Fiona MacKellar, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC
I have a keen interest in turns and revolutions—both as they have been noted within particular knowledge domains, but also as they have been identified at the broadest cultural level. Revolutions and transformations perhaps appeal to me as the result of a major challenge I faced in my early career. I went to film school after completing my BA and entered the film industry just as a digital tsunami was poised to wash over the entertainment world. I happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right skill set to be trained to use, and to teach others to use, one of the first digital non-linear editing systems to emerge in the film industry. After my training, I took a leading role in revising and adapting aspects of the curriculum and instruction at a film school in order that graduates would be prepared to take up positions in the newly digitized film industry.
It was a natural progression for me to take an analogous interest how public education had adapted to the dramatic transformations wrought by the penetration of information and communications technologies into our social world. Like others, I was dismayed by the seeming lack of change in the classroom despite the transformations that took place all around. This prompted me to take an MA in Educational Technology which I walked away from with the conviction that technology had no place in education unless it was used to support meaningful learning by extending students’ abilities to think, reason, and communicate.
I see merit in framing education as a form of semiotic apprenticeship (see Wells, 1993: ‘Text, talk and inquiry: Schooling as semiotic apprenticeship’) wherein education is viewed as a process through which learners are gradually introduced to cultural artifacts and practices that ultimately shape their meaning-making abilities—both in the sense of ‘reading’ texts of all kinds and in the sense of ‘writing’ them.
My background in film gives me an interest in exploring what cinema, as a communicative mode, might have to offer as a means of extending and supporting students’ thinking. Explorations and considerations of this type entail an examination of the cinematic mode of expression alongside more traditional verbal modes of expression which takes one into the territory of multimodality and entails exploring and troubling our traditional notion of literacy in a way that leaves this concept fractured as we question the continued primacy of print literacy in the classroom despite the very different communicative landscape that exists outside the classroom.
My interest in cinema is part of a broader interest in ‘the visual.’ In social research broadly, this interest has come to be characterized as ‘visual culture’ despite the essentializing nature of artificially isolating the visual from the synesthetic whole to which it rightly belongs. Within education circles, an interest in ‘the visual’ tends to be considered under a rubric of ‘visual literacy’ and explores the degree to which visual texts and visual knowledge are marginalized. One of my interests lies in exploring the role that the visual plays in historical understanding.
My primary research interest at present, however, regards if and how the production of historical documentary videos might be harnessed to support deep and meaningful learning in history and social studies education. To date, much of the research in this vein has been pragmatic in nature addressing questions of whether and how moviemaking can be adapted to work in schools and establishing the skills and equipment requirements necessary to support it.
With questions of pragmatics largely answered, there is now a need to start looking at what student-produced historical documentary-style movies might allow us to observe and infer about students’ understanding of history and the historical reasoning they bring to bear when considering questions about the past.
In my doctoral research, I will be collaborating with a classroom teacher in the design and implementation of an instructional unit that engages students in working with historical evidence and the concept of historical perspective-taking as produce their own short documentary video which seeks to answer an essential question about the past. My data collection and analysis will focus on exploring the opportunities and challenges that student-created digital documentary movies offer as a means of assessing students’ historical thinking.