One New Thing: Fact, Fiction, and Violence
Written by Jason Renn, Korbel School of International Studies
How do students understand violence and conflict around the world? I have taught a class about the consequences of civil war for several years and recognize that for many students the answer to the previous question is based more on fictional depictions of violence than the terrible realities of war. Could I do anything about this? Would the students learn something new? Would I?
This assignment began with one goal in mind: get students to connect fictional portrayals of violence to actual events. The hope was that this would spur more interest in the material and give them the ability to research topics that they encountered in media. In terms of the medium, I knew that I wanted students to create something besides the standard paper and decided that if they were going to be critiquing video then they could also try their hands at creating video.
I began with the idea of having students play through and comment on This War of Mine, a video game that draws its inspiration from the Siege of Sarajevo. It does not glamorize or otherwise sensationalize the violence. I introduced the idea in class, but the reaction of the students was not what I expected. Who wouldn’t want to play a video game for homework? Turns out most of my students this year. They countered with the idea of creating video essays about movies. Sure. Fine. Whatever gets them involved. How hard could it be to make something like that?
To be clear, students were immediately involved in setting the parameters for this assignment and that was great! But it was hard. It was new. Things didn’t go according to plan. They wanted to create a video essay, like ones that they watch on Youtube in their free time. There were many steps between the idea and the final product, though. They would have to write scripts, do research, edit video, and provide voice overs. Did I mention that only two people in the class of nearly twenty had ever touched video editing software? This was going to be a much larger project than I had initially planned, but I wanted to reward the student’s interest and creativity – so we embarked on a new thing for both them and me. By the second week, I had this prompt and timeline:
Create a 10-15 minute video that discusses a fictional portrayal of violence and compare it to a real-life event. Is it accurate? How does it treat the material, specifically the consequences for civilians trapped in conflict?
- Week 4: Form Groups and Choose a Movie
- Week 6: Draft Script/Introduction to Video Editing Software
- Week 7: Table Read and Rewrites
- Week 8: Screening of First Draft
- Week 10: Screen Final Product
How did it go?
Along the way, things changed. Groups missed deadlines. There were technical issues. Teams didn’t always communicate effectively. But the students were able to pull everything together by week 10. A special thanks to Rich Path who provided advise for this project and to the staff at the Digital Media Center in Anderson Academic Commons who offered an introduction to Adobe Premier for the students and helped them edit during the last few weeks of the quarter.
Students did a good job connecting some of the themes of the movies to topics that we read about in class. Their choices were largely their own, with a little intervention by me or the staff at the Digital Media Center to make sure that they were able to complete the assignment. While learning a largely new skill, I was impressed that they produced videos that were thoughtful and careful when it came to the content. None of them trivialized the violence – whether real or fictional. There was a weight to the bloodshed, and that was the initial goal. The resulting videos were still clearly limited in terms of editing and production, but it was exciting and fun. I could go on about the results, but why not just watch a few of the videos and see for yourself?
Syrian Children PTSD and the Hunger Games
It is hard to do something new and to give students freedom in creating something that is well outside a standard end-of-term paper. It was rewarding, though. I learned a lot from this assignment, from some new technical skills, to a better view of how students work in groups, to how powerful images are in this generation’s daily life. Students were similarly uncomfortable with the task initially, but grew to the challenge. Moreover, they had fun and were able to apply course materials to a medium that they would never touch. They became “creators” and that alone justifies this exercise.