OCR History A Level History: Democracy and Dictatorship in Germany 1919-63


By Barbara Hibbert, published 11th February 2009

Professor Mary Fulbrook and David Williamson with Nick Fellows and Mike Wells

Review by Barbara Hibbert

This resource is one of a series produced by Heinemann to support the new OCR History A AS course.  It claims that it ‘exactly reflects the key issues and skills in the specification topics'.  Many teachers will leap at the prospect of a resource which seems to offer clear help and guidance on what, exactly, needs to be taught, but I have always had reservations about these so-called ‘badged' books which I see as having the potential to deskill teachers and lead students to believe that History is a subject with a closed set of knowledge.   One of my concerns is what happens to such students when they arrive university and are no longer told precisely what to read, and are not guided to appropriate conclusions.  Nevertheless this particular resource has many strengths, not least of which is putting twentieth century German history into a wider context than simply that of Hitler and the Nazis. 

There are two parts to the resource for students: a traditional textbook and an interactive ‘exam-café' CD-ROM.  For teachers there is also a ring bound ‘Planning and Delivery Resource' and a CD-ROM which can be used on a VLE. 

The student book is focused around a series of key questions and has a good lay-out which is clearly focused on the specification.  There are useful boxes on the pages, defining terms and giving biographies of key participants.  The content is generally detailed, well-written and accessible for students.  The illustrations, including a series of helpful maps which show how Germany's borders change over the period, are well-chosen and enhance the text.  My reservation about this type of resource is that the best students need to be introduced to something more, particularly to the writings of historians in more than bite-sized chunks.  Nevertheless this is an excellent introduction and overview for the average student, as long as the best students are not led to believe that this is all that there is to studying History. 

The interactive ‘exam-café' CD-Rom is designed to help students prepare for exams.  While parts  are banal, there are useful links, for example to the exam board specification, specimen papers, lists of articles in sixth form journals such as Modern History Review and History Review,  useful web links (although I could not make these work on the CD-ROM I had) and so on.  I think the question to ask about the CD-ROM is what use most students would make of it without very specific guidance from their teacher.  It might well provide reassurance for some students, but lead others to become confused and unsure.  Nevertheless most should find the revision quizzes and checklists helpful, although whether the presentation in the form of a ‘café' makes them feel that the resource has youth appeal or is patronising is a moot point. 

The ringbound teachers' guide is more useful than many of its kind.  It provides a clear guide to the specifications covered and does not claim to be all that is needed for good teaching.  Any teacher unfamiliar with the period or teaching it for the first time would receive lots of reassurance and some good ideas for presenting the material to their students.  There are also pointers to further material which could be used in the teachers' CD-ROM, and there are some useful worksheets which could be used either as they stand, or adapted as desired. 

Overall this is a useful resource and of higher quality than most that I have come across of this type.  My reservations are about whether teachers adopt it wholesale or regard it as a starting point to be supplemented with other resources.  I also have some technical reservations in that I did not find the CD-ROMs very easy to install or navigate, which seems to have been a problem with the publishers rather than with my technology.  It is a resource which I would seriously consider using if I were looking to re-equip a sixth form class and I hope that the rest of the series matches its high quality.

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