Student Centered Film Class

When she found out that I was up for evaluation this academic year, someone who should have known better commented that I could just photocopy materials from my last evaluation.  After all, she argued, “How much could things have changed in the past five years?”

As part of my last evaluation, I needed to submit materials from one of my courses.  I choose film because I had worked hard to develop a syllabus that incorporated short films as part of the curriculum.  This allowed students to be exposed to many more types of films than in a more traditional course and demonstrated an innovative way focus course content around effective student engagement.  However, were I to simply teach using the same “innovative” approach l today, the course would no longer be as creative or student centered as it was when I was last evaluated.  In fact, by the standards of 2012, there is nothing innovative about what I was doing in my film class five years ago.

Five years ago, the only realistic opportunity to introduce students to short films was for me to purchase anthologies and then select all of the films that were shown in class as we discussed each of the ten elements of film.   At the time, YouTube was only a year old and the videos tended to feature teenage boys doing stupid stuff.  It was not a viable teaching tool.

Today, selecting the films is no longer my responsibility.  Teams of student decide what short films we will watch during most classes.  Then, if time permits, I have the opportunity to show a film I enjoy.

Because I take my teaching responsibilities seriously, it is not possible to simply teach the same way I did five years ago.  That is not something that any good teacher can do.

–Steven L. Berg, PhD

Image caption:  In some ways, my film choices have become regulated to obscure films that students are unlikely to stumble across or, if they do find one, are not likely to watch.  Fernard Leger’s Ballet Mechanique (1924) is a surrealist film that falls into that category.  After I showed one such film at the end of the 2011 Winter semester, a student commented, “I really liked that film even though you picked it out!” The class laughed at his word choice, be we all knew what he meant.