The issue of copyright is a big one for film and media studies instructors because the primary objects that we deal with are copyright protected. This makes simple tasks like putting your lectures online challenging. A couple of semesters ago, I decided that I would compile my lecture clips for my Introduction to Film class so that my students could refresh their memories when preparing for the midterm and final exams. I figured that Emory must have a way for me to do this easily…well, it’s not so easy because the files are huge and because they have to be behind a password-protected “wall” so that they remain accessible only to my students (similar to Course Reserves). Eventually, I was introduced to Echo360, which is a software system designed to capture live lectures or Skype calls and not intended for this purpose at all. Thankfully, it works, and I am lucky to to be able to stream my clips through Blackboard every semester. While compiling them is a lot of work (I tend to change my choice of films from semester to semester because I am a masochist), I prefer to do it this way instead of having my students find clips on YouTube for two reasons. First, because I have control over the timing of the clip, i.e. when it ends and begins and its quality, and most importantly for the purposes of this discussion, it falls under fair use whereas clips on YouTube are in violation of copyright law. This is so important that our academic organization, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies has a fair use statement on its website to clarify that The Library of Congress “created an exemption allowing film and media studies professors to create digital clips from legally-obtained DVDs housed in college and university libraries.”
I try to use a combination of traditional and authentic assessment strategies in all of my classes. I have found that students really enjoy and appreciate authentic assessments but seem to “need” traditional assessment in order to feel comfortable in a class. In Introduction to Film, I always incorporate analytical writing and test-taking. It is important that students come out of the class knowing certain terms so that they can speak with authority when moving on to other classes in the department. However, to my mind, the most important skill that I can teach them is how to take their gut response to a film—how they might normally talk about it to a friend—and use appropriate terminology to develop an analytical argument about it, rather than generate a thumbs up or down “review.” To me, this is an important kind of “authentic assessment” in that it teaches them how to turn a feeling or opinion into writing that is more thoughtful and objective. This skill set is useful not just when they write about film but when responding to any situation or art form.
The Visual Assignment in my film noir class is another type of authentic assessment. I believe that this assignment is one of the strengths of the course and students have really enjoyed it when I have taught it in the past. Here I ask students to create their own noir images that are inspired by a hardboiled detective novel by Raymond Chandler (one of the few that hasn’t already been made into a film). Students are asked to not just describe what noir style looks like but actually create it themselves and then write about why they made the creative choices they did. This is excellent practice for students who aspire to do visual work in the future but also for those who don’t. Every young person today uses visual media in some way and the assignment forces them to hone skills that they will use in their personal and professional lives, whether it be composing an Instagram picture or creating a Powerpoint presentation for a business meeting. The assignment is not about how “good” the images are but about facilitating the process of understanding and analyzing images which is integral to the success of any media literacy program.
I am always looking to improve my traditional assessment, specifically my test writing as I am very resistant to testing just for the sake of testing. As previously noted, I think it’s important for students to have a knowledge base when they leave my classes. However, I strive to make my tests as analytical as possible and not about memorizing facts that they will just forget once the semester is over.
My sense so far is that the amount of authoring that goes into an online course is both challenging and liberating. I see it as challenging because there is so much work that you need to do before the class even begins but liberating because once the framework is set up, you can just focus on filling in the blanks and the template can remain consistent every time that you teach it. I thought that this discussion was a very interesting and informative part of the “Effective Workload Management” piece assigned for this week. I have gone through a similar though not identical process when using blogs as teaching tools in the past. The initial preparation of the blog and all of its many components takes a lot of time but once it is set up, the execution of blog-related assignments is a breeze. Of course, I imagine that there will be many more hiccups in the online course since everything will be technology-driven but hopefully with a lot of fine-tuning and patience, the first time around will be at least a notch above total disaster (just kidding, it will be great)! Even traditional film and media studies classes are very technology-driven so I have learned the hard way that something can always go wrong and to try to always have a backup plan in place!
While I am still a bit overwhelmed by all of the different types of technology we are using in this class, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to use VoiceThread (once I got it working on my computer, that is). One of the aspects of online education that has always turned me off is that you aren’t in the physical presence of your classmates and can’t build a chemistry as a group. VoiceThread and Adobe Connect don’t solve the problem entirely but I like how both programs allow for you to see the faces and hear the voices of those in your group. It helps build that sense of community and trust that is so essential for a productive classroom experience. I think that I would use both in my class. VoiceThread would be particularly useful for having students watch and respond to film clips.