The Use of Short Feature Film Clips to Enhance Student Learning

By Cynthia Dulaney, Associate Professor,and
John Barrett, Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology

Instructors face many challenges, of which imparting a body of knowledge to students is foremost.  A related challenge is conveying the knowledge in an understandable and engaging manner, to facilitate student learning.  Traditionally, instructors often use lecture and class discussion as their primary instructional method (Perry, Huss, McAuliff & Galas, 1996).   However, feature films have successfully enhanced class lectures (Bassham & Nardone, 1997; Bluestone, 2000; Fleming, Piedmont & Hiam, 1990; Hyler & Schanzer, 1997).  These feature films can illustrate basic concepts (Nissim-Sabat, 1979; Perry et al., 1996).  Unfortunately, time constraints often preclude the use of full-length films.  As an alternative, shorter film clips have facilitated students' understanding of the theoretical concepts, made the concepts more realistic, and made the class more enjoyable (Badura, 2002; Roskos-Ewoldsen & Roskos-Ewoldsen, 2001).

What follows is a brief description of how we incorporated feature film clips into our General Psychology course and how we assessed its effectiveness.  We end by suggesting films that may be applicable to disciplines other than psychology.

Throughout the semester, we showed short feature film clips related to the topic of class on that day. Sometimes the clip was used to introduce a topic; other times the clip was used to review a topic.  In order to determine if the film clips were well received by students, we periodically conducted an evaluation of our classes.

Students anonymously completed the 13-item ?Class Reaction Survey? by Erickson and Strommer (1991) at the end of six class periods. Three of these periods were days on which video clips were shown, and three were days on which no video clip was shown.  The clips were one to eight minutes in length.  The survey did not specifically ask about reactions to the film clips, and the students were not aware of the purpose of the survey except that the instructor wanted to gain periodic feedback regarding the class.

Our analysis of the student responses indicated that students rated classes significantly better on the days that brief film clips were shown.  These better ratings were obtained even though the students were not aware that the effectiveness of videos used in the course was being examined.  Furthermore, students, through their written comments, reported that the video days were more interesting and provided more variety than non-video days.  For example, one student wrote, Videos and stories provide variety.  Constant notes can be dry and harder to learn. Videos apply to real life and make information interesting?. Although we used only three video clips, the results of the present study combined with the result of previous studies (Badura, 2002; Nissim-Sabat, 1979; Roskos-Ewoldsen & Roskos-Ewoldsen, 2001) suggest that the use of a well-selected video clip will enhance students' perceptions of a course.  In addition, we analyzed results as a function of the two instructors and found no difference between instructors.  Thus, the present study suggests that the use of feature film clips can generalize across different instructors and different teaching styles.

Bluestone (2000) has suggested that feature films may be used either as examples of concepts presented after the relevant lecture material or as an introduction of concepts followed by the relevant lecture material.  Our data support this suggestion as two different instructors used the same film clips in various ways.

Obviously, the primary goal of a course is not to ensure that students enjoy the course, but to communicate an extensive body of knowledge to students. However, if students also enjoy the course, this may in turn enhance the learning experience. VanderStoep, Fagerlin, and Feenstra (Experiment 2, 2000) asked students to report the most memorable concepts learned that semester.  Of the top seven topics mentioned as more memorable, five topics had included a related video clip.  We found that students enjoy the use of video clips to demonstrate concepts, regardless of instructor.  In addition, the findings of VanderStoep et al. suggest that students also remember the concepts better when presented with an accompanying video clip.

Although we are not trained in other disciplines offered on campus, we have provided a list of possible suggestions for films that might be used in other disciplines.  In addition to using film clips to demonstrate concepts in class, film clips might also be used to teach students about Hollywood's inaccurate portrayal of topics in film.

Badura, A. S. (2002). Capturing students attention: Movie clips set the stage for learning in abnormal psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 29, 58-60.Bassham, G. & Nardone, H. (1997). Using the film JFK to teach critical thinking. College Teaching, 45(1), 10-13.
Bluestone, C. (2000). Feature films as a teaching tool. College Teaching, 48(4), 141-152.
Erickson, B. L., & Strommer, D. W. (1991).  Teaching college freshman.  San Francisco:  Jossey Bass, Inc.
Fleming, M. Z., Piedmont, R. L., & Hiam, C. M. (1990). Images of madness: Feature films in teaching psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 17(3), 185-187.
Hyler, S. E. & Schanzer, B. (1997). Using commercially available films to teach about borderline personality disorder. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 61(4), 458-468.
Nissim-Sabat, D. (1979). The teaching of abnormal psychology through the cinema. Teaching of Psychology, 6(2), 121-123.
Perry, N. W., Huss, M. T., McAuliff, B. D., & Galas, J. M. (1996). An active-learning approach to teaching the undergraduate psychology and law course. Teaching of Psychology, 23(2), 76-81.
Roskos-Ewoldsen, D. R. & Roskos-Ewoldsen, B. (2001). Using video clips to teach social psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 28(3), 212-215.
VanderStoep, S. W., Fagerlin, A., & Feenstra, J. S. (2000). What do students remember from introductory psychology? Teaching of Psychology, 27(2), 89-92.
Winkler, I., Cowan, R. (Producers) & Winkler, I. (Director). (1999). At first sight [Motion Picture]. United States: Metro Golden Mayer.
Zanuck, R. D., Brown, D (Producers) & Spielberg, S. (Director). (1975). Jaws [Motion Picture]. United States: Universal Studios.
Zea, K., Johnson, B. (Producers) & Brooks, J. L. (Director). (1997). As good as it gets [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Tristar.

Course Movie Concept
Biology Lorenzo's Oil Myelinization
  Inherit the Wind Evolution; scientific thinking and values
  Jurassic Park Genetics
Business House of Games Business ethics
Chemistry Apollo 13 Applications of chemistry to space flight
Communication The Dream Team Small group communication: cohesiveness, norms, roles, leadership, and group development
Criminology The Dozens Prisoners and society; failure of rehabilitation programs,
Education Dangerous Minds or
Stand and Deliver
Diversity; teaching in the inner city; teacher-student/ teacher-parent relationship development
English King-Kong or
The Godfather
Composition: story-line development, organization; creative writing
History Hester Street Ethnicity; immigration at the turn of the century
Law and popular culture To Kill a Mockingbird Race relations; retention of legal arguments; the jury process
Physics Them! Physics of scale
  2001 or 2010 Artificial gravity
Psychology As Good as It Gets Abnormal Psychology; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Social Work Losing Isaiah Racial identity development; legislation related to transracial adoption
Sociology Mississippi Burning Race relations, unlearning false images

Contributors to the Lesson Learned series have been selected by their deans to share their experiences in the classroom, describing a teaching technique or exercise that they have found to be effective.

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