Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Films in Class?

I was just talking to a colleague who tends to show a lot of films to his philosophy classes.  I guess this would be appropriate were one teaching a course in aesthetics or philosophy of film.  But I've never really understood the point otherwise.  In fact, showing films just strikes me as a waste of everyone's time.  At worst, it's a way for professors to eat up class time.  Does anyone out there have a good defense of the pedagogical value of showing classes (again, other than classes about film) films?  What can showing a film achieve that couldn't be achieved with a good lecture or class discussion?

27 comments:

PA said...

It's a good way to eat up cl... oh, you think this is a bad reason to shows films in class.

Anonymous said...

Well, depending on the students, it can get them excited about a topic they otherwise might not. I teach ethics courses at a community college, and one semester I showed them the documentary Lake of Fire about abortion. Discussion was better, the students seemed more likely to have read the articles I gave them, and papers were better.

Also, in my intro course, showing them about 15 minutes of The Matrix (where Neo learns that his world has been a simulation) is a good way to get them excited about skepticism.

Anonymous said...

They can be incredibly valuable in informal logic classes. Thank You For Smoking, for instance, is an excellent tool. It gives students to practice identify fallacies, while also being entertaining.

For introductory lectures on God, I've found the film God On Trial to be useful. It's about a group of Auschwitz prisoners who.. well.. put God on trial. It goes over most of the standard moves related to the argument from evil, which makes it valuable.

I also agree that movies can be incredibly valuable tools in ethics classes. Usually, though, I just assign movies or TV shows as homework, so I don't eat up as much class time. It can make the material more accessible and far more relevant. I can spend all day lecturing about utilitarianism and the distinction between persons, but that won't be too valuable if none of the students care.

Anonymous said...

I think using films in conjunction with any number of intro topics is enormously useful and I do it all the time. However, I would never use class time to screen a film. Instead, I use an online media library to allow the students to access the movies as an at-home assignment.

Anonymous said...

I also sometimes use short films (30-50 min documentaries, or just particular scenes from films) in general intro courses as well as introductory ethics and social/political courses. I've found that they can illustrate certain philosophical themes in a way that helps students appreciate the depth, complexity, importance, etc. of the issue, in much the same way that literature can.

But it is a big time commitment, which is why I generally do not show feature-length films in class. I'm wondering though, how someone who was actually teaching a course on philosophy and/of film would proceed. Do you require students to watch certain films outside of class? If so, how do you make the films available to them?

Anonymous said...

If the time allotted for the class far exceeds the students' attention span, then films can be an effective tool. I'm talking about, say, 3 hour class periods, MWF.

Anonymous said...

8:09, I have never taught a philosophy of film class (not competent to do it), but I *took* one as a student. The professor had screenings once a week in the evening, not during class time. One of the best classes I've ever taken, actually.

Anonymous said...

I have tried film a few times in classes and no doubt a lot of students love it. I however hate it. I feel like a slack prof that is trying too hard to be cool. Last time I taught philosophy of film, I used a textbook that contained a DVD with all the movies discussed in the book so I assigned the movies along with the weekly readings to escape taking up class time watching the movie.

Anonymous said...

I've never shown a film IN class, but assigned them as outside "reading." As other commenters noted, film has undeniable rhetoric impact, so if you want to engage the students attention on some issue, there are worse ways to go. That said, I don't think showing more than a few minutes of something to illustrate a point is really a good use of class time. Full disclosure: when I teach Critical Reasoning, I close with a section on pseudoscience, and if we're not behind in the schedule at the end of that unit I show an episode of Penn & Teller's "Bullshit" that deals with medical quackery. It's fun. I freely admit I do it because I want the kids to be exposed to the brilliance that is P&T rather than for any pedagogical value it might have, although they do succinctly state some of the problems with the practices they're investigating.

729 not logged in said...

Showing whole films is one thing, while showing segments of media is another thing. For example, I have used the "Cancer Intervention" scene from "Breaking Bad" to spark discussion in an Ethics course (just one example among many). I have also assigned short fiction--say, an appropriate Borges story--for illustration in a course on Paradoxes. The extent to which some piece of media gets students involved and talking about the ideas I've taught justifies the time spent viewing/reading media in class. It is not wise, I think, to trust that students will *always* read/watch media on their own, no matter how nicely one's course website is designed. Class time can be spent productively on media insofar as it guarantees a collective experience that one can then utilize further. I also use iClickers in order to poll opinions about the media my students view together. So, I work out what it is I want this "collective experience" to get at ahead of time. I dont find that showing a film in class in its entirety helps me get at my goals.

However, in the philosophy club I run outside of class time, viewing entire films is very, very productive. In an informal atmosphere, cultivating intellectual discussion which can be wide ranging has a great deal of value. Often students are introduced not only to new ideas, but they are also introduced to new aesthetic experiences. A cult film like "Donnie Darko," for instance, can introduce time travel paradoxes while also offering a new ideas about social parody in film. Afterwards, I am able to question students' commitment to Sparkle Motion.

As I teach one specific film and philosophy course, it seems to me that the burden falls upon me to provide students with the tools to analyze films (some film theory is needed and students need to practice how to analyze media). As Spiros suggests, this is a very different thing than just showing films and hoping for reactions of some (any) kind.

Anonymous said...

This blog seems awfully serious all of a sudden. Might as well go to Leiter's.

Anonymous said...

I have a colleague who collects scifi movies and spends most of his classes (and office hours)talking about them no matter what the topic. He prefers to take up class time by telling them all about the movies rather than showing the movie.

Anonymous said...

The real BS is courses I see advertised around campus called "X and Film" or "X through film." Usually these courses, I can't help but notice, are taught in three-hour block sections. Hmmm . . . no need to teach the issue at all when we can engage it "through film"!

Anonymous said...

I've used Nina Rosenstand's ethics text, "The Moral of the Story," and she references various narratives to illustrate principles/theories, which I've found help my gen ed students a lot. She includes novels and short fiction as well as film, however, and I usually only play clips (I made an exception and showed Gattaca in its entirety, however, when we were starting to discuss bioethics).

Anonymous said...

After reading the thread, I'm with Spiros. Showing films is a waste of time, and an excuse for shoddy pedagogy. Films are needed to help your students get interested in philosophy, eh? Maybe you're a crummy boring teacher? Why not look into ways in which you could improve your teaching instead?

Anonymous said...

When I'm teaching film classes, I tend to read out a lot of philosophy papers.

Anonymous said...

id like to comment more but these two word verfications are killing me. im too distracted by whether i can comprehend the monstrous word below to remember what i wanted to write. and yes im tired after a day of teaching, high as a kite after a nice joint and bit tipsy from the claret.

DAVE W said...

I don't show films in class - but I sometimes book a room for a block before a class, and show them in the slot.

This way, I can inflict films on the class -but not 'waste' class time.. This term I have made them watch The Seventh Seal (they, sort of, liked it) and Closely Observed Trains (they didn't get this as a romantic comedy - mostly due to the absence of Jennifer Aniston, I think).

We have popcorn, we sit in darkness, they get a sense of how film can engage with ideas without the use of aliens, and it can be fun. I am sure many here don't approve of the last of these...

We showed Crimes and Misdemeanours a while ago - a nice bit of ethical nihilism by the end, so that was useful...

Anonymous said...

I'd read the comments, but there's really no need. Kant never once wrote or lectured on film, and so I fail to see why any of us should bother with it.

Anonymous said...

Kant never slept with anyone either, but I don't think I want to follow his example.

(I bet lots of students slept with him, however, in the lecture hall.)

Anonymous said...

"(I bet lots of students slept with him, however, in the lecture hall.)"

Hopefully not. Sleeping in classes that you are giving the lecture for is horrible pedagogy.

Anonymous said...

Unless you're showing a film. Then sleeping is permissible.

Anonymous said...

Rules for faculty meetings Spiros?

Anonymous said...

David K. O'Connor (Notre Dame) provides excellent justification in the introductory lecture to his (excellent) course, "Ancient Wisdom & Modern Love" which is online here:

http://ocw.nd.edu/philosophy/ancient-wisdom-and-modern-love/lecture-notes/lectures

Anonymous said...

The opening minutes of Pulp Fiction has a great discussion of fidelity and intimacy. The whole movie is great on morality and the point of life. Do The Right Thing is also great for a lot of discussion of morality.

Would my gen ed students who can barely string a sentence together really benefit more from me lecturing? Or from you? I don't think so.

Next year maybe I'll try The Hunger Games.

What's up you you being all judgey?

Richard A. said...

"Night and Fog" There is no way for a discussion to leave the same mark as this short film. Very useful for the topics of 'evil'. 'genocide' and about the "Holocaust'.

James Kenneth Powell II said...

Studies have shown that humans can only pay attention for 20 minutes. AFter that long, I play a relevant 3-5 minute youtube clip. The "dog girl" of the Ukraine is a great one to demonstrate social conditioning. I have a big collection of fascinating short clips. I agree though, to use up a majority of class time for movies means...you don't really need an instructor, just a film list and test questions. One could do that in an automated way....