Representing Documentary Film in The Social Studies Classroom: Lessons From an Online Professional Development Course
By: Ellen Louise Livingston
Published: 2014
Uploaded: 01/11/2018
Uploaded by: Pocket Masters
Pockets: 2014 (May) Teachers College Columbia University Ed.D. Dissertations, Gottesman Libraries Archive, Historical Dissertations

Description/Abstract: This qualitative study investigates the effects of an online professional development course on 15 secondary social studies teachers' understandings of and classroom practices with documentary film. The participants in this study, recruited from diverse locations across the United States, enrolled in an asynchronous, ten-session online course developed by the author/researcher. The study draws data from sources such as participants' entries on online discussion boards, pre- and post-course surveys, and telephone interviews that were naturalistically collected as the course/research project unfolded.
Course materials invited participants to engage with the concept of cinematic representation, while challenging commonly-held conceptions of documentary as an authoritative, neutral medium designed to transmit facts and information, and consider the inherent subjectivity of filmmakers in their works. The course focused particular attention upon the artificial separation of form and content in film and encouraged participants to consider the ways in which cinematic form influences the meaning viewers make from these works. Participants also interacted with and responded to the often overlooked affective dimension of documentary film and considered the interrelationship of emotion and cognition in the way viewers and students respond. Participants applied what they learned to a lesson they designed and taught in their own classroom settings.
Findings suggest that participants' responses to the course materials varied widely. While some embraced the representational nature of documentaries and invited their students to challenge the authority of these works, often with particular attention to cinematic form, others found it more difficult to discard notions of objectivity and the traditional role of documentary film as a medium emphasizing the transmission of pre- determined content. I draw from these findings a parallel tension in social studies education as a whole, between subject-centered practice that emphasizes transmission of content often judged to be neutral or objective without consideration of the ways in which such content reflects and reinforces existing power arrangements, and more critical practice that invites students to challenge the authority of the information they encounter and construct their own meanings of that material filtered through their own values and experiences.