Decolonizing myself?

Decolonizing. As is the case with most people, I hear the word a lot, and I hear it used in different ways and in different contexts. As an educator, I cannot avoid the notion of «decolonizing the curriculum» and, in both my own field of art and in the arts in general, people talk about «decolonizing practice». I see in the film school and art school networks I am a part of that the topic is coming more and more into the forefront.

I must admit I struggle with using the word in this context. Can I «decolonize» myself? Does it mean anything when applied to a process of analysing myself, my own prejudices, and privileges, and working towards becoming a more active participant in the process of breaking down systemic oppression and creating a more just society? The word «decolonize» is ridiculed on many front, particularly by people on the right but also by some on the left. 

I have, however, been engaged in social justice my whole adult life, and cannot avoid the topic. I believe I have — as a white, male academic in Norway with personal, professional, and cultural privilege — a responsibility to examine how I can use my privilege to effect change and create conditions where those voices that have less privilege than I do are lifted to the forefront and can achieve the same power of definition and control that people like me have held for far too long.

I learned, while volunteering in support of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter in the 1990s, the importance of being a political ally by, among other things, letting those who have been the subject of oppression lead the struggle for emancipation and to take their lead as I work actively to support the struggle and use my privilege as a tool in that struggle. I will attempt to apply those lessons to the work I will need to do now.

It will be a journey, and part of the reason I am posting about it here is to hold myself to account — a struggle undertaken in silence and in private will not be as effective as one undertaken in openness and in public.

Zoomed in

A short while ago, I read several articles on the psychological effect Zoom is having on those of us who are using it extensively from our home offices. A good example of the genre is this article from The Guardian, which points to fatigue and other effects of looking at our own image on screen for long periods of time.

I have on average two meetings a day in my working week, and would estimate each meeting lasts between 1.5 to 2 hours. So, as many as 4 hours a day spent looking at myself in a Zoom gallery.

I first used Zoom in 2016 as part of the Nordic collaboration «The Artist as (Film School) Teacher», so it was not an entirely new thing to me when campuses and workplaces were shut down on March 12th, 2020. I did find, however, like so many others that the endless days of Zoom were exhausting but assumed that had more to do with the general weight of trying to keep both myself, my family, and the school going under the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reading that Guardian article, however, led me to try an experiment: this past week I’ve used «hide self view» in all my Zoom meetings, in an effort to see if it’s made a difference.

The experience has been…odd.

In small meetings — one on one, or in a group with 2-4 others — it has made a difference. Not seeing myself makes it easier to concentrate on the others in the meeting, to look at the camera in an effort to give the illusion of eye contact, and has made me less self-conscious.

In larger meetings, however, the effect has been more alienating. All of a sudden I feel more like I am outside the group looking in, and have lost my place in the community. The threshold for participating in the group has become higher, and the temptation to do something else greater.

Very odd.

Picking up some threads — film school pedagogy

I’ve got some time on my hands these days, and it’s time to pick up the film school pedagogy thread again. As I’ve posted earlier, I worked with a group of faculty from Nordic film schools in 2015 & 16 to develop a training programme for filmmakers teaching at film schools. Subsequently, I translated this to Norwegian, and completed a first cohort among our own staff in the school year 2018-19. I am now working on taking that experience and developing a curriculum for a second cohort.

The intro module from the Nordic version is still a good starting point, and so I’m posting it here and will endeavour to follow up with some thoughts and new ideas.

The intro module looked like this:

The Artist as (Film School) Teacher

Pedagogical development for filmmakers teaching in higher education

MODULE 1

Introduction to the training programme
mandatory for all participants
1,5 ECTS – 5 weeks – approx. time usage (including own time) is 8-10 hrs. per week.

Introduction

This module will introduce all the participants in the “The Artist as (Film School) Teacher” pedagogical course to several aspects of film school pedagogy, basics of online learning, principles of peeragogy, and to the approaches to teaching practiced at the participating Nordic film schools. The module will combine video hangouts and webconferencing, synchronous and asynchronous online discussions with readings, videos and reflection assignments.

Module 1 is not a standalone course, but serves as the introduction for all the filmmakers working at the NORDICIL schools who need – either due to formal requirements or personal interest – insight into and practice with pedagogy and didactic methods designed for film schools. This first module will introduce the series of modules that make up “The Artist as (Film School) Teacher” and, most importantly, ensure that all the participants have the same level of comfort with the online environments, the vocabulary of film school pedagogy, and the principles of peeragogy.

Completion of this module is a prerequisite for participating in further modules.

Learning outcomes.

By the conclusion of the module, the candidates will have achieved the following learning outcomes:

Knowledge: The candidates will have attained

  • An overview of the approaches to pedagogy practiced at the participating film schools
  • An overview of various tools for online learning and interaction
  • An understanding of peeragogy and the importance of personal learning networks in online instruction.
  • A good understanding of “pedagogy” and “didactics”, “scaffolding”, pragmatist educational practice, constructivist educational practice, other commonly used educational practices.

Skills: The candidates will be able to:

  • Critically reflect over and place own personal approach to education and training within a larger context
  • Choose, setup, and maintain online identities for use in future training modules
  • Build and use a personal learning network (PLN) and personal learning environment (PLE)
  • Support other participants in a PLN
  • Understand the uses of pedagogy and didactics.

General competence:

At the conclusion of this first module, the participants will be prepared for further participation in “The Artist as (Film School) Teacher” by both enabling them to attain a level of comfort with the online tools and environments that will be used and helping them gain insight into the role of the educator as distinct from the filmmaker.

Course Structure

WEEK 1 – Introductions

In week one, the participants will receive an email with instructions on how to create an online account with the chosen PLE for this module[4] . At each of the 8 participating schools there will also be a designated resource person[1] the participants can go to for assistance getting online. Once logged in to the PLE, participants will see the syllabus for the course, will be able to download list of fundamental definitions, and will have access to some readings and videos.

Tasks for the week:

  • Log into the PLE and create a full profile
  • Read and reflect on pedagogical approaches from the different schools
  • Share reflections on own approach to teaching in the PLE
  • Read and reflect on “What is peeragogy?”
  • View and reflect on selected videos (TBA)
WEEK 2 – Environments

In week two, participants will start to become familiar with the various online tools that will be used throughout this and future modules. Several tools will be presented with both pros and cons, and the facilitators will explain why some have been chosen at this point and how they will be used. These include tools for online discussions (eg. Slack, Google+, Twitter, etc.), for video interaction and webinars (eg. Skype, Google Hangouts), and for creating and sharing documents (such as Google Drive, Dropbox, blog tools such as Blogger & WordPress).

In addition, week two will see the introduction of basic learning theories and their application to the training of creative talents in filmmaking. Key questions include “What does it mean to be be developing creative talent and how does this differ from professional training?”, “What is an experience-based educational approach?”, and “To what extent does training artists /filmmakers rely on tacit knowledge, and what are the educational implications of this?” These questions are introduced at this point, but developing answers to them is a project for several modules.

Tasks for the week:

  • Participate in the first video hangout
  • Participate in a synchronous online discussion using Slack, Twitter, or Google+.
  • Comment on reflections from week 1; if necessary update own reflection based on feedback
  • Read selected readings introducing basics of Pragmatism (Dewey), Constructivism (Piaget), and Social Constructivism (Vygotsky). Max. 20 pages total.
  • Start a self-reflection/criticism of the selected readings.
WEEK 3 – The Personal Learning Network

Peeragogy depends, as the name suggests, on interaction with and support from peers, and in this course the peers are film school teachers spread across 4 countries with different languages, representing 8 schools with different approaches in 6 cities. Reliance on online tools for building and supporting a peer network is absolutely necessary and a primary goal for week three is to help all the participants become more familiar and comfortable with using interactive online tools for establishing and building relationships in a learning network.

Tasks for the week:

  • Participate in a video hangout
  • Participate in a synchronous online discussion using Slack, Twitter, or Google+.
  • Search for useful resources related to the week 2 readings and share any found to a central repository.
  • Read selected sections of the Peeragogy Handbook and participate in an online discussion of peeragogy.
  • Continue self-reflection/criticism of the selected readings, and begin referring to the additional resources found by module participants.
WEEK 4 – Towards developing a film school pedagogy

In week one
of the module, participants were asked to read and reflect on the pedagogical approaches of all the participating NORDICIL schools. At this point, they should feel comfortable enough to reflect critically on the approach of their own school and compare it with the other schools. In week four, the expectation is that participants will start to place their own pedagogical practices and thoughts within this larger context and engage in discussions with other participants in order to exchange thoughts and reflections.

Tasks for the week:

  • Post own self-reflection/criticism in a public forum where the other participants can read and comment on it.
  • Read, reflect and comment on the self-reflections of other participants, both from one’s own institution and from other institutions.
  • Participate in online discussions (possible video hangout may be organised).
  • Fill out self-assessment of course progress to date
WEEK 5 – Conclusions and final reflections

Module 1 is the launching pad for the subsequent modules, and a key metric for success is ensuring the participants are comfortable with both the technological environment and the foundational philosophies of peeragogy and film school pedagogy. The contents of week 5 will be very much determined by the results of the self-assessment survey completed at the end of week 4.

The goal for week 5 is to ensure the participants are familiar with their PLN and the tools for interaction and communication, and have developed a critical awareness of their own pedagogical practice and how it relates to a larger community of practice at the Nordic film schools. These are the key competencies that will form the foundation of the further modules in the course.

Tasks for the week:

  • Participate in online discussions summarising the key takeaways from the module
  • Update own self-reflection/criticism based on total feedback from others
  • Complete online skills assessment
  • Identify gaps in skills and knowledge and share a plan for filling these gaps
  • Where applicable, offer peer support to others who share their learning gaps
  • Complete final self-assessment and sign up for next module.

Organisation

Each of the
eight participating institutions has provided a participant in the NORDICIL working group that has developed “The Artist as (Film School) Teacher”. These 8 individuals are also the peer facilitators for Module 1, and will support each other in leading the various elements of the module.

There is no grade, and at the completion of the course participants will receive either a “completed” or “not completed” based on their active participation in all facets of the course over the 5-week period. A mark of “completed” is required in order to continue to the next module.

There’s something about Paris

On November 29th and 30th, I attended the 2nd Creator Doctus conference, where a consortium of 7 European fine arts academies presented their ongoing work to establish a formal 3rd cycle alternative for the arts. A key element in the presentations is the focus on creating a doctoral programme where artists are allowed to be artists, and not forced to also be academics.

The programme was a mix of artist presentations, organised in collaboration with the conference venue, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, case studies from each of the 7 participants, highlighting where they are in the work of establishing 3rd cycle programmes today, and some overall presentations of the Creator Doctus initiative and their interim report.

The thing that strikes me in the most positive way, is the fact that more countries are now beginning to see the necessity of a fine arts alternative for 3rd cycle education. The «CrD» — Creator Doctus — is being touted as a defined degree which will mark that the recipient has completed a rigorous body of work in the fine arts that qualifies for a 3rd cycle degree. This avoids the problems inherent in attempting to fit the work of artists into the various PhD models that exist.

In Norway the government has established the «ph.d. i kunstnerisk utviklingsarbeid» — PhD in Artistic Research — as a defined alternative for the arts. It is a good thing in that this is clearly defined as being based on artistic output and not academic work, but the use of the designation «PhD» still has the potential to cause confusion both nationally and internationally.

To be continued. (Sometime!)

Creation through constraints

I recently gave a talk at Kunstnernes Hus Kino in Oslo at their symposium “Kunst er best på kino” (literally translated as “Art is best in a cinema”). The subject was education for artist/filmmakers, and I was very much the “industry” representative. It was fun meeting a new audience, and a useful reminder that the gap between film/video artists and film industry is not as great as we sometimes make it out to be.

 

My slides from the talk are linked here.

Three thoughts as I transition from reading to writing…

At some point one has to stop reading and start writing… This is a hard one for me, as I – as a “non-academic” academic – do not have the training for this.

However, the time alloted for the NORDICIL working group to develop a film school pedagogy course is nearing a temporary end, and now is the time to produce. I have managed to create a draft outline for an introductory module (2.5 ects, 5 weeks) which I hope to receive some feedback on at our meeting in Stockholm at the start of April. The next module to tackle is the one on assesment I was assigned at our last meeting.

In addition to this, it’s time to review the descriptions of our BFA programmes and introduce several new teachers to the arcane business of teaching at the Norwegian Film School.

So, what I have I learned in all my reading the past months (well, years)?

1. While no one has really written about film school pedagogy specifically, there are many resources out there

An obvious place to start is John Dewey. The pragmatist approach, so well summarized in the quote “Learning to know by doing, and to do by knowing” is very apt for our programmes.

Experiential learning is another key for us. The Kolb learning cycle (or spiral, as it is also described) is naturally a simplified model of learning but it is a good model to illustrate how we want our students to learn.

In addition, both constructivism and social constructivism provide useful tools for understanding our own pedagogical approach. Also valuable is Danish learning theorist Knud Illeris’ work on developing a comprehensive and contemporary theory of learning.

2. Measuring artistic development is challenging

Which is probably why we do not measure it at all! Central to this is that we are working with tacit rather than explicit knowledge. While many forms of explicit knowledge indeed are necessary for filmmakers, especially when it comes to the technical aspects of the different disciplines, we are not a technical school and do not measure technical aptitude.

I would contend that what we do “measure” – how the students develop and reflect on their own artistic expression – is very much in the field covered by tacit knowledge.

3. Continual feedback and assessment is key.

We spend a very large amount of time on feedback and formative assessment, and these are integrated into various teaching activites. As an art school we firmly assert that we must constantly check that the activities we plan are in fact having the impact we plan, and the students are developing both their technical skills and their artistic abilities.

This is an area where much has been written in recent year, notably by John Hattie and Paul Ramsden (the latter in his book Learning to Teach in Higher Education)

Considering “Personal Learning MOOC” – aka. #NRC01PL

As part of the "The Artist as (Film School) Teacher" project, I intend (time permitting!) to take the Personal Learning MOOC offered by Stephen Downes starting February 22. While taking a course like this is personally interesting to me given my longstanding interest in connectivism and MOOCs, the particular insentive for this course is the focus on the "personal learning environment".

In the intro to the course, Downes writes:

Course objectives: participants will develop an appreciation of different models of online course delivery, ranging from the traditional LMS through connectivist MOOCs to potential future models of personal learning and performance support. (my emphasis)

This is a key as I see it in developing a distributed course for Nordic filmmakers. We are attempting to create a learning environment that not only will give filmmakers working as teachers the formal competence they require in order to teach at higher educational institutions, but more importantly provide filmmakers in 4 countries (and 8 film schools in 7 cities) with a peer network for ongoing discussions and support.

There are some premises to be considered:

  • Given the geographic and linguistic challenges involved, online technology is a necessary element.
    • Given the increasing requirements for formal qualifications imposed by European education bureacracies, some form of standardised outcomes are necessary
    • Given the vast gap between individual experiences and pedagogic competencies among the filmmakers teaching at the different schools, a focus on creating a personal (as opposed to personalized) learning environments as well as fostering the development of PLNs is key.
    • Given the lack of formal expertise in this area – film school pedagogy – the course will in large part have to rely on peer learning. To me, this is an advantage rather than a handicap, as I have previously elaborated on.

Structurally, the course will end up being a bit of a hybrid between a personalized and personal environment. We will design modules with pre-defined learning outcomes and leading to some form of assessment that yields standardised ECTS points. This may be easier if we start with some pre-determined "content" the particpants have to "master". On the other hand, the actual need is for an ongoing framework of peer support, where the participants can build their own personal learning environment.

Our challenge will be to marry the two. I don’t know if the Personal Learning MOOC will help me towards this goal, but even if it doesn’t I am sure it will provide interesting new insights and, hopefully, connections along the way.

What is “theory”?

Recently I attended a one-day conference at Lillehammer University College, arranged to mark the launch of the Film Studies programme’s new centre for audio-visual media research. There were 4 presentations covering different topics, but a common theme for all was the tension sometimes found between theoretical film studies programmes and practical filmmaking programmes.

The final session made this theme explicit, with the title (my translation) “Can theory and practise be reconciled?”. The discussion, between filmmaker/writer Morten Hovland, tv-producer Eda Syvertsen and film studies professor Søren Birkvad was interesting enough, but the whole day left me wondering: what do we mean when we use the word “theory”?

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (iOS version) defines theory as:

theory [noun(1)]
1. A mental scheme of something to be done, or of a way of doing something; a systematic statement of rules or principles to be followed. l16.

2. Mental view, contemplation. e17–e18.

3. _
a. The knowledge or exposition of the general principles or methods of an art or science, esp. as distinguished from the practice of it; Math. a set of theorems forming a connected system. e17.

b. A system of ideas or statements explaining something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the things to be explained; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment and is accepted as accounting for known facts. m17.

4. (The formulation of) abstract knowledge or speculative thought; systematic conception of something. Freq. opposed to practice. e17.
A. Dillard A terrifically abstract book of literary and aesthetic theory. in theory according to theory, theoretically. loosely.

5. An unsubstantiated hypothesis; a speculative (esp. fanciful) view. l18.

In general, I think it would be fair to say (though, of course, an oversimplification) that traditional academic education tends towards definition no. 3 when discussing theory, somtimes including no. 4.

At the Norwegian Film School, however, when we speak of theory, it is almost exclusively in the sense described in definition no. 1. We could possibly be better at flagging this; theory is important for filmmakers, but it is an approach to theory that is distinct and different from the approach to theory favoured by academic programmes. In fact, we have found the term so problematic that we tend to use other terms, preferring instead to talk about constraints, intentions, critical reflection and the like.

From Artist To Teacher – outline notes

developing a peer-based training programme for film school teachers

background

Film Schools in the Nordic countries, like in most other parts of the world, face a particular challenge in ensuring a highly qualified teaching staff. Most film school teachers come from the ranks of the film industry, where they have been active artists in their field. Their background may or may not have included a formal education, and their selection as teaching staff is most often based on their professional and artistic qualifications.

A teaching staff with artistic and professional qualifications is a core value for these film schools. In order to train the next generation of filmmakers and storytellers, it is necessary to give the students constant exposure to active professionals who bring the latest developments and impulses into the classroom.

The nature of filmmaking being what it is, it is difficult if not impossible to combine filmmaking with the kind of academic preparation that is normal in other forms of higher education. This, combined with the imposition of requirements for qualifications demanded under the European Bologna Agreements, creates a need for a new, specialised form of teacher training for filmmakers.

Today this need is met through a variety of more or less adequate means, ranging from more traditional academic pedagogic training to informal discussion groups and peer networks. However, due to the fragmented nature of this training, there is a great deal of duplication and lost effort – a situation the project “From artist to teacher” will endeavour to improve.

the project

The idea of a training programme for film school teachers is not new. In 2005, The Norwegian Film School published, with the support of CILECT, the package Training the Trainers by Dick Ross. The final booklet in this series, “Back to the future”, outlined a proposal for a European Teachers Training Institute, a proposal which has not (yet) come to fruition. The new proposal “From artist to teacher” has a similar ambition, but aims to start on a somewhat smaller scale and will take advantage of recent developments in communication technology and digital pedagogy.

This project also indends to build on the longstanding relationship between the Nordic film schools, through NORDICIL, to further improve the quality of teaching at all the schools. All the institutions face a common challenge: how to ensure that the teaching staff, who primarily come from the professional film industries in the Nordic countries, are prepared in the best possible way for using their expertise to develop the next generation of filmmakers.

The project goal is to develop a peer-based training for film school teachers, which will give them the practical and theoretical tools to effectively guide the development of student filmmakers. The intent is to use the principles of peeragogy to combine face-to-face gatherings with digital technology for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. The course will consist of a general section, that focuses on ideas and concepts that are common to all the member institutions and an institution-specific section where the particular and unique needs of the individual institution can be addressed.

The first phase of the project involves, in addition to developing the course, choosing the digital tools to be used for the on-line components, creating a syllabus, the creation of the institution-specific components of the course, using online collaboration tools for the follow-up of the planning and prepare the final course plan for approval. The outcome will be a formally approved course of the Film School Pedagogy, including both the common and institution-specific parts, ready to start in August, 2016.

overarching principles

Film schools draw primarily upon the ranks of working filmmakers for their teaching staff. It is not unusual that filmmakers have very limited experience in academia, and also little or no experience with teaching. Often they will have started working in film in assistant roles, and worked their way through the ranks while learning and honing their skills and artistic sensibilities on the job.

Given this situation, planning a heavily theoretical/academic training programme would be counterproductive. Many filmmakers, like the students they are teaching, often have a practical background and are neither interested in, nor necessarily prepared for, a heavily academic-theoretical course of study. A course in film school pedagogy will have to take this into account and give the participants a practical experience while also introducing them to the theoretical tools necessary to develop their pedagogical skills.

Any course in film school pedagogy will also necessarily be directed towards the needs of a particular school. Even within a small area like the Nordic countries there is quite a wide divergence of tradition and practise at the different film schools; a shared course in film school pedagogy will need to build on the shared challenges while also allowing each school to form parts of the course for it’s particular needs. The challenge when developing a course to be used by the various NORDICIL schools will be to find the common challenges and approaches while balancing that with ensuring the course still allows each particular school to maintain its identity.

In any film school, there are a wide variety of teachers with different experiences and expertise in teaching. This fact, combined with the lack of trained pedagogues among filmmakers in teaching position, is one of the primary reasons for utilising the principles of peeragogy – a situation where the primary instruction and coaching participants receive is from each other.

The working group may find inspiration in the existing pedagogical training at art schools across the Nordic countries and Europe, but will in the end develop a training programme that is specifically tailored for filmmakers becoming/working as film school teachers.

basic structure and learning outcomes

Finding a functional structure will be one of the major challenges. Coordinating film school teachers, many of whom juggle teaching with an active professional career as filmmakers, across four countries and five institutions with very different timetables is not a task to be taken lightly. At the same time, for a course of this nature to be successful there must be ongoing participation from as many teachers as possible. It is not unreasonable to expect those taking the course for credit have an attendance requirement, through a combination of ftf and online gatherings, of 80%.

The distributed nature of the course depends on a significant online component, both synchronous and asynchronous. In addition, given the different institutions presently use different, and in some cases incompatible, LMS-platforms, the tools chosen need to be open, accessible and (preferably) free. They should combine the possibility of video and audio conferencing, discussion fora, file upload/download, commenting and sharing, etc. These things can be achieved either through the utilisation of a variety of tools, or the selection of a common provider such as Google (with G+ communities, hangouts, documents/drive, etc.).

Another structural consideration comes from the different pedagogical approaches and needs at the various schools. An important aspect of the mandate for the working group will be establishing a division between the common topics all participants will find useful and the specialisation focussed on the approaches that are unique to certain schools or group of schools.

A possible foundation for the learning outcomes of this course is:

In the end, the working group will develop specific learning outcomes that satisfy the needs of formal evaluation for the award of ects credits for the successful completion of the course.

  • participants will gain an increased facility in planning and executing lessons and workshops
  • participants will gain increased insight into how students learn, and how different pedagogical approaches to teaching, mentoring and feedback will effect their learning
  • participants will be exposed to different teaching styles and approaches, and from this be able to develop an approach of their own
  • participants will develop an peer network across the Nordic countries, and feel comfortable utilising this network even after the conclusion of the course.