Using Short Films and Regular Viewing Habits as a Catalyst for Online Pedagogy

CJ_Final.indd Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier
 Volume 3 (1) Winter 2015
 Matt Swift 
 Ohio State University

Amidst increasing integration of online teaching and learning, Cinema and Media Studies programs face great challenges primarily in the areas of access to pedagogical content, and how to successfully integrate that content in an online environment. Issues of copyright and student engagement make creating online assignments difficult at best. To solve these issues, The Ohio State University Film Studies Program is utilizing a set of assignments focusing on short films, students’ regular viewing habits, and descriptive written formal film analysis in their new course Introduction to Film Studies for Non-majors. These written reports provide a place for instructor feedback, correction of formal film term understanding, and personal insight into students within flipped, hybrid, and online environments. The end result is a set of online modules using repetitive conditioning to develop skills in formal analysis. By assigning two short, rotating bi-weekly written exercises, the modules are also providing preparation for larger midterm assignments, final projects, essays, and critical research papers.

Pedagogical Tools – Required Texts

Teaching the necessary skills for descriptive formal film analysis is one of the major goals of The Ohio State University Film Studies Program and a major component in the program’s introduction to film studies courses. To accomplish this task, we are using two pedagogical tools: “The Screening Report” from Timothy Corrigan’s Short Guide to Writing about Film (6th edition or later) and a single volume of The Journal of Short Film (JSF), a DVD publication of original artistic works under twenty minutes. We are using these two tools because of the ease of access for entry level undergraduate study of film and the ability for instructors to tailor this module to their own specific offerings of the course.

More details about each of these two required texts can be found at:

A Short Guide to Writing about Film by Timothy Corrigan

The Journal of Short Film

Pedagogical Tools – Supplemental Materials

During the assessment of tools for the screening report module in a face-to-face classroom environment, it was decided that student engagement and quality of work was enhanced when clear goals, instructions, and examples were provided. The benefits to additional supplemental materials are that students focused their efforts on and asked questions that pertained to the content of the assignment. Prior to the creation of these materials, students were more concerned with how to complete the assignment which hindered the learning process. This concept was found to be even more beneficial in courses that used online tools and required more explanation to offset the lack of face-to-face engagement.

Specifically for our non-major, 100% online course, which primarily functions asynchronously, we provide a video lecture about the assignment, a transcript of the video lecture for accessibility purposes, a text-based assignment description, and an example of the assignment. Each of these supplemental tools supplies some of the same basic information but each of them serves their own purpose. The video lecture presents a basic introduction to the assignment along with a walk through of where students can find the supplemental materials, dropbox for turning it in, and other pertinent information necessary to complete the assignment using Carmen – The Ohio State University’s branded version of the D2L learning management system. The text-based description provides assignment objectives, an outline of what the assignment should look like, and a descriptive rubric for the assignment. The assignment example shows students the exact layout, gives them an idea of approximate length for each part of the assignment, and gives access to the film for the assignment. Implementation of all these materials allocates more time for students to focus on building descriptive formal analysis skills instead of struggling with details of how to complete the assignment.

Examples of the Supplemental Materials can be found at:

Assignment Materials

The Assignments

Due to its flexibility, the screening report module can adapt to any quarter or semester curriculum. For the introductory film studies courses at The Ohio State University, the module begins on the third week of the semester and continues every week through the final week of the course. The module starts as of the third week because it directly follows a video clip quiz for developing visual recognition skills of formal elements and matching those formal elements to film terms. Once students complete week two of the course, they can use those terms to write descriptive paragraphs about formal elements such as mise-en-scène, editing, lighting, composition, use of color, repetition, etc. By design, the assignment alternates bi-weekly between viewing content from The JSF and content from students’ own viewing habits.

The Assignment – The Journal of Short Film Screening Report

For the purposes of this assignment students choose four formal elements that are relevant to a further investigation of a film. Each element serves as a heading for composing an objective paragraph describing that elements use in the film.

An example of the assignment description can be found at:

JSF Report – Assignment Instructions

The Assignment – Student Chosen Content Screening Report

The Student Chosen Content Screening Report asks students to create a report containing one formal element and one descriptive paragraph for a film or television show they watch during the week the assignment is due. Because this assignment is repetitive, students cannot use the same film more than once but can use the same television program given that they discuss different episodes and describe a different formal element for each assignment.

An example of the assignment description can be found at:

Student Chosen Content Report – Assignment Instructions

Assessment and Feedback Strategies

Assessment for the screening report is highly adjustable in amount of instructor and student engagement based on the specific goals of the course. In the case of Introduction to Film Studies for Non-majors, the assessment looks at the quality of the screening report, appropriate description of chosen topic, clarity of the statements, and amount of excessive typos and unintelligible grammar. Given the repetition of these assignments, each comprises only a small portion of the final grade. The overall percentage of a student’s final grade is flexible and customizable to fit the needs and goals of any course. For Introduction to Film Studies for Non-majors, the screening report module composes 15% of the final grade. As an additional part of the total grade for the screening report module, students can also receive extra credit for the completion of every report for the term. Students can obtain a total of three extra points; one for all JSF Reports, one for all Student Chosen Content Reports, and one for completing all twelve reports. Not every student will complete every report, but this low point value and extra credit system encourages a large portion of the class to complete enough of the assignments to develop the necessary descriptive analysis skills.

An additional feature of these assignments in a 100% online course scenario is the chance to interact with students through feedback. When grading the JSF Screening Report instructors can assess how well a student is able to visually recognize formal elements in a film and describe them using a film that the instructor has seen. Instructor feedback on the screening report provides a chance for reviewing formal film terms, correcting misinterpretation of a scene, and discussing ancillary content not discussed in the report. Giving feedback on the Student Chosen Content Screening Report does all of the above as well as open the door for instructors to engage students about their interests, find a common ground for a more personal dialog, or even suggest other films or shows to watch. The assessment and feedback portions of both assignments are an easy place to make a personal connection with students so they are not only developing a skill but forming a relationship with the instructor which is very important in an online instruction scenario.

Examples of student reports from both the JSF Report and the Student Chosen Content Report with included examples of instructor feedback can be found at:

Assignment and Feedback Examples

Works Cited
Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film. 9th ed. New York: Longman, 2014.

The Journal of Short Film. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Film Studies Program. 2005-2014. DVD

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