APS 279 Talking The Talk: Getting Science On Film
Animal and Plant Sciences
Taking place over an intense five days in the format of a ‘fieldwork’ module, students work in groups to produce a professional-standard documentary short which aims to communicate an area of animal and plant science research to a lay-audience. After an initial skills-development workshop which includes workshops on areas such as pitching, students are given an authentic brief to work to (such as they would be given if they were freelance filmmakers), and ‘pitch’ their initial idea as the first part of the assessment. Students are given in-depth training and support in filming and editing from the CiCS Creative Media Team, after which they create, edit, and present their films, which are then assessed. Throughout, students are also supported by professional freelance filmmakers and science communicators, who can provide valuable advice for the students in producing a professional result, as well as negotiating a future career in this industry. The primary professional, and freelance producer/director, Matt Pitts-Tucker is a graduate of APS himself and can therefore offer very relatable career advice to the students. Other professionals have included wildlife presenter Mike Dilger and Environmental photojournalist Ben Cherry (another APS graduate).
The students and the curriculum
Teaching and Learning Aims
1. Film, edit and produce a video communicating a scientific theme.
2. Work within confines of an authentic brief.
3. Design innovative communication mechanisms.
4. Pitch intentions of project to industry professionals.
5. Recognise and cater to requirements dictated by a specific target audience.
6. Recognise potential of diversity of skill and division of roles within a group.
7. Construct an achievable work plan within a set time scale.
8. Use current computer software to edit and enhance film footage.
Authentic Problem Solving
Students are given a brief to work to. This brief is developed in partnership with Matt-Pitts-Tucker who advises on the module, to reflect as closely as possible, a brief that professional freelance filmmakers and film production companies would work with. Part of the assessment of the pitch and the final film focuses on how well the finished product has met the set brief.
Students work with authentic constraints of time, equipment and locations, not to mention factors that might affect filming such as weather and unpredictable animal behaviour!
To complete the assignment within the amount of time given, students have to think strategically as a group.
Innovation and Creativity
Students also have the opportunity to take the initiative in accessing additional or alternative resources - for example by negotiating filming locations, interviews with researchers, or access to collections.
By working in groups, students develop key capabilities in professional teamwork. In producing a professional product in a short amount of time, groups need to gain an understanding of individuals’ strengths and weaknesses in order to maximise the potential of the group, assigning appropriate roles and communicating professionally within the team.
65% is based on the video itself using a mark scheme that was devised in collaboration with Matt. It therefore reflects factors that are key to the teaching in APS but are also relevant to the industry, reflecting an ‘outsider’s perspective’.
20% of the assessment is based on the mid-course pitch where the students present their ideas in a ‘production meeting’. This uses a mark scheme that was designed collaboratively between Millie and USE to reflect the training that the students receive from USE on giving a pitch at the start of the course.
10% of the mark is based on confidential peer-assessment within groups
5% of the mark is based on the paperwork provided with the final film to document copyright stipulations regarding images, footage, music, locations and interviewees.
- One to one support to develop the structure of the module
- Guidance with developing assessment practice for pitches
- Signposting to other services within TUoS such as the CiCS Creative Media team
- An Enterprise Curriculum Development Grant was awarded for the 2015/16 academic year to support the involvement of the professional speakers and advisers.
- Support to disseminate best practice both within and outside the institution
The module used Google Classroom as an online learning environment.
Learning from the Approach
Two students have since specifically stated that the course had a revolutionary effect on their career plans, giving them the confidence to follow a communication pathway, and many have said it was one of the best experiences they have had at university.
From a teaching perspective, there were a few lessons learnt from the first year which have been integrated into the second. Firstly, the students have been given the brief a couple of weeks before the course. This will hopefully allow them to formulate several different ideas to work on from the start as last year, the timing was very tight. The brief is also a little more difficult due to the skill that the student showed in their interpretation previously.
Secondly, as the students chose to work long hours on their projects, and were keen to carry on at the end of the course, we have recognised the need for this to be a more heavily weighted module, encompassing further teaching of different communication aspects. This change from 5 to 10 credits will take place in 2018.
The real take-home message however is the huge positive effect this has had on our students, their confidence, their ambition and hopefully their success after university.
- APS 279 Talking The Talk: Getting Science On Film (University of Sheffield Only)