Video Assignments: Ann Marie Stock

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[Editor’s note: what follows is a version of remarks given at the Swem Media Center by Anne Marie Stock, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies. Her remarks were part of a panel consisting of several faculty members who used video assignments in their teaching. To hear a more detailed and eloquent discussion of these topics by Dr. Stock, we have provided the unedited audio of her remarks. Dr. Stock has also offered to share her syllabus for this course, which is available for downloading below.]

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When Ann Marie Stock first thought to assign media projects, she was returning to the classroom after being on leave to finish her book about Cuban filmmakers. While preparing for the upcoming semester, she looked for something that would bridge a number of her interests. Could she connect her research interests (Cuban cinema and new media) and her interest in undergraduate research in a way that allowed her to maintain the intellectual excitement that research leave provided? After meeting with several of her colleagues, she had a conversation with Troy Davis, Director of the Swem Media Center, which led her to develop video production assignments.

With the help of Troy, Ann Marie constructed a course that took the form of a workshop. By encouraging students to leverage their unique skills and interests in service of a common goal (a video project), the workshop format enabled an interdisciplinary environment to thrive. According to Ann Marie, teaching a class as a workshop challenged a boundary more profound than those of the disciplines. “For me, the biggest boundary that was pushed was the boundary between teaching and learning and the boundary between educator, in front of the classroom, and students, as recipients. I was not the bearer of all knowledge.”

Embracing a complicated understanding of their roles as teachers, Ann Marie and Troy developed exercises that encouraged students to hone, and share, their own expertise. Students brought in video clips of all forms, ranging from feature films to home movies, and they analyzed some aspect of that video that interested them. So, for example, a music student might talk about the score of a particular scene or a young historian might discuss the historical context for a particular film. “It was a way early on for everyone to feel empowered and to realize that no one had to know everything, but together we would make this happen.”

The collaborative atmosphere created by these early exercises helped strengthen the group work necessary to produce video projects. Once students identified themselves as having distinct skills and how those skills fit in with their classmates, they created projects that drew from different disciplines. Some could use their translating skills to created English-language subtitles documentaries of Cuban filmmakers while others used their ability to construct narratives to create their own documentaries using interviews conducted by Ann Marie Stock and Troy with Cuban filmmakers.

While the workshop format worked well for in this course, Ann Marie Stock warns of the risks inherent in such a collaborative environment. “I think as educators, we’re not trained to have things unscripted. We’re trained to walk into these classrooms and feel pretty much like we can envision what’s going to happen for the rest of hour or two hours.” Of course, the technology involved also can, at least at first, seem like a risk. “It can be a little daunting as professors to say ‘I don’t know how to help you with that’…or to ask another student…I think we have to be willing relinquish some control. I think that’s a great thing—I think it’s liberating, and I have to say this semester I have two much more traditionally sketched out courses and it’s kind of a struggle for me to go back to that mode. This experience, to a great extent, required that I reinvent myself as an education and that I take new directions in my scholarship. That’s an outcome that I had not expected….I am finding myself venturing into…co-making a documentary. It’s pretty heady, it’s pretty exciting to continue to learn, and I think most of us are in this profession for that very reason. It’s not to get something down and do it over, and over, and over again. It’s to keep pushing those boundaries, to keep exploring, seeing what’s out there, seeing what we can manage.”

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