Some professors treat themselves to a night on the town when they earn tenured faculty status. Dr. David Torbett celebrated his accomplishment by creating a funny teaching aid video about Henry VIII.
Since that first video in 2012, Torbett, who is the Israel Ward Andrews Professor of Religion, has created a total of three history-based videos that he uses in various classes to tackle difficult topics. The short parodies, which are on YouTube, are being used around the world.
“Henry VIII Rocks and Rolls has more than 2,000 views,” Torbett says. “The most popular one is the Lay Investiture Swings; it has over 6,000, which is not viral. But it means there are a lot of people watching it. I know that some teachers have used it in the classroom and I have a feeling that a lot of students watch because the views are mostly during the school year. And I think the comments on it indicate that they are either teachers or students, often studying world history in high school.”
One of the videos has been watched in 79 different countries, with most of the views happening during the school year.
Torbett sang the lead and played acoustic, electric and bass guitars in the videos. His son, Thomas, a rising junior at the College of Wooster, played the marimba on all three. His wife, Jill, sings harmony on two of the three clips. His daughter, Nora, has made her own videos and plays the piano, but didn’t record on her father’s tracks.
Biochemistry major Rachel Stahl ’17 took Torbett’s history class to fulfill a general education requirement.
“I really liked the songs as a teaching aid because they broke up the lecture-style teaching that most history courses employ, and kept me interested in the topics,” she says. “I thought they were clever and creative; I have a strong background in music, so I can appreciate the effort that went into the songs. I didn’t necessarily use the videos as a study guide, but they gave a summary of the topics in an engaging style to help remember the key concepts.”
Torbett says the videos don’t replace his lectures but they do provide a lighter approach to learning about historical events.
“They are good supplements, and that’s what I wanted them to be. I did it for fun, and that was a big part of the reason. I had the idea. I show it to the students as history can be fun,” he says. “It’s not a substitute for reading, but it reinforces the reading and helps you organize and memorize the facts.”
- Gi smith