Race Equality in Higher Education

David Woodger and Sue Westman’s (StaCs) final report on their Teaching Fellowship project undertaken last academic year (2014-15):

Research, including HEFCE Differences in degree outcomes: key findings (2014) and the Equality Challenge Unit Equality in HE: statistical report (2014), have highlighted a gap in the attainment of Black and racial minority students in HE, even when other factors such as socio-economic status, level of education, age at entry to HE and family educational background are taken into account.  Research sucha as the NUS Race for Equality report (2011) and Runnymede Aiming Higher report (2015) have also shown that Black and racial minority students are less satisfied with their student experience in HE compared to white students.

In order to make significant changes to the patterns and embedded nature of institutional racism prevalent in organisations, we need as academics in our teaching and learning in higher education to consider the approaches we adopt, specifically in teaching and learning methods and models, curriculum and staffing.  The Race Equality in Higher Education (REHE) TaLIC Teaching Fellowship project sought to:

  • identify issues in the teaching and learning environment faced by Black and racial minority students which impact positively or negatively on their engagement, retention and attainment;
  • to gain insight into experiences of teaching and learning around race and racism;
  • to improve the overall student experience;
  • to raise the attainment of black and racial minority students; and to enhance the quality, development and dissemination of innovation and good practice in learning and teaching around race and racism.

 

The project aims drew upon two main contributions: 1) research drawn from student and staff experience on teaching and learning, including around race and racism 2) exploration of the experiential group work model, adopted in an undergraduate Community Development and Youth Work course, (the latter of which was developed by the Community and Youth programme) and sought to equip students with both experiential and theoretical understandings, enabling them to engage with professionals and organisations to address racism.

We undertook peer research using semi-structured interviews and questionnaires with students chosen across Goldsmiths.  Although there were many positive responses from the sample of 60 students, they also highlighted a range of concerns that impede their learning experience:

  • a lack of diversity in the curriculum including in course reading lists, lectures and tutorials, thereby making their studies difficult to relate;
  • a Eurocentric approach to teaching and learning;
  • teaching and learning around issues of race, equality and diversity are either limited, marginalised or taught on a rather superficial and abstract level;
  • difficulty for black and racial minority students to raise their perspective, as it is not always valued and sometimes tokenized or met with disapproval.

Furthermore, students identified that the above issues left them feeling disengaged and frustrated, feelings further exacerbated by the academic language, which many felt to be both challenging and exclusionary.

Many identified interactive small group work as being an aid to learning, as well as the appointment of more black and racial minority teaching staff.

 

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Storytelling for film making

Account of a creative learning resource for learn.gold, devised by Mark Aitken, supported by TaLIC Goldsmiths Teaching Fellowship, awarded 2014-15.

Automaton

This is a creative learning resource for producing original storytelling for film making. The model is used on the BA Screen Fiction UG courses in Media & Communications and the Goldsmiths’ Short Course, Storytelling for film making.  It is hoped that staff and students alike will make use of this resource for film making, although it may also easily be adapted for other creative endeavours.

 

Introduction

Fiction films need scripts. Some scripts are original and some are adapted from books or plays. However, good scripts take time to write and require much skill, practice and patience. It can be notoriously difficult to complete the elusive final draft.

Scriptwriting in a learning environment has its own specifics. Students on production courses seldom have the tools or experience and time to write accomplished scripts. Courses can end before a script is complete. The struggle is at best precarious or even worse, both the student and teacher feel dissatisfied and sense failure.

We all need to feel productive and build confidence.  Of course, making mistakes is the cornerstone of learning but if we are to fail better there are other ways to approach the challenges of developing ideas for film making.  We need to facilitate a foundation to work from that offers a sense of security for both students and teachers.    Ideas, stories and scripts can be derived and developed from studying other films.  Critical analysis of a film can break a story down to its components. These story elements can then be transferred to develop a new idea, story and script.  This transference combines analysis with creative practice. Critical analysis can be viewed as a kind of storytelling. In this context, it is storytelling for film making.

 

Starting with a full page

The work process consists of introducing completed films to students that may then be remade for their own productions. Producing original work by remaking a film is paradoxically rich with invention and possibility. We are focused on assessment of work (the film) so as to produce more work (student films), i.e: assessment for learning.

The primary outcomes of this practice are as follows:

  • To gain positive critical awareness of how and why a film works.    
  • To introduce an appreciation of universal archetypes in scriptwriting and film making.
  • To gain confidence through the production of coherent work.
  • To appreciate film practice as being inter-related to a much larger ongoing canon of work.

 

Making a template for creative practice

The arc of the learning model is acknowledged in stages and discussed with students week by week as the course progresses:

  • Selection of film to be remade.
  • Critical analysis of film to be remade.
  • Identification of key elements in the film.
  • Constructing a template of key storytelling elements.

The key elements are everything from characters, location, period, genre, narrative tension – all the ingredients of the film that account for the storytelling. The primary key element being what the film is actually about. What affected you?  The core theme of the film. This should ideally be honed down to one single word.

 

For the purpose of this account we are going to cite one example of a graduation film made in 2015/16 on the BA Screen Fiction module over two terms. The students viewed a short film called, Adeline for Leaves by Jessica Sarah Rinland. Then they created a new storytelling template derived from critical analysis. For example, Adeline for Leaves features an old man and a girl, a knowledge of history, a theme of time passing. These key elements were transferred to the new work. This transference offered a secure circular mechanism for developing ideas for the new film. The security lying in the opportunity to return to Adeline for Leaves for reference and in turn, gain a greater appreciation of how and why the film works.

The process follows:

  • Initial transference of key storytelling elements.
  • Adding or subtracting of elements.
  • Ownership of new work.
  • Reflection on the creative process.

Student Writer/Director Ella Brolly utilised Adeline for Leaves to derive key elements for her film Automaton. An automaton being a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being.

Here is a sample of Ella’s transference of storytelling elements:

Adeline for Leaves                                      Automaton

Theme of life/death Theme of life/death
Adeline (child) Eva (woman)
The old man Eva’s Father
Horticulture         Automata
The circle of life/rebirth in plants and humans The human & machine – capacity to love and connect

 

Narrative centres around a personal quest The narrative is based upon a relationship

 

Man’s recordings are addressed to Adeline Father’s recordings are a personal venture

As you can see, changes were made. Over the development period before production, the consequences of these changes sometimes caused difficulty. Ella then returned to Adeline as her reference point so as to learn by example.

 

Automaton can be viewed here:

https://vimeopro.com/mediacomms/ba3-screen-fiction-201516

PW: goldie

Conclusion

The origin of this research came from a student who was overwhelmed with the task of producing an original screenplay while studying on the film production course. He was offered opportunity to remake an existing film.  Now this model for learning is being used by the course as a whole. The outcome has been extremely positive and productive. Rather than students depending on tutors for answers and solutions, they are empowered to learn via their own critical analysis of films. This analysis and transference of ideas is to all intents and purposes a dialogue with other film makers and offers a sense of inclusivity and a meaningful connection to creative practice beyond the institution.

The process has also assisted reflection on my own teaching practice – we are all learning within a culture of ideas. Critical analysis is of most value when it informs practice. Theory and practice are interdependent and the relationship is circular rather than hierarchical.

 

Here is a short clip of Writer/Director Ella Brolly reflecting on her creative practice:

https://player.vimeo.com/video/170137786 Ella Brolly interview

Password: Automaton