I’ve been thinking over the last couple of days about how I might be able to contribute to this month’s Teaching Carnival. Like Mel, I think George has asked some excellent questions, and because I’ve just started a new teaching gig here at Fayetteville State, I’m most interested right now in thinking about what I’ll be doing differently this year. I addressed this question in passing a few weeks ago when I discussed my plans for my freshman composition classes this fall, but I haven’t really discussed my other course, Introduction to Film and Visual Literacy, in much detail.
Right now, I’m teaching the course as a variant of the Introduction to Film courses that I’ve taught at Purdue, Illinois, and Georgia Tech. Like an Introduction to literature course, the intro class requires a lot of juggling, introducing students to the formal language of film study (close-up, low-key lighting), to film genres and histories, and to the basics of film theory (the male gaze, etc). And because I’m interested in how social and technological forces affect our experience of moviegoing, I’ve decided to teach the Intro course using Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White’s The Film Experience, but in general, like Chris at Dr. Mabuse, I’ve been thinking about what the Introduction to Film texts and courses–including some specific classroom practices–say about our discipline, and I’ve been specifically trying to address this question as it relates to my position withing Fayetteville State’s student population.
One of the challenegs I’ve faced so far is the lack of a recent institutional history of teaching an Introduction to Film course, which means that I’ve had to scramble a bit more than usual to organize screenings of the films that we’ll be discussing in class. At the same time, the relatively small class size (15-17 students) and the number of students who work or live off-campus have translated into screenings attended by only a few students each night. In the past, one of the pedagogical goals of the screenings was the hope that it would model for students the colllective experience of moviegoing. Now, if my course proves to be popular, these numbers may change, making it more productive to schedule class screenings, but given the challenges of setting up these screenings, I’m wondering if my students will be served just as well watching the films independently, either by placing them on reserve in the media center or by allowing them to track down movies on their own. But this experience has also alerted me to the fact that the Intro course practice of scheduling required movie screenings may in fact be the result of a technological history in which many of the films would be shown on film rather than on DVD.
The second question I’m confronting is related to these technological issues and is also implied in the official title of the course, Film and Visual Literacy. As I put together this semester’s class, I found myself becoming acutely aware of the degree to which the Intro course should perhaps be more honestly described as an “Introduction to Classical Hollywood Cinema” course emphasizing film’s status as an art, a bias resulting in part from the need to justify the cinema as worthy of study. And this question draws from my own interests in new media studies. Should a course introducing students to the discipline of film studies today spend a week looking at videos on YouTube? At home movies? At industrial or pedagogical films such as those found in the Prelinger Archives? These questions might be more relevant at a university such as Fayetteville State where I’m not involved in the task of preparing students for a film major because there won’t be other opportunities for me to present such alternative film practices to my students. The most recent film that I teach right now is Run Lola Run, a movie I love, but I can’t help but think that my Intro course, as it stands right now, needs to be updated for the new ways in which we watch and engage with motion pictures of all kinds.
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