On The Role of Film as Course Material

In the years I have been teaching philosophy, religious studies, and communications, I have used a variety of resources in my courses. Textbooks are useful in many courses and students are expected to complete assigned readings in order to be prepared for class. The same expectation applies to other readings such as primary source readings online, the complete text of “The Apology of Socrates” by Plato for example.

In class, students are attentive to lectures and participate in discussion as expected. Audio podcasts, video lectures, and written lecture notes supplement my course material for students who wish to further immerse themselves in the content of the class. In the 21st-century classroom this is all accepted as commonplace. Much to my surprise, television and film are looked upon differently.

From episodes of television series including Star Trek, The West Wing, and Family Guy to films such as The King’s Speech, After the Dark, and The Shawshank Redemption, I screen video content in class frequently. This content demonstrates course material as effectively as textbooks, primary source writings, and lectures. Yet students consistently see these class periods as throwaways, opportunities to take the day off, zone out, or even take a nap during class.

Film and television viewing is part of course curriculum. Dismissing it demonstrates a lack of dedication to success in the class and deliberate disrespect for the instructor and his/her efforts to educate. While entertaining, good film and television educate us in ways we may not even realize until we see them incorporated into a course. The primary functions of the mass media are to inform, educate, and entertain. Allowing these media to educate in the classroom open the students’ minds to abstract concepts in tangible, entertaining, relatable ways. Dismissing them not only does a disservice to one’s education, it robs oneself of a new way of experiencing a mainstream medium and art form.

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