From the Mind of Mikel

A University of Worcester Film Studies Blog

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

A Little Self-Aggrandizement Never Hurt No One

Today I received the following comment on my Facebook page:

“Truth be told, Mikel, during my second year you inspired me when I was going through one of the worst times in my life. Your passion for academia is only exceeded by how accessible you are to your students. I always made a point NOT to skip your lectures or seminars because I was afraid I would miss out on something.

I have always been something of an underachiever but when I was taught by lecturers such as yourself, I discovered my grades were much higher than I would ever have expected.

So thanks for that. ;-)”

Now, apart from being beautiful and moving (not to mention exceptionally flattering), I think getting comments like that should be all of our goals. This is why we got into this game in the first place, isn’t it? Well, that *and* to watch movies all day!

Thanks Scott – that post means a lot to me!


Inspiring Low Achievers

Lots of support for a blog of this sort – that’s great. Although it did occur to me that these discussions aren’t going to raise themselves and that I’m going to need to prime the pump,  as it were.

So, here it goes…

When I first started at Worcester, a year into the degree being offered at all (and only in a joint-honour’s capacity), our external examiner Will Higbee (Will, I hope you don’t mind my name dropping here) noted an almost immediate improvement in the upper end of the work but that those students at the bottom of grading scale were still really struggling to even achieve a passing grade. I don’t think I’m alone in finding teaching intelligent and motivated students much easier than trying to inspire those who, particularly in our field, want to “sit around and watch movies”.

As I was the only dedicated film studies member of staff at the time, effectively I was solely responsible to raise that lower end at least to the passing threshold. But how to do this? In some ways, being the only member of staff enabled me to experiment with a number of approaches – some of which were more successful than others – and in this, I was very fortunate. I didn’t have to try and compromise with colleagues on standards and thresholds. I had my standards of what I wanted our students to be able to do, and worked to raise all students to that level.

To be fair, ego and my own arrogance was also a motivating factor in this: these students were graduating with my name on their degree. I wanted “Film Studies @ Worcester” to be meaningful and desirable. I wanted our graduates to be able to stand alongside graduates of any other UK film studies programme and not need to apologise for where they went to school.

So, how to do this?

I think my first thought was to think about what standard of work I wanted to see students submit in their third year. Back when I worked at Aberystwyth, Martin Barker and I were discussing student achievements. He asked me how do students know what I expected of them. If I expect students to be able to write essays in their third year with proper Harvard referencing, substantial secondary sources used, in Academic English, and supported by solid textual analysis, then I needed to ensure those skills were embedded in the programme at the earliest possible point so they can generate confidence in those skills appropriate to their progression level. At least to my standards.

This post is already too long I fear. The upshot is I think we were successful with this improvement. I give two examples of our success:

1. I was asked by our Institute Quality Assurance maven why the fail rate in our first year modules was as high as it was (statistically it was high, but the class numbers were relatively small, thereby artificially inflating those statistics). I pointed out that we had a zero fail rate at Levels 5 & 6 (Years 2 & 3). Yes, our wise maven replied, because you got rid of all the dumb kids in the first year! I may be wrong about this, but why is that a bad thing? Surely those students who were able to do the work in first year, to successfully internalise those study skills we were developing with them, passed; if they didn’t successfully internalise them, they failed. I’m still prepared to fight this corner.

2. I saw our success in a different light recently. I was discussing certain grades in a second year module (not in from our film studies programme); grades which I would have failed but my colleague would have passed. For example, an essay which was less than half the required word count was given a nominally passing grade because the student “had tried their best”. Never mind about that – its a good story, but not entirely relevant. What is relevant is that although we include all the necessary tools for a student’s success in any module in each module’s handbook – including required readings, suggested reading, suggested viewing, focused essay questions, explicit criteria of assessment (a topic worth a separate post here!), and almost weekly discussions of what we expect from student essays in seminar classes, this can only work if the students are confident in using those tools in the first place. I can put my hand over my heart and say that we train our film studies students in the basic tools required to succeed in any given module. Not all of them will do well, but at least they’ll progress to the next level. These other students did not know how to use these tools, let alone succeed. I realised then what our programme did differently: we looked at the overall degree and explicitly embedded the development of those key skills in the various assessments as early as possible in order to increase the students’ confidence in using those skills. In other words, we trained the students in using the tools we expected them to use throughout the degree. Unfortunately, this other programme’s approach was simply to lower the passing threshold; and to continue to lower it, in order to ensure student progression. No wonder they were trying to hammer screws into a piece of wood using a hand-drill (if you catch my metaphor).

S0, how do we inspire lower achievers? By embedding in the provision the necessary skills development that we hope to see in their final papers. Students cannot be expected to progress (at least properly progress) if they don’t know what is expected of them in such assignments.

The Cronenberg I Love…

A Dangerous Method

I’m sat here this evening, well past 10 at night, trying to put together my lecture for tomorrow morning (at 9!) on David Cronenberg‘s A Dangerous Method as part of my Contemporary World Cinema class.

Where does one even start to introduce students to the cinema of David Cronenberg – a director I have followed and adored since I was 10 years old and saw him guest host on Elwy Yost‘s Saturday Night at the Movies, back in 1978. Cronenberg brought in a short clip from his latest film, The Brood and that short clip scared the shit out of me. And here was a young, Jewish Torontonian, making balls-up horror movies – it was love at first sight for me!

Mark Kermode gave an excellent introduction to Cronenberg recently in anticipation of the release of Cosmopolis. I may quibble about his inclusion of  Crash, but other than that, I absolutely agree with Kermode’s list, including the ranking.  Here’s that video:

And, just because it’s awesome, here’s the head explosion sequence from Scanners!

So let us begin …

So let us begin …. A blog for FLMS1100

Giallo Fever!

Recently I was contacted Paracinema‘s New York correspondent, LabSplice; the magazine was going to be publishing on the Giallo Fever! festival in NYC and I was contacted because of my book La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film. I always like being asked about my work. Less an ego-thing than it is a recognition that someone somewhere is actually reading what I wrote. Ok, so maybe it is an ego thing…

Anyway, LabSplice emailed me a  list of follow up questions which occurred to them whilst reading the book and which I dutifully answered (hopefully intelligently). And today, that interview was posted on the Paracinema webpage.  Read it here:

As an added bonus, LabSplice also found a clip of my introduction to the film Amer that I did at the 2010 Abertoir horror festival on YouTube. Cheers mate! What was I thinking with my hair?!

Amer (film)

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