Animated films to prepare for real-life teaching structure

Prof. Dr. Katrin Hahn-Laudenberg on the NRW-wide LArS project

A teacher is a person who educates others in a field in which he or she is in advance with regard to skill, knowledge or experience. Sounds so simple, but it is not. The task of teachers is far more extensive and new, helpful formats are constantly being found in training that can support future educators in the school service.
Prof. Dr. Katrin Hahn-Laudenberg, a social scientist from Wuppertal, is also involved in a special, state-wide new project. It is about animated films in teacher training for social science teachers.

How is an opinion formed?

"Prospective social science teachers have to prepare themselves for their role as future teachers," Hahn-Laudenberg says, "and the task is to learn how to prepare students for their active role as citizens. And to support them in shaping democracy and society. In concrete terms, this means that pupils learn to reflect on their values and interests and find a position from which they can help shape democratic society and influence political decisions as politically and socially mature citizens. First of all, the teachers' assistance consists of conveying the basics of opinion formation. "We assume that students need a basic understanding of political, societal and social processes and structures in order to develop their own opinions," the scientist explains. Then, building on that, they can develop a capacity for judgement and action. Abstract discussions about the structure of the Bundestag or the function of the economic system are not very helpful. "Teachers work best with very concrete questions about specific cases in class, conflicts or real, future challenging situations. These are situations in which students could find themselves at present or in the future. These are then outlined in class and discussed controversially in order to look for possibilities or legitimate positions.
"This happens in a playful way. You either represent your own position in small groups, or you take a given position, for example the opponent's position," she explains the procedure. A preparatory information phase is particularly important. "Students gather information, evaluate how credible it is, so that their own opinion is not just said, but is also based on arguments that allow a judgement. This must be based on factual aspects, but also on conscious value decisions.

The LArS project in NRW

A new project calles LArS.NRW is established to make teaching more controversial and to allow students to make more reflective judgements. The project aims at professionalising future academics through animated films. LArS.NRW is a joint project funded by the Ministry of Culture and Science. The project is implemented in close cooperation between the partners and their teams. It takes place under the overall project management of the Universities of Dortmund, Duisburg-Essen and the University of Wuppertal. Described as 'Learning with animated films of real scenes of social science subjects: a digital teaching/learning offer for the professionalisation of future teachers', the project offers a new, unusual approach to learning. "The idea is that we select certain key scenes from an existing pool of authentic classroom videos and the transcripts created from them. We convert them into animated films, which are then used again in specific teaching and learning contexts," Hahn-Laudenberg says. In the process, the participating universities are examining various focal points such as teaching entrances, judgement phases and critical incidents. They also work together with the Higher Education Association Digital University NRW and the team behind the state portal ORCA.NRW with regard to the various legal issues that arise from the free, also non-university publication of LArS materials. "We are responsible for 'critical incidents' at the University of Wuppertal," she explains, "and the first step is to look for key scenes of critical incidents in the material, i.e. places where the lesson is particularly likely to succeed but also to tip over." These meaningful scenes are then transcribed, turned into a storyboard and set to music in the studio of the Centre for Information and Media Processing at the University of Wuppertal (ZIM). "The animation is then created on this basis. These are then fictional characters that are drawn. This then results in an animated film through the combination of sound and images," Hahn-Laudenberg says. The didactic aspect plays an essential role in the constant exchange between scientists and the film team. "Afterwards, it is important that we have animated characters that show a real situation."

We have no comparable materials in the didactics of social sciences

Teaching institutes need illustrative material to make real situations in teaching comprehensible, but this is not always easy. Certainly, data protection is only one aspect that makes it difficult to obtain such freely accessible documents, especially in the social sciences. "In terms of videos, I think it is a good option. Particularly in the didactics of social sciences, we do not have any comparable materials and especially no freely accessible ones," the researcher confirms. In addition, animated films can also be used to reduce material content to essential points, to direct perception to certain didactic issues and thus to better align the focus.

LUiSA meets LArS

But the animated films created for the LArS project are just the beginning. Hahn-Laudenberg is already working on the development of a storyboard app called LUiSA. This happens together with the LArS team and Heike Seehagen-Marx from the ZIM media lab. LUiSA will also be further developed beyond the LArS learning environment and will enable students and teachers in teacher training programmes to quickly and intuitively depict classroom scenes. Student teachers should be able to use it to develop short comic-like sequences of picture stories. This should enable a visually supported exchange about typical and challenging action situations in the classroom. They thus should promote the development of professional competences. Here is an example: "If you now have a certain teaching scene, i.e. a 'fishbowl discussion', (method of leading a discussion in large groups, which takes its name from the seating arrangement. It resembles a goldfish bowl around which the participants sit in a circle, editor's note) where some pupils discuss in the middle and others sit around them observing. They then can also change positions from time to time and the discussion may not be so constructive. Or there are students who make populist statements that are perhaps problematic. Then there is always the question of how the teacher behaves, whether and in what form he or she intervenes." Hahn-Laudenberg emphasises that there is no right solution. But there are always alternatives with certain advantages and disadvantages. This is where the new app comes into play. "The app is planned in such a way in which we can change scenes that we have depicted in LArS, or create completely new situations."

Animated films could create connection

When asked who else could benefit from these films, the social scientist answers: "Basically, these teaching scenes have been selected for social science teaching in the three modules mentioned. I believe that the module on teaching entrances fits very well into neighbouring subjects such as history and geography. The questions of judgement would also be usable in diverse subjects. The area of Critical Incidents, for which we are responsible, lends itself not only to a single subject perspective, but also to a general educational science or democracy education perspective. These are questions that are relevant in quite a lot of subjects."
Working with LArS and LUiSA in the classroom offers two different approaches that bring a new quality to teaching.
"Practically, you bring a designed teaching scene into the classroom to discuss it with the students," she explains, "or you let the students create such situations themselves when reflecting on practical experience."

The animated films are another building block in teacher training and stimulate reflection on typical teaching situations, Hahn-Laudenberg sums up. But they are no substitute for practical experience, which prospective teachers still urgently need.

Uwe Blass (Interview on May 25, 2021)

Dr. Katrin Hahn-Laudenberg studied Political Science, Sociology and Public Law/International Law at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University in Bonn and received her PhD in Karlsruhe in 2016. Since 2018, she has been teaching "Didactics of Social Sciences" as an associate professor at the University of Wuppertal.

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