Most university students today have grown up in a multimedia society unparalleled in the past. Thanks to the internet and the tools it’s offered, both in terms of entertainment and education, the traditional styles of lecturing and educating students no longer offer the impact they once did. Students are easily distracted and distant in lessons, and pedagogy will have to evolve to create new frameworks in which students are able to connect with their lessons and subjects. Jessie Daniels at the City University of New York found the use of documentaries the perfect tool to boost her students’ engagement.
Documentary’s digital renaissance
Documentary filmmaking is going through it’s own renaissance. The rise of digital filmmaking and crowdfunding aiding many documentarians’ productions. Because of the breadth of this genre, Daniels believes that documentaries are the perfect digital tool to incorporate into the classroom. In her lessons, Daniels has seen an increase in student engagement and critical thinking thanks to the introduction of a multimedia form they are familiar with.
The internet has provided a home for documentaries, whether through online subscription services like Netflix, via independent filmmakers on YouTube or through mainstream media sites like the BBC. The ease of access that is now available to documentaries only helps the genre envelop itself into popular culture and become a constant in the lives of many current and future students. For decades, scholars and educators have used popular culture to base a framework and present examples to their classes. Their students’ ready grasp of current events and the world around them helps cement concepts in which a larger academic sphere can be tethered. Documentaries are that next frontier.
Revolutionising the classroom
Daniels believes the best way to incorporate documentaries into a curriculum is by using them as a supplementary resource. By combining documentaries with academic studies and texts, Daniels is able to offer students a visual representation of the theoretical framework behind her lessons. By using worksheets and giving her students a basic and fundamental grasp of filmmaking and digital media, Daniels can have engaged class discussions in which the students, having not only read the same materials but also having seen the same experience on screen, are able to exchange an informed and free flow of ideas.
Daniels also uses worksheets to increase the student’s critical media skills, allowing them to conceptualise the entire process that would go into a documentary after viewing the final product. When used alongside traditional pedagogical venues, documentaries can only help to increase student engagement in the classroom.
With the breadth and variety of documentaries today, particularly in genre, it is fair to assume that every educator can find a documentary that will help engage their students and further develop their critical skills. By applying documentary films as a supplementary resource in the classroom, teachers and professors like Daniels inspire increased student engagement thanks to their dedication to connecting with and understanding their students’ educational needs.