of Dr. Steven L. Berg

Content Expertise–Abandoned Text

Note added on 8 March 2012:  This Microblog post served as the basis for “Quality Quickly Becomes Obsolete” published at Etene Sacca-vajjena.

As I was working on the Content Expertise section of my faculty evaluation, I wrote almost 600 words before realizing that I was off on the wrong track.  I eliminated the following 462 words—that I think have possibilities for a blog entry—and essentially started from scratch.  I realize that I could not have written the final draft (which should be finished tomorrow) without having first written this text out of my system.

I once heard a quilter say that you know when you have become a serious quilter when you find yourself ripping out stitches.  Serious writers are willing to cut text—even text that is relatively good—if it does not fit.  This is a hard lesson to teach students.

Last fall, a non-faculty member at the college suggested that I could simply photocopy some of the material from my last evaluation because “how much could things have changed?” since I did my previous evaluation five years ago.  I informed her that this was not a realistic possibility for a professor who cared about quality.

When I did my last evaluation, YouTube was little more than a year old and, to use the words of a friend, was where teenage boys posted videos of themselves doing stupid stuff.  It was definitely not a viable source for teaching materials.  Although DVDs made some films more accessible than they were in the past, when you could get rarer films, silent films, and short films, you had to pay dearly for them.  The first time I taught film, I invested more than $700 to begin a film library.

Because of my investment in short films, I was able to show more than 60 films a semester.  Students could not expect to be exposed to such a variety of films and, as a result, had a much higher quality experience than they could expect to get almost anywhere else.

I was very proud of the course.  Yet, were I to teach the same course today, I should be harshly criticized.  Today, a search of YouTube for “short films” results in 224,000 hits and there are about 94,500 “one minute films.”  Much of my $700 library is now available on YouTube or in other Internet venues as are hundreds—if not thousands—of feature length films for which I would like students to have access.

The drop in cost for DVDs has also changed the landscape.   Last year, I purchased a collection of 50 films for $19.00.  Previously, I had purchased one of the films in the collection for close to $30.00.  Some rare films can be picked up for $5.00; films that were either unavailable or which would have cost $20.00 to $35.00 five years ago.  As the cost for DVDs have dropped, students have their own libraries which they can use for the course.

 As a result, students no longer need to be dependent on me for making all of the film selections.  My first change was to have students form teams to select the short films we will screen while discussing the chapters in the textbook.  During that period, I still selected the feature length films.

Now, students continue to select the films for the chapter discussions and we jointly select the feature length films we view.  I have some general criteria I use for the films.  For example, I avoid showing popular, easily accessible films.  I also avoid showing two films that are similar.  But, within those guidelines, students can contribute and choose.


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