Technology and History Day Contests

Now that computer software is making it easier and easier for people to edit their own movies, I am pleased to see that we are seeing quite an upsurge in documentary entries for History Day!  This is such a great medium, and I admit I just love watching student History Day documentaries.  I couldn’t be more pleased with this new development.

However, I have attended enough History Day competitions in the last two years to notice that the hardware used to show said documentaries just can’t keep up with the software advances.  The result?  Tech issues crop up at even the best planned competitions. 

I have talked to several parents, teachers, judges, coordinators, and students at contest where DVD players couldn’t read the DVD-Rs.  And I must give you all a pre-emptive apology because I know that some of you will encounter similar tech issues at the state contest this year as well.

Of course I do my absolute best to ensure that all of our technology – televisions, VCRs, and DVD players – are in tip-top condition.  However, I can not know ahead of time if my particular brand of DVD player can’t read a student’s particular brand of DVD-R.  Trust me, this stresses me out as much as you, and I am certainly not trying to avoid taking responsibility here.  I and your other contest coordinators do everything in our power to provide the best equipment, but sometimes our efforts just aren’t enough.

Since many of the tech problems result from issues outside of anyone’s control, I want to suggest a few strategies that you may want to consider when presenting at the state contest.

First, I will issue this general disclaimer:  Judges will not penalize an entry if technology issues delay the start of judging.  The only thing the judges care about is seeing the documentary; they don’t care HOW they see the documentary, they just need to see it.  (As a judge, I have watched more than one on a student’s laptop.  And that is fine!) Plus, I only ask the most compassionate and understanding people to be my documentary judges, so you can count on their cooperation if there is a technology meltdown during your judging time. 

Now, on to my suggestions.

1)  Have your documentary in more than one format.  Specifically, see if you can get your project on a VHS tape in addition to your DVD.  Yes, I know that VHS technology has gone the way of the dinosaur, but you can’t argue that it isn’t reliable.  What works in one VCR will undoubtedly work in another.  And NHD mandates that contests provide VCRs for all documentary judging rooms, so you know they will be there.

2) Bring your own equipment.  If you have a DVD player that you know works with your documentary, bring it.  You have 5 minutes at the start of the judging time to set up your equipment and test it, make sure that the sound is at the right level, etc.  Judges will be busy reading your process paper and bibliography, so you don’t have to worry about them.  I have even seen students roll in a cart complete with a laptop, speakers, and LCD projector from which showed their project on the judging room wall.  I am not saying you have to go that far with your equipment, but at least the technology was one less thing the students had to worry about.  Mostly I have seen students bring their own laptop from which they can show their project if all else fails. 

Again, I make these suggestions only to help alleviate any stress you may have about the technology at the contest.  Also, the contest rule book does suggest that students bring in their own technology for computer entries for these exact reasons. (See Documentary Rule #8).  And again, I will do everything in my power to provide quality televisions, DVD players, and VCRS (which I should say do work for most of the entries at the contest), but it can’t hurt to be extra prepared.

Good luck, and we’ll see you in May!

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