Interactive Spectatorships

Media Viewing Practices in the Digital Age

Project Blogs

Pilot Screening 1 - Student response

Posted on May 12, 2012 at 4:40 AM Comments comments (3)

After being part of the organisation process for the first interactive screening of Catfish (2010) at University College Falmouth, I have had several of my own personal discoveries about the project. After immersing myself in the participant questionnaires, and having in-depth discussions with fellow students, perhaps the most interesting discovery is how a way has been found to overload even a digitally immersed student’s mind.  Many times respondants used the word ‘distracting’. After reading and discussing further into the reasons why, many said it was not necessarily the concept, but because of the way this first screening was set up, visually and spatially. The main negative feedback was similar to this comment: ‘distracted from the experience of the movie’. Paradoxically, this may even be viewed as positive as it could be interpreted as making the viewer become less emotionally/passively involved, but more intelligently/critically involved. The film at first seemed perfect when Dario suggested screening Catfish due to the narrative centring on social networking itself. However, for many students the film itself added to the ‘distraction’ because Catfish demands a greater attention to the theme social networking itself, but this, paradoxically, had a negative effect on enjoyment and the 'quality' of the tweets posted.

There were more academic and serious tweets from students. This was often in response to a lecturer’s tweeted question. However with this came many comedic and rather 'pointless' comments. Many responses on questionnaires suggested that some tweets: ‘undermine the tension of the film and changed the meaning’. Another concern was how the film was visually presented. The projected screen (see Dario’s previous blog for picture) was, for many viewers, surprisingly too much of a constant reminder  of the computer screen. Initially we thought that it may be easier for viewers to watch both if the twitter feed and film were on the same screen. However, many comments such as, ‘The screen is irritating’ and even a suggestion of ‘extra screen for twitter’ highlights that a different configuation may be better. The latest screening of Jackie Brown did have a separate screen and initial judgement suggests this spatial arrangement received a much more positive response.

The first screening definitely did not only provide critical suggestions however. Positive and valuable information was gathered through verbal and written responses about how the system could be applied to learning in the future. My personal experience was mostly positive. I found the twitter feed developed my understanding of the narrative and I believe if it can be structured coherently into teaching practice, the system could become efficient in broadening my interpretations of the film’s stylistic qualities. It definitely brought excitement to the experience and ensures engagement even from the people who did not tweet. One respondent wrote: ‘It kept everybody really engaged with the film and wondering what others in the room thought. Especially good for people who are usually shy’. The system did allow people to immediately put forward their ideas, connecting viewer's comments in a kind of dialogue, and perhaps for some, produced a more relaxed environment than a seminar.

The questionnaires filled in before and after allowed an interesting insight into how level 1 film students, who were the target audience, view university screenings at the moment. The responses to the question on the 'before' questionnaire; ‘How would you assess yourself as a film watcher?’ confirmed previous concerns that students do not watch films, especially the specific films for our course, in a critical way. One of the questions posed before the screening asked: How do you see yourself as a film watcher? The choice of responses was: critical, engaged, passive, ambivalent. No first year students put solely that they were a ‘critical’ viewer and only two put it along with circling another option of ‘engaged’. This viewing experience aiming to address the problem of 'critical viewing' did seem to have an impact with the main positive response highlighting how the screening became more interactive and interesting. Changing the type of film, and the arrangement of the visual presentation, should bring about an ideal structure that can enhance the potential of the concept. With new and improved interactive screenings coming in the next few weeks this project is definitely on to something good!

Any comments to do with the blog or screenings would be very welcome.

Students out of Sync with Film Screenings?

Posted on April 10, 2012 at 6:50 PM Comments comments (0)

After a 90 minute lecture followed by a ten-minute break, my fellow film students and I settle down to watch a feature length film. With complete concentration we are expected to process and analyse the ‘important’ aspects of the film, our thoughts invited to become part the basis for discussion in seminars, which can occur on the same day or up to a week later. This is the 'standard' format of film studies delivery. However, a film screening, in reality, does not lend itself to being an active learning environment. Unfortunately, I believe very few students treat the screening as part of the academic process to the extent that our lecturers expect or wish. Some students don’t even watch the film leaving after the lecture, some just sit through it with little attention, and I have never seen any students take notes. The atmosphere is very relaxed; students are comfortable enough to talk, eat and even sleep. Furthermore, many students spend much of the time on their laptops or other portable devices. Social media such as Facebook is a common sight during screenings alongside Google. What I have yet to discover is whether some students use the internet to research the film as they watch it.

So why are we as film enthusiasts and students unable to use the screenings in a more scholarly way? There are many possible reasons. Firstly, I believe most students have been passive watchers of only mainstream films before university. They therefore struggle with the sudden expectation to stop simply ‘enjoying’ films as a form of escape. Watching independent or foreign films is perhaps difficult for some, as is the very process of analysing them throughout. It is a difficult transition to make. Secondly, many students seem to prefer to watch films at home on a small television screen or computer screen where they can download a film at a later time and watch in a more comfortable environment. This may be due to the fact that there is more flexibility on portable devices - such as ability to pause and fast-forward - therefore editing your film experience whilst also able to browse online or have a break. I think this, for students of my generation, outweighs the negatives of smaller picture size and lower quality of sound, especially with the improvements in sound and picture technology on small screens. The fact that many people my age do not or cannot enjoy watching a film without being able to multi task shows a dramatic change in our ability to concentrate solely on something. Thirdly, the readiness of such technology actually renders it unnecessary to take our own notes on the film. The Internet provides a wealth of information that can tell us about the key aspects of most films. This perhaps even negates possible interaction between students in person after the film to discuss and develop ideas because technology means we can find answers or voice our opinions straight away.

So why do we still go to the cinema still at all? Perhaps this is because of the excitement of watching the latest releases. On the other hand, thanks to the Internet, illegal downloading of pirate films means people can view even new films can be watch fairly easily at home. The perceived limitations of film screening may actually make students think that time spent watching in a cinema auditorium is either boring or even has negative effect on their expectation or understanding of the actual film. Film screenings are perhaps almost out of sync with us as an audience who live in the digital world. The solution is not to cut screenings as it is vital to becoming an active film viewer and many students just wouldn’t end up watching the film before seminars. Neither is the answer to ban media during lectures or screenings, it is too late to ask everyone to reject media, it is part of every other aspect of our lives. Using social media during screenings could have the potential to address some of these issues. It suits the appetite for instantaneous interaction and could provide a method of documenting comments for further discussion during seminars. It could also facilitate more active spectatorship helping students with more critical methods of analysis. The introduction of twitter into screenings does present some contradictory problems. The balance between engaging with the twitter feed and screen cause an unsettling level of distraction. However, I believe screenings need to change somehow. They are not at this moment as valuable a use of time as they could be for the majority of students, and neither do the screenings seem to fit in with the contemporary student’s mindset.

Ellie Goodwin

Social media and learning: Student perspective

Posted on March 22, 2012 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (3)

Being part of a research project into the potential of social media, especially twitter, founded a new interest in how my generation lives. The fact that I, and most my peers, use social media sites every day to document our lives is a slightly scary phenomenon. However, I found the concept intriguing that this social media take over could actually be used as a positive part of our education. That instead of it being taboo to be on Twitter during a lecture or screening it could be actively developed and encouraged as part of the learning experience. My initial research, aided by Dario, helped me understand the potential of Twitter, which is already being used widely in conferences through ‘backchat forums’. Thus the concept that it should be used within film screenings to aid engagement seems very plausible. I know from personal experience that some student film screenings are hard to connect with on an emotional level. With older films and foreign films students perhaps do not have the context or knowledge of certain themes and ideas, or the film in question may seem very distanced from our culture and interests. This, I am sad to admit, can make it difficult to remain connected throughout the screening and therefore also hinder my ability talk about the film it in seminars.

 I very much want to appreciate and understand such films on an intellectual level as a student, and if I was able to discuss the themes and other factors of the film on Twitter during the screening it may make it more enriching and enhance the learning experience. One has to acknowledge that my generation especially is becoming more impatient, we want everything instantly whether it’s an answer to a question through Google or to voice our opinion. Social media sites can give us this and having the technology at our fingertips during the screening, whether it is through smart phones, tablets or laptops, may be a way to counter this impatience. Also waiting for the seminar after the film screening to voice and discuss our opinions is often too long, by that time interest may have waned or specific details may have been forgotten. Also Twitter has the possibility of helping to involve those who do not attend screenings as it could create a range of instantaneous responses through peer discussion, which can also be reflected on later in seminars as it becomes documented. It is this potential that I will be researching on this project. I soon will be running a pilot screening asking level 1 students to participate and give feedback about the experience. In the mean time I will be blogging and tweeting regularly and any thoughts or questions on the project would be most welcome.