academic portfolio & musings of a PhDad on movies, fatherhood, social justice, and everything in between
Please note that all materials posted here should be considered works-in-progress. I am constantly working on improving my course materials, and the documents posted here may not necessarily reflect their latest and most improved iterations. I post them anyway in the spirit of transparency and cooperative learning.
Since first creating these documents for college-level courses, I've since gone into the K-12 world of education and have transferred as much of these ideas as possible into High School elective courses.
During my time as a PhD student at Georgia State University, I had the incredible privilege of being the instructor of record for three classes:
History of Motion Pictures (Spring 2011) with 24 students, mostly freshmen.
International Cinemas: A History of Chinese Cinema (Spring 2013) with 29 students, mostly juniors and seniors.
International Cinemas: A History of Chinese Cinema (Spring 2014), with 39 students, also juniors and seniors.
My constant self-reflection allows a lot of learning to take place each time that I teach, so that I can point to specific things that I learned from one experience and applied to a future one. It’s enabled me to go from starting with an incredibly nerve-racking, mostly syllabus mumbling reading first day of Spring 2011 to a confident start of Spring 2014 kicked off with a rich interactive discussion about conceptual frameworks and the needs of our educational system.
Syllabi I developed the syllabi for all three classes above and would like to share them here. I’ll include both years of my Chinese Cinema class. They’re mostly similar, though I made some important changes to the latest one based largely on my experiences the year before:
I’ve also been fortunate to be enrolled in not one but TWO graduate-level seminars centered on pedagogy. The first was with the wonderful Kathy Fuller-Seeley focusing on pedagogy more generally in the field of communication (click here for syllabus), and the other was with the fantastic Alisa Perren (both now of UT Austin) who taught a Media History seminar specifically focused on the pedagogical side of the subject (click here for syllabus). Both classes provided students with the opportunity to develop original syllabi on subjects of our choosing. I’d like to include those here as well. I have not taught these courses yet, and the syllabi are incomplete in some areas. They’ll need to updated based on new experiences I’ve gained, but these are definitely courses I would love to teach:
Some other classes I plan to develop and hopefully teach someday include:
A class focusing on the analysis of film marketing campaigns and materials, especially posters and trailers.
An introductory screenwriting course and/or script analysis course.
A film genre course focused on film parodies to discuss and analyze the concept of genre. With mandatory Mel Brooks marathon.
Assignments If I had to choose one word to describe what I’ve found to be the most important aspect of course assignments, it would have to be reflection. Reflection on course content, reflection on learning, reflection on how to learn, self-reflection, etc.
For a class with weekly screenings, a weekly reflection paper on the film itself has proven invaluable. Students are encouraged to wrangle with the movie on their own and on the film’s own terms. In fact, they’re specifically told NOT to consult any outside sources. This, of course, does not replace a research paper, but provides a great entry for a lot of students who have never written about film. It allows me to provide extensive notes and questions that meets each student where they’re at and pushes them further individually. These short but frequent assignments also allow me to interact with EVERY student, regardless of how much they may speak up during class time.
Another important element are what some educators call “minute papers.” In my class, this takes the form of a weekly response. At the very end of the last class day of the week, students turn in answers to two questions: 1) What was the most interesting thing you learned this week? and 2) What remains unclear/What would you like to know more about? These papers also provide a great way for 100% student participation, and often the most quiet students in class provide some of the most intriguing questions, which I try and answer by the next class. The brief reflection allows students to internalize some of the course content and dig deeper. It also allows me to reflect on my own teaching. If several students bring up the same question or are confused about the same thing, I’ll need to revisit my methods.
As a final space for reflection, I’ve had great success with a final Meta Response assignment. For this assignment, students are required to look back on all of their weekly film responses and provide a critical analysis of their own work. How has it changed? How has it improved? Are there common threads week to week? It also asks them to assess the value of the assignments themselves. My students’ comfort in being honest with me is especially important in this assignment. This has not been a problem since by the end of the semester, my students and I would have already had plenty of open conversations regarding their education as well as my own teaching. Click here to see the full Meta Response Rubric and Guidelines.
Finally, I want to talk about quizzes. In my Teaching Philosophy, I discuss the “unpopping” of pop quizzes that occurred in my class last spring. It was an amazing experience. I was unhappy with the outcome of my pop quizzes. It didn’t really feel like students were learning anything beyond making sure to have the right notes. Anyone who was absent would miss it, and anyone who was absent the day I provided the answer to one of the questions was also out of luck. So I tried something new and actively involved my students in the process. In the end, they each came up with 5 questions from their notes, exchanged papers with someone else, took some time to answer those questions on their own, and finally discussed their answers with each other. After our first attempt, I engaged my students in an open and frank discussion about how the experiment went. The response was overwhelmingly positive. They loved the fact that questions came from different perspectives than they might expect. They loved the fact that there was no pressure on having the “right” notes or getting a good grade. Multiple students recognized and appreciated a shift to actual learning provided by the new method and wholeheartedly supported its permanent adoption.
Side Lectures Another important element to my teaching has included, whenever possible, side lectures on topics not 100% connected to the main course but still relevant to the students’ interests and future plans of study. For example, though I taught survey course of the History of Motion Pictures, I would try to include a 20-30 minute lecture every week or two on a film-related topic such as editing, screenwriting, film production, movie posters, or special effects. In teaching the History of Chinese Cinema, I was also able to include a lecture on screenwriting, particularly in analyzing the 3-Act Structure of mainstream films. At the end of this particular lecture, three of my students came up to me and told me that they learned more about screenwriting in that one lecture than they had all semester up to that point in the screenwriting class they were also enrolled in. Consequently, I had several students who were working on individual screenplays reach out for feedback and advice on their works-in-progress. Many of these lectures have also proven successful as guest lectures in colleagues’ classrooms. One of my most well-received lectures across various film courses has been a look at how the aesthetics of Chinese opera can be seen in contemporary Hollywood action films. As with all my lectures, I make it as interactive as possible for maximum engagement and empowerment.