I see a sudden stream of ideas lurking behind my student’s eyes. As their train of thought builds momentum, the student’s expression transforms into a look of captivated excitement. I watch as the student reaches below the surface, unearths an exciting discovery, and divulges their revelation with enthusiasm. A new connection comes to light, and the class listens carefully. These are the moments I teach for—moments when students get excited about critical thinking, analytical connections, and novel perspectives. To this end, my pedagogy entails three key elements: multidimensionality, critical discussions, and an emphasis on both process and product.
My own experiences and studies have led me to cherish an interdisciplinary, multidimensional approach to teaching. While my Master of Fine Arts is in Film Production, my undergraduate studies revolved around Media Studies, Psychology, and Dance. Before my collegiate studies, my life was devoted to math and science. Although my interests have shifted throughout the years, my passion for each of these subjects has only grown deeper. They influence and inspire one another every day. I try to instill the same passion for multidimensionality in my own students. In my experience, the ability to move fluidly between distinct fields and perspectives allows students to become more effective critical thinkers. A multidimensional approach also fosters well-rounded students who can adapt and thrive in many disparate spheres of life. With these goals in mind, I do my best to cultivate collaborative learning environments in my classes. While film is often taught from either artistic or theoretical approaches, scientific research on cinema can engage students in a completely different way. In recent classes I have brought in psychocinematics, a new discipline that investigates cinema through neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology. These classes have generated compelling discussions while providing students with a new set of analytical tools. I also believe in collaboration within disciplines. For example, instead of teaching film production and film theory as separate fields of study, I prefer to keep them intertwined. I gear my assignments towards the application of learned theories and concepts instead of memorization and recitation. Whether across or within disciplines, I challenge students to assume a multidimensional approach in order to empower them with a greater sense of awareness, communication, and creativity.
My pedagogical method is rooted in critical discussions. Whether in a seminar or lecture, I do my best to keep students cognitively engaged as they listen, think, and converse with others. From my own observations and experiences, classes that emphasize open dialogue and conversation are often the most beneficial. I think students can learn more when they reach their own critical and analytical conclusions. Therefore, I believe in leading with questions rather than answers. I enjoy guiding students through thought processes and discussions, but I also believe in providing them with the space to approach material from their own unique perspectives. Discussions also allow students to hear from and engage with a variety of voices other than my own, a valuable experience in any classroom dynamic.
In order to ignite strong class discussions, I often include close readings and case studies in my classes. These provide an avenue for broaching broad subjects while remaining engaged with specific texts. For example, in The Body & The Screen we used the 90s action films of Jean Claude Van Damme to discuss celebrity studies, gaze theory, and the impact of Reaganism. In the same course, we used the Surrealist cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky to launch a discussion on whiteness, Christianity, and Western imperialism. Employing this approach has a number of benefits. Students are encouraged to collaborate in the analysis and deconstruction of a specific film and/or reading. They are asked to listen and respond to a diversity of perspectives from their fellow students. Furthermore, this approach provides an avenue for students to discuss important cultural issues while remaining grounded in a safe, respectful environment. Critical discussions and close readings thus allow me to facilitate and develop an invaluable sense of community within the classroom.
When I teach, I try to foster a balance between rewarding process and product. Both are essential for students to thrive. The process for any assignment – whether an essay, film, or studying for a test – is when the learning truly happens. I believe students learn the most by engaging with materials and applying class concepts to their own interests. I encourage students to challenge themselves as they tackle new topics and learn new skills. As far as grades go, I strongly believe in rewarding effort. At the same time, I urge students to maintain high standards for their work. In their future jobs, these students will be evaluated on the quality of their product, not their process. Producing the best possible product, then, is essential to success. I have experienced this dynamic within my own artistic career. Regardless of how fulfilling (or difficult) the filmmaking process has been, I am artistically evaluated and defined by the final cuts of my films. The same can be said of the papers I write and lessons I teach. By rewarding process and product equally, I try to help students become well-balanced individuals with an eye for detail.
These philosophies are not just words on paper. They embody beliefs that I have cultivated in my years as a teacher and student. I have introduced students to a diversity of perspectives and fields in my classes. I have asked students to engage with a wide variety of cinematic texts, ranging everywhere from classic American Westerns with Gary Cooper to the stylized Arthouse cinema of Nicolas Winding Refn. While some lessons have used a mixture of classic and contemporary film theories, others have incorporated writings from dance critics and scholars. Some readings have been abstract in nature, while others have taken on a scientific approach. In each class, I have provided numerous opportunities for discussion through close readings and engaging questions. The results have solidified my teaching beliefs and techniques. In both my lecture and seminar classes, students have actively participated in discussions with compelling thoughts and contributions. Their papers, presentations, and projects provide further evidence of strong critical thinking. Student evaluations have further validated my approach—based on their responses, students enjoy the discussion-oriented approach, the class structure, and the materials I pull from. Although my pedagogical methods continue to evolve, I remain committed to multidimensional approaches, critical discussions, and the value of process and product. These methods not only benefit the students, they fuel my passion for teaching and feed my hunger for knowledge.