Faculty learn to use film as a teaching tool

Author: Arts and Letters


The days of grainy filmstrips and sidebar images projected on a classroom wall are long gone.

For current college students – a generation accustomed to seeing_friends on their cell phone screens, looking at photos in “My Space,” and viewing_life-like graphics on video games – watching a film for a class seems a natural fit.

“Students are very familiar with film and television and know how to talk about it, but they don’t know how to be analytical about it,” says Jim Collins, professor of film, television and theatre (FTT). “At the same time, they know that they need to be analytical when talking about literature, classical music or paintings.”

To help students learn to become more critical viewers, Collins first needs to teach their teachers. He will conduct a weeklong summer seminar for faculty titled “How to Teach Film in the Humanities,” designed to meet the needs of a number of professors across the disciplines who have expressed interest in using film in their curricula but who hesitate because they feel they lack the proper training.

“The main limitation in the way film has been used in the past comes from its use as sidebar illustration, a short clip shown to spice up the class. This approach doesn’t really come to terms with film as a way of knowing – a way of interpreting the world,” says Collins.

“The course will explore the different methods that may be used in teaching film with a variety of new teaching strategies. We will discuss the very different ways that film can be analyzed effectively depending on the needs of a given course, whether it is close visual analysis, comparative aesthetics or cultural analysis.”

Faculty participants in the class will gain theoretical knowledge through lectures and readings, but they also will view films each day and apply their new analytical skills to those films during afternoon discussions.

Using the film “Crash” as an example, Collins explains that viewers of that movie don’t learn that racial prejudice exists by watching the film – it’s assumed that they already know that. But viewers see how racial prejudice is enacted and envisioned, raising questions and challenges of how images reinforce stereotypes.

“Ideally, students will look critically at images in movies like `Crash’ and analyze ways in which stereotypes are made,” Collins said. “Reading images critically can lead to productive debate and sensitize them to different aesthetic factors involved.”

A member of the Notre Dame faculty since 1985, Collins specializes in film and television theory, film history and pop culture. He is the author of “Uncommon Cultures: Popular Culture and Postmodernism,” “Architectures of Excess: Cultural Life in the Age of Information,” and, most recently, “High-Pop: Making Culture into Popular Entertainment.” He also was the co-editor of “Film Theory Goes to the Movies.”

Collins earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Iowa and also studied at Centres des Etudes Cinematographique in France. He is the associate chair and director of undergraduate studies in FTT.

Faculty interested in participating in the class this summer should contact Collins at 631-7161 or Collins.3@nd.edu .

Originally published by Susan Guibert at newsinfo.nd.edu on April 17, 2006.