A typical response to what I do for a living suggests some of the advantages of teaching film and media studies, but it also elides its difficulties: "You teach film? Cool." As a relatively new field in the academy, film still enjoys a "hip" factor, which can be a double-edged sword. Students may register for an Introduction to Motion Pictures course expecting to watch movies all semester long, i.e. they expect an easy credit. In spite of an obviously academic setting, the reality of analyzing film in a scholarly way can be a fairly dysphoric experience if one's previous exposure to the medium has been limited to relatively frivolous entertainment. Part of the challenge of teaching film studies is addressing preconceptions about the discipline. I am continuously on the lookout for new ways to tap into the students's "natural" enthusiasm for movies, to use this positive predisposition in order to develop a sense of curiosity about the medium, about how it creates meaning and transmits values and beliefs.
Part of my role as a teacher is to identify students' needs in order to tailor my teaching methods and make the course content relevant. I think it is important to acknowledge the diversity of learners and learning contexts. The number of students in any given class, their academic goals (majors, non-majors), learning styles (kinesthetic, visual, auditory) and the students' personal backgrounds (class, gender, ethic origin, language, disabilities...) are issues that need to be adressed in order to be an effective teacher. A useful exercise is to "walk a mile in their shoes," at least as a thought experiment, since teachers' own experience as former students can be of limited value. I see learning as a lifelong goal of discovery: finding out who we are, what we're interested in, and how we can make contributions to the world we live in, thus enriching our own lives in the process. One of the main qualities of a learner is curiosity, keeping an open-mind to new ideas and the teacher's responsibility is to nurture that curiosity.
Since the students' ability to engage with the world in a mature and critical way upon graduation is one of the goals of a successful education, it follows that an ideal teaching environment is one which is less centered on the teacher as a transmitter of knowledge, and more on the development of the students' own learning process. I therefore see teaching as a form of stage management: creating an environment which facilitates intellectual growth, by encouraging students to actively participate in their own learning. The teacher may start with what the students are familiar with, and then guide them into exploring related issues of interest with a hands-on project which may involve a group of people, while learning critical skills and research methodology in the process. Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick once said that "interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear [of getting failing grades, etc...] as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker." Not everyone is equally motivated, but the teacher's job should be to get students excited about a given topic, give them the tools to study that interest in a scholarly fashion while at the same time leave plenty of room for them to show some initiative.
Perhaps the most important aspect of teaching as a form of stage management concerns the relationship between students and teachers. It may seem self-evident that this relationship should be based on mutual trust and respect, but it isn't always easy to earn them when one considers that students' learning goals may very well conflict with the teacher's ideas about what the students should be aiming for. Furthermore, some students may only attend infrequently and not give themselves an opportunity to build a relationship with the teacher. It is therefore crucial in my view to set the stage on day one by establishing ground rules in a more didactic way for introductory courses and expect a more mature
Student/Teacher relationship in senior courses. In all cases, I see the teacher as a facilitator for the students' learning who is friendly without being a buddy, who is approachable but also challenges the students to work hard, and is fair in assessing and grading the students' work. Studies have shown that students recognize the difference between an entertaining class and one in which learning is achieved. Ideally, the teacher should not aim to win a popularity contest (for the sake of obtaining good evaluations), but rather build a stimulating rapport with the class which makes for a positive and effective learning experience.
In keeping with the focus on student-based learning, my goal as a teacher is to employ teaching methods which enhance student participation. While lecturing should be kept to a minimum, it remains one of the key ways of conveying information, so it is crucial to work on technique: pitch and inflection, pauses, body language, story form, stimulating questions, enthusiasm, etc... I have also found it useful to use a variety of audio-visual aids such as slides, Powerpoint presentations, props, audio and video clips. Otherwise, implementing various kinds of interactive in-class exercises should be pursued: pairing-up, discussion groups, creative exercises, etc... This is particularly important in large classes where students can hide, sleep or become otherwise disinterested. One of the main features of media studies classes is film screenings, and I have found it very helpful in the introductory course to give the students small viewing assignments and interrupt the film every fifteen minutes in order to discuss the issues. In the future, the problem-based learning (PBL) approach is one which I plan to develop for group assignments. Outside class, the online WebCT resource has been helpful in providing students with weekly class outlines, a glossary, studying tips, and confidential access to their marks.
My teaching values stem from the idea that it is possible to learn from a communication medium such as film and video by analyzing it as a social scientist. I do not subscribe to the traditional school of normative aesthetics that sees film exclusively as an artform with a firmly established canon of works that functions essentially as an axiology, akin to a religious belief system. Evaluation is an integral part of the artistic institution, which can be analyzed scientifically along with its historical, economic, psychological, sociological, and semiotic dimensions. Therefore, I consider that my main goal as an educator is to aid students in developing critical, analytical skills, not to encourage them to adopt specific moral or political positions other than a scientific one. This is particularly important in the Department of Media Production and Studies, as the vast majority of students are film production majors, pursuing a Fine Arts degree. Their main focus is to produce films, and to implement a number of aesthetic ideas concerning good form. Consequently, a non-evaluative approach is fairly alien to them, but it is crucial to their education, as well as an important part of an academic degree, as opposed to a certificate from a technical/trade school. My responsibility in leading the film students through the strictly academic side of their degree is not simply to soften the sense of obligation they feel in taking studies courses, or to suggest that studies classes will help them make better films. Rather, the course goals and assignments should bring the students to realize the importance and relevance of film history and theory to their education, and that media studies is indeed "cool".
I believe that learning to teach is a lifelong process. I see my teaching philosophy as an ideal that I will develop and endeavor to implement for many years to come.
Back to Home Page