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Sunday May 16th

To teach Latin America politics, this UNC professor says PowerPoint won't cut it

Associate Professor Miguel La Serna lectures his HIST 248: Guerrillas and Counterinsurgencies in Latin America class. in Greenlaw Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. La Serna takes an experimental approach to teaching by making use of audio and video technology to immerse his students in the material.
Buy Photos Associate Professor Miguel La Serna lectures his HIST 248: Guerrillas and Counterinsurgencies in Latin America class. in Greenlaw Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. La Serna takes an experimental approach to teaching by making use of audio and video technology to immerse his students in the material.

Though most students are presented information in classes through PowerPoint slides or detailed handouts, one particular history class is innovating the traditional learning experience. 

Miguel La Serna is a professor in the Department of History who specializes in Latin American history. This semester, he teaches HIST 248: Guerrillas and Counterinsurgencies in Latin America. 

“It's designed to be an introduction to covering a lot of the major political turmoil that really rocked the region and the second half of the 20th century,” La Serna said. 

Unlike a more traditional history class, La Serna introduces a unique documentary experience, which includes visual and audio presentations of historical events that have taken place in Latin America. He said he strives to help the non-traditional learner in better understanding global topics discussed within his lectures. 

“We want to reach every student who may not necessarily excel in the traditional lecture format," La Serna said. "The way that we do that is first by bringing this live documentary into the classroom. We’ll never be able to bring the students to that historical period, in that particular place, into that historical actor’s mind. What we’re trying to do, to an extent possible, is bring the history to the students."

La Serna is not alone in the implementation of this new teaching method. He also asked Michael Betts II, a Duke University graduate student and co-curriculum designer of the course, to facilitate and construct the visual learning atmosphere.

“My job is to bring the content of life in a way where we can start to engage different types of learning styles in the room," Betts said. "What happened if we could put you in the middle of a documentary with the experts in the room? What does that feel like? How does that change your experience?" 

For Betts, showing students actual footage of high-profile speeches or revolutions taking place in parts of Latin America influences student perspectives on the global world and its people. With his theater background and pursuit of a master's degree in fine arts, Betts said he plans to do more than just show visuals of historical events. 

“I’m always looking for stories that tell different stories that reinforce the value of a particular community and allow for that community to feel empowered when they read about themselves," Betts said. "I want to make sure that my students are able to have space where they can see the humanity of the people that we’re talking about." 

Parker Daniel, a junior majoring in political science and history, said the class has impacted them a lot because of the manner in which the course material is presented. 

“I am able to pay attention to what (La Serna is) saying a bit better because my head isn’t always down listening," Daniel said. "The figures that we talked about in class definitely feel more real. Taking in the visuals, I feel like I can connect faces with names better."

La Serna said he has found this video and audio learning technique to be beneficial to students’ growth. He plans to continue this teaching method and eventually implement it in other courses. 

“I found that it really engages students, and keeps their interest and gets them wanting to learn more history," La Serna said. "That's ultimately what I hope I can accomplish as a history professor. I do not think it's just about dates and dead people." 

@dakidanthony

university@dailytarheel.com

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