opportunity to take ownership of their knowledge and recognize themselves as experts in their topical areas.

What lessons have I taken away from this process?

Most importantly, I loved watching students merge their individual and group work—but this required more support and planning than I had expected. While some groups had little trouble finding like-minded group-members and envisioning the links between their projects, some groups had less obvious affinity between their interests, and I played a larger role in helping them structure their collaborations.

Second, the idea of combining a longer traditional writing assignment with a shorter portfolio piece is one that I plan to carry into all of my future courses—it was hugely successful. But not all students were equally motivated by the audio format. Podcasts are currently a booming medium—leading to a “rebirth” or “second golden age” of radio. Indeed, many of our course “readings” were in the form of podcasts. So most students were excited to work in this format, but I got feedback from a couple who would have preferred to have had an alternative medium as an option.

University College’s (UCOL) Michelle Kruse-Crocker applied for a One New Thing mini grant to review the articles and textbooks for their two main research courses. Staff and instructors worked together to update the readings to reflect more diversity and inclusion. This blog post summarizes the process and outcomes of the project.

1. What were you trying to change or solve?
The two main University College research courses -4905 and 4910- contain a variety of articles and textbooks used to deliver information about types of research and social science methods exploration. The Research Practices and Applications course was taught using an outdated text that contained some publisher constraints. In addition, prior student evaluation feedback indicated and that text did not contain a diversity or inclusivity focus. Allison O’Grady, University College Senior Instructional Support Specialist, collected course evaluations from 16 sections of the research courses that allowed for a view of the quantitative and qualitative data about teaching materials and readings to help inform our discussions about new material choices. Results indicated that students were not completely displeased with the current readings, but no mention of diversity or inclusion appeared as a highlight or important factor related to the readings, although that is a goal within our unit. Therefore, we were at a crossroads of needing a new text and seeking an opportunity to select new course materials from a more inclusive and diversity-focused lens.

The goal: Determine feasibility for faculty and the program director to make changes to the reading materials for University College’s two main research courses that enrich the students’ exposure to diversity of thought, various population samples, and authors’ backgrounds.

The following were the operational definitions paraphrased from the Association of American Colleges & Universities, which helped to focus the reading group.

  • Diversity – Individual differences and group/social differences.
  • Inclusion – The active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity in ways that increase awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathetic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions (AAC&U, 2017).

2. What did you do?

Articles were selected by our group (all readers are Master Teachers at University College). Each article was selected for one or more of the following items: the author’s diversity, the sample diversity, or the diversity of the professional fields represented that reflect those that our students are engaged with studying while at University College. All articles were read by the group and examined through a Diversity and Inclusion in Course Readings Rubric, developed for Research Practices and Applications (4910) by Valentina Iturbe-LaGrave, Assistant Director for Inclusive Teaching Practices at the OTL. The rubric served as an inquiry tool for categorization of the authors or reading by the following criteria: Race, Gender Social Class, and Sexual Orientation. Our UCOL program assistant, Genna Madic, conducted research about each article’s authors to determine what form of diversity they represent in terms of demographics and divergent thought. We created a chart to track different aspects that contribute to author’s diversity – knowing these were surface level based assumptions to some degree. All readers were provided with the readings’ authors’ information. A determination of whether a reading or course material content met the rubric criteria led to the addition or subtraction of the reading from our reserve of potential course materials. This process was challenging and led to much discussion about meaning and intent of the project and if the readings aligned with the overall course outcomes. However, we did decide that the readings chosen can easily be incorporated into curricula because they included research conduct, the role of IRB and ethical boards, and how to recognize and evaluate ethical situations in practice as they relate to author diversity, sample diversity or inclusion, and diversity of thought.

3. How did it go, and what did you learn?
In the end, new readings were found and selected to add to the research courses to help foster a variety of ideas and inputs for students to gain exposure to diversity of thought, various population samples, and authors’ backgrounds. However, the difficulty for all readers was the application of the rubric. The readers felt it did not fit our exact purpose nor was it clear to each reader how to interpret different criteria. Based on readers’ feedback and not the rubric, they felt that the end result was a set of articles that truly did “increase awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathetic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions” (AAC&U, 2017).

When we started this evaluation process, we thought it would take only a matter of two to four weeks. However, it took much longer due to the back and forth discussions about interpretation of rubric language. We did find that when embarking on updating and changing readings for this class or others in University College the issue of diversity and inclusion has now been raised to the fore. This is a worthy exercise to complete for any course.


NOTE:  We are temporarily pausing the OneNewThing mini-grant program while we explore the impact and reach of our funding programs.  In the meantime, feel free to reach out to us at the OTL ( if you would like to brainstorm new ideas for your teaching practice.

Do you have an idea for “OneNewThing” to improve your students’ learning experience?

Students working on class project

OTL’s mini-grants program, OneNewThing (ONT), is designed to help you explore ways to make your classes even better – one strategy, tool, or activity at a time.

How it works:

  1. Submit the application form below to set up an initial meeting to discuss your potential OneNewThing.
  2. If your project is accepted, an OTL liaison will work with you on designing and implementing the activity.
  3. After you’ve tried out your OneNewThing in one or more classes, we’ll ask you to share what you’ve learned with other DU faculty.
  4. Bonus: We then recognize your efforts with a $500 stipend!

Your project should be:

  • A new-to-you technology, teaching method, or assessment activity;
  • Reasonably expected to improve learning;
  • Developed collaboratively with OTL; and
  • Focused and doable within one academic term.

Questions to consider:

As you ponder the OneNewThing you’d like to implement, consider the following questions.

  • What are you trying to change? Or, what problem are you trying to solve?
  • What do you propose to do?
  • How do you think this change will make a positive impact on your course?

OneNewThing Application

OTL funds a limited number of grants each quarter. All full-time DU faculty are eligible to apply; adjunct faculty and graduate teaching assistants will be asked for a letter of support from the appropriate department chair, dean or associate dean. ONT proposals should be submitted at least 30 days prior to the term in which the ONT project will be implemented.

Share your “OneNewThing” Experience

We will be excited to learn from your experiences as you enhance your courses! There are a variety of options for sharing your OneNewThing project with other DU faculty, including (but not limited to) creating a video, delivering a presentation, or writing a blog post for the OTL website. Be sure to view the OneNewThing Archive for examples of past projects. Regardless of which method you choose, we ask that you address the following questions when sharing your project:

  1. What were you trying to change or solve? Identify the aspect of teaching and/or learning that you were attempting to improve or the challenge you were attempting to address by implementing your project.
  2. What did you do? Briefly explain your technique/strategy/idea/tool/activity. Include a description of what the students did differently (for example; how they interacted with you, each other, and/or the learning environment) and your role.
  3. How did it go, and what did you learn? Describe how the students responded, what learning improvements you see or can infer, the aspects of the method that were most difficult or surprising, and the potential challenges that others might face. What advice would you give to someone and/or what would you do differently next time?

Contact your OTL liaison when you are ready to discuss how you would like to share your OneNewThing project.

What OneNewThing are you (and your students) ready for?

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