Teamwork key in pilot’s structure

By Thomas Pardee

A re-imagined approach to Columbia’s Film and Video core curriculum is about to become standard practice.

The new Foundations of Film and Video sequence, which is currently in its second pilot year, will become the Film and Video Department’s official core program starting next fall for all incoming freshman and transfer students. The new program reduces the core credit requirements from 24 credits spread over six courses to 16 credits spread over four courses. It combines several class curriculums together and divides students into teams of five, or “cohorts,” to promote a collaborative learning experience and mimic a real-world professional setting.

Incoming students will also be required to purchase MacBook Pro computers upon entering the Foundations program, a measure department heads hope will get students ready to start working immediately.

Don Smith, associate chair of the Film and Video Department, said implementing this newer, more rigorous approach to teaching will be the first significant change to the Film and Video Department’s core structure in about 40 years.

“We’re holding people to a higher standard,” Smith said. “In a traditional class, a student tends to work to the professor, and the professor provides feedback. In this configuration, all the work goes through the team. You can’t hide.”

The new configuration is a result of surveys of full- and part-time faculty, focus groups with film and video students at various levels and a close study of the top 20 national and international core programs, including interviews with curriculum developers in eight of those programs.

Both the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Portfolio Center acted as consultants for the pilot program.

Smith said one of the benefits of the Foundations sequence is that it offers consistency in instruction that crosses course boundaries, as instructors have to be more communicative with each other about what each cohort is learning. He said the new configuration also places more emphasis on each course’s online components, which students must use in order to do well.

“The classes have a 24/7 feel to them,” Smith said. “When students have questions or comments for the forum, they can express them, and the instructor will respond.”

He said this hyper-connected new system will hold all parties, including instructors, more accountable for their class time.

“[Instructors post] the agenda for each class two or three days in advance, and it’s really specific,” Smith said. “As a teacher, you can’t wing it. You have to be prepared. You’re no longer isolated in a classroom where no one else is involved. This means greater accountability for those teaching core [classes], and greater accountability for the students who are responsible for their teams.”

Several students who are currently enrolled in the pilot Foundations sequence said these benefits are more than just theoretical-they are felt daily. Whitney Fox, a freshman in the pilot program this semester, said the variety of skills presented by the instructors was “incredible.”

“We had one instructor who was an actual working filmmaker, and one who was incredibly well-versed in the history of cinema,” Fox said. “When you pair those two up, you’re going to cover everything.”

On top of instituting its new core curriculum, the Film and Video Department will also require each new student to purchase a MacBook Pro upon enrolling. Smith said this measure is common at many media colleges, and according to surveys the department has conducted, students are already doing this in large numbers without a mandate.

“Film applications require a robust system-you really can’t have a $400 laptop and expect to edit film,” Smith said. “Out of the 80 percent [of students who have laptops], 75 percent already had the configuration we’re looking for. This isn’t a huge jump, but by making it official, it allows cost of the program to be more transparent.”

Michael Lencioni, the Student Government Association Film and Video senator, said he is hopeful the department can work out an agreement with Columbia’s Apple store to offer even deeper discounts if the computers are purchased in bulk. Still, Smith said because of the changes in the core structure that call for fewer core classes, some of the department’s steep course fees in beginning-level classes are likely to decrease.

Jerry Howard, a freshman in the pilot program this year, said he’s happy with his experiences so far in the Foundations program, despite the heavy workload that sometimes makes him feel “bombarded.”

“[The program] has its glitches,” Howard said. “Sometimes, I think we rush over information that maybe we should take more time with, but it’s a new program, and [the department] is definitely taking our input to make it better.”

Fox said this fast-paced approach to covering the curriculum is part of what makes the program beneficial to those who are willing to put in the work to keep up.

“It’s about building a foundation, which is where it gets its name,” Fox said. “I thought it did a great job of dabbling in all the areas we needed to see, and sparking interests.”

Smith said more than anything, the Foundations sequence helps students by letting them figure out for themselves why being an active member of a team is crucial to success in the industry.

“On the first day of the pilot program, the faculty said to the students, ‘you guys have been hand-selected because you’re strong students.’

They said, ‘We don’t feel special, we feel we’ve been challenged.’ I believe all students want to be challenged.”