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Special Collections & Archives Research Guide

Learn how to access, use and experiment with primary resources in the learning laboratory!

Teaching with Archives and Primary Sources

Why Teach with Special Collections & University Archives?

Studies have shown that bringing students to the archives has a positive effect on student engagement, performance, and, in some cases, student retention. Teaching with archives improves student engagement and performance through high-impact educational practices advocated by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). 

Our Teaching Philosophy

  1. Define specific learning objectives for the visit to the archives
  2. Thoughtfully select documents from the collection (the fewer the better)
  3. Design customized, small-group activities to facilitate active learning
  4. Model document analysis through directed, specific prompts

Request an Instruction Session

We welcome opportunities to teach and co-teach sessions on archival literacy using primary-sources. We are also happy to work with you on designing class projects, identifying collections, and making archival research approachable and engaging for students! Contact us to arrange a consultation or brainstorming session.

Examples of Class Sessions & Active Learning Activities

Examples of Active Learning Exercises 

  1. Document Analysis Activity( (can be applied to any of our physical or digital collections

    • 15 Minutes: Introduction to what an archive is, how it operates, and how researchers interact with the material.

    • 30 Minutes: Digital document stations exercise- split the class into groups and give each group their selected documents. Students analyze the documents and discuss them in their group. Worksheets are provided to facilitate discussion. Each group prepares a brief summary of their findings to share with the rest of the class during the wrap up. 

    • 30 Minutes: Wrap up- gather students back together and give each group time to report back on their findings. Instructor highlights the takeaways and segue to the next group. After the reports, spend 10 minutes in class discussion

  2. Digital Video Analysis Activity Example:

    • Topics: Bioethics, Public Health, Women's History, Media Studies, English/writing
    • Students use the Florence Crittenton Home Collection to investigate issues related to the history of reproductive rights, cultural attitudes toward women, and bioethics in Norfolk Virginia.
      • 10 minutes: Standard introduction
      • 20 minutes: Discussion about the Crittenton Home and the ethical principles and laws regarding medical records in the collection, including requests from children and mothers affiliated with the Crittenton Home.
      • 30 minutes: The class splits into groups and views the WTAR/WTKR historical news footage of the Crittenton Home and discusses the footage in their group. A worksheet with custom prompts will be provided based on the course.
      • 30 Minutes: Wrap up- gather students back together and give each group 3 minutes to report back on their findings. Instructor highlights the takeaways and segue to the next group. After the reports, spend 10 minutes in class discussions. 
      • Final assignment could include a research paper, creative writing exercise, documentary, etc.

Course Assignments & Research Projects

Archival research is critical to a variety of academic disciplines. For examples of research papers and projects using ODU's Special Collections and University Archives, see the How to Use Primary Sources and Archives in Your Research Guide.

You can also learn more about engaging students with archives online at the following websites:

  • Teach with Stuff:  this site is intended to be a clearinghouse for info on opportunities like unconferences, workshops, Twitter chats, and meetings of library, archives, and museum professionals to learn more about teaching with collection materials.
  • TeachArchives.Org: Based on an award-winning project at Brooklyn Historical Society, shares our teaching philosophy and findings with a global audience of instructors, administrators, librarians, archivists, and museum educators. Use this site to teach students ranging from middle school to graduate school.
  • Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy: (PDF – Links to an external source and may not be accessible) These guidelines articulate the range of knowledge, skills, and abilities required to effectively use primary sources. While the primary audience for this document is librarians, archivists, teaching faculty, and others working with college and university students, the guidelines have been written to be sufficiently flexible for use in K-12 and in general public settings as well.
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